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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Decluttering and Moneymaking: NOT on Yard Sales

I will never have a yard sale, ever ever. Maybe one day I'll write about the last one: most of my stuff was stolen from a friend's garage and a ten dollar bill was left on her front steps. Since she had things stolen too, we split the ten.

So, can you get anything back for your over-acquisitions? I don't itemize deductions, so I can't take advantage of the oft-cited tax write off. I donate lots of stuff, but still like some cash on occasion.

The end of school is the declutter season at the frugal household. So far, we have gotten about $120.00 in Amazon credit for books. These are not textbooks, but regular old books we have lying around. We've gotten more than $100.00 in cash from Barnes and Noble for similar books. Generally, these are books that are recent big sellers or books USED as textbooks. At the moment, The Great Gatsby is not wanted, but one of my three copies of The Iliad got me $4.00. In the Amazon example, a copy of Water for Elephants will give you $2.01 in credit.

I find typing in isbn numbers very soothing and I'm sure it staves off dementia. Most books are worthless and the ones that I send are worth only a dollar or two or three. It is easy to pack up a box. Amazon and Barnes and Noble pay shipping too!

Miss Em and I also had a fun day bring stuff to the Buffalo Exchange. We get clothes one year and then cycle them through the Buf. In fact, we have created a verb: Do you think we can Buf it?

We COULD buf it as it happened. We opted for $200.00 in cash (we did have a lot of stuff), since we still have credit from our last trip.

Ahhhhh. So far over $400.00, which is more than I ever made at a yard sale. MUCH less messy too.

How do you declutter?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Frugal Food in France

We are going to Nantes later this summer. We will probably do much of our grocery shopping in the markets, but we love love love Monoprix, a chain that has groceries, stationery, kitchen wares, and even clothing.

We always bring back a few French notebooks, with the graph pattern pages, and can't wait to have a little one to buy petit bateau shirts for.

Now you can even check out the food ads on-line. What a great way to practice my French and prepare my budget.

Many people are bewildered by my love of checking grocery ads; perhaps checking FRENCH grocery ads has a bit more cachet.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Supper of the Lamb: Frugal Cooking

My family keeps urging me to clean out the freezer and pantry. I'm trying, really. Frugal Son is always bugging me about this. Fortunately/Unfortunately, he arrived home from college bearing a diploma and a leg of lamb. He bought the leg of lamb at the campus Dairy Store, which sells the products of Ag School training. He paid for it with some of the Tiger Bucks that came with his scholarship and were soon to expire.

One of my role models in cooking, more for philosophy than actual recipes, is Robert Capon, whose Supper of the Lamb is a classic.

I've written about this book before, but turn to it again and again. Capon is an Episcopal priest, so his meditations on food are also meditations on spirituality. Anyway, the book tells how to get 4 meals out of one leg of lamb. Here's what we are doing.

Day 1: Lamb, brown rice, braised greens.
Day 2: Thai curry for Miss Em on the eve of her departure for Italy. Lamb, coconut milk, curry paste, eggplant, greens, onions, bell peppers. Veggies were mostly provided by our garden.
Day 3: Stay tuned.

I believe that frugal cooking and frugality in general are inherently spiritual practices. Transforming leftovers is one of my favorite things to do.

What's your favorite part of frugality?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Does Remodeling Increase Your Home's Value?

Good question. I don't know the answer. During the housing bubble, common wisdom was that YES it did and, besides, it was basically free cuz you could borrow from your home's appreciation. We all know where those ideas ended up.

1. APPRECIATION. I have seen two homes in my neighborhood undergo extensive renovation. Medium-sized cottages like my own were spiffed up, with many magazine-worthy details. Both homes were put on the market shortly after renovation. There were not flippers, but people who changed their minds about where they wanted to live. Both sold. Did the owners get back their money? I don't know. In any case, I don't plan to put $200,000-$300,000 to the test to find out.

2. NOT DEPRECIATING. I had a colleague with an under-employed husband and scads of kids. When he got a job, they relocated. Their house was on the lower-end of the market. Nevertheless, their real estate agent told them to carpet the hideous patterned linoleum. She said that NOT putting in the money would mean a $10,000 lower asking price. Too bad my colleague didn't get to enjoy the new flooring for a while.

I think my bathrooms are in the second category: they are so tiny, have so little storage (none), and have such ugly bathing facilities that they would LOWER the price of my house. Most buyers would tear them out immediately. Most owners with the tolerance of normal people would have fixed things up about 10-15 years ago.

However, I have to be careful not to over-improve because I don't plan to move any time soon. The latest thing won't be the latest in ten years.

On the plus side, materials costs have gone down with the bursting of the real estate bubble.

Any thoughts on this tricky issue?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Do You Shoe Goo?

This product has saved us tons of money over the years. Why have I not mentioned it before? Because it's in Mr FS's department.

Miss Em--packing for her trip to Italy--asked "Can you fix my shoes?" YES! Shoe Goo to the rescue!

Mr FS has been using this product since--well, before I met him. It has always been a part of our relationship. He probably repaired some shoes for me back in graduate school.

Do you have any similar frugal lifesavers in your pantry?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Higher Food Prices in Perspective

From Yahoo Finance, some historical perspective on food prices.

I've excerpted a bit below. Prices for most items are about double what they were 30 years ago. Most of us are making--I would guess--more than double what we were back then. If prices are killing us, I would venture to say it's not food that is to blame.

10 Everyday Grocery Items: Now and Then
by Lauren Covello

Rising prices may be top of mind for consumers right now, but they're nothing new. Here's a look at how the price tags on these 10 basic items have changed over the last three decades.

©Fox Business

1. Bread

What you pay now: $1.41 (average price for a pound of white bread)

What you paid ...

Last year: $1.37
5 years ago: $1.08
10 years ago: $1.00
15 years ago: $0.88
20 years ago: $0.71
25 years ago: $0.57
30 years ago: $0.53

©Fox Business

2. Butter

What you pay now: $3.69 (average price for a pound of salted butter)

What you paid ...

Last year: $3.13
5 years ago: $2.92
10 years ago: $3.30
15 years ago: $2.05
20 years ago: $1.94
25 years ago: $2.15
30 years ago: $1.99

©Fox Business

3. Eggs

What you pay now: $1.73 (average price for a dozen Grade-A eggs)

What you paid ...

Last year: $1.66
5 years ago: $1.31
10 years ago: $0.93
15 years ago: $1.11
20 years ago: $0.99
25 years ago: $0.87
30 years ago: $0.90

Data courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. ("What you pay now" is the average price for March 2011; historical prices were calculated by averaging the monthly price data for the years noted.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Good Deals (if you need the stuff): Paula Begoun, Ballard Design, Walgreens

Far be if from me to tell you that spending money is saving money. Still, if you need the stuff, it's a good thing to get it on sale. And even if you just want the stuff, well...if you can manage it in your budget, you can quote King Lear.

Paula's Choice. Miss Em was just bugging me to get her more sunscreen. I noticed it was on sale. As of today it is MORE on sale. PLUS FREE SHIPPING over $20.00. PLUS--and this is a little trick I just learned--ADDITIONAL 15% off if you link through her Beautypedia site.

Ballard Design. Honestly, I am hesitant about buying furniture and the like from beautiful catalog pics. I did buy some burlap curtain panels on super sale a few months ago. I ordered one too few panels (moment of dementia). The panels went way up. As of yesterday, and for only today and tomorrow, if you link through the Facebook page, you get 20% off. I think the curtains are a good deal--relatively speaking.

Walgreens--If you need contact solution, they have some for $7.99. After you buy it, the register spits out a coupon for the full purchase price. QUICK! Go back and buy something you need if you are prone to forget the slips of paper residing in your wallet.

Big Lots--My BL has a slew of Bob's Red Mill stuff. I was so happy! Then I saw the prices: quinoa $8.50 for 26 oz. That's somewhat less than retail, but I got some from Amazon much cheaper on a one-day sale. I did buy oat groats for $3.00 for 54 oz.

From King Lear.

O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man's life is as cheap as beast's. Thou art a lady:
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear'st,
Which scarcely keeps thee warm.

Any good deals in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Praise of Thrift Stores, Kind Of, with Babette and DejaPseu

Anyone who has read more than, say, two of my posts knows that I am blissfully happy in thrift stores. In fact, I may have a wee bit of an addiction to the experience.

One GOOD thing about thrift shopping is that you can try things that are outside your comfort zone. For instance, I decided I wanted a linen shirt for summer. The only one available after several tries was coral, so I bought it. I had read somewhere that coral was a universally flattering color.

Miss Em made me donate it back. I wore it once. So that makes it $3.00 per wear, not great, but not misery-making.

A few weeks ago, Deja Pseu, style blogger, fearless writer, world traveler, and other good things, wrote a few posts on a line of clothing one of her readers recommended: Babette: here and here. Once I discovered how much this stuff cost, I decided it was not for me. Even though I aspire to be one of those European-type shoppers--with three expensive but perfect for me items hanging in the closet, Andree Putman-style--I know that I don't have whatever it takes to pull it off. Not least--my propensity for spilling. It's one thing to ruin a thrift store item, quite another your expensive item.

You know where this is heading. I had never heard of Babette. Then within 2 weeks, I found a long jacket/tunic in her signature microfiber pleats in the thrift store. In my size. In--shades of coral shirt--a color I have never worn--bronze--but whatever.

Needless to say, I LOVE it. I have worn it at least ten times, so we're down to 30 cents per wear.

Here is my review. People have different responses, depending on the context. At Goodwill, my fellow-shoppers were baffled: Miss Frugal, why are you buying that???? At a gallery-opening, Are you an artist? At a musical performance, That's nice! In the waning days of the semester at school, What's that? Why are you so dressed up?

What could be bad? Well, now I'd like another one. Check out the website for the scary (for me) prices.

I've had to wash the item a few times, because of food spilling: at the art opening, the musical event, and, yesterday, while tasting a sample at Whole Foods.

And for Andree Putman, chic and severe architect, here is a famous quotation: There is but one thing that deeply shocks me: American closets. I cannot believe one can dress well when you have so much.

At the musical event, a wealthy 85 year old attendee loved my Babette shirt. I twisted the top to show her the label. I knew it would make her happy. Her name is Bobette.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Do You Believe the Numbers? 85% of Grads Move Home

I keep seeing this everywhere: 85% of grads will be moving in with mom and dad.

Even Frugal Son--grad as of yesterday!--passed on the statistic. He is skeptical. Does that mean that, like Frugal Son who will be teaching English abroad next year, the grad "lives at home" for a few months in the summer?

I do hear about grads moving home. I wonder if we should see this not as a mark of shame but as a shrewd financial choice.

As always, remember this famous tome, in print for many years.

Do you know of a lot of grads moving home? Or grads who never left?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Are Rising Prices Changing Your Eating Habits?

Yesterday, Mr FS, who doesn't really worry himself with such things, said We eat oatmeal for breakfast and peanut butter sandwiches or a burrito for lunch. You can't spend much less than that.

We are lucky that way. We don't eat that stuff because it's cheap (though it is) or because it's healthy (well, maybe a little), but because we LIKE it.

Now that I have a little more time on my hands, I was noodling around the internet. There are many laments about rising prices. Most of the laments have to do with lunch meat and bacon. I find lunch meat (or cold cuts) yucky in general. Bacon is good, but a pound or two a year will suffice. I use it mainly for flavoring bean soup.

I AM addicted to coffee (now proved to be healthy! YAY!). I noticed that the sale price of coffee has risen 50 cents. That would be a $25.00 yearly increase. I can absorb that, even though we haven't had a raise in four years.

Have rising prices affected your shopping or eating habits?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Help me with a Remodeling Issue

Soooooo. We called the contractor who did our modest kitchen remodel. He came over right on time and said my mad idea would work. And, while it would be expensive for a cheapo like me, it would be modest in the grand scheme of the bathroom remodel.

However, since the mad idea involves a bump-out of the existing bathroom, we need to call in an architect to do pictures for a permit.

How to pick an architect? Well, we once used an eminent local fellow, who overcharged us so much (he billed us for thirty hours of drawing a complete scale model of our house including all furniture!! all for a rectangular addition off the side of the house) that we would never use him again. Note: when we protested, he reduced the bill by half within 10 seconds. Not enough though.

Then there are other locals who are connected in one way or another. Problem is that even though these fellows look good (starched shirts and khakis--same as eminent fellow above) and have attractive websites, I've seen some of the awful things they have done: huge houses with no light, a beautiful old cottage like mine with a large hideous excrescence (aka double garage) hanging off the side, etc. I called one of these guys in for a consultation (after speaking to eminent architect above) and he suggested the same thing Mr. FS thought of and rejected as too ugly and ungainly!

We asked wonderful contractor for a recommendation and were happy to take the name. Then I looked at the guy's website.

Would you hire an architect who presented himself to the public this way?

Any suggestions?

An even more eminent architect than the vile one above has a beautiful office downtown. His name is Ken Tate and he has been in Architectural Digest.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Decluttering and Moneymaking: Return Things to Lands' End

The next in my series on decluttering that brings in money! Not everything will be as exciting as St John. This one is more prosaic. And don't even talk about yard sales. If you are contemplating one, read Funny's heartrending tale.

Strictly speaking, returning unsatisfactory things to Lands' End is not a money maker; it is a get money back on unsatisfactory purchases. Why am I mentioning this? Everyone knows Lands' End is Guaranteed Period (trademark!), right? I know it, which is why I feel pretty confident shopping there: you can ship items back (for $$) or return to Sears.

Yet I know people don't do this. How? Because I see things with tags hanging at thrifts all the time. Evidently it is easier to drive to Goodwill with your cashmere sweater than to return it. Sometimes I see almost new things with broken zippers. Really, you should return things. As my late father--consumer extraordinaire--pointed out: "The guarantee is built into the purchase price."

I am writing about this to gird up my loins for my THIRD effort to return things to Lands' End. First try at Sears: the cashier wouldn't take back items WITH RECEIPT because I didn't have the little plastic bags items were shipped in.

I called LE. They said to try again. I did. Most things were taken back, but I did fail on one item. I called LE. I got a wonderful supervisor, with an upbeat attitude. I told her that we seldom drove by Sears. She said she would send me a prepaid return label--so I wouldn't have to pay the $6.95. GREAT! THANKS! Except that it was never sent.

I will call again this week.

Interestingly, Sears lost some business because of these issues. The first time, we tried to return coincided with our search for a new washing machine. We talked to a nice guy, picked one out, and then left without buying. WHY? Because 30 minutes trying to return LE items took it all out of us. We bought the washer online via Home Depot.

Second time. We needed a teeny computer. While I was trying to return, Mr. FS scoped one out. After 45 minutes, with eyerolling, sighing, and so on from the cashier, we left without buying. We eventually got it at Best Buy.

Wish me luck on my next effort at returning.

St John: The Way to Declutter

Well, Readers. I received my estimated selling price from Rodeo Drive Resale. They estimate that my seven pieces of St John could bring (hold on) $1700.00, of which I would receive half minus dry cleaning costs.

I could get used to this kind of decluttering.

Or am I dreaming?

P.S. Must check carefully for moth damage. Fingers are crossed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Car-Free College?

Donna Freedman wrote a piece on going car-free in Seattle, saving herself $7000-$10,000 per year. Sadly, much of these United States is not set up for such a choice, given the vast distances to be traversed along with a dearth of public transport.

How about a more modest proposal? How about car-free in college? As Frugal Son prepares (fingers crossed) to graduate, I have been thinking about his cosmic or karmic savings account. Not only did he choose a state school with a big scholarship, but he chose to do without a car. Of course, he is making this choice mostly for ecological reasons.

Last week, we had a rendezvous at a crawfish boil. He came with a friend who had a car. They were enticed by the free crawfish invite. The rendezvous involved an exchange: we brought Frugal Son some clean towels; he gave us about 75% of the contents of his dorm room.

Even though his friend has a pretty efficient car, Frugal Son still paid $24.00 for the gas. Wow! When Frugal Son NEEDS a car (seldom), he pays for the gas plus some lagniappe. He also does a lot of cooking for people. Miss Em has a similar arrangement. She cuts a lot of hair for people. They give her rides. Of course, she pays for gas too.

One student of our acquaintance has a car at LSU. She never drives it. Why? She's afraid of losing her parking space.

Anyway, Frugal Son has at least a $20,000 deposit in his karmic and ecological savings account. Miss Em has half that.

Oh, speaking of modest proposal: if you are a college graduate, I hope you've had a chance to read this masterpiece. It's available in a THRIFT edition: perfect.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Student Debt Encore Encore

I'm supposed to be relaxing; I turned in my grades last night. But this morning I listened to yet another installment of Student Debt Woes and Warnings. This time it was NPR.

I noticed that the students with the most debt attended private colleges. I can't help thinking that these schools, with their increases at double the rate of inflation for many years, are to some degree complicit in the problem. There are fewer articles on how student debt is GOOD DEBT. (Similarly, there are fewer articles on how MORTGAGE DEBT is GOOD DEBT). The idea was that GOOD DEBT was an investment in an appreciating asset, while bad debt was spending on a depreciating asset--like a television.

All I have to say at the moment: consider public education. Your debt will be smaller.

I have other things to say too, but will do so later. Oh yeah. Can't resist. Take the student debt quoted when you apply for your loan and MULTIPLY BY FOUR. And add on for the inevitable inflation factor.

Any words of wisdom on this topic?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Frugal Daughter: The Compleat Frugalista

For some reason, I write about my Frugal Son a lot, my daughter, Miss Em, not much. I am here to say: she is frugal too. In fact, she is frugal in the same ways that I am: cooking and thrifting.

You can't practice all modes of frugality; you would go insane. It IS good if each family member is frugal in a different way. For instance, Mr FS is good at fixing things, gardening, painting, and so on.

At the moment, Miss Em is in California, visiting her grandfather, who lives near Mr. FS's sister and family. My sister-in-law is an excellent housekeeper and caretaker of her father, but the way she cooks drives me crazy: each meal is new and leftover ingredients often molder.

Miss Em is a cook after my heart. Here is what she's cooking tonight, via online chat.

I'm cooking tonight. Made a menu using up lotsa stuff in the house:
linguine with shrimp and arugula-parsley pesto, quinoa cakes with lemon-dill yogurt sauce and asparagus.

She also mentioned that while she was searching for the Goodwill, she happened upon a small thrift where she got me some corduroy Not Your Daughter's Jeans--for $3.00!!

She also picked up some Joe's jeans for herself.

Now that I think of it, Miss Em surpasses me in many ways. I am too lazy to make that elegant meal. And did I mention she can sew and cut hair? How I miss her when she is not around!

Last question from the chat: also, where is the goodwill around here?

That's my girl.

Are you or do you know a compleat frugalista?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Upscale Decluttering and Other Forms of Procrastination

Naturally, since I am a wee bit behind on grading, I am coming up with various creative ways to procrastinate.

Channeling Diana Phipps's Affordable Splendor, I have figured out a relatively inexpensive way to enlarge my tiny--about 6 by 7--bathroom. And that's the larger of the two.

As my mind continues to race, seeking out ways to avoid facing the piles of papers, I decide to switch from ugly plastic hangers to those snazzy flocked ones.

While I'm doing that, I (re)discover several St John pieces that I picked up here and there.

St John, of course, makes the quintessential clothing of the genre rich lady. Needless to say, I have never ventured out in one of my pieces. Still, when I try them on, I stand up straight and get ready to be sworn in to the Senate.

From that article, I learned about Rodeo Drive Resale, an online consignment place that specializes in St John. Further procrastination involved photographing my six or so pieces. Soon, I will send pictures and await my yea or nay.

Finally, my last gasp at procrastination: writing this post for you.

I doubt that selling my St John would make much of a dent in my bathroom expansion. Still, it might make a dent in SOMETHING.

What are your favorite modes of procrastination?

Thursday, May 12, 2011


One financial number, one not.

First, the not financial. The end of the semester is totally miserable, especially if you work at a heavy teaching-load school as I do. Sometimes I think I should resort to scantrons, which are instantaneously and automatically graded by machine.

Anyway, too late for that. You may recall that I reported that I had 240 pieces of work to process. I have now crossed the 100 line: only 98 left. Believe it or not, I find arithmetic very soothing. I love to compute grades and do it on paper, just like I did back in grade school. AHHHHH. (For a different view, see Funny About Money's tale of misery with an on-line convenience method of recording and computing grades. NOT ZEN.)

My other number is financial. A long time ago, I wondered if I should buy Talbots stock, as it was trading at $1.60 a share, but the company had just hired a snazzy new CEO named Trudy. I SHOULD HAVE. And SHOULD HAVE sold it when it reached $16.00 a share.

I received a danger signal when various on-line bargain sites reported that Talbots was having an incredible sale, with items as low as $2.00--less than yard sale prices. I took a look at the site and decided not to spring, since sale items are not returnable and I am trying not to succumb JUST because something is a bargain. (Probably not much left now, since this has been all over the internet for a few days.)

The sale was so extreme that I--unsophisticated about finance and naive as far as the workings of big business go--got a distinct GOING OUT OF BUSINESS vibe. The stock is around $5.00 a share, so I would still have made a profit.

So there you have it: my semester's work is going down, down, down, as it tends towards a welcome end.

As for Talbots, i wonder if that venerable business is nearing its own UNwelcome end.

Back to the papers!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gifts for Graduates: On the Road

In her comments, the Duchesse of gifts suggested many thoughtful presents for the graduate. My favorite--in fact, I would be happy to receive it myself--is an etching. I guess one should distinguish between grads setting up house or going to graduate or professional school and those who are planning life on the road for a while.

Frugal Son will be (fingers crossed) teaching English in France next year. After that, he wants to teach English in Asia. He won't be setting up much of a household any time soon. In fact, he has everything he needs for his journey, with the exception of a plane ticket. So that's what he will be getting.

For a graduate soon to be on the road I recommend a gift I've written about before. In fact, I've already bought these for my children. We bought these before the scary charges for checked baggage; now a bag you need not check is worth even more: Rick Steves bag.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

More Good Gifts for Graduates

Today's graduates are a curious mix: they love high tech (like Kindles), but they also love low tech. Hence yesterday's recommendation of the Lamy Safari fountain pen, which has been proved time and again a good gift.

Another low tech gift, which is good paired with the pen, is a notebook. Not just any notebook, of course, but one imbued with that je ne sais quoi of the iconic item. I speak, of course, of the moleskine.

I got a Paris moleskine for Frugal Son before his year abroad. He loved the map. These are available for many other cities.

Another very snazzy notebook, which also has the iconic je ne sais quoi, is the Rhodia.

Your graduate can--in fantasy or reality--sit in a cafe somewhere, recording wonderful thoughts.

Any other great notebooks out there?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Graduation Gifts: A DO and a DON'T

Strange that I forgot all about this, since I myself have a graduate in my family. Since Frugal Son is planning a year in France, we don't want to weigh him down. He will be getting a fair amount of cash.

But what about the littler gifts for relatives or friends of family? I am a mediocre to bad gifter, so I stick to my ONE GOOD GIFT, the Lamy Safari fountain pen.

Oh, and my DON'T is also the same as last year. This Dr. Seuss tome is--trust me--already owned by your graduate. Graduates start getting copies of this book at Kindergarten graduation (a ridiculous concept, if you ask me). Then they get more at the various other graduations. I once had a student who received 18 copies at her high school graduation.

If you have to buy it, please don't inscribe it. Put in a separate card. That way, your graduate has the option of exchanging it for a book not already owned!

Any good gift ideas for the graduate?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tale of Two Twenties

I spent around $40.00 yesterday: $20.00 at Goodwill and $20.00 at LL Bean.

LL Bean: I bought Frugal Son a pair of shorts with a 20% off code. Frugal Son has a few pairs of bedraggled shorts, none of which are even worthy of donation. Shorts for men are almost impossible to find at thrifts. The shorts from LL are about the same price as at Target, so I saved some time and ordered on-line. Frugal Son hates to go shopping in stores. Free shipping.

Goodwill: As often happens after a major donation (I packed up a carload of items for tornado victims in Alabama, where Miss Em goes to school), I find a lot at the thrift store. Including things I might actually need!

--Curtains for my mudroom in the exact colors I wanted. Made by a drapery workroom, properly weighted.
--A merino wool undershirt from New Zealand.
--A large basket with a handle for my mudroom, which, with the curtains mentioned above, is starting to look quite snazzy.
--OK. Here I hang my head in shame. I bought 4 handbags. The best was Jano by Anjo Flint. Mine is black. It seems to be lambskin and has the same feel and smell as the $1500 Givenchy bag one of my students received as a group gift from her relatives. I also got a Biasia bag. The cheapie--so to speak--was this faux leather lace bag by Big Buddha. I am too embarrassed to continue! The last one and maybe the Big Buddha may get swapped at Buffalo Exchange.

Anyway, the Goodwill trip took under an hour, much of which was spent chatting with various employees and customers.

Thank heavens I don't find so much on every trip!

Have you found any wonderful things lately at your best haunts?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bird by Bird

Between me and my summer break: 240 papers,exams, projects. Quite a daunting number. So much to do in under two weeks. As Annie Lamott says--a propos writing or other projects--just do it "bird by bird."

Procrastination can yield some good results. Since Frugal Son is about to graduate from college, has much travel and work planned for the summer, and then will (fingers crossed once more) head over to France to teach English for a year. He will not spend more than a few days in his room. I have already started turning his room into my work area. I asked him if he minded our dismantling his ugly bed. He said no. His ugly bed is now flooring in the attic.

This decluttering/emptying set off a rush of feng shui type energy. His room looks so good and we were able to put a nice table in there--for stacking and organizing the 240 items mentioned above.

Then, we could use his room as a kind of staging area to organize donations for Tuscaloosa tornado relief (Mr. FS will be driving tomorrow).

While filling my donation bags, I found some nice surprises. To wit: a yard of Geoffrey Bennison linen in an oakleaf pattern. Also several yards of a Chinoiserie cotton by Pierre Frey. It never fails: decluttering inevitably allows nice stuff (and empty space) to surface.

Like grading papers, decluttering happens "bird by bird." The title comes from an event in Annie's childhood. Her brother had to do a project on birds, and had, of course, procrastinated. Their father said, "Do it bird by bird."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My First Investments!

Not really: I've been buying mutual funds for a long time. I decided to let Frugal Son guide me, mostly because he doesn't have very much by way of investible funds.

So my first purchases are

PGH (a utility)
GE (you know, General Electric)

I did this through a Vanguard brokerage account, which Frugal Son helped me set up (actually, it's simple). I only pay $7.00/trade.

After witnessing the performance of financial professionals--with both my in-laws and now my mother--I figure I might as well trust the advice of my guy.

Needless to say, most of my retirement money remains in good ole index funds. I'll keep you posted on my progress--or regress.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Favorite Books of My Financial Adviser...errrrr....Son

I conducted a short interview with my financial adviser (Frugal Son) via chat.

Me: What are your favorite finance books?

Son: So far my favorite has probably been Bogleheads. I'm also reading a book right now called Warren Buffet and the Interpretation of Financial Statements, which is shaping up to be pretty good. And the way I choose my stocks is, so far, very simple, but will hopefully get a little more involved once I'm finished reading this book.

Right now, I look for a P/E ratio that is not too much higher than 15 an consistent, positive EPS. I like dividend paying stocks, so I look for companies that have a history of paying dividends even in down economies. I also like stocks that have a price-to-book ratio of near or below 1 (ideally).

Me: So it's not brain surgery.

Son: Nope. That's about it. This latest book is teaching me how to look at underlying financials to get a better idea of the financial state of the company like about debt ratios etc., but the price-to-book ratio below 1 is nice because theoretically (emphasis on theoretically) that means that even if the company goes bankrupt you won't lose money theoretically.

I am amazed.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Frugal Son has a Net Worth!

So, fingers crossed, Frugal Son is about to graduate from college. He went to State U, incurring costs of zero. I had a lot of ambivalence and conflict about his not going the private route, probably more than he did. As far as I can tell, he is no more or less happy with his choice than other kids he knows, whether they chose private or public school.

Over the years, he has amassed bits and pieces of cash, either from working, or from gifts. This last year, he decided to buy stocks and utilities! He is ahead of me, since I've stuck to mutual funds in my fearful way.

He informs me that his net worth, some of which is in a Roth IRA, is a little over $16,000. And he has no debt.

I think this is a good start. In fact, he's bugging me about letting him choose investments for ME. I think I'm going to buy a few things.

MY SON THE FINANCIAL ADVISER. Any mom would be proud. Of course, I'm his only client and he's doing it pro bono. Credentials: a BA in English. Wow!