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Friday, September 30, 2011

Elderly Parents and Overspending: Responsibilities

Ahhhhhh. Since my anonymity has long since been compromised . . . an embarrassing topic. What do you do when you see an elderly parent overspending?

My mother is 81. My father, who handled all the money, died almost three years ago, during the depths of the economic meltdown. Three days after he died, my mother got an accountant (a neighbor). Four days after that, she put half her money into the hands of an advisor, recommended by the accountant. The other half is in TIAA-CREF. The advisor has been urging her to take that money out and let him manage it. The advisor has not told either her or me (I asked him directly) how he is compensated. He did tell me that he and his wife made $700,000 in 2007.

Anyway, my mother has been totally transparent about her assets. I noticed that she is taking more than 10% from the TIAA account. I told her that is not a sustainable withdrawal rate, even for an 81 year old.

I don't want to go into the details of her spending at the moment. I did get her to call someone at TIAA, who told her that her money would run out in 9 years.

I guess it's good that I'm pathologically frugal! My mother gets angry at me as the bearer of bad news. My un-frugal sibling said that the advisor seems like a great guy!

So...what does one do when one sees an elderly parent overspending? Any advice would be appreciated.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cheap Chic for Your Home: Burlap and Indian Print Spreads

Aside from de-cluttering, which is free, are there any home decor items that are truly frugal? I've been giving this some thought and there don't seem to be many candidates.

Years ago, in a small town in Michigan, the town librarian bragged about her chair that cost a quarter. Further questioning uncovered the fact that she spent $250.00 on fabric and labor for reupholstery. This was in 1986.

A few years ago, one of the rich ladies in my town insisted that her couch only cost $250.00 to reupholster. After a bit, I figured out that this was exclusive of fabric.

In other words, I remain skeptical. Often, what you save in money, you spend in time, which is why antique dealers often have so much neat stuff: they spend all their time shopping.

So here are my candidates.

1. Burlap: This costs only a few dollars a yard. i first saw burlap curtains at a fancy shop in my town. It is still going strong and looks amazingly like linen (to me).

2. Indian print Bedspreads. These are still handblocked. Strangely, the French provencal fabric we all swoon over was originally made as a cheaper copy of the pricy Indian imports. Of course, this was over 100 years ago.

Two questions: can you think of anything else that would qualify?

And also: where can you buy Indian print spreads nowadays? They used to be available on every street corner, but no more.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Free Music and Free Enterprise

We were lucky to notice that--contrary to the info from my source--Museum Day for New Orleans was yesterday, September 24. When I figured this out, we jumped into the car and hightailed it to the New Orleans Museum of Art, where we saw an interesting show of religious figures from India.

That left today free for another free cultural opportunity: Musica di Camera, an early music group, will be performing for free at a nearby Abbey.

The Abbey is a beautiful place. The church has some incredible murals, painted in the 30s (I think) and recently restored. One of my friends worked there during the restoration and I got to meet the art restorers--an itinerant husband-wife duo.

You may have heard of this place: it has been much in the news because the Louisiana Funeral Directors sued the monastery: asserting that it was against state law to sell monk-made coffins. The monks are winning so far, but the case is destined--so it says in the news--for the Supreme Court.

Two cultural events in one weekend. What bliss. Did you have any wonderful experiences this weekend?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My Bad! Museum Day is Sept 24 and Sept 25

My "source" was mistaken. Anyway, we're off to the big city to see a show. Link is in previous post.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cheap (FREE!) Culture: Smithsonian Museum Day

Have all you (USA) residents heard about Smithsonian Museum Day? Museum Day is Sunday 9/25 and scads of museums all over the US are participating. You can check what museums are participating in your area and print out a free ticket for 2 on the Museum Day site. You can see the link here.

Is anyone taking advantage of this?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Garnet Hill 25% off Everything (almost) and another sale...

Is 25% off frugal? Only if it's something you need or really want that doesn't normally go on sale. Garnet Hill, the catalog whose aesthetic I have been swooning over for more than 20 years, is celebrating reaching its Facebook goal--with a 25% off all full-priced merch AND free shipping. TODAY ONLY. YOU MUST LINK THROUGH FACEBOOK PAGE.

Am I going to buy anything? No. Yes, I swoon over the Eileen Fisher and the boots, but I am TOOOOO CHEEEEEEEP. However, if I was also swooning over some of the furniture, this would be a good time to buy, since it never goes on sale.

Also, my bete noire--Chico's--has a bunch of stuff for $9.99. Plus, there's a code for 20% off everything right at the top of the page. Site is down right now, so you'll have to link yourself.

You did it! With your help, our Facebook community has grown to 35,000! As a thank you for spreading the word, take 25% off all full-price items AND get FREE SHIPPING through Thursday, September 22*, just click through the link below and your discount will be automatically adjusted in your shopping cart! Keep sharing us with your friends --- the more, the merrier and watch for other exciting things coming to Facebook in the coming months!

* Save 25% + Free Shipping offer is valid through midnight ET September 22, 2011. Offer is valid for Free Standard Ground Shipping and does not apply to Express Next-Day or Express 2nd Day shipping fees. Offer applies to full-price merchandise total and does not include the purchase of Gift Cards, gift packaging, monogramming, or items from our online Sale & Clearance section. Excludes Hanky Panky, Hanro, Patagonia, Wacoal, Company C, Dash & Albert and Simon Pearce. Your savings will be reflected in your shopping cart. May not be combined with other offers. Not redeemable on prior purchases.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Gift from singlemomrichmom: Early Retirement Extreme

Waiting on my doorstep: a package from Canada. Hmmmmm. Yes! A book sent to me by the great blogger singlemomrichmom: her copy of the fascinating tome by the very interesting Jacob, of earlyretirementextreme.

I'm thrilled to have the book. Jacob brings the brains of a physicist to questions about how we might want to live. For a taste of his way of thinking: he has a post titled not How much do you need to retire, but How little do you need to retire?

I'm probably too old to retire very early, plus I like my job. Still, it's inspiring to see what one can do.

So thanks to Jacqjolie for her generosity. Check out her blog: it's a great read.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What's In Your Pantry? A Meal in Two Minutes or Less

Miss Em called this morning. She observed that few of her friends have anything to eat in their off-campus apartments and so must go out--to grocery store or to restaurant--when they are hungry. She was surprised by this.

I replied that her own grandma has a kitchen with few groceries, necessitating a trip to the store for every meal. Ditto for the other side of the family.

The thing about shopping for each meal--or going out--is that after that meal you are back at square one. This lack of a system is wasteful of both time and money.

So, for the one area of domesticity in which I have skills, let me--yet once more--sing the praises of the pantry. Miss Em has a little pantry in her dorm: oatmeal, boxed soy milk, coffee, tuna, peanut butter, canned beans, canned tomatoes, rice, and a few other things.

My pantry has all that and more. My two-minute emergency meal is a bean and cheese burrito. If that's too much work, I always have at least one can of New England clam chowder, a convenience food I find acceptable.

I get hungry with amazing frequency--and hunger is swiftly followed by dizziness. I suppose my best frugal habit has its origin in my metabolism.

Do you have a Two-Minute Meal?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Shoe Polish Question for Chanelistas, Frugalistas, and Fashionistas

Now and again I mention that I have a pair of Chanel loafers courtesy of Goodwill. They are the comfiest shoes I've ever put on--alas, since I doubt I will be buying a replacement.

Anyway, they are rather scuffed by now and two of my students--who were admiring the interlocked C's on the front--told me I should polish them. Naturally, polishing shoes is one of the skills I am lacking. I am sure I can figure it out.

Question: can I use any old shoe polish or is there a particular polish for super-expensive footwear?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whole Foods $20 voucher for $10 via LivingSocial

You probably have seen this, but in case you haven't: you can get a $20 Whole Foods voucher for $10 through LivingSocial, which is one of those Groupon type outfits.

I find most of the offers unappealing: so far Mr FS and I have sprung for an art museum membership. Most others (for restaurants we aren't enticed by or for services--pedicures and the like--we don't want) we delete without reading. But we did get our voucher and hope Miss Em will take advantage also.

Here's the notice on a "Deals" site.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Do You or Would You Couch Surf?

We saw Frugal Son off yesterday. He left some stuff behind: a few single socks (the mates are perhaps in Paris?), some dirty cups, and AN IDEA. Couch Surfing. This is what it sounds like: an on-line community where you can seek or offer overnight accommodations.

Frugal Son has done it a few times, most recently in Portland with a few friends. Since he is 22 I can't really say anthing about his activities! Miss Em (age 20, so still under my care) did it (without telling us) in Greece when her accommodations fell through (I have a panic attack as I think about this incident, about which I know nothing).

I figured this was something for which my age disqualified me. Why would I do this when I can afford a humble hotel? Why would I stay with some hipster types? Who would want me, anyway? Then I was peering over Frugal Son's shoulder as he tried to find accommodations in Paris. Opportunity one: a couple working for advanced degrees in Paris. Opportunity two: a family with two pre-teen kids, who take surfers in Paris and in their old house in the south of France. These people all sound so interesting!

The system is self-regulating, with ratings for hosts and guests much like the EBay community in its early days. We loved our visits in France last summer, where we stayed with friends-of-friends-of friends for a few nights.

Frugal Son made a pre-flight phone call to his grandma, age 82. The plan is that she will fly to France next spring and then she and Frugal Son will make a trip to her childhood city: Vienna. When he told her about his couch surfing line-up, she said, "Oh, I want to do that!"

Who knows? Would you do it?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

To Save Money on Ink Cartridges: New Laser Printer

The few weeks before transitions--end of semester, graduation, leaving on vacation--are incredibly productive. You do all the stuff you've been putting off. Frugal Son, who is leaving tomorrow for at least a year in France, has been bugging us about our printer--a cheap one that required pricy and short-lived ink cartridges. We read somewhere that printer ink is the most valuable liquid in the world. Even Hewlett-Packard, which is getting out of the computer biz, is staying in the ink cartridge biz: that's where the money is.

Here is the printer Frugal Son picked out for us. The printing costs are a fraction of our previous printer. The quality seems fine, but we're not doing anything very fancy.

The newest member of our family. No, it does not replace Frugal Son. So glad we put an end to our procrastination on this.

Have you replaced a money-sucking product recently?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Au revoir, mon fils and an idea for the recent graduate

Frugal Son is home for two more days and then off to his new job in France. Yes, job. Low-paying, but that's OK. In fact, I would love the job myself. He--along with a squadron of others--will be assisting in English language classes all over France. His pay: around 800 euros a month after taxes. HOWEVER, he will only work for 7 months, which include 8 weeks of vacation!

He just found out that he is one of the lucky ones who will receive free room and board right at the lycee where he will work. So--as he said--My salary just went up. His work week is 12 hours/week! Because of his free room and board, he will have plenty of money for travel.

What's the idea? Go abroad, graduate. Every American is in possession of something desired the world over: the English language. Many recent grads are heading to Korea, for instance, which is noted for its extremely high pay. Korea, in fact, has become the place of choice for grads with student debt: housing is provided, costs are low. You can pay off some--or all--of your debt in a few years and see Asia on the side.

Besides, it looks good on your resume. Living abroad gives you skills only talked about in today's popular major: international studies.

I have read so many sad articles about recent graduates un- and under-employed. No, I will not link to them.

Isn't Frugal Son lucky?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Why Aren't You Frugal Anymore?

So asked two of my students who found my not-so-secret blog. The post where I discussed my luxe-on-a-budget lunch at Restaurant August.

First, I should point out that my being LESS frugal than I am normally would be EXTREME frugality for others--not quite in the Amy D. of Tightwad Gazette category, but pretty darn close.

What I said to my inquiring students was this: I had three major financial goals, and I've reached two of them. Goal one was HOUSE. Goal two was COLLEGE for kids. Goal three is retirement, a scary proposition, but the only one left.

Once I realized that, we decided to live it up a little more. Just a little.

Have you reached any of your financial goals?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cutting Off the College Graduate: Thoughts

Frugal Son--a recent graduate--has asked me this a few times: Why do parents let their kids spend extravagantly in college and then--at graduation--insist on immediate financial independence? He went on to say that many of his friends, many of whom are from families more affluent than ours, lived a snazzy college lifestyle, with cars (and insurance!), lots of clothing, meals out, and so forth.

Then, according to Frugal Son, upon graduation, the ultimatum comes: You must be independent within x months. So from the upper-middle class lifestyle of riches . . . to rags, especially in this scary job market. Frugal Son said that for some of his friends, the ultimatum came suddenly upon graduation.

Frugal Son and I were discussing the fact that it might be better for mom and dad to put a rein on the student's spending during the college years. This would teach the student how to survive a somewhat less opulent lifestyle than the one they had growing up. It would also allow the parents some time to secret away bits of cash that might otherwise have gone to meals out and clothing purchases college-style. What a gift it would be to give the graduate a small dowry of sorts to make the transition easier!

So: do you think our idea--the dowry for the recent grad--is just MORE parental over-indulgence? Or is it sensible for parents who can squirrel away some extra money?