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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Did I Pay for My House By Saving on Groceries?

I'm sure there are errors in my math and assumptions, but I would bet that my general point is sound (economists: correct me if I'm wrong).

One of my great skills is being a black-belt grocery shopper. (Another, in case you are curious, is analyzing poetry.) I have never spent more than about $200/month for my family of 4. And, no, I don't use coupons (I'm too messy). And even though we eat a lot of beans (because we love them; because they are a superfood; because they are environmentally good--oh, and cheap), we eat lots of luxury items too. So last week, Mr FS and I dined on lamb: we had lamb twice, lamb stir-fry once, and then--oh bliss--Scotch Broth, which Miss Em, back from college, declared her new favorite soup.

Last night, we had Miss Em's former favorite shrimp and corn soup.

I buy in the seemingly bizarre way advocated by the couponing-help site The Grocery Game: buy a bunch when it's on sale. There, you don't have to subscribe to the Game, which costs a little bit of money. Anyway, my cart will have one week 20 coffees; another week 20 peanut butters, whatever. When you are a poverty-stricken beginner at this, you can buy 3 coffees or peanut butters. Anything is better than nothing.

So, according to the USDA, in 2010 a family of four spent--per month--$582 for the thrifty plan, $758 for the next one, then $948, then $1150.

OK, let's ignore inflation and compounding. The fact that we eat well on less than the food stamp allotment (!) over 20 years: around $400 a month (around $5000/year) over 20 years=$100,000! Hey, that's around the principle on my house. Which I paid off early, btw. Now I see how.

Little savings over many years matter a lot. And really add up. That's good news for those of us who can't (or don't want to) find ways to earn more money.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Frugal Treats and Celebrity Sighting: While Saving for Hermes Scarf or Whatever

So much advice on how to save money focuses on Just say no. But such advice is so dreary. So many treats are within reach.

Today, in honor of the arrival (finally) of Miss Em for her vacation, we went to New Orleans.

First stop: Whole Foods to use the bathroom, buy some fruit, and check out the samples. Cost: a couple of dollars.

Second stop: While on Magazine Street, which has a somewhat European vibe with its small shops, Miss Em and I (with the shop-averse Mr FS reluctantly tagging along) went into two shops to hone our aesthetic sense. We went to Pied Nu (great name!) to look at items by John Derian. Then, we looked at Hazelnut, one of whose owners is Bryan Batt of Madmen fame.

While I was trying to show Miss Em the bowl I would like to buy if I ever get the house sufficiently in order, she got distracted. There was Bryan Batt on the sidewalk right outside. So we said hi and shook pinkies, because he was carrying a tray.

Third stop: Buffalo Exchange, where I waited on line to unload some Goodwill mistakes. Meanwhile. Miss Em did her shopping. Mr FS (poor guy) went for a walk and then read in the car. Sorry! Miss Em found two tops and two holiday gifts for friends. We still went home with $92.00 from the Buf boxes.

Fourth Stop: St James Cheese. OMG. this place is amazing. We weren't that hungry, so we shared two sandwiches from the menu. Which would you have chosen?

Oh and what would you rather see: a sandwich or Bryan Batt?

Total Spent: Around $25.
Total "Earned": Around $120.00.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Instead of Hermes, try...leather bracelet

Ever since I became enamored of my thrifted Hermes scarf, I have wanted another. This has led to some time spent on the Hermes site, looking at their wares. The prices are truly eye-popping, like the coloring book for $130.

Strangely, the silk scarves at around $400 don't seem so overpriced, given the complexity of the patterns and the labor involved. They are printed by hand, as opposed to photographic printing.

I have also learned that there are addicts for many Hermes products, including their leather bracelets. The most famous bracelet of all was copied by Target last year, which led to howls of shock and despair all over that corner of the web.

How about a leather bracelet that's not a copy, but is just itself. Check this out!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Incongruities at the Thrift Store

I justify my thrifting expeditions in various ways: I am helping a good cause! or No one appreciates this abandoned item! or I am actually conducting sociological research!
Not that I'm a sociologist. Not that I need anything.

Still, some strange and (to me, anyway) interesting moments. For instance, at Goodwill the other day, I heard the cashier exclaim "I didn't know Jimmy Choo made purses!" To which the proud purchaseer replied, "Yes."

Also shopping that day was a woman in a sweatshirt of interlocked G's with a tag saying GUCCI. Also, a giant purse to match.

A few days earlier, Mr FS and I went to New Orleans to go to the art museum. I said I wanted a brief stop at Bloomingdeals, run by the Junior League. I've written before about how much I loved this place when my children were small. Since Katrina, the stock and general ambience are quite forlorn.

There, I spied a gaggle of young volunteers. They were huddled together, discussing in loud tones the fact that Saks was going to have an additional 40% off sale starting Monday and that their husbands would kill them when they got the bills.

Status! Class differences! So much to see at the thrift store.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wonderful Books for Children for Chanukah and Christmas: Not for Children Only

Just thinking about these books fills me with emotion. They are worth owning (I do), but remember: LIBRARY.

Do you have any favorite books from these and other traditions?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cheap Chic at the Table: French-style

It seems that every trip has a taste memory. Our first trip to Paris together (children with grandparents--merci beaucoup) is evoked by the memory of the coffee served in Hotel Vernueil, a splurge for us (both hotel and breakfast) unlikely to be repeated.

On our last trip, we were lucky enough to have meals with three families, all arranged by the people whose home we stayed in. At two, we had prunes wrapped in ham. That's the recipe. Heat in oven. How could that be so good? The teenage boys of our second dinner hosts were ecstatic also, never having had it.

Here is an official recipe: Prunes and cured ham
Amuse-bouche jambon pruneaux

These ham appetizers a warm and satisfying treat, with next to no effort. If you're going to do just do one appetizer, pick this one. It is fast, fast, fast and delicious.
4 ounces raw ham, such as jambon de Bayonne or prosciutto
20 pitted prunes (I prefer smaller ones for this, so that the final roll is small enough to eat in one bite)
Slice the ham in about one inch by six inch slices. Place a prune on each and roll up. Place under the broiler until the ham sizzles - about 2 minutes depending on your broiler.

Careful to let these cool a bit before enjoying - the hot prune can burn your mouth. If you want, you could add a toothpick afterwards, but don't put these under the grill.

I am a recent convert to prunes. As a child, I associated them with very old people. They are now called dried plums, in order to them of the fusty associations.

Mr FS and I bought a tiny amount of prosciutto at Whole Foods. This was enough to make us a small portion of the prunes before 4 or 5 dinners.

They were as good as we remembered.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Lands End Now 40% off plus Free Shipping

In case you didn't get the email. Nothing for me, thanks.

* 40% off your entire order
Excludes gift cards, special services, duties & taxes. Savings reflected at checkout when valid promotion code and PIN are applied at time of order. Offer ends 11:59 p.m. Central Monday, December 19, 2011. Christmas delivery applies only to in-stock items without monogramming, engraving, hemming, cuffing or other special requests. Delivery within 48 contiguous states excluding P.O. Boxes. See Shipping Calendar for details.
** St. Nick's Picks
Prices shown reflect savings. Offer ends 11:59 p.m. Central Friday, December 16, 2011

Or at checkout‚ manually enter the Promotion Code DONNER and PIN 1585.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Frugality and Hermes

This is kind of funny. There is a huge discussion group on the purseforum, with a section devoted to Hermes, the superluxe leather and other goods company. Many women--and a few men--discuss their desires, model their latest purchases, critique various collections, and get ebay and other secondhand offerings authenticated.

Needless to say, I don't really fit into this group. I wanted to see pictures of scarves. They really are beautiful. But wait! There is a group where I feel right at home: the Saving Up for Hermes group. On this thread--which began in 2007 and continues to the present--posters lay out their schemes for saving up for their desired item.

Here you will find the usual suspects: eat at home, sell your excess on ebay, don't buy things you don't really want, and so on.

Really, the laws of frugality are timeless, and, with enough time (and barring major financial meltdowns), you can save for what you want.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Another Hermes scarf...maybe?

As my devoted readers may recall, I fulfilled one of my low-level fantasies last year: I found a Hermes scarf at a thrift store. I like it.

Then, I was reading the blog of one of my readers--Viviennefiles (check it out if you haven't)--and glanced over at her blogroll, where I discovered a blog called aestheticalterations. Well, I'm all in favor of aesthetic alterations, so, my interest piqued, I took a peek.

Very interesting! Here is a woman who, with (I am presuming) an average income, manages to buy the occasional Hermes scarf, accessory, and even handbag. It can be done. This to me is the epitome of frugality: conscious spending so you can get what you want. What you want, of course, is up to you.

Most of us in the middle-income bracket assume we can't have certain things. I met the wife of a cardiologist (average income in my area $500,000-$700,000) who said she had never been to Europe because she couldn't afford it. Meanwhile, she was wearing many, many thousands of dollars of jewelry on her arms, neck, and ears. She had made her choice.

Since I was having so much fun with my scarf, I decided I wanted another. They cost $400. Can I save $400? Yes. I'm pretty sure it can be done. Could I spend $400 on a scarf? I have my doubts.

So I have decided to defer the decision. I will save $400. Then, in a year, if I still want one, I will think about it.

I even bought a little piggy bank at the thrift store.

Which one should I pick?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If you want to know what frugal sounds like...

Here is a true slice-of-life from the frugal household. It is recorded for posterity in our gmail chat account.

After chatting with Miss Em for a bit, I let Mr FS get on, for HIS turn with our beloved daughter. When he got on, he announced his arrival (and my departure) with this:

MM (c'est moi) is going to CVS now to buy toilet paper so you can go to Europe.

As if that's not sufficiently ludicrous, Miss Em replied:

Yes! I understand! Thank you.

That's what frugality is all about: little choices so you can do what you want. Don't mock us toooooo much.

Here is a visual representation of what I mean:


over many days can equal THIS,


and THIS!

Can you believe it?

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Swore I Wouldn't Do This: More Bargains from LL Bean and J Jill

I really don't think I'm going to succumb, but there are some good deals out there IF you need the stuff--or if one of your intended recipients does.

LL Bean has 30% off all backpacks--today only. I bought a travel pack for Miss Em last year. For a while, she pined for a leather backpack; she seems to have gotten over it.

J Jill, from which company I have bought exactly one item, has 25% off everything and free shipping.

By the way, I turned in all my grades. After having absorbed the stress of my 100plus students over the last few weeks, I need a rest. How about a book? I'm reading The Magic Mountain, which I abandoned halfway though over 30 years ago.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Frugal Stress Relief in the Faubourg Marigny

Grades are due tomorrow morning and my week of misery will--perforce--be over. Since some decisions are ALWAYS at the last minute, Mr. FS and I decided to play hooky and go to New Orleans. Our plan was to go to Whole Foods (which was having a "Taste of the Season" sampling) and then the Aquarium.

Well! the tasting was awful: many samplings of fingerling potatoes in various guises. Then we couldn't find decent parking for the Aquarium. Plus, it was a beautiful day. We decided to drive around the Faubourg Marigny, which I just read is one of the "most intact 19th century neighborhoods in the United States." No parking there either.

Then we saw a big SUV try and fail to get into what seemed to be the only parking space. Yay for the Honda Civic.

We walked for the duration of our parking: almost 2 hours. Honestly, we felt as revived as we do during our mammoth walk-fests in Europe. And we were revived physically, mentally, and aesthetically.

This site has some nice pics of the area.

Do you have any nearby spots that offer physical, mental, and aesthetic renewal?

Friday, December 9, 2011

I Was Treated Like a Queen in a Store

Now, how did that happen? Usually, I frequent thrift shops, where I am left alone. Every now and then, I do go to a retail establishment and watch the salesperson's eyes flicker to my shoes and my bag--usually I am found wanting. That's OK, since I like to scrounge around and hate retail pressure.

But a few weeks ago, I got a taste of being treated like royalty in the retail arena: at the Encore Shop in New Orleans, a half thrift/half consignment shop that benefits the New Orleans Symphony. I had been perhaps twice in the last 20 years, leaving empty-handed both times.

But for some reason, I felt the urge to check it out. In I walked, my usual scruffy self. Mr. FS said I could have 10 minutes.

I saw a tall blond right out of Town and Country magazine. She was trying on clothes, but rushed to meet me, asked my name, and followed me around. I told her what was on my wish list, but--alas--nothing on my wish list was my size. She made me promise to come back on one of the days she worked, so she could help me. Imagine: I was being helped by a New Orleans society lady! What a thrill.

I even found her picture in the paper, so you can see what I mean.

I didn't see any Coach shoes for $4 (indeed, this place was rather expensive). I did buy a pair of shoes, which looked brand new. They were $22.00, half of which goes to the orchestra.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Good Deal on Best and Most Frugal Skincare: Cerave

Cerave lotion is cheap to begin with, but this week (till Saturday) it is "Buy One Get One Half OFF" at Walgreens. That brings it to about $10 for a bottle. Check out Paula Begoun's glowing review.

Love this stuff! So does Miss Em! And I make Mr FS use it too.

If you get the regular lotion, remember to use sunscreen.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Some more good deals I am not going to avail myself of

I know this seems ridiculous. But a few readers have used the codes I have posted (Duchesse got some down jackets for the men in her family). Not to mention that I have over 200 items to grade (some requiring a mere glance, most requiring sustained attention) before I can take a breather. So no (or few) posts or responses for a bit.

Anyway, if you can stand Chico's, the code 10977 will give you 50% off your highest priced item if you spend $50. The last thing I bought from Chico's had a gaping hole in the knit fabric when I pulled it from its box. UGH. Now I have to shlep it and myself to a Chico's for the return.

LLBean has 20% off outdoor gear this weekend. Plus, if you spend $50, you get a $10 gift card. My colleague bought himself 4 new plaid flannel shirts. He knows I love soft fabrics, so he let me rub his elbow!

Subway has 2 $2.00 6 inch subs. You have to ask for these. One is meatball; one is cold cuts.

Every day, Lands End has a St Nick's pick. Last year, I got a tote bag with this promotion. They usually have free shipping.

Oh yeah, Powells Books has free shipping and 25% off till Monday. There's a unique code, but they sent me 3, so if you want to patronize this venerable institution, let me know, and I will send you one of my codes. I remember old Mr Powell coming to campus to buy books back in the early 70s.

And remember: it will all be on sale in a mere few weeks.