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Saturday, November 30, 2013

30% Off Book at Amazon: Another Thing I Bought

There are so many bloggers out there exhorting us to JUST SAY NO TO STUFF. It is a good message, and I need it, because I am filled with desires for this and that on the material plane. In addition to the ladder I bought yesterday (don't worry, commenters, I am not planning to USE it. I just bought it for the guys in my life. I am height-averse.), I bought Mr FS a book.

This is a book he's been pining for. He is a Proust-aholic and an all-around highbrow fellow.

Till December 1 (11:59 PST) you can get 30% off an Amazon-provided book. Up to $10 off. Use the code BOOKDEAL.
Some among you may scoff at a mere $10.00 savings. However, I believe that most of my frugality consists of lots of little savings like that. 

Speaking of $10.00, Mr FS and I are off on a walk to the local grocery to use our Small Business Saturday credit courtesy of American Express.

Friday, November 29, 2013

My Black Friday Purchase

I'm sitting here in my fuzzy slippers, wearing two cashmere sweaters and a puffy down vest (all courtesy of you-know-where). I just bought something I've had my eye on for a while......

SO HAPPY! (It was $125.00 this morning...)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Small Business Saturday: $10 this year from Amex

You might be a wee bit disappointed, since LAST YEAR, Amex gave those who registered for the event a $25 statement credit. Still, for me, $10 is nothing to scoff at, since Mr FS and I take a daily walk that takes us right by a local grocery where we stock up on wine and gourmet products by Roland. For some reason, this small, independent grocery is the cheapest in town on those items.

Here's the LINK.

Friday, November 22, 2013

I Will Not Be Buying A Bargain Turkey, Or Any Turkey, this Year

Announcement: I will not be buying a turkey this year. This statement is a shocker, no doubt, not only because it is positively un-American to say NO to turkey, but also because the Thanksgiving turkey is the frugalista's friend, providing tons of food for weeks to come at a ridiculous sale price. Why then, why?

First of all, Miss Em is in Serbia. Second, Frugal Son wangled an invite to a friend's house, where he will feast on deep-fried turkey. So Mr FS and I will be solo. This is not an occasion for despair; we communicate with our kids all the time. We used to invite people over, but stopped about five years ago. Guess what? No one EVER invited us over. I'm cool with that.

OK. So why no turkey? Our freezer is stuffed with stuff. Our pantries are full. One store we frequent changed its store brand and had ridiculous sales on the items marked Best Yet, which have now been replaced by Best Choice. We really need to use our stockpile. We don't want to be like our colleague (one we used to invite each year for Thanksgiving): he bought a turkey a year on sale. After Katrina, with no electricity, he donated SEVEN TURKEYS to the Food Bank. I guess that's ok, but I prefer a more gradual approach!

And besides: the best part of Thanksgiving is leftovers. I already have all the fixings for the best of the best leftover choice: gumbo. On Thanksgiving, Mr FS and I will be having turkey and sausage gumbo. When that's gone, I'll make my second favorite leftover meal: pot pie.

I'm hoping that by next year, we will have enough room in the freezer to justify a turkey and its attendant leftovers. Right now, I feel a big burden lifted off my shoulders: the burden of the bargain-priced turkey.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Paula's Choice! $10 for you! $10 for me!

OK. This is not a money-generating blog, not least because I post only when the fancy strikes me. As a hardcore frugal chick, I don't buy much at retail. There are no affiliate links for thrift stores or for--omg--not buying anything.

One product line I DO buy comes from Paula's Choice, who recommends and also manufactures skincare. Although there is a potential conflict of interest--i.e. recommending one's own products--I think Paula negotiates this well. I have learned about many excellent low cost products from her, namely Cetaphil and Cerave. Paula's own products are reasonable for what they are.

Miss Em and I splurge on Paula's own line for some things: sunscreen and toner, to name just two. Oh yeah, her serums are also great.

Paula sent me an offer today. If I recommend her line to someone, that someone gets $10 off! And if that someone buys something, I get a $10 referral credit! So, if you're going to buy something ANYWAY (toners and cleansers are on sale at the moment), consider using my link. I'd love to get more serum.

Her products are 100% guaranteed incidentally.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

College Finances and the ETS: Higher Ed is a Cash Cow, with the Student Being the Cow

I haven't written about higher ed issues (costs, value, etc) in part because my children have graduated (debt free, thank heavens) and because the issue is still too depressing. The kinds of issues I was struggling with years ago (is it "worth it" to go for a more prestigious college? how can one save if college costs rise at twice the rate of inflation? do schools offer "merit aid" and then nullify it with tuition increases in subsequent years, and so on). are--alas--with us still. Indeed, they are perhaps exacerbated by the fact that the job market is still difficult for recent graduates.

My clever title is borrowed from a piece I recently read in a new-to-me publication. The costs, the growth of the administrative class, the growth of the non-tenured instructor/part-timer class, yeah, I've seen it all. I used to tell my children that I felt that higher ed involved "trickle-up economics," with the borrowing/paying student enriching all those who stood to profit. The article in the link puts it better: higher education is a cash cow and the student is the cow.

Among the beneficiaries: the Testing Industries, you know, GRE, SAT, GMAT, MCAT, LSAT, and all others. Miss Em recently took the GREs and I was stunned to learn that the test cost over $160. Thankfully, she does not plan to take it again, having done well enough the first time.

I had this in mind when I received an email from Educational Testing Service, which puts out the tests. ETS wanted to know what works little old me taught in a survey course. I could contribute to the public weal (and to the AP Exams) by taking a survey. AND--as a reward--I could request a copy of the results.

You have got to be kidding, Mr and Ms ETS. My late father was in the survey biz and I remember that professionals who took surveys were compensated. So I shot back an email--which no doubt was not read--saying that if the ETS made money on the tests (it does) then the ETS should compensate with SOMETHING. I got another email a few days later, to which I made the same useless reply.

Take this out of your library!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Gifts: Nonstick Frying Pan, Perfume, Memories

I have stated here more than once my antipathy to gifts of the conventional sort. This probably has to do with the fact that we all have too much, most of all me, with my love of thrift shopping. At the thrift store, money is truly no object.

It's so hard to find a good gift. But, thanks to Miss Em's sojourn in Serbia, I am able to buy gifts that I KNOW will be just the right thing. Miss Em is in Serbia, courtesy of the Fulbright Teaching Assistant Program. We think her application was enhanced by her recounting of a family connection to Serbia, about which we, in fact, know very little. "I don't remember anything" is the response to awkward queries about the journey from Vienna to Belgrade to Boston.

Miss Em made contact with one of our few remaining connections, Ildi, the widow of my mother's first cousin George. Though Ildi is a self-described misanthropist of 80, she has taken loving care of Miss Em. Ildi lives in a decaying, once elegant house originally owned by my great-aunt Julia, whom I never met. There is but one material thing Ildi wants: she has an empty bottle of Fidji perfume, from which she takes an ecstatic whiff now and again.

Then there are others who shower Miss Em with attention and help. Even though Miss Em offers to treat her companions, she is seldom allowed to do it. She gets gifts of many sorts. One couple explained to Miss Em that--after much deliberation--they had decided to save up for a nonstick pan. Given that doctors in Serbia make around 500 euros a month and that non-stick pans cost around 50 euros, this is obviously a serious decision.

Miss Em's friend Mr C will be visiting her in December. We lent him a warm down jacket and some wool gloves (thanks to my thrifting!). He will be carrying with him a 12 inch nonstick frying pan and a big bottle of Fidji. Together, these items cost far less than 10% of my monthly--or even weekly--income.

And I've gotten a gift too. In a Skype-session with Miss Em, I got to ask Ildi some questions: when did my great-grandmother die (1959)? When did Julia die (1971)? Ildi held up some photographs of George. Miss Em has a big list of questions for Ildi to answer, so I will be getting more gifts soon, the gifts of Ildi's memories.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Snippets from Serbia

Some musings from Miss Em on stuff and money, here and in Serbia. And, in the doting Mama department, here are more charming snippets from her life there.

Second musing has to do with the ways in which money and cultural value systems collide. I was thinking about the things that are expensive in the States versus what is expensive here: in the States, services and experiences are expensive while objects are cheap. Here, many objects are expensive, but services and experiences are cheap. In Serbia, clothes, makeup, furniture: all expensive. But transportation, food, beauty salons, barber shops: all cheap. That is basically an inverse situation from the States, where (good) food is expensive, a visit to the hair salon costs $50, but you can buy clothes and objects in abundance. Here: cafes on every corner. In the States: Dollar Stores and Targets. The monetary differences indicate deeper ideological cultural differences: here, the cultural norm elevates enjoying life, the dailyness of it, the coffees and getting a good shave and eating food and the like. In the States, luxury experiences are exorbitantly expensive: the salon, Disney World, coffee. But the things are cheap, and people base experiences around accumulation of things. And then, what do you do? You sit amidst your things and develop desires for more things. You know I’m a great lover of things—and people here are too; just look at the care they take getting dressed!—but I’m talking here on a broad cultural scale. Our economy and culture and absorbed value system promotes the one-dollar section at Target, so much “fast fashion,” but meanwhile $5 Starbucks lattes are grabbed to-go, not meant to be lingered over. Here, a $1 espresso gets you five hours in a cafĂ©, or more, if you want it. I don’t know, I probably didn’t express that well. But looking at the things the economy encourages its citizens to buy—in the States, lots of trinkets and material things; here, services and experiences—must inform values on a deep level. Right? Or did the value systems inform the economy? I’m a bit more pessimistic than that, and tend to think the economy/money controls us and not vice versa.

I think this is also linked to an American cultural fear of death and transience. An unwillingness to engage with it. Things last, at least in concept. Experiences, like life, are transient. We hate to consider our own transience. Funeral culture: in the States, it’s all about buying the expensive coffin and having the right things at the funeral, but cemeteries are largely unvisited. Here, the gravestone is important, sure, but people also spend lots of time visiting cemeteries, honoring the dead with time rather than materials. It would take a bit longer to focus this theory that our cultural fixation with material goods is linked to our cultural fear of engaging with mortality, but honestly, I think there’s something to it!