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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Question About Mom's Broker...Help!

I know I usually write about thrift shopping, so the readers out there might not have any answers. But  you had such good advice about my dental woes (actually dentist office woes) that I am back with a bigger issue.

Backstory: After my father died unexpectedly in 2008, my mother gave her taxes to an 80 year old accountant recommended by a neighbor. (Note: the accountant is recently deceased. He understated my mother's income in 2012 by about 75%--less than the lowest social security--which has made her liable for huge penalties and interest fees.)

The accountant recommended his broker. Within a day, my mother had given the broker part of her money to manage. He now has 100%. At our initial (and only) meeting, he was very evasive about compensation etc.

I have been worried about this guy over the years since my mother has no idea what her holdings consist of, what her rate of return is, etc. I spoke to him on the phone last summer and asked him a few questions and he told me "Your ego is too involved." He didn't answer the questions.

Luckily, my brother who has been uninvolved now ways we should look over the broker's records. Since my mother likes and trusts men more than women (she says this! to me!), this is good.

So, with her permission, I sent the broker these questions.

1. What specifically are xxx 's holdings? For instance, there is a category TIAACREF[note, the broker had my mother remove her TIAA money; it is now under the broker's mangement)--what are the specific holdings under that rubric?

2. What is the asset allocation? 

3. For stock holdings: what percentage is in mutual funds and what percentage is in individual stocks?

4. What percentage of assets is in IRAs and similar pretax vehicles? What percentage is in post-tax?

5. What kind of turnover does her portfolio have? How many sells/buys have been engaged in?  What are her total transaction/investment expenses for 2014? 2013? 2012?

6. What is her total return for 2014? 2013? 2012?

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to hearing from you.

Here is the reply: Good questions.  I think it is time to reevaluate the portfolio.

Any suggestions about how I might reply to this? Anything I should do?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Do You Watch DIY? Big Job in the Big Easy

If so, Frugal Son's house makeover has a date and time!  This was the most amazing opportunity. We were so nonchalant about it, since the producers asked us to apply. In hindsight, our nonchalance was completely ridiculous.

We've never watched DIY shows. We don't get cable. Luckily, we will be visiting family with cable on the air date. Hoping we can figure out how to access the show.


Episode DARN-106H


  • December 27, 2014
    10:00 PM e/p
  • December 27, 2014
    1:00 AM e/p
  • December 28, 2014
    2:30 PM e/p
  • January 21, 2015
    7:30 PM e/p
  • February 03, 2015
    7:30 PM e/p
  • February 21, 2015
    3:30 PM e/p
Albert and Leon head down south to renovate a historic New Orleans double-shotgun home. The guys set out to do a major update to the house to increase the space's functionality while preserving the home's character and history. They swap the entryways, turning an underused foyer into a bold library and dining area; tackle an outdated kitchen and give the living room a serious facelift. While in the Big Easy, the guys experience all the city has to offer; taking their first taste of an oyster and alligator, and jumping in with a brass band parading through the streets of New Orleans!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gift Giving Experts: Here's a Tough One

OK. Here's a gift-giving quandary. Frugal Son wants to buy a gift for his across the street neighbor (the grandmother of the young fellow who will be getting the computer). She is on public assistance.  Frugal Son's go-to gift has been homemade bread plus some cheese from a fancy cheese store.

But--said Frugal Son--while the bread seems good, the cheese seems superfluous to someone who has plenty of food (and often brings a covered dish over to him). The neighbor has enough of the necessities but has NO MONEY. Seriously. He has no idea of what she might want or need. He is thinking of BREAD a basket. PLUS WHAT?

P.S. Thank you readers for your comments on my sporadic posts. While I think of responses to each and every one, I have had a hard time actually typing them up. This is perhaps because I have spent the past few weeks grading papers, writing comments on the work of the 109 students who remained in my care, AND sending email responses to queries about final grades. These last, as one might expect, are often heart-rending. So thank you, one and all. Maybe I'll attempt a few today...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Gift that Cost Me Nothing

Every time I think about writing a post these days, a key word is Nothing. What does Frugal Son want? Answer: Nothing. Miss Em: the same, not to mention that she's in Serbia. As for Mr FS and me, well, we have too much to begin with in our very middle-class life. So gift-giving for the holidays has become rather nonchalant these past few seasons.

Frugal Son lives--with two roommates--in a house that we bought in New Orleans. We used the money we got upon the death of his beloved father, Bill. The house is in the Irish Channel neighborhood, which as been gentrifying for more than 20 years.  The block is very neighborly with a diverse group of people, many of whom make a point to watch out for each other.

One of Frugal Son's roommates has been on "probation" with us since leaving the door of the house open one night when the other two tenants were gone. Some thieves entered the house at night, took the keys which he had considerately left next to the front door, and stole his big truck. yeah, he was lucky. You can see why neighbors keeping an eye out is a good thing in a city.

Frugal Son's across the street neighbor is--we assume--on public assistance. She takes care of her 16 year old grandson. She keeps a close eye on him. She has very little money. Recently, Frugal Son asked us if we had a little computer lying around that we could give the grandson.

The answer: yes. We bought a tiny eee computer to take to Europe a few years ago. We haven't used it in a while because Miss Em bought one also for her summer course in Florence. We really only need one. Yes, that last paragraph just exudes privilege, does it not?

So we are giving the computer to the grandson. What does it cost us: nothing.

That we can give a kid a computer with such ease is a sobering thought. It doesn't even make a dent.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Does anyone out there know about copper cookware?

About a week ago, when I asked Frugal Son what he wanted for a present, he--as usual--replied "Nothing." What is this, King Lear?

A few minutes later, he said, "One day I'd like some copper pots." He IS the best cook in our cooking family, slightly outpacing Miss Em (who is best at  attractive "plating") and far outpacing me (and I'm pretty good, though prone to too many shortcuts). Little does he know how expensive copper pots are.

I always like a project, so I began to do research. My head started spinning and not just at the steep cost.

Could anyone provide a sort of Sparknotes to copper cookware? Does one go for the traditional tin lining or the sturdier stainless steel? What would be the best pot to start with? Is it worth it to shlep it back from France? That would give me an excuse to enter the famed E Dehillerin shop in Paris. As with Hermes, I've always been too timid to do anything other than peer at--and in--the windows.

Even though I am a well-known cheapwad, I rather like the idea of getting him one piece a year. After a few years, he would have a nice set.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Very Good Deal from Paula's Choice

OK. Another creme de la creme deal. Spend $65 and you get a free eyeshadow palette (supposedly worth $40). You also can get 20% off on her retinol products. Free shipping on everything.

Miss Em wants the palette, so I may splurge on the retinol serums for myself.

This is my one "advertisement." If you are a new customer and you click through my link, you get $10 off and I get a $10 credit. If you are already a customer, this is still a good deal.

I am always skeptical about "beauty' claims, but I have found all of Paula's products to be excellent. I have never availed myself of her money back guarantee, but she has one.

"While supplies last."

Monday, December 15, 2014

Is John Rosselli Watching Over Me?

Yesterday, I recounted how cheered I was by the advice of high-end decor maven John Rosselli. The advice: simply cover your shabby sofa with some fabric. Who am I to argue with a luminary?

Well, I took a trip back to the thrift store to check on delivery of my sofa (not till next week). While I was there, I looked around. I saw a big white lump. It was labeled "king size comforter cover $5.00." It felt like linen. I stuck my head inside and found an Eileen Fisher Home label. I think these are made for Garnet Hill, the fancy catalogue I have mooned over for many, many years. So thrilled was I that I bought it within 5 seconds: it would be the perfect cover for my sofa.  I did not do my usual inspection.

When I got home, I unfurled it and discovered a bunch of holes. UGH. I think the previous owner must have been overzealous with the bleach: linen doesn't like bleach.

I was feeling kind of bad about wasting my money. Then I realized that the previous owner would not have donated it sans holes. I can live with the holes.  They don't really show--and have a certain je ne sais quoi-- and I can have Miss Em do some mending when she returns from Serbia.

Imperfect as it is, I still think this will be the perfect cover for my sofa. I wish I could ask Mr Rosselli if he would use a linen cover with holes. I think he might.

Would you?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Upscale Designer to the Rescue! Thanks, John Rosselli!

One of my major bad habits involves reading shelter magazines while sitting in my messy house. One enters a pastoral world, an enclosed space that makes, in the words of William Empson, author of Some Versions of Pastoral, "the complex into the simple." Kind of like the characters in Shakespeare's As You Like It trooping into the Forest of Arden, eventually returning to the "real" world to remake it. I guess that means I should clean up after reading a magazine.

I had an idea a while back to clip frugal ideas from these magazines. Of course, most of the frugal ideas aren't very frugal for those of us in the middle class. I did clip one, however.

The featured luminary is John Rosselli, who sells elegant goods in a New York City shop. His idea IS frugal and it pertains precisely to my "sofa issue" recounted in my last post.

Does John Rosselli have new slipcovers made? Does he reupholster? No, he does not.

It’s been years since I’ve recovered a sofa. That’s because I have dogs. I simply wrap chairs and sofa cushions in fabric or in Indian cotton bedspreads. Or buy a sheet that’s the same color as the sofa, wrap it around the cushions, and throw it in the wash when it gets dirty.

THANK YOU, Mr Rosselli. Image from his website. Love the socks!

And thank you, Mr Empson. Image from New Directions website.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Oops, I Did It Again

On the same thrift store foray where I spoke to the smug and loud Chevron volunteers, I bought a sofa. This was not a good idea. I have been resisting well-made but unnecessary sofas for several years, even (and this pains me) a down filled number with the signatures of all who were involved in its construction. You see, I will not need a sofa for around 2 years, when my current one will have reached a sufficiently bedraggled state. 

Then the Food Bank Thrift received a GOOD sofa. upholstered. The sofa had been there for at least a week. No one wanted it. Every time I said I liked it, I was offered a better price. Eventually, the manager said I could have it for $25. I was the only one who had expressed interest.

And free delivery! On that fateful day, I caved. You see, it's a sofa by Sherrill. That is--as far as I can tell--a good brand. Well-made. The fabric has some issues, of course.

I do not consider this a $25.00 sofa. That is because the fabric looks bad in some spots (though mostly hidden ones). Reupholstery or slipcovers=expensive. The couch might end up costing as much as a new one. Still, it would cost FAR LESS than a new sofa of comparable quality. 

Almost thirty years ago, when I taught at a little college in a decimated-by-unemployment small town in Michigan, I saw a chair at a yard sale. It was a quarter. I passed. Later, the wife of a colleague invited me over to see her 25 cent chair. It was, of course, the same one. I asked her how much the upholstery job had cost. $300.00! It makes a better story to refer to it as a 25 cent chair. I just did a search on the colleague and his wife and discovered that they were divorced many years ago. I wonder what became of that chair.

I guess I should stop regarding thrift store trips as rescue missions. Still, check out the beautiful chairs belonging to Frugalshrink, a favorite blogger. I think she got some gorgeous chairs at a good price, even after one takes the upholstery costs into account.

Have you ever "rescued" some unappreciated item?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Class Consciousness at the Thrift Store: Was I Out of Line with the Chevron Peeps?

Between end of the semester stress (still have much grading to do) and the constant temptations of holiday shopping, I needed---surprise--a trip to the thrift store. As is my new wont, I went to the Food Bank Thrift because it is only about a 3 minute drive from my house. It is also the thrift store that attracts the poorest demographic and, indeed, many customers have vouchers from the Food Bank across the street.

The overworked and harried workers! They are understaffed and the donations are piling up inside, outside, everywhere.

Today the workload was--presumably--eased by the presence of three youngish volunteers. They were in the back. As far as I could tell (the door was open), they were engaged in a gab fest and not doing anything else. The subject of the gabfest was how much money they made working for Chevron, how great their retirement  and other benefits were, how it was good to look for romance within the company because women who learned you worked for Chevron would be after your money, and on and on.  Their entitled voices carried through the small store.

How nice of Chevron to let them volunteer at the thrift store during their paid work hours! What wonderful community relations!

Two of the fellows emerged from the back and entered the store. And--I JUST HAD TO SAY SOMETHING. So I put on my teacher voice and said "I think it's really nice that Chevron is sending you here to do volunteer work for the community. But it is insensitive and hurtful to discuss your fabulous salaries and benefits in loud voices that are heard by the customers, many of whom do not shop here by choice."

The two Mr Chevrons looked chastened. I said I wasn't trying to be mean, but to alert them to the fact that they may have been inadvertently insensitive. (Perhaps I was trying to be a LITTLE MEAN.)

Then I left. I wonder what they said after I was out the door.

Was I out of line? What would you do?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Drycleaning Tags at the Thrift Store: A Small Town Story

It's that time of year. As a teacher, I am inundated with work to grade. At home, I receive zillions of catalogs from places I've never shopped. Oh yeah, and my email inbox is full of tempting offers. I'm only human. I AM tempted.

As always in such situations, I engage in prophylactic shopping. I go to the thrift store. Last week, I went to Goodwill for the first time in a long time. There I looked around and saw nothing, thereby confirming my recently adopted NO GOODWILL policy.

Then I wandered over to the men's section. Mr FS and Frugal Son keep telling me they have enough. Plus, men's clothing is usually in short supply, in bad shape, and of poor quality. Then I saw a little node. In the node were a bunch of Zegna linen shirts in the very size of the two men in my life. So I looked around the men's section and filled up my cart (or buggy, as it's called in these parts).

I sat down with my finds and only kept the very, very best: a few shirts, an unworn cashmere muted plaid blazer, and a few other things. With misgivings, I put the rest back, knowing that I would probably never see another $5.99 Armani suit in the very size of my beloved men. It was not in good shape, alas.

Then I saw a cleaning tag: B Colwell. B Colwell, B Colwell, I mused. Could BC be a doctor? I once purchased a Burberry shirt that had the tag of the oral surgeon where I've dropped so much money. I once saw--but did not purchase owing to bad karma--a men's cashmere sweater with the tag of the dentist who dismissed us from her practice earlier this year. And, of course, all the fancy Italian women's clothing I bought a while back  had the tags of a doctor specializing in breast augmentation and tummy tucks.

Then I remembered who B Colwell is! He is the husband/partner of the woman who founded a retail empire of elegant clothing and furniture in my little town and elsewhere. I think her elegant empire may be down to one furniture store in New Orleans now.

Coincidentally, the local paper ran a story about the elegant couple just the other day. You can scroll through the pics and see their all-white apartment in New Orleans. Their big house has been for sale for a few years. You can buy it!

Thanks Bryan for the donations. I am enough of a bad person to wonder if Vicki donated some of her wardrobe. I didn't see anything. A few years ago, Vicki and her equally beautiful mom Audrey and sister Tricia had a yard sale at the fancy house. It attracted hundreds of mostly women who were willing to pay almost full price for their used garments and furniture. She is a retail genius.

Watching things circulate through a little town....interesting. Peace on earth, GOODWILL TO MEN.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

We Interrupt Regularly Scheduled Broadcasting....Reno Show!

Sorry Readers. Today will not be a report on how I struck out at the thrift store or--oh joy!--found some milk reduced for quick sale on the very day we needed to make yogurt. Such are my usual simple pleasures.

No. I am here to say that the make-over show that picked the house Frugal Son lives in finished work yesterday. The make-over took one week. The show will air in December. I have never seen the show (it is fairly new and it features Amish people). In fact, we've never seen a DIY or HGTV show.

This opportunity fell on us out of the sky when one of Frugal Son's roommates was working as a gofer on a tv production in Mississippi. The producer asked if he knew of a neat house in New Orleans that needed a makeover. He said, "How about mine?" Thank you, Colin!

I haven't seen the finished results yet, but Frugal Son likes them and is rather reeling over the whole experience.  I don't think we can post pics till after the episode airs in any case. The only hint I've had of the treasures within is on the Facebook page of one of the companies involved.

I had a nice chat with the Amish fellow on the right (if you click on the Facebook page above). He overheard my saying that I was hungry and he offered to share his po-boy with me. I accepted.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

After One, Le Deluge? How do you stop shopping?

Last year, when I turned 60, I made a list of four Eileen Fisher basics that I wanted. I decided that it was too hard to find basics (plain black whatevers) at thrift stores, my usual haunt. And luckily enough, without squandering too much time, I got all of them at around 60% off. As I mentioned in my last post, I call Nordstrom and have them price match if possible. Then I get the famous Nordies guarantee.

Luckily too, my purchases came right before I went away for 6 weeks. I seldom shop for clothing when I'm on the road. So there was an endpoint.

However, as I mentioned also in my last post, I bought a long EF black skirt to replace the one I wore last summer. But then...the desires swelled. I also put about eight items in my shopping cart.  I waited a few hours and all but two were sold out. Thank heavens!

Sometimes I think I am addicted shopper using thrift stores as my methadone.  Buying another of a beloved skirt led, in my case, not to satiety, but to desire.

Is that normal? What does one do to turn desire to satisfaction?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Succumbing and Not Succumbing to Sale Temptations

It's that time of year. When all the things you rejected as too expensive are now 40% off.  Sometimes more.

For me, the true tempters are simple basics. Usually--and here I reveal  my age, socioeconomic whatever, and aesthetic (not to mention my lack of a waistline)--I crave Eileen Fisher. The crepe pants, the plain skirts, the long tanks. These are not show stoppers, but workhorses. Last year, I decided to get over my tooooo cheap ways, and buy a few pieces. I eventually found them all at an acceptable price (for me) and they went a long way towards making getting dressed easier.

Within the last few days, most every blog in the universe announced the arrival of a Nordstroms 40% off sale. I did what I always do. Put a whole bunch of EF items into my shopping cart. Then--in an effort at prophylactic shopping--I headed over to the Food Bank Thrift. There I found a forlorn and filthy looking long cashmere cardi of a brand I like as well as EF. I bought it. I washed it. It is nice! I saved it from an ignominious fate!

I checked back at Nordstroms and was relieved to see that several items had sold out. Phew. I was till tempted by one skirt: the long EF foldover waist skirt. I got one last year and wore it at least 30 times in Europe. It is rather raglike at this point. I found one even cheaper at Saks, so I had Nordies match the price.

Love: price matching, free returns, free ship, no deadlines.

Today I'm tempted by another EF item at another place. Always another temptation. I try to counter this with my knowledge that there is always another bargain.

How do you resist temptation? (No pictures of the things that are tempting me. I don't want to tempt you. Plus, I'm lazy. Win-Win)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Peek at our Future Declutter: 112 linear feet of books

Frugal Son is living with two roommates in a house in New Orleans. Thanks to one roommate who was working on a filming project with a producer, the house was chosen for a makeover on a reality show! Our main request: bookshelves.

Mr FS and I have long been accumulators of books. We are constant readers, but things had gone too far. Perhaps it was the tempting offer: 5 books for a dollar at Goodwill. The poor books languished and languished. Of course, they needed to be rescued by an appreciative person, who might even get around to reading them someday. Luckily, Goodwill raised its prices recently, which eliminated the need to get books in groups of five. Both our children are readers and we couldn't wait to give them some books. The moment has come for Frugal Son.

The designer told me to prepare for more than 100 linear feet of shelves. She offered to buy books in bulk to stage the shelves. OH NO! We have the books, plus it's so wasteful to buy all those Reader's Digest Condensed books by the foot.

I am about halfway through the culling. That's a lot of books. And guess what? I've hardly made a dent.

This is a vision of my future declutter. My parents weren't readers, so when they retired and moved, they didn't have books to contend with. (That's probably why I love books in quantity.)  Mr FS came from a set of readers. They had zillions of books, but could barely stand to give even a few away.  (That's probably why Mr FS loves books in quantity.) Then--because of health issues--they had to move. Mr FS spent a week in California packing books for the move. Then they had him bring boxes upon boxes of books that wouldn't make the move with them to a charity shop. The charity shop rejected the books.

Frugal Son can't wait to get his library. He is especially eager to peruse the cookbooks I've set aside for him.

Meanwhile, I came upon some books I should read. I started The Assistant by Bernard Malamud. It is an incredibly powerful book, so powerful that I can only read a few pages at a time.  Since I started the process, I have not bought a single book. I have so much to read!

Check out these photos of the office of a famous decorator. I have the books, but not the exquisite decor, alas.

I figure we have about five years to get rid of the excess. Did you have an event that knocked some sense into you about over-accumulation?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Paula's Choice Deal...and Thanks for the Comments

I wrote a post questioning whether people found frugality a FUN activity. I received many thoughtful comments, which were met with . . .silence.

Sorry, dear Readers, I have a very difficult work schedule this semester. It's one that sounds easy to those who do not teach. However, when I describe it to teachers, I am met with a jaw drop, followed by OMG. I will respond to the comments after the completion of the stress-inducer outlined in the next paragraph.

The other thing that's slowing me down is that--miraculously--the house in New Orleans, owned by us, where Frugal Son lives with two fellows, was chosen for a makeover by a reality show! I will report on this when it's over. Hopefully, it will be all treats and no tricks.

Speaking of treats, I was roused from my torpor by a good deal from Paula's Choice. I only mention these when there's a convergence of super deals.

This weekend, you get  30% off on "two anti-aging potions." Plus, free shipping on any amount. Plus a sample of serum when you spend over $50. The babies below are $$$, but somewhat less so at 30% off. This is good only for 2 days: Oct 30 and 31. CODE is EDDTREAT14. I'm thinking of getting the Vitamin C potion for myself.

If you haven't bought from this wonderful line, you can use my code, which gives me $10 off and gives you $10 off too.

Cheap as I am, I buy this stuff. It's really good. Here's my code for $10/$10.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Frugality: Is it Fun?

I wrote a followup to my post on selling excess clothing on Tradesy. I received a rather horrified comment from Shelley to the effect that all this "in and out" made her head spin. She seemed to marvel that I found it fun.

But I do. So does at least one other blogger--Frugalshrink--who is doing similar things not because she has to, but because she likes to.

My family of 4 spends less than $1000 a year on clothing (not all is 2nd hand). I still treat both my 20something kids in this department because I have the time to do it. It is a major component of my frugal practice.

The other component is killer grocery shopping, sans coupons, but keeping an eye out and stocking up. This must work because I occasionally have to institute a "shopping fast" in this area and use up the stuff in my freezer. I mentioned in a blog comment the other day that my family has always spent well under the food stamp budget--not that I even knew what that budget was till recently.

My Partner in Frugality--Mr FS--would break out in hives doing my above fun activities (though he sometimes accompanies me on walks to a nearby grocery store). His frugal practices involve doing all the yard work and fixing whatever can be fixed. 

There are zillions of ways to be frugal. Read The Tightwad Gazette for ideas. Or check out the relevant chapter in Your Money of Your Life

My parents were pretty frugal when I was growing up (and my parents were self-employed for many years, which necessitates careful budgeting). They pretty much stopped when they moved to a fun golf community in Florida (at the exact ages of me and Mr FS!!!). I guess frugality wasn't fun for them.

I'm kind of curious to see how I may change in the frugal department when I retire. In graduate school (talk about stressful days!) I was frugal by necessity. Now, I am frugal by choice. That is the greatest luxury as far as I'm concerned. I don't think I would do it if it weren't fun.

Do my frugal adventures sound like fun to you or do they evoke "the horror! the horror!"? Do YOU think frugality can be fun?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Declutter/Reclutter Report with Tradesy and Thredup and Buffalo Exchange

Miss Em (in absentia) and I continue to rework our wardrobes with the above venues. One thing about buying on the secondary market: one need not be racked with guilt at overspending. I have been reading various blogs on wardrobe construction and the guilt at overspending and resentment at being manipulated by salespeople is very dispiriting.

Tradesy: Miss Em and I continue to do pretty well with Tradesy. We just sold a bunch of Hermes ties. I was saving them for the men in my life and realized that Mr FS has worn a tie exactly 0 times in the past 5 years. Frugal Son wore a tie at a job interview a few years ago. We saved a few Ferragamos for him, but that's it.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT TRADESY: You hold on to the item till it sells. You can sell items in less than pristine condition, as long as you are upfront about it. As might be expected, people search by brand (as on Ebay). So if you have "prestige" brands, go for it. We don't have much that is high end, of course (aside from those ties), but have done well with shoes (Naot, Dansko, and even a beat up pair of Tory Burch Revas that we sold for under $10 within ten minutes).

Interestingly, we have sold a lot on this site but have never bought anything. That is because the seller sets the price and most sellers put prices that are way too high. We put fairly low prices on everything.

THREDUP REPORT. We are the opposite on Thredup. We have bought 5 black Eileen Fisher skirts (Miss Em has high end taste for a 23 year old).  We especially like Eileen's washable crepe. These tend to be UNDERPRICED on the site because they are not listed as such. They are listed by fabric content. Since I know the crepe fabric content, I can buy with some confidence. (Hoping that Thredup is not reading this!)

We have never sold on the site. You send a bag; they pick what they want; they put extremely low prices on the items--and take less than 50% of what you send. You don't get the rejects back unless you pay a return fee. Check out the on-line reviews of Thredup. Sellers are miserable and angry  as a rule.

So in our experience, Tradesy is for selling and Thredup is for buying.

Yesterday, we had a bunch of errands in New Orleans. We topped off the day with free admission to a wonderful folk art show at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. We had a bit of time before Frugal Son got home from work, so I took a bag of clothing to the Buffalo Exchange, conveniently located just a few blocks from Frugal Son's abode. While the hip fellow went through my bags, I looked around. This is a rare treat, since usually Miss Em looks and I stay with the buyer.

I found two items: an Eileen Fisher poncho sweater and a Nordstrom wool cape/jacket (each $17: the Buf is cheap). After deducting those purchases, I got $45 in cash!

Are my adventures in the clothing trade "worth it." Probably not for me in a financial sense. I have a job. For Miss Em--trying to set up a biz in the arts--yes. We both find the process relaxing and unstressful. In fact, it is a destresser for me. That alone would make it worth it. But I also like going to the Buf (as we call it) because I am of an age where young hipsters generally ignore me. TOTALLY. So I have to work a bit there to get some attention. Maybe it will keep me young(er), at least in spirit.

Clementine Hunter from the Gasperi Collection at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tradesy, Ebay, Buffalo Exchange: Cash for Decluttering Report

So sad! Miss Em is back in Belgrade, for four months this time. While she was here, she spent a lot of time amassing items that were requested by friends. So much is unavailable there, or scarily expensive. Most US companies will not deliver to Serbia. Here's what she carried: a post-mastectomy bra and forms (unbelievable that these are not to be had there); melatonin, Opi nail polish, well, now I can't remember the other things. We live in such over-abundance.

I have lost my in-house beauty salon operator (thanks for the haircut) and--perhaps most needed--my personal declutter assistant.

Here are the final numbers for her 2 months back in the USA. She got to keep all the money (much-needed) and I got a little breathing space.

TRADESY: An astonishing $800!
Ebay: An astonishing $500plus, mostly for two Filson garments!
Buffalo Exchange: A pretty good $200.

Miss Em also picked up some cash by taking care of a kid for a weekend. She was able to spend the rest of her time planning for her return to Belgrade, getting her art website set up, and applying to a grad program.

If you want some glimpses of our trip to the Balkans, see her tumblr: she captured so much of what we did, especially some of the little moments that truly define a vacation.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

In a Belgrade Cemetery

Two summers ago, Mr FS and I went to Vienna, where my mother was born in 1930.  Last summer, we went to Belgrade, where my mother and her parents (and other family members) stayed (1938) before emigrating to the United States.

A most moving part of our journey: a visit to a cemetery in Belgrade.

Image courtesy of my daughter. See her Tumblr for more travel illustrations or her website for more.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How I Ended Up with a Wedding Dress and What Will Become of It: Tales from the Thrift Store

A while ago, I was at one of the two thrift stores I frequent. There was a huge rack of used wedding dresses at ridiculous prices (high ones, that is). Needless to say--having already done a wedding in a green dress at the courthouse--I did not give them more than a glance.

The employee asked me if I wanted a wedding dress. I said no, for the above reason. He said We'll never sell them and they are taking up a lot of space. You can have them for $3 each.

I felt a bit sorry for him. So I picked out JUST ONE, figuring I could perhaps take it to the Buffalo Exchange for Halloween. I took a silk one and thought that the creative and handy Miss Em could use the fabric for something. Two possibilities.

Miss Em and I asked at the Buf. No, they didn't want wedding dresses for Halloween. Miss Em thought the dress was too nice to cut up. We put it in the DONATE pile.

Then--the fateful sentence: Maybe I'll try this on.  Then an exclamation: It fits perfectly.

We put it back in the DONATE pile. Miss Em is not planning a wedding at the moment and she's sufficiently contrarian to NOT want a traditional white dress.

An hour later, another fateful sentence: I've always wanted to make a Snow Queen costume for Halloween.

No, I am not allowed to post a photo. (Below from Once Upon a Time wiki)

The Snow Queen

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Further Decluttering: The Dreaded Ebay and Bulky Items

I am continuing to make use of my dear daughter. She offered to sell some things on Ebay for me. I vowed many years ago that I would never have another yard sale or sell on Ebay. So far, I have kept my vows.

However, I do have some things cluttering up my space that I can't quite bring myself to get rid of. Put that in the past tense.

Thanks to Miss Em, I am now--or soon to be--the proud UN-OWNER of a pair of Filson garments (too big, too heavy for my guys) and some cowboy boots. And a giant puffy coat in an unfortunate shade of magenta. And a few other things.

Of course I made some rookie-mistakes. One, I priced too low, so had several items whoosh away on a too low BUY IT NOW. Second, not knowing how much shipping had gone up over the years, I offered FREE SHIPPING.

I consider my selling midway between making some money and getting ready to declutter for retirement. If I look at things that way, I have been successful.

Also the two Filson jackets and the big down coat took up a lot of space. Getting bulky items gone is a good thing.

P.S. We did not unload another space hog: a wedding dress (not mine! I got married in a green dress from a yard sale). More on the fate of that bulky item later.

We said bye-bye to this. The buyer got a good deal too.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Some Snippets of Our Balkan Journey Last Summer: Immensities and Little Things

I've mentioned that Mr FS and I met up with Miss Em (and, briefly. Frugal Son) in the Balkans last summer. I feel like a Henry James heroine when I say that the experience was immense. But it was. Some of the immense emotional response comes from the region's history. As with 9/11 in the United States, everyone who was alive during the recent genocidal conflicts remembers what happened.

Part of the immense response for also comes from my encounter with a bit of my family's journey from another genocidal conflict to safety in the United States. A stay in Belgrade was a step on that journey and I was at last able to meet the surviving member of my family (a cousin's widow) and to stay in the very house that provided shelter for seven members of my family, including two who are still alive, my mother Renee and her cousin Herbert.

Some day I will write of more of this journey, including a surprisingly moving (though why it was surprising I don't know) visit to the grave of my great-grandmother, which she shares with her daughter, my grandmother's sister.

If our whole visit was as emotionally thrilling/draining as the above summary suggests, I would have been prostrate on a couch for the whole time. However, as Mr FS always says (I think this is from his beloved Proust), the trivialities are as meaningful as the big things. I haven't posted on the little things either.

But guess what? Miss Em--home for 2 months before a return trip to Serbia--has, in addition to helping me declutter, resumed her charming drawings. The last four or so are from the time of our visit.

True to the Balkan experience, half the drawings (so far) are of food. Check out her Snippets if you  have a chance.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Decluttering: Tradesy and Buffalo Exchange Report

I am reading a new-to-me blog: An Exacting Life. This woman is impressive; she keeps track of EVERYTHING.  I just stagger along in my un-exact way. 

Miss Em--back from Serbia--will be making a return trip  from October to February . While I have the only exacting member of my family of 4 around, I am shamelessly using her.  To declutter. What else is new?

It's a win-win. She needs some money and I need to get rid of stuff. She is in charge of picking stuff out for the Buffalo Exchange and selling the more desirable items on Tradesy (she photographs, writes descriptions with a bit of help from yours truly). She gets all the proceeds.

So far: 

Miss Em took a trip to Tuscaloosa AL (where she went to college) to speak at an event. That town has an outstanding resale shop, Twice as Nice. We left some items there before she graduated and she returned from her trip with a few items and $35.

3 trips to the Buffalo Exchange. We always stop by when we visit Frugal Son, since he lives just a few blocks away. This is always fun. The people who work there are so great. Three trips netted $200 in cash and Miss Em used some credit to buy a few items. I really think going to the Buf keeps me from getting too stodgy--kind of like teaching. It's hard to be 60 among the young, but it's worth it.

Tradesy: This is like the world's biggest yard sale. Most people sell their stuff for WAY TOO MUCH. We price low. Miss Em has picked up about $400 from that venue and we've listed lots of things. Every now and then something sells. 

Miss Em also instituted a rule, which I am abiding by voluntarily: we must donate 15 items to "earn" a trip to Goodwill. So far I've earned a few trips.

Miss Em has netted about $600, which I find rather astonishing. While I know how much cash we've taken in, I have no idea what the numbers are as far as items. Miss Em has brought home perhaps 10 items (all second hand) since her return from Serbia. I've only bought 3 items since June. We've gotten rid of a lot more than that. But my question remains: why do I still have too much stuff??

the new orleans store

the new orleans store

Friday, September 5, 2014

Venturing Outside Your Demographic: In CDG Airport

I have to confess that I sometimes feel ill at ease when I am out of my demographic. 

As my readers no doubt know, I have been pining for an Hermes scarf for a few years. Since I intend to buy only one, and the choices--both new and used- are immense, I have had a hard time choosing. When I was in Paris and Brussels last summer, I did not venture into any stores. I was mostly content with window shopping. I did wander into a perfume store and when the salesperson, in a totally normal French way, asked me if she could help, my French, which I had upgraded via Duolingo practice, instantly evaporated and I fled to Mr FS, waiting on the sidewalk (he hates stores).

Mr FS and I had a 5 hour wait in CDG Airport in Paris. The international section has a spate of luxe stores which are so crowded with shoppers that one really doesn't feel uncomfortable as a browser. I wandered into the Hermes shop to look at the scarves. There was another browser peering into the case with me. The single employee was busy with a chic couple who were--I think--speaking Japanese. The woman was wearing a black and white tweed Chanel jacket, a gorgeous coordinating scarf; she carried an alligator Hermes bag. The effect was totally elegant. Still, she was wearing stuff that cost more than I make in a year. She and her husband, who also wore understated and very elegant clothing, though none identifiable by me, left with several giant bags of new purchases.

This time I didn't flee, but all I could think was: this is not my demographic. Why am I here? Having had a glimpse of beauty, I wandered out and sprayed on some perfume at another shop. I returned to the waiting area and let Mr FS have his turn at a walk. 

Just wondering: do you enjoy venturing outside your demographic? Are you attracted by such shops or uncomfortable? (Image from Retail Design Blog)

Charles de Gaulle airport shopping center WCIE 04 Charles de Gaulle airport shopping center by W&CIE, Paris

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Potato Corn Chowder with a dash of nostalgia

Oh, how I needed some potatoes, my comfort food of choice.

Visiting the dentist is fairly stressful in and of itself.  Plus, we have a new dentist, thanks heavens, this time with a decent office staff, but still--no dentist ever says the same thing. Today's visit was something of an emergency (more stress); the new dentist's advice had/has to be weighed with my common sense. I will spare everyone the details.

I had to park in a grocery parking lot. Time for potatoes, the ultimate comfort food. I wanted to make a soup, but am without stock of any kind. I remembered the first potato/corn chowder I ever ate: at a departmental pot luck at a small school where I used to teach (1987), my genial colleague (who I later discovered wrote me a fairly negative letter of recommendation--thanks GT!) made a delicious soup from the Vegetarian Epicure. The secret, he said, was the nutritional yeast Anna Thomas called for

I couldn't find my old copy, but I found the recipe online. As expected too goopy (flour???) with various things I didn't have.

Here's what I did: threw some frozen caramelized onions (I do this in the crock pot every few months) in the pot with 2 peeled and chopped potatoes. Put in a little of that nutritional yeast. Then covered with water. Simmered for a while. Mashed everything up when done and added salt, some milk, and a can of drained corn. Served with extra sharp cheddar. Oh, and I stirred in a bit of butter, a trick I learned from the great Marcella Hazan.

Soooo good. I hadn't made this vegetarian version in years, having gone over to Ina Garten's with bacon and chicken stock. Hers is even more goopy. I think I am going to return to the simpler vegetarian version. The nutritional yeast has a definite umami effect. We use it on popcorn (a friend calls it hippie dust). You can get it at Whole Foods. Or leave it out, of course.

It's amazing how good a stock potatoes and onions produce. This soup is so cheap to make that it will offset the cost of my dental treatment, at least if I eat it once a week for the next--oh--thirty years.

Is there anyone of a certain age who doesn't have this cookbook somewhere? A mere glance at the cover triggers a wave of nostalgia. Do you still cook anything from it? 

Do Medical Providers--DENTISTS, ORAL SURGEONS, in particular--give kickbacks for recommendations?

This is a question I have long pondered, given my issues with dental providers of all stripes. Wondering if there is a gifting or other system in exchange for recommendations and referrals.

If anyone knows, please let me know. I am wondering what weight to give to recommendations...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Paula's Serums and AHA BHA Exfoliants 20% off w/ free shipping

I know it's weird, given my pathological frugality and skepticism over advertising claims, but this is an exciting sale for me. Miss Em and I adore Paula's Choice skincare, for info AND for products. And it's not even that cheap. Miss Em and I both use the serums and the exfoliants. These are--in our opinion--Paula's best products.

Paula's BEST SALE is 20% off everything with free shipping on any size order, but this is pretty close. 20% off on serums and exfoliants and free shipping on any order (usually free over $50). She has some other items on sale also at the moment.

The CODE for this particular sale is EDDSERUMS14. This weekend only.
If you haven't shopped with Paula before and would like to use my link, you get $10 off and I get $10 too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unexpected Savings: Car Insurance

I live in a high insurance state. I'm not sure why, but family members in other states pay substantially less than we do.

The high cost of insurance has kept us from springing for a new car. Well, that and pathological frugality. And Mr FS's desire to have the totaled 1998 Camry live to be 20. Oh well.

The somewhat scuzzy rep who tried (?) to tack on the $695 Accessories Fee the other day also mentioned that the safety features of the new Accord would lower the insurance rates. To wit: the camera that shows what is BEHIND you as you back up. He was right.

Our insurance was $460 (or $406? can't remember) for 6 months! That's half of what we expected it to be.

Something to think about when choosing between new or used. Let's hope this car makes it to 20 years....and does not come into the path of a speeder who was driving without license or proof of insurance. And sped away after showing a state ID.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Avocado Quest

Frugal Son and I both love to scan grocery ads. In fact, he sometimes gets annoyed when I send him a list of bargains, thereby depriving him of the pleasure of discovering them for himself (isn't that a continual problem for parents?? Doing too much for the kid? See below. I did it again).

Last week, I spotted a great sale at Savalot, a little discount grocery that does not have an outlet in my town. That doesn't stop me from looking. I noted that the New Orleans stores had a three day sale (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) that included avocados for 50 cents and grapes for 89 cents.

I alerted Frugal Son, for whom a trip to Savalot is a bit of a schlep, especially since he gets around by bike.

Emergency email Sunday morning! Frugal Son says he can't find the avocados in the ad!!! Oh no!!! They changed the ad! I told him I was sure it was till Sunday and--mom-like,  for my little guy--called Savalot to ask. Of course, no one answered the phone.

Frugal Son was unsure what to do. Later, I sent him this email:

How was the avocado quest?

This morning came the laconic reply:

Got a few. Only 30.

Newsflash: According to the experts, you can freeze avocados. The texture is compromised, but they are still ok for guacamole.

Image from Tate Gallery.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti ‘The Damsel of Sanct Grael’, 1857