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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?