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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cold Weather Attire: Frugal Style

It is supposed to get down to 15 degrees F here in the Deep South. That may make Mainers, Minnesotans, and Canadians et al roll their eyes in derision. But it's not the cold (only), it's the precipitation. It's the threat of a thin sheet of ice on bridges and roadways that accounts for the all the closings.

I post now and again about what I'm wearing in my cold house. I have 12 foot ceilings and big windows, so even running the ceiling fans backwards doesn't do all that much. I also posted recently about sending Miss Em's friend Mr C off to Serbia in December with a puffy down jacket, acquired by yours truly for a mere $5.00.

Right now I'm wearing the neatest pants. I hardly ever succumb to things in thrift stores because the label is interesting, but these were irresistible. They are ski pants, with stirrups (natch) and all sorts of zipper compartments. For some reason, ski pants are a common sight in Goodwill in Louisiana. I am not a skier--and, since I'm the opposite of sportive, I am unlikely ever to go skiing. These pants, however, are WOOL (my fave fabric), not the puffy synthetics of today. The label says "Herford Original" "Made in Western Germany for [drumroll] SAKS FIFTH AVENUE."

There have been many blog discussions of late lamenting the quality of clothing, especially in the women's department. Everyone agrees that store labels are no longer a guarantee of quality. Not all wool is created equal.

However, older labels can be an indicator of quality. These pants are--at their youngest--almost 30 years old. The print on the label looks older than that to me. SAKS is, of course, a luxe department store. And WESTERN GERMANY was known for the high quality of its consumer goods. (Perhaps that is still true of the united Germany? ) I doubt that many--or any--of my Goodwill competitors would have been interested in these. But I was also helped by the fact that I found them last summer.

My whole outfit was bought last summer: in addition to my ski pants, I am wearing a down vest topped with a Patagonia fleece jacket. I feel quite chic.

If you anticipate EVER needing something for cold weather in thrift stores, look OUT OF SEASON. It's too late now.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

For oatmeal and oat groat eaters: a good deal that ENDS TODAY

Yesterday, I was having one of those "What's it all about?" days common on big birthdays. I was talking to Frugal Son about it. I said that in some ways, it doesn't matter that much if I'm frugal anymore. I'm pretty close to retirement, after all, and just chugging along en route to a frugal one as far as I can tell.

Frugal Son said, "Well, I know how to be frugal and so does Miss Em. Now you need to tell the millions." Haha. I certainly don't reach the millions--or even the thousands--but, in keeping with my belief that a zillion little frugalities over a lifetime ADD UP, here's a little one.

Everywhere you go, you read about the virtues of oats. Mr FS and I eat oat groats almost every day. We get them from Honeyville in 50 lb sacks. We still have a lot left, so we can't take advantage of this. But YOU CAN. 15% off with code FRESH (it's right on the website, so don't worry). $4.49 to ship. They have all sorts of stuff, but the only thing we buy is the steel-cut oats. With the discount, they end up being about $1/lb. We don't have a good source here for bulk foods, so we were happy to find this place.

We cook a potful up every few days, refrigerate, and reheat for breakfast before heading off to work.

A frugal, healthy, timesaving breakfast from Honeyville: the jackpot!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me: Fake It Till I Make It?

Today is my long awaited/dreaded birthday. Since I am something of a self-denier (a debilitating disease of the pathologically frugal), I decided I would get myself a biggish (for me anyway) gift. I have been musing: a nice bag? some earrings? a scarf?

Choosing THE ONE was driving me crazy with indecision. Then I realized I could get all three, if I chose mid-priced models. And I could stretch out the purchases over the year, an idea I like. Here's my "progress."

1. EARRINGS. I would like some big pearl earrings. I even solicited and got personalized suggestions from the great Duchesse, a pearl expert. THANK YOU. I sent them to my senior advisor (aka my daughter, who is far away till summer). She said WAIT till I get home! And, she said, In the meantime, wear the big fake pearls you have. These were a hand-me-down from my mother, who bought them many years ago at the Metropolitan Museum Shop.

OK: fake it #1. I suppose a test drive would be a good idea.

2. HANDBAG. How to choose? I finally bought a bag from Garnet Hill that I had been eying for a while. By the time I sprung for it, it was half price! Frugal-ish! Guess what? The reviews are 99% positive. 1% said It looked cheap. Guess where I stand? Have to return.

A few days ago, I was donating several bags of stuff to the Food Bank Thrift Store. I peeked in. I spied a color-block bag in maroon and black, colors I love. The inside had the label UE with a prominent Certified Vegan (i.e. plastique) tag. Still, it was not really cheap looking and--drumroll--it was also half price at $1.50. So I bought it on a whim.

When I got home, I noticed some weird snaps inside. I pulled out the sides and discovered that I was the proud owner of a FAKE Celine Trapeze bag! I had bought a knockoff bag in complete innocence.

OK: fake it #2. Since I figure no one in my day-to-day life would think this was a real or fake anything in particular, I am going to test it out too, till my daughter returns to advise me.

3. SCARF. I haven't even thought about this yet.

PROGRESS? I am not sure. I am thinking there might be karma involved, but I am unsure as to whether this is a TEST (a roadblock in my effort to be LESS PATHOLOGICALLY frugal, at least now and again) or a GIFT (till Miss Em returns, the forces of frugality have offered me substitutes).

Tomorrow night, Mr FS and I will attend a concert in New Orleans. I will be sporting my two FAKES and an as-yet-to-be-determined scarf.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dental Decision and A Silly (Frugal!) Recipe

Thanks for all for comments on my dentist distress. Perhaps because of unacknowledged anger on my part, I made the dentist seem awful. In fact, ours was a cordial discussion and at the end the dentist promised that the collection issue would not recur. I feel kind of sorry for the dentist: hers is a small practice and she is a brainy and conscientious woman. She is not surrounded by people of her caliber, however. She probably can't--or isn't willing to--pay for a receptionist/manager with better skills.

Why do I want to continue to see this dentist? She was one of two recommended by my oral surgeon, who has been enriched considerably by the errors, incompetence, and negligence of my previous dentist and her crony, the endodontist. The oral surgeon was loathe to recommend anyone at first ("We work well with all dentists") but relented when I started crying (from constant pain and frustration) in his office!

Some readers recommend I consult Yelp and Angie's List. Interestingly, both my current and former dentists have all positive reviews. The former dentist is noted for her wonderful attitude and beautiful smile. UGH.

Thanks again to all.

As a break from expensive dentistry, I present a weird recipe, which I may try tomorrow. I took the visiting Mr C to Big Lots, where I got stuff for me (with my $15 off $45 coupon!) and a few things for his harried student kitchen. Right by the entrance, I spied a cart filled with bags of potato chips marked down to 10 cents! I don't think I have ever bought potato chips (though I do buy corn chips on occasion), but how could I resist?

When I got home, I did some searching and found this recipe. I have GOT to try it. Would you dare make a frittata with potato chips?

Potato Chip Omelet
Courtesy of Ferran AdriĆ  originally published in The Family Meal: Home Cooking With Ferran AdriĆ 
6 eggs
2¾ oz. salted potato chips
1½ Tbsp. olive oil
• Break the eggs into a bowl and beat with a balloon whisk until very frothy.
• Add the chips, being careful not to break them, then let soak in the egg for 1 minute.
• Place a 10-inch nonstick frying pan over medium heat, then add 2 teaspoons of oil.
• Pour the mixture into the pan and stir gently with a rubber spatula.
• Use the spatula to loosen the omelet from the edge of the pan.
• After 40 seconds, when the bottom of the omelet has set, cover the omelet with a plate. Hold onto the pan with one hand, then carefully turn the pan over, so that the omelet slides onto the plate.
• Remove the pan and return it to the heat. Add another 2 teaspoons oil.
• Slide the omelet from the plate and into the pan, so that the uncooked side is in contact with the heat. Cook for another 20 seconds.
• Serve the omelet on a plate.
Reprinted with permission from Phaidon Press

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dental Distress Over or Not Over?

Thanks to all for your comments, many of which I used when I spoke to the dentist herself.  I would like to stay with the dentist, if possible. We had an incompetent dentist for many years and the new one is good. As far as I can tell, there is but one other good dentist in the area. It is a field with a lot of incompetence, I'm afraid, and little recourse for patients.

The receptionist (who took payment AFTER--unbeknownst to us--sending bill to collection agency, which is perhaps illegal and definitely unethical) insists that the bill never got to the agency. I called the agency and they have no record with Mr FS's name. However, they did say to keep checking back. How long should I do this for?

I had a long chat with the dentist. She kept repeating two things: "I think $200 is a lot of money" and "I'm sorry you feel that way."

As for the first, I refrained from responding with the obvious riposte: "If it's so much money, why did you send it to collection, which takes half the money??"

As for the second: this one burns me up. There are times when it IS appropriate. But it has become a customer service cliche that--like the passive voice--absolves the speaker of responsibility. So every time she said that, I said "Are you saying that my feelings are without cause or justification?"

Finally, she did relent on this and said that she would make a personal call to patients before sending a bill to collections. I don't know how much her feelings are shaped by the $5000 in upcoming treatments we have mapped out.

I do have a lot of hostility remaining. A decent dentist a short walk down the street...that may be worth dealing with my anger.

My last (I hope!) question: how many more times should I check with the credit agency? Should I ask for something in writing from the agency and from the dentist's office before scheduling any work?

And once more: THANK YOU.

Monday, January 13, 2014

More Distress from the Dentist! Advice Solicited.

Thanks to all who provided a script for dealing with the Collection Agency issue I wrote about. I was going to call the dentist to recount the story today, but did not have the energy. Good thing, because I had some of the facts wrong.

Mr FS called the office to pay. He did so, by giving our card number. AFTER he paid, the receptionist/manager said "I sent this to a collection agency. I will try to get the extra fee removed." (!!!!!) So--she took the payment after the bill had been sent to the Collection Agency.

I had assumed that Mr FS had not paid BECAUSE we were told the bill had been sent to the Collection Agency. I am hoping the receptionist tried to get the bill back. But I am concerned because we are entirely without leverage of any sort now.

I will use some of the scripts and advice provided by my most helpful commenters. Many, many thanks. Any additional tips or advice?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Was I Wrong to Rant?

I am only an occasional blog-ranter, though I am my family's designated ranter in real life. I am pretty good at it, but it takes a lot out of me. Sometimes, however, I over-rant. Worse, I sometimes rant unfairly. These rants, I should say, are generally customer service issues and are not part of my dealings with my dear students.

My most recent rant. We tried to pay Miss Em's $200 dental bill by phone, but the phone was never answered. Eventually, we got through and left a message. Since we never heard back, we called the office a few days ago.

The receptionist/money person (who is not very competent, I'm afraid) said "Oh, we sent that to a collection agency. You will have to pay a fee." Mr FS reported this and I felt my rant coming on. So I called back.

My comments are in bold.

1. We CALLED to pay the bill two weeks ago. Response: we never got the message (the messaging service this dentist uses is also incompetent and we once did not receive a response to a semi-emergency. Dentist promised to change services.)
2. Did the doctor get a new service? Answer: No.
3. Why did you send this to a collection agency (the bill was recent!)? Response: Oh, "they" come in now and then and take all the bills.
4. We spent between $4000-$5000 over the past year, all paid for. Is it really worth it to send a bill representing a tiny percentage of that to a collection agency. Especially given the fact that the dentist has prescribed another $5000 in dental work for Mr FS????

I asked for the dentist to call me, since I am pretty sure she does not know what's going on at the front desk--most medical professionals remain blissfully and purposely ignorant of the money side of their businesses. She did leave a message.

Question: was I right to get upset over this? And, if so, why? I think #4 above is the most upsetting to me. I believe the office showed  a serious lack of consideration for a very good--let's face it--CUSTOMER.

The front-desk person called us also and said that she looked through the emails from the answering service and that there was an email about our call and that it was TOTALLY her fault....

Also, how can I make sure the Collection Agency did not put this on our Credit record? My in-laws had to pay a disputed $15 charge more than 20 years after the fact when they needed a bridge loan...

What should I say to the dentist when I call back on Monday? Mr FS said I was right in content but that my tone was probably too harsh.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

In Praise of Hoarding

Like many others, I am engaged in my perpetual New Year's resolution task: decluttering. I may have a worse than average clutter problem, perhaps because I am the child of a crazed thrower-outer, who got rid of many things I wanted, including a Steinway grand piano (this was not thrown out, of course). And another perhaps: maybe my mother's over-active discarding explains my love of thrift stores, from which I can rescue the unloved and unappreciated. After seeing a thick vintage cashmere cardigan languishing at Goodwill for a month because it has a small hole at the wrist, I feel called upon to provide a home. In fact, I am wearing this sweater right now; it has been a good friend in our unusual bitter cold the last few days.

Of course, I can't keep every slightly damaged item that comes my way. Still, I was glad of my hoarding instincts a few times this past year. And I should honor a few wonderful things.

To wit: the Lands' End down jacket that I lent Mr C as he went off to visit Miss Em in Serbia. I also gave him some wool underwear and some heavy gloves. And a suitcase. He is a med student living on loans, so any bit of savings is, I am sure, much appreciated.

Frugal Son is living in a New Orleans raised house with high--14 foot--ceilings. That makes for expensive heating! Thanks to the thrift store, I was able to supplement his blanket with a lovely second down comforter (and don't tell me about bed bugs! you can machine wash and dry down). Not only that, but his roommate requested a down comforter and I found a king-sized one the very next day!

If you go to thrift stores during a cold snap, you will find bare cupboards: there are a few ratty coats, ugly sweaters, and so on. I know. I saw.

But if--like a squirrel in a cold climate--you look for things you MIGHT need and that would be VERY EXPENSIVE to buy for short uses, well, hoarding may be the way to go.

Back to decluttering! Wish me luck this time