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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Karmic Bank Accounts and Thoughts on Retirement Living

My frugality is so deeply ingrained that I get a thrill not only from saving myself money but also from saving other people money. In fact, I started this blog when Friend-of-Frugal-Son asked me to help him save money on groceries. Well, said friend was premed and didn't have time to read the blog. He's a doctor now, by the way, and working at Walter Reed in Washington DC.

We recently hosted a Roommate-of-Frugal-Son. He was a guest at a wedding in our town. I suppose he lamented the $200 a night hotel rate and Frugal Son offered up our house. Happy to do it! I told him that in addition to saving him (a young fellow in his 20s) $400 for the two nights, I had made a deposit of $400 into my karmic savings account.

We enjoyed having our guest. He was not around very much for one thing. It was nice to chat now and again and to hear about his adventures at the wedding events.

It occurred to me that a young guest--or even roommate--would be a cure for some of what ails many of the elderly. My own mother --an extreme extrovert without a lot of "alone" interests--has been miserable in her widowhood. She lives in a large community in Florida with many activities, but the activities are skewed to those in their early 60s--the age of my parents when they moved there. She is thinking of moving to an independent living community near my brother and his family. That is probably what she will do. However, that involves leaving her Florida cohort, which is, perforce, growing smaller.

I suggested that she think of moving in with one of her children (with the houses modified for separate quarters). She was horrified. A roommate? That would be even more out of the question. I think these things are coded "poor" for members of that generation. 

Of course, if you present the issue of a lonely elder to someone of Asian, Serbian, or XX (the list goes on) descent, he or she looks at you in astonishment.  Of course! 

And of course when we told our guest that fancy weddings (rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, service, shuttle buses to reception, with various luncheons in the interim spaces) were a relatively recent "tradition," he was shocked. 

Like many people my age, I'm thinking about retirement living in all its senses. What the new "traditions" will be. At the moment, it seems easier to keep working.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Acts of Kindness in the Frugal Life

Frugality is so much a part of my life that I . . .just do it. I always tell people that I am the "cheapest person who ever lived," which is not really true, but good for a laugh. I am always amazed by the gifts of kindness that come my way on my frugal adventures.

Here are a few.

1. Sephora. Miss Em has had a gift card from Sephora. She got the card when she returned an unwanted gift before she went to Serbia two years ago (did you know that Sephora will take ANYTHING back? Good to know). Although we pass a mall with a Sephora every time we go to New Orleans, we are mallophobic, so we have to make a concerted effort. We pored over the website and decided to get a sampler of perfumes from Atelier Cologne. Sephora was crowded. Mr FS was waiting in the car (mallophobia). The salesperson checked and checked and they were all out. Finally, he found one that had been used as a sampler. It was mostly full. HE GAVE IT TO US FOR FREE. We hugged (note: if you visit New Orleans it is ok to hug pretty much anyone you encounter.)

2. At a thrift store not to be named. The employee gave me a holiday discount on some stuff. He did the same for everyone. SHHHHHH.

3. Big Lots. I got a coveted dollars off coupon in my email. When I got to Big Lots I discovered I had forgotten it. The assistant manager (who, along with the manager, has been very nice to me) said that I could get the discount even without the coupon.

Who needs holiday presents?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Rare Trip to Goodwill

A rare event: a trip to Goodwill yesterday. Goodwill used to be a regular stop on my frugal path, but I now go less than once per month. It's a few miles away; the store mistreats its employees; as far as I can tell, its "mission" is to run stores with low-paid employees and well-paid management. Aside from these somewhat virtuous reasons, I have a personal one: my GW raised its book prices from 20 cents to 99 cents. It just doesn't seem worth it to slog through all the John Grishams to find that book I've never heard of that proves to be excellent.

Now I only go to GW when Mr FS goes to Home Depot, which is right next door. Yesterday was the day. It is a huge store. The shelves were sparsely filled, perhaps because it was a busy day and many treasures had already gone to new homes. I was looking in a rather desultory fashion, hoping that Mr FS would soon rescue me.

Then I heard one of those GW "bonding" conversations. These often occur between two middle-class shoppers who are both excited to be at GW and slightly embarrassed. These conversations are always VERY LOUD. Yesterday, two women bonded over the housewares, which happen to be right next to the racks of shoes. They were exclaiming over their wonderful bargains. "But," said one, "I would never buy SHOES." "No," said the other, "That would be like buying UNDERWEAR [also sold at GW]. DISGUSTING."

Even though I was not looking at shoes, I headed right over to join the other shoppers. Pickings were very slim. Still, I had to show some sisterhood to the other shoppers who were buying shoes, perhaps by necessity, and being treated to a scornful message.

Now, I am lucky (in the secondhand shoe world) because I have relatively small feet. I found a pair of Mephisto sandals! I also spied (probably from the same donor) a pair of Arches and a pair of Ferragamo loafers. The latter two were too small. I have learned through painful experience (and too much clutter) that shoes are to wear, not to look at.

I bought the Mephistos. Then Mr FS rescued me. He had had a bad time at Home Depot. To cheer ourselves up, we got two Frosty's at Wendy's, right behind GW. The employees at the OTHER thrift store gave me some coupons as a gift. Thanks, guys!

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Two summers ago, Mr FS took a solo walk and discovered a wonderful park near our humble abode in Paris. We spent many hours there. Last summer, Miss Em paid us a visit and we walked to the park after dinner.

There were many more people there on our visits than shown in the photo below. Said Miss Em:

"Is this paradise?"

“They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”

― John MiltonParadise Lost

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Roused from Slumber Again: Eileen Fisher Harem Pants for $55! Nordstrom Rack

This is a good deal for those who have wanted to try these iconic/weird pants. I love them myself.

Nordstrom Rack: as of this posting, sizes XS, S, and L remain.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Roused from Slumber: Paula's Choice Super Deal and THANK YOU

A very long blogging slumber. Miss Em is back from Serbia and work is exhausting. Both are good causes.

A few weeks ago, Paula's Choice had a decent sale and I succumbed. Now, she's having the BEST SALE I've ever seen. Arghhh. I don't need anything else, but perhaps you do. In honor of Halloween (??), everything on the site is 25% off. Discount code is right on the site.

Remember, if you haven't bought from her and use my code, we EACH get $10.  Not too shabby.

And THANK YOU. My last post was on trying to be LESS PATHOLOGICALLY frugal. So many good suggestions have come in. So far, I have mostly bought lots of medium-sized presents for my children (art supplies! boots! backpack!).

We also had a lovely meal at Rue 127, somewhat off the tourist track. You should give it a try if you're ever in New Orleans.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

80/20 Frugality?: Spend more on...What?

Mr FS and I have a combined age of 124. We are close to retirement if we really want it. In fact, we are too old for early retirement. Not that we wanted it. What could be more rewarding than yapping about literature?

Every now and then, I make a vow in this space. Generally, I do not keep my vows. Everyone knows about the Pareto Principle, right? That's the idea that everything is 80/20. You get 80% of the results with 20% of your effort. Then, to get the other 20%, you need to put out 80%. This works with stuff also: we wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time; we use 20% of our cookbooks 80% of the time, and so on.

This would mean that--in my frugal path-- I've gotten 80% of the benefits from 20% of the effort. For a long time, we put in the extra 20%: we wanted, for instance, to make sure our kids graduated college without debt. DONE. We wanted to pay off our house: DONE. 

Thanks to the recent swoon in the stock market, I have reverted to my 2008 behavior: I no longer look at retirement balances. Time is no longer on our side: whatever we save now will have a relatively small impact in the long run. 

That is disappointing, but freeing. It's hard to change habits. But I herewith vow to try to do only the 20% that will garner the 80% of results. 

So I'm trying to figure out what add-ons we should indulge in. Frugal Son wants us to treat him (and ourselves!) to more of the pricy restaurants in New Orleans. So we're doing a bit more of that.

I can't think of anything else. Any ideas?

Have you ever deliberately INCREASED your spending? On what?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

CHEAP CHIC is back!

OK. I just copied and pasted from the publisher's website. Anyway, THIS was the book we used to pass around the vintage clothing store where I worked. THIS was the book that taught me about COST PER WEAR. THIS was the out-of-print book that was going for big bucks on Amazon.  Did you read this book back in the day?

The Ultimate Fashion Bible CHEAP CHIC Is Back in Print!

40th Anniversary Edition -- With A New Foreword by Tim Gunn

The Ultimate Fashion Bible CHEAP CHIC Is Back in Print!


  • Imprint: Three Rivers Press
  • On sale: 9/1/15
  • Price: $16.00
  • Pages: 224
  • ISBN: 9781101903421
CONTACT:Rebecca Marsh
With a new foreword by Tim Gunn and hundreds of timeless tips and tricks, the ultimate fashion bible CHEAP CHIC is back in print.
“I think it’s terrific.” –Diane von Furstenberg, of the original edition of Cheap Chic
Before there were street-style blogs and ‘zines, there was CHEAP CHIC by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy. Originally published in 1975, this little book about personal style sold hundreds of thousands of copies in its first iteration and was an international hit. Decades later, it continues to inspire designers and attract fashion lovers, gaining a reputation as a cult classic.
Back in print and with a new foreword by Tim Gunn, the fortieth anniversary edition of CHEAP CHIC: Hundreds of Money-Saving Hints to Create Your Own Great Look (Three Rivers Press; Trade Paperback; $16.00; On Sale September 1, 2015) is both a fascinating fashion artifact and a timeless style guide. It was one of the first fashion books to show photographs of “street style” intermixed with couture.
Whether you’re a lover of designer labels or a master thrifter, CHEAP CHIC is about cultivating your personal style on any budget.CHEAP CHIC covers all the basics, and provides advice for stocking up on must-have items such as T-shirts, denim, exercise gear, and one-of-a-kind couture pieces. There’s a reason that classics – like a good pair of leather boots or a navy blazer – never go out of style, and CHEAP CHIC is proof of their staying power.
Astonishingly relevant forty years later, CHEAP CHIC provides great practical advice for creating an affordable, personal wardrobe strategy: what to buy, where to buy it, and how to put it all together to make your own distinctive fashion statement without going broke. It is the original fashion bible that proves you don’t have to be wealthy to be stylish.
CHEAP CHIC also includes interviews with fashion icons like Diana Vreeland and Yves Saint Laurent, along with beautiful vintage photos of stylish celebrities from Greta Garbo to James Dean to Cher. The model on the cover, swinging from the logo designed by Bea Feitler, is Jerry Hall.
CHEAP CHIC provides excellent tips on thrifting, layering, and more – readers will even learn how to make a bikini or tie a headscarf properly. Packed with style ideas, shopping tips, and ways to develop your unique look, CHEAP CHIC is a go-to for fashion inspiration.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Housekeeping: Does Anything EVER Wear Out?

I am in the 1% of housekeeping--the bottom 1%. There are many things I can't do (fold, sew, e.g.) or don't do (iron): other things I do seldom AND badly. 

One of the things I do seldom and badly: getting rid of things. I have a wee bit of motivation because Miss Em is returning after a year abroad. She left behind too much stuff also, but at least she's an excellent folder and organizer.

Stuff I will NOT need to buy for at least 5 years
bed linens
pots and pans
kitchen equipment

I should probably add clothing to that list, but am sure I will be enticed by many things. Still, it's amazing how little really wears out. 

Example: Mr FS got a beautiful shirt at Marshall Field (a definite blast from the past) in Chicago in about 1986. We were at a conference so I remember the date. Even at half price, the shirt was a splurge for us at $25. It remained a favorite for many years (very interesting chambray fabric). He must have worn it for almost 25 years. Finally, the collar shredded. We were ecstatic!

Another still-used item: cloth diapers. We bought our diapers second-hand (so a bit shredded from the get-go) from the very diaper service used by Mr FS's family back in the day. Both our kids used them. Then--after much searching--we found someone who wanted SOME of the diapers for her little one. We still had a lot left.

Miss Em uses them to wipe off her paint brushes. She loves them. They should last another 20 years.

Have you had anything wear out lately?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Little Help for Syrian Refugees in Serbia

My daughter's last weeks in Serbia--a country that has embraced her and that she has embraced--are coinciding with the masses of Syrian refugees entering a country with a dubious and tragic history of its own--and in the midst of a terrible economic situation. Emma has been volunteering at various refugee sites.

Her drawings of Serbia have met with a wonderful reception, both in Serbia and in the Serbian diaspora.

She is offering a set of postcards for a mere $5, with all proceeds to go to aid for Syrian refugees in Serbia.

This is from her FB, through which you can link to her commercial site. No paypal, I'm afraid. It is not available to residents of Serbia.


I know we all want to do our part, however small, to help refugees as they make their long and difficult journey toward a better life.
These postcards are a small contribution we can all afford: 100% of proceeds will go to Refugee Aid Serbia. The postcards are tokens of appreciation for what is, for all intents and purposes, a generous donation.
Receive something beautiful and do good all at the same time. What could be better?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Veronese: Lost and Found?

Continued from "The Lost Museum."

The famous scholar told us the story of how he came to own a Veronese. It was a well-practiced tale. I am only reporting (after 30 years!) what we were told. I cannot vouch for the veracity of the tale, of course.

Famous scholar told us that a colleague showed him a classified ad for a yard sale in a Chicago suburb. Among the usual: furniture, household, and so on was something unusual: painting by Veronese. Famous scholar went to the sale, learned that the painting was $3000 and purchased it, with the proviso that he would have to look into authenticity. The sellers agreed.

Famous scholar was well-connected and took the painting to his friend who was a curator at a famous art museum. They found the painting in a publication, with a note that it had been lost. With this evidence of authenticity, the sale was completed. The sellers were dentists.

Fast forward about 20 years (2004?). Mr FS and I invited a few stray people to Thanksgiving dinner. One guest was my former department head. Another was a woman we know who grew up in England. During World War II, she was among the children shipped from London to the countryside.

Somehow the conversation turned to ... well, I can't remember...but I told the story of the Veronese. Both guests said--immediately and in unison--WAR LOOT.

Of course! How could I not have seen it?  Surely this would have or should have occurred to the person who worked in the museum if not to the famous scholar.

Interestingly, I checked out the whereabouts of famous scholar. He's still famous. And he's teaching in Berlin. How strange. I wonder if he still has the painting. I wonder if he went to the exhibit at the Bode Museum. I wonder how much of the story is true.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Lost Museum

Mr FS and I visited Berlin for the first time this summer. Because of my family's lucky escape from Austria in 1938 and because so many people I knew in childhood and beyond had lost relatives to the Holocaust, I was apprehensive. As it happened, I loved Berlin. We stayed in a now trendy area of the former East Berlin.

As usual, we got a museum card, in this case, a 3-day pass. All the museums are fairly small and several are clustered in "Museum Island." So we saw the must-sees--like Nefertiti--and then checked out some of the less visited exhibits.

One that intrigued me was at the Bode Museum: "The Lost  Museum." The exhibit consisted of full-size black and white photos of lost art works. Some were simply lost. Others were taken by Allied forces. Most taken by the Russian forces still have not been returned. Many works were stored for safekeeping and then were destroyed in a fire.  This last is, of course, ironic in the extreme, given the manner of death of so many people during the war. Here is an interesting essay on the exhibit from the Wall Street Journal.

The exhibit was almost empty. It was very moving. And, of course, the lost people are never far from one's mind.

In the lounge, we perused a catalog of the exhibit, which included many works not on display. I took a special look to see if there were any Veronese paintings among the lost. Indeed, there were.

Why did I look at Veronese?

Almost thirty years ago, when I was studying art in Chicago courtesy of the National Endowment for the Humanities,  the director of my seminar kindly invited me to dinner with a well-known scholar. The dinner was not a success. We went to a trendy restaurant, which was so noisy that I wince at the memory. There was a wait of over an hour. UGH. Also, I could tell the scholar was kind of bored with us, probably saving his energy for people who could help with his career.

He was an incredible gossip and I shared with him one delectable morsel. He then told a story about how he came to own a Veronese.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

How do Scammers Do It?

A few days ago, we were inundated with mail addressed to WRONG PERSON with our address. I opened one without looking at the name  and discovered that WRONG PERSON was applying for credit. So I--good citizen--called ATT, Verizon, and a few other places to alert them to the scammer.

The customer service people were unconcerned. I got "Perhaps it is the previous resident" (we've been here for 25 years); "Perhaps your neighbor accidentally wrote down the wrong number" (no); and even "We're sorry. We cannot give you information on someone else's account (very suspicious of ME).

Well, I just opened an ATT bill (because I thought it was MINE) and discovered that WRONG PERSON has a bill of almost $400! Then I noticed other mail ("your statement enclosed") addressed to HIM. I wrote "Not at this address"on the envelopes and put them outside to be picked up. Who knows if they will ever return to the companies.

I can't even DEPOSIT a small check without producing picture ID. American Express is always flagging scammer charges. How do people set up fraudulent accounts?

Should I re-alert the companies or assume that it will be--as before--a waste of time during which I will be subjected to pitying comments and suspicion. I figure we're all paying for this stuff one way or another.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

If Janice Can Do It, I Can Do It

Pretty much everyone in the entire universe reads and learns from the Vivienne Files, right? Well, in case you missed it, Janice is now thinking of selling some of her beautiful Hermes scarves.

Well, if she can de-accession items of such beauty and quality, why am I having so much trouble donating...let's see, a St John sweater with a hole in it in an unflattering color? A camouflage jumpsuit that I thought Frugal Son would like for a Halloween costume? An Armani sport jacket that is cut way too big for the men in my life? You get the idea.

Guess what? All these items came to me courtesy of the thrift store. I did some good for a charity by buying them. I can double my goodness (so to speak) by giving them back to be sold to the next person (except the St J, which will probably go--via the thrift store--to a bulk fabric buyer).

Really, if Janice can say good-bye to such beautiful things, I should be able to do the same to my motley collection.

Thank you, Janice, for the inspiration.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


FOMO: fear of missing out

A fairly new acronym for me. It was used quite often in the recent mania regarding the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. I read all the blog posts. I even bought something: a set of underwear for Frugal Son.

I get excited by sales as much as the next person. Probably more. I was raised by two sale-addicted parents. I am, in fact, writing this while taking a break from my on-going and inefficient efforts to declutter.

BUT--back to FOMO. As a little experiment, I put some of the most-touted items from the Anniversary Sale on my Nordstrom Wishlist. Guess what?

Though most of the items sold out, many have now even lower prices. The two Brahmin bags, the two Longchamp bags, various sweaters: all are now 50% off. One sweater I coveted is 65% off.

They are, of course, selling out even as I type. Still, seeing that Wishlist helped me a lot. I can wait till next year.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hurricane Katrina: The Lite Version

Ten Year Anniversary. Visits from Commanders-in-Chief Present and Past.

Across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, we experienced a lite version of Katrina. We were with a few neighbors in the library of a Catholic High School a few blocks away. The then mayor was upstairs in the language lab with her Spanish teacher husband.

We were there for two (three?) days. The plumbing went out after the first day.

Several members of our group walked through streets filled with downed trees and downed wires to report back on the condition of everyone's houses. The whole area smelled like gas for a few days. No power, no phone service, and even after the streets were cleared, no gas.

Within a few days, the Red Cross came with food. We lent our neighbor, who owned a generator, a window ac unit, and he let us sit in an air-conditioned space for an hour or two a day.

The second pic is the during, the view from the library; the rest are afters. The elegant woman in the orange windbreaker is our neighbor, Ha, now 95. She still looks like  a model on all occasions. The car with the doll is the work of our wealthy neighbors. And that's our house! Luckily, it is an old house, very strong, so the trees only made a hole and did not destroy the entire house.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Jacqueline de Ribes Cocktail Dress: How to Sell?

From my downscale shopping in Paris in June . . .
to upscale shopping my closet


 Many years ago, I acquired a Jacqueline de Ribes dress at one of my usual venues. I knew the name--probably from reading Vogue in the 1980s. (My memory was a veritable storehouse of miscellaneous info. Alas, not so much for recent things).  The dress had lingered for many months unsold. So I finally bought it. 

There's no size in it, but it fits Miss Em. She doesn't want it, not having a J de R lifestyle.

I first tried to sell it a few years ago. I had read that Didier Ludot, the famous Parisian vintage couture shop, was having a LBD show. I emailed a pic  and asked--in French that was corrected by Mr FS--if they would be interested. As usual--no reply.

Yesterday, I picked up an Architectural Digest from the FREE BOX at the library. Newest issue. I discovered that The Metropolitan Museum of Art is having a J d R show, featuring both her own designs and the chic stuff she wore (People with that caliber wardrobe don't follow the Kondo decluttering program--or I guess they love everything). 

So here's my question: how do I sell it? And for how much? It's the twin of this one, offered for $950 on 1st Dibs.

Thanks for any advice. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Shopping in Paris: A Shallow and Boring Post

Miss Em told me that we should have two email threads: one for travel/art and one for shallow concerns. This is a shallow post: shopping in Paris, summer 2015. We were also in Berlin and Amsterdam, but did not buy anything other than food and drink.

I had prepared for shopping in Paris by looking at the Monoprix site. I was--sort of--interested in some slouchy pants (Eileen Fisher type, 20 euros) and some knit linen pieces (also Eileen Fisher-esque, 20-25 euros). I was planning to wait for the sales near the end of my stay.

Shopping was jumpstarted, however: after a stressful delay and dash for our connection at JFK, we made it...but our luggage did not. AirFrance offered us 100 euros per person for necessities. Of course, this involved saving receipts and sending in paperwork after return.

Wearing our scuzzy clothing for a day after arrival (luggage showed up after 3 days) encouraged us to take up the offer, even though I tend to distrust such offers, having been burned many times before. In we went to Monoprix where we each spent a hundred euros: Mr FS on some jeans and a linen shirt and a hairbrush and me on the slouchy pants and some linen pieces.  We still haven't gotten the money back (though it is supposedly en route, after many hours on the phone...usual bureaucracies).

Two weeks later, les soldes began and everything we bought was 1/2 off. So I bought ANOTHER pair of slouchy pants and some scarves. Miss Em arrived and we bought her some things too. She's been in Serbia longer than anticipated and her clothing is in rags.

Our only other shopping was at a nearby market (rue de la Convention--not a fancy area). We got Miss Em a vegan bag  for 35 euros (how I hate that term) that closely approximated a leather bag she saw in Vienna that was 300 euros. The seller was the quintessential French man. He said to Miss Em (add heavy accent) "I would like to give you a kiss. Not a French kiss, because your parents are there." 

At the same market was a vendor where there were a zillion people. Miss Em and I investigated: Spanx! Miss Em and I joined the fray and got some bras for 10 euros (not sexy ones, comfy ones).

Then we started a fray of our own. In a big vat of assorted tee shirts (2 for 5 euros!), I spied a Majestic tee (these sell for around 90 euros). I started searching. A French woman behind me saw what I had and said to her companion: "Majestic!" Then they started frantically searching. Suddenly, we were surrounded.

Mr FS asked Miss Em what was going on. She said proudly "Mama started it." Miss Em decided she didn't like the Majestic so we put them back. 

I had a nice chat with two women at the market. The first was French: she practiced her English; I practiced my French. I asked her if one could bargain at the market. She said non. Then I spoke to a French-American woman who seemed to be a Spanx addict. She had an extremely-plastic-surgeried face, a rare sight in Paris--at least at the places I go. She also said that one could not bargain at the markets.

I had a nice encounter with the Spanx-guy. He was unsure if I knew the difference between HAUT (tops--10 euros) and BAS (bottoms--8 euros). He asked me in French and English. Then I said in my perfect English: "My English is better than my French." I followed with the same sentence in my faulty French and received many compliments.

Since the exchange rate was so good I did take a look at Longchamp le pliage bags (78 euros vs $150 back home, even cheaper on the ugly summer sale colors) but decided to get a lower cost per wear on the one I already own.

That's it! There are ecstatic posts all over the internet on how cheap Hermes and other luxury brands are for US travelers now. Still, the thought of schlepping back a bunch of stuff gives me pause. I find shopping abroad a stressful activity in any case. Besides, I always want to start saving for the one really big ticket item on my list: plane fare for the next trip.

Do you shop when you travel?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Wonderful Book You Might Not Have Heard Of

There are good books and there are great books and there may be a book that is something still more: it is the book of your life. If you’re quite lucky, you may at some point chance upon a novel which inspires so close a kinship that questions of evaluation (Is this book better than merely good? Is it some sort of classic?) become a niggling irrelevance. Luck has everything to do with it. For the sensation I’m describing has its roots in a poignant, tantalizing feeling that this marvelous new addition to your existence, this indelible Presence, has arrived by serendipity. Anyone who cares seriously about fiction eventually will get around to The Brothers Karamazov orMadame Bovary or Pride and Prejudice or Moby-Dick or Don Quixote, and if you’re somebody whose closest literary attachment is to a book of this staple sort, the satisfaction you take from it will not be graced by the particular haunted feeling of good fortune I’m talking about; you will have, instead, the assurance of knowing that your keenest literary pleasures were preordained. One looks differently on the book of genius that, even in a long bookworm’s life, one might never have stumbled upon.
This is from Brad Leithauser's introduction to Independent People by Halldor Laxness.  Ive been meaning to recommend a few books people might not have heard of (and to elicit recommendations for books I might not have heard of). 
Like Leithauser, I picked up Independent People by accident, though not, as he did, on a hiking trip through Iceland. No, more prosaically, I picked up the book at a library sale. I had never heard of it. I was enticed by the publisher (Vintage Books) and the remark by Jane Smiley on the cover: I love this book. It is an unfolding wonder of artistic vision and skill--one of the best books of the twentieth century. I cannot imagine any greater delight than coming to Independent People for the first time. 
While you are reading it, you might wonder what makes it so great. It took me a while. Often, I felt like I was trudging through this long book, much as the main character trudges through life. All will become clear on the last page.

 An interesting sidenote: The novelist Ann Patchett opened a bookstore in Nashville. 

In an Atlantic article, she mentioned that she did not like the name--Parnassus Books--suggested by her partner-to-be. She had always fantasized about owning a bookstore called Independent People--"after the great Halldor Laxness novel about Iceland and sheep." 

Well, in honor of Patchett, I'm not going to link to Amazon! Buy it from an independent bookstore or do the frugal thing and check it out of the library. My library doesn't own a copy, but they would buy one if I requested it. I really should as a service to other readers in my area. 

Do you know of any books you might never have heard of?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Farewell to Thredup and Others

Thank heavens my semester is starting up soon! I want to return to thinking about the beauty of literature and how best to convey it...


Last spring, I wrote some positive things about the new and newish resale sites. I even have another positive post that I never got around to publishing.

Just as well: the bloom is off the rose. Twice has been purchased by Ebay. Luckily, I had used my credit, but I witnessed a mad scramble among those with credits to use up.

Tradesy has gotten very expensive. Most of the items seem to be listed by professional resellers with access to outlet stores. I have no problem with that, but the prices are generally high.

Thredup: The worst for last? The site announced a lowering of prices last spring. As far as I can tell, the brand I like--Eileen Fisher--is about 50% HIGHER than it was last spring. I did buy one thing recently though: skirted leggings. I paid the $6.00 shipping fee on top of the listed price.

The thing is: I ALWAYS wear an S in Eileen Fisher. The item I bought was listed as an S. It is an EXTRA SMALL PETITE. That's two mistakes. I am probably not going to return and pay the ridiculous restocking fee. So look for these on ebay one of these days..

I emailed and await their response. I expect the typical customer service: you are welcome to return for credit blahblahblah. But I doubt I will order from them again. In fact, like the Swedes in Beowulf I have a long memory. So I will add Thredup to the list of brands and stores that I don't buy from. 

I think this is a message from the universe to USE WHAT I HAVE. OK. I'll try to listen.

Have you used (as seller or buyer) any of these resale sites? Have you had any excellent experiences?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Eileen Fisher Washable Crepe Pants Still Cheap at $58

UGH. Hate to keep posting about this stuff. In fact, I was going to post on either "Most Frugal Recipe EVER" or an interesting exhibit I saw in Berlin this summer ("The Lost Museum") or some of the books I've been reading.

However, lots of people thanked me for posting on the EF pants for $40 and then an anonymous commenter (thank you!) mentioned that sizes were restocked (it's true), so here's a reminder. These are the best pants EVER. Even worth it at the higher price of $58. Two summers ago, I wore them almost every day on a 6 week trip. This past summer, the honors went to the EF harem pants.

Anyway, I'm hoping all the money people save on these pants will be deposited into my KARMIC SAVINGS ACCOUNT. I'll report back when I get my karmic bank statement.

Here's the Neiman Marcus link once again (and remember, if you call Nordstrom, they will price match, and then you get their superior customer service).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Eileen Fisher Washable Crepe Pants only $40.60!!!

All the bloggers rave about these pants. I do too. They retail for over $150! But I am loath to spend so much on pants, even though they do provide a good cost per wear ratio.

As a frugal person, I check sites regularly--both new and used--scouting for sales. Since I only look at Eileen Fisher, it is not hugely time-consuming.

I just took my twice a year look at Neiman Marcus and there are the pants for $40.60!!! As I write, all sizes are available.

I actually called Nordstrom and had them price match. You can do that too.

This will be my third pair of these. My first was price matched two or three years ago and worn to death (they are still alive!). My second was from Tradesy and so--slightly used to begin with.

Free shipping and returns at both sites.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Why Keep Working?

The Great Recession knocked down the stock portion of my retirement accounts by almost 50% and led to the firing of the three tenured French teachers. In a panic, I discovered the Firecalc site (Financial Independence/Retire Early??) and learned from their easy to use calculator that even with my much-diminished accounts and even if both Mr FS and I  were let go because our program was eliminated, we WOULD NOT END UP DEAD in the STREETS. We would have a very, very, very  humble retirement, to be sure, but we would NOT DIE in some Dickensian institution for the impoverished.

That comforted me. Fast forward, and--though no raises in all that time--we are still working and our equity portions have, as they say, recovered. Also we now have a combined age of 124, rather than a combined age of 110. Our life expectancy has--perforce--gone down. So a fairly humble retirement probably looms, but not as humble as it looked in 2008-09.

The people who post on Firecalc are either eager to retire ASAP or ecstatic to have done so. Many seem to be or have been highly paid folks in IT, engineering, and so on. Some even had a stock option windfall. WORK is a dirty word on the site and is humorously typed as w*rk.

Then, while goofing around recently, I read some blogs that I don't usually visit. A common theme was  the lack of structure and meaning in retirement. And that is precisely why I keep working: not just because of the structure and meaning (teaching is meaningful work however you slice it), but because of the goofing around.

I should mention that because of serious budget issues (Great Recession again), there are no classes on Friday--to save on energy. Hence our schedule. We teach two VERY LONG DAYS a week, and can then do the rest of our work at home. And, since we don't teach in the summer (we are FRUGAL), we have a lot of flexibility there too. I think if we were working 50 weeks a year, 5 days a week, I would be longing to retire.

Another thing: teaching is like a mortgage. When I began, I was always in a panic. I would read twenty articles to figure out how to teach a little sonnet. Now I know how to teach many, many things. And teaching new things is not an occasion for so much anxiety. The time I spent in preparation a long time ago has "paid off" after all these years.

So why keep working? If I retired, I would have to find meaningful pastimes. Every day. I would goof around too much. I would feel guilty.

As it is, the meaning and purpose are taken care of by my job. In between tasks, I can goof around without (too much) guilt. I can even write a blog post. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

My First Trip to Hermes: What I Wore

Sooooooo, after our rejection at the Louvre, we were walking along, taking in the chic passersby and the beautiful windows. There we were on rue de Sevres. Where there is a Hermes (or AN Hermes, if I pronounce properly).

The window was unimpressive, featuring terrazzo tile (?) with keys and other objects embedded in it, but right near the door there was a table with brochures for a design event: for a week in June a number of shops participate in "7 Jours" of Design. I went to pick up a brochure.

The elegant doorman swept open the door and we were swept in. Oops! Well, I've always wanted to see the decor because that particular shop was built on the former site of a hotel swimming pool.

We walked around. Then the scarf lady gestured that I should come over. OK. I looked at a few scarves, but said I needed to wait for my daughter's opinion (which is true; she is always right).

This is what I was wearing: a cardigan (which I had taken off because it was hot), a tank top, dusty sandals, and my Eileen Fisher harem pants (the only remotely nice thing I had on). Oh yeah: my accessories. A junky scarf (how embarrassing!) and a tiny stained Vera Bradley purse that had been discarded by Miss Em in junior high (I use it as a wallet when I travel).

Mr FS looked about the same.

We were more scruffy than usual because we were wearing some of the clothes we had flown in--the day before. We had yet to get some duds to tide us over while waiting for our delayed luggage.

Even so, the scarf lady was charming and welcoming.

I must say I was relieved by the whole experience. I find the scarves absolutely gorgeous, but otherwise, I was not filled with desire for the merchandise. Phew!

Miss Em came to visit two weeks later. She didn't want to help me pick out a scarf at Hermes, but she did help me pick one at Monoprix. Maybe next year.

Friday, July 17, 2015

First day in Paris: Mean Girl

My first full day in Paris began....miserably. Air France had lost our luggage and we hadn't yet gotten around to a Monoprix to get some needed items. We felt disheveled and dusty, more scruffy than usual. To cheer ourselves up, we decided to go to the Louvre: 2 weeks remained on the year membership we bought the previous year.

We were both pretty crabby because of jet-lag and so, a bit of miscommunication ensued. When we arrived, we only had Mr FS's card. We went to the office and Mr FS explained in French what had happened. 

And then we encountered our first bonafide French mean girl. She said that she couldn't look up the card. We explained that the previous year, Mr FS had LOST his card and the rep looked it up and replaced it. 

The rep said that was the procedure for lost cards. Forgotten cards were different. 


Then the mean girl line. The rep said (this was all in French and even I could understand it!): "There's one way you can get into the Louvre today." LONG PAUSE. We looked hopeful. "Buy a ticket at the booth!" I swear she cackled. We got up to leave and didn't say anything. 

I think she was a bit embarrassed by her performance because she smiled rather sheepishly as we left.

We decided to walk around after that and somehow ended up in Hermes. No kidding.

P.S. Thanks to all for comments while we were away. My electronic devices were ill-performing and had teeny keyboards. So i could READ the comments even though I couldn't respond. Merci beaucoup!

Monday, June 29, 2015

I Heart Baby Wipes for the Traveler (and Duct Tape)

Does everyone already know this? I only thought of this last summer.

Our first purchase in Paris (after some food, of course) will be BABY WIPES!

Carry a few in a ziplock to wipe your sweaty brow, the back of your neck, and--MY FAVORITE--your sweaty feet.

They are amazingly restorative.

And, from Mr FS, DUCT TAPE. This can be hard to find when you need it. This serves many purposes, of course. We are mainly taking it for SHOE EMERGENCIES. In Chicago many years ago, my sandals fell apart. Disaster! I didn't want to buy new shoes because I am a well-known cheapwad and hate emergency purchases. Besides, I have troublesome feet, so I can't buy just anything.

Eventually, we spied a store that stocked those cheap Chinese Mary Janes, which saved the day. Now I always carry extra emergency shoes on walks. But we also carry the beloved DUCT TAPE.

Mr FS wraps some around a pencil. What can I say? He is a genius.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A technique for shopping your closet

I have a tendency to wear the same things over and over--a common affliction based on the well-known 80/20 Pareto Principle.

Well! I just packed for my trip (following the guidelines of the great Sue of unefemme). Hence, I perforce HAD to wear things that were not in my suitcase for my last few days at home. That was the "other" 80% Wow! I have a lot of nice things that have not made it to my desired "cost per wear." There's some space in my case, and I was tempted to add a couple of these "new" nice things. I resisted. Looking forward to the "new" pieces.

If there's a method here (and I'm sure I'm too lazy to follow it, unless forced to by the necessity of packing)  it would be to hide (for a while) your favorites and see if the results are agony (in which case say good-bye to the unfavored items) or, as in my case ecstasy (in which case wear them on your return).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Second Hand Shopping: Reality Check

The great Janice of the great Viviennefiles has a new goal: to buy only secondhand for the next year. I got so excited by this that I kept returning to read the comments and left several myself. At last, something in which I have expertise!

Along with tales of fabulous finds (cashmere and more)I detected a bit of anxiety amongst the commenters: can you really find great stuff at thrift stores?

My answer: it depends where you live. I myself have thrifted in various places. Right now, I live in a small town with a tiny affluent population, a mid-sized middle class, and a large very poor population. Surprisingly nice things show up on occasion and the prices are very low. There is little competition for the things I look for.

I once lived in a small town with a small college. The town had been decimated by unemployment. I dutifully wandered over to the Salvation Army once a week for a year and found perhaps two items. That may be stretching it.

When we visit relatives in affluent Northern California, I have seen great things, usually clutched by others. There are lines of what look like bonafide hippies circa 1971 lined up outside a tiny thrift shop in Marin. When it opens, they rush in; within minutes, the stock is decimated. 

So--to oversimplify--what you find depends on the population and the competition. There are zillions of other people shopping, many with more expertise than you possess. A large proportion of the shoppers are shopping for a living. They know what they are doing. Many go every day. One of my thrift friends is an expert in jewelry: she laments the fact that she can no longer find Danish silver to sell on Ebay.

If you try a few times and find mostly ugly overpriced stuff...well, that is the way it is most places. I am lucky because I buy things for my whole family: my chances of success are higher than if I were shopping for just me. And I'm mostly looking for quotidien stuff: a colander for Frugal Son, some books to read, etc.

Recently, I have discovered the joys of on-line second hand: not terribly cheap, but reasonable. My favorite so far is Poshmark. Check it out. (Since I wrote this I've noted that some of the on-line resale sites have really raised their prices. On Poshmark and Tradesy, the seller sets the price. Twice Clothing, in particular, seems to have really jacked up its prices).

In the more than 30 years I've been thrifting, I've found a vintage Gucci bag, a pair of Chanel loafers, and a single Hermes scarf. That's one status item every ten years. My best find this year: a set of Sferra sheets (no cases).

Shopping in bad thrift stores is time-consuming and depressing. If the pickings are always slim, it's not you. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

People Watching in Paris: Frugal Hermes?

I've been reading over my little travel notebook. It's just one of those little 19 cent spiral jobs. I don't  do much shopping in Paris (I know: a crime against nature) but I do like to window shop and people watch. Sometimes I make note of what people are wearing. I like to observe how people communicate style and status. 

One fellow caught my attention not just last summer, but also the summer before. He is the proprietor of a shop that sells vintage midcentury modern furniture: you can spy various Eames pieces and the famous Egg chair through his window. He happened to step out for a cigarette as we were looking in the window. Both times he was wearing the exact same thing: a wrinkled black button down shirt and baggy faded jeans. His gray hair was unkempt. He did not have the narrow physique of the stereotypical Parisian in a fancy neighborhood. Rather, he was stocky, with a big belly. He looked like the stereotypical guy at the market, dramatically wielding a knife and a piece of meat.

He was also wearing a prominent status item: a belt with a big H announcing its maker as Hermes. It occurred to me that the belt was actually a frugal purchase. He could wear it every day with his faded/wrinkled clothes and look upscale. His customers would, no doubt, recognize the belt and realize that his is a high end store. His "cost per wear" was probably less than one euro.

Such a belt would be wasted on me. My students would say "I thought your initial was E???!!!" 

But for Monsieur, the belt was a communicative part of his uniform. 

I'll be looking for Monsieur again this summer. His shop is somewhere near rue de Verneuil, where there are a lot of art galleries. Many people make a pilgrimage there to see the house owned by the family of the iconic Serge Gainsborough.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Museum Bargains in Paris and other Unicorns

As travelers, Mr FS and I are easy to please: we like museums, historic houses, and long, long walks. We live in one of the foodie capitals of the US, if not the world, so we don't sweat the restaurants. I already have too much stuff (and Mr FS gets hives if he goes into a store), so I don't do much shopping other than for food at markets. 

Here's a reminder  about a little-known museum bargain. At least we didn't know about it till last year. First, we discovered the Louvre membership for "professionals" like teachers. That is 35 euros per person. Luckily, the one we got last year still will have almost two weeks on it when we return!

However, anyone can get a membership. It's 80 euros for a duo/family. Even for a short stay, that breaks even (close) at 3 visits for two. With a membership, you can avoid the line for tickets! You can also use a special member's entrance, which, in typical gallic fashion, has never been open--maybe once.

Psychologically, the membership enables you (at least us--we're cheap) to go for several short visits rather than one LONG visit. If you're willing to skip the Mona Lisa and the awful crowds in that room, you can go to some of the less visited parts. Mr FS and I fell in love with Chardin last year. The room was almost empty. (Note: the bathrooms in the underpopulated areas are usually line-free and have toilet paper!)

There's also the well-known Paris museum pass. You can buy it at any museum or at the bookstore fnac. I think we only did this once. Since we like to stay at museums for a long time, it's not a good bet for us. If you like shortish visits, it's good. Another advantage is that if you go to a DUD museum (Victor Hugo was a dud for us), you can leave quickly without guilt or remorse. You might want to visit anyway since it's in the beautiful Place des Vosges. You can also avoid some lines.

Many Paris museums are free on the first Sunday of the month. For the first time, we will be able to partake. Mr FS has already mapped out a route: Picasso, Pompidou/Beaubourg, and a few others.

Our best museum deal: last summer we stayed in a miserable TINY room whose saving grace was that it was near the Cluny. We were only there a few nights waiting for our regular place to be free. Not only was the room tiny, but it was filled with the owner's stuff: mostly massive quantities of linens, arranged in rainbow order. He also mirrored most of the walls in weird ways. (His larger apartment next door was similarly mirrored--including mirrors on the ceiling over the bed and on the surrounding walls-- and piled high with neatly folded stuff). I didn't realize how stressful the space was till we went to our next lodging: I fell asleep for several hours upon arrival. 

The Cluny, home of the gorgeous Unicorn tapestries. We wandered over, planning to buy a museum pass. The Cluny was free, owing to some issue with a strike or trains or something! We spent the morning there and then returned after lunch. The next morning, we returned and it was still free! So we did a very thorough job taking in the rooms we had not spent a lot of time in.

When we walked by the next day, we peeked in and things were up and running. We had other plans but we wanted to see how long the free days were in effect. We went in. Why? Because the Cluny has an accessible bathroom. Keep an eye out for those in Paris. They are sometimes as elusive as unicorns.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Paris Shopping Plans: Not Very Exciting

Last year Mr FS and I met up with Miss Em in Belgrade, where she had spent a year. We were charged with bringing some of her stuff home. That made any shopping plans really simple: we couldn't buy anything. We needed every bit of space for her things.

This year, we have a bit more leeway. Miss Em will, I hope, be able to rendezvous with us in Paris. Our tiny apartment sleeps three. She will probably give us some things to bring back. We will bring her some make-up requested by her friends. It is a testament to...well, something..that her friends want makeup by ELF, Wet n Wild, and NYC, all extremely inexpensive drugstore brands. Everything on their wish lists came to under $30. 

Still, even though I know we can bring back a few things, I am ambivalent. Europe is not the shopper's paradise for Americans that it used to be. No need to lug home a Le Creuset pot. It costs the same in the USA. (I already own several Le Creuset pots). Besides, after about a week of post-grade-turn-in going through my stuff, I am, as always appalled by the accumulation. I am, perhaps foolishly, going in reverse of the famous Konmari method: I am putting things away before embarking on a  declutter. 

So here's my list. It is as humble in its way as the make-up list. I am lucky that it is humble by choice; Miss Em's Serbian friends crave consumer goods that are simply unavailable to them. 

1. Frugal Son likes little notebooks. Where better to get some than in Europe where the pages are graph paper? My plan is to get some at Muji while Mr FS is waiting on line for the famous falafels at L'As du Fallafel in the Marais.

2. To improve my French, which has been on the wane since I left the wonderful M. Giordano and M. Moore (how did these two non-native speakers leave me with an accent that has been complimented over the years? Merci, fellas), I peruse the Monoprix site. Now whenever I actually go to Monoprix I find myself quite underwhelmed by the quality, so I usually don't buy much of anything there. Mr FS buys food in the basement while I look around upstairs. 

Two items are on my radar. Five years ago, I bought a pair of black leggings in the Nantes Monoprix. They have served me well but are starting to get holes. I will wear them on the plane and swap them out for a new pair for 13 euros.

The site also features some black sarouel  pants, which to my eye look quite a bit like the famous Eileen Fisher slouchy pants that I am too cheap to buy. They are about 20 euros. 

Of course, cheapwad that I am, I will test my luck and wait for the sales, which start on June 24

Why is my list not longer? The most expensive part of the trip is the flight. When we get there, I start plotting our next trip. So I put the stuff I don't buy in my virtual savings account, where it can go toward a plane ticket.  Of course, there's always a chance I may succumb to temptation. I'm always tempted by a Longchamp handbag. Every year, I say I'll buy one next year. That's why I have to go back.