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Friday, March 27, 2015

Ends of Frugality

Now that Mr FS and I are in our 60s, we are having lots of "what" and "when" discussions. When should we retire? What if...we retire? What if...we have to retire? And, of course, the biggies: What is it I/we really want? What's it all about?

And that brings us to "ends." Ends in the sense of "purposes." Ends in the sense of "the end." I've been thinking about endings, well, ever since I became a serious reader.  

Right now I'm thinking about the purposes of my lifelong habits of frugality. I am thankful for the example my frugal parents provided. Frugality got me through many years of panic in graduate school, more panic during a difficult job market. More panic though worries about tenure. More worries about ...well many things. I am a worrier. It must be genetic.

It occurs to me (us) that I (we) don't really need to be particularly frugal any more. We've done what we've done. What we do now won't make that much difference. This would not be the case if we hadn't saved over the years. Then it would be great to adopt frugal practices, which WOULD make a big difference in retirement. So maybe we are--or could be--at the end of frugality in that sense.

So we can keep chugging along in our frugal fashion. Or not so much.

To that end (haha, pretty obvious), we have a plan that is sort of frugal, sort of not frugal. If we do it, I'll write about it. (OK--we want to build a little guest room behind Frugal Son's New Orleans house. Where we can stay).

To that end, Mr FS does NOT want to retire any time soon. We both love teaching, in spite of living in a state that has not valued us for many years (If interested, do a google search. Too dispiriting for me to rehearse all the indignities).

To that end, I had my eyebrows tinted at the nearby beauty college.

To that end, I've redone my wardrobe via various online sites that do NOT involve auctions (more another time).

Treats are really fun when they are occasional. Ditto for vacations. Looking forward to spring break...

I was going to close with the "last words" of some piece of literature, but instead I'll end with something from the END of the FIRST ACT of Shakespeare's Henry 4, Part 1

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Good Price for Longchamp Bags: FYI

Last year, I had the goal of buying a little iconic something for my 60th birthday. After all, there's not much benefit at this point in practicing super-frugality. So my second goal for now and the rest of my life is to loosen up on the frugality. Unfortunately, I never got around to picking out my iconic something. Another birthday has passed.

Miss Em--still in Belgrade--emailed us recently and told me to buy a Longchamp bag given the recent drop in the Euro. Good idea Miss Em! A Longchamp bag is a good starter iconic piece: it IS iconic and it is NOT SUPER EXPENSIVE. That was my planned for treat in June, when we will be heading to Paris.

Today, I got a sale announcement from a place called "What She Buys," with notice of a 40% off sale on selected Longchamp. Readers, I got a Le Pliage. Not only was it already on sale, but was an additional 40% off. The 40% off alone brings the price down to only a teeny bit higher than the Paris price.

After I checked out, I was given a "referral code." If you buy using the code, I will get 500 points and you will get 100 points. The points don't seem tremendously valuable, but hey, better than nothing I guess.

There are lots of bags available. You may have to call to get the 40% off link/selection.  I linked through the email. I think this is a very short special.

Free shipping too.

I think I'm going to keep a list of my "be less frugal" accomplishments. It's hard to break ingrained habits.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Back to School: Frugal Bliss

I've been off in my still-frugal universe. My colleague Merton (still teaching at 72) and I were discussing financial issues. I told him that he can probably loosen up and spend more. To which with characteristic  Zen wisdom he replied: "Frugality is my life." Selfishly, I don't WANT Merton to retire. He is my only frugal colleague and he is a good mentor to me.

Aside from being back AT school, I have gone in a sense back to school. In addition to practicing my French via Duolingo, though I have been rather a slacker at that of late, I have been blissing out at Yale. That is, at the FREE Yale on-line courses.

This seems to have been an idea that came and went, since all the courses were posted in 2005 or thereabouts. If you bliss out taking in an excellent academic lecture: here is your chance. So far, I have watched courses on the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is easy enough to read the primary texts under discussion.

Even if you think these will be boring, based on your memories of college days, give them a try. I am a way better student now than I was then. There are quite a few available, by the way.

I am really dying to watch/listen to a good art history course. Does anyone know of one?
Any other good courses available?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Never Again: A Story to Read

Last summer, my family met up in Belgrade. Miss Em had been teaching English on a Fulbright in Novi Pazar , Serbia. It was an emotional trip for me. My mother and her family had passed through Belgrade in 1938 on their way to the United States from Vienna. In Belgrade lived one of my grandmother's sisters, who had married a Serbian man, Nicky Petrovic.

We met one of our few relatives there: Ildi Ivanji, the widow of my mother's first cousin George. Amazingly, she still  lives in the same house once owned by Nicky and Julchi Petrovic (my grandmother's sister). Though somewhat decrepit, it is an elegant home with still elegant furniture.

 Ildi is in her 80s. She had a distinguished career as a journalist and writer. She was imprisoned  in two concentration camps as a child, Terezin, which had a large population of artists and children, 90% of whom died there, and Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died. Her parents--both doctors--were shot by the Nazis in mass killings.

 Ildi's brother Ivan Ivanji, also survived the war. He too was in two concentration camps. He is quite a distinguished writer and was Tito's translator. 

We met Ivan and his wife at Ildi's house. Communication was difficult because he speaks German and a number of East European languages, but not much English or French, the languages of our family. 

Ivan is a survivor of Auschwitz, whose liberation is being commemorated today. Little of his writing has been translated into English. I found only a very short piece, which is autobiographical. It doesn't read like a translation and is both beautiful and painful to read. Please read Games on the Banks of the Danube.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Thanks to all who replied to my panicky call for help in coming to terms with my mother's broker. It is painful to witness the process whereby she has been--and is being--manipulated by this man. 

I am amazed that my little blog, which has a very small footprint in the big world of blogging, should attract people so willing to share their expertise. It means a lot to me that my misgivings and suspicions have been corroborated by others.

My father, whose death propelled my mother within a few weeks into the "arms" of a broker to whom she gave total control of her assets, would, I am sure be horrified. I began this blog a few months before my father's sudden and unexpected death. In rather ironic timing on the part of the universe, my father died in November 2008, in the midst of panic about the Great Recession, revelations about Bernard Madoff, and an uncertain future for many.  My father and I had, to be plain, a terrible relationship, which still pains me to  contemplate.  But he was very good at finances and enjoyed managing his money. I learned a lot from watching my frugal dad. 

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Friday, January 16, 2015

"Answers" from Mom's Broker:?????

Finally got answers from the broker. I'm not sure if they are answers. They seem rather vague. The item that gives me pause is that he engaged in 188 trades in 2014. That seems excessive, no? Any purpose beyond generating fees?

Anyone with any expertise: I would appreciate advice. I tend to be a suspicious person. Still, one investment trade every two days. My mother mentioned that his trading "went down" this year.

Thanks for any help!

My initial questions:

1. What specifically are xxx 's holdings? For instance, there is a category TIAACREF--what are the specific holdings under that rubric?


1) TIAA Cref account is a moderate aggressive allocation which is composed of equities diversified across and within asset classes .
     Also diversified across sectors and industries . Many of the holdings have dividends of 2-5 percent to add to the total return. The account
     typically has 50k-150K set aside in order to buy stocks when the market drops abruptly while hedging the portfolio .
 Not very specific imo

2. What isxxx's asset allocation? 

 The overall asset allocation is a moderate allocation. Typically 20- 35 percent in cash . With the remaining portion in equities and
     closed end bond funds. The equity trading takes place in the IRA accounts for tax efficiency. The Taxable accounts are passively
     managed to avoid short term capital gains. Of the  65-75 percent invested in equities there is about 10-20 percent Fixed income or
     stocks with high yields.

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

4. What percentage of xxx's 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?

 2014 there were about 188 trades which was less than xx percent of the total portfolio or approx. 9,500.

This seems INSANE TO ME. Does this amount of trading constitute CHURNING?

6. What is her total return for 2014? 2013? 2012?
 2012 net return 12 percent. ( This includes xxxwithdrawn)
    2013 net return 14 percent ( This includes xxxx withdrawn)
    2014 net return 6  percent ( This includes xxx

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

You Want to Watch My Daughter on Serbian Television, Right?

Thanks to all for helpful comments on my latest crisis, Mom's broker. The situation is getting closer to resolution. I HOPE.

And here, apropos of nothing relevant to this blog, is a clip from Mondo Television, featuring my artist daughter, who was supposed to return from Serbia  at the end of January, but has now decided to stay till the end of July.

So not one, but both my kids have been on television this year. That's really weird.