Skip to Content

Meet a Frugal Girl Reader | Erika

Erika may not be a super familiar presence in the comments, but she and I have been corresponding via email for many years; if I don’t hear from her for a while, I send a note to check and see how she and her husband are!

Reader Erika, sitting in the sunshine with a book.

(from Kristen: The light stripey fabric on Erika’s home-sewn dress reminds me of a little pink dress Zoe used to wear; you can see photos of it here.)

When she first wrote to me, I remember realizing she was the first reader I knew of that was in her 80s, aside from my own grandmother. I remember feeling so honored that someone older and wiser than me would bother to read my blog and I still feel that way.

Anyway; because I knew she has had an interesting life, I invited Erika to be interviewed quite some time ago. But she’s had some health struggles and hospital stays lately which has delayed us.

She’s home now, though, (yay!) and she kindly sent answers to my questions.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I lived in various European countries from birth.

My father was an Irish-American writer from Boston, my mother was a Lithuanian, and I was raised by my mother’s parents.

A black and white photo of a mother with a baby on her lap.

My mother and me

I went to convent schools in Belgium and England, then a British High School, then Cambridge University (Newnham College).

Later I got a Ph.D. in classical and Near Eastern languages, then later an M.S. in rare books and museum work at the University of Texas. I worked in both these fields until retirement.

I had two children from my first marriage; my first husband died from a brain tumor, in 1974. I met and married Craig in 1976.

A newly married couple in the 1970s, sitting on a couch.



I am 84 and my husband is 75. So we have had years of frugality, off and on.

Erika with tuxedo cat on lap.

Here is a photo of me with cat Pancho. He is old, too–15 years old last week. His mother came to us as a pregnant feral stray and we have had him from the day he was born (under our next-door neighbor’s sailboat)

Finding your blog several years ago encouraged us to return to more frugal ways even though they are no longer necessary.

An older man sitting in a blue recliner. He has a white beard and white hair.

a current photo of my husband Craig

It may be unusual that our most frugal years, of necessity, happened in middle age during our first years of marriage, my second and Craig’s first, begun in 1976.

When we met; I was a widow with 2 children and Craig had just come out of the army after the Vietnam war.

He was a brave man to take us all on:: 2 children, 2 dogs, 5 cats, and 2 parakeets.

A black and white photo of a man walking on a beach.

my son on Eastbound Beach in England

We had to be frugal as we both went back to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, finding part-time minimum wage jobs within the university, where every penny had to be squeezed till it squeaked!

A few favorites:

  • My favorite authors are Charlotte Yonge, Mrs. Molesworth, Eva Ibbison (all comfort reading, I notice.)
  • My favorite place to live has been El Paso, Texas

My favorite hobbies (most are in the past now that I am 85)

  • gardening
  • swimming in rivers and ponds, such as Barton Springs in Austin, TX, before it became chlorinated and changed
  • hiking
  • reading Victorian children’s books. Always a delight to find ones I didn’t know. The Gutenberg Project has been wonderful for this.
  • making my own clothes and doing sewing of all kinds

My saddest thing in life: Not having a child with my second husband.

A little girl atop a large lion statue.

my daughter, age 11

My happiest memory is spending a day in the mountains with my second husband to be, near El Paso, with a picnic. We decided to marry and we came down to eat dinner at a favorite restaurant, The Double Eagle, in Old Mesilla.

The staff were so kind. We were scruffy and they did hide us in a corner but they gave wonderful service!

2. How long have you been reading The Frugal Girl?

At least 6 years and more.

3. How did you get interested in saving money?

Watching my family fling it around made me interested in saving money. They could afford to fling it around but it still horrified me.

After a very wealthy childhood in my grandparent’s home, with boarding schools and servants, it was bliss to decorate my own smaller homes and live very freely and privately with both husbands.

A black and white photo of a girl sitting on a grassy area.

This is why I so appreciate your blog. It is my favorite because I have learnt so much from you.

4. What’s the “why” behind your money-saving efforts?

It’s lovely to always have $15,000 to $20,000 in emergency savings.

Every year we choose one big project– kitchen, bathrooms, roof and chimneys, to do without taking out loans = a wonderful feeling.

A white split-level house on a sunny day.

Then we build the savings back up + our usual $6,000 tax return.

5. What’s your best frugal win?

Not quite a win but my husband found a 1st edition of “Lolita” at a Goodwill store and promptly sold it for $7,500 to a Philadelphia antiquarian bookseller!

6. What’s a dumb money mistake you’ve made?

I can’t think of one really, we are careful people.

7. What’s your splurge?

Food, definitely. We love home cooking and don’t stint ourselves with the ingredients. We buy a lot of foods from Amazon.

Vegetables being cooked in a pot, with a wooden spoon.

 My favorite food now is blackberry and apple crumble, homemade. Years ago it would have been roast pheasant with all the trimmings.

8. What are you not remotely tempted to splurge on?

A more expensive house, car, etc. as we are very content.

9. If $1000 was dropped into your lap today, what would you do with it?

This actually happened! We received $10,000 from the will of a barely known relative. We used it to start our emergency savings account of $15,000.

10. Share a frugal tip with your fellow readers

I have two tips which are related.

  1. Use Indian ghee for almost all frying . Goes to high temperatures and doesn’t spatter = pure butter which we love

       2. Mix 2 bars of Irish salted butter with 12 ozs of cheap, light olive oil from Costco. This tastes of butter and spreads straight from the refrigerator.

One of the best things about growing old is seeing so many changes and, on the whole, they are for the better.  To those younger persons still struggling I would say, “Hang in there–life becomes so good as time passes.”


Erika, thanks so much for participating! It was lovely to hear more about your life and family.

I’m sure readers will have questions for you too, but I have one that came to me as I read your interview: Is there anything you miss about the life you used to lead, with servants and great wealth?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Monday 9th of August 2021

This was a lovely post! It must be lovely to relax a bit after having had to be so frugal at the start of your second marriage. My story is somewhat similar in that way.


Sunday 6th of June 2021

Love this post! So fun reading Ericka's answers.

Erika W.

Sunday 6th of June 2021

I didn't choose a life of frugality. My grandparents' property and monetary funds went to a male grandson--my cousin, by law. I think in English it is called an entail. Also, of course they lost all their Lithuanian property when the Soviets moved in. They had left Austria when the German Nazis took over. They were horrified . Then they had to leave Lithuania in 1945. Their Austrian property and bank accounts were intact to return to.

When I married my first husband, a Scotsman, both sides were not amused. It was funny really. They had the identical complaint: He/she is foreign. He is a Protestant. She is a Catholic. But reconciliation followed very quierika W.ckly once our children were born.


Sunday 6th of June 2021

Ohhhh, I remember hearing about an entail in Downton Abbey! It was a huge issue in that storyline, since the parents had only girls.

Erika W.

Sunday 6th of June 2021

Here I am again, back with some answers, in no particular order.

1) Roast pheasant with all the trimming = red currant jelly, game chips (very small French fries) roast celery and browned crisp bread crumbs. We would also haveBrussels sprouts and mashed potatoes.

2) Library of Congress. As soon as we moved here, within driving distance to Washington, DC, our very first destination was The Library of Congress--we got our free membership passes for the delight in carrying them in our wallets!

3) struggling with Akkadian--oh yes, yes! I believe that now, many years later the archeology is stressed more than the languages., would that it had been then. I enjoyed the Egyptian Tory tales and religious information the most.

4) GHEE. I had not realized that many stores now stock it--that's good. We started, and continued, buying it from Amazon, postage free as we belong to Amazon Prine, and had not bothered to look for it elsewhere.

5). When mixing butter and olive oil ALWAYS use the cheapest lightest oil or it will taste peculiar--not of the butter.

6). My first husband and I, plus our babies, came to the USA in 1964 as part of "The brain drain" there were many good academic jobs over here but little chance of employment in the UK. we had been told that our degrees were the best way to be unemployed that We could have chosen! Over here we instantly found university positions to move into as soon as we arrived.

7) why is El Paso my favorite place? I fell in love with the desert . The wide skies , the dry climate, shopping across the border in Juarez, the whole Mexican culture. Mind you, this was 50 years ago. It has grown enormously and the polluted air is no joke.

8). I have written a private memoir.for my children and grandchildren. No wish to try for publication-- there are many, many such memoirs available, very similar to mine.

9) yes it should have read Eastbourne for my son's photo. My iPad makes constant guesses to my words and I didn't catch this one. The beach shown is very near Beachy Head.

Erika W.

Wednesday 2nd of June 2021

I answered your question here on an two times earlier blog entry of yours so I hope you go backwards occasionally.

I should add that we were paid such an incredible price for the 2-volume "Lolita" because it was covered in scribbles which were actually Nabokov's himself and that he had drawn his famous butterflies on the several blank pages. It really was a treasure and we are still goggle-eyed when we think about it. We wanted to find the previous owner and go shares but this information was not forthcoming. It may well have Been stolen...

Erika W.


Friday 4th of June 2021

WOW! What an absolute treasure!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.