Friday, December 21, 2007

False Hopes

Someone came around the office with envelopes today. For a lovely, fleeting second, I thought, bonus? But it was only the pay stub for the paycheck we'll get while on Christmas break (today is my last day of work until January 2, huzzah!). It's not such a bad deal to have money deposited whilst you're lazing about with friends for nearly two weeks.

Plus, they raised the 401(k) match $500 for next year, so that's not such a bad deal.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Paying for Quality: An Example of How Cheap is Not the Same as Frugal

There is an actual, physical hole in the sole of my shoe. Meaning, when I put my foot down, my actual foot (enstockinged, but still) touches the actual ground. Which is very cold.

My shoes cost $24 and I bought them about three months ago. Perhaps next time I should pay more than $24.


Doing the End-of-Year Shuffle

So, I got the promotion. Sort of. As I'd been predicting to friends for a few days, it's a sort of halfway solution. It comes with a title change, a 6.25% raise (6.25% of not a lot is not a lot), some new editorial responsibilities, and a little bit less administrative responsibility. The problem, when this was laid out for me, was quite evident: if I'm only offloading a tiny bit of work (the admin stuff I did for my big boss), and getting a bunch of new stuff, effective immediately, doesn't that mean I have more work, total? Yes. Yes, it does.

So I thought about it for a bit and wrote an email to both of my bosses suggesting a solution: transfer one of my (least-liked!) responsibilities from me to a co-worker. I talked to the co-worker in question about it; she seemed amenable. I put that in the email. I mentioned also that I'd consider it a perk of the title change.

And they agreed! So that is a real improvement. I hate doing that task (it involves keeping track of a lot of dates and coordinating communications with a lot of difficult people and filling out boring forms), and will appreciate not having to do it, both in terms of time and in terms of boring. And I did some negotiating! So I'm pretty proud of that, actually.

Next up: picking a gym to join with the money from my raise! (Don't worry, I'll also be bumping up my 401(k) contributions.)


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Night Falls in Midtown

So. I'm leaving the company holiday party. I have had a glass of wine and a free dinner. I am wearing a new dress, and newish boots that are beginning to hurt my feet even though I bought arch supports to wear in them on Sunday. I am wearing an old winter coat, but it's made of nice wool, and I wear a costume-jewelry brooch on it, and it doesn't look too shabby. At the party, I have been gossiping with my coworkers; there was a speech by the president of the company heralding the younger generation; I have giggled with my boss and danced to "Hey Ya" (not simultaneously).

One of the guys from the mailroom is tall and broad-shouldered, with a square jaw and lucid eyes and skin like caramel. When he moves, all power and grace, it is hard to imagine that everything in the world is not easy for him.

My closest work-friend is knocking back Brooklyn Lager, grinning a grin he knows is charming, putting his hand on the knee of a woman twenty years older than he is.

Another work-friend is worrying about her assistant, who is being skeeved on rather vigorously by some sort of sales guy. He is very short, also quite skeevy. The assistant does not seem to mind, but the work-friend is worried anyway. Anything could happen, she says. I do not think anything could happen.

I talk with some girls about whether or not we are wasting our youth, about what we have learned and where we will go next.

When I leave, I do it without saying too many goodbyes. I get my not-too-shabby coat from the coat check, and put it on, and go out through the shining hotel lobby, and I like the feeling of the cold in my damp hairline and I want a cigarette badly. I like to smoke cigarettes in this particular mood, which is open and quiet and thoughtful, and I like to smoke cigarettes while walking in pretty shoes. I do not have any cigarettes. So walking down Vanderbilt Avenue, I stop in front of a guy smoking outside a cheesy tourist-trap restaurant. I ask him for a cigarette. I do not have a quarter, or I would give it to him. He gives me the cigarette, and offers me a light. My hand rests on his leather-gloved one while he lights my cigarette off his. He has an accent of some kind. I thank him, wish him a good night, and keep going.

I am standing in front of Grand Central, finishing my cigarette. There is a man whose backpack is sliding down his back, the straps slipping down his arms. He is panhandling. He is doing a bad job of it. He is muttering and looking dejected. He asks me, almost unintelligibly, if I have any change. I do not have any, or I would give it to him. He apologizes, wishes me a happy holiday. I smoke my cigarette. The Public Safety officer walks by in his yellow vest. The man is easy to brush off; he's hunched and muttering; people do not even look at him. The Public Safety officer doesn't either. The people keep going by, all of them going somewhere.

I ask the man what he needs. He needs a ticket to Poughkeepsie. I tell him I will buy him one. We go inside. He asks me to tell them I'm his friend, if they ask—he says they told him he was committing a crime by asking for money inside the station. He says he's only got about a dollar. I think of how long he must have been muttering at passers-by, and how long was spent in the cold. He tells me his girlfriend kicked him out, that he can't call his family because they'd hang up on him. We fight all the time, he says. He has terrible teeth. He punches the buttons on the machine. Cash? If I had cash, I would have given it to him. Debit. He turns around while I enter my PIN. The ticket drops with a little click, the sound of light contact. He thanks me; we shake hands. He asks if I have a boyfriend. I say that I do. He goes to get the train to Poughkeepsie; I go to get the six train home.

When I pop up again aboveground, the cold is a little more biting, and a cab slows down, expecting me to flag him and say Take me away from this squalor. Take me to Eighty-First and Fifth! The handle on the outer door of my building is still missing. I take off my shoes as soon as I get inside.


In Which Our Heroine Substantially Exceeds Her Gift Budget: A Stream-of-Consciousness Monologue

I love giving people presents. Love it. This is, in fact, one of the reasons I really like earning money--you get to give people bigger presents. I am not one of the PF bloggers who will tell you that I think gift-giving is a stupid, blind-consumerism kind of thing to do. I think gift-giving is a wonderful thing to do.

That said, I'm getting a little excessive at present (so to speak). I'd planned to spend $50 each on my parents, and instead, I have become enamored of the idea of giving them (collectively) a $170 digital picture frame. It's kind of perfect--my mom, in particular, takes a lot of photos, and they're decluttering at present, so I like the space-saving aspect...I've found this Philips digital frame on Amazon at $80 comes with a free memory card that I want to load up with pictures of me & my sister to give them...and I'm kind of rationalizing, but I really want to give them something nice. They gave me life! I'm buying it. I'll use the Prosper ad money to make up the difference between the budget and the actual price.

...The thing is, I know that I'll also want to give them something little each. I already bought my mother a cameo bookmark off Etsy for $10, and I'll want to get my dad something little individually as well.

Oh, actually, here's what I'll do: I'll invite my sister to go in on it with me. If she wants to split the cost, then all is budgetary sweetness and light. If not, I'll use the Prosper money and see if I can reduce spending in some other nook or cranny of my gift budget. Or (more likely) just cashflow the difference.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Substantially Belated December Goals!

It's easy sailing this month--no challenges, really. Um. Except maybe those pesky medical reimbursements that keep slipping my mind.

1. Add $250 to the Freedom Fund, but no more
$250 is cake, especially as all the clothing purchases are finished and neatly squared away and I can use the extra money for savings. Though it looks like I won't even need to use all of it--and I plan to hit this goal on the nose, rather than exceeding it. I'll use the extra money for extra Christmas-y fun with my sister & the friends who'll be in town. Skating and cider and movies! A wee bit of a reward for saving so diligently all year.

Seriously, seriously. I have all the forms and bills now, so it's just a matter of doing it. Which I will. This month. Before Christmas.

3. Keep my net worth over $20,000.
For the year-end goals!


Substantially Belated November Goals Update!

There were goals; here's how they went:

1. Don't dip into my savings for my trip to France.
Check, with $100 to spare!

2. Add $700 to the Freedom Fund
Check! I actually sent $825 over there, including the $100 surplus from my non-spending in France. That's definitely my best month ever, even for a three-paychecker. I'm so close to that year-end $5,500 goal, I can practically smell it.

3. Get reimbursed on the last medical bill & my flex spending
Half a check! Flex yes, medical no. I did discover that I'd lost two bills, and got new copies of them from my doctor, so the stuff is all ready to go.


Mixed Messages at Work, Aaargh

I've been very much caught up in my Grand Office Drama of late--the latest is an email from my boss (not the one with whom I had the chat last Wednesday--the other one, with whom I work more closely) to the effect that she wants to take me out to lunch a week from today to thank me for my good work this year, and that my other boss (her boss, too) is busy but will meet with us briefly before we go out. That sounds like good news, I think (?), but that last conversation, as y'all know, made me want to pull my hair out.

You know how they (whoever They are) say that mixed messages are a form of emotional manipulation? That the idea is to keep you dangling?

I believe them.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Frugal Food: Lentils with Chorizo

At my supermarket (bless it!), lentils cost $.89 per pound. A pound of lentils is a lot of lentils. That means lentil dishes are super-cheap. They're also really healthy and great comfort food for the winter.

So I made up this delicious, semi-spicy lentil stew with chorizo last weekend, and it's been lunch all week. Delicious.

1 lb lentils ($.89)
1 medium white onion (about $.75)
2 big cans (28 oz, I think) of crushed tomatoes (about $3)
1 bottle wine (optional! mine was a gift, but you can get a perfectly decent bottle for $7. And I used white, because I had it, and it's tasty, but I might go with a red next time)
2 bullion cubes (about $.50--but you might want to go with canned broth if you didn't use wine)
5 links chorizo (or whatever sausage you like) (about $4)

Dice one onion. Sweat it in some olive oil (you could add garlic, too, but we were out) until the onions start getting translucent. Dump in a can of crushed tomatoes. (You could use two cans if you're not using wine--more tasty liquids for the lentils to suck up.) Spice to taste: I used chili powder, cumin, and oregano. And lots of salt and pepper. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Rinse your lentils, pick out any nasty bits, and add them to the pot. Cover, let simmer over low heat. Check on the lentils every forty-five minutes or so. If they've sucked up all the liquid in the pot, give them more. I used a bottle of white wine that was kicking around my fridge, and then moved on to bullion cubes dissolved in water. (If you use wine, cook uncovered for awhile, so you don't retain the alcoholic burn.) You might want to use real broth/stock if you're not using wine, because the flavor's better. When the lentils have been simmering for about two hours, brown your sausage of choice briefly in a skillet (you just want to get some color on it, not cook it all the way through) and toss it in with the lentils. If it's pre-cooked, just slice it and dump it in.

Take your lentils off the heat just before they hit the texture you like. Mine cooked about 3 hours. The result is a delicious, slightly spicy, very filling frugal meal that gets better as it sits in the fridge all week.

We've gotten six lunches out of this so far. And we've still got lentils in the fridge! So let's say we'll get 8 servings out of it--the cost would be less than $2/serving with the wine (I estimated the price at $7, just because I'd be perfectly happy to use a $7 bottle of wine when making this again).


Just a Thought

I've been saying for awhile now that if my job doesn't change in this year-end shakeup, I'll start looking for something else. I've followed up my talk with my boss, and frankly, wasn't particularly overwhelmed with warm-and-fuzzies about the results. It made me think that perhaps, even if I do get the promotion, this company may not be the place for me for much longer.

Now, I can do this one way: I can look for something else in publishing, where my skills are good and the turnover is high. I'd rather pull out all my fingernails than apply for another editorial assistant job, though, so if I can't find anything in editorial proper, I'd hit up & start calling my parents' friends.

Or, I could do it another way, and apply for teaching fellowships. There's the renowned Teach For America, of course, but there's also the New York City Teaching Fellows--less of a resume boost, but you earn a subsidized master's degree in education. Which would be pretty helpful on the resume when I apply for my PhD. And though they're selective programs, especially TFA, I'm pretty confident that I'd be accepted into either. On the downside, though, both programs require a two-year commitment, and that's longer than I wanted to put off grad school.

On the upside, though, I wouldn't be so goddamn bored all day. My work would mean something. I've really enjoyed the tutoring & teaching I've done in my volunteer work. And, oh yeah, fellows in those programs make a teacher's starting salary: in NYC, that's close to $45K. That's way more than I make now.

Just how much am I willing to change my life?


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

November Net Worth

Though I've been low on the posting lately, I did update my net worth on December 1, like the good little PF blogger I am.

It's up, but only because it was a three-paycheck month, which meant extra-big 401(k) contributions and Freedom Fund allocations.

AND, it's over the $20,000 mark! To be specific, my November net worth is $20,776, for an increase of 4.58% from last month. Now the goal is to keep it there: my plan is to spend close to $500 on holiday gifts, so too rough a ride on the stock market could conceivably pull me back below that goal mark. Not a lot I can do about the stock market, though...

You can check out the details on NetWorthIQ.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

White Girl Shops For Groceries in Spanish Harlem

Two men are standing in front of the eggs in my local supermarket. They are talking about how expensive the eggs are. The eggs are, indeed, expensive. I always have this dilemma in front of the eggs in this supermarket: do I buy the cage-free ones, which cost a gazillion dollars, or do I buy the cage-full ones, which in addition to the inhumane treatment of chickens are also guilty of styrofoam packaging? I usually choose the cruel & non-biodegradable eggs. They are nearly two dollars cheaper.

I have in my basket: tuna (on sale: $3.99 for four cans of Bumblebee; I'm stocking up), fresh cranberries (no price visible, but I have a sudden craving for warm, fresh cranberry sauce, and a bag of cranberries can't be more than $2), a box of teabags (Celestial Seasonings, $.20 cheaper than Bigelow) and four cups of yogurt (we are sticking scrupulously to our meal plan this week, and it calls for yogurt).

"If they're like this here," one of the men says, "imagine what it must be like on 86th Street!"

"I've seen it at 86th Street," says the other man, "Unbelievable. But, you know, white people."

"Yeah, white people. White people don't check prices. They're just like, 'I'll have one of those, one of these, yeah, I like this...'"

I look over at them. I'm not sure if they catch me looking. I go and check out.