Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Decision 2008

At least one decision's already been made: this blog is on hiatus until January 3, 2009. I'm sorry, but having the anxiety of not-posting isn't fun for me, and it can't be fun for you guys to check back and find nothing. I'm super-psyched about the notes I got from people interested in writing in this space, and hope that you will still be interested in two months; I'll think about it then. At that time I will have all my graduate applications done and will be the possessor of a lot more time. I apologize for this interruption in service. I'll see you on the other side!

And for the love of all that's holy, VOTE.

(Quick update: it is looking more and more likely that my roommates and I indeed did not pay our last month's rent on signing the lease, which would that the management company, while incompetent in a number of ways, is not actually screwing us. It also means that we really don't know what happened to the money I put down, because I was out of state and the beloved-but-extremely-disorganized K and our former roommate were handling things directly. This makes things harder. This money may have to be chalked up to "stupid tax" and a lesson learned.)


Thursday, October 02, 2008

I really don't know what to do.

I've called my former management company probably fifteen times now about getting my security deposit returned. It's about $1800, and though I lived with my boyfriend and another roommate, it's almost all my money. For awhile it was "we'll send it to you in two months." Then it was three months. Then it was, "Oh, they send it in the third month." So it's four months later, and I called back, and I'm told that they have no record that I paid my last month's rent, so the deposit was applied to that, and oh, I owe them $71 (for what, they do not say). I didn't pay my last month's rent because I paid first and last when I moved in. This management company bought the building while I lived there, and they claim to have no records of my initial transaction. But I bet you money ($1800, in fact) that they'd have harassed me long before this if they really thought I hadn't paid a month of rent that was due.

I'm in tears. I don't know what to do. It's a lot of money. And the brusque rep says she understands that, but without proof I paid first and last two and a half years ago, there's no way for me to get my money back. And then she hangs up on me.

What are my options here? Small claims court? Would it help to sic my dad, who is both a lawyer and extremely tenacious, on them? Do I just slink away and let them keep all this money? How can I do that?


Monday, September 22, 2008

Penthouse Living

I spent Sunday afternoon visiting open houses with my mom. My parents are coming up on a big change in their lives: my dad's retiring, my sister graduates from college and embarks on her life as an individual in May--especially with the recent Wall Street tremors, my parents are doing a lot of thinking about how they want to spend the next phase of their lives. They're thinking seriously about selling their loft and downsizing, or selling their loft and moving upstate, or renovating their loft, or selling their loft and moving to Santa Fe or Maine or--you get the idea. Their lives are up in the air. They're in quite a good financial position, with substantial savings, a valuable apartment, and my dad's pension, but they don't have unlimited funds--still, they're putting their legal documents in order (including updating their wills) and working with a financial adviser to plan their future.

This involves a lot of house-hunting. My parents love house-hunting. My mother is one of a relatively small number of people who genuinely like renovating fixer-uppers, and she's got a great eye for interior design, and my father has the kind of vivid imagination that begins sketching a life around each new property, so they really get into it. This weekend, they've begun thinking about Brooklyn--my dad grew up in Brooklyn (Brighton Beach), and is reluctant to move back to that side of the river, but a walk around Park Slope proved persuasive. I can envision them living so happily in Park Slope or Prospect Heights--my dad sniffing around the Park Slope Food Co-Op for the ripest peaches, my mom visiting the big flea market on 7th, going to yoga classes & knitting group on Union, gardening on her roof. I want them to enjoy their time and their money; I want them to enjoy themselves and each other.

They really are looking to downsize, so I'm not sure why they decided to check out a penthouse on Eastern Parkway. Oh, wait, yes I am--it was the incredible view on the StreetEasy listing. My mom and dad made a list of places they were interested in, and my mom, K, and I went to see them yesterday. In person, the view was even better--mind-blowingly beautiful--the Manhattan skyline unfurled like your own personal backyard, a full vista of bridges and shining buildings--one missed the Trade Towers viscerally again, looking out there--and on the other side, Prospect Park rolled away like the world's biggest lawn. It was like being being on top of the Empire State Building, except...better, because you can see the whole Manhattan skyline.

The indoor space needs to be gutted, and the price tag is $995K just for the bones. As one might imagine, this is more than my parents were hoping to spend on their next home. Still, my mother insisted that my father would have to see it for himself. I doubt it's in the cards, but it was enormous fun for me to get to tour the place, and see that view, and all the while enjoy the vicarious thrill of hypothetically spending other people's money for them.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A GChat Transcript In Which Financial Knowledge is Power!

My Friend: help i need a financial consultation.
me: shoot.
My Friend: tiaa cref.
what the arse is it?
and how do i know what percentage of what makes good sense>
me: It's a retirement thing for non-profit folks.
What kind of account are you looking at?
Is it a 403(b)?
My Friend: yes.
me: Okay, that's the nonprofit equivalent of a 401(k). It's an employer-sponsored retirement plan.
Are you being offered a match of any kind?
My Friend: i have no clue.
they sent me this form.
they said 'return it!'
and then they said 'today!'
me: That probably means no, but I'd ask someone if you have time. Do you have a Roth?
My Friend: no.
me: Does the convenience make a big difference to you? If you start contributing to the 403(b), the contributions will be deducted directly from your paycheck, pre-tax, which is very convenient and doesn't reduce your paycheck the amount of the full contribution, which is also cool.
My Friend: no contribution match from employer.
i checked.
me: Okay.
My Friend: convenience?
no, not a big deal.
me: Ideally, then, I think you'd open a Roth instead.
But that requires a lot more individual initiative.
My Friend: i don't know if i have that option.
me: You do. It's an IRA, not an employer-sponsored plan.
My Friend: ah.
so what about the form that i need to return today?
me: Well, I think if you're up for opening and administrating the Roth yourself, you skip this form.
The advantage of the Roth is a tax advantage: you pay taxes when you put the money in, not when you take it out (that's what happens with the 403(b)), so it grows totally tax-free, and when you retire making more money than you do now, you save lots on taxes.
My Friend: right! which makes so much more sense.
me: Way more sense.
The obstacle is this: a lot of plans require an initial investment of $2,000-$3,000, which you may not have on hand.
My Friend: no, i do.
so that will be okay.
me: Cool. You can open one online at Vanguard in about twenty minutes.
It's way easy.
I would do that instead of the 403(b) if there's no match.
I contribute to my 401(k) at [My Company] because there's a super-generous match.
My Friend: woot!
unfortunately not the case here.
me: Alas!
My Friend: in the short term, my dental insurance is free . . .
me: nice.
me: One more thing: once you set up the Roth (Roth Individual Retirement Account, is its full name, often Roth IRA) with the minimum $$, you can automate contributions by linking your Vanguard account to your bank.
My Friend: wow!
you are the best financial advisor i've ever had!


Friday, September 12, 2008


Two friends of mine work at Lehman Brothers. They graduated from top schools with degrees in economics, and off into the world of finance they went. They're both good guys--one was very clear to me that he just wanted to stay a few years, put away as much money as he could, then go out on his own to start a graphic design firm before he turns 30. I hope he ended up putting that money away after all. The other was always great at math--he's affable, kind, and not that ambitious, and I think to him, a stable job he'd be good at that would pay him enough to live with his sweet girlfriend in Manhattan and take her to all the nice restaurants in town sounded like an awesome deal. I know so many people who went into finance right after college--they're consultants, and analysts, and personal wealth managers--they handled other people's money by the bucketful. They started when the profits of the subprime mortgage bonds were already flowing into the top financial firms, and the hedge funds, like an unstoppable river, like a force that always has been and always will be. Finance feels like a stable, sensible choice--until something like this happens. I imagine right now my two friends at Lehman are very anxious for their jobs and their futures. I'm sympathetic to their anxiety, even though they've had it really good the past couple of years and probably have solid and lucrative careers ahead of them regardless of this downturn. Still, I hope they come out of this okay.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Post-Apology Update

So, I've actually had a really financially chaotic several weeks--my record-keeping system had kind of broken down, because my computer had been down so long with all my records on it, and I'm just now starting to clean up the mess I allowed to accumulate. There'd been a ton of life stuff going on: settling into the new place still, and then a dear friend staying with me for a week (lovely, but having friends is always expensive--the eating out, and going to do things you wouldn't otherwise, and all that. But totally worth it), and then a crazy week or so at work, and then a little vacation, and then a week spent reviewing six plays in seven days, and then a week recovering from that...and that pretty much brings us up to now, where I'm sitting in the midst of a pile of undone to-dos and clutter, financial, personal, and otherwise, and facing down the "time to get serious" deadline about grad school. In shorthand, a sketch of my situation goes like this:

Financial tasks accomplished:
--Continued regular savings (bless you, ING autodrafts; I couldn't have done it without you).
--No utter disasters.
--Insurance claim filed.
--Flung more money into ETS's gaping maw, to the tune of the $130 GRE registration fee. Again.

Financial tasks unaccomplished:
--Successful hounding of former management company. So, it was supposed to be two months. Then it was supposed to be three. I called up, said it had been three months and where's my check please and the cranky receptionist (dear Alexis, if you read this, maybe think about getting a massage or doing some yoga or something else relaxing) explained that the check is actually sent out in the fourth month. Clearly the hope is to maximize "breakage" and keep many security deposits. Not mine, you assholes.
--Following up insurance claim. Insurance company kind of bonkers, dispatched large packets of letters to various health providers requesting information they already had. Must call. Laid out $700 from savings that will be replenished from reimbursement, if reimbursement ever successfully extracted from clutches of Empire BCBS.
--Full righting of financial system, i.e. getting back to routine of checking on things daily.

Current financial concerns, other than former management company and insurance company:
--the prospect of depleting my savings to cover my half the broker's fee that K already paid our broker. How I'll make up that money by the end of the year, or, if I can't, how I will find budget room to save at an advanced rate for the trip I hope to take next summer AND replenish savings.
--Dwindling financial obsession nice in some ways, problematic in others (i.e. results in dwindling motivation, which results in "oh, whatever, I'll just put this $12 lunch on my credit card").
--Can I really afford/is it really necessary to get out to Portland for a week in the fall? Plane fares are more expensive than they used to be. On the other hand, I have somewhere to stay, and I do feel like it really would be a good idea to take my recommendation-writing professors out to dinner to remind them who I am and how much they want to help me get into grad school.

Current nonfinancial concerns:
--American Studies or English departments?
--Time to study for GRE in Lit in English comes from where?
--Holy shit, personal statement needs drafting like now.

And so, I am a busy little bee, but did not mean to neglect so egregiously this blog. It is just that my entire life is up in the air, you see. But a return here will be helpful as I do a quick sweep through my finances to get them back in order, and I'm glad to have made one, and sorry, very sorry, that it took so long.


Gah: An Apology

I'm so sorry about the long unexplained absence. I've got the other blog going, and I've got a little part-time thing reviewing off-off-Broadway plays, and I'm thinking now that I have to seriously take stock of the way I'm managing my time, especially because I have to get serious now about applying to graduate schools.

That said, I don't want to shut this blog down altogether. It's been an invaluable way for me to figure out my finances over the past two years, and I've gotten enough lovely emails from readers that I think it's been helpful for some other people, too. Therefore, what I'd like to do about this blog, at least for the next few months, is give a platform, with the traffic I have, to two to three young people working on their financial lives. I'll pop in with periodic updates, too, but I want y'all to have something regular to read.

Send me an email and let me know what you'd like to put in this space. I'd like a variety of people but a uniformly strong, personable writing style. I don't make a lot of ad revenue here, but maybe we can figure out some mutually agreeable solution.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Overstocked Kitchen

Dear Bon Appetit,

Surely you are totally insane. Ice cream maker? Potato masher? Juicer? Cardboard cake rounds?

Here is a tip, Bon Appetit: if there is a cheap and easy substitute for something (i.e. dried beans=pie weights, should one ever need pie weights, or saucepan+metal bowl=double boiler), it is not a kitchen essential. Additionally, why would you recommend two tools for the same job (microplane grater & zester)? Also, no one uses basters, ever, and interestingly enough, anything heavy will serve as a meat mallet. I use my fists. And unless you're serving ten or more people on a regular basis, a square cake pan lined with foil makes a handy roasting pan. It fits a five-pound chicken or roast. I can tell you from experience.

All told, the number of kitchen "essentials" I do not own? Thirty-one. Thirty-one. And I do more cooking than most people I know. I know that we're talking about a "well-stocked" kitchen here, for someone who has a particular interest in cooking, but seriously, Bon Appetit. Get real.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Frugal Spice Rack

After some interest in my DIY spice rack, I thought I'd explain what I've done to solve the spice-storage problem in a small kitchen. I've created a frugal, infinitely customizable, and extremely effective little DIY spice rack with very little effort and not much money.

Hanging things on walls is a classic space-saving technique, and it's also really nice, if you're a cook, to have your herbs and spices ready to hand. I keep all my regular-use ingredients (oils, vinegars, salts, etc.) in a convenient stoveside cabinet, but it doesn't have space for a ton of spice bottles, and who wants to rummage around amongst all those bottles anyway? (Also, spice bottles are pretty irritating in and of themselves: if you want to measure, you have to pull off the little plastic shaker top, which often puts up a fight.) So I started looking for spice racks to mount on the wall, and just didn't like the offerings: most of them are either faux-rustic or scary stainless steel monstrosities, and neither would look right in my kitchen. And while I was looking, I encountered the idea of a magnetic spice rack.

The problems with most commercial magnetic spice racks are two:
1) The tins have clear lids. Herbs and spices lose their flavor more quickly when they are exposed to light, so this kind of storage is a bad idea. It's not so bad when you're keeping your clear bottles in a cabinet, but when you keep them out, you shorten their lifespan and increase the probability of having to throw out and replace old spices.
2) They almost invariably have the wrong number of tins. For the kind that's just a magnetic bar, that's not a big deal, but an empty tin or no tin in the kind of magnetic spice rack that has a specific seat for each tin is liable to drive a certain type of person (uh, me) totally crazy.
3) They're expensive. They can run $40 for a rack to hold 12 tins, and I have more than 12 spices and may acquire more.
4) The tins often come pre-labeled with ridiculous things like "burger seasoning" or "tabasco garlic salt" or something else I'll never actually own. Sometimes they include the corresponding spices, which just creates waste.

But the concept, I realized, is easily duplicated and improved upon if you do it yourself. You buy tins (without clear lids), you stick magnets to the tins, you fill the magnet-tins up with spices, label them, and stick them on the refrigerator (I'm using the side of my refrigerator facing my countertops). This gives you the power to customize your spice rack and saves you money. A 12-tin magnetic rack can run you $35-50; my DIY solution costs about $30-$35 for 20 tins.

A tin is cheap: a 4-ouncer, big enough to hold most to all of the contents a regulation-size spice bottle (depending on what exactly the contents are), is $.71 at Specialty Bottle. I actually bought mine in a batch of 20 from Etsy's "supplies" category, because the shipping was cheaper. Twenty tins plus shipping cost me $26. I already had craft magnets and glue, but they're quite reasonable, too (like $1.29 for a pack of 8 when I bought them, and I bet you can get them cheaper), and can be found in almost any craft store (might be cheaper at a hardware store). You need a pretty powerful magnet: mine are 3/4" in diameter and pretty thick. I started with one magnet per tin, but find that two, spaced across the tin, work better.

Now, I'm a wee bit concerned, as I would be with any magnetic spice storage, that I'm accidentally going to pull the lid and not the rest of the tin off at some point, leading to an enormous, spicy mess, but using thick magnets here seems to be a plus: it gives your fingers a logical place to grip (between the tin and the fridge) that prevents spills. We'll see how this goes. If I run into trouble, I may recreate the idea with twistlug tins, which aren't available in a flat 4oz. size, but are available in a flat 3oz. size, which is just about as good (especially if you buy your spices from bulk suppliers and can buy exactly the amount you need).

Anyway, I'm pretty psyched about this solution. It's low-maintenance, adaptable, and frugal. With a little added attention (K is thinking he'll make cool images for the lids), it can be really great-looking, too.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Government Cheese: Yummy!

My stimulus check arrived last night! (And, by the way, seemed to have been mail-forwarded, so...who knows.) I'm way psyched. After much financial turmoil the last couple of months, this check will let me finish my little spurt of moving-in spending and stash some extra cash. I'm splitting it right down the middle: half for saving, half for spending.

Saving: The $300 infusion will bring my Freedom Fund to $8,600--huzzah! I projected out my savings for the rest of this calendar year, and found that if all goes as expected, I'll end up with $10,875, so I'm going to work on trying to find the extra $125 somewhere to make it a round $11,000. Shouldn't be too hard.

Spending: An extra cabinet for the bathroom, tins for spices (I have this awesome DIY spice rack idea revolving around 4-oz. tins, magnets, and the side of my refrigerator), cork pours, a mirror, supplies for my DIY charger station plan, perhaps some sort of non-shoebox filing system idea. And good gin for my housewarming party. Maybe, maybe, if there is money left over, the $30-including-shipping jar of Blenheim apricot jam that I covet from welovejam.com (I'm an apricot-preserve fiend. Like a zombie, but "aaaaapricots!" instead of "braaaaaains!").


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Couples, Money, and Moving: Just a Thought

I just had a great idea, and I wish K and I had done this for our moving-in process (I guess there's still time, actually...maybe I'll discuss it with him). We've bought a ton of little, under-$20 kinds of things: drawer organizer, doorstop, shelf extender, skillet, curtains, etc., not to mention the big Ikea run we did, and it's really been difficult to keep track of the money side of it--who owes whom what. Next time around, what I'd do is this: at the outset, go halfsies on a gift card to the store where you do the bulk of your shopping (Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Home Depot, wherever). That way, when someone needs to pick something up, they just take the gift card and go, and no accounting is necessary.

But our new place is starting to look really beautiful! I'm almost ready to invite people over for a housewarming party (not that more than 15 people will be able to fit at the same time...), and I do think that spending some money to get moved in comfortably and in an aesthetically pleasing way has been worth it. (Remind me I said that when I have to dip into savings to pay my credit card bill.)


Friday, June 27, 2008

Oh, Summer

Okay, I've figured out the summer spending thing: half the problem is that when I leave work, it doesn't feel like the day is over. It's light and beautiful outside, and I find myself wanting to take walks, go to movies, get drinks with friends, drink iced coffee...you know, money-costing things. I am heartily disinclined to just head home to make dinner and curl up with a book.

With that in might, I think I might be able to begin planning for that--there's a big difference between going for a walk, having a packed picnic with a friend, and getting a drink and eating an impromptu dinner out and then paying $11.50 (!) for a movie ticket. Not that I'm going to stop seeing movies entirely, of course, but if I acknowledge this not-going-home-after-work-in-the-summer preference and try to work with it, I may be able to save some money without negatively influencing my enjoyment & social life.

One thing I think is going to be important is packing a couple of afternoon snacks--that way, I won't have to buy food out if I just want to take a walk or sit around Union Square for a bit. I had a Clif Nectar bar yesterday that I tried out on a whim from my new local supermarket, and really liked it--carrying around a couple, plus maybe an apple and a hardboiled egg (obviously can't just leave that in my bag like a bar, but still) should get me pretty far.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Mental Math (Just a note to myself...)

So, my current credit card bill: $707. I just transfered $350 over there from checking ($200 from my last slush pile freelance check, $150 that should be budgeted, for a nutritionist session). K owes me $210 from our Ikea run. I'm returning two pairs of shoes and a dress. Covered.

Now the trick is hoping I haven't done too much damage to the checking account itself...I've been eating out a lot.



I'm getting to the point where I dread rebooting my financial system after the move and a lengthy period of computer outage. It really is different when you're not checking in every day--scarier, more confusing, and thus, somehow, far easier to go, "Oh, maybe I haven't really spent too much--buying this CD is fine."

That means to me that it's time to reboot promptly, which means spending the money to get myself a new laptop battery and charger. Ugh. But I'm sure it'll be a win in the long term, because a girl could run herself into the ground like this. I hate to put yet another hundred bucks on my credit card bill--this month has surely been my highest ever--but I'm pretty sure it'll be worth it in the long run.

This urge to bury my head in the sand is strong, and it makes me queasy. For me, every day I go without getting back on track makes it a little harder, a little more overwhelming to finally do so. So the sooner the better. I'm taking my laptop in tomorrow.

Wish me luck.


Monday, June 16, 2008

An Open Letter

Dear Management Company of My Old Apartment,

Yes, I am going to call every day until I get an inspection scheduled, because I am working under the theory that you are not going to release my security deposit until said inspection takes place. Yes, I have called seven or eight times already. Yes, I do plan on making an unflaggingly polite nuisance of myself. Yes, I am willing to be on a first-name basis with everyone in your office. Yes, I am also willing to show up in person if need be. You owe me upwards of $1,800, and I am going to get it back, so don't count on me forgetting and going away anytime soon.

English Major


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Everyone is leaving or moving. I feel like I am standing still, even though I am moving too. We put the beautiful old oak table my mother gave us up on casters. It's perfect. My sister is in Cameroon, trying to learn the local dialect, drinking beer in the square, working with the fifty wives of the local chief. My parents are in Madrid for a few days before they head on to Italy, where they'll be through the summer. I am in my office. One friend's email offers her room for sublet (she is moving to Israel), another friend's email announces she has moved from Washington Heights to the Upper East Side (we are out of touch; I wonder if she's making lots more money, suddenly). I am in my office. Yesterday I could not help buying fruit; a pound of cherries and a pound and a half of grapes cost $9; the cherries were gone before we reached home. There is a brightness to the sweet of fruit that is never cloying. It is summer. I bought sundresses and open-toed flats. Should we go to IKEA this weekend or wait until the Red Hook one opens next week? My intern asked me what my secret talent is; I said that I don't have one. (This was a lie, so I mumbled about writing things.) (I could never say, I am a writer. I am not working on a novel. I am not working on anything, except work, sort of. I think I am stagnating.) (Please, don't let me stagnate.) Two or three nights ago, I emerged from the train station just as the heat-breaking rain was ending, and a cool breeze came down Eastern Parkway, and all the people coming up from underground sighed together in pleasure.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Just Pick Up and Keep Going

My life is really full right now, and I apologize for the lax posting schedule. I'm skipping the end-of-May update and will just update at the end of this month. That's usually my strategy for these kinds of things, when possible: don't try to get caught up, lest you get overwhelmed and fall further behind. Just pick up and keep going.

I'm in a similar position with my actual finances, mostly because my computer is giving me no end of trouble. The battery is dead, and the charger is dubious--I think I just need to suck it up and have them replaced, in the same vein as the previous item: don't keep pretending that you're going to live with an obstacle that's clearly proving a deterrent to getting the things you need to do done. Just change what needs to be changed and move on. I'm getting the battery replaced tomorrow, and then I'm going home and updating my finances. I think I'm still within the right spending range, but it's tight, definitely.

(For me, the real cost of moving has been food. Because I've had so little kitchen access, and no pots and pans and dishes until two days ago, I've been buying every meal out, and we all know how expensive that can be. I'm going grocery shopping today. I'm happy to eat omelets and chickpea salad for dinner for the next week. I actually kind of think that would be delightful.)

In a similar vein, I'm setting myself a deadline: if I haven't listed the four pairs of shoes, one dress, one blazer, and one pair of jeans I've earmarked for eBay sales by the end of this weekend, I'm taking them to iSoldIt! on Monday. Period. End of story.

In a blog news update, you'll notice I dropped Google's text ads (the second I got to the payout amount) and picked up BlogHer (definitely prettier, and pays per impression rather than per click). We'll see how it goes.


Friday, May 30, 2008

The IRS, the USPS, and You

Just FYI, if you happen to be in the same situation I am with the stimulus payment (i.e. moving before you're supposed to receive it), you need this page of the IRS handbook, which I stumbled onto by sheer luck. Filling out a mail forwarding form (which you can do online for $1 here) does not forward your government documents, so you need to alert government agencies separately.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Come Back, Money!

Money is running through my fingers like water at the moment--it's the move. Gassing up my parents' Volvo, with which we're running stuff out to Brooklyn. We're going to need a U-Haul on Saturday. We bought a perfect little side table at a flea market last Sunday ($200, and the first piece of non-particleboard furniture I own). Plus, the apartment is in such a state that we're eating out and ordering basically all the time right now. I'm making an IKEA shopping list that's rapidly heading towards $300, and we're going to need a new dining room set (the one we've been using was so broken and haphazard that it served more as a surface for putting stuff than an actual dining table, and we're not planning on taking it with us), and gah.

But the new apartment is going to be great. Seriously. And I'm willing to spend a few hundred bucks to get into it and get it set up--I'm sort of thinking of it as spending my stimulus check, even though I haven't gotten my stimulus check yet (note to self: and never will, if you don't fill out a mail forwarding form). There's definitely a cost to living a little bit more like a grownup, and I think I'm willing to spring for that cost at the moment.

(I'm also going to need to shell out to fix my computer: both the battery and the power cord are well and truly dead.)


Monday, May 19, 2008


It's been quite awhile--I do apologize. The apartment hunting really ate my life for a week and a half or so there, and I've been recovering since we signed a lease last Tuesday. That's right! Signed a lease!

K and I will be Brooklyn residents at the end of the month, and it feels a little bit like the end of an era. I'm a born-and-raised Manhattanite, so it'll be a bit of an adjustment.

My personal rent bill is going from $625 to $750, which is a big bump. The raise (about $90/month in real terms) will make much of the difference, but I'm also going to have to dial down my 401(k) contributions. While doing so is a bit disappointing, I've been contributing a pretty sizable amount up until now (about $115/paycheck), and reducing that to about $60/paycheck will allow me to pay my rent while still earning the full employer match in my 401(k) this year. I'm just going to get from here to December on that--my budget will need to be totally retooled then anyway, since I'll (hopefully) have met my Freedom Fund goal, and my travel fund will get much more urgent, and everything will be in flux some more.

We've paid the security deposit and the first month's rent, but have yet to figure out the situation with the broker fee--we're still hoping to negotiate the broker down from her draconian 12% figure, and it's all a little bit chaotic right now. Having pulled $1250 from savings is scary, even though I'm pretty confident that it'll be paid back when we get our security deposit back from our current place.

There's a limbo period in which many balls must be kept in the air. I'm just hoping not to drop any.


Monday, May 05, 2008

I Will Not Get What I Do Not Ask For

Wow--I totally got what I wanted. I got more than what I wanted. My request for an accelerated salary review at the beginning of June turned into a $2,000 raise, no questions asked, effective immediately. I win at negotiating!

See, okay, I'm a nonconfrontational person by nature. I'm also, despite current appearances to the contrary, really not that great at advocating for myself. But I'm definitely better than I used to be, and improving all the time, because over and over and over I learn that I will not get what I do not ask for. And you won't either.

I think a lot of people, especially young women, are scared to be seen trying. We think that if our merits are apparent, the people in charge of evaluating us will see and will reward us, and if they do not see and reward us, we are not displaying merit, and we will look like stupid, stupid fools if we start talking about our merits to people who clearly have already decided that we have none (or at the very least, not enough). So we sit still and we keep quiet and we cross our fingers. As a strategy for getting oneself where one wants to go, this sucks. I've just had that demonstrated for me very powerfully. So I'm going to keep trying. Visibly and otherwise. I succeeded this time, but I definitely have a ton of failure in my future--I think I'll come out ahead for it.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April Goals Update

My net worth is $23,613, which represents an increase of $1,052 or 4.66%. I'm expecting a strong month in May, as it's a three-paycheck month, so hopefully by the end of next month I should be closing in on the $25,000 mark.

I'm revising my net worth goal to $30,000 for this year, which would be an increase of $10,000. I'd factored the assumption of a strong market performance into the previous goal, which turns out to not be a great idea. I hope to beat this goal, but I think my initial goal of $35,000 was overly optimistic.

I made some progress in my 401(k) this month, too:
Fidelity Freedom 2050 Fund: 383.59 shares (last month: 351.2 shares)
Fidelity Total Stock Market Index Fund: 35.3 shares (last month: 32.2 shares)

That said, how are my other goals going?

Earn the full match in my 401(k)
I'm nearly at 50%. At this rate, I'll have earned the full match by the middle of September.

Save $4,000 in the Freedom Fund, for an end balance of $10,000.
My Freedom Fund currently stands at $7,275. It should be quite close to $8,000 by the end of this month.

Earn $1,500 of non-salary income, earmarked for graduate school application expenses.
I'm not doing a great accounting job on this goal...eek. Let's see: I made $35 from a paid link, and $60 from Prosper referrals...decent, but not great. I'm itching to take Google Ads down and replace them with BlogHer ads (technically, you can do both, but I don't want the page overwhelmed by ads), but I haven't yet hit Google's threshold for a payout. It's agonizingly slow.

Buy a friend a drink at least once a month.
I don't think I made this one this month, actually--I offered a couple of times for sure, but I don't think it worked out, actually. I did throw a seder for a bunch of friends at my place, though, so maybe that counts.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Job Decision

I'm staying put.

I talked to one of my bosses today: told her I'd had an offer and that I wanted to stay. Told her why: I'm excited about a couple of upcoming projects, I can be open about the fact that I'm considering going to grad school (if I stay here through then, I'll have been here nearly three years, which is an extraordinary tenure at this kind of job, and won't feel at all guilty telling my bosses in advance that I'm looking to move on and getting them to write me recommendations), and I appreciate the opportunity to work on my own. All of this is true. I also told her that they'd offered me $4,000 more, which is sort of true (the base salary was $2,000 higher than I make now, plus a bonus of about $2,000--but as I've mentioned, the benefits were worse than the ones I get now by a margin that wipes that difference out). I told her that I'm not making demands for a raise, but that I'd like a salary review in June, instead of waiting until the customary one in December. She said she thinks that's fair, but that it's ultimately my other boss's call, since he runs the department. He's in London, but she and I will meet to go over my projects on Friday so that she can be prepared to meet with him to advocate for me. If I get this raise in June, I come out ahead of where I'd be, financially, at either job, and I'm in the right place to boot.

So, that's done. Ultimately, I decided based on the way each of the two jobs fit into my life and my plans, not based on money or even the fact that I find my boss (not the one I talked to, the other one) abrasive. My current plan has me staying here about another twelve to thirteen months, then quitting for a glorious summer of travel and vacation before starting graduate school.

Next up: finding a damn apartment. I've already done some things right and some things wrong, and in my next post I'll tell you what they were.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Job Stuff Some More

I was supposed to hear back from the woman I've been negotiating with over at Prospective New Company today. I didn't. I think this means that the news that's coming is bad: that they're not going to be able to give me what I asked for.

That's okay.

I mean, not "okay" as in, "oh, okay, I'll take the job anyway." It's okay because my options are wide open. While considering this job offer, I realized that it's not an either/or situation: it's not a simple choice between a) stay in my current job for another year until I quit to go to graduate school and b) take that job. I can do any number of things. I could put off grad school some more if I found my dream job, or I could quit altogether and try to make it through to grad school doing freelance writing (hey, that's why they call it a Freedom Fund, my friends). In the meantime, I've contacted a well-placed friend of my parents' who's agreed to chat with me about working with books and ideas in a couple of weeks. I've got a lot going on in my life right now: planning parties and starting blogs and thinking about my future, in addition to some personal stuff I'm still having to put time and effort into, and then the big push for graduate school coming up if I don't find my dream job in the next couple of months...

The thing is to remember to treat it as a joy to have so many options. It is a joy, and a privilege, and I tend to choke up and flip out about having to make decisions about my life--I'm working on not doing that so much. Breathe, I am trying to remind myself. Breathe.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Great Blog Find: The Economical Academic

I just stumbled on The Economical Academic, which is a perfect cross-section of frugality and academia, directed at grad students, and simply had to bring it to your attention posthaste. Hit it up for tips on surviving through to the PhD.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

My New Baby

I've alluded to this a couple of times on this blog, but it's mostly up and running now, and you can go check it out:

Please welcome The Interpreted World!

I do, frankly, think of this both an investment and a career move, and I'm interested both in the possibility that it can (eventually) earn me income on a month-to-month basis and can (possibly) get me a job doing what I love, which is analyzing, criticizing, processing, interpreting. But in the short term, it's a way to hone my writing skills and a source of personal satisfaction, and though I haven't hit my stride yet, I'm looking forward to carrying the project forward. I invite you to check it out, comment, subscribe, all that good stuff.

My brilliant and generous boyfriend did all the design. He's not credited yet, because the one thing he can't be pinned down to do is take credit for his work, but he did it, and he deserves recognition for it. But I'd love your feedback on the site: anything that looks weird, works weird, reads weird—let me know.



Thursday, April 17, 2008

Job Decision Update

Thanks for all of the comments on the previous post--they were really helpful. I just wanted to drop a quick update on what's gone down since: I called Prospective New Company's HR department about the benefits package. It sucked. No 401(k) match, high health care premium...the two combined mean that I'd need $4,000 more at New Company than at Current company to break even, and they'd only offered me $2,000 more. No way I'm taking a pay cut to take a more responsible position.

So I wrote the woman I've been talking to about this job all along and told her that. More tactfully, obviously. I just said, look, I called the HR department, they told me the deal, the deal is unsatisfactory. I'm still psyched about the offer, but it has to be higher; please let me know if you can swing that. I gave her a number: $40,000.

So the ball's in her court, and I'm waiting to see how she responds. She sent me a quick note this morning acknowledging my email and promising a response soon (she's at a conference). I feel good about what I did: the email was tactful but firm, and I think I did pretty well at conveying my enthusiasm for the job without caving on the stuff I need (/want).

This means I'm putting off discussing any kind of job change with my current company (I was thinking about going ahead, but my dad pointed out that I won't be coming into the situation from a position of strength). And it means I'm appreciating my excellent benefits at my current company a little more than I did yesterday morning. Counting my blessings!


Monday, April 14, 2008

Decision Time

I've officially got an offer. The money is essentially a wash: the initial offer was $35,000; the director of development is going back to HR to get them to approve $36,000--there's a bonus, but the 401(k) match is probably worse, and...eh. Whatever. So the question is not money, because I'm not basing a job change on $4,000, because that would be dumb. The question is where do I want to work?

I do not know the answer.

I know that at some point, also, it might be worth doing to talk to my boss about this dilemma, and that scares me, and the thought of giving two weeks' notice scares me, and the whole thing of being a grownup, ack. I could give my current boss a chance to match the offer, I guess, but then there's still the where-do-I-want-to-work question, ultimately.

What value do I add to this organization? I am replaceable as an editorial assistant. Not by, like, the first college graduate in the door, but I am replaceable in that capacity. I am pretty confident, however, that I'm not nearly so easily replaceable in my editorial capacity. In my dream arrangement, I get to walk out of here with no hard feelings and an agreement that I can work on the upcoming exciting book project as a freelance editor. How likely is that? I do not know. I suppose I won't know until I ask.

Holy shit, do I find this situation overwhelming. "Platinum problems," as my mom says, but still.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Frugal Food: Late-to-work Chickpea Salad

This quick-and-dirty Late To Work Chickpea Salad is so named because...I was late to work this morning, and needed lunch! Here's what I did:

Hardboiled an egg while I washed my face, brushed my teeth, put on some makeup, etc. Strictly speaking, I coddle eggs, I don't boil them: I put an egg and some salt in cold water, crank the heat up, wait 'til it hits a boil (not long, if it's a teeny pot like the one I used for this purpose), turn the heat off and cover the pot with a plate (you may want to use a lid. I use a plate). You want to leave your egg about 13 minutes before shocking it with cold water, but the great thing about this method is that a few minutes' overcooking won't turn your egg to greenish rubber.

Once the egg was done, I dumped half a can of chickpeas (but rinsed them first) into a Tupperware. Then I hacked up half a cucumber into roughly chickpea-sized bits. Then I crumbled in a substantial slice of feta cheese. Then I laced the whole thing with soy sauce and shook it up. The feta sort of breaks down in the soy sauce and becomes a dressing. Then I sliced up the egg on top. The whole operation took maybe five minutes.

1/2 can chickpeas: about $.80
half a cucumber: $.25 (I got them 2 for $1 at my supermarket the other day--slightly less than peak freshness, but still good)
about an ounce of feta: $.43 (I bought a pound for $6.99)
liberal dash of soy sauce: shall we say $.10?
one egg: about $.20--I can't actually remember what I paid for that dozen.

So, total cost of a big container full of healthy lunch deliciousness, packed with high-quality protein and fiber: $1.78. (It could be made even cheaper if you made the chickpeas from dried, but that would require more planning.)


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Who, Me, Waffle?

One of the (few) things that makes me want to stay at my current job is a forthcoming book by a prominent Harvard English professor. Because my boss is super-busy, I'd basically be editing the book, much as I've been basically editing "his" other two titles. The book is perfect for me: the subject matter is right up my academic alley, and the professor (a Pulitzer winner and New Yorker contributor) would be an amazing contact for me to have, especially if I could impress him with my work on his book. It would also be helpful to know him if I wanted to, oh, say, get into Harvard's English department. Which I might want to do.

This makes me want to give my current company the chance to make a counter-offer once I've got the job offer on the table, but I don't think they'd be able to give me what I want (essentially, an exclusively editorial position with minimal administrative work...and more money). I'm not sure they can make that offer. Then I think about how little of my average workday the new book would take up. And it's little. Much as I've been enthused about the book I've been editing lately, it hasn't entirely alleviated the day-to-day hassles and irritations of my job, like the fact that I'm both bored stiff by and not all that great at its administrative elements.

And then I just do not know. I'd actually been kind of hoping this book wouldn't be on the schedule anytime soon, which would make my decision much easier...but the estimable professor was in today, and confirmed that he can get us manuscript by August, for a spring '09 pub date. Which means I could see it all the way to publication if I stayed.

(I was behind the door when God passed out the decisiveness, by the way.)


So Many Interviews!

I thought I had a firm offer coming to me, but instead, I've been asked to come down to the office on Thursday (during my lunch hour, I guess?) to meet the Editor-in-Chief of the entire publishing group. She doesn't work in the office I'd be working in...my sense (from previous conversations) is that the director of the New York office wants to make me a higher offer than her HR department will authorize without the okay of the big boss. Hopefully, if I impress her, I get an offer I'll want to snap up.

Seriously, making $40,000 (plus bonus!) instead of $34,000 would mean a lot to my life and my finances. That's the figure I'm crossing my fingers for, the figure I'd definitely switch for. It would make enough of a difference that I'm almost considering buying new shoes for the Thursday interview. Surely that's overkill, though.


Monday, April 07, 2008

TaxCut Giveaway Winner!

So, I've filed my taxes (I owed $157), and now one of you can, too, with free TaxCut!

The number is 37, which makes the winner...


GL, who picked 42! Maybe it really is the answer.

GL, shoot me an email to claim your prize. Thanks for playing, everyone, and thanks for the haiku!


March Goals Update

My March net worth is up at NetWorthIQ. It's up 3.69%, to $22,561, which is not too shabby. And in the vein of this previous post on my retirement accounts, it's worth noting the progress of my 401(k), in terms of shares:

Fidelity Freedom 2050 Fund: 351.2 shares (last month: 317.15 shares)
Fidelity Total Stock Market Index Fund: 32.2 shares (last month: 29.06 shares)

I've weathered the last few months' downturn pretty well (haven't yet seen a reduction in my net worth), but I'm definitely not on track to hit $35,000 if things keep up this way. I probably shouldn't factor a continually climbing stock market into my goals, huh? A more realistic goal for this year is probably $30,000. We'll see.

That said, how are my other goals going?

Earn the full match in my 401(k)
I've earned 39.9% of it. Nice! If I really am going to switch jobs, though, this goal is going to have to be reworked.

Save $4,000 in the Freedom Fund, for an end balance of $10,000.
I saved a mere $200 of income this month, but I'm still on track to hit my year-end goal (I think...again, a job change may rearrange this, because I'm currently planning on big savings spikes in "extra paycheck" months). My freedom fund is just north of the $7,000 mark now.

Give $1,200 to good causes.
A post on this is forthcoming, but let's just say for now: no. This is not going according to plan this year, for reasons to be discussed later.

Earn $1,500 of non-salary income, earmarked for graduate school application expenses.
Very little activity on this front this month: just a couple of Pinecone Research checks I haven't deposited yet. I'm due a bunch of blog stuff this month, though, so this should see a big bump for the next monthly update.

Buy a friend a drink at least once a month.
This is by far my favorite monthly goal! I'm pretty sure I bumped it off early this month (I remember thinking, "Hey, two in February! ...Wait, no, it's March."), but I don't remember exactly how.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

I Am Stupid, ETS is Evil, Or Possibly Both

So, I paid $130 for the privilege of a four-hour torture session also known as "the GRE in Literature in English." Then I did not study. No problem, sez I, I'll move my test date. I tried, a couple of weeks ago, was foiled by ETS's non-functional website, and stowed the idea away in the back of my brain.

Today, nine days before the test for which I am registered, I finally get around to thinking about it again. I find contact information and call. I get a recorded message saying that in order to get half your test fee back, you have to

1) find the correct form on ETS's non-functional website (which I can't, actually, even now)
2) download it, print it, and
3) send it to ETS,
4) and it must be received by ten days before the test date.

And then, when all of these hoops are jumped through, they still keep $65. Except in my case, they will be keeping all $130, because I am dumb, dumb, dumb.

Seriously, ETS, bite me so hard.


Tax Cut Giveaway: A Balm for Tax Procrastinators

So, have you filed your taxes yet? I haven't!

If you're in the same boat, well, good news! I have one code guaranteeing a lucky winner free access to TaxCut Premium + E-file to give away.

To enter, write me a haiku about taxes in the comments and pick a number between 1 and 50. I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner on Monday.

P.S.: the haiku is optional. But preferred! But optional.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008


I heard back from the company where I interviewed a few weeks ago: the director of development says that she's very impressed with me and would like to make me an offer (yay!) but is having a hard time getting their HR department to match my current salary (boo!). I actually gave a current salary $2,000 above what I actually make, though (I had some reason for doing this at the time: I think I was counting the 401(k) match, maybe, or maybe my freelance work), though, so it would be a teeny bump, and she also says that there's an annual bonus of "at least a couple of thousand dollars." She called to "feel me out" about salary.

I think I was pretty clear: I'm certainly not taking a pay cut to take the job. A little bit of a raise is pretty much necessary.

It's frustrating because it's definitely a step up in job responsibility, and to have the thought of an equally substantial step up in salary evaporate is..well, annoying. Nevertheless, it would be a little more money. I wonder if this would be a good opportunity to ask for some of those more ineffable perks: an extra week of vacation, for example--now there's a thought...

But oh, what a joy to hear "We thought you had some really good ideas!" as a reason they want to hire me.


Friday, March 28, 2008

You Must Change Your Life

Yesterday I bought two domain names. I bought forwarding for one of them to the other. I signed up for another monthly bill: web hosting at Laughing Squid, which has a great reputation and a "starving artists" discount.

I am embarking on something. I am so excited. I do not know, quite, how all of these things are going to get paid for, and the extra monthly bill is not in my budget. But. I have money in the bank, and there comes a time when you can't any more not do the thing that is pressing out of you from inside, somewhere inside the rib cage and the spinal column, jerking you upright on the subway.

You must change your life. And this is why I've saved hard for the last year and a half, so that when I want to do something like I want to do this thing that I've begun to do for real, I can do it.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Money Memories

Meg did an interesting post yesterday about money memories from her childhood. I thought I'd add a few of my own--and I'd love to hear about yours, too.

I don't have very many memories of money in early childhood, which may be weird in and of itself.

I remember feeling like a pauper in the upstate community where my parents rented a house for a few summers. I don't know how I got that feeling--possibly because my parents had it?--but I remember knowing that the other kids were rich, and we weren't rich (not in this context, anyway). I took riding lessons with a bunch of friends at a nearby stable, and when I got along well with the horse I was riding, which belonged to one of the friends, she offered, casually, to sell him to me. A thousand dollars, she said. I made budgets and business plans for earning that money for months.

I remember my mom dropping me off at school for all-day play rehearsals, handing me a $10 bill, and telling me to get lunch with my friends. I remember how much freedom it suddenly felt like I had.

I remember being super into keeping imaginary books when my friend and I played this game in which we owned a pet-sitting business--like, making up prices and creating and then reconciling a full set of accounts in a speckled Mead composition book.

But other than this stuff, I don't have many memories of money before, say, age 13--my money consciousness flamed into existence when I started getting to run my own life a little more: take the subway (one of my big scams in high school was promising my parents I'd take a taxi home, accepting their $20 for this purpose, and then using it on whatever I felt like and taking the subway home), buy my own lunch, arrange my own social life, etc. Right there is where I became really conscious of money, for better and for worse (let's just say I wasn't the world's most frugal teenager). I wonder if that lack of money memory has anything to do with my ongoing confusion about the state of my parents' finances, and my parents' own attitudes towards money. I also wonder if this blank slate is part of the reason that I find it easy to deal with money now: everything is easier when it's not loaded down with emotional baggage.

What do you remember?


Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring is for New Beginnings

I was at my aunt and uncle's for Easter yesterday, and was struck by how much pride in and respect for the older generation has for me and my cousins. In the smoky, crowded kitchen, the champagne flowing freely, my mother talking about parenting teenagers to an old family friend, I felt a safety net there: if there were ever a disaster, I could rely on these kind people, all these people who love me, to help me in whatever way they might be able.

It gives me a little leeway to take risks.

Today I sent off a project to the director of development at the company at which I'm being considered for a job. It's sort of an audition-project, in the stead of a second round of interviews. It's probably not the absolute pinnacle of my abilities--I'm coming down with something, and was a bit fuzzy-headed while finishing it--but I'm proud of my work, and since I've already been told that I'm a strong contender, I think there's a solid shot that I'll get an offer from this company. (And if I do, I think there's a solid shot that it'd be $10K more than I make now.)

And there's a project of mine, a personal-slash-professional one, that's pressing on me, growing more urgent. I'm almost ready to raid my savings account to get it going. Almost. You'll know when I do.

It's almost spring; I'm young and smart; good things are coming.


The Gift

So, on Friday, I had two pints of tasty, tasty Blue Moon, one flaming shot of...something, half a cheeseburger and fries, and a tequila shot. I didn't pay a dime for any of them. Nevertheless, I still got home with zero of the forty smackers I set out with.

Here's how it happened: on Friday, I went out with K and some friends of his, to a bar that at first blush seemed somewhat blah and Midtown-y. I wasn't looking forward to $6 and $7 pints. And even after my tasty edamame salad, I was getting hungry, because we got a late start. Anyway, K's friend greets us and absolutely refuses to let K pay for our first round of drinks. Or our second. He swears that he and the bartenders are buddies, that the bartender will take care of us. I thought he was straight lying; isn't that always a lie? I was sitting there tipsily thinking about money and status and generosity, and if and how this guy could afford to buy us all so many drinks.

Evidently, though, it's not always a lie: four rounds of drinks for six people, including two of flaming shots (I only partook of one), mysteriously came to $30 on K's friend's tab. Hmmm. Um. Okay. If you insist. We did have to pay for the burger we split, though: K paid cheerfully, because what's $14 for six drinks and a burger?

And his friend paid cheerfully for our cab ride down to the club we were headed to next, for the same reason. I was all ready to pay cheerfully for K and me to get in ($5/person), but he beat me to it. And then I didn't really feel like another drink would be necessary just yet, so I hung around talking and thinking about how cool it would be if I got home with both of those crisp twenties still in my wallet.

And then, whilst K and I were hanging around outside, canoodling a little and waiting for our mutual friend to show up, one of K's friends, who'd been joyously drunk-enthusiastic when we'd last seen her inside just a few moments before, came stumbling out of the club in tears. I guess she'd just hit her limit, hard, to bathetic effect. Right about then, the mutual friend showed up, took in the chaos, and very helpfully assisted me in manhandling the young lady in question into a taxi, shoving money into her hands (we each contributed a twenty--this girl lives in Flushing. It would be Queens, you know?)

So we went back into the club for awhile, and the newly arrived mutual friend bought herself, K, and me each a tequila shot for our troubles.

And then it was late and we were far from the subway and K had to wake up early the next morning to go snowboarding, so I treated him (mostly!) to a cab ride home.

(The drunk friend left her phone in the cab, by the way, and the cabdriver called K and me at 3 a.m., after I'd cut K's thumb open with our kitchen scissors whilst over-cavalierly snipping the club entry bracelet off him, offering to drive the phone up to our East Harlem apartment from Houston Street if we'd pay the fare. Hell no; not after I paid the first fare!--Besides, we were out of cash.)

And the moral of the story is: it's good to have the gift of befriending bartenders, and it's good to be nice to your friends, and it's good to go out and get smashed on flaming shots every now and again.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Frugal Food: Edamame and Feta Salad

Knowing I was going out for drinks with K and some of his friends tonight and yet tired and not inclined to cook, I whipped up this little salad last night with what I had in the house. I cooked up some frozen edamame quickly (three to five minutes in boiling water is all it takes), crumbled in some feta cheese, and grilled a chicken sausage to slice in, too. If I'd had some leftover grilled chicken handy, that would have been perfect, as would some thin slices of red onion, but I used what I had. I topped the salad off with a tablespoon of vinaigrette from the container I keep in the fridge, and hey, presto: a tasty, nutritious afternoon snack that will keep me from having to buy (and eat) greasy bar food.

Process: Mix ingredients together. Eat.

About a cup and a half of frozen edamame, blanched. I get the shelled kind--they're much cheaper, $1.29 for a bag at Whole Foods (Trader Joe's is always sold out). This is about a third to half the bag, so let's say $.60.
About an ounce of feta cheese. We'd just picked up a pound of feta at Kalustyan's: it was $7, so 1 oz would cost $.44.
One chicken sausage. This came from a pack of five that cost me $4 at Trader Joe's. Again, you could certainly do leftover grilled chicken here (I think it would be better, actually), but my version cost me $.80.
A tablespoon of vinaigrette. The price is too negligible to calculate, so I'll give a guesstimate of $.10. I make my own, and just keep it in the fridge for times like these.

So the grand total is $1.94. Pretty frugal, wouldn't you say? Again, in a perfect world, this salad would have thin slices of red onion, but even so, you're not exactly breaking the bank--especially because in a perfect world, it would have grilled chicken rather than chicken sausage, and that would be cheap enough to make up for the onion.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hipster Mortgage Night

Without actually confessing to being a hipster ('cause I'm not; want to make something of it? Me and my PBR will meet you outside), let me just say that I'm psyched to hear about Hipster Mortgage Night. There's an event in Williamsburg one week from today, and the organizers have cited an interest in "help[ing] the city's creative class house itself," which--yeah. Freelancers, artists, and creatives of all kinds could avoid being priced out of "our" neighborhoods if we could/would buy up the real estate. The organizers promise to "show you what current listings your money can buy."

I kind of know the answer to that question already ("A run-down studio in Backwater, Queens, if I'm lucky!"), but I'm considering going anyway. You could, too: the link above has details.



So, this colleague of mine--an editor who works across the hall from me--keeps offering to buy me coffee. I don't want coffee. Nevertheless, today, I said, "Sure, I'll take coffee today." I accepted even though I didn't want coffee because he came over to my door and said, "[English Major]? I keep asking, and you keep saying no--" and I kind of felt like it had been a bad idea to say no a bunch of times, like I was blocking his attempts at building a rapport. Nevertheless, I'm not too much of an afternoon coffee drinker--and the coffee from the coffee shop downstairs, much as I love the guys who work there, is appreciably worse than my home brew. So...I'm probably not going to drink this cup of coffee he just brought me. Was it super-weird, then, to accept it?


Calcium, Chocolate, and Cash

Among my various endocrine issues (seriously, if you have a functional endocrine system, give thanks) is osteopenia (mild depletion of bone mass). To maintain my bone mass, I have to take a calcium supplement (with Vitamin D2, so as to make sure I actually absorb the stuff, which is probably the problem in the first place). Have you ever taken a calcium supplement? By and large, they're nasty: big, chalky, mouth-coating, gag-inducing tabs of grossness.

Except for Adora. I found these by accident--wonderful, serendipitous accident, when I was shopping for cheesecake-making supplies at Whole Foods. They were featured in an aisle endcap, and K went, "Calcium! You take that!" and then my calcium-supplement-taking was revolutionized. Because, you see, Adora calcium supplements are calcium in chocolate.

Yes, the chocolates are a wee bit gritty. And yes, they have a few more calories than a normal calcium supplement, so you sort of have to think of them as food. And--here's where it gets relevant--naturally, the Adora supplements are more expensive than the gross supplements: about $6 for thirty tabs (thus, about $12 for a month's supply).

The great thing about the Adora chocolates, though, is that because taking them is not actively a chore, I actually do take them--regularly. I ran out of that first package a couple of weeks ago, and my supplement-taking reverted to the very sporadic. I have a really hard time making myself put those things in my mouth, because of their high level of grossness. So yesterday, having not taken a chalk-tab in like two weeks, I stopped into Whole Foods and bought another bag of Adoras.

Much as I would like to change my habits and my behaviors, much as I would like to say, "Yes, I will take the gross calcium supplements twice every day to save $6 or so per month," I think the best thing I can do here is work with myself, and say, "Yes, it is worth it for me to spend that extra $6 or so, even though spending $12 every month on calcium supplements is not my idea of a good time, to make sure that I actually take the stuff I'm supposed to take so that my bones don't disintegrate." So that, I think, is the conclusion: Boo, gross chalky calcium tabs! Yay, calcium chocolates!

(Though, actually, before I get too set in my calcium-chocolate ways, I should try those Viactiv chews and see if they're palatable--they're much cheaper.)


Monday, March 17, 2008

Safety Nets for Corporations

I sucked NPR into my head during my last moments of sleep today and had a weird dream about Bear Stearns crashing--except, in my dream, there was a bear. The roaring, mauling kind.

And on waking up and hearing the whole story, I find that I agree with Paul Krugman's op-ed in today's Times: let it correct--let it go. Let Bear Stears deal with the consequences. (It also makes me vaguely insane to listen to the "free market! regulation is repression!" mantra turn into government-funded bailouts. I thought you didn't want the government all up in your business!)


Friday, March 14, 2008

When I Am Grown Up

When I am grown up I will keep a cake in my kitchen, frosted and everything, on a domed cake plate, and then, when I want to make a friend, I can say, "Would you like to come over for a slice of cake?" When I am grown up, my kitchen will also feature a windowbox garden of herbs and a cheese plate (three or four excellent specimens, replenished weekly). (And I will always wash out my French press, so that the grounds don't sit around.)

I find it weird that I can be so specific and so sure about wanting this--a cake in a cake plate, herbs, cheese--but not about what job I want, what city I want, the broad strokes of how one spends one's life.

Translating the kitchen fantasy, what I want is this: not to be too hurried, to have time to spend contentedly alone, to have an ever-expanding circle of friends, to have a home of my own of which I am proud and to which I am attached.

And lately, I've been exercising my brain a wee bit more, and I want these things, too: interesting things to think about, interesting people with whom to think and talk, no fluorescent lights anywhere.

Frankly, I am growing more and more sure that what I want to be when I am grown up is an English professor.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Upstairs at the Bouley Bakery

Mapgirl wrote about her nice dinner out, so I can write about mine, too, right? Right. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

My dad, who was lonely because my mom is in L.A., offered to take me out to dinner, and remembered exactly where I've been wanting to go--Upstairs at the Bouley Bakery. (He'd been meaning to try it, too: he doesn't eat meat, and it's a heavily fish-based menu, which is always fun for him.) My dad and I have kind of a camaraderie about restaurants: he loves them, really a lot--he loves trying new things and making up his mind about them, and because my mom's restaurant preferences are different (she likes neighborhood places where she can find food she wants done really well), I've accompanied my dad on a lot of his more esoteric forays.

Anyway, Upstairs at the Bouley Bakery is, sensibly enough, directly upstairs from the Bouley Bakery. It's a small, somewhat cramped room, but bright and cozy, and the chefs work behind an open counter, so you can see (and smell!) all the cooking. As soon as we got upstairs, we were greeted by the floor manager, who was making jokes with a customer who was waiting to be seated--there's a lot of jostling around the entrance--and I recognized a girl who'd been in my graduating class at school. Small world! (We definitely had an extra-good meal because of her, and not just because she comped us dessert.)

We started with appetizers of hamachi (yellowtail) salad and black cod. The cod was good--softly cooked, buttery, paired with fine-diced mushrooms and seaweed--but the hamachi was great, a little composed salad with fish, diced tomatoes and cucumbers, and frisee in a miso dressing. Then we did the sashimi omakase appetizer: two pieces each of five kinds of fish. The choices were pretty standard (tuna, salmon, octopus, and two white pieces--I can never tell soft white fish apart), but it was really good fish, super-fresh--each piece bright and complex in flavor, luscious in texture. I always think butter should taste like fresh raw fish. The only weak spot was the octopus--something weird was going on with the texture. It was almost crunchy. (I thought maybe it had been acid-cured, like in a ceviche.)

Entrees: Scallops for me, halibut for my dad. I got the better end of this bargain, I think, though I'd been considering the halibut (which was perfectly good, and had a nice, bright sauce of corn and peas). The scallops were perfectly seared--they'd been frayed a little, so that the crunchy, flavorful sear crept a little further into the crosshatched crown than it otherwise would have (without overcooking the rest of the scallop!), which meant extra goodness. The sauce was the real revelation: peas and mixed seasonal mushrooms in coconut milk and ginger--mindblowingly good. Sauces like that one are the reason we go to restaurants--who can do that stuff at home? Not me. Definitely not me. Perfect.

My friend the waitress brought us dessert on the house: I had this incredible bowl of mandarin orange (the same as a clementine? I can never figure it out) segments in elderflower gelee with two little scoops of sorbet (lemony-buttermilky)--I've never had a dessert that refreshing; it was almost a palate-cleanser. I asked my friend, but she said the chefs won't even tell the staff what's in it. The other dessert was a delicious hazelnut terrine--a nice combination of textures, but not as interesting as my dessert--with blackberry sorbet and pralined pecans.

What a great meal!

When I googled the restaurant, I read mixed reports of the service, but I thought it was by far the best I've had at a dinner out (other than at Orso, but that's because my dad's a regular) in a long, long time. The floor manager remembered my name and came by frequently to ask how things were, and seemed genuinely interested in how we were liking our food. When I didn't like the Riesling I'd ordered (too sweet, not enough finish), he happily swapped it for a Sauvignon Blanc and took it off the bill--so kind!

There is a personal-finance upshot here, I promise. You can easily get out of this restaurant for $90 for two people (if you skipped appetizers or desserts, or split one of both), which is a very fair price for a great meal at a lovely restaurant and tons of personal attention. The majority of entrees are priced under $20--some as low as $13--and they only sell wine by the glass, so no pressure to buy an expensive bottle. Most importantly, I can't imagine the great staff being cold or even rude based on the fact that you're eating a cheaper meal (skipping appetizers and/or dessert), and that counts for a lot.

130 West Broadway, no reservations.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It's Nice to Dream: What I Would Do With $2 Million

Ms. M&P asked what I'd do with $2 million in lottery winnings. Just for fun, let's say that's $2 million after taxes.

Here's what I'd do, in this order:
$200,000, 10% right off the top, would go to good causes.
$50,000 would find its merry way to my emergency fund, to sit in cash and not be touched unless necessary.
$250,000 would buy my parents a nice place upstate.
$250,000 would buy me an apartment wherever I end up going to graduate school.
$250,000 would buy my sister her first home (unless it's in New York!).
(That's a million right there: charity, emergencies, and three houses. Those are my priorities, evidently.)
$100,000 would pay off the relatively small mortgage my parents have on their apartment.
$20,000 would bring my dream wardrobe home to my real-life closet.
$20,000 would send me and my sister on an incredible vacation next summer. We'd start in Berlin and take trains to Moscow by way of wherever we felt like going, then get on the Trans-Mongolian Railway to Beijing via a couple of weeks in Ulaan Baatar.
$15,000 would pay for my parents' next summer in Italy.
$5,000 would buy my friends, beloved unto me, presents and definitely several rounds of top-shelf drinks
$40,000 would be stashed in a for-spending-because-I-won-the-lottery fund.

And as to the remaining $800,000? Stick it in a mutual fund where it belongs, and call retirement taken care of. If I never invested another dime and the stock market only returned 6% after taxes for the next forty-one years, I'd still have nearly $10 million at age 65.

What would you do?


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rethinking a Recession Portfolio

When you buy stock, your money becomes imaginary. You don't have it anymore--you have, instead, a share of stock, which you will eventually sell at a market rate later. It's like any other investment object, really, except less tangible. The asset is the stock, not the money.

To that end, I think I should start thinking of my investments, for the time being, not as an ever-declining balance, but as an ever-increasing number of shares of stock. It will help me to see the real truth of the "you're buying stock on sale!" argument and remind me that I am still making progress, even if the balance is dropping, dropping, dropping.

To that end, I have the following shares:

Fidelity Freedom 2050 Fund: 317.15 shares
Fidelity Total Stock Market Index Fund: 29.06 shares

Roth IRA
Vanguard 2050 Target Fund: 358.31 shares

Yep, that's it! But with the market down, I'll be buying more shares for every contribution to these accounts, so when it comes back up, I'll see bigger gains. This is just a reminder to myself to hang in there.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Mid-Afternoon Clothing Craving

OMG, you guys, I don't even know what I'm going to do if I can't procure this dress for myself for spring and summer polka-dot gloriousness. At $138 (plus shipping, if I can't find it in the real world), it's well-nigh three paychecks' worth of clothes budget.

Perhaps I really will be a good little consumer and spend my economic-stimulus check on clothes.


Does it come with an MBA?

I wonder if there's something I just haven't figured out...


Sunday, March 09, 2008

When It's Worth It

I spent $40 eating out today—nothing particularly interesting, really, not great food, nothing better than I could have had at home (though the Earl Grey at the tea place was very good indeed), but I still thought it was worth it. I had a long, leisurely tea with a few friends, and sat looking out the window at the tides of the rain rising and falling—now a deluge, now a mild drizzle—for a couple of hours. Then I walked from 5th Street to 85th Street with one of the friends, having a chat, getting drenched by a sudden resurgence of rain, just hanging out. And then at the other end of the lengthy walk, called up a friend whose corner I ended up on and we went and had omelets and beer, and sat around for a few more hours, just talking about stuff, just being together.

And was I planning on spending $40 eating out today? No. Not at all. But...whatever, you know? The money's there. I'll adjust for the rest of the week.

I think for awhile there my frugality pendulum had swung a little too far into cheapskatery. I'm working on finding a happy medium. I think I'm getting closer. The thing, I'm learning, is to tone down the rigidity. I know I can get through a week on $40 in grocery money. There's no reason that I need to consistently be striving to spend next to nothing over the course of a weekend—I've got some money to spend. Not a hundred bucks, but I've got some money to spend. And it's fine if I spend it. It's fine if I go out for an unscheduled after-work drink. It's not going to break the bank. I can chill.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Aller Anfang ist Schwer: Something Yet to Come

Aller Anfang ist schwer. A girl I knew in high school began a poem that way (I found out when I Googled her), italics and all. It stuck in my head. One has to wonder, in such a case, if the beginning is at the chronological beginning—the top left, the first character—or if such a phrase is the equivalent of beginning with an asterisk, a way of moving the real beginning across the page a bit. (This page intentionally left blank!) But aller Anfang ist indeed schwer. We begin because we have to begin in order to get to the good part, the accumulation of things. I do; perhaps some people are different. I always want to move the beginning, to skip the first sentence. All right, the beginning, I want to say. The beginning. The beginning is over. It’s started; it's already begun; we're in the thick of things now, beyond beginning. But all that does is postpone the real task of beginning, of gathering, of entry.

When I Googled (can that capitalization really be right?) this friend, I failed to find, perhaps because it had not yet been written, her article on the time she spent in Berlin while I, also, was spending time in Berlin. We had made the arrangements together. I was far less committed to isolation, to intellect, to German than she was—I knew that I was not returning to school in the fall, and I felt that I had to some extent resigned the task of continuing the chronology of things by signing letters that announced my intention of absenting myself from campus and by absenting myself from America. The point is that she wrote an article about the isolation she imposed upon herself, the muteness of committing to the language acquisition process—this I also experienced, though I spoke English often to American friends. I do not appear in the article, though I spoke with her (in English, largely) regularly and often walked her to her host family’s home after dark. Except. When she talks about the lack of excitement, of glamour, of the stories she did not bring back with her to Harvard’s hallowed walls: one of the stories is mine. While I lived across the city in Berlin, she did not experience what I had experienced two years before (foreign faces and sounds, the ruined ferris wheel hulking over Ulaan Baatar, the cold nights and wild gerbils of the Gobi). We lived in the same city; we had kaffee und kuchen in Prenzlauer Berg. Now we have lunch; we discuss the lintel of adulthood on which we tiptoe back and forth. We are ready to have begun, but not, necessarily, to begin. I have appropriated her experience in one way; she has appropriated mine in another.

Beginning is difficult because it announces its own necessity. Before the sounding of the barbaric yawp there must be the opening of the mouth foolishly wide, the inflating of the egotistic chest, and, I picture, the raising of the feeble, punctuating forefinger. And then. There is the place between intake of breath and its expulsion into sound where one must claim the intention to begin—all the ways there are to think and feel about that—thinking and feeling them, one or many—beginning anyway.

This is the thing: that you and I are not each other; neither one of us is someone else. Nor are we all collectively one thing: one set of eyes, one mind, one decoder ring. We have been troubled by the possibilities and pitfalls of communication always: Benjamin's pure language, Levertov's interpretive leaps, Derrida's misreading. We begin anyway. For better or worse, whether it gathers or sunders us, we begin. Aller Anfang ist schwer. Aller Anfang, aller Anfang, aller Anfang—


My Savings Projects are Multiplying!

My mom just sent me and K an email saying that she used her frequent flier miles to book us plane tickets to Italy to celebrate her 60th birthday with her! I'm way psyched, and also, of course, really grateful for the plane ticket (and for K too! my mom is awesome).

This intensifies the urgency of my desire to throw her a dinner party for her birthday after she gets back from Italy (she & my dad are spending the whole summer). My own table will be entirely inadequate, so I'll be co-opting my parents' kitchen & dining room, but other than take off for the day to a museum or something, they won't have to do anything. I'd like to invite as many people as their big dining room table will seat (12-14) and do a full menu of hors d'oeuvres, appetizer, entree, and dessert, all full of gorgeous late-summer produce. Maybe a cheese and fruit plate, too. Mmm. My dad will probably want to do the wine (he's bossy about stuff like that), but I don't want him to pay for the rest. I should be able to feed 12-14 people really well on $250-300.

Of course, it would be a little silly to start saving that $300 right now, seeing as it's March and her birthday's in August, but it's #2 on my Things To Save For list, preceded by the one I'm working on now: about $400 in startup cash for my secret internet project (no, I won't tell you what it is yet).


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Should I Ask?

Here's a question that's been much on my mind lately: should I ask my parents to write me a check so I can max out my Roth IRA?

Before you start in about my sense of entitlement, consider two things:

1) They did so last year, and expressed their wish to do so again this year.
2) I live well within my own means--I do not need this money, but wouldn't be able to save this much on my own.

As commenters have mentioned, this is really more a "wealth transfer" scenario (i.e. by funneling money into my Roth in small increments, my parents are giving me money that will turn into lots of money without anyone having to pay taxes on it) than a "financial support" scenario. Nevertheless, my parents are making a lot of important financial decisions now, in the wake of my dad's retirement, and I don't want to ask them for something they're unable to give. Then again, if they'd said they wanted to do this, is it really unreasonable to say, "Hey, guys, did you still want to do this?" Or do I take their silence as their answer?

(I really don't like asking my parents for money, in case you haven't noticed.)


2008 Goals Update: February

Here's where I'm at in my march towards my 2008 goals.

Earn the full match in my 401(k)
I've earned 22% of it. At this rate, I'll have maxed it out by the end of October.

Save $4,000 in the Freedom Fund, for an end balance of $10,000.
I saved a mere $225 of income this month. It was a spendy month because of K's birthday. This brings me to a total of $775, or 18.1% of my goal. I'm still on track.

Give $1,200 to good causes.
I came up $50 short of my scheduled $100 this month. I hope to make it up later in the year.

Earn $1,500 of non-salary income, earmarked for graduate school application expenses.
Five ING referral bonuses and five Pinecone Research checks bring me up to $280.35, or 18.7% of my goal. No checks yet for blog ads--I'm closing in on getting a check from Google, though.

Buy a friend a drink at least once a month.
Although I usually don't count him for these things, I think the wildly expensive meal I bought K for his birthday covers this one pretty solidly. Other than that, I bought a friend some tea.

Achieve a net worth of $35,000.
My February net worth calculations are up at NetWorthIQ: I upped it by a scant $508, or 2.39%. Not great, but not too terrible, either, in this month of hefty spending. It would be awesome if I could make some damn money in my 401(k) and IRA. I was counting on some investment gains when I set that goal.


Monday, March 03, 2008

I Got an Interview!

The woman who emailed me to inquire about my cover letter has now asked me to come in and interview on Wednesday--naturally, I'm going, and already thinking about what questions I'm going to ask and what I'm going to wear.

The thing is, I'm not totally sure I want the job. I want less workplace-related angst, and I want more money, but I don't really want to change jobs a year and a half before I quit to go to grad school, and I don't really want to trade in my current hard-earned interesting projects for a slew of boring stuff, which there is a chance this new job might be. I'm definitely going to ask a lot of questions with a realistic eye towards figuring out whether this job would actually be a good fit, and I'm considering asking my current employer to match any offer I might get from this other company. (It would be deeply inconvenient for them if I were to leave right now.)

Anyway, it's nice to know I'm marketable.


Friday, February 29, 2008

Being a Girl is Not Cheap

So, I spent some beauty money yesterday. I got a Bare Minerals starter kit at Sephora, and then added a Sephora brand longwear lipstick in a neutral color--I'm trying to convince myself that wearing makeup on a regular basis doesn't have to be an enormous pain in the ass and/or make me look like I'm trying too hard. That cost me my $75 gift certificate, plus about $8. Then I stopped at the drugstore in Grand Central for a box of hair color (a slightly darker, richer brown than my natural kinda-reddish, kinda-brownish color): $9.99 plus tax. The total out-of-pocket cost was just about $20.

Then, though, you consider what happens if I really like Bare Minerals--I use it daily, and I have to replace the products regularly! And they are certainly not cheap. It's like adding another regular bill.

On the other hand, though, I do think some makeup can make a 24-year-old look a lot more like a grownup, and thus add a little credibility in the world. Theoretically, I guess that credibility could boost my earning power. Still, can we really call makeup an "investment"?


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Got a Bite on My Resume!

I'd idly sent my resume out to a couple of publishing houses a couple of weeks ago; just submitting through websites, not really thinking too hard about it. Today, I got an email from someone at one of those houses asking me to submit a cover letter--apparently, I failed to properly attach one through their online application platform. Which is awesome, actually--it means they liked my resume enough to want to look at a cover letter! Though I'm prone to conducting personal business (like, uh, blogging) at work, I didn't think they'd appreciate an email on my current employer's time, so I'll be redoing my cover letter and sending it off when I get home tonight. It's a long way from an entry-level position, and it would be hard to pass up, if I could actually get an offer.

Perhaps related, perhaps not: I think I'm going to stop by Sephora this afternoon to spend some of the gift certificate my aunt gave me for Christmas, and I'm itching, for the first time in years and years, to dye my hair.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Break On Through To The Other Side

My lost medical claim, which my insurance had said they'd lost, and which I hadn't yet refiled, came through after all! The check will cover my last and next two unreimbursable medical frolics, and goes a long way towards easing my mind about the current state of my finances. Now all I need to do is submit my freelance invoice at work, and I should be able to file and pay my taxes. O frabjous day!

(And in the background stalks the GRE in Literature in English, all, and then you can study for meeeeee...--I wonder if I use financial worry as a procrastination device?)


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Winter Sucks

This is essentially unrelated to personal finance: but for serious, I am ready for spring. All I really want to do is sit outside and not be cold and wet and miserable--to sit outside and eat some fresh fruit and hang out with some people and maybe go see a free concert or something. I hate how in the winter you have to make plans that are inside (and thus, often, require shelling out for drinks or coffee or whatever), and how you can't just go buy tomatoes and corn for dinner at the last-est of last minutes.

Come back, warm weather! Shakespeare in the Park and sunshine, where are you?

I long for a picnic.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Take a Breather

We've come out of K's birthday weekend happy and not-broke, if somewhat sleep deprived. I did overbuy the cake (lesson learned: one "serving" as defined by a commercial bakery will feed two to three actual humans, especially if you, say, forgot to think ahead enough to bring forks), and had a pang of "oh, $75 flushed away" as we abandoned its remains, but, in the grand scheme, no matter.

So the charges are on my credit card and the cash to pay them is in my checking account and now I shift my focus: GRE studying and normal, everyday, lather-rinse-repeat money management.



Friday, February 22, 2008

Birthday Spend-o-Rama!

So, we're in the thick of the K's Thirtieth Birthday Extravaganza over here, and so far, it's going really well--we did the just-us incredibly-expensive-and-delicious-dinner-and-really-good-play part of the plan last night, and are heading into the weekend group-celebrating-with-lots-of-people-and-really-big-cake part.

All I can say is, really, that I don't regret spending the money. Not just because of the extraordinary sushi and the weirdly miraculous green tea--it smelled more than tasted like green tea--it tasted like, I don't know, ancient water from underground springs or something--but mostly because sometimes you just have to spoil other people. And a thirtieth birthday is one of those times, I think. One of the things that the spending of money does well, in and of itself, is announce the momentousness of something. And a thirtieth birthday is momentous, and K likes momentousness, and so the money is well spent.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

"I Can't; I Can't Afford It"

So, just last night, I was having some post-work coffee-and-bitching with a dear friend (and colleague! how lucky am I?), when K called to ask if I wanted to go to this event we'd discussed the night before. He'd been invited via Facebook by a friend. Organ music and silent films (concurrently) at St. Bart's. I like organ music and silent films okay, but I like churches a lot, and just the night before that, we'd been talking about how I'd like to relinquish some of my social-planning responsibilities (and he said something along the lines of "Well, sometimes I want to invite you to do something but I know you won't want to spend the money," which, eek!) so the whole thing seemed ideal.

We walked over there, and found ourselves facing a friendly woman who told us, "It's $10 a ticket." Whoa. Not in the plan. I figured Facebook+no mention of cost=free. I figured wrong! And I'd brought along my friend based on the figuring, too. K saw my face drop, and offered to treat me, which I accepted. I offered to split the cost of my friend's ticket with her, but she turned me down--I felt guilty (though granted, I had just bought her tea).

Now, Krystal was mulling over just these kinds of situations the other day. I agree that sometimes I feel like I'm hinting, "Pay for me, pay for me," which really, I'm not. If I'm not prepared to pay for something, I'm prepared to give up doing it--though obviously, as in this case, I'm willing to accept a gift if it's offered. And the fact that K views my budgetary tightness as a damper on our shared social life is disturbing to me, too--although in this particular case, it wasn't a question of having the money but wanting to go out on Saturday, but was a question of seriously, every penny I have is earmarked for his birthday this weekend.

I'm young and living in New York, and I want to enjoy that. But I also want to be able to have a savings that can be a real cushion for me, something that ultimately makes my life easier. I'm looking forward to loosening up a bit at the end of this year, when presumably I'll have my $10,000 Freedom Fund all saved up, but perhaps I should make some compromises before then, too. Or perhaps I just need to involve K more in my planning, so that I can take into consideration the stuff he'd like us to do. The problem there is that while I like to know what's going on two days in advance or more, he likes to fly by the seat of his pants. Maybe we can make some compromises.

In general, I don't feel like my finances put a big damper on my social life, mostly because most of my friends are in similar financial positions to mine. I didn't feel bad this weekend saying, "I can't; I can't afford it" when some friends (one visiting from out of town) said they were planning on going to a play that night. We'd been hanging out all day, and you don't talk during a play, anyway, so I didn't have a problem bowing out--and actually, they ended up not going, and not because of me, so we got to keep on hanging out. And these past couple of weeks are sort of a special case, because I've been so tight so as to be able to blow a big amount of money for the next few days: fancy dinners, theater tickets, birthday cakes from beloved local bakeries, etc.

Nevertheless, I think this issue needs a bit more thought and attention. I'm going to have my eye on this.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine's Day: The Morning After

Valentine's Day chez English Major was a frugal success!

I stopped at Fairway on my way home and bought salad fixings (greens & grape tomatoes), some raw shrimp, half a dozen eggs, a baguette, a couple of lemons, and some groceries we needed for the house--some yogurt, some baby carrots, a couple of apples. I also bought some pasta in case our plan (make pasta from scratch!) was a failure. Total: $22.

Importantly, I resisted the impulse to embellish, to say, "Oh, what we're doing isn't enough--I'll get some strawberries to macerate and eat with the cheesecake! I'll get an avocado to add to the salad! I'll get a bottle of lambic to drink with dessert!" No. No. What we're doing is fine. Keep walking.

We already had the cheesecake I made on Sunday in the fridge (another plus of that recipe: reheats like a dream), and we also already had flour, parsley, olive oil, butter, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and a bottle of white wine. Making pasta from scratch is intimidating-sounding but actually easy, and very, very, very delicious, especially when accompanied by a sauce that consists of butter, oil, garlic, lemon juice, white wine, and shrimp. And butter. And oil. And butter. (A tip from me to you: there was some butter in the sauce.)

Simple salad with the vinaigrette recipe I learned in my cooking class in France (I am not sharing the recipe, no, because even though it is the easiest thing ever, everyone thinks I am God's gift to salad when I make it, and there are some things a girl has to keep to herself) was a great side dish, and cheesecake, and wine...mmm, gluttony.

(K's present to me was a glamorous black-and-gold cigarette holder and a matching cigarette case full of beautiful Nat Sherman cigarettes in bright colors--fueling my semi-secret belief that I really am Holly Golightly.)

So there were no yachts and no diamonds, but we did something cool (pasta from scratch!), made ourselves a pretty decadent dinner, and went to bed happy. And I didn't shoot my budget all to hell. And what more, really, can one really ask?