Tag Archives: money

Home For Christmas?

27 Nov
Q and I, Christmas 2012. If you notice, she's choking me by pulling my new necklace, but I'm pretending not to notice. I did, btw.

Q and I, Christmas 2012. If you notice, she’s choking me by pulling my new necklace, but I’m pretending not to notice. I did, btw.

I hate missing out. The last couple weeks have been kind of mopey for me, as I wasn’t sure I was going to make it back to Iowa for the traditional holiday celebrations. As much as I have been acclimating to the area, I haven’t missed a Thanksgiving or Christmas back home before. But flights at this time of year are crazy expensive. Of course, I don’t have much to complain about as I have racked up quite a few frequent flier miles this year with weddings, a bridal shower, and my own nuptials. But the family traditions, that is something I have a hard time with missing. Turkey Day isn’t as big of a deal for me, even though the Black Friday shopping with my mom and sister is something I always looked forward to. It’s Christmas, well Christmas Eve to be exact. We attend Mass, have a big oyster stew dinner, open a few gifts and play games. This has been our tradition since I was a small child, and it hasn’t changed. Sure I could Skype, but that would probably make me more homesick.

I spent days scouring sites for plane ticket costs. My favored non-stop route started at $900, which made me pretty sick to my stomach. It did not fit at all in with my short-term budgeting. But I had used up all my time off at work for the wedding, and I didn’t have many other options. Come another time, my mom said, we can make it Christmas any time of the year. And as much as I wanted to believe her, I grumbled and groaned about how it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t.

New York is amazing at this time of year – with the lights, the shopping, the excitement, it’s hard to find another place that feels as … magical. But it’s not home. All it takes is for me to hear “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” or one of those similar tunes, and I just crumble.

Finally, in all my complaining, my husband offered that I just go home for the holidays. To buy my expensive ticket and get back to Iowa. He wanted me to know that if it meant that much to me, he could stay and spend Christmas alone. It’s odd how a statement like that will change how you feel about the situation. I mean, I love my family and want to be with them, but this guy is my family and I couldn’t imagine spending the holiday without him. And the fact that he made such a generous offer at his expense, well, yeah he’s a pretty good guy. So we decided to stay put unless flights got a little cheaper. I wasn’t blissful, but I knew I could manage to have a really great Christmas with new traditions with him.

And then I found out I had miscalculated how much time off I still had left, which left me with a few days of wiggle room. And then all of a sudden, an airline had a crazy sale, and we realized that we could go back – with some strict budgeting and tighter gift spending. We will be flying back to NYC on Christmas morning, but that is okay with me.

I’m so happy that I will be able to go back to Iowa, but now, I’m more psyched about this whole marriage deal I have. I got lucky and snagged a really great person to be my partner. He’s willing to sacrifice his own happiness for me, and I’m pretty grateful. So while everyone is having their turkey celebrations, we will be heading off on a tiny honeymoon celebration together, which I’m pretty stoked about. So, I must say, the holidays are turning out to be pretty great after all. 🙂


Expensive City

22 Jul


Living in NYC on a dime, it ain’t easy. Especially for this girl. I’m a person who every once and awhile glances at her checking account, and goes about her day as usual. When I lived in central Iowa that was usually a pretty safe deal. If I was going to go out and spend money, I might have to travel 25 miles away to do so, so it wasn’t happening every day. There were things to do that didn’t cost much money, and that was fine by me. I could go to our town’s library, take a long run through the woods, or maybe take a dip in the community pool for a few bucks. Perhaps I’d head to a local restaurant for a reasonably priced lunch or hang out at the local bar for a $3 drink. It didn’t put a huge dent in my bankbook, and I was okay with that.

Here, though, spending money freely is expected and encouraged. It’s not just a weekend thing. It’s an everyday event. Everywhere you walk, there’s a cute little pub or diner. Stores clog the streets, selling their wares. “You’re so lucky to live so close to this and that,” I hear constantly. “You have all of these crazy food options at your fingertips.” True, I do. And it is great to have options, I don’t deny that. But how many options of material goods and cuisine does a person possibly need? At first, my eyes were huge at the prospect. And I went into almost every cute boutique or funky restaurant that I saw. That definitely surprises your money supply. Quickly. We halted that spending soon after arriving in the Big Apple. It’s the everyday wallet digging that continues to shock and awe.

Want a quick bite to eat during lunch? It will run you around $13-14. And that’s for a brown-bag sandwich, chips and soda. Want a drink after work? That Lower East Side bar has specials for $7 a glass. Yeah, that’s on sale and just from the tap. And afternoon at the museum? No less than $25.

The ice cream parlor a few blocks away is another great example. It’s delicious, organic (of course it is) and will cost you about $5 for a single scoop. No cash? No problem, if you don’t mind spending the minimum $15 for a card swipe. (It’s a pretty common problem we find here. Places have high minimums or they offer an ATM in the corner that charges exorbitant fees.)

But you don’t have to worry about gas or car fees, you say. True, but I have public transportation to pay for. $2.75 per trip to be exact. And while it might not seem like a lot, if I want to get to work quicker, I pay double that price. (I save money by walking a good 25 minutes more each day.) Want to make it across town? Perhaps you’ll take a taxi for a good chunk of change.

I forgot quarters for the laundry. $2 per wash and $2 per drying cycle (it sometimes takes a couple drying cycles for towels).

And while we live comfortably in a small apartment across the water from the city, the living space would probably be four times less where I am from. We are also doing this on salaries that are pretty near to the ones we had in the Midwest (there was no expected “cost of living” factored in like we had originally thought. Thank you, English degrees.)

When I finally asked to look at my savings account balance, I was definitely astonished at what I found. Not what I expected. But I haven’t bought that iPad or camera that I have wanted. Those designer heels for my upcoming nuptials. We haven’t taken our East Coast summer vacation yet. How did it dwindle that fast? NYC, is the answer. We weren’t stupid. We knew that this would be an expensive place to live, but it still shocks you just the same when you realize just how much it would cost to do so. And although we live pretty minimally and frugally these days (crockpot dinners, basic cable, and nights spent going through our own DVD collection and putting together 2,000 piece puzzles), the expenses keep coming.

The Midwest keeps looking better each and every day. 🙂

When not to be charitable

1 Apr


“Give me fifty cents.”

“I don’t have it.”

Let me set the scene for you. The downtown 1 train at 11:30 p.m. on a Thursday. After attending a Holy Thursday event at a cathedral on the Upper West Side, we were heading back to Jersey City. Normally, I am not a fan of taking the subway (especially the 1) late at night in NYC, and take a cab. But when I am accompanied by my boyfriend, I don’t feel completely vulnerable. Yet – here we were, yet again being pursued by an aggressive panhandler.

“You laughing at me, b*#$#?”

I lifted my head. “Uh, no I was not.” The panhandler was inches from my face, accusing me of something untrue. He was eyeing my designer handbag in my lap, and was obviously not pleased with my “no change” answer. Fortunately, my boyfriend took over from there and told him to get going. That wasn’t the end of the story and we had to get off the train to avoid an uglier situation.

This wasn’t the first; when I bartended on Broadway, I would have to walk through the Times Square which is rampant with beggars. Tourists are much more willing to give (with higher funds), so this area is filled with people with signs asking for money. Yet, in many of those scarier situations, police officers were around and the panhandler would back off. I’m asked at least a few times a day for money, and at first, I gave a lot; even when I had very little. Now, I’m a bit (or a lot more) selective.

First of all, I’m not going to open my purse on a subway – it’s just not going to happen (unless I’m reaching for my pepper spray). And second, I am definitely not giving to people who demand it. No. I’m also not going to give to people using their children or pets to try to sway me – that is just awful and angering

According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 50,000 people slept in homeless shelters in NYC in January. It’s a staggering – and shocking – fact. And a few of those people sit on street corners begging for money. I can’t even imagine what that would be like and feel such strong compassion for them each day. Yet, there are others asking for money that are using said compassion to their advantage.

Take for example, the famous NYC photo of a cop giving a barefoot “homeless” man a pair of shoes. The officer did it out of the kindness of his heart, and yet, the barefoot man wasn’t in actual need of shoes. Multiple news sources told a different story, of a man with an apartment, 30 pairs of shoes, and counting wads of cash on the public transit system. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told CBS that he thought the officer might have been hustled, saying “That’s life in New York in terms of people who try to scam us. We know that that happens.” Kelly then stated that the officer did it out of the goodness of his heart, and this is true. But even having a full time job in this city, trying to cover yourself – with bills piling up – is pretty hard. And while we are not supposed to judge one another and decide who deserves money and who doesn’t – you have to be smart about it.

Honestly, it’s not just this instance in NYC that bothers me. It’s called entitlement – and it just plain sucks. People who are just taking advantage of people and systems in place. Individuals asking for money – only for it to be used on frivolous expenses. People on food stamps coming through my grocery line to use the money on steaks, pizza, and candy (this happened more often than not, honestly). One family trying to get double the amount of Christmas presents during a toy drive. So many stories. And yet, there are people who are in actual need of the public’s generosity, and these others make it hard to want to give at all.

No, I haven’t become a scrooge. And I still give to certain charities and organizations that are deserving of money. Every once and awhile, a person on the street will tug at my heart strings and I will open my pocketbook. It’s just the idea of giving now leaves me with somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth. It’s unfortunate, with all the articles I have written in the past – on my soapbox, telling everyone to give, give, give!

I still believe that for the most part people are good. And I still believe that people should give when they can; just be smart about it. When posing this question on Facebook, someone said something along the lines that God doesn’t ask us to pass judgement, and we are just supposed to give when someone asks. My response? Yes, I can’t be judgmental when passing by beggars on the street. There isn’t a bubble cloud above each person explaining their situation. Their homemade signs of “out of work” or “trying to get a bus home” could be completely true. And rather than judge, the best way to help out those in need is to give to organizations that can directly impact them. And if you are still going to give to individual, give it to someone who needs it most … but is expecting it least.

Breaking the bank

21 Jan


This is my last week of my extended holiday in Iowa. To New York City I go, and I am a bit apprehensive about going back. This fear is mostly based on the fact that I am pretty poor at the moment and am a big spender – even when I really can’t be one.     <P>
I am pretty used to having a full-time job with benefits, and right now I am sustaining on my dwindling savings, freelancing, and babysitting. Yet, with this money shock to the system, I have found it pretty hard to change my spending habits. Oh, I have definitely cut back. My car was a huge money pit – with the payments, registration, insurance, maintenance, and gas eating up a huge chunk of change. For some reason, my common sense prevailed and I knew I had to give it up.     <P>
While my main expenses are of the normal variety – I am known to mall shop during a bout of stress or feeling homesick. The thought of “I don’t need this” is often superseded by “Ooohh, a sale!” Sephora and Macy’s are not my friends. Right now, my closet is stocked full of cute little dresses and my bathroom cupboard is loaded with Stilla and Origin products. Things I definitely do not need. One day, right before I left, I happened to enter one of those Lush Cosmetic Shops. A perky salesperson happily led me to organic face masks and grainy shampoos – I readily handed over my Chase Visa. Speed forward to a couple weeks later, when I receive my credit card bill and I wondered how I could possibly spend $75 on sandy, clay-like beauty products.     <P>
Not only that, but I like to go to the movies. A lot. Sitting at home and watching the TV is great and all, but sometimes getting out and seeing a show on the big screen is better. Yet, with ticket prices ranging from $10 to 15, it really can’t factor into my strict budget.    <P>
Lastly, going out. I have been known to keep an open tab at the local pub, and before you know it, I have switched from the $2 drink special to a $12 martini. An open tab is not my only problem, for eating out is the norm there. With so many options, most friends want to meet up at a swanky new restaurant before hitting up a show. Not talking about movies here, but actual live theater. Don’t even ask me how much one of those puppies cost. (I think I will save actual costs of NYC for another blog post.)    <P>
So while I hastily apply for more jobs, my biggest fear is that I won’t be able to keep the Midwest lifestyle that I have become accustomed to again. Here, it is totally normal to go out and eat perhaps once a week. Even then, most people go to a place like Applebee’s. If you go shopping out of town, it is not an everyday occurrence. Instead, it happens maybe twice a month, if you are lucky.    <P>
Being in a place that allows for spending money on any number of things at any time of day or night is not a good thing for my wallet. So I am coming up with a mindful spending plan for myself. This includes leaving my credit card in my desk drawer, as well as digging out my checkbook ledger and regularly reconciling it. I am hoping that I can learn to treat myself every once and awhile, rather than every other day like I had before. This isn’t going to be fun, but I hope (I hope) that this will keep my worries a bit more at bay while I am back in the big city.          <P>

Living with the ‘rents

10 Dec
Moving back in with my parents wasn't an easy decision, but it was the right decision.

Moving back in with my parents wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right decision.


Laundry folded. Check.

Dishes washed. Check.

Ironing completed. Check.

Bills paid. Check.

Floors swept and mopped. And check.

It was after a list-worthy Saturday when I finally realized how much my life has changed in the past few months. No, I’m not talking about my big move to NYC from small-town Iowa. Instead, I’m talking about how life has changed since moving out of my parents’ house. Yes, I’m fully admitting to that now.

Since September of 2009 until recently, I spent most of my free time back in my childhood bedroom in Webster City, Iowa. This is quite a phenomenon for many 20-somethings living in the United States. You go to college, graduate, and financial woes or some kind of bad luck strikes. For me, I had a cushy desk job and decided that I wanted to go on a more “creative” career path. Yet, I didn’t want to default on my student loans or eek out the rest of my savings account. That is where my parents came in.

I used to be embarrassed to tell others that I had moved back in with my mom and dad. To say that would imply that I was a failure. To my parents and I, it seemed like a good solution, although I could feel the judgment of others bearing down. At first, it really bothered me. So only my family and a select few knew my entire situation. In a small town, it’s not that easy to keep such a secret. “So, you STILL live with your parents?” The “still” always had a hint of surprise that was obviously for my benefit. I remember buying a somewhat expensive art piece at a local store. When I went to pay for my purchase, a woman came up to me and exclaimed, “You don’t need to buy that. Where would you put it? You live with your parents.” I didn’t know her that well personally, so I just walked away and didn’t say anything in reply.

Besides the self consciousness I felt, the lifestyle was pretty great. My parents’ home is very comfortable, warm, and inviting. My mom is kind of a modern June Cleaver — she bakes, cooks, cleans, and spends a good deal of time picking out the right greeting card to send “just because.” She always sends leftovers over to sick friends and there is always a pot of coffee ready. Because of this, I kind of, well, took advantage. My clothes were always ironed. There was always a home-cooked meal in the fridge to heat up after my second-shift job. And there was always someone at the kitchen table to talk to if I ever needed it. The key word here is ALWAYS.

This hospitality didn’t end with one parent. Oh no, did my car sound funny? Dad to the rescue. Need financial solutions? Ask dad, the accountant. Did I have a problem that needed solved? My father is excellent at pondering the deep things in life.

Not only was I comfortable in my childhood cocoon, but I was also able to knock out a big chunk of my student loan and car debt. I was able to attend an out-of-state writing conference and apply for grad school, while living amongst great company. I was able to start stock piling bedding, kitchen utensils, and other items for my future apartment — things I wouldn’t have been able to afford if I had to stretch my paycheck further during that time.

It wasn’t until this past year, when I felt the urgency that I needed to move on. That I needed to give my parents space and try it on my own. I will admit that it has been hard. I mean, I have lived on my own before, but getting used to being completely in the adult world has taken time. Now, I’m back to pureeing my own vegetables for homemade soups and stuffing the heck out of a chicken. My mother has taught me well.

While some may think I was a bit enabled, I appreciate more than anything the time I spent at home. My relationships with my parents and siblings have never been better, and the closeness is something I cherish greatly. I can’t thank my mom and dad enough for the kindness bestowed on me. It is something that not everyone is able to brag about.

Recently, I talked with a few friends who are going through the same experience that I had. They griped about the judgments of others, while knowing that this is where they need to be at the moment. At one lunch date, I spent time with a childhood friend who admitted to me in a shameful whisper that she was in a similar predicament and in hushed tones begged me not to tell anyone else. I tried to tell her that it was nothing to be ashamed of. It’s kind of the sign of the times: The scarcity of jobs, trying to save money for a good future, and just needing that comfort of home to get back on your own two feet.

When I graduated high school, I never thought that I would spend a great deal of my mid-twenties hanging out and living with my parents. But I’m glad for that experience — for so many reasons. And hopefully, someday hopefully, I can be able to repay my parents for their abundant generosity.

Journeying home

14 Sep


This weekend, I am saying goodbye to a friend. My car. After an 18-hour journey across country yesterday, I have finally brought my Nissan Versa back home to Iowa.

I had hoped to continue our friendship on the East Coast; yet, it was not meant to be. No parking spots and astronomical insurance costs forced this empty-walleted girl to admit the obvious. I had to let the Versa go.

I had fought tooth and nail to bring the car with me. Oh, I heard the horror stories about having a car in NYC and Jersey City. Exaggerated, I thought. I visited the area and saw what kind of adventure having a vehicle could bring — major dents, premium parking costs and giant headaches. They just aren’t doing it right, I exclaimed. Weeks went by after moving out east. I was on the phone with predator insurance sales people. I began dreading moving my car from one side of the street to the next each day, in fear of towing. On Monday, I waited an hour and a half for a parking spot on my block. Finally, Tuesday, after trying arduously to have the vehicle registered in New Jersey, I gave up. I really love my car, but my sanity is more important.

So I packed up and left Wednesday morning, for the trip back to Iowa. I can’t say that I wasn’t a bit excited about the prospect of seeing my family and being in a place known for its wide opened places (I have been a bit claustrophobic as of late). A day and a half through the Appalachian Mountains, river valleys and fields, I got a bit sentimental with my last car trip. It was my first brand new vehicle. I had it customized, with all my necessities (Bluetooth, keyless start and locks and my beloved MP3 dock, the real important stuff). We had gone on many trips together — to Massachusetts and back during my work at summer stock theatre; to Omaha to visit my boyfriend while he was in school; and all those drives just because. Through heartache and happiness, sappy love songs and hard rock blared from the speakers.

I fought hard to keep the Versa, but I know that she needs to start a new life with a new owner, and I need to continue on with my own new beginnings. It’s just hard to say goodbye: Not only to the car’s dependability, but also to my own freedom. The ability to head out on the open road with that sense of “anything can happen.” It is hard for someone who has had a car since the tender age of 16 to hand over the keys in exchange for a subway pass. It just is.

I … I can’t talk about it any longer. So I guess I will just say, goodbye Nissan Versa, it has been … real.

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