Our Attempt at a $20-a-Day Budget

I am a 29-year-old woman, married for four years. I am a playwright, actor, blogger, screenwriter, tutor, and babysitter. My husband is a software engineer. My money-making schedule is varied and inconsistent and sometimes I will just freak out about it—especially now, because I’m pregnant.


Fear-Based Spending

Let me start by saying that safety is good, and it is sensible to spend money on it. The auto industry howled miserably about the terrible increase in manufacturing costs that would accompany mandatory seatbelts, but it was probably worth it, because seatbelts save a lot of lives. But the line between prudent precaution and baseless fear can be hard to see, and can lead us to expend effort and money on the prevention of remote risks.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with an abundance of caution (except, you know, when there is), but it’s interesting to consider the sensible and not-so-sensible ways we spend money. I doubt anyone ever went broke buying a Brita water filter in New York City, but it is basically a waste of $25 in a city with some of the finest tap water in the country. And why spend an extra $100 to have a baby video monitor rather than an audio model? Have you ever watched a baby sleep? It is boring. (Besides, the audio version is perfectly adequate for sitting on your across-the-street neighbor’s stoop and having a margarita after your infant is in bed. Or so I’ve heard.)

And yet, we spend this money.


Cars, Houses, And other Millennial Milestones

Millennial milestones! We hit them, sometimes, just differently than our parents did. For example, Nicole of the Toast bought a car — over email:

Figure out exactly what car you want to buy. Do this online. Do not walk into a dealership. The internet is literally stuffed with rankings and reviews and Best Mid-Price Blue Sedans lists. “Shouldn’t I test drive some cars?” No. Can you drive a car? You’re set. … Say “Hi! I’ll be doing this over email. I would like to purchase a 2014 Model X with the extra-fire package. What is your best price on that?” At this point, I received a very rapid response from each of my two dealers. Dealer One said: “That model is retailing for Money, I can offer you a discount which will bring it down to Money – $1000.” Dealer Two said: “I would have to order that in for you special, so it would probably cost Money.” NOW THE DANCE BEGINS.

Her full account, festooned with pictures of American hero Kathy Bates in various cinematic guises, is charming, full of advice about how to both spend as little money as possible AND how to avoid having condescending car-selling dudes mansplain financing to you, in part by eschewing phone conversations altogether. Bonus: she bought this vehicle with money earned from being a misandrist ladyblogger. What’s more millennial than that?

Oh, I don’t know, how about buying your first house with your friends?


A Hospital Bill, Annotated

I still have not gotten my hospital bill for giving birth, and I will be a little bit anxious about it until I do. What I have gotten, though, is the bill from the hospital’s pediatrician for a one Mr. O’CONNELL,BABYBOY, as he was known for the four days he spent without a name. Our pediatrician did not have ‘privileges’ in the hospital where I gave birth (or, as I think of it, birth was done to me) so, as my OB informed me, quickly, and during my very last appointment, that the practice next to them that always has a pediatrician around Labor & Delivery would come


June With My Landlord

I went into labor around 6AM on the morning of June 2nd and around 2AM the morning of June 3rd, the kitchen light flickered on. One of us — probably not me as I was in labor — got out of bed, where we’d been trying to sleep in 7-minute intervals, punctuated by the worst pain of my life, for the past however many hours. Dustin tried the switch. It didn’t turn off. I got up between contractions and flicked the switch on and off like a madwoman, which I was in this moment. Sparks went off, the light — the terrible terrible florescent light that we go out of our way to never use — stayed on.


The Cost of Things: Freezing Your Eggs

Doree Shafrir has written a fascinating Buzzfeed confessional about deciding whether or not to freeze her eggs. One issue to consider: cost.

I told my therapist that I was considering freezing my eggs, and she said she thought it was a good idea if it would alleviate some of the anxiety I felt about dating, and I said it would but it would also cause me a different kind of anxiety because it was so expensive in New York City — thousands of dollars in tests, then thousands of dollars for the drugs to stimulate egg maturation, then thousands of dollars for the extraction of the eggs. All told I would be looking at close to $15,000 to buy myself a few years of reduced anxiety, plus $2,000 or so each year to keep them frozen. I told myself it could be amortized over, say, five years and then it didn’t seem so bad. Still, I needed to come up with the money, so I cashed in a couple of 401(k)s from short stints at other jobs that had a couple thousands dollars in them each, and put a freelance check in my savings account, and figured I would charge the rest.

How much is it worth to you to quell a real and debilitating anxiety? My mom always says, If you can solve a problem with money, it’s not a real problem. But if you have to cash in 401(K)s and run up credit card debt to give your fertility a fighting chance, you’re not solving a problem with money at all; you’re potentially impoverishing your future self to benefit your present, and trading one immediate anxiety for another eventual one.


WWYD: Judging Friends for Being Broke and Wanting to Have a Baby

A friend and co-worker of mine is on a mission to have a baby. She’s always wanted to be a mom and finally at 34, she’s in a fantastic, stable relationship with another co-worker who equally wants to be a dad. They’re going to make fantastic parents. The problem is, they’re broke. The bigger problem is that it isn’t a problem for THEM and that strangely feels like a problem for ME.


Everything I Need to Know I Learned Before Kindergarten

Here’s some ba-dum-ching! for you from the New Yorker shouts and murmurs blog, a Commencement Address for the Preschool Class of 2014:

As a fellow Excelsior alum, I see a preschool class that is uniquely equipped to solve the problems our world faces. I read some of your admissions essays to get a clearer sense of who you are, and wow. It’s inspiring to see how many of you aren’t afraid to defy convention. The number of you who drew abstract representations of yourselves instead of submitting a boring personal statement—that’s the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that makes you exceptional. …

If you want your parents to know how grateful you are, learn how to code. It’s time to harness the skills you’ve gained from swiping on your mom’s iPhone and sending all of those cryptic e-mails to her co-workers. I’m not going to sugarcoat reality: the competition out there is fierce. For every time you sat on Dad’s iPad and almost broke the screen, other preschoolers were out there building touch screens that don’t even crack. Figure out coding, and you’ll be able to pay your own way through college or, best-case scenario, you won’t even need to attend. Think big picture: you’ll run your house by the time you’re thirteen, and your parents won’t be able to say no when you’re invited to Calliope’s boy-girl sleepover.

In other words, study #STEM! Or get a PhD and someday you too can earn $63,000 as a writer-editor for the Smithsonian.

Though this is funny, the idea of children as young as five being separated out into “gifted and talented” programs is not a joke — New York City public schools start tracking in kindergarten. WTF, NYC? Is that really necessary, or just a way to keep rich parents in the system? Also, wah, I’m totally being mocked: my daughter’s middle name is Calliope.


On Hold Forever

I am on hold. Are you on hold? The hold music, it plays and it plays. I am on hold because somehow — how?? — I bought two sets of plane tickets. According to one itinerary, the fella, baby, and I leave tonight and return Monday, and according to the other we leave tomorrow morning and return Tuesday. (Where are we going? Rebecca’s wedding, of course!)

There is an old Yiddish expression: “You can’t dance in two weddings with one ass.” The JetBlue equivalent is: “You can’t sit in two airplane seats with one butt.” And so I wait to see if JetBlue can help me somehow. The funny thing is, I thought we were leaving tomorrow morning, and the fella thought we were leaving tonight. Turns out we were both right. Ha ha ha! Kill me. I hate making mistakes, especially money-related ones. I would really love for there to be someone else whose fault it is. Maybe the baby snuck out of her crib at night and thought it would be a hilarious joke on her parents to buy TWO SETS OF PLANE TICKETS for the same trip. But no, an accidentally redundant Internet purchase is not like a fart: you can’t blame it on the baby. Luckily:

  1. Neither itinerary was super expensive;
  2. JetBlue is my favorite airline, so surely they’ll help me, right? I mean, free snacks, free drinks, free bag check, free cable …  You don’t get much better than that these days. I LOVE YOU PLEASE HELP ME PLEASE;
  3. Nothing will be worse than the time we had to throw away all our stuff in the Vilnius, Lithuania Airport.

WWYD (If You Were Me), Acupuncture Edition

A genuine and probably too-broad question for the end of the day: Have any of you tried acupuncture and is it ‘worth it’?


WWYD: Husband Can’t Find a Job — Except In Asia

Someone wrote to Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax today about an unwanted adventure:

I am writing because my husband and I are facing a huge dilemma. He cannot find a job in the United States. He recently got a job offer in Asia and wants us to go. I have conflicting emotions about this, as I do not speak the language and feel it would be very isolating for me. I would be leaving all my family and friends. We have no kids, and my husband thinks now is the time to take a risk. Any advice?

“Conflicting emotions”? The only evident emotions are negative ones, specifically fear of loneliness and the unfamiliar. And that’s totally fair. Big changes, like living abroad, are not for everyone. Perhaps the LW is an introvert and requires the support of the family and friends s/he would be leaving behind. S/he doesn’t mention a job but it might also be hard to earn money abroad, and not having the structure of work in a foreign place can be doubly daunting.


Finance Dads More Likely to Have Autistic Sons

Science, via Yahoo! Shine, has identified new risk factors for autism or Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), like having a dad who makes bank.

Fathers who worked in finance were four times more likely to have a child on the autism spectrum than those with the nontechnical jobs (which could include those in media, education, or sales industries, for example). And those who worked in health care (working in a medical lab, for example) were six times more likely. A mother’s job held no association to autistic offspring unless both she and her husband worked in technical fields. In that case, their children were at a higher risk of developing a more severe case of autism.

Other correlations: “advanced” age of the father, “advanced” age of the mother, advanced age of the grandparents, parents’ educational levels and possibly socioeconomic status. I’ve now found studies that say high (in America) and low socioeconomic status (in Sweden) correlate with autism, so those might cancel each other out. Interesting questions remain. Do ASD clusters in highly-educated American communities like LA and San Francisco mean only that more parents there can afford to send their children to specialists for diagnosis? Do fathers with a high-functioning version of ASD themselves tend to work in certain lucrative fields, marry and reproduce later, and pass their genes on to their children? Are ASDs more common now that parents, especially well-educated and higher-income ones do on average wait longer to produce the next generation, since “advanced” age is a risk factor? Or do we just recognize the symptoms better now that we know what to look for?

FWIW, the costs of ASDs are considerable: “Harvard researchers estimate that the added costs of autism-related healthcare and education average more than $17,000 per child per year in the United States.”

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