Living Expenses

Getting Married and Living on $11 Per Hour

When my wife and I first got married, I was working at a real estate office in Miami while she finished her degree in nursing at Florida International University. I hadn’t finished school yet and wasn’t very close to doing so. She was in her last—and toughest—semester. (Try your best to continue reading this before you make your judgments about whether we should have gotten hitched or not. If we get divorced, I’ll let you tell me that you told me so.)

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The IKEA Furniture We Live With That Inevitably Ends Up on Craigslist

Two years ago, in a fit of mania and a deep desire to live in less hideous surroundings, I went to Ikea and bought a bunch of shit. My boyfriend and I lived in a one-bedroom on the first floor of a dumpy street, where we had a view of a blindingly bright auto repair shop that used more fluorescent paint than a rave. The apartment was stuffed with ugly hand-me-downs given to my boyfriend by his mother, and I’d occasionally wake up and gaze at my surroundings and think, “Am I 32? Is this what 32 looks like?” This crippling rumination often resulted with me on the couch on a sunny day, unable to do anything more than watch back-to-back episodes of Haven while eating gummy bears.

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Kima Jones on ‘The Wrath of The Math’

The newest quarterly edition of Scratch Magazine just released, and this quarter’s Scratch is on the theme of “security,” both financially and in other ways. The entire issue is fantastic, but one of the pieces that stuck out was Kima Jones’ five-part “Baby Gotta Eat” piece. (Although Scratch is subscription-based, you can read all of “Baby Gotta Eat” for free.)

Kima Jones is a poet and a writer, but that is only one of her many jobs—she also has a full-time job and a part-time weekend job. As she writes in “Part I: For Further Consideration:”

I have always worked two jobs, my whole life. Two jobs and school. Two jobs and relationships. Two jobs and family. At the end of the summer I am leaving my second job so that I can write more and read more and sleep. I will make less money, but I will have more time for me. I think, Am I worth it? Am I worth it? Is my work worth my own time?

She also writes about the financial mathematics that dominate adult lives:

Mostly my lists look like this: a list of my dream items, a list of my outstanding debts, a list of my recurring bills, a list of household items to buy, a list of groceries. I feel like an adult and responsible and on top of things when I cross items off of my list, but the crossing is slow. There are things I won’t spend money on anymore—namely, manicures, pedicures, or the salon. Luxuries have long gone out of the window. Instead, I remember having health insurance is a luxury, being employed is a luxury, having an apartment that is mine all mine and being able to keep the rest of the world out is a luxury. There are days when I come in this house and take a nap because I don’t have the answers or the funds or the energy to think about it anymore.

And then, in Part V, she gives us a chart of her writing income and expenses. I love charts. I was so glad to see this chart. It puts her perspective literally into perspective.

So read Kima Jones’ story and then, if you want, we could start a comment discussion about our own “wrath of the math.” Or, we could take our lead from Kima Jones’ “Part III: The Real Question” and talk about how we manage money and food, and whether we have a bag of rice hiding in our cupboards waiting for the truly lean days.

 

Photo: Mario

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On the Purchase of New Pillows

When we moved in together, PT and I combined our pillows without thinking about it. We just put pillowcases on them and piled them on the bed. Two of them went to the bed in the furnished extra room that we rent out as often as we can (n.b. we have not used Airbnb yet!). Some were mine and some were his, but all of them—save for the one Ikea pillow I picked up at some point in the past seven years in New York—were of unknown provenance; and they were gross.

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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.

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Concerning Inflation, Pants, and Getting Old

This is how it starts. This is the feeling of turning into an old person.

I am aware, and have made my peace with, the much remarked-upon phenomenon of musical tastes frozen at the time of adolescence. While I try to make forays into This Noisy Music All The Kids Are Listening To, I always come back to Big Daddy Kane, KRS-1, EPMD, and the like. I will be this way until I die, and it’s OK. But there is another way I am stuck: in my conception of What Pants Should Cost. This is much more problematic.

I moved out of my father’s house when I was 17, and I have been solely in charge of pants acquisition during the 20 years since (with some periodic, half-hearted intervention from romantic partners). In those two decades, I have become appreciably better at many of the things I started doing at 17, but not buying pants. I am irrevocably stuck with the notion that I should be able to acquire a decent pair of khakis or other office-worthy slacks for $25.

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GOOD ENOUGH Homes & Destinations: What You Get for $250K

Oh boy! It’s time for another installment of GOOD ENOUGH Homes & Destinations, a Billfold corrective to the New York Times’ weekly feature, “Great Homes & Destinations: What You Get For … [obscene amount of money].” This time around, the NYT is excited to tell and show us what you — except not you, that would be hilarious, more like a Russian oligarch — could get for $2,500,000. Choice quote:

The kitchen was designed by Nate Berkus, a regular guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” The room has stainless-steel appliances and paneling and cabinets of cherry. The backsplash is Balinese tile. A granite-topped island separates the kitchen from the family room, which has a wall of cherry cabinets and a broad marble fireplace. Sliding glass doors open to a Brazilian wood deck with partial shade.

Amazing. Herewith, what you, actual you, could get for the more reasonable price of $250,000:

3 BR, 2.5 BA Tudor in Pittsburgh, PA, for $245,000, via Trulia. Fireplace for the winter, central air for the summers. “Exemplary” public school district. Pittsburgh, guys! It’s on the up and up

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Who Lives In All Those Fancy Condos? Human Props & Nobody

One of the fun things about living in New York City is peering into the faces of the people you pass and asking yourself, “Are you a millionaire? Are you, sir, with the mustache and tattoos and mustache tattoos? Are you, angry biking lady?” It’s sort of like the grown-up version of Are You My Mother? but whereas the little bird in that famous children’s book has only one mother, NYC overflows with rich people. They’re everywhere, hiding among us. They have to be. After all, who else could afford to buy those massive luxury condos growing up everywhere like weeds?

Well, turns out that the secret ingredient is salt foreign capital.

According to data compiled by the firm PropertyShark, since 2008, roughly 30 percent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments have been to purchasers who either listed an overseas address or bought through an entity like a limited-liability corporation, a tactic rarely employed by local homebuyers but favored by foreign investors. Similarly, the firm Corcoran Sunshine, which markets luxury buildings, estimates that 35 percent of its sales since 2013 have been to international buyers, half from Asia, with the remainder roughly evenly split among Latin America, Europe, and the rest of the world. “The global elite,” says developer Michael Stern, “is basically looking for a safe-deposit box.” … But much of the foreign money is coming in at lower price points, closer to the median for a Manhattan condo ($1.3 million and rising). In fact, if you’ve recently been outdone by an outrageous all-cash bid for an apartment, there’s a decent chance that, behind a generic corporate name, there’s a foreign buyer and an offshore bank account.

Don’t sweat it, normal Americans! We still have options. We can be HUMAN PROPS

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“Poverty is a circumstance, not a value judgment.”

Solidly middle-class, white collar, and college educated, Darlena Cunha never expected to need to rely on the social safety net. But when confronted by unexpected, high-needs twins, a laid-off husband, and the reality that the house she had just bought had already lost the entirety of its value (and yet still needed to be paid off), she found herself driving a Mercedes to pick up food stamps. Please tamp down your knee-jerk reaction to yell “Sell the Mercedes!” at the screen, at least until you read the article.

In just two months, we’d gone from making a combined $120,000 a year to making just $25,000 and leeching out funds to a mortgage we couldn’t afford. Our savings dwindled, then disappeared. So I did what I had to do. I signed up for Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Before she knows it, she becomes “you people,” someone trying to buy inessentials with food stamps and enduring the scorn of know-it-alls.

Once, a girl at the register actually stood up for me when an older mother of three saw the coupons and started chastising my purchase of root beer. They were “buy two, get one free” at a dollar a pop. “Surely, you don’t need those,” she said. “WIC pays for juice for you people.” The girl, who couldn’t have been more than 19, flashed her eyes up to my face and saw my grimace as I white-knuckled the counter in front of me, preparing my cold shoulder.

“Who are you, the soda police?” she asked loudly. “Anyone bother you about the pound of candy you’re buying?”

The woman huffed off to another register, and I’m sure she complained about that girl. I, meanwhile, thanked her profusely.

“I’ve got a son,” she said, softly. “I know what it’s like.”

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Are Land Lines Worth It?

I have not had a land line for about eight years. My children, who are seven and 10, have no concept of a land line. To them, phones go with you. But apparently, if research by the fly-by-night outfit known as the Centers for Disease Control is to be believed, most people still have land lines—not as many as before, but still a majority. The only demographic group in which a majority of people have only cell phones is poor people.

This yields many interesting insights about poor people, but leaves me with a big question about not-poor people: why do they keep their land lines? I realize that land lines aren’t very expensive, and that not-poor people pay for a lot of things they don’t need, but why land lines?

I suppose, theoretically, that land lines are handy in a prolonged power outage, but really, is that how we’re living? Are we keeping our ham radios and pagers and switching over to gas stoves in anticipation of electrical grid failures?

Or is there something else wonderful about land lines that I’m missing? Go ahead, dear readers, sing me their praises.

 

Photo by the author.

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The Average Affair Will Cost You $2600 Apparently?

According to a press release sent to Mike by a concerned tipster and loyal reader — haha, JK, by Edith — “The Average Affair Begins 2 Years into Marriage, Lasts Six Months and Costs Over $2,600.” Are you ready for this?

In addition to potentially costing a person their happy home and marriage, a leading coupon brand has revealed that the average affair costs the cheating party over $2,600, including dollars spent on expensive dinners, hotel check and gifts while sneaking around behind their spouse’s back. The survey, conducted by www.vouchercloud.net, was part of the company’s wider research into the leisure spending of American citizens, after an increase in searches for dating discounts. 2,645 US citizens took part in the study, all of whom were aged 25 and over and had been married to their current partner for a minimum of 5 years.

Aged 25+, married 5+ years … holy god, they’re talking about me! So what do I have to look forward to?

The following list reveals the average spend per item per month:

Hotel Bills – $123 Dinner & Drink Tabs – $162 Gifts – $54 Date activities e.g. cinema tickets – $69 Other – $36

This equates to average expenditure of $444 per month. Considering the average affair lasts for six months, the total cost of an illicit extramarital relationship was revealed to be $2,664. The adulterous respondents were then asked: “Did/Does your spouse ever question your finances or notice any unexplained expenditure, in relation to your affair?” to which only a third (32%) said that ‘yes’, their partner had noticed their extramarital financial commitments.

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How Evangelical Christians Do Money: On Tithing

He doesn’t need my money. The church will continue to exist without my measly portion of income. But my heart needs to give it.

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