Personal Stories

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.

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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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The Dead Guy in Your Apartment Building, and Other Lessons in Living Alone

After an entire young-adulthood spent in shared city townhomes with shared kitchens in which to blame messes on other people, you will move into your own apartment. Here are the things you learn, ever so abruptly.

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The Young Professional’s Closet

My first job out of college was one of those elusive Real Jobs, the kind that required me to be somewhere from 9-to-5, with a one-hour lunch break, and paperwork and clunky computers with outdated operating systems. I interviewed for the role in my one and only suit: a houndstooth Michael Kors skirt suit purchased on deep discount at a Loehmann’s in San Francisco. The skirt had a slit in the back that came uncomfortably close to my butt, and the jacket was double-breasted, equipped with a fierce pair of shoulder pads. The shoes were suede, low-heeled, pinchy in the toes, leaving blisters on the back of my heels that hurt for days after the fact. Looking in the mirror, I told myself that this was what a professional wore. I It remains the most uncomfortable item of clothing I’ve worn to date.

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The Economics of My Hometown: Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Restaurant work is smelly business. Not, however, as smelly as the most iconic of coastal Maine occupations, “lobsturin.”

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How Thirty-Somethings Do Money (And Life)

For my birthday last year, I was in Vilnius, Lithuania, studying both Fiction and Non-Fiction, and recovering from the shock of quitting my job to take a year off to write full-time. Turning 31 kind of got lost in the shuffle.

Turning 30 was a bigger deal, I guess, but my brother got married across the country right around then and also I was third-trimester pregnant and distracted by the octopus inside of me thrashing around looking for the door. There was some kind of party, maybe? I definitely remember writing “XXX” on the invitation, because that’s too good an opportunity to pass up. Don’t remember much else.

What I’m saying is, I haven’t had time to think about birthdays in a while, to really reflect about what being in my 30s means. I’m here without a plan! What should I have done by now? What should I do next? Help! 

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Now What? How Answering This Question Lead Us to Changing Everything (Part VI)

This month “making it” in Los Angeles looks like this: David lost his gig and Ceda’s doing a lot of stand-up. They’re navigating life changes together and separately and also discuss expenses for their cats (not in this column, in real life). Here are the highlights.

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How Grandparents Do Money

My grandma is 101-and-a-half. (With centenarians, like toddlers, you have to be exact.) Most likely, she is NYU’s oldest living alumnus. She graduated with a degree in Journalism during the Depression, back when Journalism was an actual career people had. Born in what’s now Bed Stuy, she has lived in the same cushy DC two-bedroom high-rise condo for several decades, with a view out onto the pool. From the time my grandpa died in the early aughts until this past October, she had only MSNBC for company. Now she has a live-in nurse. Still, she reads, and knits, and does her exercises, and she could teach me lots of lessons about life and finances, if only she remembered things anymore.

My grandpa handled the money over their 55+ years of marriage. Once he was gone, my mother had to teach my grandma how to use an ATM. Money in the abstract makes her nervous: she has very little sense of what things cost anymore, prefers to spend as little as possible, frets about whether she has enough. She does. Though my grandpa was born in a tenement building on the Lower East Side, in a family so large and poor he didn’t have a bed to sleep in let alone a bedroom, he too went to college — CCNY, baby! — and then to war and to work, hoisting his own family into the middle class, and then further up, because why stop there?

What he made, he invested, and the stock market treated him well. Though there was that one time he had the opportunity to buy a plot of land next to what was going to be Disney World and he was like, “A movie-themed amusement park? Why would anyone think that crazy idea is going to take off?” But the same gene that kept him from making the occasional good risky investment kept him from making lots of bad ones, too. 

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Catching a Break After Years of Barely Making Ends Meet

For the last seven years, I’ve been an adjunct professor of writing at three different institutions, while raising three kids mostly on my own. At the University of Oregon, that meant an annual, full-time salary of $27,000, though they offered me great benefits. At other schools, my salary ranged from $2,000/class to $4,000/class, though my cap was typically four or five classes a year, and never any work in the summer. This meant many summers (which would sometimes stretch to fall) on food stamps supplemented with a few trips to the food bank. It meant shopping at Goodwill, borrowing money from my mom or brother, floating checks, free lunch applications, payday loans. It also meant that I relied on friends for non-monetary help, too: picking up my kids from theater or chess, or getting groceries after I had back surgery, or just letting me vent and worry aloud about how hard it was to make ends meet.

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The Postsecrets We Keep

The anonymous thought-sharing app Secret, which is strong enough for a man but PH-balanced for anyone with a smartphone and opposable thumbs, raised a huge amount of money for expansion purposes by branching out beyond the tech world.

the company also announced on Monday that it raised an additional $25 million in venture financing from a number of esteemed firms and angel investors, including Index Ventures, SV Angel and Fuel Capital. Previously, it raised $10 million. The new funding puts the valuation of Secret, a six-month-old company, at higher than $100 million.

The news reminded me of, and made me nostalgic for, Postsecret, the wistfully adorable mechanism through which people made art out of short, intimate confessions sent through the mail. Scrolling through the site, I was struck by how many admissions relate to money, one way or another:

Yikes.

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As New Hosts on AirBnB, My Husband and I Sort of Break Even

My husband’s dream of moving his band’s weekly practices from a high-rent industrial building to the cottage crumpled, and we realized that in order to avoid financial ruin we would have to use it as a source of extra income. Since we still wanted to banish certain out-of-town company to the cottage, we decided to furnish the space and offer it for short-term rental on AirBnB.

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Following Soccer Around Europe on $20 a Day

The Eurocup is just like the World Cup, but without all those “soccer is my religion” South American teams adding to the competition. In the summer of 2008, I took the standard solo trip around Western Europe, staying in a combination of hostels, couches, and dusty German hardwood floors. The dollar was at an all time low against the Euro, and I was on a budget of about $20 a day—so most of my experiences involved cheap beer, street food and wandering around looking for free tourist attractions. But one way I was able to break out of the American “backpacking through Europe” cliché and experience some bona fide culture was to join in with the locals in every country to root their national soccer team on to victory as the Eurocup unfolded on just about every screen on the continent. On Thursday I might be an avid fan of the Spanish and their incredible ball possession skills, but when my train rolled in to Paris I was raving about the French defense.

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