The Costs (and Potential Costs) of Flying to NYC During a Blizzard

juno hamburger phoneOn Sunday night, I got an email from United Airlines to let me know that my Tuesday evening flight to Newark had pre-emptively been canceled due to Blizzardy Storm Juno.

(This’d be the flight that I had planned to take for The Billfold LIVE.)

At that time, they weren’t offering any other flight options; however, this morning they did offer to rebook me on another Tuesday flight: UA302, scheduled to arrive at LaGuardia at 11:26 p.m.

They also rebooked me on this flight for free, which I appreciate.

However, if I were a betting person (which I am not because THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS), I would bet that this flight gets canceled this evening.

This also means I will very likely miss The Billfold LIVE, which is crushing my heart. But I won’t feel those feelings until I’m absolutely sure that I’m going to miss the show.

Instead, let’s look at how much money I’m likely to lose.



I Gave My Cat to a Robot

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 10.14.23 PM

Rob! So what happened here?

Like anyone afflicted with toxoplasmosis, I care about my cat. His name is Fernando. We share a one-bedroom place, and I felt like he was getting bored with his small arsenal of feather wands and self-articulating lasers. He used to do these huge, four-foot X-Games backflips going after the feather thing, but those kind of stopped once he realized climbing up a chair would give him most of the benefits of jumping.

He was getting a little lazy, and I wanted to get him back some edge, you know? Fernando was a rescue but not like a mean-streets rescue; someone had left him and his littermates in the basement of a nice Upper East Side building before calling the Upper East Side of animal shelters. It wouldn’t shock me to learn they’d nursed him on tiny bottles of almond-butter smoothie, like the protagonist of a children’s book sold exclusively at Barneys.



The Best Restaurants In America Are Not That Expensive

eat-drink-man-woman chinese food screenshotAt least according to Yelp, the best food in America is, generally, Food You Can Afford. And a lot of it can be found on or near the west coast.

Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. for 2015

1. Copper Top BBQ – Big Pine, CA
2. Art of Flavors – Las Vegas, NV
3. Soho Japanese Restaurant – Las Vegas, NV
4. TKB Bakery and Deli – Indio, CA
5. Ono Seafood – Honolulu, HI
6. Shark Pit Maui – Lahaina, HI
7. Gaucho Parilla Argentina – Pittsburgh, PA
8. Bobboi Natural Gelato – La Jolla, CA
9. Golden Bear Trading Company – San Francisco, CA
10. Little Miss BBQ – Phoenix, AZ
11. Dat Cajun Guy – Haleiwa, HI
12. Sweet Dogs – Miami, FL
13. Aviva by Kameel – Atlanta, GA
14. Sweet Spice – Savannah, GA
15. Royal Taj – Columbia, MD
16. Arun’s Indian Kichen – Coral Spring, FL
17. Hall’s Chophouse – Charleston, SC
18. Bronze Cafe – Las Vegas, NV
19. Saffron and Rose Ice Cream – Los Angeles, CA
20. Buddha Thai Bistro – Vacaville, CA

Wait, there are BBQ joints in the top twenty, and they’re not in Texas? Or St. Louis?  READ MORE


How a Legal Secretary Who Paid Off $38,000 in Debt Does Money

The most expensive cookies ever.

The most expensive cookies ever.

Alison (not her real name) is a 27-year-old legal secretary who lives outside of Philadelphia.

ND: So, Alison, tell us a bit about your finances.

Alison: Well, I’m 27 years old and I’m a legal secretary, which is both a fancy name for “secretary” and shorthand for “I do everything in a law firm except sign the actual legal documents.” I’ve been at my job for 4 1/2 years and I made about $45K last year. I live in a smaller city outside of Philadelphia and am completely debt-free, after managing to pay off both my undergrad loans, brief graduate school loans (I dropped out shortly after enrolling, which is another story), and my car last year.

That’s fantastic! I briefly considered living in Philly once—it has a reasonably low cost of living compared to other large cities, correct?

Yes, it’s definitely a lower cost of living than in New York or San Francisco, though it’s getting a bit pricier now and it’s not as cheap as the Midwest. I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia (about 35 minutes outside of Center City) and the cost of living is moderately low, though I live near the Main Line (one of the ritziest parts of suburbia) which makes things a bit pricier. I’m around a lot of rich people by proxy.

About how much debt did you have? Did you have to drastically adjust your style of living, or were you earning enough that you automatically had extra money every month to pay the debt?

I had roughly $20,000 (plus interest) in undergrad loans, which seems like a small amount in comparison to some horror stories I’ve read, but I had a sizable scholarship to my university and my parents contributed a portion (about $10,000/year) as well. I had less than $1,000 in grad school loans (I legitimately dropped out after one class!). The final bit of debt was my 2008 Volkswagen, which I bought in 2011 for $17,000 and got hosed on the interest rate (7%) because I had no credit at that point. READ MORE


How Much Do Vendors Earn Selling Merch at Geek Conventions?


As many of you know, I occasionally earn extra money performing geek music at conventions and selling CDs, T-shirts, and hoodies in the dealers’ room when I’m not onstage.

So I was very interested in a new survey put out by The Devastator and The Beat that takes a look at exactly how much money dealers earn at these conventions.

When I wrote about my experiences at convention dealers’ rooms for The Penny Hoarder, I noted that I earned “anywhere from a few hundred dollars to around $1,000″ selling merch at conventions. Well, turns out I’m on the low end of the average: the Devastator/Beat survey reports that the average convention dealer earns $1,000 per convention. Of course, they also note that if it’s an indie con (as opposed to what they call a “comic con”) the average dealer earns $615, which is more on line with my experiences.

These income reports represent gross earnings and not net profit; it would have been nice to include information on what each convention is charging for a dealer’s table, and it would have been interesting to ask the dealers surveyed whether they came out ahead after the costs of travel, lodging, food, etc. were subtracted out. (One of the reasons I play many fewer conventions than I used to is that I rarely came out ahead, cash-wise.)

But now let’s look at the fun part: which individual conventions perform the best.



The Playing Field Isn’t Level But That Doesn’t Mean Don’t Play

James-Baldwin-motivational-quotesHow honest is too honest, when it comes to money? This weekend, author Ann Bauer caused a digital snowicane with a piece in Salon called “Sponsored” By My Husband: Why It’s A Problem That Writers Never Talk About Where Their Money Comes From.

I attended a packed reading (I’m talking 300+ people) about a year and a half ago. The author was very well-known, a magnificent nonfictionist who has, deservedly, won several big awards. He also happens to be the heir to a mammoth fortune. Mega-millions. In other words he’s a man who has never had to work one job, much less two. He has several children; I know, because they were at the reading with him, all lined up. I heard someone say they were all traveling with him, plus two nannies, on his worldwide tour.

None of this takes away from his brilliance. Yet, when an audience member — young, wide-eyed, clearly not clued in — rose to ask him how he’d managed to spend 10 years writing his current masterpiece — What had he done to sustain himself and his family during that time? — he told her in a serious tone that it had been tough but he’d written a number of magazine articles to get by. I heard a titter pass through the half of the audience that knew the truth. But the author, impassive, moved on and left this woman thinking he’d supported his Manhattan life for a decade with a handful of pieces in the Nation and Salon. …

In my opinion, we do an enormous “let them eat cake” disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed. I can’t claim the wealth of the first author (not even close); nor do I have the connections of the second. I don’t have their fame either. But I do have a huge advantage over the writer who is living paycheck to paycheck, or lonely and isolated, or dealing with a medical condition, or working a full-time job.

Reactions ranged from “At last!” to “WTF?”  READ MORE


Against Evangelization at Work

employee meeting

In high school, school spirit seemed like a nebulous concept; an easy way to rope kids into building floats for homecoming and planning pep rallies after school instead of smoking pot in the hills behind the building. It was clear to me that high school was merely one stop on the chugging train that is the rest of my life, and so to place so much blind faith into an institution felt wrong. College was the same way. My alma mater wasn’t necessarily very spirited, but there were—and still are—a lot of kids who went there who are still stanning, hard, 10 years after the fact. I didn’t get it. I still don’t. I knew when I was in school that it was just four years that would eventually not matter that much, in the long run. All I needed to do was to finish it, get through it, and begin the plodding journey towards paying off my debts by becoming a member of the working class. I thought the evangelization process would stop once I entered the workforce, but I was wrong.

Being a part of a company implies that you will, at some point, allow yourself to be evangelized a little bit. You start a new job, wobbly and uncertain, quiet when you are normally very loud, eager to please but not sure how to go about doing it, and they will start the process of indoctrination. The first day is always the same: If you’re lucky, you are herded into a room with the others and presented with a sheaf of papers outlining your benefits, and a bunch of papers to sign. If your workplace is especially zany, there will be GIFs of Taylor Swift and pictures of Ferris Bueller in your company’s welcome packet, right next to the spreadsheet that outlines how much your copay is. This is intended to make you feel welcome. “You like GIFs and movies from the eighties, and so do we!” this says. “We know this benefits stuff is boring, but hey! This is like that email thread about brunch on Sunday that you’ve been trying to get out of. You’re going to like it here.” READ MORE


Monday Check-in

Maison KayserGood morning! Looks like we’re gearing up for a blizzard here. Let’s check in.

I spent $19.50 picking up some chocolate croissants to bring to a birthday party and $65.35 on some iron-rich groceries (spinach, kale, beef, etc.) and shared a cab ride home on Saturday night ($5). I spent most of Sunday deep in work and writing to my third grade pen pal. My estimate was $150 and I ended up spending $84.85. Perhaps I should have spent more at the grocery store in case we all get snowed in?

And how were your weekends?

Photo: Ttseng


Shopping, Travel-Wise: Are You An Ester Or A Nicole?

come to me, suitcase

Ester: Nicole, I’m goggling at your clothing spreadsheet as we speak. How long have you been doing this? Charting your clothes and accessories? Is it only for when you travel?

Nicole: I’ve been making outfit grids since high school. The early ones were just pen-and-paper. And yes, they’re only for travel. I like to know what to pack, so I always know I have enough clothing (and accessories) for everything. I mean, how do you decide what to pack when you travel?

Ester: That is very smart of you, and also very anal. I stand in front of my closet for a few minutes, decide I hate everything, count out however many pairs of underwear I need (plus an extra, in case I end up away from home for one more day than I’m supposed to), and then throw a bunch of tops, bottoms, and dresses in and hope for the best. Usually I can be relied upon to remember pajamas and socks. Not always. Did a precipitating event of some sort inspire you to behave this way? Some traveling tragedy?

Nicole: I have a lot of hilarious travel stories, but none of them involve not having the right outfit. No, this started when my folks were taking my sister and me on one of those long family vacations, and I was old enough to care about what I wore every day and also old enough to pack my own clothes. So I started taking notes on what I wanted to wear every day of the trip, based on where we were going.

And then from there, like all of my organizational systems, it expanded into color-coded spreadsheets. (I hope you noticed the spreadsheet was color-coded.)

Ester: Oh, I did. I also noticed particular items: “Black sack dress,” which sounds like a sartorial punishment of some kind; and “fez,” which sounds, in an equal and opposite way, awesome. Also you have two differently colored owl necklaces? READ MORE


Act Healthy, Get Cash Back?

Health insurance should not be tied to employment. What does one have to do with the other, after all? Why should a stay-at-home-mom or a freelancer or someone on disability have to worry about where they’re going to get coverage simply because they aren’t getting a W2? It’s a ridiculous system.

But, in America, it’s our ridiculous system and most of us have to work within in it, as do our employers and our health insurance companies. Sometimes that leads to interesting innovations, such as this one — a free fitness tracker, with bonus dollars for you if you use it — by upstart Oscar:

Oscar members can order their new Misfit on the Oscar iOS or Android app. It syncs to the app automatically, so users only need to strap it on and get to walking. Users who already have a fitness tracker can also connect it to the Oscar app using Apple HealthKit, but that takes a bit more set up. Oscar’s algorithms determine how many steps each member should aim for in a day, based on that person’s health data. Each day a member surpasses that goal, he gets $1. When he accrues $20, he can cash out in the form of an Amazon gift card.

$20 can buy many peanuts! $200 (the annual max) can buy even more. READ MORE