Archive for September, 2008

The Plan

September 30, 2008

Playing the $100 game has been harder than I thought. The cap for everything involved making decisions on food vs. things; eating out or eating in; my food vs. the cat’s food. There are too many variables. The piet-y diety was more fun, my decisions were made for me.

Often I felt like was being punished for the spending crimes that I had committed. I was a little unhappy, and a little stressed out. I need a new plan.

Reading about Richard Jenkins’ 60% Plan on MSN Money, I realized that $100 a week is what I should be spending. Actually, $150. According to the plan 60% of gross income goes to committed expenses – taxes, bills, essential household, insurance, and basic food. 10% to retirement, 10% to long term savings, 10% to irregular expenses, and 10% to fun money. My semi-accurate number crunching brings me to $150 in fun money a week, practically a 50% raise from what I’ve been working with.

But there is some tweaking in these ideal numbers and my reality. My committed expenses are more like 65%, not including any food. He suggests that plastic offenders dedicate 20% to debt instead of putting the money into retirement and long term savings. I think I’ll split the difference, keeping the 401K (pre-tax dollars!), and devote the 10% from long term savings to debt. And no credit cards.

That leaves 15% for the fun money and the irregular expenses. The truth is that irregular expenses – vacations, home repairs, kitchen appliances, Barney’s warehouse sales – is what got me into the hole to begin with. To budget for this ahead of time will spare me the pain and interest rate later, even if it is only 5%.

So maybe what needs to happen for one more month before the holidays, is that I should keep my budget at $100 a week (groan!) to help pay for a little more debt, or add to the irregular expense cushion. A little pain now, should save me some hard knocks later.

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The Surplus

September 29, 2008

All week, I’d been worried about my budget while my out of town friends were here. Over the course of three dinners, I had planned a $20-$20-$40 spread, no alcohol. Every passing day became easier when I knew that I had money for the next meal. The Wednesday dinner was a treat, so by Friday, I had some moolah to throw around. But my friends are too nice and didn’t let me spend my tightly clenched cash. Not only once, but twice, since I didn’t have to turn down brunch, even though I was ready to return the favor with my surplus. They outnumbered me, and they are all too kind, I’m so not worthy of their generosity.

Now that I have almost $40 left over from the week, do I spend it on Things That I Think I Want? Roll it over to next week? Pick up my dry cleaning? Sock it away? Pass on the good karma and take someone out? It’s mad money.

The $20 Bill

September 24, 2008

My out of town friend was shocked to find that I knew of a good place to eat for under $15 in Manhattan. Not that it’s an endangered species – there are plenty of places to find cheap food. But somewhere that has a sense of ambiance to make you want to stay longer than the length of your meal, is a dying breed. Keeping it cheap once you get there becomes an art form, requiring some restraint with no alcohol, no appetizer, no dessert. At Frank’s, the quasi-old school grandma Italian restaurant in the East Village, my favorite rigatoni al ragu is only $12, a hefty portion of pasta with mini meatballs and sausage. That’s all I had, so I laid down $20, even though the bill was $160 for five.

Is this fair to my fellow diners? In these group situations, I always wonder about the etiquette, having been on both sides of the fence. I think that much of the fairness issue lies in the consent of others, letting everyone know that you’re keeping it on the DL and having them acknowledge that when the bill comes. Also, no poaching. A bite or two from someone else’s plate is okay, but finishing their meal when all you’ve had was an appetizer is not. I guess my friends are good with this arrangement; they want to dine with me again tomorrow.

Like Euwww

September 23, 2008

To enjoy the late great summer produce, I bought some heirloom tomatoes at the farmer’s market the weekend before last. A couple of days later with my new $100 of the week, I finally bought some olive oil and feta at the middle eastern market to make a tomato salad, excited to have all three elements in the house. Strangely, it tasted like soap. It wasn’t residue from my dish washing in the bowl or knife, it didn’t even taste like my dishwashing liquid. I washed the tomatoes with a scrub brush and water, no soap. But each bite of tomato was punishment for saying a curse word. I told a friend who said that persimmons often taste soapy to her, and that sometimes heirloom tomatoes taste like persimmons. I came to distrust the fancy heirloom tomatoes.

A week later, realizing that I still had some feta, I thought I’d give the tomato salad another try, this time with grape tomatoes. Soapy yet again! I tried the feta only this time, and it might as well have been a bar of Ivory soap. Didn’t I ask for a 1/4 pound of cheese, not soap, from the counter where it was freshly displayed? I’m so disappointed, I thought it would be a new go to place for a little bit of feta and merguez sausage. Now, I don’t think so. Little tomatoes, I’ll never think ill of you again.

The Week Ahead

September 22, 2008

First, a recap of last week. I spent a whopping $88.24 out of $100 on food. I went out for brunch, put some money on my lunch card, went over to friends’, and bought big ticket items like olive oil and a chicken. My social life was livelier, and I had $7 left over. I considered spending that $7 on a frivolous food item, but I need to squander it for the upcoming week. I have no less than two friends coming in from out of town, with additional tentative plans with other friends. That $100 has to go far.

My friends are aware of my financial constraints, so it’s up to me, as the knowledgable New Yorker to come up with the evenings’ affordable dining. Out of towners are different from the in-towners since they’ve come a long way to experience the city, not just to see yours truly. Dinner at my place or a down-and-dirty place doesn’t really suffice. There needs to be some ambiance, and good food.

I have to admit that I feel kind of bad about subjecting my friends to my financial insanity. But it is this over indulging and over spending that got me into this hole in the first place, along with the renovation, the vacations, and the clothing habit. When it comes to an invitation for friends and food, I can’t say no. It’s the way we socialize. I like my friends. And I like good food. There is an intersection where the two can meet, and it’s about making the right choices, much like being on a diet. And that does not include expensive bottles of wine and overpriced $30 brunches at lame West Village restaurants.

Retiring George Foreman

September 19, 2008

I’m kind of over the George Forman grill. I feel like it never gets quite hot enough to make good char and the sandwiching action squeezes all the good stuff out the food. It’s also a pain to clean with all its nooks and crannies, and I don’t mean the grill ridges.

Having tried the Ikea Grill grill pan at a friend’s house, I’d trade in the George Foreman for this any day. It made great char, was easy to clean, and has a foldable handle for compact storage. The drawback is the Teflon coating, not a deal breaker, but not the best thing for someone who is already afraid of bisphenol-A. For $17.99, I can afford to take the risk.

The Lesser of the Uglies

September 18, 2008

The peninsula was always supposed to be multi-purpose as a work surface and a dining space. I still need to get counter height stools in order for it to serve as the latter. In all my research, I have yet to find stools that I like. They’re all hideous. It’s become a matter of getting something cheap and bearable, and then replacing it when I find the real deal at a flea market. These shinto stools from Pearl River could be that alternative at $29.50. Simple and slim, they’re the right height and the right price. They’re not even that ugly, and I would want vintage versions of these that are more weathered and worn.

The irony of this is that I actually like the peninsula as a dedicated work space, and not as a resting/hanging out/dining spot. I prefer to sit at a separate table away from where I cook and clean. Maybe that’s just how I’m feeling now because I do have those two kinds of spaces. It’ll be good to have the option of sitting at the peninsula, at least for my guests.

Re-thinking Trash

September 17, 2008

I was convinced that I wanted the Rationell trash bin set from Ikea to go under the kitchen sink. It was small, since I don’t make that much garbage; it has a lid, to cover the garbage that I don’t take out that often; and it rolled out, so that I wouldn’t have to reach in. Done. But in adjusting to the kitchen, I’ve discovered that I don’t mind having the garbage can out, there’s plenty of room, and it’s nice not to have to open a cabinet to throw something away. The garbage can just has to be a little more appealing than the purple plastic thing that I have. Aside from being small and covered, I found that I wanted a step can because often my hands are wet or dirty. The best candidate that I’ve found is the Simple Human 10-liter step can. More of a size for the bathroom or office, it’s just right for The Littlest Kitchen since it’s the right size for grocery store plastic bags. It’s silver and slim, which is a little more look-at-me than I like, if not match-y with the fridges. At $29.99, it’s going to have to wait.

A Paper Towel Holder

September 16, 2008

For the most part, I try not to use paper towels. I’d rather use thin dish towels and cloth napkins, as opposed to throwing away something that is going to make more methane gas in our overcrowded landfills. But sometimes it’s unavoidable, like for wiping up anything greasy, drying poultry, or cleaning after the cat’s nervous affliction. I’m finding a need for a paper towel holder.

I particularly like the whimsical Michael Graves version with its bunny ears popping out of the top like a magician’s hat. Or am I reading too much into this, and they’re just design-y phallic protuberances? The base is sort of fat at 7 1/4″ in diameter, taking up quite a bit of precious counter space. Squidged in the corner, it may not make a difference, but it makes its presence known.

For something more discreet, the Ikea Ordning is only 5 3/8″ in diameter and only $7.99. Even more discreet is the Euro Paper Towel Holder, which looks like an attenuated paper clip, or one of those things that holds receipts at the cash register at the diner.

What I definitely don’t need is the iTouchless automatic paper towel holder. A germaphobe’s dream that dispenses towels without having to touch the rest of the roll, I see the logic, I see the niche in the market place, it just strikes me as excessive. Sure to be a best seller in Sky Mall.

The Cat’s Got My Tongue

September 15, 2008

More like my wallet. This week, I spent more money on feeding my cat than feeding myself – $40.23 for her, $38.72 for me. The killer was the milk-derivative supplement, recommended by my vet, to calm her nerves since she’s been having stress issues. Oddly, it’s been only after the year of renovations that she’s been poco loco, and not during. I sure would have loved to buy something else for that $35 – food, friends, dry cleaning, things – but I do what I have to do. So in dealing with my own monetary insanity, I’m devoting this week to The Things I Think I Want.

If I had enough money this week, I would have bought the Bed, Bath & Beyond bamboo cutlery tray. Those stick-on dividers that I bought are officially loser-ville, collapsing and sliding yet again. I’ve learned that I need something solid. This particular tray at 14″ x 10 1/4″ is very close to being the right size for my custom drawers at 15″ x 12″. I lose about an inch, which I hope will be negligible. I’m also considering the Muji propylene trays for the job, which are individually 12″ x 3.4″, so I would need three to lay vertically, or four to lay horizontally, which is a little weird, but very efficient. At $2.25 a piece, it may be an affordable compromise worth trying.