Monday, April 9, 2018

Money Diary: Not an Entirely Typical Week, Part 2

via New York Times Cooking

And now for Part 2 of the Money Diary I started last week, covering a not so typical week. While much of my spending this week was routine, such that this diary gives a pretty good snapshot of my  daily life, there were also a few things that don't commonly happen, such as my getting inspired to bake, which required lots of new supplies. 

I get a latte at Starbucks on my way to work, for $5.17. I have a soft spot for lattes, though I try to keep it under control, and it's definitely not an every morning habit. In more stressful weeks, though, I might end up going as much as three times. I use the Starbucks app, and occasionally get a free drink, though it takes a while to accumulate the "stars" required. 

Today is more interesting because a few of my recurring expenses are being paid. The first is $81.14 for one of my student loans, an institutional loan from undergrad (very small, 5% interest as opposed to ~7.2% for my graduate student loans, and it was part of a generous need-based financial aid package mostly comprised of grants). This is my only autopay bill. I normally prefer to feel more "active" in managing my money, even if that means logging in to pay different student loans three to five times a month. With this loan, however, the servicer's website is a pain, so autopay it is. I've since refinanced my loans at an interest rate of 2.6%, so now I log in to just one place to make payments. Previously, my loans accrued ~$990 interest a month (yikes!), but it's a lot less now. 

The second thing is maybe a bit odd. I've mentioned that my Taiwanese-American family does money differently sometimes. I'm prepared to, someday, help support my parents financially to whatever extent is needed, just as they were extremely generous in helping me to the best of their ability (and often a little beyond their financial means) throughout my education. For now though, even as I make significantly more than both parents combined, my mom still tries to take care of me (red envelopes, generous birthday gifts, paying for meals when I visit, and covering the cell phone family plan). That, er, probably doesn't sound good, but I swear, it will be repaid. At the moment, I send her $60.00 per paycheck, twice a month. It's a small amount, more symbolic than anything else. My mom has said she saves it in a separate account and thinks of it as money for travelling someday soon, as she's never had the chance to go to Europe, among other places. (We're planning to take a trip together with my sister soon, sometime in the next fourteen months or so, and I also plan to cover mom's share directly rather than have her dip into those savings.)

Lunch is my usual kale caesar at Sweetgreen for $11.05. I head home on the earlier side, and pick up dinner from Chipotle, a chicken salad for $9.42. One of the more noticeable bits of lifestyle inflation since I started working is that I often get guacamole with my Chipotle orders now (the height of luxury!), but not today. 

For my Friday and Saturday spending, please follow the link below.

Happy Friday! Lunch is Sweetgreen kale caesar again for $11.05. I could eat this every day, and I get it as much as four times a week. Because it's Friday, people start leaving work earlier, and I'm out the door by 5:30 p.m. K and I often go out for dinner on Fridays, though some of our favorite places (like BCD Tofu House) are very busy, and don't take reservations, so it can be daunting. Today, we're feeling lazy and decide to stay in, which means it's time for another joint Seamless order.  Last time was K's turn, so now it's mine. We get food from our local Tex-Mex place, splitting nachos and a small quesadilla with shredded beef. The total, including tip, is $34.74. Oh, and the baking tools are here, so while I'm waiting for the food, I unpack them and wash the mixer attachments, mixing bowls, and measuring cups and spoons, so that I can start the cookies later. 

We hang out at home after dinner, K's almost done with his "new game plus" playthrough of Persona 5. It's fun to follow along with the game's story. It's now time for me to start the Alison Roman chocolate chunk shortbread cookies! Given that I'd never baked anything from scratch, it's probably not a surprise that my first effort is... a learning experience. 

I watch enough Great British Bake-Off to appreciate that baking is difficult, and that the skill set is different from cooking, but well, it's another thing entirely to experience that firsthand. My first mistake is using the second to largest mixing bowl (affiliate link), which isn't quite big enough to fully accommodate all the ingredients while they're being mixed, so there's bits of butter and sugar escaping all the while. The second mistake comes during the middle of the first step, when I'm beating the butter and brown and granulated sugars together "until creamy." A minute in, I realize I don't actually know what that means. It also isn't blending that easily (should have let the butter sit a little longer at room temperature). Having tried the recipe a second time with more success, I stopped mixing about thirty seconds too early this time, and I didn't scrape the sides of the bowl while mixing. That's quite a few mistakes now, and makes it that much harder to blend the flour with the butter and sugar mixture.

I was a bit taken aback by how the dough seemed dry and crumbly, like it won't easily hold its shape or stick together. Between that and the larger size of the Trader Joe's chocolate chunks (I decided not to chop my own chocolate this time), shaping the dough into two logs is difficult. I end up with one  that's dramatically larger in diameter than the other, which will obviously result in uneven cookie sizes and baking time later, but decide to call it a night. Now they need to chill in the fridge, and I'll get back to them tomorrow morning. Because of the mixing bowl selection mistake, there's a fair bit of cleanup. Bits of flour, butter, and sugar everywhere!

After a quick homemade breakfast of eggs and bacon, K heads out to get a haircut, and I continue my cookie-making efforts. Now that the dough has chilled overnight, it's holding its shape much better. Egg wash is a bit stickier than I thought it would be, and I'm not able to get the turbinado sugar distributed that evenly. The recipe recommends slicing the dough logs with a bread knife, but I only have a kitchen knife and hope it will work. Spoiler alert, the bread knife is much better for this job. As I thought yesterday, the chocolate chunks are a bit large, and seems to contribute to the slices sometimes falling apart too easily. The kitchen knife also doesn't slide through the logs as easily, and the slices get stuck to the blade, which also exacerbates the crumbling. It's fine to push the crumbly pieces of a broken slice together, though, it'll still come out tasting good. You can see the uneven sizes and some of the broken cookies below.

My second batch was much prettier...

Once they cookies are in the oven, I put in an order on Amazon for a bread knife (affiliate link), again relying on Wirecutter's reviews. I also get a folding stool  because with my new baking tools, the storage situation in our kitchen has gotten even more strained, and we'll need to start using the high shelves I can't reach on my own. (There's a highly inefficient lack of cabinets in our kitchen, which brings me great distress.)  The total comes to $21.28. After the cookies are done, I make myself lunch from things we already had in the fridge. I also have two of the cookies. They still taste good, despite my mistakes. Some of them are overbaked, because the slices were such different sizes.

K comes home in the early afternoon and we both work out in the small gym in our building. That used to cost $500/year for us both, but it's been free the last two years because they've been doing lots of construction. I jog on the treadmill (I was one of those "worst runners in the class" in P.E. all my life, think 12-minute mile, so being able comfortably jog a mile or two on a whim now, and even more than that back when I ran more often, is empowering). I also do some weights, focusing on my arms and shoulders. By the next morning, I end up feeling really creaky in the knees and the lower back, a particular feeling that only comes when it's time for new running shoes. It always comes on suddenly and nothing but new running shoes will fix it (I've only had these shoes for a year and generally only run/jog something between one and two miles once a week, which doesn't feel like much mileage, but alas.) So that's an expense that will come up soon.

A while later, after we've both showered, we get hungry. We decide to go to Hometown Hot Pot in Chinatown. The wait will be long because it's a Saturday night, but it's a large restaurant and it never feels too bad (though will probably turn out to be more than half an hour). K and I probably enjoy hot pot a bit too much, as it's supposed to be a special occasion thing, good for large gatherings, rather than a semi-regular thing we do as a couple. Hot pot was a holiday meal back when I was a child, so it's nice to be able to get it so easily here. It's $36.20 a person, including tax and a tip rounded up slightly above 20%. (K and I usually split restaurant bills 50-50, though if one of us ordered something significantly fancier than the other, we'll throw in a few extra bucks.) We'd gotten a cab down because we were feeling lazy, which K paid for, so I pay for the one heading home, for $15.35.

And that's it for a whole week of spending, some of it very typical, and some of it much less so. It's probably clear that K and I eat out a lot. That's definitely been a significant area of lifestyle inflation since we graduated law school. We used to stick closely to a more modestly priced selection of restaurants, where we could often get a meal for just about $20 including tax and tip. These days, we still go to some of the same restaurants (mainly BCD Tofu House), but often order slightly more food, so average bills have increased. We're also much less shy about taking cabs now, in part because we're quite far from the nearest subway stop, and aren't located in a good location for transferring to other lines, and also because we work so much that, honestly, the thought of risking some of the increasingly frequent subway problems these days is just a bit much sometimes.

Oh, and is it normal for running shoes to wear out after the minimal amount of running I do? That doesn't seem to line up with recommendations on how often to switch out running shoes, as I'm sure I'm getting less than 100 miles a pair. Maybe my problem is that I also use the same shoes for my other workouts? Except all those workouts are on a stationary bike... It's confusing, but that lower-back discomfort I get when my running shoes have had it is quite pronounced, and replacing the shoes fixes it right away. 

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