Friday, June 1, 2018

Money Life Lately: Rent Increases and Iced Coffee

I have an unusual fondness for small card case-style wallets. My current favorite is my long-discontinued Kate Spade Saturday one pictured here, and it's surprisingly difficult to find others like it. This See by Chloe "Polina" scalloped card case (affiliate link) is quite similar, though pricey for an accessory of this size. Presently, I use the accordion-style Fossil Mini Tab Wallet (different colors, affiliate link on sale at Nordstrom Rack), which fits more cards, but is too bulky for some purses. I still have my Kate Spade Saturday one though, so I can switch back any time. 

Rent Increases, Alas

I live in an un-hip neighborhood, far from the subway (getting crosstown is a production), but alas, with this year's lease renewal came the discovery that market rents have gone up dramatically here, at least for similar buildings and units. We are facing a ~12% rent increase, bringing my half of the rent  up to approximately 20.8% of my post-tax income. Alas. We are, I must confess, spoiled by this neighborhood and this building's perks, and we don't have the energy or inclination to move. 

I suspect this makes us a textbook cautionary tale about the dangers of lifestyle inflation and the importance of getting most of your savings "oomph" from bigger recurring expenses, primarily from rent. Once you get used to certain luxuries (in our case, slightly more than average square footage with robust closet space compared to what's available in similar buildings, a decent and free in-building gym, and also, that most remarkably extravagant of things in this city, in-unit laundry), it's extremely hard to let them go. Don't be like us!

In large part because K and I live together, even after this fairly dramatic rent increase, both of us will each still be spending less on rent than many of our biglaw colleagues and classmates. Most biglaw junior associates who don't live with a significant other that we know of, no matter their student loan balance, choose to live alone if they can't easily find a friend or classmate that will definitely be a good and non-stressful roommate. Generally, they live in Manhattan, a fair bit south of 125th street, where even a small studio in an older building is at least $2100/month, usually more. 

Iced Coffee, or the "Cold Brew" Factor? 

After a roughly two-week period where I indulged in a matcha latte almost daily (extravagance most extreme!), I switched my allegiance to iced coffee. I'm definitely no connoisseur, so I don't have particularly strong feelings about other iced coffee versus cold brew, and I find Starbucks not noticeably worse to my uncultured tastebuds than the offerings at independent coffee shops. Unlike with matcha lattes, it was obvious that I could easily and cheaply make similarly satisfying iced coffee at home. I definitely had no excuse for continuing to spend $4 a day on iced coffee. So I did what I used to do when I get an idea for a new project and did a bit of research (mostly Smitten Kitchen's cold brew recipe) before jumping right in and buying supplies online, namely a french press  and pitcher (affiliate links), this time from Target instead of Amazon Prime. 

I won't go into too much more detail about my approach, because it'd likely make anyone with even minimal coffee know-how think I'm an absolute philistine, but I'm able to make competent enough for me cold brew at home, and in a very low-waste way (only the coffee packaging might go in the trash, but it's a tin that can be repurposed) and very cheaply, with a commonly available grocery store ground coffee. It tastes just fine to me. So that's one small frugal-ish victory. 

Please follow the link below for one more point, about my recent experience with rather pricey but necessary dental work. But be warned, I go into some detail about root canals, which aren't terribly pleasant.

A Conclusion to the Pricey Dental Care Saga

When last I updated about my accident and resulting expenses, I had scheduled an appointment at an in-network family dentist for my last root canal, and the possible need for crowns. It was possible that I'd still change my mind and go back to the fancy, out-of-network endodontist I used last time. After all, my family dentist only does root canals occasionally, while an endodontist does them 'round the clock. I didn't end up losing my nerve, and stuck with my in-network dentist.

I'm happy to report that everything turned out well. It was shockingly more affordable, ~$400 total rather than $1200 plus. I found that one does however, sometimes "get what you pay for" by choosing a non-specialist with less sophisticated equipment. Each root canal at that fancy endodontist took ~40 minutes total, much of it spent passively waiting for novocaine to kick in or while the endodontist took a break to read an X-ray. My root canal at my family dentist took ~80 minutes, very little of it spent passively waiting. Because they were all generous with the novocaine, there was no pain either time. Let me tell you though, I really felt every bit of the difference in the duration of the procedure and sophistication of the equipment.

Fifteen minutes in to my most recent root canal, the above .gif perfectly illustrated what I was thinking, and what I kept thinking for the next hour. For those lucky enough not to have had this procedure, it requires accessing the interior of the tooth, which can take a fair bit of drilling (as at the in-network dentist, the endodontist used something quicker), and then... removing the nerve inside... which can require... scraping. A lot of scraping, at least in an office without fancy equipment. Though there isn't any pain, one can... hear it... and feel a not-painful, but definitely present, sensation giving a clear idea of exactly what is happening. For that hour, I was definitely thinking every single minute about how much the previous $1200 price tag was totally worth every penny, and that I so should have gone back, and would never make this mistake again (so long as I could afford the choice). 

I had no real soreness after my previous root canals, only a dull, faint throbbing that was easily blocked out by a single over the counter ibuprofen, and went away within two days. After this recent session, it was only marginally more sore the first night. The next day though, maybe because the procedure took so much longer and probably was inherently more "traumatic" or "invasive" as a result, I had a random hour in the afternoon where an intense and penetrating throbbing pain set in, one not dampened even slightly by two over the counter ibuprofens. It was a six on my pain scale out of ten, by far the worst thing I'd felt because of the accident (that's an extremely low bar, I didn't feel anything during the accident or previous dental work). I spent that time thinking, yet again, about how much I would never again "cheap out" on dental work while I still had the financial means, but that too, passed. It didn't recur, and there were no further ill effects. By now, several months on, it seems that everything is just fine. There's no real lesson here, though I think I'd stick with in-network dentists in the future, at least until my maximum benefit for each year is exhausted.

Do you make your own iced coffee or cold brew? Any recommendations for coffee brands? I currently use pre-ground Cafe Bustelo, which is on the more affordable side of things. (It's probably a bit too finely ground to be ideal for cold brewing, or so I read, and is too finely-ground for a french press, but the resulting cold brew coffee tastes just fine to me.) 

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