Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Money Diary: COVID-era Staycation, Part 1

Approximately once a year, I get inspired to write a money diary post in the Man Repeller format (focused on that week's spending only, without additional details about overall finances like at Refinery 29). I've done a 2018 "atypical week" money diary (part one, part two) and a 2019 "slightly more typical week" money diary (part one, part two). And now, with COVID-19 and everything else that's been going on, here's part one of a 2020 money diary! (I was definitely also inspired by Luxe's recent COVID-era weekend money diary.)

This year's money diary covers a six-day period. There's no point extending the diary to a full week, because the days immediately before and after this six-day period were both extremely boring, with no spending or outings further away than our apartment building's lobby. Heck, there are already two no-spending days in this diary, which was unthinkable for me in pre-COVID times! 

During the six days covered by this diary, both K and I were technically not working, and were instead enjoying a staycation. Though you'll see I still needed to do some work, some of it billable and some of it not. Until late August, I hadn't taken any vacation time in 2020. My supervisors at work encouraged me to take some time off, even if one can't go many places without potentially needing to do a two-week quarantine afterwards, pursuant to New York state law. 

For my part, I've always enjoyed staycations. I'm even known to take an extra vacation day after a trip is over, so I can relax at home a bit before returning to the office. (K prefers not to do this, as he doesn't think it's a great use of a vacation day. He'd rather head straight back to work!) 

But, well, I obviously also miss normal, pre-COVID times, when we'd have been able to freely use our vacation time to, say, go to Taiwan and Japan, as we were about to do in April. Maybe in late 2021? I can only hope...

Wow, a no-spending day! I didn't have a single one of those across my 2018 and 2019 money diaries... 

We sleep in a bit, as is typical for us on the weekends. I wake up around 10:00 AM, a bit ahead of K. Once K is up around 10:30, I start making brunch. I use the oven to cook Trader Joe's frozen hash browns and make an egg scramble on the stovetop with cheddar and chopped-up Trader Joe's "garlic herb" chicken sausage. (That's not my favorite flavor, the "spicy jalapeno" - which isn't actually spicy - is better, but they didn't have any in stock on our last Trader Joe's trip two weeks ago.) I cook and K cleans after the meal.  

Afterwards, we relax at home all day, much like on any COVID-era weekend day where neither of us is working. K's been playing Final Fantasy XIV - there's some kind of free trial and one of his good friends is also playing - and I work on my blog and journal with some of my recently-acquired fountain pens and colorful inks. I also take some time to hand-wash my Babaa lounge set and lay it out flat on the drying rack. In the afternoon, I do a roughly 50-minute cardio workout in our apartment on the stationery bike we've had for a few years. (It's visible in the background of almost all my outfit photos.)

Even when it's a weekend while I'm on vacation, I still check my work email in case anything comes up. People at my current workplace do their best not to bother colleagues on vacation by omitting them from emails, but it's not always possible. On a typical vacation day in pre-COVID times, I wouldn't be shocked to get a handful of work emails keeping me updated on developments and next steps for when I get back to the office. (I don't bill for checking email like this, unless there's an important substantive email I need to review closely and that will take me more than five minutes to read. Keep in mind, most biglaw matters bill out attorneys in "tenths" of an hour, a.k.a. six-minute increments.) 

In the evening, we eat a dinner that's mostly leftovers: rice; fish and shrimp sinigang made with Knorr brand seasoning mix; and soft tofu and century egg salad. I also wash and chop up a good-sized serving - approximately a pound - of baby bok choy and saute it with garlic and some oyster sauce. Right before we eat, I top the soft tofu and century egg salad with an additional drizzle of soy sauce and some bonito flakes.

Like with brunch, I cook and K cleans afterwards. We have a dishwasher, but part of the post-meal cleaning generally includes unloading all the clean dishes from the dishwasher from yesterday, which can take a while now that we're eating eat every meal at home. And we wash all our pots and pans by hand. So post-meal cleaning is not the smallest chore. (I do try to tidy up somewhat during the cooking process, to minimize the dirty dishes waiting in the sink after we eat.) 

It's the last day of August, which means it's payday! 

On payday mornings, I'm always eager to get up and log in to my online accounts and personal finance spreadsheet straightaway, even if there shouldn't be any surprises and everything is already accounted for in my budget planning. Like I mentioned back in 2018, one of my habits each payday is sending my mom $60 (totaling $120/month). It's... sort of a symbolic filial piety thing? Except that my mom still covers our cell phone family plan for my sister and I, so this mostly washes out each month. (I cover the Netflix subscription for us! But that's small potatoes compared to the cell phone plan...) K and I each pay our half of the rent today, but I've always kept that number private to protect my anonymity and specific location in NYC. 

I also pay the remainder of my credit card bill for this month in full. Finally, I transfer some money to my Ally high-yield savings account (where the interest rate recently dropped to ~0.75%). But those aren't expenses I'm accruing today, so nothing to report there. 

I check my work email throughout the day. As it turns out, there's work I can bill for today because some important discussions about long-term case strategy are taking place: I need to stay apprised by reading the fairly lengthy substantive emails flying back and forth. My colleagues don't expect me to respond while I'm on vacation, but someone raises an issue I've done intensive work on over the past year, and I'm the person best situated to point out a potential problem that should be taken into account. So I spend nearly 20 minutes drafting a reply email explaining my concern in moderate detail. I'll continue checking my email throughout the day to see if anyone has any follow-up questions for me. (As it turns out, nobody does, but there were a few other emails for me to stay on top of.) 

Later in the morning, we discover that a contractor we've been waiting on will be able to come to our apartment tomorrow. A few weeks ago, our air conditioner was leaking badly. Our building's superintendent was able to fix that quickly, but it seems water from the leak seeped under the floorboards, causing them to warp and buckle upwards across our living room, an issue needing an outside contractor to fix. We've been waiting well over a week to get confirmation about when our appointment will be. It's officially going to be tomorrow, which we're happy about. It's somewhat late notice, but hey, if we're home all the time anyway, it's no real inconvenience. Probably for the best it's happening while we're technically on vacation... (Because we're renters, we won't be paying for the cost of the contractor.) 

I see on Instagram that Alighieri, one of my favorite jewelry designers based in the UK, is doing a special one-day discount code for 25% off. I already own a large collection of their pieces, and I love their designer - Rosh Mahtani's - organic, antique-looking style of jewelry. I've been waiting for a chance to acquire the "Fractured Cloud" necklace, which was out of stock for several months, but was recently brought back. After the discount, the price is GBP 172.50, including GBP 15.00 for international shipping. At the current exchange rate used by Chase credit cards, this is $231.12

We generally don't eat breakfast on weekdays, so K and I don't eat together until nearly 1:00 PM. For lunch, I make us grilled cheese sandwiches with mozzarella (the Trader Joe's pre-sliced fresh mozzarella log tastes is great!) and prosciutto (also from Trader Joe's). 

When it comes to groceries and food spending, things are now very different compared to when I did my 2018 and 2019 diaries. Back then, we cooked maybe four meals a week at the very most. These days, now that we're staying home, we cook every single meal, though sometimes this means leftovers or frozen food. Our restaurant spending has diminished dramatically.

We now split grocery purchases 50-50 for the most part - with one small exception I'll describe below - instead of doing the eclectic accounting I described in 2018 and 2019. I'll typically put grocery delivery orders on my credit card, while K puts our large Trader Joe's trips on his. At the end of the month, we'll figure out if one of us owes the other by looking at the grocery bills and other joint costs we split 50-50, including utilities (typically on K's credit card) and cleaning supplies or paper products (typically on my credit card). Grocery shopping-wise:

  • We go to Trader Joe's in-person approximately once a month and spend from ~$260 to $290. That gets us a month's worth of meat, which we'll mostly freeze; refills on pantry staples; two dozen eggs (roughly two weeks' worth, between cooking and baking); a week and a half's worth of produce; and a month's worth of snacks and frozen foods, among other odds and ends like some fancy cheeses and hand soap. 
  • We usually get one sizable Southeast Asian Food Group ("SAFG") order a month, for ~$135 to $160 or so, including $15 shipping and ~$7 tip. That gets us a lot of tofu; some frozen scallion pancakes, roti, and dumplings; up to two and a half weeks' worth of produce (I like baby bok choy, yu choy, gai lan, and water spinach, none of which are available at grocery stores within walking distance); specialized spices and condiments; and pantry staples like century eggs, salted duck eggs, curry paste, and coconut milk. Sometimes, because of our work schedule throwing things off, two Trader Joe's trips or SAFG orders might fall into a single month.
  • There's usually another, smaller one-off grocery delivery or two each month, including from Freshdirect, which can get pretty expensive. With these orders, I often insist on covering more than 50% because they almost always include expensive items I picked out and will mostly eat myself, such as berries or charcuterie. (One time, I bought some large head-on shrimp from Freshdirect; K doesn't like shrimp, so the purchase was just for me). What can I say? I have expensive tastes! For these orders, we split things that can fairly be described as being for both of us 50-50, but I'll cover the mostly-me things myself.

Both K and I have a fairly relaxed afternoon, and I do another cardio workout with the stationery bike. I also register for my absentee ballot online. 

Afterwards, I make dinner, which is tacos with Trader Joe's "Traditional Carnitas", which just need three minutes in the microwave. We use packaged guacamole because we already used up all the fresh avocados back in the first week after our last Trader Joe's trip. I also chop up some onion and a fresh jalapeno to go into the tacos. For both meals today, I cook and K cleans. 

Just past midnight, when it's technically September 1, I get on the computer to browse Yoseka Stationery's online store. They're a small, independent stationery store that's local to me - they're currently relocating from Sunnyside to Greenpoint - and I think they're great! I've only been able to shop online because of COVID, but since taking up the fountain pen hobby in early July, I've ordered from Yoseka more than once to get fountain pen-friendly notebooks, TWSBI pens, and ink samples. September 1 is the release date for the 2021 Hobonichi planners, and I want the five-year techo in the A6 size to use as a memory book over the next few years. I manage to snag one before it sells out fairly quickly. Including tax, it costs $58.79; shipping is free because my order exceeds $35. 

Today's a very exciting day, because I'm finally getting my long-awaited haircut! At this point, I'm nearly eight months overdue. (My hair looks its best when it's cut approximately once every three to four months.) The contractor's also coming today, so it's a somewhat busy morning for our household. 

We eat brunch early, around 9:30 AM, before the contractor comes by and before I need to head out for my haircut. K cooks, heating up leftover shakshuka I made on Saturday, and making fried eggs, bacon, and more of those Trader Joe's frozen hash browns. And he's kind enough to clean up afterwards too, because eating takes longer than I expected. I barely finish my food in time to put on my mask and leave for my haircut! (After I leave, K moves our coffee table, office chairs, and some other furniture into the bedroom to make room for the contractor to work on the buckled up floorboards in the living room.) 

My go-to stylist for the past several years currently works at a salon he co-owns. It's located approximately 1.75 miles from my apartment, a bit more than 25 downtown "short blocks" and a few crosstown "long blocks" away. For now, I prefer to walk rather than take public transit, and it's a bit of a trek. 

There are many new safety precautious in place at the salon. Everyone sanitizes their hands upon entry. With the size of their space, only two clients and maybe three staff members maximum can be in there at one time, all with masks on of course. The stylists also wear face shields and have put up plastic sheeting surrounding the hair-wash stations. (I'm the first appointment of the day, so I'm the only client in the salon for the duration of my haircut.) I think they've purchased air filters too. 

My stylist observes that it's been a while, as I last got my hair cut in October 2019. He also observes that I might have the longest hair he's ever worked on. I'm somewhat surprised by this, since my hair only looks like it's 3 to 3.5 inches past my collarbone; it doesn't grow that fast! But then again, his typical clientele is more hip than me, and it's not common for stylish adults to wear their hair anywhere near this long in NYC... Today, I'm getting my hair cut to its usual length of slightly past my collarbone, and it's going to feel so much lighter and look so much better after the cut! 

The cut takes around an hour. The base price is $100, but it's $106.35 after taxes and a $3 cleaning supply fee in light of new COVID-driven requirements and precautions. I ask my stylist whether he prefers Venmo or cash tips now, in light of new sanitation concerns, and he says cash is fine. I tip $27

He also thanks me for contributing to the salon's GoFundMe back in late March, after they were forced to shut down due to COVID. I knew he'd helped open this new salon late last year as a co-owner, and I could barely begin to imagine how stressful and difficult it was for them after NYC shut down. As he commented while we commiserated about the recent months during my haircut, no stylist ever really chooses to takes a break from work for several months straight. It's not something they can generally afford in their industry, particularly when the salon's rent still needed paying. (I'd donated $100, more or less the cost of the haircut I'd otherwise have gotten in March or April.) 

The contractor's still working when I get home in the early afternoon, though it seems like all the noisy work was already done before I returned. Everyone, including the contractor, wears a mask while in the living room. I mostly hang out in the bedroom with the door closed, though, so I can go without a mask until the contractor finishes up and leaves in the mid-afternoon. While the contractor was still working, I ended up needing to jump on a billable conference call for work, in connection with yesterday's flurry of emails. The call only ends up taking 15 minutes, which isn't too bad. 

As it turns out, the contractor also needs to come back early tomorrow morning, around 9:00 AM, and then again the day afterwards, in order to finish the work on our floor. Various things need time to dry or set, including a swath of what looks like wet concrete underneath where the buckled up floorboards were ripped away from. This isn't necessarily the best news, since both K and I were hoping to sleep in a little later than that during our staycation, but we'll make do. We'll be keeping our office chairs and coffee table in the bedroom until the work finishes, since we can't place furniture back on the sections of the floor that are being worked on until that work is fully complete. It's going to be cramped for a few days!

K also does all the cooking for today's dinner, which consists of frozen dumplings pan-fried until crispy on the bottom and some fried rice with egg, frozen peas, and sliced Chinese sausage. He seasons the fried rice with a generous portion of Lao Gan Ma chili crisp, a condiment that was new to us when we added it to a SAFG order last month. (We love it and have already used well over half the jar. It's barely spicy to our taste buds, the chili flavor is mild, but it has an intriguing flavor and texture that goes with a lot of dishes.) This time around, I do all the post-meal cleaning. 

Please stay tuned for part two of this money diary, which should go live early next week! 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear from anyone who might be reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or question.