• Posts Tagged ‘dining’

    Back to My Old (Cheapskate) Ways

    by  • August 29, 2012 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Black & White Bean Salad

    Let's see how long it takes for me to hate this.

    My husband and I were moved into temporary housing this weekend. Along with gaining more space (I didn’t know I’d missed it until it was back in my life) and scaring our cat into a weekend hiding under the bed, this new situation comes with a variety of frugal challenges; namely, feeding myself and generally living this summer without spending more money than I’d like.

    A part of our unique living situation entails access to a dining hall during the school year. This is wonderful and amazing, and we’re very grateful for it, particularly considering our lack of a personal kitchen. This also means, however, that during the summer months we are on our own, food-wise. A word about my personal abilities: I am very good at things like organizing; cleaning; managing my life; making small clothing repairs; not spending money; silently judging people for spending too much money. I am not good at cooking. My repertoire, even with a kitchen, is limited to spaghetti, rice (if I’m feeling crazy), and making these little salmon cakes out of canned salmon from a recipe that’s been in my family for decades. That’s really it. I can barely put together a functional sandwich. It’s awful, and not something I’m proud of, but there it is.

    I also hate spending money on things I’m not good at (see: cooking). So this summer, with no kitchen and a husband (who generally cooks for us and makes sure I’m not eating cereal for every meal) out of town for an internship, I decided I needed to figure this out ASAP. Luckily, I am very good at: depriving myself of things that cost money; living off of cereal for many meals at a time; figuring out how to eat as cheaply as possible without forming too many vitamin deficiencies. I’ve lived on my own before and dealt with it much in the way I found myself dealing with it this weekend. I bought $30 worth of easily assembled food items that require little to no skill (like tuna salad, bean salad, and some microwavable Trader Joe’s rice – bless Trader Joe’s for catering to the cheap and culinarily-challenged masses like myself). Then I spent an hour assembling said salads (because when you don’t have a kitchen, simple tasks like chopping an onion or draining beans become their own intense ordeal). I plopped those salads in bowls, stuck them in the fridge, and called my cooking done for the week.

    We’ll see how my bean salad experiment goes. I’m hopeful that I won’t burn out too quickly, as I do have a few meals out with friends planned that should keep me sated with more substantial food. And I’m happy with how quickly I’ve reverted back to my cheap, live-alone-and-like-it ways. Yesterday I was heading out to run a few errands, and thought about what kind of snack I might pick up along the way. My internal voice immediately said, “BRING AN APPLE AND EAT THAT, YOU OVERSPENDING HAG” (my internal voice is very aggressive). And so, apple and refillable water bottle in hand (because “YOU DON’T NEED TO BUY AN ICED TEA RIGHT NOW, ABBY”), and bean salad chilling in the fridge, I went on my way.

    How do you handle the cost of cooking?

    image: cookbookman17

    Save Money by Being Married/Antisocial

    by  • May 15, 2012 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    Tastes Good Regardless of Location Consumed

    Tastes Good Regardless of Location Consumed

    My husband, Brad, is in the midst of his last school-related work before his summer (of more working) begins. He’ll be done on Friday, and the other day we had the following interaction:

    Abby: Hey, since you’ll be done on Friday, do you want to go out for drinks to celebrate?

    Brad: Maybe.

    Abby: What if we just go to [NAME OF NEIGHBORHOOD BAR] and get some dessert and a beer?

    Brad: I guess.

    Abby: . . . or do you just want to sit in the apartment and drink the beer we have in the fridge and eat a sleeve of Thin Mints?

    Brad: Yeah, that sounds perfect, actually.

    Sometimes, I read personal finance articles and the comments associated with them, and wonder how these people, most of whom are my age, spend so much money on going out. What are you doing? I think. Why can’t you just drink a beer at home? And then I realize – not everyone has the advantage of living with one of the few people they can stand for long periods of time. Don’t get me wrong – I like to dress up in something other than $6 men’s sweatpants from Target, and enjoy a nice gin cocktail with people to whom I am not married every once in awhile. But most of the time, my husband and I are each other’s company, and we like it that way. The added benefit, which we often don’t consider, is how much money it saves us. Consider some of our favorite activities:

    • Ordering takeout from the exceptionally delicious pasta place near our apartment and consuming it in our apartment.
    • Sitting with (nice – we do spend a little on our home-bound alcohol) beers in our apartment, while I watch something on Netflix and Brad half-watches, but mostly catches up on college sports blogs.
    • Ordering takeout from the great Taiwanese restaurant nearby and eating it in our apartment (sensing a trend?).

    Besides our penchant for carb-heavy takeout for which we don’t have to change out of sweatpants, we spend a lot of time hanging out with each other in the apartment (particularly in the colder months up here, which is almost all year long). And the natural consequence of this is that we don’t go out as much as we would if were single. We don’t feel compelled to head to a local bar that often, because the beer we would get there is the same beer we can consume in the comfort of our home, as is the company.

    As I said, this doesn’t mean I never get out. There are work happy hours, friends to meet with over a glass of wine, and potlucks that I attend. But after reading that some people my age go out on a near-daily basis, I can see how my generation can become mired in credit card debt after an accumulated however-many drinks consumed. It gets pricey, and we’re lucky to be cutting our expenses through our anti-social/homebody/married tendencies.

    How do you manage your social expenses?

    image: Jeramey Jannene

    Financial inversions

    by  • May 26, 2010 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments


    photo: alykat

    I’ve always had a pretty laisser-faire approach to calculating “my share” of financial transactions with friends and family. It stems from my previously mentioned commie streak — instead of allocating shares of bills dead equally, I’m inclined to let the person of the most means shoulder a larger share. Throughout most of my 20s, that person was almost always me.

    Not, I hasten to add, that I was swimming in cash. My life is a very distant cry from The Hills or NYC Prep , where a typical afternoon out means dropping the kind of money that would keep me in rentmortgage payments for three months. But I started working half-time at 19, and by 20 I’d ditched my senior year of college in favor of a full-time job. It was entry level and paid sustenance wages, but that still put me a fair sight ahead of my friends pulling $6 an hour from work-study gigs. And by the time they graduated into their entry-level gigs, I’d taken a promotion and changed jobs for a higher salary, and on it went. While those around me job-hopped, went to grad school, explored different fields, or suffered from pot-dot-com-kaboom layoffs, I inched up the career ladder in the same field I’ve been working in since I was 16. So at lunch, I often grabbed the check away from the friend I knew had a harder time than me making ends meet.

    And I always did that with my three-years-younger sister, who left college with a fancy diploma and the requisite five-figure debt load that comes with it. I knew she was constantly fighting to keep up with student loan, medical and credit card bills on a salary that was never more than half of what I made. When we went out for dinner or took a weekend trip, I paid.

    And then I turned 30.

    Suddenly, in the past year or so, a whole bunch of those I hang out with have leapt forward financially. The friend who used to be a broke law-school student got a job at a ritzy white-shoe law firm with an eye-popping starting salary. The friend who was a teacher is now a principal, running her own school. The math grad student became Dr. Bonnie and had two universities bidding for her services. And the friend who completed a social work masters program is head of the human services department in a big city.

    And my sister landed her dream job, which pays a very reasonable salary and comes with the unbeatable perk of free housing. (Before anyone gets too envious, said housing is in Ciudad Juárez. It has a lovely backyard — surrounded by alarms and barbed wire.)

    Of course, the recession hasn’t totally whooshed by and left my social circle unscathed. I also know people who spent small fortunes on grad degrees and now can’t find work in the field, fellow journalists left stranded as their publications closed, and friends muddling through gigs they’re overqualified for because it’s all they can find.

    But instead of being the most financially secure of my friends, I’m now somewhere in the middle of the pack — and falling. Most of those I know are in fields with much better salary-advancement prospects than mine.

    That doesn’t bother me in a financial sense (for now — check back in 10 years and see if I’m regretting this whole “write words for a living” thing), but I’ve been surprised by the mental reprogramming it’s required. I still start to reach for checks and then remember — I’m not the only one with regular paychecks anymore. I can let other people leave the extra cash for the tip, or pay a bit more than their share if we all have $20s and no change. Or let my friends treat if they offer, without feeling guilty.

    The splitting-the-bill machinations many be a me-specific thing, but I think it’s pretty universal for those in their 30s to suddenly find their whole social-circle financial landscape shaken up. People get married, get promoted out of entry-level gigs, have kids, leave grad school, ditch waiting-tables-and-acting for jobs with health insurance, and generally grow up into situations that are more complicated, but also usually more lucrative. And the salary disparties become starker — instead of everyone being young and basically broke, suddenly some people are doctors or investment bankers making much more than the friends who became teachers and office managers.

    The whole thing really hit home for me when my sister came to NYC a few weeks ago for a final pre-Juarez-departure visit. We went to Babbo, where we first journeyed eight years ago in our initial foray into pricey Foodie Nirvana Restaurantland. I saved for two months to field that bill, which came to almost a third of my monthly rent at the time.

    This time, after a four-hour wine-and-pasta extravagance, we surveyed the financial damage. I started to reach for my Amex … then realized that for the first time I didn’t have to vehemently insist that my sister put her own credit card away. Thanks to the whole free-housing thing, her take-home pay is probably better than mine these days.

    So I left her take care of more than half the bill. It’s an adjustment, but I think I can get used to this.

    Going Out to Eat: How Much Should We Spend?

    by  • September 22, 2008 • Tagged: , , , ,  • Comments

    Hannah blogs about money and marriage at Monogamoney.com. Topics include saving, budgeting, investing, travel, and The Dark Knight.

    Jon and I recently let a relative stay in our apartment for a week, while we were away on vacation. As a thank-you gift, she gave us a $150 gift certificate to a nice restaurant. And this presents us with a problem.

    Jon and I have very different styles when we eat out. He’d rather go out less often, and spend more each time. He thinks that when we go to a nice restaurant, we shouldn’t scrimp. We should each get an appetizer if we want one, we should get a bottle of wine, we should get dessert, because there’s no point doing it if you don’t have the full experience. I’d rather spend less, and go more often. I get more enjoyment going twice and getting only an entree each time, as opposed to going once and getting the works.

    A few months ago, this perpetual disagreement led to the biggest fight we’ve had since we got married. We had a $400 gift certificate to a nice restaurant, which we received for our wedding. So we decided to invite two of our friends out for dinner. I wanted to strategize beforehand, so we could make sure we kept our tab under $400, hopefully even having enough to pay for the tip. Jon felt like I was spoiling the fun. He won; the bill came to $700. (In defense of my husband, he eats out like this only once or twice a year. And it was his birthday.)

    The next day, after a little yelling and maybe a tiny bit of door slamming, we decided that before we go out for a nice meal, we’ll label it a “Hannah” night or a “Jon” night. If it’s my night, I get to control our spending, and Jon can’t complain. If it’s a Jon night, he’ll order whatever he wants and I can’t complain.

    What do you think? Have you had any similar fights with your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse? How did you resolve them?

    Hidden Educational Costs

    by  • December 3, 2007 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    photo: powerbooktrance

    I’m currently taking some classes in order to obtain a certification that will help me in my current job and in my career. Due to the specialty of the field that I’m in, this program is not common; in fact there are only 4 institutions in the world that offer it, and the one that I’m taking just happens to be the best one. Despite all the great colleges in Chicago IL or in other major cities, this particular program is not well represented. In order to obtain the certificate, one chooses 4 classes in the curriculum and must receive a passing grade in each of the classes.

    The classes are somewhat expensive at $1,400 each, plus the cost of books. My job covers up to $2,500 in educational expenses per calendar year; therefore I’ve elected to take 2 of the classes at the end of this year, and the final 2 classes at the beginning of next year. By doing this, I limit our out of pocket expenses to just $600 (plus books), which is all tax deductible. I also put the tuition on our rewards cards; in addition to being able to command more salary after I get the certification, the tuition payments will also help in paying for our honeymoon.

    The one cost that I can’t quite shake off is the cost of studying and doing homework in a coffee shop. While I love our apartment, it doesn’t have any areas for me to buckle down and concentrate on studying and homework. Having computers, television, cats, refrigerator, chores, and everything else just makes it impossible for me to not be distracted. I attribute this to my college days; where I lived in college was always too rowdy and loud for me to get any studying done, so I always went to a coffee shop. Thus, when doing my homework for these classes, I’ve found myself in coffee shops around Chicago. It’s almost Pavlovian: coffee shops just make me want to study.

    For my first class, I went to a coffee shop 5 times to do homework and spent a total of about $30. Were the cappuccinos and pastries worth it? Well, last week I received my grade in the mail:


    To me, it is definitely worth it.

    I’ve recently heard a great deal about online universities and I believe that they are an option that is worth exploring. For starters, they provide you with access to programs that you might not have access to in your local area, giving you the opportunity to complete the degree or certification that you actually need. In addition, you can work full time while taking your online courses, making it easier to pay for your education. If necessary, online programs are even eligible for financial aid, so you will have plenty of options when paying for them.

    Get Your Latte Factor On At The ING Direct Cafe

    by  • November 28, 2007 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    In October, Bird and Bills had a post about the ING Direct Cafe. I commented that I had been to the one in Chicago and would write a post about it. About 6 weeks later, I’m finally getting around to it…

    About six months ago I noticed that an ING Direct Cafe opened up just off of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. At that time I didn’t have a chance to run in. A few months later I was running errands and around that area and also needed to make a deposit into my ING Direct account. I decided that a visit to the cafe was in order.

    Before I went, I went to the ING Direct website to find out what it was all about. They have a page dedicated to the cafes, and I learned that there were also cafes in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Wilmington (that’s in Delaware). Also on that page is a coupon for a free coffee, just for being a member. Free coffee? How am I supposed to get my latte factor on?

    First off, here’s a view of the outside. It’s pretty hard to miss.


    On the inside, there’s what looks like a normal coffee bar.


    The weird thing about the cafe is that all of the baristas are also bankers! You can order a latte and make a deposit, and the people behind the counter can do both. Another weird quirk is that deposits aren’t really processed there…they are mailed off to a processing center in Minnesota (I think, it’s been a few months since I’ve been there). So if you deposited money there, they’d have to mail it off to the processing center, and you’d still have to wait to have it post to your account.

    They baristas were nice and friendly, and were indeed knowledgeable about all of ING Direct’s products. After hearing that they didn’t do anything I couldn’t do own my on on their website, I ended up getting my free coffee and taking a seat to relax a bit, where they had various finance magazines on display for customers to read.


    While I was there, I took advantage of their computers with internet access to check if there were any comments on this site. I also did the banking on their website that I wanted to do at their counter.


    All in all, it is a pretty neat place. For someone with above average financial knowledge, this place is pretty much a gimmick, as evidenced by their awesome ING Direct motorcycle.


    I think that their goal is to make people aware of their services in a non-traditional way. After walking by there the other night, I think it is working; there were many in the place who were enjoying coffee and reading. I think that this method of getting people to be more aware of their finances and saving is great. Since I practically lived at coffee shops when I was in college, it may have been what I needed to persuade me to start saving and paying attention to my finances at an earlier age. Or just drink more coffee.

    Found a Restaurant Bill Mistake

    by  • June 13, 2006 • Tagged:   • Comments

    Recently we went out to eat with a big group of friends. As usual, one person paid with their credit card and everyone else gave them cash for their portion of the bill. The friend who paid with the credit card didn’t bother to read the itemized bill, and kept quiet when our cash didn’t cover the bill. Fortunately, another of our friends did read the itemized bill, and discovered that we had been charged for some other table’s drinks (plus our own). He brought it to the attention of the waitress, who corrected the charge. Our poor friend almost paid a fortune in over-charges just because he didn’t check the bill (and was too polite to ask us for the extra cash).

    It’s always a good idea to check your bill, especially in a large group where it would be easy to overlook extra charges.

    Tre Kroner (Good Eats In Chicago)

    by  • February 23, 2006 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    One of our favorite restaurants, Tre Kroner, was recommended in today’s Red Eye. According to the author,

    Tre Kroner, a 20-table storefront owned by Patty Rasmussen (a Norweigan-American) and her husband, Larry Anderson (a Swedish-American), blends the traditional dishes of its owners heritage and updates them for American palates. It also does a brisk brunch business, thanks – at least in part – to the delicious lingonberries, which make several appearances on the menu.

    We first discovered Tre Kroner on the way to a dentist appointment. There was a huge brunch crowd gathered in front. Anyplace with a line like that has to be good! So we checked it out a few weeks later and fell in love with the place. For one thing, the food is heavenly. They offer a brief menu of perfectly-prepared dishes. Their omelets are the lightest we’ve ever had. We also really like their salmon eggs benedict and their rotating assortment of fresh-baked pastries, which are filled with lemon, apple, raspberry or hazelnut.

    The atmosphere is very pleasant. The restaurant is staffed by attentive, cheerful Swedish-looking waitresses. The setting is unique in that it occupies two floors of an old home. The downstairs dining room is bustling with activity while upstairs it is quaint and peaceful. Even the upstairs bathroom is charming, with its lace curtains and antique claw foot bathtub.

    The prices are so reasonable they almost seem antique too. We’ve never spent more than $25 including tip on breakfast for both of us. It’s a charming little place where you can enjoy a great meal at a great price.

    We recommend: Tre Kroner!