Friday, June 12, 2009

That which seems like it would be cheap, but isn't

Everyone (here, presumably) wants a formula to save money. If only it were always as easy as yesterday, when my boyfriend and I were about to spend $40 ordering moving boxes online, after an extensive search for cheaper options... only to get home to find that the store downstairs was throwing out more (clean, dry, what are the chances?) boxes than we knew what to do with. Yes, I'm pleased.

But it's rarely so straightforward. Just as the theoretically no-fail diet plan, 'don't eat as much', has yet to replace the more involved ones ('cut out carbs'), 'don't spend so much' fails to have the allure of the much catchier 'cut out lattes'. In my experience, however, the quick fixes... it's not necessarily that they don't work, but they still need to be applied with caution. 'Do X, not Y' is not, on its own, enough. For example:

-Cooking/bringing lunch: Usually true, but it depends what you're cooking/bringing and what you're eating out. Pizza and falafel (and vegetarian sushi, and soup, and bagels, and so on) are not necessarily unhealthy meals, and are typically cheaper options than cooking anything with special ingredients, anything that you haven't cooked before and thus may not turn out edible, etc. Cooking for one or two, unless it's something you know will keep and will turn out well enough for you to want to eat the thing again, is not always as efficient as getting something single-portioned on the outside.

-Dressing casually: To be low-maintenance is to be a jeans-and-t-shirt sort. But the arrival of chains like H&M and Forever 21, with cheap, fashionable dresses, coincided with the trend in pricey 'basics'. Assuming nothing's on sale, the frilly dress may be $30; the jeans $200, the t-shirt, made out of that ultrafine material that has made women's t-shirts in recent years less durable the higher the price, $40. (This is only true, however, for women: to my knowledge, men's suits remain the gargantuan expenditures they've always been.)

-Running: The only free sport. Kind of. To not injure yourself, you (allegedly, but I fell for it) need the special sneakers someone claiming running expertise recommends for someone with your exact foot-shape. But good news is, unless you run a whole lot, they will last forever, because your size won't change and they were never in style. The real issue is the increased food and shampoo consumption running requires. No, cost-wise, jogging is not skiing, but it's not free, either. Not if you make the mistake, as I have, of ending jogs at Whole Foods. (Which is, by the way, the most yuppie combination of activities known to man. There's nothing like waiting on that line in your gym clothes.)

-Making your own damn coffee: While this is drastically cheaper per cup than even Bouley Market's miraculous $1.35 cup in Tribeca, New York's priciest neighborhood, coffee out is often a substitute for more costly on-the-outside expenditures. Meeting friends for coffee is cheaper than getting drinks or a meal. Got an hour to kill in SoHo? Better to spend that time reading in Starbucks (where, granted, you don't really have to buy anything) than at the Banana Republic down the street.

-Brooklyn: Yes, this one's very NYC-specific. Contrary to what one might think after reading about the trustafarian Williamsbourgeoise, rents are often lower in Brooklyn than in Manhattan, or at least that's how I ended up in Park Slope and not somewhere less hippie-influenced and closer to school. But now, popping up everywhere are precious little gourmet shops promising sustainable, local, and artisinal, and these are the only places with good cheese for miles, and they know it, allowing them to charge far more than the Manhattan institutions - Fairway, Zabars, even Citarella. So, this one is not only NYC-specific, but also specific to those who buy a lot of cheese. That said, that still leaves, I'd imagine, close to a million people.


Matt said...

It's nice you could find boxes that work for you. The last few times I moved I got them from one of the buildings at Penn, but the last time I got stuck w/ boxes that were just a bit too big (copy paper boxes were what I needed and I got some computer boxes that were about 15-20% bigger). Given that they were then all filled w/ books it made carrying them very hard.

Brooklyn also isn't so cheap for apartments! When I moved to New York I thought I'd live there but found that any decent apartments there were much more expensive than in Harlem (usually several hundred a month more expensive) so moved to Harlem instead.

Phoebe said...

I hope the boxes work out! They should at least fit the books, if not winter coats and such.

Brooklyn is... about as cheap as you'll find if you need to get to NYU's main campus in the morning. Harlem's certainly got a lot going for it if you're heading to Midtown or (of course) Columbia. Better yet, Washington Heights, where the single most impressive post-college friends' apartment I've ever seen was located. But, having looked a couple years ago at apartments in every direction walkable to NYU, my impression was that they were uniformly expensive, and that depending what train you're near, you might almost be better off in Astoria than Harlem. But whatever. I've decided that the recession will allow me to move to somewhere not a subway distance away from campus. It must!

(Of course the extra-nice parts of Brooklyn - Cobble Hill, say - end up costing as much as posh parts of Manhattan, which is upsetting for me as it's my life's ambition to live near Sahadi's.)

Matt said...

For boxes liquor stores are often good places to go. But, the boxes are usually not super strong or big, so it's a mixed bag.

Phoebe said...

I'd heard this... Anyway, thanks for the tips! Hopefully the ones we've got, which seem sturdy enough, will do the trick.

Miss Self-Important said...

Where are you moving? (I mean, not your address, obviously.)

Phoebe said...

Germany (but not for that long) and Manhattan, respectively. And I don't even know the address in either location. But the boxes, those are for sure.

dWj said...

Running shoes don't last forever. You're supposed to replace them every 300 miles -- well, maybe 400 or 500 -- and once to twice a year whether you run in them anyway. When you've put another five years on your knees the shoes' importance will increase.

(Replacing your shoes only when your knees start hurting is a possible strategy. It's not one I'm recommending.)

Phoebe said...


Unless the shoes have either stopped being comfortable (which you notice or fallen apart, I tend to think they don't need replacing, and that if your knees hurt in otherwise well-fitting shoes, the problem's far more likely to be running too much than the sneakers' age. Maybe, maybe there's a need to switch after a certain number of miles, but of years regardless? Absolutely not. It's certainly in the interests of those who sell running shoes, and (perhaps more to the point) of the running purist who enjoys reciting Running Wisdom, to have rules like this. (See also: stretching.)