A Money Diary That is Accidentally Also a Food Diary

I’ve never been particularly terrible with finances, but I’ve never been great with them either. As a kid, I had a weekly allowance of $1 (later inflated to $5) for doing the dishes, cleaning up and generally being good. Every once in a while we would go to Target, where I would spend all my money on Swedish Fish and Bratz dolls. In high school, I discovered Starbucks Venti Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccinos and eBay, squandering most of my allowance on sugary drinks and obscure objects like stopwatches and beads. When my parents discovered this habit, they weren’t thrilled. Fortunately, they stepped in and helped me be better with money.

I’m still working on being in charge of my expenses. Since graduating from college a year ago and moving to New York in August, I’ve had no choice but to do the damn thing. I pay my rent and bills, clean my apartment, do my laundry and leave my room at least adequately organized. I’m basically Miss Independent a la Ne-Yo. It feels good.

Below, I’ve chronicled my past week’s expenses and, if my personal alarm bells are any indication, I see a phone call from my dad in the near future, recommending I start tracking my expenses in a spreadsheet. But alas, I did it for the people, for the fans…for Amelia, who asked me to. So I can take it.

Here we go:

I started the day by loading my Metrocard. I’ve been getting a weekly card instead of a monthly because I keep forgetting to sign up for a pre-tax card through work. Ugh.

When I finished work, I ran over to Whole Foods. I went there specifically for a box of chocolate croissants, but they only had plain ones, which I bought reluctantly. I also bought cookies, squash (to feel healthy) and Italian soda because I was swayed by the cool bottle. I saved $.10 for bringing my own bags.

The J train is basically defunct after 9:45 pm, so I called a shared Lyft ride and headed over the bridge in silence with my two new friends.

Today my breakfast was pretty typical: croissant, sweet potato, watermelon. I was disappointed with the croissant and felt sad I’d have to eat the same kind for the next week. I’ll return to the mini chocolate croissants next time. For lunch, I impulse bought three pounds of cherries for $5 (fantastic) in Chinatown and then got some spicy noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods because I’m overcoming a cold and I thought it might help. (It did!)

After work, I stopped at my grocery store in Brooklyn to get more fruit and vegetables. For dinner, I made pasta with Alfredo sauce and sauteed onions, squash and chicken.

Today was a pretty uninspiring food day: same breakfast, same lunch spot and same dinner situation. My mom always used to say that when she was a kid in China, her dad would cook the same meal over and over again until they forced him to choose something different. I guess you could say that I’m just honoring tradition.

I eat at the same three spots in Chinatown over and over. I know this because I spend an irrational amount of time checking in on Swarm, the app that I use to document where I’ve been. Currently, three of my top five categories include: Asian restaurants, bubble tea shops and dumpling restaurants. I am truly living my best Asian American life.

For lunch, I ventured outside of my regular haunts, stopping in a bakery to get shumai and wonton noodle soup. So delicious and so reasonably priced. I knew I’d have to stay late at work to finish some projects, so I brought some chicken and pasta from home for dinner and felt like a bonafide adult.

By the time I got to the J subway platform, the booth attendant yelled at me that I just missed the last train. I grunted, shook my fist at the sky and called another shared Lyft ride.

I braved the rain and went to one of my favorite low-key lunch spots for some chicken fried rice, then popped next door to Kung Fu Tea to treat myself to an oolong tea with bubbles. I am addicted to bubble tea and have been trying to stop buying it for financial reasons. Unfortunately it’s watermelon slush season so I don’t see that happening soon.

It felt like a long week, so I deserved to treat myself. I leaned into my suburban childhood nostalgia and went to Outback Steakhouse. It’s an authentic Australian steakhouse…have you heard of it? Before I got there, I stopped at The Home Depot (I love Home Depot) for some supplies, then went to Outback and happily stuffed myself with a whole bread loaf, steak, shrimp and potatoes. High school me would be proud.

My friend and I met at the Union Square Greenmarket because I’m looking to get a cactus. It was raining and when I got to the market, there were no cacti, only loads of flowers. I ended up taking pictures of flowers (free), and purchasing a carrot-oatmeal cookie, which tasted way too healthy.

My friend had already eaten, so instead of going to Dig Inn for lunch, I got Wendy’s. Then we wandered around the park and into Sephora, where I purchased another glitter eyeshadow and an orange nail polish that semi-matches my hair.

After that, we went to a coffee shop where I bought a red/pink tea (good but mostly purchased so we could sit and draw and play Mancala). After a couple of hours, we got ramen. I love ramen. After dinner, we wanted dessert so we headed up to Ktown where I purchased not one, but two nutella taiyaki for myself. My friend got a bubble tea. Asian American living continues.

I wake up late and end up chatting with my parents while I do my laundry. The laundromat is right below my apartment and owned by my landlord, a very illusive man. It’s a very normal place, apart from the fact that it has its own Instagram. My dad asks me why I don’t pay for the laundromat to wash my clothes, but I think that doing it myself really solidifies the fact that I have my life together. Later, I ventured over to Bushwick to check out some thrift stores and bought a couple of skirts. I finished the day by sitting at home and tallying up my purchases for the week.

I feel like this number is supposed to make me feel guilty or ashamed, but I don’t want it to. While it may seem like a lot, these were all choices I made on things that made me happy or full or sustained. I live in Brooklyn in a relatively small room so that I can afford to eat out, go to different places or buy glitter eyeshadow. I definitely have work to do in regards to saving — and parsing necessity from desire — but, as of right now, I think I’m doing a pretty good job at being Miss Independent.

Now, I’ll just wait for my dad to call…

Photos by Edith Young, featuring Moleskine notebook and sketchbook.

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