The Billfold

How to Play the Airline Miles Game

I am a 30-year-old woman with an arts degree and some geographic commitment issues, so for much of my adult life, I’ve been in situations where I’ve earned unimpressive amounts of money, but have needed (or wanted) to fly to places semi-regularly. As a result, I’ve become a sort of unabashed, salivating fangirl for airline miles, and something of an expert when it comes to accumulating them. I offer here a primer on how you might join me in this rewarding hobby.

Not to be a scold right off the bat, but this method involves credit cards, so it may not be for everyone. You’ll need to have good [...]


Counselor, World Traveler, Wrangler of Young Jews: A Hiring History

Camp counselor: In the days of yore, when I was eighteen, I chased 6 and 7 year old children around five days week for eight weeks for one thousand dollars. At the end of everyday they got in the cars of their grownups and drove away and I listened to Dar Williams over and over (ON CASSETTE TAPE). I discovered her after our camp music director played “The Babysitter’s Here” on her guitar. I also made out with another counselor a lot, and then drove at high speeds from their house at five in the morning so I could be at work the next day. As you do.


The Cost of Running in My First 5K

I decided I wanted to run a 5K this past May, when I read about the Minnesota State Fair Milk Run. For those of you unfamiliar with the Great Minnesota Get Together, it is a bacchanalia of dairy products, deep-fried candy bars, and foot-long corndogs. Non-edible fair highlights include (but are not limited to): butter sculptures, crop art, the fattest pig in all of the Minnesota, and dangling placentas in the Miracle of Birth barn. The state fair is the most Minnesotan of experiences; the Saint Paul Winter Carnival (where there is sometimes a palace—made out of ice—that doesn’t melt because it’s -25 here in the winter), a Gophers [...]


Visiting Hogwarts When You're Broke

I'm a young freelance costume designer living and working in NYC, which means my default money situation is “LOL.” It's been a thin summer, with lots of traveling and no luck finding a subletter, and my most recent paycheck is a few weeks late. It's on the way, and my bills are paid, but I have under $100 in the bank this week, a small credit card debt, and no savings. LOL!

I'm in Sarasota, Florida, for a few weeks for a project that includes transportation and housing. I haven't worked at this theatre for awhile, and I'm glad to be back, not least because my high-femme [...]


The True Value of One Banana (In a Country Without Running Water)

When I accepted a position to teach English in Georgia, my life was ideal on paper. I had friends and a full time job in a city I didn’t mind, with a Chipotle right around the corner from my reasonably priced apartment. Everything was fairly good, but there was no sparkle. I refused to settle. I had a healthy savings account and the teaching position provided room, board, transportation, a monthly stipend, and the opportunity to gain teaching experience to the benefit of my career. I threw caution and reason to the wind and embarked on my adventure, fearless, naïve, and blissfully happy.

A week into the program, I [...]


The Cost of Five Days on Fire Island

The first time I went to Fire Island, it was on a whim. A friend told me that some friends of a friend had a room open in their house in Fair Harbor, and that it would be cheap. The promise of sitting by the ocean without having to carry everything I owned on the subway for an hour was all the convincing I needed. We spent three days swimming in the ocean and cooking dinner with a glass of wine in one hand. I met new people, got very tan in a short amount of time, and spent the equivalent of a cheap plane ticket to California in one [...]


The Cost of Bringing a Person Into The World Via C-Section

The claims section for my personal account on my health insurance provider's website gives me great anxiety lately. This is why. CLAIM ONE: $24,254.25 $14,489.90 Allowable I OWE: $500 Copay

A few notes:

Did I go to the emergency room ($500)? I did not! I went to triage in Labor & Delivery, which is I hope what they mean. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, though I have no idea why I would do that.

Did I get an ultrasound ($480)? Okay I did but it was for like two seconds in triage when they checked to make sure he was still head down. That [...]


How Going Cash-Only Helped Me Curb My Spending

The Problem I never carry cash. This shouldn't seem like a big deal, because debit cards can be cancelled if you lose them; parking meters, farmer’s markets, and even jukeboxes in the good dive-y bars all accept Visa these days.

For someone who has had the experience of clocking out of waitressing jobs and hurrying down the street at night in Queens trying hard to look like someone not carrying a bunch of low-denomination bills, sometimes just having a debit card feels safer.

And yet personal finance writers repeatedly offer numbers showing that cash-only spenders save more money than plastic hounds like me. According to a Time magazine piece [...]


Selling Sexless Sex at Abercombie

One day in college, on what would have otherwise been a forgettable afternoon, two attractive people approached me outside of my department. The man, with his bionic back, parabolic pectorals and arms fixed at right angles, cut an intimidatingly precise figure. The woman was an implausible series of distends, curves and stares—all unnervingly suggestive. There were no introductions or pleasantries; instead, they presented me with a pristine white card. Looking down at it in hope of an explanation, I read, "Abercrombie and Fitch recruitment." They stood back proudly and expectantly, letting what I suppose they thought was an honor sink-in. When I showed no response, they resorted to their pitch. [...]


My Summer As a Housekeeper

The summer I was 18, I worked at an amusement park hotel as a housekeeper. The system worked something like this: every morning, we picked up our clipboards from the front desk with our list of rooms for the day, color-coded by what kind of service they needed. Pink was for occupied rooms that just needed a little spiffing, or “makes,” and green for just-vacated rooms that had to be cleaned for guests the following day, or “turnovers."

I liked to see a nice long sheet of green—a turnover meant that everyone’s crap was gone and I could haul out soaking wet towels and twisted-up sheets and vacuum and [...]


"I Stopped Carrying a Wallet When I Became Homeless"

Maybe I should start carrying a wallet again. Maybe a nice, grown-up wallet would act as a talisman, attracting wealth and prosperity. The pink vinyl change purse I got at Target seems to only attract change. It’s not big enough to hold more than several bills and cards. Maybe a nice, leather upwardly mobile billfold would change my luck.

Since I was old enough to carry my own lunch money to school, I have had a wallet. Usually, I carried them until they fell apart, transferring them daily into whatever handbag matched that day’s outfit. Having a wallet felt like being a grown-up.

My father carried a wallet. Having lived [...]


Every Job I’ve Had: Indoor Bouncy House, Defense Contractor, Traveling Nerd

Front Desk at Surprisingly Sketchy Kids Indoor Bouncy House, 2007, $8.50/hour

My first and most colorful job. Also the only time I’ve ever been fired. I remember my mom dropping me off to fill out the application while she waited in the car. I’m pretty sure I was wearing a three-piece suit at the time, because that’s totally what you do for job interviews, right? Anyway, they were looking for people and I guess I looked eager enough.

Every weekday I walked about two miles round-trip in the Southwest desert heat for my never-more-than-four-hour shift. I liked hanging out with the families and kids even though I always ended up [...]


AirBnb Ruined Our Lives and Turned Us Into Entitled City Dwellers

It's every big city lover's dream: to live in a nice apartment—sans roaches, caved-in ceilings, or a 45-year-old roommate who smokes in the kitchen—without paying top-dollar rent. For most of us (who likely inhabit such ill-famed apartments in neighborhoods such as Brooklyn's South Williamsburg), it is a pipe dream; others simply work all the time so they can pay rent to live someplace decent, even if that leaves little time to focus on other passions.

If you live in New York, you've probably seen the subway ads for AirBnb. They display hosts who have made serious money through the tech company—the king of the "sharing economy." AirBnb has recently won [...]


The Cost of Throwing a Pony Party for Your Seven-Year-Old Daughter Who's Really Into Horses

As much as I hope my children will come into their own as individuals, there’s something just overwhelmingly adorable about watching my kids be "into" the typical milestones of childhood. So while I very much dream my daughter will one day be some sort of hip-yet-together hybrid of Kate Bush and that woman who flaks GoldiBlox, there is just something irrepressibly cute about her obsession with all things horses and ponies.

To be clear, her horse obsession is the thing of I-Can-Read novels and made-for-cable movies. Though we live in a somewhat rural area, my wife and I are about as far from horse people as you get—not even [...]


My Day Interviewing For The Service Economy Startup From Hell

I was running to the interview, worried I’d get there late. My temp job was over as of a few days prior. Rent was due at the end of the month, and I needed a new source of income, fast. I was sending out multiple applications per day and I finally had a bite.

A new start-up company called Handybook called me quickly after I hit submit on their online application. I breezed through a phone interview and was invited to interview in person for a Customer Experience Associate position the very next day. Although it wasn't an ideal job, and I wasn’t sure how much it paid, it did [...]


I Bought Some Jeans on Sale at The Gap And Now I'm a Person Again

I was the only person in Gap at 9:30 in the morning on a Saturday, which I would recommend for anyone who has tried to avoid thinking about their body for a very long time and is ready to face the music in the most boring way possible and at a 40% discount.


An Interview With a Friend Who Got Bedbugs The First (And Last) Time She Used VRBO

So, what have you been up to?

I went to Big Bear Lake, California for a bachelorette party. Twelve of us stayed at The Moose Lodge at 209 Elgin Road, which another friend had found on VRBO. It looked great—cute cabin, moose stuff everywhere, very rustic, close to the lake… And full of bedbugs.


I went to sleep earlier than the other girls on Friday night, and I could hear them hanging out in the other room, so I slept with my right arm under my pillow and put another pillow over the left side of my face. One of my friends shared the bed with me and [...]


Every Job I've Had: Four Coffee Shops and Job Training in French Lick

As a 34-year-old woman with a college degree and a solid history of being promoted and beloved by supervisors, it’s a little sobering to look back and realize how little of my job history is fulfilling work designed for grownup people. Temp jobs not included.

Dairy Queen: There was a convenient bus line from this location to downtown Portland, Oregon, so a 15-year-old me could IN THEORY say she was going to work, go downtown to meet boys from other schools, come back, and then call her parents to pick her up. A "no visible hickeys" rule had to be implemented. This was not entirely my fault.

Small Movie Theater [...]


The Costs of Living in Kazakhstan

The costs of moving to Kazakhstan were considerably more than the general costs of living in Kazakhstan. It's easy to live comfortably here in Astana. Though, I'm happy to have savings from my last job so that I can travel/easily escape.

Housing is covered by the library where I work, which is a relief because when I researched rental prices, they averaged about $700-800 for a modest one-bedroom apartment. I wouldn't have been able to afford that on my salary, which is about half of what I made at my last job in Vancouver, Canada.

I share an apartment with another international librarian. The apartment is much nicer than [...]


The Best Things in Life Are Free (Food)

1. Holiday-themed cookies, Diet Coke, chicken, store-baked French bread, beer, donuts

My first real job is at an Albertsons grocery store. I'm fifteen, but I lie on my application and say I was born in 1989 so I can work 5-to-10 shifts as a cashier. When school gets out for the summer, I score an extra eight hours a week of overtime. I'm saving up for a month-long debate camp in Austin, and every time I deposit my paycheck, I store the carbon copy of the deposit slip in an envelope on my desk, as though I'll need them someday for reference.

My coworkers are great: a couple of high [...]