The Billfold

The Cost of Climbing

I have been known to joke (repeatedly, like a dad who’s come across his favorite pun) that when you cross the border into California you are issued your choice of the following: hiking boots, a surfboard, or climbing shoes. When I moved to California two years ago I picked the third option and never looked back. It's gotten expensive.

This is what rock climbing has given me: a place to direct my over-analytic, grad-school-fried brain instead of ripping my own hair out and/or developing a drinking problem; mad shoulder and back muscles that look pretty great underneath my back tattoo; the ability to open any jar, no matter how stubborn. [...]


The Cost of a False Sense of Security: One $95 Earthquake Kit

When a small earthquake passed through New York on a hot afternoon in August 2011, I was home from work, reading a novel in bed. The bookshelf above my feet rattled, and for a few seconds the building went liquid. The rattle I immediately attributed to my roommate’s sex life, but when the walls seemed to slide my annoyance turned to fear. Our landlord was a former building inspector, which we understood to mean our apartment had never been officially evaluated. “Is the building collapsing?” my roommate called out from the living room. “I think so!” I replied. We ran out into the street and stood on the sidewalk [...]


A Brief History of Being Unhappy at Work

I was talking to someone who is in that "wanting to quit" phase of work and wanted to remember what it felt like so I did a search in my journal (YEP) from a few years back for the words "work" and "job." What follows is a nice, horrifying portrait of someone on the edge of sanity who really needs to quit her job. May I never be this angry again! Or may I um, emotionally detach from work and just put my head down and do my work? That always sounds like the right idea.

Work was hell again today. Some of it was fun. Some of [...]


Our Attempt at a $20-a-Day Budget

History I am a 29-year-old woman, married for four years. I am a playwright, actor, blogger, screenwriter, tutor, and babysitter. My husband is a software engineer. My money-making schedule is varied and inconsistent and sometimes I will just freak out about it—especially now, because I’m pregnant.

If you’re like me, getting pregnant means you immediately start Pinteresting and reading magazines about pregnancy and you start thinking that you need a lot of Things. The baby needs lots of Things and you need to buy them. Your baby needs his own room, his own thoughtfully organized closet, his own bookcase and nightlight and humidifier and small appliances that warm up various [...]


What Did Your First Job Pay Then and What Does It Pay Now?

What did your first job pay? What does it pay now? Here are some of the many fascinating answers we've received, with more to come.  

Fran: I graduated USC school of journalism in 1963 and got a job on a daily paper called the San Gabriel Valley Daily Tribune. It is still in existence in L.A. county. I was fully trained to write about everything from fires to sports. However it was the olden days and my job was on the Women's Page. I earned $60 a week gross and lived at home to pay off my car. I spent an entire summer writing about brides and their veils [...]


The Burrower: Part I

Before Hurricane Sandy, your boss at the University predicted that one day you would resort to sleeping in the office. “Why bother driving the two hours to Long Island when you have to come back in the morning? You may as well sleep here.” A month into the job, your boss handed you a secret set of keys: one for a storage room, located in the subbasement; the other for the office that you worked out of, on the sixth floor. “I trust you, not that there’s anything valuable here, but, now you have some options of where to go after hours while you’re waiting for traffic to end," he [...]


Are You My Landlord?

When I asked my lawyer, “where do you see us on the timeline of getting our money back,” I assumed that, after almost a year of forms, fees and exhaustive Google searches for my ex-landlord’s property records, we were near the end. She paused, and I could hear a whirl of traffic through the phone. “I don’t know,” she sighed. “This is why so many people resort to bats and bricks.”

Okay, I thought. Okay, okay, okay, just be patient. You’re going about this by the books and you’re bound to win this thing. Right?

After Hurricane Sandy hit, when homes darkened, flooded [...]


A Room in an Elderly Stranger's House, and Other Places I've Lived

August 2010-December 2010, May 2011-December 2011 Orren Street NW, Washington, D.C., $700-$735/mo.

Besides me, David Sedaris is the only American I know of who spent a big part of his early 20s rooming with an elderly stranger. He describes this time, during which he took up residence in a Chapel Hill boarding house out of some vague, misplaced nostalgia for an erstwhile age, in his 2007 essay "This Old House." But the four months I spent with C.C. were a little different. This was no humble matriarch whose living quarters provided a rustic escape from modern-day campus life. No, C.C. was instead a 60-something globetrotter in the international medical [...]


A Summer Interning at a Center for Performing Arts

I worked at the Center for Performing Arts in my hometown of Rhinebeck, New York for two summers. It’s now a big red barn, set off Route 308, that we pass on the way home from the train station, but that first summer, it was a big white tent. We were loosely interested in musical theater then, only because there was little else to do, and it was the thing that everyone else was doing, so the job was perfect. That summer, we put on an especially inspired performance of Bells Are Ringing. On closing night, Natalie Merchant was in the audience, and if you watch the performance, immortalized [...]


How David Shapiro, Creator of Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, Does Money

David Shapiro is the pen name of a writer who created a Tumblr blog called Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. He then wrote a novel (You're Not Much Use to Anyone, out now) about a character named David who created a Tumblr blog called Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. We talked about his career and his money.

What do you do?

I work as a summer associate at a white-shoe law firm. I hope to get an offer to come back to my firm after I graduate law school next year, meaning I would start full-time around September, 2015. I also write a little bit at The Wall Street Journal (in the [...]


The Most Expensive Meals We've Ever Paid For

My first job out of college was fact-checking restaurant listings. Every day, I called 25 restaurants in New York City to see if any of their information had changed, asking if their curtains were still red, their bathrooms still adorned with lavender sprigs, if their salad was still served with strawberries, if their servers still donned bow ties. With time, I had a mental Rolodex of places I wanted to eat, and Peter Luger Steak House, a restaurant so fancy it has its own Wikipedia page, was at the top.

When given the chance to celebrate a two-and-a-half-year anniversary, I chose steak. My boyfriend was game. Happy steak-iversary to [...]


The Cost of Being Exposed to HIV While Uninsured

To spoil the end before the beginning, this is a story about being exposed to HIV while not having health insurance, taking actions to prevent infection, and ending up successfully still HIV negative (several years and counting). Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) (taking a combination of anti-retrovirals (anti-HIV) medications as soon as you know you've been exposed to avoid being infected) works in many cases. It worked for me, and I am endlessly thankful that I had access to credit and adequate care to make it happen.

A few years ago, I was seeing someone who was HIV positive. I'm a cis woman; he's a cis man. He was infected either [...]


From Botanical Gardens Intern to Anthony Bourdain's Assistant

Intern, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

In 1996, when I was 22, I started a paid internship at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, making $245 a week and paying $350 a month for a charmless basement apartment in a house occupied by its owners. I’d just graduated from Cornell with a BS in Natural Resources, and I had a mere $6,250 in student loan debt. I’d interviewed for the internship in person, over spring break, and was hired, I guess, because I’d worked on farms and interned with Green Guerillas, a community gardening non-profit. As an intern, I had to mow lawns and pick up trash. I also did some focused work with master [...]


You Never Leave Houston

Houston, the fourth-largest city in America, has a self-esteem problem. Our local boosters are continuously looking for new branding approaches, commissioning expensive ads and websites extolling our municipal virtues. There was "Houston, It’s worth it;" "Houston is hip/tasty/inspired," and the latest "Houston, the city without limits." The city’s younger residents are partial to the more profane "Fuck You, Houston’s Awesome," in response to criticisms of the city. There are many reasons for this insecurity. For Houstonians, who know of our parks, our museums, our bars, our restaurants, our people, it can feel like the rest of the country has settled on an idea of the city [...]


My Life as a Magnolia Bakery Cupcake Bouncer

There is something strange about the way people wait in lines in New York City for food: the bleary-eyed standing out the door during rush hour at Café Grumpy in Park Slope when they could easily get their caffeine fix cheaper and quicker across the street at the diner; the Shake Shack types that check the “Shack Cam” to see just how long the line to get a hot dog is; the drunken masses that will pass out in line waiting for a single slice of pizza on MacDougal.

People gladly stand outside of Dominique Ansel Bakery, which promises, “if you arrive prior to 7:00 am on a week [...]


The Cost of Getting a Green Card

We've been hearing much news of a migration crisis lately, as wave after wave of undocumented immigrants, especially children, come across the United States' southern border. Of course, immigration, both legal and illegal, is not new, and whatever the mode and motivation for entry, when people want or need to stay here permanently, it comes down to getting a green card. It will not surprise you to learn that this can be a difficult and costly process.

A green card, which may or may not actually be green, is a Permanent Resident Card. To have one is to be able to remain in the United States indefinitely and, [...]


From Night Shift Obit-Writer to Corporate Monkey: An HR Exec Reflects

I spend most of my job coaching people on what to do with their careers. You might think this means I have my own life figured out. In reality, my job history shows a lack of focus and intense desire to live in locations that please me. From the mouth of a person who has likely looked at your resume, here is my career history:

Annual Conference Intern, Non Profit in D.C.

I was hired to do all of the logistics planning for the organization’s annual conference in Boston, MA. I found the [...]


The Economics of My Hometown: Boothbay Harbor, Maine

It used to be a given that if you were gay and grew up in a small town and you didn’t want to stay in the closet, you left. You ran to the big city and never looked back. I ran to San Francisco — how original! I have often joked that I moved as far away from home as physically possible without leaving the continent. Of course, since both my hometowns are tourist destinations located at the very ends of their respective peninsulas, in many ways they are more similar than I’d always like to admit. For all the examples of things I fled, there are features [...]


The Burrower, Part II

To read Part I, click here

You discover a solution that saves you from the cockroaches: the Chair-Bed. Making the Chair-Bed is so blatantly easy you wonder, Why did it take ten months to reach this solution? To construct the Chair-Bed, you take four arm-less chairs and line them in a row. The back of the first chair serves as your headboard while the backs of the middle two chairs act as a barrier so you don’t roll over onto the floor in the middle of the night. Sure, it can feel like sleeping in an open casket. But the Chair-Bed is situated between your brightly [...]


The Woman We Hired to Help Us Communicate With Our Cat

About six years ago when my boyfriend and I returned from vacation, his cat, Zane, decided to stop using the litter box. He preferred the kitchen floor. Every day, sometimes twice a day, a tiny pile of offensive matter, piled perfectly in the center of the kitchen. The toilet paper and disinfectant spray were always close at hand. We took the disagreeable substance to the vet; there was nothing therein that indicated alarm. We took Zane himself to the vet; they said he was fine. Sometimes when cats get older, they told us—he was nine years old at the time—they just make up their minds. Hundreds of dollars later, they [...]