Mimicking the graceful, directional flight of the geese, so too did my bank account plunge southward this winter. Unlike the geese, I couldn’t understand why things were going the way they were going. I had neither a dramatic increase in spending nor a decrease in income. My behaviors were consistent: get up, ride the subway smashed between 400 armpits of other people who just got up, guzzle (free!) coffee at work, purchase lunch and sometimes cocktails after work, maybe cook an egg on the weekend. Sure, sometimes I have to buy a gift for someone I love, sometimes I have to buy a new pair of shoes because the heel of my winter boots started to fall off and I tried to superglue it back on and ultimately it was not a prudent fix. But that’s about it spending-wise for this one!
So when things took a turn for the broke, I handled this issue the way any New Yorker would: I kvetched incessantly with confusion, hostility, and occasionally, a healthy dollop of wit to anyone who would listen. They responded the way most New Yorkers respond: aggressively calling me out on everything I’m doing wrong.
The first thing I was taken to task for was my lack of cooking. Sure, in the narrative of my day, this stands out as the obvious choice for the overspending culprit. But the whole concept of cooking is actually a serious anecdotal debate that occurs among two discrete factions of New Yorkers. In one group, you have The Cookers. They just loveeee to cook and tell you all about how they make a giant vat of turkey chili in their slow cooker every Sunday so they have food for the whole week. These people are often coupled up, meaning that they themselves are not forced to eat chili for lunch and dinner for the next 7 days straight, but that between two people, they save a lot of money and they just loveeee how it brings people together. It’s nice, in a saccharine way. Naturally, in the other camp are the Non-Cookers. It’s not that this camp is lazy and uncaring. A lot of them really like food. In fact, it is people in this group who made the term “foodie” a thing you’re supposed to hashtag. They love experiencing the vast restaurant scene of the city, or having diet diversity (Thai one night and Indian another night and Mexican the third), or are simply busy and everything can be delivered in New York for really not that much more money than what you would spend if you were cooking for one. And yes, of course, you could also just be lazy and a bad cook and fine living off of a diet of cheese and Chinese takeout.
Clearly, for me, being a Non-Cooker wasn’t keeping my bank account robust, and I was up for trying something new. So, I tried to cook some stuff! And it went okay! Yes, one time I dropped my phone in a pot of boiling water. Yes, one time I nearly sliced my stomach in half by trying to open a vacuum sealed bag of turkey bacon with a chopping knife. (I was holding the turkey bacon package against my stomach, and holding the knife the wrong way. Lesson learned!) And yes, guilty as charged, I brought a sad salad to lunch at work. But you know what? A few things I made were pretty good, too! And I didn’t hate doing it!
Yet still, to my disbelief, the bank account continued on its merry way of plummeting. So the other theory posited, after the cooking one, was that I should stop socializing quite so much (this is represented by “cocktails” in the narrative of my day). I’ve learned something about adulthood in New York, and that is this: meeting up with a friend is always done over a beer or a cocktail. I don’t know why. We have a lot of other things we could do here. It’s the largest city in the U.S. after all. But if you want to see any of your friends ever again, you’re going to a cocktail bar in Brooklyn or the LES. And as well you know, buying cocktails in New York is essentially willingly participating in your own robbery.
To be frank, I know nothing about cocktails. But I’m good friends with several people who know quite a bit about them. And they have explained to me that given the price for quality ingredients and the absurd cost of commercial renting in NYC, what most bars charge for cocktails is actually “fair.” This may be true, but if a vodka soda costs $18 to cover operating costs and upkeep your bar, then what’s fair is also incontestably terrible. So now that we all agree it’s terrible, we are led only to one conclusion: it is insane to have bars in New York. We need to start going to more house parties with $7.99 handles of Kamchatka vodka as if we are 17-year-olds. But since I am not going to start the Kamchatka house party revolution, because I am clearly quite busy fulfilling my own Maslow’s hierarchy at the moment, I wondered how I could circumvent the system while still maintaining my friendships. And the answer hit me quite suddenly. I should invest in a flask! I said this out loud at work, and as it turns out, someone had a flask they didn’t need at the office (this is normal, I work at a startup).
So not only did I have a flask on my side, but I also began suggesting alternative activities to drinking at bars, such as drinking a $6 gallon of wine at my place or playing board games or seeing some free art or getting a coffee because I have Starbucks gift card.
After modifying both my food and social behaviors, I checked my bank statements online, anticipation dripping from my fingertips. And lo and behold! I was still just another broke 20-something in New York. No change whatsoever! I joked that someone must be stealing from me because it made no sense. And with that, I sort of just gave up and accepted the terrible status quo of my terrible savings account.
But, dear readers, something wonderful happened to me tonight. I found out that slowly and discreetly, someone has been robbing me!! Someone has been stealing smallish amounts of money for months that really added up!! It all finally makes sense. I’m elated! Why was it so hard to detect? Because apparently the person robbing me is also a New Yorker, and like me, they are spending my money on food and cocktails.