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Life in the Cheap Lane

This is a guest post by Dani Parnass. She is a wannabe writer living in New York City. If you enjoy this post, please follow her on twitter.

It’s a funny thing, writing about budgeting and personal finance when you’re 23 years old, trying to live the fast life in an overpriced apartment in Manhattan on an assistant’s salary. But what seems to be an all too common case study in excessiveness can, oddly enough, be a practice in good prudence. Here are two lessons I’ve learned in my ongoing efforts to watch my wallet (which I probably should not have bought from Coach) and not break the bank (thanks Chase, for making me fight for that $125 signing bonus).

Lesson #1: There is such thing as a free lunch (or breakfast)

My dad gave me a simple piece of advice when I first started working and was learning to master the difficult task of eating well on a budget, two things that never really seemed to be an issue in college (for some reason, living off of cereal won’t get me through the day anymore).

When I moved in to said expensive apartment, I soon found out the building management offered free coffee, muffins and croissants for breakfast every morning. The skeptic in me eyed this display cautiously for a few weeks, confident they would hike up my rent with each scone. When it became apparent that wasn’t the case (it was probably built in, but I would have been paying it regardless), I started taking a muffin every once in a while. Since I’m not a huge fan of pastries though, I still continued my daily Dunkin Donuts run for breakfast.

On what has become a weekly rant to dad about my budgeting woes, I mentioned in passing that we have these free muffins every morning. “Really?” he asked incredulously. “And why exactly are you still buying breakfast?” “Well,” I responded, knowing full well I was about to lose this argument. “I’m just not so keen on muffins.” It didn’t take much for him to point out the obvious: “Yes, but free tastes a lot better.”

Needless to say, muffins are now a consistent part of my morning routine, and I’ve been happily reaping the benefits of saving $5 on breakfast every morning. It’s small, but five times a week for six months and counting goes a long way.

Lesson #2: There usually isn’t such thing as a free drink

Unfortunately for me, my apartment building doesn’t also give away free drinks. Even worse is that going out for drinks in the city is no where near as cheap as going out in, oh let’s say, College Park, MD. And while we’ve found some great places that offer 50 cent beers (who am I kidding, I don’t drink beer) or similar drink specials, it can be hard to kick back with some friends while trying to save money.

Enter gender-role stereotype number one (well two, if you count the beer): Guy offers to buy girl a drink at the bar, girl conducts cost-benefit analysis associated with this seemingly free drink. There are the more obvious repercussions that could result from taking a random drink from a stranger, but assuming you have some level of sensibility there are also more subtle costs. You’ve successfully impressed this guy with your witty banter but didn’t particularly enjoy his 10-minute monologue about why he loves that arbitrary sports team. So was it worth sitting through that entire forced social interaction, all for a free drink?

I’ve learned that you can’t win them all and a free muffin beats a free drink, at least under the aforementioned circumstance. So you can either feign interest in that suddenly fascinating sports team, or take the high road and feel good about reallocating those funds you saved from breakfast.



  1. I love this writing style…funny and well thought out! Thanks for the post!

    The best free drink situations for me happen when I go out with my single friends. I am obviously married (rings and I’m smitten enough to talk about it regularly), but the guys really like my single friends. I always seem to get free drinks as a kind of “please don’t block this”, which is hilarious since I couldn’t care less who my friends want to leave with…I even say this and still get drinks! Cool but odd…

  2. Dani,
    I respectfully disagree with you. There are several ocassions where you can get a free drink: A helathy glass of water. A free drink that contains alcohol will cost you more regarding intoxication and extra calories. A free pop will give you too many calories, some caffeine and nothing else.
    Keep eating free muffins but forget about drinks different to the plain old water…
    All the best!

  3. $5/day is huge! Even only counting workdays, I’d take a $1,300 increase in retained income any day!

    Over a lifetime of employment, saving that much with average returns would give you a bigger retirement than most people are able to save.

    This is what I call a classic case of cost shifting.

  4. Dani,
    If I were you, I wouldn’t be bothered doing the cost-benefit analysis for a beer or whatever hot-at-this-second cocktail.
    Now, dinner… that’s a different league. A girl has to eat, right ;)
    Just remember to have a friend pulling the “emergency call” in case he was a creep.

    Success with your writing career :)

  5. Hmm, why don’t you buy the guy a drink then and let *him* do the cost benefit analysis?

    Sorry, but personally I have an incredibly low tolerance for that particular gender stereotype, though I appreciate you’re well aware of the cliches and are using it playfully.

    As for the muffins, good work developing the taste for them – I can’t imagine passing that up every morning! (I might have to pay out for the gym eventually though…)

    It might still come in the ‘no free lunch’ category if your paying for them out of your expensive rent though… Maybe run the numbers? :)

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