My Last $100: In New York, Everything Breaks and Is Expensive

When I left NYC for ten days, I came out $300 ahead.

Photo credit: Jason Eppink, CC BY 2.0.

Earlier this month, I was feeling great about my finances, having just completed a 10-day writers fellowship in Bulgaria. The sponsoring foundation paid for everything — hotels, meals, coffee, and the long bus ride from Sofia to the rocky coast of the swimming-pool-aqua-blue Black Sea. They’d even covered the multiple glasses of the hurricane-strong rakia that we raised in elaborate toasts at each night’s sit-down dinner.

Because I make my home in New York City where even breathing feels expensive, ten days somewhere far away from the sweet sirens of Seamless and early summer sales racks made me feel rich. Not only was I not paying for anything in Bulgaria, but during the fellowship I was no longer at the mercy of New York prices — when I returned to NYC and checked my bank balance, I was $300 more flush than I would normally be at this time of the month simply because I wasn’t in town to buy groceries or go out to dinner and drinks or use my gym membership (I’d suspended it while I was out of the country). By not being in the city, I’d saved money! It was practically like I’d been paid to travel.

This Daddy Warbucks moment soon passed. Within a week, I’d spent all that I’d saved in Bulgaria and more. Some of my money went to pay for necessities like groceries and my electric bill; some to staunch the slow trickle of accumulated expenses caused by my trip (an international data plan for my phone that I barely even used and a cheap massage at the Tui Na place around the corner to combat the knots in my back caused by ten hours crammed into an economy seat). If there was a theme for my last $100, however, it would have something to do with how everything breaks and how expensive it is both to repair and replace.

$56.41: salad, pate plate, four glasses of wine and tip at Le Pain Quotidian

A good friend is going through some tough times and wanted to talk things over. Normally I find Le Pain Quotidian bland and overpriced, but we needed to go to a place that was quiet enough that we wouldn’t be shouting things like “Can you work it out?” and “Everything will be okay.” We also wanted something air-conditioned and not too far from my apartment since I’d sprained my foot running to catch my connecting flight back. And, of course, decent wine.

I paid for us both. It seemed only fair. She was too sad to eat, but I am always ravenous and kept ordering food. Although we both drank the wine, she didn’t even touch the salad or pate plate—not even an olive or one of those little pickles that accompany pate. Heartbreak and anxiety are pretty reliable appetite suppressants; being the supportive ear (and a bit of a glutton) can drain the wallet.

$95: air conditioner delivery and installation from PC Richards, plus tip

I knew I would have to buy this AC before I left for my fellowship and had budgeted accordingly. My six-year-old unit mostly still worked okay at cooling my apartment, but recently developed a steady leak that dripped right down into my landlady’s basement. (I’m stoop level; she lives directly below.) Because I have lived in my apartment for 14 years now and my landlady has miraculously kept my rent under the standard rate for a one-bedroom in my neighborhood, when she complains about anything that I do I immediately try to fix it. (Hello, new rugs because of my boyfriend’s and my apparently heavy footfalls.)

At first I tried to get my old unit repaired, but I called five different people and everyone I spoke to refused. Finally, a very pleasant receptionist told me to stop wasting my time, saying that no one repaired window units because it cost too much just to get a guy out to people’s apartments to see them. “For another hundred bucks you can just buy something brand new.”

Friedrich doesn’t make my old model anymore and the metal grill on the front of our building means that I didn’t have many options. In fact, only one potential unit had enough BTUs to cool down my space. The salesman assured me that this new unit had the exact same dimensions as my old one so the plexiglass I had in the window would still fit. This was not true. My new AC was brought to me at 6 pm (my delivery window was 7 am to 4 pm) by two sweaty Eastern-European men who took out the old unit, balanced the new one in the window, propped up the plexiglass next to it and shrugged, showing me a 2-inch margin of open air.

For a $75 fee, they cut out a strip out of metal to make up the difference and sealed that in the window while my boyfriend and I watched, nervous about both sparks and noise. The men admonished me not to touch the plexiglass, metal, or sealant for 24 hours, and left. I tipped them $20 even though they were hours late past the delivery window (and didn’t give me any ETAs during the day) because my apartment is a deliciously cool 76 degrees right now, my landlady’s basement is unsullied by drips, and I’m grateful for the installation guys’ MacGyver magic.

Total cost: $151.41

Kate Angus is the author of So Late to the Party and the founding editor of Augury Books. Follow her on Twitter: @collokate.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.