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Archive for March, 2007

I had a great lunch of salmon with apple and garlic sauce and sauteed veggies today. Fresh ingredients and a reasonable portion, for a price of $8.

The restaurant used disposable utensils and plates, and the food is simply presented. That’s probably why they can afford to get great ingredients and still offer a low price. Everything was delicious and HEALTHY. In fact, I was afraid my system would go into shock because I haven’t eaten so healthily in a LONG time.

Anyhow, as I was enjoying my moist and flaky salmon filet, I thought that such a dish at a national chain or a more upscale restaurant with nicer presentation, more attentive service, and expensive china can easily cost double what I paid. How many of our dining out dollars go toward the “frills” and “ambiance” of a restaurant? How much are we actually paying for the food?

I love eating out, but it’s more difficult to find healthy choices at cheaper places and restaurant portions are too big for me (especially at chain restaurants like Applebee’s and Claim Jumper’s). That’s why I am so pleased with this restaurant – it has tasty and healthy food for under $10.

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My total charitable contributions for 2006 amounted to $0. My 2007 contribution is a $25 donation to my school. Granted, I am still in college. But I have the ability to give more, especially because all my basic living costs are covered and I could forgo a meal of $20 sushi in exchange for writing a check to a charity. For some reason (conscious or unconscious), I have chosen not to donate as much as I could.

I thought about this topic when I stumbled on this post by Miserly Bastard. Although MB doesn’t reveal his exact finances, I’d venture to say that he is one of the wealthiest pf bloggers around. Given that he is an attorney and that his wife works at a hedge fund/private equity shop in NYC, their household income probably hits the seven figures. MB reveals that he only made a $125 cash donations to charity in 2006.

Why give? I decided to read on what charitable-to-charities bloggers have to say about the issue.

1. Free Money Finance regularly writes on tithing and donates his blog’s revenue to charities. According to FMF, giving will help you get out of debt. FMF says his experience “in coaching people in their finances for 15 years or so. It seems like the givers are always better off, able to get back on track easier, etc.”

2. English Major aims to donate 5% of her income to charitable organizations. She wants to make sure that her financial decisions reflects her principles.

3. Millionaire Artist continues to donate even though her income has been reduced. She writes giving forces her to appreciate what she does have.

4. TiredButHappy’s giving plan details an annual donation of $1,500, to the political organizations that she supports.

How does this relate to MB and his contributions? Hopefully I have not misunderstood the above four posters (my apologies if I do), but it seems to me that their charity comes from the fact that they derive utility in giving. In other words, people who contribute to charity derives more gratification and happiness by giving money away. For example, I contributed $25 to my school because donating that $25 makes me happier than if that money was sitting in the bank or if I bought a new wallet with it. (I hope readers don’t think I am trivializing people who give by saying that they derive utility from giving.)

According to MB, he never found charitable giving to be particularly psychically gratifying, although he is not averse to giving. Now, what incentives would there be for MB to give? Even though he doesn’t seem to be much of a giver, MB obviously has been successful at managing his finances – he is VERY well-off by almost any standards. He is a husband and a father who care about his family’s welfare (just look at this post on emergency preparation!). Like English Major, MB’s giving DOES reflect his principles (but their principles differ) – he donated to Hurricane Katrina because of patriotism, and did not donate to the Asian tsunami crisis because he decided that he owed no moral duty to help non-Americans.

Like TiredButHappy, MB contributes cash to political organizations that he supports. In his case, he gives to the NRA every year, but that donation is not tax deductible. Still, one could argue it is no less a charitable giving than a donation to the Sierra Club.

So, why would people who derive no utility from giving still give? If giving DOESN’T make you feel better, if you feel NO sense of obligation to people outside your family or community, if you are financially successful and appreciative of what you have WITHOUT giving, if you don’t have a religious reason for being charitable, why would you give? How would someone convince you to give? SHOULD you give?

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Remember how I talked about owning a home as one of my medium-term goals? I always assumed I wouldn’t be purchasing a home until I finish graduate school (around 28-30) and know where I’d like to stay put for a while. But now I’m thinking, depending on how things work out, maybe I can buy sooner than that.

My parents have a little experience buying residential properties and renting them out (to ensure cash flow during their retirement years). If I can get together a down payment in the next 3 or 4 years, maybe I can purchase a starter condo, rent it out, and they will help me manage it. I’d probably want to hold on to my condo for at least several years. This is all just thinking-out-loud, but that might be a possibility.

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The price of warmth

Even at midnight the air is warm. I walked outside with a cotton turtleneck and an unzipped hoodie and felt fine. I love warm nights. And days. Basically, 65+ degree weather and I are really, really GOOD friends. Another reason why I am doomed to never move out of my expensive-as-heck town.

For people who are living in warm areas (namely California), how much do you think the weather is worth? How much do warm nights add to your quality of life? How much are you willing to pay for the privilege of wearing shorts and flip-flops in February? Some things in life has to be about more than the money, or else no one in their right mind would pay $600,000 for a 1920 2-bedroom house (it’s true, my parents are looking), when they can get a mansion in some other parts of the country.

My dream is to retire in San Diego, in one-story, 2-bedroom cottage with a library, a pebble’s throw from the beach, where the climate is a constant, perfect 70 degrees. I will have a kitchen nook where I can eat breakfast (totally healthy Californian fare which will enable me to live to 158… 😉 ), a guest room for my friends to come visit, and a library with built-in bookshelves. And a bay window with an ocean view. Better start saving, right?

At least it’s cheaper than buying in Manhattan.

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Eating out = $$$ out

I went to Trader Joe’s today and left with a box of chocolate-covered cherries ($4.99), two boxes of cookies for friends ($1.99 each), and a pack of sushi ($2.99). At least it’s somewhat cheaper than Whole Foods. I also had Starbucks ($4.80), Italian ($16.25) and fajitas ($7.45) yesterday.

Tonight the plan is to order Chinese takeout, which will probably run $6 for my share. So basically, the weekend’s not even over and I’ve already spent close to $50. On food. My friends joked that I chose my job because dinners are expensed when I work late (which will be often) – after looking at all the money I spend on dining out and munchies, I am beginning to think they weren’t kidding.

On the plus side, I checked out the new Target that just opened near me and didn’t really find anything I wanted enough, so I didn’t buy anything. (The Proenza Schouler coat that I wanted was nowhere to be seen… and sold out a long time ago on Target.com).

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