Tuesday, May 27, 2008

City Kitchen Chronicles: Introducing Jaime

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

Hello Cheap Healthy Good-ers! We here at City Kitchen Chronicles have a special column for you today. Two weeks ago you were introduced to Jaime by way of one of her cheapest, healthiest, tastiest recipes. Today we go past the flash and sizzle to meet the girl behind those tasty beans and veggies, to learn a little about how she ended up here, and why she’s sorta living on rice and beans. Hi Jaime. Thanks so much for joining us.

JAIME: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

jaime: Of course. So, first, how did you end up here at Cheap Healthy Good?

JAIME: Well, that’s a two-part question. Or, several parts. How did I find the website? How did I end up writing for it? Why do I feel the need for cheap, healthy, and good food in my life?

jaime: Any of that.

JAIME: Well, like most websites, I ended up at CHG through some sort of link odyssey. And why did Kris think I had things to say about cheap, healthy food when I spend most of my time blogging about theatre and cats? I’m not sure, but that leap of faith and that trust are a true gift.

jaime: You mention theatre. Something tells me there’s a connection there, to the cheap eating.

JAIME: Ha! Definitely. Working in theatre almost inherently necessitates frugal living. Non-profit off-Broadway theatre, though a wonderful place to work and make art, is not where you get rich. When I was finishing up college, I consciously made the decision to do what I love, not what would make me the most money. And so I find ways to make that work.

jaime: Now, yes, working in theatre does not pay a ton. But surely it must pay better than rice and beans. Don’t many of your coworkers do crazy, indulgent things like buy lunch rather than brown-bagging every day? How can they afford that when you can’t?

JAIME: Well, I may have had some, shall we say, financial indiscressions in my past. Senior year of college it seemed like a great idea, rather than having any savings on graduation, to spend winter break backpacking through Europe.

jaime: Ooh, how was that?

JAIME: It was amazing but, especially after my train passes got stolen on a train somewhere in Germany and had to be replaced, it catapulted me into a dependence on credit cards that I’m only now just starting to shake.

jaime: Ah, credit cards. (And a lesson to our readers to sleep on their bags on overnight trains.) But credit cards – can you tell us more about that?

JAIME: Sure. The Europe trip was the first time I remember really leaning on credit cards, and then it got more intense after graduation. My first job was working as an assistant at a talent agency, which makes my current job look like a goldmine. It paid horribly, and New York City is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. I had a new apartment (with two roommates) to furnish, and I think that went heavily onto credit cards, and my job wasn’t enough to make ends meet. I took on a second, part-time, job, but still – theatre tickets, a dinner out, groceries – I was living beyond my means. Nothing extravagant – okay, there was that hat – but I was just living a reasonable life on unreasonable money.

jaime: That doesn’t sound like the sort of person who would write for, let alone read, frugal cooking and personal finance blogs. What changed?

JAIME: Well, for starters, I got a new job. Which basically meant I could drop the second job – and wouldn’t have time for it, anyway. But a little more money was coming in. And then starting to stumble across, and then read, personal finance blogs was a big inspiration for me. I’d had a handful of moments of panic about my growing debt, but it was only several months ago that I made the commitment – to myself – to completely stop adding to it and to make a schedule to pay it off. So recently I’ve buckled down, hardcore. Part of what was – and is – so frustrating is that if I weren’t sending money to my credit cards every month, I’d have enough to live much more comfortably. But I know that a year (or two, oy) of really strapping down and doing this puts a definite end date to this.

jaime: And what is that end date?

JAIME: (mumbles) September 2011. My theatre paycheck doesn’t give me a lot to work with!

jaime: Well thanks for sharing that. It can be hard to be candid about this stuff.

JAIME: Sure thing.

jaime: So now that you’ve committed yourself to paying off your debt, how has your life changed?

JAIME: I’ve cut spending in every corner. My weekly grocery bill is down from about $60 a week to $25 or $30. I almost never eat out. I don’t have cable. I rarely buy clothes.

jaime: Is that hard?

JAIME: Honestly, yes. I think being young and single and living in New York makes it especially hard. Waah, I know, poor me. But, for example, almost every kind of socializing, of seeing my friends, involves spending money. Did we get free tickets to a play? Let’s get dinner beforehand. Is it someone’s birthday? Let’s go out for drinks. Have I not seen my best friend for two weeks? Let’s get coffee. And lunch. And see a movie. And in New York, all of this is bloody expensive. Groceries, too. Refocusing my priorities has really changed how I live.

jaime: Do you feel deprived?

JAIME: Of course, sometimes. I’ve had to find ways – often, small financial compromises – to keep myself feeling sane. But I also know why I’m doing this, why I’m living this temporarily ascetic life, and that once I’m out the other end, I’m going to have hundreds of extra dollars a week. And I also know that now I have the tools – and the discipline – to make that money go farther. I’m not going to suddenly lose my frugal mindset once my cards are paid off. And that’s exciting, too.

jaime: Good for you. Wherever you get your kicks.

JAIME: No, seriously. Figuring out how to eat for a week on $20, a third of what it used to cost me, is exciting. Because, look, when my cards are paid off, and I’ve got some emergency $$ stashed away, if I don’t go back to my old habits, let’s say $30 a week for groceries rather than the old $60, and I keep brown-bagging, no cable, this general frugal mindset and all the money that saves me from wasting – do you know how many pairs of shoes that is? How many fancy hats? Dinners out? It’s going to be awesome. I’m going to be able to save for retirement, see theatre beyond what I can get free tickets to, spend money where it counts rather than wasting it, and all because I learned to love rice and beans.

jaime: You’re insane.

JAIME: It’s a really pretty hat.

jaime: That’s true. It makes you look like a flapper.

JAIME: I know. I love that.

jaime: Well good for you. And thank you for sharing your story here. I’d ask about food, about cooking healthily and frugally, but that’s what your column’s for, isn’t it?

JAIME: Largely, yes. I’ve got more non-recipes like the bodega beans. I’ve got kitchen strategies that, for me at least, help me not waste money. I’ve got tales of living cheaply in the urban jungle. And I’ll probably find a way to sneak in something (it’s health-related!) about how weight lifting is the best thing ever, and how I really want my knee to heal so I can get back to the gym.

jaime: You pay for a gym membership? Isn’t than terribly anti-frugal?

JAIME: Not if you use it. But more on that to come.

jaime: Ooh, anticipation. Leave them wanting more. I like that.

JAIME: Thanks.

jaime: And thank you. And thanks to Kris for ok’ing an interview that was either a total rip-off of Glenn Gould or an easy way out of writing a self-introduction of coherent paragraphs.

JAIME: Indeed. And thanks for reading!

jaime: More soon!

JAIME: Yay rice and beans!

jaime: You’re crazy.

JAIME: Then so are you.

jaime: Crazy frugal.

JAIME: Okay, seriously now.

jaime: Okay. Bye!

(Photos courtesy of Flickr members GHD Photography & Design, truedeluxe, scandblue, wallyg, and docman.)

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