August 20th, 2003


Cashing out, cashing in

Am I the only person left who still asks for a receipt?

Twice today, at my office cafeteria and at Subway, I had to ask for a receipt for my purchase. This happens all the time. I suppose that since most people don't bother asking for a receipt when they buy something like coffee or a sandwich, the cashiers don't bother printing one or, if it is printed, they just throw it away.

But these small expenses add up. Consider the typical middle-class American office worker, and the purchases she might make throughout her workday:

Morning stimulant from coffee shop: $2.00

Brown-bag lunch from sandwich shop: $6.50

Afternoon pick-me-up from vending machine: $1.50

TOTAL: $10.00

That's $10 a day, easily missed if not recorded, and adding up to $200 in a typical 20-day work month. Yet our typical worker just gets out another $40 from the ATM, and when it comes time to balance the checkbook wonders "where does all the money go"?

The above figures are conservative for some and liberal for others, of course. They say we should all bring our lunch, drink water instead of soda, eat apples instead of candy bars, etc. (Or at least buy the soda and candy in bulk.) But who are we kidding? Most people are lazy, myself emphatically included. I'm mostly-vegan, and yet I still eat out more than I cook nowadays. I may not be following the best course of action financially or nutritionally, but at least I know exactly what it's costing me. And recording the expense every time makes me give extra thought to every purchase I make.

Whenever I buy any item, no matter how inexpensive, I either get a receipt or record the expenditure in my Palm Pilot. I then periodically enter the data into Quicken on my Mac, along with all other expenses and income. I can then make monthly tabulations which break down my expenses by category.

I've been following this routine for years ever since reading Your Money or Your Life, an excellent book not just about personal finances, but on how to align your finances with your values. I'm not following all of the steps of the YMOYL program closely, and I am far behind on generating my monthly tabulations at the moment. But the idea that a person is a business, and a business must record all income and expenses, no matter how small, has stuck with me.

So I'll go on asking for receipts, and hope that the sandwich shops don't just get rid of that function on their cash registers altogether.

Eight-week assessment

I've now lived in San Francisco for eight weeks. This apartment is the ninth place I've inhabited in the Bay Area since moving here in August 1992. I'm fairly sure it won't be the last.

I never imagined that I would one day live in California at all, much less San Francisco. I remember watching the 1989 earthquake from my dorm lounge in Evanston, Illinois, and remarking, "What kind of idiot would ever want to live in California?" Then of course, just a couple of years later a professor told me about this great graduate program at UC Berkeley...

San Francisco isn't the first major city I've lived in, but it is the biggest. I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but raised mostly in the relatively small town of West Liberty, West Virginia. Moved back to Pittsburgh at age 12, and later off to Evanston for college at Northwestern. Evanston was near enough to Chicago to get your fill of big-city life without being around it every day. I had a good four years there, but never considered staying in the Chicago area for a moment after graduation.

I moved out here to pursue a Ph.D and JD in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program at UC Berkeley. I dropped out very early due to illness, recovered and got a job at UC, and stayed here to this day. I did consider moving back to Pittsburgh after my divorce, but the Bay Area really is better suited to my lifestyle.

The biggest plus for me right now is the commute, which is really the only reason that boyziggy and I moved across the Bay at all. I can get to work in 25 minutes door-to-door, as opposed to an hour from Berkeley. In fact, I can walk all the way home from work in 45 minutes, which I just confirmed for the second time this afternoon.

I love being able to hop on any form of transportation with just my MUNI pass. Even though the price will be going up to $45/month soon ($10 increase), it will still be worth it. I was paying at least $112/month before, although that was somewhat mitigated by the pretax transit program at work.

My Nob Hill neighborhood is different than any I've ever lived in. The buildings are mere inches from each other, the hills are steep, and the many one-way streets are dominated by cable cars and laundromats. Chinatown is just down the hill, and the majority of people I see walking by are of Asian descent.

The crowds do get to me whenever I go downtown; I don't like being around large groups of people for long. But the fact that I can actually walk downtown is a bonus (although getting back uphill is more of a challenge). I am always surprised how crowded the buses and cable cars can get at all times of day and night. The cable cars I can understand because of the summer tourists. But I once boarded a bus downtown at midnight on a weekend, and it was standing-room only by the time I got off.

I still miss Berkeley every day. boyziggy and I lived in an unusually good location there, where we could easily walk to everything. I'm sure I will find more shops and restaurants that I like here though, as long as I keep exploring.

I'll be in Pittsburgh next week (so this may be my last LJ entry for awhile). It will be interesting hanging out there after my experience in the City. It's always a bit of a culture shock seeing smoking in restaurants, fur coats in the winter, and hearing the natives speak "Pittsburghese" (must be heard to be appreciated, or derided as the case may be). But in some ways, I still consider Pittsburgh my true home, and probably always will.
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