Thursday, June 5, 2008

Free Lunch Tuesday & Why I Don't Mind So Much Being Poor

As a low-paid advertising assistant, you could only imagine how much I like free things. Lucky for me (and the rest of the NYC assistants), the city is full of promotions. May in particular was a great month for freeness. There were free coffee Wednesdays at Starbucks, in which I happily traveled to all 5 or so locations around my office for a coffee. I don't think I even needed that 3rd of 4th cup, but my brain kept on chanting , "free! Free! Go get it, it's free!". Fine, you win.

But the best, by far the best freeness was at The Volstead (54th and Lexington). To promote their lunch menu and to get us workers nearby to realize they actually had lunch there, TV decided to do FREE LUNCH Tuesdays for the entire month of May. E & I were seriously beside ourselves. I suppose we weren't really the right people to be going, considering (if you have read previous posts, you probably heard about the pathetic lunches we usually conger up) we don't go out to lunch and if so, go for the cheapness-on-the run, not sit down high-end meals. But whatever, we travel to the freeness, so finally after weeks of being turned away, got in on the last Tuesday. And it was wonderful. Seriously.

We started with these little pieces of toasted Italian-ish bread, topped with a spinach dip and thinly sliced pieces of steak. I have had this before at the Volstead (my friend Nina works there, so have gone a few times) and it is amazing. SO tasty. We also had tempura salmon rolls, which was ok. I don't think I'd ever order it again (and definitely not pay) but it was good to try.

Then for lunch, I had a pulled pork sandwich and E had a lobster roll. Thank you thank you Volstead! I figure we deserved to eat heartily because if you put together all the years I've been contributing to the mother company (they own Red and Downtown in Red Bank, and P.S. etc. in the city) have put out lots and lots of $$ their way. So there.

Before going to lunch that day, E sent me this link from an article in NY Times about people, like her & I, as well as many friends I have, about the 20-somethings who even though don't make alot of money, learn to make it stretch to live in this area.

I have very mixed emotions after reading this article. The idea is great. I think it is very reassuring to us low-paiders to know we aren't alone and there is still hope, even though you aren't actually raking in the money.

BUT. The people NY Times chose to profile didn't seem to be realistic. You got
(a) the girl who shipped her clothes back and forth. That is not typical. Who does that? Just her. (b) the guy who makes 60k a year and was still complaining. Um I'd be skipping back and forth to work every day if I made that much. Come on.
(c) the chick who ate peanuts for dinner and consciencely resorted to flirting for drinks? Come on sister, where's your dignity. Sure, it's always a nice perk as a girl to get a free drink. But lowering yourself to save $7-$15 (depending on what your drinking and where), your can do a lot better.

But there were some super great & realistic things stated in this article that I actually said out loud ---omg that's me.

"Some tactics have long been chronicled: sharing tiny apartments with strangers. Sharing those apartments with eight strangers. Eating cheap lunches and skipping dinners — not just to save money, but so that drinks pack more of a punch and fewer need be consumed."

So here are some of my tips to live well and work in the city, how I keep myself healthy and fed, but still have a dollar or two in my pocket.

You have to be creative and not mind eating the same things everyday. I buy a box of oatmeal every week and a half or so and make myself a pouch every morning. Lucky for me, coffee is free here at the office, so that saves a few dollars a day.

Then for a mid-morning snack, I'll usually have a big orange, which is 75 cents from the fruit man on the corner outside my building.

Lunch is peanut butter & jelly, or left overs from the night before and a bag of pretzels.

THEN dinner. I will usually go to A&P and buy bags of veggies (which usually go for a $1.50 or so), steam them, and mix it all up with tofu and steamed rice. I also have all sorts of Asian sauces (terriyaki, fish sauce, soya, sechuan, peanut sauce etc.), so when you blend it all together, you are left a nice healthy and hearty meal. Other favorite dishes include angel hair pasta topped with broccoli and chicken sauteed with garlic and olive oil, or Tom Yum soup with rice . Tom yum is an AMAZING Thai soup that is super good and pretty inexpensive to make. Ingredients include: fish sauce, lime juice, chicken broth, chili paste, lemon grass, and either shrimp, chicken, tofu...basically anything.

I live in Hoboken, which I guess compared to these people in the story is way cheaper. I live (like so many people I know) with 2 other girls in an apartment, whom I found on craigslist. Lucky for me, they are both cool and live well together.

Out & About
This is where I find my money goes through the quickest. The article is dead on when they mention "pre-gaming" before going out because it is absolutely a must. My friends and I try to look for the open bars and good happy-hour specials, where drinks will end up being way cheaper. We also look for free readings and events that we are not only interested in, but know will be serving wine & cheese.

I could go on & on, but seriously, if your a creative person and want everything that NYC has to offer, there is ALWAYS a way. Looking back, I'm sure I'll chuckle at my twenty-something self that chose to eat the same thing every single day in favor of going out all weekend instead.

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