Monday, May 23, 2011

A Saturday in NYC

On Saturday I spent all day with a friend who was in the city visiting her younger sister. I absolutely love it when people visit, even for a day, and who want to do anything/everything...especially EAT! We had a blast catching up and exploring the city. The weather started out great (high 70s, some clouds) and by 4pm it started raining - but that didn't stop us!

Here's what we did, in order, along with my recommendations. See the nifty Google Map at the bottom! :)
  • Hester Street Fair: a small craft/food market in the Lower East Side. I'd never heard of it but this was our meeting spot at 1pm. I'm not much of a crafts person...but I was all about the food! After having only a light breakfast, I couldn't resist the descriptions of the empanadas at the La Sonrisa stall. The coconut curry chicken empanada was AMAZING and I'm definitely going back just for that! It was $3 and worth every cent. I also had the pulled pork slider for $3.50 because I was hungry and it was good, but it didn't come close to the empanada!

  • BisousCiao macarons: after lunch, we wandered up and down the awesome, fun streets of LES. We stumbled upon this macaron shop that I've been to before and since my friend had never had one, I said we had to stop in! I got the rose and she got the lavender and honey. A fantastic dessert! Macarons are $2.50 each. When you buy a box of any size, starting at 6 for $15, they package them up beautifully and it makes you feel like you just walked out of an overpriced boutique...which you basically did!

  • Delicatessen: We then made our way from LES to SoHo in search of afternoon refreshments aka cocktails. We were hoping for something outdoors or at least with an open-air concept. The wait at Delicatessen wasn't bad and ended up with a table right next to the sidewalk which was perfect, especially when it rained for 30 minutes during our time. We split an order of the truffle parmesean fries and I had an outstanding lychee-ginger martini. It was exactly what I was looking for! Light and sweet, but not overpowering. While the service was a bit lacking (the hostess came up to our table at one point and asked us how long we had been there, basically trying to kick us out even though we were clearly eating/drinking) and the place was packed, it was really fun. I'd go back here for the fries and the martini! My share was $20. We tipped well because our awesome waiter saved us from the hostess and basically told her off. Win.

  • Shopping near Broadway in SoHo: A quick gander through some stores on/near Broadway in SoHo. It gets crazy with tourists and locals alike, so head down the side streets. Check out some of the street vendors off of Broadway for interesting pieces. I've bought good quality, semi-pricey necklaces and bracelets (~$30 each) here before and there are a lot of unique finds!

  • Dinosaur BBQ: My friend (plus her younger sister and entourage) were determined to go here. Even with the daunting wait time of TWO HOURS! I'd never been to an actual BBQ restaurant before. This was a blast! The bar definitely took some of our money during the waiting time and I'd highly recommend the Donkey Punch which is rum + fruit punch served in a mason jar. For $8, it was more than enough to last me through the wait AND dinner! For dinner, I got the 1/4 rack BBQ pork ribs. It came with 4 ribs, a small piece of cornbread and two sides (I had the mac & cheese and vegetable which was collard greens) for a mere $10.50! And I had leftovers! Definitely worth the wait time. Note: I learned via Yelp that they DO take reservations, which is fairly new.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Debit Card Fraud Victim

I was a victim of debit card fraud last week.

This is the first time it's ever happened to me. On May 9th, I had received a call that had something to do with a card, but I ignored it because I thought it was the occasional solicitation from my old credit card. Less learned: always listen to messages in their entirety, even if they are automated!

Over the next two days, my debit card was denied at two stores and then at the ATM when I tried to get cash. That's weird... I immediately called the customer service line for my debit card. I went through a whole bunch of automated checks and through a list of recent transactions which I verified. They were all ones I had made, nothing out of the ordinary, so then my card worked again.

There had been zero fradulent transactions on my card. I would have caught it immediately because I check my bank account every single day! My card was working again and I still diligently checked my account daily. Then this Monday, there was definitely a fradulent charge when I checked my account in the morning...

Not only do I not eat at McDonald's, but I would never go to one in some suburb of Istanbul, Turkey and spend $30 there! Everything clicked right away and I called my bank. They had been correct from the beginning - someone had somehow got ahold of my debit card number and pin. In talking to the customer service agent, they told me that the person had tried to buy $400 (!) worth of groceries in Istanbul. That was the day they closed my card. They also tried to go to two gas stations but all of those charges were caught and denied before they could hit my account. The McDonald's one happened to slip through after I unknowingly thought everything was okay. (Granted, up until this point I had never actually spoken with a real human about what was happening. That clarification would have helped immensely.) The CSA immediately closed my debit card and had a new one issued. I then talked to someone in the Customer Claims Department and have since filled out a form in order to get the $28.36 refunded.

The scariest part of all this? I have absolutely no idea how someone got my information! Was it skimmed from my bank-specific ATM inside the pharmacy near my apartment? Or was it from the RFID/wireless identity theft that I've been hearing about? I have never used my debit card for online purchases, so I could immediately rule that out. I still have my card, it wasn't lost or stolen, and I've never shared my PIN with anyone. I also never use the "PayPass" function on my debit card, where I can wave my card over a scanner for a small purchase and pay that way, because someone once told me that's an easy way for identity theft to happen. From now on I'll only draw cash at the bank or maybe even go inside to the teller. It's baffling, actually. I know this happens and it sucks. Technology is advancing all the time. And this is what we get!

(Yes, I now have two of those RFID sleeves as seen above. They seem to be widely available online. My Mom sent me her extras! Not sure if they work, but hey, peace of mind. Also? My bank rocks. They immediately knew what was going on!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dear CapitalOne

Dear CapitalOne,

I'm breaking up with you. You were my first credit card ever. I signed up for you when I landed my first job the month after college graduation. Since I had no credit history, you gave me a $500 limit. I was excited because I knew how to handle you! After only three months, you increased my limit to $750. I had read so many personal finance articles on the topic and every 6 months thereafter I called about credit limit increases.

Which you denied me. Every single time. Even though I've always paid my balance in full and on time every month. I called and called, but you didn't listen.

Almost three years later, this is getting a little ridiculous! So, I took matters into my own hands. I had been receiving offers from other credit cards but had always just put them in the shredder. One day I decided not to shred the offer...and I went online to apply for a shiny, new credit card.

Now I'm the proud owner of a Chase Freedom Card. With rewards! And a $100 bonus if I spend $500 in the first few months! And over 5x the credit limit! Yay! (Of course, I'm sure I'll never go anywhere near that limit in a single month...but it's good to know it's there.)

CapitalOne, you are now being banished to the depths of my wallet. I'll keep you active since, after all, you were my first credit card and I can never get rid of you completely. You're part of my history! So, you'll be swiped once every few months to keep you on the end of my string. But I really could care less about you.

Hello, Freedom!!!!

[image via]

Sunday, May 1, 2011

NYC By The Numbers

Last week, I had officially been in NYC for an entire month. Since it's now May, I am going to try to get my budget back on track...keyword is TRY because I've had such an influx of cash recently from my first two paychecks earning a higher salary to selling my car to a gift from my parents for their tax purposes. Here was my April spending breakdown. Keep in mind that this is an expensive city and I also wanted to let myself have as much fun as possible!
  • Rent: $1,100
    This included utilities, internet and cable at the one-month sublet.

  • Metrocard: $104
    Unlimited monthly. Starting in May this is pre-tax through work!

  • Cell: $30
    Still on my parents' plan, I pay for the data portion of my iPhone.

  • Groceries: $92.73
    WOW...I can't believe how much I spent on groceries! Mostly breakfast foods, a few trips to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods for quick dinner meals and snacks. Groceries are expensive here!

  • Restaurants: $380.90
    I expected this to be high. I ate out for almost every single meal except breakfast during the week. This includes Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts stops, lots of meals with old/new friends, trying a lot of food trucks...and some even had leftovers that would last me 2 additional meals!

  • Alcohol: $191.63
    I knew this was going to be high, too! My close friends in the city are solid weekend drinkers and I spent two weekends with them. I also bought three bottles of wine (one as a thank-you gift) and there was one week I went out for drinks four days in a row! It's been worth it for my social life, though. :)

  • Miscellaneous: $99.27
    Everything else. Taxis, quite a few toiletries, indoor rock climbing, a case for my iPhone, a trip to Target, flowers and laundry.

  • Savings: $600
    Regular $200/month to my Roth IRA and then I sent $200 to my Travel Fund and $200 to my Gift Fund. It feels good to increase my savings amounts! (I'm also contributing 4% to get the 4% match on my new employer's Roth 401k, but that gets taken out of my paycheck before I see it.)
So even with all my out-of-control spending, I still managed to save money this month AND I have a few hundred dollars leftover! This was due to the fact that I got paid for 5 weeks of work instead of 4 since I started on March 28 (I get paid bi-monthly now) so my first paycheck included a week's worth of retro-pay. Side note: I did do a lot of shopping as well, to the tune of $313. All of that came from my remaining bonus money from my old job and some of the money I got from selling my car instead of out of my regular budget since I generally don't shop much!

Still, this feels amazing. I'm ready for May to be a little less crazy with spending...but hey, if I can afford a bit of lifestyle inflation in a pricier city, why not?! As long as I continue to budget and save consistently. :)

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