Weekend Money Diary #4: The Monopoly Chance Card Edition

NYC Money Diary

What happens when someone who’s “good at money” tracks their spending the old school way? With a pen and paper and not using an automated system like Mint?

Inspired by the Man Repeller and Refinery29 money diaries, I thought it’d be fun to see what happens when I track my spending for a weekend. Although I’m conscious about my overall spending, I’m at a point where I don’t feel the need to review purchases line by line. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for surprises.


I’ve never played Monopoly before, but my husband says this past weekend’s spending was kind of like drawing a bad “Chance” card and having to pay some bogus fees. Because this weekend we happened to draw TWO bad Chance cards. Today’s money diary theme: When Unexpected Expenses Trip You Up.

I normally don’t include my husband’s spending in these, but then I thought, well, that’s silly. When he spends money it’s my money, too, regardless of where the money actually lives (in his account or mine).


MOMA "Is Fashion Modern?" Exhibit
I’ve wanted to see the latest fashion exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and like total newbs, my husband and I decide to go on the busiest night. Friday is the only night the museum is open past 5:30pm. Admission normally costs $25 per person, but it’s free on Friday nights, so of course there were five times the usual amount of people there. However, we bypassed the free line because one of my husband’s work perks is free admission to most museums. $0

Reader Tip: If you’re in NYC you can get the NYC ID for free admission to over 35 museums, plus lots of other perks. See all the benefits here.

Note: I’d say in many cases it’s worth paying the money so you can look at things in peace and quiet. Especially when you want to see a famous painting like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” which is constantly mobbed.

Hermes Birkin bag from MOMA's fashion exhibit
The original Hermes Birkin bag!

We take the subway home and are back in our neighborhood by 8pm, hungry and with no specific plan for dinner. That’s a lethal combination when it comes to making good money decisions. Case in point: we walk by this Chinese restaurant that we’ve never eaten at in the two years we’ve lived around the block from it. But add in hunger plus no food plan and all of a sudden the food smells are intoxicating and irresistible. Should we? we look at each other. Next thing you know, we’ve spent $23.95 on mediocre Chinese food.

Friday total: $23.95


For the past few weeks, my husband has been masquerading as a valet driver, but one who doesn’t get paid. We don’t have a car, but we always take advantage when his coworker goes away and needs us to “car sit.” This means we can use the car however we want, but we also have to keep moving it to new parking spot, because of street cleaning.

We had planned to use the car to drive upstate for apple picking, but we got decision paralysis on choosing an actual orchard and I’m also not a fan of paying dozens of dollars to pick my own apples. I know it’s about the experience, but it’s not one I happen to value much.

My husband uses the car to bring one of the cats to his vet appointment. The cat has kidney disease and he needs regular checkups so he can continue getting prescription food.

Today’s my errand day. I don’t even bother to eat breakfast because I have a lot I want to do today. First up, I head to Mood to buy fabrics for the dress I’m supposed to be making. I spend, like, two hours sitting on the floor looking at every single bolt of fabric, trying to find the best mix of patterns. I go with classic blue stripes and plaids in Italian cotton. The striped one was not my first choice for the main part of the dress, but I noticed it was a LOT more wrinkle-resistant than the other fabrics. Sometimes you need to compromise your vision a little for practicality. $61

Mood Fabrics bolts

Italian cotton fabrics from Mood

Then I stop in Soho so I can check out some jeans at Blue in Green. I’ve been looking for a pair of black, slim jeans for a few years now, ever since my old standbys (Acne Hex) were discontinued. Online the jeans are on sale for $55. In person they’re still full price at $155. They look pretty good, but I need to try a few other options before deciding. The jeans are a relatively unknown brand, and the size I need isn’t very popular, so I’m not worried about missing out on a deal. $0

Blue in Green denim store

Blue in Green black slim fit jeans

Last stop is Trader Joe’s for this week’s lunches and pantry staples. I grab the usual salad kits for lunches, plus some frozen dinner options. Having some pre-made meals probably would have prevented us from impulse-buying that Chinese food from Friday night. $31.03

When I get home, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the cat’s vet visit was a success. His levels are all normal and look good.

The bad news is that this visit cost $371. THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-ONE DOLLARS?!!! I almost passed out.

I thought it was just a checkup. Did they in fact give him a new kidney?

Apparently, since blood and urine work were involved, that means lab work, and lab work = $$$. But I’ve never had pets before so I have no idea what’s “normal” for costs besides what we pay for food and cat litter. Our pet budget for the year is $840 for both cats, and now that’s totally blown. Last year we had to pay $700 for teeth extraction, and now the $371 for the checkup, so yeah, we’ll need to revisit the budget for next year. For now, we have money in savings so the cost isn’t a total disaster.

Reader: Are these costs normal??? Can we even get pet insurance with a pre-existing disease?

That’s Monopoly Chance Card #1.

For dinner, my husband makes chicken curry with green beans and rice.

Saturday total: $463.03


Sunday my husband goes to return the car to his coworker by parking it close to her apartment. The next day he got a frantic call from her saying that the car wouldn’t start. Apparently, he had accidentally left the interior lights on, which ran down the battery. A new battery will cost $340, and my husband offers to pay almost half the cost out of guilt. $150

Note to selves: Borrowing someone’s car is a total pain and we’re not doing it ever again!

That’s Monopoly Chance Card #2.

For breakfast I found some old takeout rice in the fridge, so I decided to make ginger fried rice with a fried egg on top. It’s a Jean-Georges recipe I found from the NY Times. It always makes me feel good when I can find a way to use up food instead of throwing it out.
Ginger fried rice with fried egg

I spent most of Sunday working on the blog, doing photo shoots and things, and when you work on stuff, it’s pretty easy to not spend money.

For dinner my husband makes chicken thighs and green beans. He also makes a loaf of banana bread so he’ll have breakfast for the week. He needs three square meals a day and his spending on breakfast out was starting to add up.

Sunday night I also sold an Acne sweatshirt on eBay for more than I paid for it! I bought it for $80-something and sold it for $117. And remember the last money diary when I went over my annual shopping budget? Well, problem is currently solved, because I got $120 back using my Amex Return Protection benefit, plus I can now add in the $117 to the bucket now, too. I’ll do a full post on all my re-selling escapades in a few weeks. Earned: $117

Sunday Total: $150


Frugal Fails

  • Having pre-made meals in the fridge is a must to avoid impulse buying mediocre takeout.
  • Borrowing somebody’s car is way too much responsibility with massive potential pitfalls. It’s better to just rent a car next time.

Frugal Wins

  • Using my husband’s work benefit saved us $50 on entertainment.
  • Selling secondhand designer clothes can actually be lucrative if you buy the right stuff.

Readers with pets, do you have pet insurance? If so, has it been worth it? When has savings come in handy for you?

Image: The Luxe Strategist

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  • Alicia McElhaney

    I always love your money diaries posts! If you want to hit a museum that your husband doesn’t have a work perk for, you can likely get in for free with your NYC ID. I picked up your salad kit tip this week (and got Trader Joe’s turkey bolognese for dinner one night). It worked like a charm!

    • Oh, thanks! Sometimes I wonder if people like the money diaries since they aren’t that actionable, so thanks for the nod of appreciation! I think we’re pretty covered with the work benefits, but I’ll add the NYC ID to the post–great idea! And glad Trader Joe’s is a treasure trove for you, too 🙂

  • $340 to jump start a battery? NYC prices never ceases to astound!

    • I think they purchased an entirely new battery. I am actually not sure why when a recharge would probably suffice.

      • Yeah, I chose not to question it since it was a frustrating scenario for my husband.

        • FYI — a recharge with a drained battery will not work. I just had this happen to me last week. (I do not live in NYC!)

          The battery died and was drained, so you can only recharge it but it doesn’t keep its charge.

          You need to buy a new one completely to replace it as it basically no longer works, or live with buying a battery recharger (about $150) to get it to start JUST ENOUGH to get it to a garage to replace it which is what happened in my case.

          I had to pay $200 for mine… plus another $150 for the battery recharger.

          Basically…. leaving that light on is the sole reason the battery needs to be replaced…. Hate to tell you that.. if that increases guilt…

          Your colleague is very nice. Had it been me, I would have asked you for the full amount.

          • My only experience is when I left the lights on to my car in high school. All I needed was a jump!

            And it’s not like we asked for the car. We had to spend time moving it and stuff (which is super annoying), so yeah, she only got half the amount 🙂

      • No, a recharge with a drained battery will not work. I just had this happen to me last week. (I do not live in NYC!)

        The battery died and you can only recharge it but it doesn’t keep its charge. You need to buy a new one completely.

        I had to pay $200 for mine…

  • Sheena Schoolcraft

    If it’s pre-existing conditions, the insurance probably won’t cover it. Ran into the same problem with my cat. I ended up spending about $4,000 on surgery.

    • Thank you for the perspective. I honestly had no idea how much these things are supposed to cost. My piddly little $371 cost is nothing in comparison, I see!

  • Former New Yorker

    Used to volunteer at a shelter. Do not get pet insurance, it’s sort of a sham, they don’t cover anything pre existing so you’ll just be paying premiums. Those costs do sound normal for what you described unfortunately. You can always ask for an estimate before they do something. Once we got an estimate from One vet for entire tooth extraction for almost $2k. We went to a vet down the block for a second opinion and they said only two teeth really needed to be replaced, which brought the cost wayyyy down (I think we spent $200?). Our cat still has most of his teeth five years later.

    Now in LA, we love our vet. They have a good office staff who will draw up an itemized list of what they’re planning to do and how much it costs while you’re at the visit. Then you tell them what you want to do and what you don’t. It’s always pricey but no surprises and we can decide what to do. I think shopping for a good vet is key, and once you find a good one with a good vet AND admin staff, stick with them!

    There’s also the care credit card that I hang onto. Zero interest apr on major vet purchases over $200 for six months, I think (the details may be diff but it’s something like that).

  • Clothing sales for the win! I just sold this Derek Lam off the shoulder from that I bought for $10 at Goodwill for $135 on Poshmark. I was so lucky to have found it and knew that it would move (relatively) quickly. I hate that they take 20%, but I have just had such luck with the Posh and clothing. I probably should just repeat on Ebay, but the few things I have tried to list haven’t gone anywhere.

    • Do you flip clothes on a regular basis? I’m looking to start trying in my city.

      • I do. The thrift stores here are pretty fantastic at time and I also can get to good sample sales. Most things I buy at sample, I would have to love myself and must fit me. Thrift stores, I just buy whatever is expensive at retail and in great condition. I emphasize great. You’d be surprised at how particular people are about condition even if they are getting a ridiculous deal on a designer item. Ask yourself, would you buy this on PM or Ebay. If so, thrift it!

    • Well, I wore the sweatshirt a few times. I hardly buy just to flip, although I used to do that in college 🙂 I’ve only bought a few things on Poshmark and much prefer eBay, but I think it’s because I’m old school. It would be really interesting to do a test on both and see the differences!

  • Eddie

    Hey Luxe, I saw red flags flying as soon as I read “car sit.” I do not trust myself with anyone’s valuables. I’ve refused helping tourists with a picture because I was afraid I would drop their phones! Instead, I insist my friends are better photographers and suggest they do it. Anyway, great post and your newsletter idea is fantastic! Ciao !

    • LOL, at “red flags.” We’ve actually borrowed this person’s car a couple times before with no problem. Renting a car in NYC is sooo expensive. But yeah, after this whole fiasco, my husband has said the car borrowing is done. And the most annoying part is we didn’t even really use the car this time! Just went to Fairway a couple times and took the cat to the vet. Sigh.

      It’s funny you won’t take a picture for tourists–never thought about that!

      • Eddie

        Hey Luxe hope you had a good weekend! Guess what? I took a picture for a tourist. I left the city via ferry for my birthday to a neighboring town called Sausalito. Anyway, I made my way to the back of the boat, lost my friends and some European girls asked me to take a picture for them. I felt cornered. 100% recommend Sausalito if you find yourself in San Francisco. It’s like Stars Hallows meets Goop meets Laguna Beach.

        • Hi Eddie! Had a great weekend binging on Stranger Things. And it looks like you have officially gotten out of your comfort zone with the handling of strangers’ things. I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be!

          And any place that’s one part Gilmore Girls and another part MTV reality show sounds good to me 🙂

          • Eddie

            Hahah “stranger’s things.” Ciao Luxe !

          • Was hoping you’d notice that.

        • gracesface

          That is an excellent description of Sausalito, Eddie! My now husband used to have a “free” boat in Richardson Bay. It’s such a cool place. And the ice cream on the main street is INCREDIBLE.

          • Eddie

            Oh nice! It truly is a special place! You get the beach town vibe mixed with an east coast colonial charm. Definitely going back! You’re so lucky you guys had a boat in the bay area!

          • gracesface

            It was literally one of those “pirate” ships that people would buy off each other for like $500 and while some folks lived on them full time (for real!) we just went once a week in a crap dinghy all the way from Berkeley via bus! Good times. 🙂

  • I did do some cursory research and yeah, it didn’t seem like pet insurance was a slam dunk or anything. Since the cats are my husband’s, he’s had a system with them before me and I haven’t really questioned it. But it sounds like you have an awesome vet in LA! I swear, even doctors for humans aren’t that on top of it.

    I’ve never heard of the care credit card but I’ll check it out.

  • GYM

    Oh my goodness I can totally relate. I spent $219 on my dog recently at the vet, and no he didn’t come out with a new kidney either. Then I spent another $200 on dog food (had to buy more since we are going away, and then another $200 on pet sitting. I have spent more on my dog than on myself in the past month. I used to have pet insurance but they kept denying everything so I said screw that, I’ll pay for things myself.

    He has chronic allergies (allergic to trees, grass, dander, dust, pollen), poor dog is allergic to GRASS, have you heard of that? And on his VERY first vet visit, they noticed a small PIMPLE on his belly. And because of that, any SKIN condition was not covered thereafter since skin conditions were considered a pre-existing condition.

    • We are lucky we have some friends nearby that can check up on the cats while we are away, so thankfully we haven’t had to pay for any pet sitting yet. I’m glad you got rid of the pet insurance. Judging from the other comments, it sounds like it’s not worth it.

      No, I’ve never heard of dogs being allergic to grass! Poor thing. And that’s beyond infuriating that a small pimple on your dog’s stomach counted as a pre-existing condition! UGH.

  • Katrina

    I think the check-up for our cats costs $150, so I think $371 for lab work sounds pretty much in line with what I would expect. We always ask about the cost of anything for our pets before we agree to it, as well as any potential alternative treatments. One of our cats has some anxiety issues, and she grooms herself to the point where she gets bald patches in a lot of areas. We asked our vet about treatment, and they said we could try antidepressants for her…which would be $300 and might not even work. Too expensive of an experiment for us. We love her, but it’s certainly not life-threatening. Giving her additional affection and monitoring her grooming when we’re at home seems to have helped.

    As for pet insurance, we looked into it when we got our cats and it always seemed like a waste of money to me. Makes more sense to self-insure, maybe even literally if that works for you – get an estimate on the price of premiums and do a transfer for that amount into a pet savings account each month.

    • Asking about costs upfront is really smart! Unfortunately, I don’t think the lab work could be avoided in our case, because it was a prerequisite to renewing the cat’s prescription food. But other than the special food, we’re lucky we have a super happy, well-adjusted loving cat. He’s basically like a dog, but in cat form 🙂

      Others in the comments here have said pet insurance hasn’t be worth it as well. And our cat has a pre-existing condition, so he definitely won’t be covered anyway. We definitely can cover the pet costs, but I like the idea of creating some sort of separate pet savings account. I think it will help reduce my sticker shock!

  • Pet expenses are most definitely a budget killer. We got a puppy at the beginning of the year, and it seemed like every visit to the vet wound up costing at least $200. That on top of paying for food, toys, treats, and everything in between totaled a couple thousand dollars. We ended up having to give her away because of our schedule and living arrangements, but I plan on saving a significant amount of money if we ever decide to get another pet. I’ve also been a victim of spending money on mediocre takeout due to a lack of planning. It’s a habit I’m trying to get a better grip on.

    • Pets are definitely expenses that should be thought through, although I’m not sure anyone is ever fully prepared for the full costs, etc. Some things just are just emotional decisions because they make us super happy. I’m sorry that your dog didn’t work out. It must have broken your heart to give him/her up.

      I stocked up on some frozen stuff from Trader Joe’s recently to combat Mediocre Takeout-itis for next time!

      • It did break my heart. She was a handful but still so lovable! Currently brainstorming to see how I can convince my husband to get another fur baby 🙂

  • Even for a normal “checkup” we usually end up forking over $100+ at the vet. We don’t have pet insurance and hopefully we don’t need to…It’s so crazy expensive we try to avoid the vet at all costs but in your case that’s impossible since your cat has a kidney problem 🙁 Poor cat.

    Having a car in Brooklyn is becoming more of a pain, and moving the car for alternate street parking is getting hard in our neighborhood. We’re still waiting to see how much the parking lot in our building costs…we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it’s under $200/month.

    Reading this always makes me want to do one of these but it would be a joint one between my husband and I, so I don’t even know if that’s relevant or interesting…

    Can’t wait to read your reselling escapades post 😉

    • The fees are inevitable, but I guess it’s a small price to pay for all the joy the cats bring to our home. Our cat is really affectionate and easy-going, so I often forget he has the kidney disease. If he has any pain, I can’t tell at all.

      I’ve been noticing your car in the Insta stories and have been jealous! So many times I wish we could just drive to Greenpoint instead of taking the dreaded G train. But yeah, even borrowing one has been a HUGE hassle. Everybody we know who has a car has a place upstate or a family, so I can understand the need, but still–a total hassle unless you do have dedicated parking somewhere.

      I’ve questioned the ‘interesting’ part on these types of posts, but people seem to like them! Some of them simply list the costs of what people pay for things, but I prefer the ones that include more context on why something was bought/not bought.

      Oh, I can’t wait to do the reselling post, either. I just have to sell a few more things!

  • Whew, those chance cards! That is the exact reason I’m so paranoid about borrowing my friends car. I’m always worried I’ll somehow end up totaling it or totally messing it up, I’d rather just pay for the rental for the sake of preserving the friendship in case I totally screwed something up.

    And who knew pets could cost so much? Not to be completely morbid, but I’ve often wondered if I had a dog, and I had to consistently pay a few hundred dollars a month for it’s health, whether I’d be a kind pet owner and pay or would I consider putting the dog down. This line of thought came from reading a Refinery29 Money Diary where the woman was regularly paying for her dog’s physical therapy which was something like $300 a month! In my head I thought I’d be a pretty gracious pet owner, but dang…tough choices

    • Soudea

      For the most part, pets are great at triggering our baby care instincts. So if you had the few hundred, you’d probably spend it because every time you look in little Fido’s eyes, your brain goes haywire with love.

    • Lesson learned about borrowing people’s expensive things. It just still makes me angry we didn’t even use to go anywhere, really! If we had, maybe the cost would have stung less.

      Yeah, I had originally guessed that a pet checkup would cost at most $100. Naive, naive Luxe, hehe. My husband and I have chatted about what to do in the worst-case scenario. I think there’s a difference between being kind and also spending money when it’s not going to significantly improve the pet’s life. Oh, and funny, I just read that money diary! Dang at the $300 per month on dog physical therapy. I’d love to be the dog in that family.

  • Jax

    I don’t think $371 is beyond the realm of normal for lab work for a pet. Are you otherwise happy with this vet? If not, maybe check out new vets? The first vet I went to was alright, but pricey and I didn’t feel a good connection with. The vet I currently go to forms great relationships with both pets and humans, and always tells the price of the procedures they recommend before starting them.

    • I’m not as privy to the vet stuff as my husband is, as the cats are his. There is actually a vet place around the corner from our house, but my husband takes the cats to a place that’s further because he likes it better. So I trust that he vetted the places a bit. Ours also moved even further from our neighborhood, so they now pay for Uber rides home!

    • Agreed :/

      I have such a skewed view of vet bills now that anything under $1k I almost shrug off.

      Pet insurance will *generally* not be the best $$ option, of course, as insurance companies are businesses and make profit. That said, pet insurance could make sense if you want catastrophic (pun not intended, I swear) coverage. Like, if worse came to worse, cat got out, got injured, and you’re faced with a $2k surgery bill, pet insurance could make the decision way easier on the wallet.

      • Aw, snap! Clearly my husband and I need to increase our monthly pet budget. We have two cats, as well. I’m sure as I get used to the costs I’ll be shrugging them off, too!

        Yeah, it seems like pet insurance is a no-go for us anyway, because of the pre-existing condition. It’s a shame that most people find it to be such a scam.

  • Dana

    The pet cost seems reasonable. We just got two kittens and I forgot how expensive that first year can be. Luckily cats don’t need to visit the vet nearly as often as dogs. Personally I don’t think pet insurance is worth it.
    As for the battery, why did your friend think she needed a new battery? Running it down doesn’t hurt it, it just needs to be jumped. That’s free if you have jumper cables. There I think you may have got ripped off!

    • Yeah, I don’t think our cat would quality for pet insurance, any way, because of this pre-existing disease. Looks like we’ll need to simply increase the pet budget and plan for these costs better.

      I have no idea re: battery. I’m not friends with her at all, and I think the new battery was purchased before she even called my husband about what happened. He felt so guilty about it, he didn’t want to question it.

    • No, a recharge with a drained battery will not work. I just had this happen to me last week. (I do not live in NYC!)

      The battery died and you can only recharge it but it doesn’t keep its charge. You need to buy a new one completely.

      This is not my first rodeo with a dead battery either.

  • Wow, lab work is expensive but that’s robbery! And the battery too! I wouldn’t borrow a car from a friend either. So much liability.

    Your ginger rice looks delicious. I can’t seem to get sunny side up eggs right but you have it down!

    • Yeah, the battery thing bugs me, but it is what it is at this point. The ginger fried rice WAS good and felt like a fancier than regular eggs for breakfast. And my sunny side up eggs are not always on point! I do find covering the pan with a lid helps a lot, though.

  • Hate to say it, but they won’t lend you the car again either…. 😛

    I have been there with the dead battery and done that.

    • Oh, trust me, lesson learned: we are never borrowing this person’s car again!