My Weekend Money Diary #6: Four Days in LA Without a Budget

Money Diary: Four Days in Los Angeles

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 don’t budget while I’m on vacation. What I spend is what I end up spending, which may or may not be a bad thing. Early Tuesday I got home at 2am from a 4-day LA trip, so I’m still half-dead and recovering from that bad flight time decision. But I mustered up enough brain cells to put together a travel-themed money diary. What’s the cost of day-to-day spending for a 4-day trip in LA? And what’s the worst that could happen without a budget?

Friday

The most painful part of flying: the cab rides to get to and from the airport. Fact: There’s no airport that’s convenient to where I live. I could save a lot more money by taking the Air Train and the subway to JFK, but my flight times are super early and late. I’m out the door at 5am, and quickly napping in the car, but my heart sinks when I wake up and see the driver has taken a super weird (read: more expensive) route to the airport. For a 45-minute car ride it costs $64.82. Friends, this is exactly why I dislike taking cabs.

Once I’m at the airport I get a croissant from Starbucks to tide me over, since I know Jet Blue is only going to give me snacks on the flight. $3.21

After I land, I meet a friend at the Long Beach Art Museum, since it’s close by and happens to be free that day. $0

Next to the museum is Claire’s restaurant, where we brunch outside and enjoy a view of Long Beach. $19.54

Time to check into the Airbnb and explore the neighborhood! It’s leafy and quaint, with winding hilly streets, like ones you’d find in San Francisco. Arrival day on a trip is always pretty chill, so I just drive around the neighborhood, looking at how cute the houses are and hunting for a nice view of the city.

Los Angeles palm trees and bougainvillea
My Curiosity Lab said I should check out Zankou Chicken in my last money diary, and I trust his taste, so this is my first food stop in LA. $8.20

Next door to Zankou Chicken is Baklava Factory, which is exactly how the name sounds. I like baklava, and getting it in NYC isn’t convenient, so I buy a couple variations to try. $4.00

The rest of the night I spend researching and mapping everything else I want to do for the rest of the weekend. This isn’t my first time in LA, so my plan is to keep it pretty local. I also don’t prioritize shopping unless it’s stuff I can’t get back in New York City. So this trip is all about food and museums instead. Unless it’s Paris. When I’m in Paris, shopping is always the #1 activity.

Friday Total: $99.77

Saturday

All self control seems to go out the window when I’m traveling. Case in point: I decide to temporarily ignore my coffee ban. It’s hard for me to give up trying new foods. I’d read about a lavender latte that sounded good at The Little Ripper and spend $6.00 on it. Ouch.

I failed to bring some sort of water bottle with me on the trip, so I stop at Rite Aid for a Smart Water, which I plan on refilling for the next few days. $2.24

Then across the street I buy a croissant as a quick breakfast from Starbucks. $2.45

Gotta be hydrated and fed before I drive allllll the way across town to The Getty Center. This is my third time at the museum, and I still love going there, mostly because of the architecture and the hillside views. The museum is free, but parking is $15.

The Getty Center

Lunchtime! My Airbnb host recommends this coffee shop called Habitat, so I grab a quiche and also a granola bar for later. $9.58

Hidden gem alert. My host also recommends visiting this meditation garden nearby at the Self Realization Fellowship. It was founded by a yogi named Paramahansa Yogananda, who’s “widely revered as the father of Yoga in the West.” Well, somehow this incredible garden is open to the public. I’ve never meditated, but I like greenery, and I have to drive up a bunch of hills to get to it, which means great views aren’t far off. $0

Self Realization Center garden in San Rafael

Self Realization Center garden in San Rafael

After the garden I drive to Silver Lake to try to eat at Night + Market, a Thai restaurant that’s the #1 thing on my list to do. Ugh. I get there right when they open at 5pm, and there’s already 15 people waiting in line outside. I don’t feel like waiting, so time to explore other options.

Where else can I eat that I know will taste good? I can hardly remember what I ate last week. But I ate at Katsuya more than three years ago, and I STILL remember how much I liked this one dish: the Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna starter. If I remembered the food from years ago then surely that means something. Katsuya, it is. $29.38

Saturday Total: $64.65

Sunday

I want to try a new coffee place. This one is called Kindness + Mischief and their signature coffee drink, with the coconut condensed milk, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper, tastes just like a churro. YUM. I also try an Ube scone. I normally don’t like scones, but this one is really good. If you’re ever in Northeast LA, definitely check this place out. $10.50

Then I drive over to my friend’s house to hang out a bit before making our way over to Din Tai Fung for lunch. $23.49

Din Tai Fung Xiaolongbao

I’ve never hiked in LA before, so after lunch, we go for a short hike in the Verdugo Mountains. $0

The View from the Verdugo Mountains

I’m going to try to see if I can eat at Night + Market again! Plus, it’s the Super Bowl, so there’s gotta be fewer people eating out. Score. The Crispy Rice Salad is something I rarely see on Thai menus, so I’m so excited to try it here. Verdict = delicious. $21.85

Night + Market crispy rice salad in Los Angeles

Desserts are lacking on this trip, so clearly something needs to be done about that. This ice cream shop called Scoops has interesting flavors and is close by. Sometimes I feel like ice cream is ice cream, but the Brown Bread and Blueberry Lavender scoops are so creamy and full of flavor. 5/5 stars. $4.25

Scoops brown bread and blueberry lavender ice cream

Sunday Total: $60.89

Monday

I get a text that my flight is delayed, so all of a sudden I have a few more hours to kill. In the morning, I stop at a gas station to refill the gas back to what it originally was when I picked it up. Gas is $3.55 per gallon here, and I spend $34.51.

I go to Kindness + Mischief again, because why mess with a good thing? I get the same thing I got yesterday, plus granola with honey. I’m going to miss this place. $13.50

I put in $2.00 into the parking meter so I can explore the area a bit. Close by is a vintage furniture store called Sunbeam Vintage. The store has nice-looking stuff, but I can’t tell which items are truly vintage and which ones are vintage inspired. If the store doesn’t make the effort to list around when the merchandise was made, then I get suspicious about what everything is really worth. I’ll spend money on true vintage, but vintage-inspired stuff is much less valuable to me.

Highland Park in Los Angeles

Across the street is Prelude & Dawn, which is a mix of both vintage and new items, with a decent selection of vintage Levi’s. I’ve noticed that I rarely buy things from curated vintage shops, which is curious, because I’ve owned those very same shops online! But yeah, I like to dig for that stuff myself. There’s something about the possibility of finding a treasure that’s like a natural high.

I read that LA has a huge St. Vincent De Paul thrift store, so I drive over to browse before my flight takes off. Since most thrift stores mostly sell secondhand fast fashion stuff nowadays (there was a TON of Forever 21), it’s a fun challenge for me to see if I can find the true vintage items. It’s like a needle in a haystack. I find two made-in-Europe vintage sweaters, and while they both fit, I really don’t need any more sweaters right now.

St. Vincent De Paul Vintage Sweaters

But then I find a Zara dress that’s not anything I’d actually buy new at a regular store. But at $6.99 it looks a lot more appealing. I never get tempted by cheap, new clothes, but cheap clothes from thrift stores? KRYPTONITE. Anyway, I have a feeling this dress sold well when it first came out, and was confirmed when I look it up later and find out it was all over blogs and #1 in this list of most memorable Zara items.

I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at Poshmark, and this might be the perfect item to test out to see if I can flip it. $6.99

Zara Green Tropical Sundress

I love driving around looking at houses. Actually, the house I really wanted to tour, Stahl House, is sadly closed for renovation, which means I have no choice but to visit LA again so I can see it. Poor me. For now, driving around my neighborhood and creeping on people’s houses is the next best thing. I’m in love with all the foliage in everyone’s yard.

House in Mount Washington

Time to fly home! I chose to fly into Long Beach airport instead of LAX, so food options are slim. I order the smallest thing I see on the menu: tacos and rice and beans for $7.71. Not exactly what I want to be eating before my flight, but it will do. There aren’t very many options that look both healthy AND reasonably priced. However, when I’m on the plane and browse Jet Blue’s food menu, I realize I could have gotten way better and healthier food (Korean noodles!) on the plane. Oh well. You live and learn.

And lastly, I have to endure another pricey cab ride home, but I pay a little less today. $56.16

Monday Total: $120.87

Total Weekend Spending: $346.18

Barring the $100 or so on the cab rides, I spent the most money on eating out. I did have a kitchen in the Airbnb, so I could have bought groceries, but there are some destinations where food isn’t a priority (like New Zealand), and some that are (like this one). Anyway, the LA spending is what it is, so my husband and I talked about a target number we want to spend on travel for the entire year (about $5k), and estimated costs for all the travel we’ve already planned. I recently almost impulse-bought tickets to Kauai in Hawaii (with points, the trip would have been sooooo cheap, you guys), but I decided it was way too indulgent for the year. Plus, we need to reserve money for visiting family, which adds up with car rentals, etc.

Frugal Win

I’m proud of myself that I let both vintage sweaters go, even though they fit me. It’s easy for me to buy vintage things since vintage is harder to come by nowadays and I view them as “artifacts.” I’m also happy I didn’t really shop much period. I had originally planned on going to Melrose but other activities, like eating and driving around looking at houses, just got in the way.

Frugal Fail

The cost for those airport rides burn every single time. Thinking about it from a ROI perspective, the two 45-minute car rides cost HALF the price of the actual plane ticket ($237) to fly 6,000 miles, which is insane.

What are your frugal fails and wins lately? Do you budget your spending while on vacation? Should I experiment with selling on Poshmark?

PS: Here are other money diaries, if you’re interested.

Feature Image: The Luxe Strategist

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  • GYM

    Beautiful pictures, Luxe! Too bad we couldn’t meet up!

    Thanks for sharing all the good places to eat, when we go back to LA next week I will definitely try some of these places you mentioned. Which of the ones you tried would you highly recommend (that have no line up- my husband and baby cannot do line ups haha)?

    Last night we ate at a place called TLTfoods with friends that live in SD at Irvine Spectrum and it was delicious. I had a short rib quesadilla and my husband had a blue crab grilled cheese sandwich.

    I would totally be interested in your Poshmark experiment, I’m sure someone will pay more than $6.99 for that dress for sure, you have a good eye for style (obviously).

    • Yeah, I wish we could have met up, too! I haven’t been to Canada in forever, so maybe I’ll show up at your house one day.

      I would recommend Katsuya, and also Night + Market (not on a Saturday, and get there right when they open at 5pm). But keep in mind I really like spicy foods 🙂 I just looked up TLT Foods and everything looks and sounds so good! I’ll need to put that on my list for next time. Blue crab grilled cheese = mouth watering.

      Yeah, working up the energy to put together these experiments is definitely the biggest challenge to selling stuff! But I do think I need to test out Poshmark anyway to see how it compares to eBay.

  • Olivia @birds of a FIRE

    Looks like so much fun! More pics of the food you eat please 😀

    • Ha, the food pics are all on Instagram 🙂 You should join, if you aren’t already on there.

  • Frieda

    I live in the area, but Highland Park looks so much better in your photos! I’ve browsed Sunbeam Vintage many times but have never bought anything there. I haven’t tried K&M Coffee–probably for the best, since becoming a regular would be dangerous for the budget. And my kid could eat her weight in soup dumplings, so Din Tai Fung is usually reserved for a birthday or celebratory meal.

    • Ha, it’s funny how things always look better in pictures, right? One thing I had to get used to is that even cute cafes are located on busy, wide streets, which kind of takes away the cuteness. I’ve read mixed things about Sunbeam. If you want that kind of mid-century look with no effort, it seems like it’s a good place, but if you’re looking for authentic vintage, it’s probably not the place for you. And definitely try The Kindness coffee from K+M. It was such a unique and tasty drink. Plus, the employees were super friendly!

  • I want all the food! Yeah, I totally agree that food out can be one of the best parts of a trip, even if expensive.

    You should totally try meditating, by the way!! Even at work if I’m stressed, I’ll just stare at a point and focus on breathing in and out. 😃

    • Yeah, that coffee was the stuff of dreams! Can you meditate if you’re too impatient for yoga? Because I was definitely that person in the back of the class who was wondering when the next pose was happening. But yes, it would be nice to have some way to destress no matter where I am!

      • Haha, I’m more of a zumba gal, so I wouldn’t know. 😉

        I do know that meditation can be especially useful for people who are “bad” at meditating. 🙂 Your mind will wander, especially at first, but you just need to bring yourself back to center (best way to do this is to mentally say “inhale” and “exhale” as you breathe). Want to scratch your nose? Observe the sensation, but don’t act on it. ^_^ . Meditation and exercise are two super simple things to implement in daily routines that do wonders for well-being.

        • Yeah, I know Gen Y Money wrote a post about meditation, so I think I have to read it again. Or you can just tell me more about it at the meet up 🙂

  • Haha, I love that you drove around looking at houses and foliage. The foliage out here in southern California is so different from the northeast – with all the giant ferns and succulents, sometimes I feel like I’m in prehistoric times, like Jurassic Park! Some of the cities offer rebates if you replace your grass lawn with drought-tolerant plants, like succulents or cacti, which I think can be as beautiful as the lush trees back east.

    • Well, creeping on nice buildings is mostly what I do here in NYC, so I’m just acting like my normal self when I travel 🙂 But yes! Even the crappy house in LA had to-die-for orange trees and foliage. And some of the succulents were giants! It’s very interesting how you can get a rebate by swapping in dry plants. And it makes your lawn have way more curb appeal. I really love the landscape and foliage of the Southwest, even more so than the trees here on the East Coast.

      Also are you on Bloglovin? For selfish reasons, it would be great to have a way to keep up with your blog 🙂 And thanks for stopping by, Jess!

      • Ahh you made my day again! Thanks for the suggestion! I activated Bloglovin now and added a link from my blog. I use Feedly to follow all of my blogs, so I wasn’t very familiar with Bloglovin (plus the name sounds like McLovin from Superbad, which turned me off before, haha).

        • It’s true, it’s a cheesy name! Yay, I can keep up with your blog again. I see people follow me on Feedly, but for some reason, I can’t get into it!

  • Can’t believe both cab rides cost half of your plane ticket 😱

    Seems like you had a really productive trip! Definitely have to re-read this post for all the delicious food recommendations when I eventually make my way over there.

    Airports that don’t have some kind of healthy option are always so disappointing like no one wants to feel even gassier when flying :/

    I definitely try to budget on trips. The hardest was when I studied in Italy because back in 2012 the exchange rate was not favorable for the dollar so everything just felt so much more expensive. I did use cash only so it was definitely easier to track how much money I had left to spend and luckily I didn’t run out.

    I’m so curious to see if you’ll be able to flip that Zara dress on postmark 😉

    • Ugh, I know. Airport transfers make me mad every time. For fun, I looked up the price for a shuttle and it was $77. The cheapest way is to use the Air train, but that takes 1.5 or 1.75 hours, and not something you want to do at 1am…Now that I think about it, it’s cheaper to transfer to Newark, which I always gripe about, but at least they have shuttles from Manhattan for like $30 RT.

      Just with a quick online search (read: very scientific official research), I saw lots of people don’t budget for vacations, even super frugal people. I think it’s one of those things that many people just prioritize over all other spending, and they just drastically underspend in other categories to make it work.

      When you’re mostly by yourself, I can get a lot more done on trips. Don’t have to consider what other people want to do, heh.

      And yes, the Poshmark experiment will be interesting indeed! I think I want to do a throwdown of like Poshmark vs. Depop vs. eBay.

  • Accidental FIRE

    Those gardens look amazing! Too bad the cab rides were so darn expensive, they’re trying to steal your frugal badge!

    • The gardens were such a hidden gem, and really beautiful. Can’t believe they let randos just roll up unchecked. And you’re so right about my frugal badge, haha. I have to defend that with my life!

  • Kate @ making it rain

    What a fun weekend! I am the same as you – I never budget on trips but I loathe the expense of airport transfer. When I was younger, I would take public transit to and from airports even when it was wildly unreasonable, but have found in the last couple years I am more willing to fork over the cash for a taxi or uber (#lifestyleinflation). Luckily, I can usually swing that in my home city for $25 one way so the expense is well worth the time and hassle saved.

    You have so inspired me to do a foodie trip to LA! I always just fly into LAX and then hit the road to SD, where one of my best friends lives, but that might be changing soon.

    Also, I am obsessed with lavender anything, so that latte & ice cream sound like a dream.

    • Normally I’d take public transit, too, but when it’s super early or late at night, my sleep is worth the premium. Otherwise, I love where I live in the city, so I don’t have much to complain about besides that 🙂 But yes, I agree with you on the lifestyle inflation part. For instance, I used to take this $15 bus to Boston that was wildly unsafe, but now I take the $49 Amtrak, which doesn’t get me there THAT much more quickly, but it’s quiet, and I can actually do stuff like read and do work on there.

      I love San Diego! I had the best time there going to all the beaches and riding bikes and eating tacos. I just looked and there’s another meditation garden in Encinitas, which is on the way to San Diego, for the next time you do that road trip.

      And yes, next time you fly into LAX, definitely spend a few days there at least to try out the food! The latte and ice cream were so delicious and I would definitely recommend them!

  • I also don’t budget when I travel so your take was interesting to compare with. I do treat traveling as a chance to shop or eat only for things / food I wouldn’t be able to get easily. (For example, I go to Japan 4-5 times a year so anything I can get cheaper there, I wouldn’t look at anywhere else.)

    About cabs, I only take them if I’m traveling with at least 2 other people. It kinda evens out that way. And I make sure to book flights when I can actually take the train/bus to get to the airport. It’s a bit of a sacrifice in that I don’t leave as early as I want to sometimes – say always getting a later flight than 7 am so I’m sure public transit’s running – but cabs are such a money pit that I’m willing to do it. As much as possible, I also take cabs with a flat rate if I really have to. An uber works too.

    • Yeah, I feel like not budgeting for travel seems to be the prevailing MO. Oh man, next time you go to Japan, go to Tokyu Hands for me. I love that place! I got a bunch of nice leather working tools from there that I couldn’t get here in the US, or they were crazy expensive on Amazon.

      Well, your cab plan just makes too much sense, so of course I didn’t follow it. But yes, it was definitely painful to shoulder the cost alone, so I plan on picking better flight times in the future. The first “cab” was Lyft, and then the second was an actual cab. Ha, I thought I could just call a cab company from Brooklyn to take me to the airport, but my husband says that’s not how it works. You either have to hail one on the street or use Uber. That just goes to show my inexperience with cabs. Rookie mistakes!

      Hope you are doing well, Daisy!

      • I can see why you thought so – in some places I’ve visited, you CAN call a cab company to send a cab for you to take. I don’t know why that isn’t the norm in NYC. Guess I’ve learned something new!

        And yes, I’m good, thanks! Traveling as usual lol.

        • Yeah, in most places you can schedule a cab, but here in NYC you have to call a private company called “car service.”

  • Alicia McElhaney

    UGH THE CABS!! the first time i tried to take public transit to a flight, i got a fine for not realizing that i was on a select bus. #embarrassing. I somehow always forget to factor in the cost of cabs to the airport when it comes to travel.

    • Yeah, GROSS. I really need to get better with timing flights so taking the subway is actually feasible. I usually pick JFK, but now that I think about it, a shuttle from Manhattan to Newark is probably a cheaper deal–how?

    • Cindy in the South

      Well, I get to seem like I am really county and backwards, but you received a fine for getting on the wrong bus???? What exactly is a select bus? We have one bus to the airport. Yea, I do live in the sticks…lol

      • Alicia McElhaney

        Haha so in New York, if you pay for an unlimited subway card, you also get access to buses. Select buses are crowded, so instead of inserting your subway pass on the bus like normally, you have to do it at a terminal at the bus stop and then get a receipt. I had no idea, and had already gotten onto the bus to the airport. The driver didn’t have me insert my subway card, so I thought it was free. But when I got off, there were fare checkers looking for a receipt. I didn’t have one, explained what happened & got a fine. It sucked 🙁

  • “The cost for those airport rides burn every single time.”
    Me toooooooooooo! Our Marin airporter back to San Fran was about 50% of our flight price too. I know there’s probably a business model and they’re maintaining overheads but jeez, someone invent a jet pack already.

    How do you know if an item is vintage? Just by the look and style?

    I hated Poshmark. I think you might hate it too. It’s a social network rather than a sales platform. You sell more items by following a bunchhhhh of people and hope for followers who are only there for headcount or looking for shares. It’s just a mess to me.

    • OMG, I hate the cab rides. In Manhattan, they have shuttle buses from certain areas, but none in Brooklyn, because we’re the redheaded stepchild, I guess.

      I can tell something is vintage by fabric and style and finishings (like, metal zippers, etc.). The dead giveaway is usually how the size tag looks.

      I did make a Poshmark account to buy something once, and I remember I got invited to all these “Poshmark parties.” Not sure what they are, but yeah, I don’t like the social aspect of it. Also, I can’t stand how people refuse to provide real info on something they are trying to sell. So lazy! But anyway, I’m excited to see how it compares to eBay and other platforms.