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?


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


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


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


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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