Friday, May 9, 2008

May Fabu-Fun – Hot stuff for the would-be connected to do in the City

I am a graduate student in a city renowned for its high expense and its infinite migration of hustlers and starf#$%^s. It is glamourous city and everyone wants a piece of the action. The broadly advertised lifestyle of classic 6 apartments and nights on the exclusive Thompson Hotel roof bar is like the cheerleading squad in high school – small, out of touch and open to very precious few. Whatever the locals here will tell you, almost everyone who has migrated to Manhattan has done so for the tried and true plot details of a Jacqueline Susann novel with a twist of Truman Capote casual high-life references. Everyone who has migrated into Manhattan has at one time had the highest hopes that great success, sex and love will be the outcome of the inevitable thousands of fabulous restaurant openings, book launches and exclusive magazine parties. Graduate students, who must balance years of self-imposed poverty driven unhappiness with fantastical delusions of City society are no exception. I, like so many other 20-somethings, raced to New York in the early 2000s with the idea that my life would be an episode of Sex in the City.

Five years later, Tom Ford’s invites are not littering my mailbox. I am still a graduate student.

What do you do here when you want to bite the Big Apple, but you are impoverished and have a healthy respect for your bank balance? You own that you aren’t living the life of a Candace Bushnell blonde. You embrace your horror at paying $300 bottle service for a $25 bottle of Absolut vodka and you take advantage of the well-connected free events in the City.

These events are bountiful. Ultimately, thousands migrate to Manhattan every year to be a part of the social fabric and when they get here they make their own wildly, neurotic fun. Here are three suggestions if you can’t watch Park Avenue princesses sipping cabanas during the month of May.

1)Style Wars: The Battle Royale
May 9, 2008
Stoli Hotel, 330 West st. RSVP
Admission: free
Part Project Runway, part American Gladiator done in the style of the “walk off” from Zoolander, this even is being held at a hot hotel in Chelsea. The vodka bar is open, competitors are shredding clothes, the models are walking a wild runway and DJs promise great beats. It’s worth RSVPing for the free view of what promises to be an only in NYC spectacle.

2) The Chelsea Gallery openings
Every Thursday and Friday all year
Admission: free

With the birth of the art market in the 1950s came the birth of the dating market. NYC galleries have so embraced that free drink and the promise of sex will bring in the crowds and heighten their chances of a sale, they have set up their own singles scene. Thursday and Friday nights are wildly popular for gallery openings, that are typically stocked with interesting people, free or cheap wine and sometimes munchies. Most importantly, you can see some pretty amazing art, meet the artist and if you have more money than I , maybe even buy. These nights are always a blast. Look for the schedule and maps at New York Art World

3) The New York YAK book launch, readings and seminars
Many great pics for May – too many to mention
Free subscription and Free admission
Must subscribe to find event locations

New York is the publishing capitol of North America. Part of the business of getting things printed on paper and sold is promotion. Luckily, for New Yorkers, this means great access to great authors and their promotional events. There are so many published works being launched in the City all the time, that it isn’t possible to list them all. Book events of interest include Ted Sorenson May 12, Siri Hustvedt May 13, William Shatner May 14, Lincoln Hall May 15, Alison Weir May 22, Lauren Weisenberger May 27, Ed Koch May 27 and Theresa Rebeck May 28.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Fabu-money 2. Grad pay not paying the bills? Find the hidden job market

Side work in NYC: not all about waitressing

New York is possibly one of the most poorly understood places by world, rit large. Even its own inhabitants have difficulty describing City-life accurately. New York life is not an endless stream of Sex in the City-like dates and parties. The highest classes are not living the life of the Real Housewives of New York City and no one is delicately munching on croissants and coffee in evening wear while watching the Tiffany windows fill up with jewels first thing in the morning. New York is a highly stratified, effervescent, high pressure city of enormous contradictions all united by one pervasive concept – money.

It’s the most expensive city in the Western world. Every single person here is here either in pursuit of money or the freedom to spend it.

Spend it we do – on everything from 5 dollar a litre antibiotic-free milk, to $1700 Jimmy Choo boots. The cockroaches here pay rent.

The unexpected loss of my graduate pay, this Thursday, came as more than a bit of a shock. There is little I can do about it. It, along with many other graduate pay streams has disappeared due to aggressive re-budgeting with the institution. In a city where a carton eggs costs $4, and $3000 a month will get you a hovel to share with 3 other passionate Mary Tyler Moore types in the right neighbourhood for self-promotion, what does one do when they find themselves unexpectedly kicked to the curb?

That is the truly fabulous thing about New York. The shallow and cold adage that everyone is in pursuit of money, while heart-hardening, really is a saviour in times of need. Everything is big business here and, therefore, everything has a payable duty associated with it.

There is a tremendous hidden job market in NYC. Some of the work is legal, some not. Some is tasteful and some is..well…not.

In my current time of need, I’ve asked myself what could I do for money? What would I be willing to do for money?

Like everyone, I have certain limitations. I am student, but I have dissertation research to complete. My schedule is flexible, but my time is precious. I have a serious boyfriend who would likely object to dancing on a pole for money, so certain types of dancing might not be a realistic option. I have my future professional reputation to protect, so whatever I do it should, at the very least, not harm my job opportunities when I emerge from my degree. I also have certain commitments that cannot be broken, including a small teaching gig on Thursday nights.

With all of those restrictions acknowledged, I spent this week searching New York’s hidden job market. First stop, the online want ads craigslist.

First job of interest : Event and Nightlife Promotions Host
Search term: graduate student

Turns out, if I had already been frequent guest of the high-end clubs in the City, I could be an event and nightlife promotions host. As an employee of a Nightlife Promotions company, I would be expected to attend these clubs between 2 to 4 nights a week, and meet new people to invite to parties that the company is developing to promote other clubs. Job duties include working private tables and developing contacts. How I am to develop these contacts – well that is another story entirely.

At first read, I realize I am not the gal for this job. I’m not in my early twenties. I’m not a frequent attendee of Butter, Balthazaar, Bungalow 8. I have no history of attending these clubs I would need to enter to do the promotions and my wardrobe reflects that. That said, many other girls I know a little younger than I might be able to pull this off while attending college. My first feelings of frustration are accompanied by the thought that this job is poorly suited to graduate students.

My mind flits back to two ex-promoters I know. The first was a struggling boy band singer. He tended bar at a pub on 10th avenue up the street from my ex-boss’ office. He described his previous life as a nightlife promoter while I pushed around a goat cheese salad while waiting for my lunch-time meeting. At first, the promotion life was great. They ask you to work 2 or 4 days, but he was promoting almost every night. The action was amazing, hot girls everywhere and everybody wants to be your friend. The pay okay, not great by New York standards, but great if you consider that you are getting paid to party. Intoxication is frowned upon, but your job is to keep the party going and if that means drinking and drugs, that’s fine. Your hours inevitably end at 4:30 and many nights run into mid-morning. He had a blast, but after 6 months ditched the gig for a low pay bartending job a little further than just off Broadway. The late hours were dragging him further away from his singing goal.

Another promoter worked for a firm that focused on within industry promotions. He set up parties that would promote products for commercial sale between companies. The pay was lower, the atmosphere was tense, but he was chosen with few qualifications simply because he had started a graduate degree.

Conclusion – not the job for me, but might work in the short term for someone else.

Second job of interest: Writer/Researcher needed for counter-terrorism article
Search term: graduate student, writer

After the nightlife promoter job it occurs to me that maybe I should use the skills I’ve spent over a decade developing in writing and research. This search produces fewer hits, but immediately I start to find some freelance writing jobs… these I like. Many of these jobs are for topics I have either previously researched or have the resources to complete. I can work on the material while waiting for experiments to run their course or in between tricky moments with my own publications. The downside – the pay is unreliable and the positions are all freelance. I might have to work hard to see no new messages from prospectives in my inbox. If I publish too often under my real name, I will lose the respect of my peer-reviewed peers.
That said, for a quick buck I could do worse. A quick cruise down the page shows that some of the writing gigs pay little or no money. I make a quick vow that no writing gig is worth zero pay.

Conclusion: Will apply or at the very least, pass it on to someone who will

Third Job of Interest: Street Photographer
Search Term: photographer

Like a lot of people, I’m a hobby photographer. The ad from a new start up interested in street photography is looking for a photographer to take photos of people and get information about them. They will pay $4 per confirmed photographic subject.

My first thought is “fashion mistake photog”, followed quickly by images of locals in wildly overpriced casual clothing discussing their fashion choices with NYC via AM New York. Then it occurs to me that this ad says “start up”. What sort of information do they want? Maybe there are private investigators. The ad does not mention photographic releases, a legal necessity if the pics are to be published. Lastly, it occurs to me that I wouldn’t want wander around and take photos of strangers for $4 per shot. I have plenty of days with poor shots. Unless I was interested in doing photography as a career would this pay? My main means of support pays around $60 an hour, while my back up pays $18. I conclude that it would be worth my time if I get more than 7 people per hour and can use the work as a reference to sell my hobby photos. I reason that I could get 3 acceptable but uninspired shots per hour.

Conclusion: Great for a student interested in photography already getting paid less than $12 an hour. May apply after review of current portrait portfolio. jobs has revealed a few hidden jobs I had not anticipated and could do on my current research schedule. Things are looking up in the money department.

To be continued….

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fabu-money 1 – Developing Savings while a Graduate Student

If a drug cartel can set up a savings program, anyone can
Photo credt:

I’ve been a university student longer than I’ve been anything else, other than human and female. All told, I’ve been in school, on and off, for 14 years, 11 of which were spent as a full time student. I’ve racked up student debt and I’m now in the process of paying that odd while I remain a student. Pretty snazzy huh? How am I doing it?

Well, first, once I entered my doctorate, I stopped taking out loans. A students should never enter a doctoral program that is not willing to pay something for them to be there in the first place. That was my first smart move. I made sure that the program I entered offered me something. Granted, my program didn’t pay me very much and I have had to take up teaching to pay the bills – but I am not gaining debt while I’m in school. That is very, very important.

I still have a hefty debt load from my undergraduate degree. One of these loans is a government loan that cannot be paid down while I am in school. The other is a student line of credit. I am paying them down and building wealth at the same time. How? Well, my method may not be for everybody. It’s a mix of advice for several big financial gurus. It may not be the method for you, so I’m not universally recommending it. I’m not a certified financial advisor and have no credentials in the area of money management. I’m just giving you the D.L. on why debt load is no longer burning a hole in my stomach.

There are 3 large components to my strategy. They are as follows:

a) Develop Savings - Pay Yourself First
b) Be Aggressive – Track, Evade and Slaughter Debt
c) Invest Directly

I’ll only discuss the first of these components today.

I Developed Savings

Having money is a savings account is so important in easing my worries about debt. One of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced is one of helplessness when I was faced with large, sudden charges for health care or tax repayment and had no money in my account but rent.

Money can be saved in a savings account with the goal of using it for emergencies, aggressive payments towards debt or investment. Without liquid savings of some kind, there is very little I could do with my own means to support myself when unexpected bills or cash losses happened. How does one establish savings when one has little income? Well, this might not be the best method for everyone and I’m not certified in personal finance, but this is how I did it.

I Paid Myself

I earn a pittance as a graduate student. I formerly held the opinion that I should direct all my spare money towards debt and save later. When I looked at that logic closely in light of my consumer debt, it seemed ridiculous. My credit card has an interest rate of 18.6%. Unless I was capable of making aggressive payments towards the principle, I would be constantly spooning out an ocean of interest with no assets to show for my time.

That’s when I adopted a practice recommended by David Chilton, the author of the Wealthy Barber - that is, set aside 10% of my income for liquid savings and do not touch it. That might seem like a lot if you can’t pay your phone bill, but I did this even lean times. The way I see it, I’ve earned, approximately 400 000 to date – excluding gifts, union repayments and possibly a few jobs I don’t recall. That doesn’t seem like much for a life time of working, but had I saved 10% of that, I’d have 40 000 in the bank right now.10% is so small, that even when paying the bills seems hard most people do not notice the money. Every paycheque, I set 10% of my net income aside and do not touch it.

I Paid Myself Unexpected Money

The savings have accumulated really quickly, despite my student status. I’ve saved roughly 10K in two years and have barely suffered doing it. I’m not earning 50K a year, so you might ask how I did managed to save that money. Along with paying myself 10%, I also put any unexpected funds into my savings account.

Unexpected funds are cheques from grandma, income tax repayments, money saved by buying something on sale, money earned in past time activities or through sale of personal items. I defined it as money that falls outside of regular income or savings made by not purchasing something full price. When my parents give me a cheque for my birthday, I have a choice to spend it or save it. I decided to put this money in savings the day I looked at one of my checkings account statements and realized that all of those purchases were for temporary items, usually clothing or restaurant dining, that I would not miss if they disappeared or if I never had them. Rather than spend this money on something dispensable, I put it aside. I even threw in money refunded from purchases that could not be directly refunded back to the paying account

Outside Work just for me

To help build my savings I decided to earn a little bit of money from work outside of my regular graduate student jobs. As my research schedule is very demanding, the work I chose could not have high time demands. Waitress and bartending work would have required more time than I could spend. The work also had to be enjoyable as it would occupy some of my very infrequent spare time. In the end, I chose worked several, short term, outside jobs. I searched for art school modeling work (they look for people of all shapes and sizes), and basic book research work. Both of these positions were fun and had agreeable schedules. The funds from that work, while small, were also put into my savings.

I Celebrated Every Savings…

… a money healthy way. It was really easy for me to save money when I had fun doing it. Even when I have $50 in my checkings account the last few days before my paycheque, I always found a way to celebrate the $75 I put into savings when that paycheque arrived. Sometimes that meant I bought a cafĂ© latte, sometimes that meant I went into my research area late. Other times, it meant that I just took joy in watching the numbers in my savings account increase.

I Never Compared Myself to My Contemporaries

Graduate work is a tough road. Not a lot of people understand why I pursued it and it can be tough to stick to my research while I’m watching my college friends buy houses and have babies. It can be very depressing to look at my accounts and start accounting for the assets my contemporaries have. ……so I don’t do it. I don’t think about what other people have or wonder if I’m financially behind everyone else. It’s self-defeatist. I just take joy in the idea that I’m doing something for me.

Monday, January 7, 2008


I’m a nut for pretty stationary. The penpal of no less than 14 people when I was a teenager, I grew up hunting for quirky and attractive paper goods to scrawl my goings-on in my chicken scratch to friends overseas. Being a young teenager, before the internet was used in homes, I spent a lot of time searching for paper that expressed my personality but fit within my budget.

Today, I, like most people, have limited my extension of personal, pretty, paper letters to wedding invitations, thank you cards, holiday cards and letters to old-timers who have limited computer access. Although I’m sciencey and should be writing with black pens, and maintain sterile, serious looking calendars and notepads detailing great thoughts, I remain a sucker for pretty paper goods. In the spirit of looking for those perfect paper goods on my super low budget, I’ve found the following:

Fabulous Stationary

Quirky, pretty, personalized and, if you need a larger number of cards, a beautiful bargain. My personal favourites include:

The Calling/Business Card: $55 for 100, or roughly $0.55 a card. My information and affiliation changes frequently, but I have multiple non-sciencey meetings a year where I need a memorable card.

The Stripes Card: $125 for 100 cards, or $1.25 per card - printed. These are great if you have a need for a lot of hip save the date, thank you cards or even laid back wedding invitations. With the average cost of low end wedding invitations and thank you cards costing twice as much before printing, these cards are a groovy alternative.


Greeting Cards
This CafePress shop has some highly mod, monochromatic greeting cards under the title of “Go-go Girls”. The price, while not by any stretch prohibitive, designates these cards to my low rotation deck of stationary – that is, they are used when I want to impress people with my youthful hipness..or hiposity. You can check out everything else this great designer has to offer here.


This store has many more cool designs that are budget friendly, including hyper-mod postcards

Paper Studio

Decorative Paper/Paper to be framed/DIY Paper

I love the new look of wallpaper and I hate wallpaper. I rent, I have no money and I hate dust. Rather that hang wallpaper, I frame decorative paper or use it to spruce up utilitarian furniture (post on revitalized filing cabinet to come). Some of the prettiest papers at a low cost, for this purpose, are available at Paper Studio.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Years Resolution: The Fabu-closet

Like most people I make New Years resolutions. I tend to keep them, but then, I tend to set goals that are attainable within 6 months. This year I set three goals:

a) Commit 40 hours or more a week to being a scientist
b) Eat in and Invest as part of a plan to be more financially responsible
c) organize my closets.

Resolution B will be the topic of a future Fabulife post. This post will be dedicated to this month's project, organizing the apartment closets.

Why? Well, an organized closet assists in buying new clothes and linens, keeping older clothes and linens in good shape and lifting self-esteem. If you don't believe that last point, I would suggest reading one of the multitude of books out there on defining personal style and finding something to wear in a closet full of unwearable clothes. Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo, Posh Spice have just published books on this matter. Tim Gunn and Veronica Webb host a show dedicated to this topic as well. They all recommend organizing closets as a first step in defining personal style, "destressing" the outfit assembly process and improving self-image.

Personally, I'm organizing the closets because I can't take the tumbling boxes, and falling towels anymore. I have about $250 to spend in this effort. While I love the style of Paris Hilton's last walk-in closet, I have 600 square foot apartment with three little reach in closets with sliding the dream will have to wait.

People with money can afford to hire a closet organization service. Companies like Closet Organizer USA, will custom build closet inserts for a customer based on customer needs, closet dimensions and closet type.

I am, however, a graduate student in New York City. I can't afford custom closet design by anyone but myself.

As I am a student, I am a renter. I, therefore, am not interested in buying storage systems that extensive wall installation.

For my whopping budget of $200, I was able to find the following closet organization items that will cure my falling towel and tumbling box issues.

This "Hold-All Handbag Hanger" in Blue Blossom, currently being carried by Target for $29.99. It is a little overpriced, in my view, but I love that it holds the bags vertically.

No New York City apartment would be complete without space saving hanging closet bags. This set of two are available at Target for $19.99. Given the pest infestations in the city (i.e. carpet beetles, moths) that can lead to unfortunate damage to both natural and synthetic fiber clothing, vinyl clothing bags are really important for storing items not often used, like formal wear.

Closits modular storage systems are low cost, do not require wall installation and have a sort of cute cottage, shabby-chic feel to them. The system has multiple components including backed shelves, sliding drawer units and show cubby holes. All components are available at Walmart and Target for roughly $50 or less. I've invested in the double shelf unit, large drawer storage, and shoe storage.

With the cash I had left over, I searched and found reasonably priced wooden hangers.

Alas, the wire monstrosities can be tossed and no more shall Joan Crawford like screams regarding hangers will emanate from under my apartment door.