Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ballerina Goes Thrifting

Today I'd like to share with you an interview I conducted with dancer and thrifting-extrordinare Carolina Marques. Read what the Alabama Ballet member (and former New Yorker) has to say about navigating the city's immense retail industry, without sacrificing the ability to pay rent.

Photo by Melissa Dooley

When I first became acquainted with Marques, I was struck by two immediate observations; one, that she has a deep respect for and knowledge of the art formballetin which she excels, and two, that she has a wardrobe that could only be rivaled by the likes of Carrie Bradshaw. I suppose it should come as no surprise that someone so meticulous with her technique, so dedicated to the practice and performance of dance, would also harness that same creativity and care when compiling her closet.

Carolina has been dancing for eighteen years, and thrifting for seven. Shopping on a dancer's budget can be a daunting task (especially in NYC), but she approaches the challenge as she approaches her daily rehearsals: with great energy and thought.

1. You moved to NYC when you were 17 to join the Joffrey Ballet School. What was that first year like living and dancing in the city?
I just remember being really excited to be in the city. There's so much to do and to see, so much inspiration everywhere. I think every dancer wants to come to New York because it has two of the best dance companies in the world: American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet. It's unlike any other city in the worldif you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

2. Have you always been interested in fashion?
As dancers, we are always aware of what we put on our bodies. We always want to look our best. I think that's how it all started. In school, we usually have to wear a uniform, but we still get to wear beautiful costumes for performances. It's different when you are in a company and you can pretty much wear what you want. We never just grab the first leotard we find and rush to class. We cautiously choose our outfits for class, depending on the day and our moods. 
3. How did living in NYC influence your style?
I found people watching, window shopping and going to museums to be inspiring. Plus you can pretty much wear anything you want in New York and no one will really judge you!

4. Let's talk thrifting. What's your strategy upon entering an eclectic, often chaotic thrift store?
You have to be patient and really look through thingsand it's always important to try things on. You can find some really awesome pieces for decent prices at thrift stores in New York that are most likely better quality than Forever 21. 

5. Top three thrift stores in NYC?
Beacon's Closet is definitely my favorite! Then Buffalo Exchange and Housing Works

6. Most important thing to keep in mind when thrifting?
Don't spend money on a piece that you don't really love, and probably aren't going to wear, just because it's Dolce and Gabbana or something. Don't worry too much about labels. Once I bought a pair of Miu Miu shoes that I loved but that were too small for me..I wore them once and hated myself! 
7. Besides shopping at thrift stores, what are some other ways you managed to enjoy the city on a dancer's budget? 
It's so easy to spend all of your money really quickly in the city. There are so many interesting restaurants and bars to explore that you never want to just stay home and cook dinner! Make a list of the restaurants that you really want to go to, and treat yourself to one of them every week or two. Many restaurants have lunch specials that are a much better deal than going out to dinner. Vanessa's Dumpling House has delicious dumplings that are super cheap. Georgetown Cupcake has a free cupcake flavor of the day, everyday. You can find out what the flavor is on their Twitter.

8. What made you decide to leave NYC? 
I learned so much at the Joffrey Ballet School and in the Joffrey Concert Group, but I wanted to have a full-time job as a ballet dancer. I was offered a contract with Alabama Ballet, so I moved to Birmingham. I do enjoy living in Alabamait's definitely a nice change. I miss the city though, and I plan to come and visit when I have some free time. 

9. Any words of wisdom for young dancer's thinking of moving to NYC?
This should be the best time of your life! There are so many museums, expositions, Broadway shows, venues with live music, dance performancesthere's always something exciting happening. Take advantage of being in a city that has so much to offer.

Photo by Melissa Dooley

From pirouettes to pumps, Carolina manifests a grace and sincerity that reveals itself both on and off the stage. The patience with which she shops is the same patience with which she works in the ballet studio, propelling herself into a future of classical and contemporary roles that we can all hope to witness. If you find yourself in Birmingham this month, look for Marques onstage in Roger Van Fleteren's "Romeo and Juliet". 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Long Time No See

It's been a while, I know...
And this break has been embarrassingly bad for my wallet.
Over the past few months I've become a little distracted blogging about art, and so my Penny-Pinching days came to an unnecessary and unwise halt.
But I'm back.
And while I peruse the papers and the internet in search of discounts and deals for budget-concious New Yorkers, feel free to check out:
I'll be in touch.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tryin' to catch me ridin' dirty

You may have noticed an influx of blue bikes in NYC lately. Or perhaps you've embarked on your morning stroll, only to discover that a bike docking station has appeared along the street around the corner. Watching New Yorker after New Yorker whiz past on a metallic blue bike (front basket included) has made me pretty eager to discover what the deal is with Citi Bike.

Image from nytimes.com

Citi Bike is a bike sharing system that allows customers to pick-up and drop-off bikes at any docking station in the city. Residents (or visitors) of NY can choose to purchase a 24-Hour Access Pass ($9.95), a 7-Day Access Pass ($25.95), or an Annual Membership ($95.00). The only catch is that bikers must check their bikes into a Citi Bike station every 30 minutes, or 45 minutes for annual members.

So, is taking advantage of Citi Bike something you should look into? From an environmental standpoint, yes! NYC has no shortage of pollution output, so the more people that choose bikes over cars the better. In terms of your health, bikes are a great alternative to riding the train, or hopping in a cab. What about the financial aspect of purchasing Citi Bike passes? Ninety-five dollars is less than the price of a month-long metro card—so $95 a year for unlimited bike trips is much cheaper than a year's worth of subway fare!

The fact that bikes must be checked in every 30-45 minutes could be a hassle for those with a longer commute. If the distance from home to work or home to school can be traveled via bike, however, then I would definitely recommend trading in your subway card for a Citi Bike pass. Try it out for a day or a week to decide if you are able to take advantage of what Citi Bike has to offer. Even a day of biking back and forth from home to work has benefits for your health, and for the health of the planet.

As for me, I first have to overcome my fear of biking in the city! I think I'll ease into it by starting out with a bike ride in an outer borough, and then slowly work my way towards biking in Manhattan. It would certainly be nice to save some of the money that I spend on subway fare each month.

Another option is, of course, to purchase and ride your own bike without any time constraints. The advantage of Citi Bike is that you'll never struggle to store your bike, as there are countless docking station locations. If finding a place to lock up your bike is not a problem for you, however, then riding your own bike would be the financially superior choice.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Looking Ahead to the Opera

I think the opera is great. The costumes are beautiful, the sets are elaborate, and the stamina and talent of the singers is pretty amazing. But going to the opera can be kind of expensive, and even with the intermissions I have trouble sitting still for four or so hours. I was excited, then, to stumble upon a way to witness the opera that was free, and that allowed me to move around.

Each summer, the Metropolitan Opera hosts their annual Summer HD Festival. During this festival, HD recordings of well-known operas will be projected onto a screen set up in Lincoln Center Plaza. The festival is completely free for anyone who wants to stop by and have a seat, either on a blanket, a fold-up beach chair, or somewhere on the concrete.

Though seeing the opera on a screen is not quite the same as seeing it live on stage, it's about as close as you can get. An added benefit of the HD projections is that they include subtitles; I once went to see an opera in Italian, and since 'ciao' is pretty much the only Italian word I know, you can imagine I was quite lost without subtitles.

The festival takes place at the end of August (this year August 24th through September 2nd), and is a nice way to take advantage of the last of the summer weather, while simultaneously enjoying the opera. I find that the fresh air, combined with the ability to get up and walk around ensures that I will be alert throughout the performance (it also doesn't hurt that I can consume coffee in my seat). Plus you have the freedom to whisper to your friends next to you about what is happening on the stage. Just don't whisper too loudly if you're sitting with the main crowd, lest you'd like to be the target of a bombarding of "Shhhhs".

I plan on heading to Lincoln Center on September 2nd to see Aida. The screening starts at 8 pm, but as the seating is first-come, first-served I will try to arrive as early as possible. If you're only interested in seeing a snippet of opera you are free to come and go as you like, as there are no official tickets or seats.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Do This, Not That

New York City is filled with things: things to do, things to see and things to own. It's easy to find yourself spending more and more, in an attempt to participate in all that NYC has to offer. What I've learned (or what I'm trying to learn), however, is that living in the city is not one big race to see how much 'culture' you can swallow in a day. It's not about seeing every new art exhibit that comes through the five boroughs. It's not about trying out all of the restaurants within walking distance of your home. It's not about having playbills from every single musical, T-shirts from every concert at Madison Square Garden, and ticket stubs from every movie to come through the nearby theatre. There's a lot to get out and do, it's true, and paying NYC rent to sit at home all day would be a colossal waste of money, time, and life in general. But taking advantage of what is available in NYC should not be accompanied by the anxious feeling that you haven't seen enough, haven't done enough, and, whether we admit that we feel this or not, haven't bought enough. We still have to work, we still have to study, and we do, albeit unfortunately, still have to sleep. Maybe one morning you'll go for a run by the Hudson, and then return home to spend the afternoon studying. That's a day well-spent. Another day you'll make breakfast, pack lunch for work, and then grab dinner with a friend at the Met, after checking out a temporary exhibit. Taking advantage of the "things" in NYC is a matter of moderation, not a game in which contestants must grab as much as they can in the shortest amount of time. This will only leave 'winners' with an excess of information, and a deficiency of funds.

Living in the city is truly amazing, and entirely possible to enjoy without entertaining a constant state of anxiety and debt! Below I've listed some of the financially problematic temptations that I've come across while living in NYC, and solutions for achieving similar experiences without the 'aftertaste' of an empty wallet. I have found that these alternative activities are enjoyable, fulfilling, and relieve me of the worry that I'm not 'doing enough', or 'living enough' in such an incredible city. If you think of other activities or purchases that often draw your eye, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Do This, Not That

What you want to do: Go to a fancy restaurant with friends.
What you should do: Host a candlelit potluck.

The best thing about going out to dinner isn't the food (although that's certainly a part of it), it's your dining companions. The best dinners I've had in NYC are the ones that I've prepared with friends. You can host a dinner potluck-style and have each guest be in charge of one item, or you can make a group trip to the grocery store, split the cost of ingredients, and cook the food together. If you're preparing the meal as a team, this is a great opportunity to try out a fancy recipe that you wouldn't otherwise make. Not only is it more affordable to split expensive ingredients, but it's also much more efficient to make a meal when there are more than two hands chopping up all the goods.

Light some candles and put on some music (I recommend songza.com, a website that categorizes playlists by the genre and activity that it accompanies, and then plays them without any commercial interruptions), and you've got yourself a fancy night for a much better price.

What you want to do: Buy a delicious-looking $6 slice of Magonlia Bakery's German Chocolate Cake, and then consume it in your apartment while watching reruns of Mad Men.
What you should do: Make a cup of tea.

I won't deny that Magnolia's German Chocolate Cake is delicious (if not a little too sweet). If you're splitting a slice with a friend while discussing who is the Carrie and who is the Samantha of your friends group, then it might not be a bad idea. But buying a slice just to bring home and eat alone? Not worth the money. Don Draper requires your full attention, and you cannot be expected to focus both on him and chocolatey goodness. Make a cup of tea, add some honey for the sweetness your craving, and lose yourself in the trials and tribulations of advertising firms in the 1960s.

What you want to do: Spend the night bar hopping with friends.
What you should do: Split a bottle of wine and have a board game extravaganza.

There are some great happy hour specials that you can find in the city if you're craving an evening out with your friends. But once those happy hours end, drinks in NYC get real expensive, real fast. Rather than spend an electricity bill's worth of money on a few drinks, why not split the cost of a trip to the liquor store, and spend the evening with a game of Apples to Apples? Drinks are much cheaper when you buy/prepare them yourself, plus you won't have to scream over the radio/television/rambunctious visitors from Jersey (I'm just kidding New Jersey, we're all just bitter because your rent is cheaper) to talk to a friend who is sitting right across from you. I've written about board games before (I suppose I'm kind of a board game advocate), because I'm convinced of their power to entertain without breaking the bank.

What you want to do: Go shopping.
What you should do: Clean out your closet.

Chances are there are things in there that you don't even remember wearing. There are also probably things that don't fit, things that you no longer find appealing, and things that you've forgotten about but really love. Cleaning out your closet comes with both a mental and economic reward—you'll feel super accomplished (and a little less claustrophobic), and you'll also be armed with unwanted clothing that you can sell at a nearby consignment shop. Equipped with the cash from your clothes and the knowledge of exactly what is in your closet, you can now determine if shopping is still as mandatory as it originally seemed.

What you want to do: Embark on your daily morning trip to the closest coffee shop.
What you should do: Buy a coffeemaker.

Trust me, I know that brewing coffee at home isn't nearly as enticing as sipping your favorite brew amongst fellow coffee connoisseurs, accompanied by that carefully crafted coffee shop playlist. But that daily habit is expensive. Two to four dollar (depending on your preference) cups of coffee add up when purchased five or seven days a week. Instead, try recreating that coffee shop vibe at home. Pull up the NY Times website as your coffee is brewing. Check out playlists like this one to enhance the atmosphere. Pour the joe in your favorite mug, and enjoy the fact that you can have coffee in your hands without having to take off your pajamas.

What you want to do: Take a cab, it's late.
What you should do: Grab a friend and take the train.

Don't take the cab!! It's nighttime (or technically early morning), you're tired, and you know it's going to be a long wait before the train arrives. Too bad, take the train. I have succumbed on more than one occasion to the promise of a quick and easy trip home. The result? Standing outside of my door realizing that I just spent $20 on what could have been a $2.50 trip. Not worth it! If you know you're going to be out late, plan to make the trip home with a friend. Or stash a book in your bag. If you're worried about safety then have someone walk you to the train, but it's been my experience that the subway is often transporting more riders than you'd think for such a late hour. If you don't want to deal with the long wait for the train during late-night hours, make plans for a location that's within walking distance of your home. Cabs are just too expensive—it's really not worth it.

What you want to do: Sit at home, feeling sad that you can't spend money.
What you should do: Go for a walk.

You live in New York City—so your apartment is probably the size of Harry Potter's cupboard under the stairs. And if your apartment is anything like mine, that beautiful view of NYC that you imagined seeing out your window every morning when you first decided to move here? It's probably been replaced by a view of the alley between apartment buildings. Or a street level view of the butcher across the street. But maybe that's just me.

Going for a walk is one of the simplest ways to fight boredom, without spending money. You can walk along the river, walk through a park, or just walk around the block of your neighborhood. There is so much to see in NYC that you are guaranteed to spot something worth your while. You can spend your walk noticing things you haven't noticed before; let's face it, when was the last time that any of us looked up? NYC has some of the most interesting architectural designs in its historical buildings, modern skyscrapers, and newest developments. Just make sure to bring your focus back down every few seconds, so you don't wind up face-to-face with an angry New Yorker hissing about tourists and spacial awareness.

Candlelit dinner- shrimp and kale salad

The people I've met here in New York are without a doubt more important to me than all of the frozen yogurt at 16 Handles, the french fries at Shake Shack, and yes, even the chocolate at Max Brenner. That fact would be true whether I lived in Kansas City, or New York City. You might not have the biggest apartment, the fanciest clothes, the newest computer, or the highest paycheck—but if you've entered a few new numbers into your phone that you know you can call up at anytime, then you're definitely taking advantage of what NYC has to offer.

Friday, August 2, 2013

That'll Be Five Dollars

This afternoon as I was passing through Union Square, I decided to stop by the Greenmarket to look for something to make for lunch. I had only been to the market on weekends, and was pleased to find that a Friday early afternoon was much less crowded than a Saturday early afternoon.

Having spent multiple occasions weeping while tossing out shriveled greens and molding squash, I knew better than to buy more than what I'd eat today, tomorrow, and maybe the day after. The Union Square Greenmarket is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, so it's worth making more than one trip a week, and only buying what I plan to make that day.

from Bodhitree Farm

I entered the market not knowing what I was in the mood for, but was immediately drawn to a pile of produce the color of eggplant, but the size of a hot pepper. The sign read "Fairytale Eggplant". I couldn't resist. 

I found some yellow and green squash further into the market, that could be roasted alongside the eggplant. I also picked up a bundle of broccoli raab, and an ear of corn (I realized that I hadn't had corn on the cob all summer, and somehow that felt very wrong).

I left the market with a wallet only $5 lighter than what it had been when I entered–not bad for a bag of produce that was certainly going to last me more than one meal. At home I discovered that I had a good amount of brown rice, a little bit of chicken in the refrigerator, and a hefty supply of spices and oils.

I washed the skins of the squash and eggplant, then chopped each one into bite sized pieces. I spread the produce out inside a casserole dish, and then added a little bit of pepper, salt, and olive oil. I opened the oven, which was preset at 400 degrees.

The smoke alarm went off immediately.

After a small battle with the smoke alarm (has anyone else found a more effective method for turning off a smoke alarm than taking it off the wall and giving it a few good smacks?), I reduced the temperature to 300 degrees and placed the dish in the oven. While the vegetables were roasting, I cooked the rice.

After 15 minutes I checked on the vegetables: still too hard. I sprinkled dried basil and some balsamic vinaigrette over top, and then left the vegetables to cook a little longer.

In another ten minutes or so, the squash and eggplant were ready. I mixed them in a bowl with the rice and heated chicken, and then sat down to enjoy the meal. It was easy, quick, and the vegetables were fresh and flavorful. Next time I would probably add tomatoes, and definitely some more eggplant, as my squash-to-eggplant ratio was a little off.

I have enough roasted veggies left over to have for lunch tomorrow, as well as the corn and greens that I can use for dinner. Combined with the abundance of legumes and grains I found in my cabinet after cleaning out my shelves last week (I am embarrassed to admit I couldn't even remember buying half of what I found), I can make it through the weekend without spending more than that $5 on food.

I think that's a price that I can come to terms with.

If you're interested in checking out a Greenmarket but Union Square is a little too far, never fear. There are many locations throughout NYC, open various days and hours. There is more than one market located in every borough, featuring local farmers from upstate New York, New Jersey, etc. If you have a question about what something is, how to tell if it's ripe, or how to cook it, don't hesitate to ask the sellers! Everyone I've talked to has been more than helpful in their recommendations.

P.S. You can now find The Penny-Pinching New Yorker on Instagram! Look for @pennypinchingnewyorker, or #pennypinchingnewyorker.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Morning at the Hudson River

Monday morning 8 am. Wake up to the sound of a power drill in the hallway. Remind myself that it's my day off, and that I should just ignore the noises and go back to bed.
8:01 Get out of bed. Decide that listening to power drills is my personal hell on earth. Must leave immediately.
8:15 Teeth brushed, face washed, contacts inserted. Remember that I haven't done laundry in at least two weeks. Manage to find a pair of bright pink gym shorts bought in my last year of middle school. Scold myself for having no choice but to wear these shorts in public. Secretly applaud myself for not spending money on new gym shorts.
8:20 Out the door and debating where to go. Can't spend money. Wearing gym shorts.
8:25 Start walking towards Christopher Street. Head west on Christopher towards the Hudson. Visiting Hudson River Park is free, and peaceful in the mornings. Peek into a few store windows along the way. Linger outside of a restaurant that smells like coffee. Cross West St and narrowly avoid colliding with a bike.

8:35 Reach Hudson. Inhale, exhale. Begin walking south.
8:55 Start to feel inspired, because everyone around me is running. Decide I'll start running too.
9:02 Bad idea. Remember why I don't like running. Determine that walking is equally inspiring.
9:05 Pass by a couple playing tennis in one of the courts. Pass by some dogs running around in a fenced off area. Pass by benches occupied by readers, meditators, and quite a few nappers.
9:15 Try not to look alarmed as I pass by a man who seems to have lost his pants. Note that New York has probably given me a pretty killer poker face.
9:20 Pause by a grassy area and sit down in the shade. Look over at One World Trade Center. Take a moment to imagine how high up those workers must have been when they attached the building's spire. Decide that the Top of the Rock is the highest up that I'd ever like to be, besides airplanes of course.
9:40 Can no longer ignore my stomach's vocal demands for nourishment. Decide to head back.
10:00 Realize I have 35 cents in my pocket. Enough for a $0.25 banana from the food cart by the subway.
10:30 Arrive home, banana in tow, thoroughly ready for some Penny-Pincher's Morning Oatmeal. Thankful for the close proximity of a calm place to walk, a magnificent view, and a budget-friendly place to go when escaping from indoor construction.
10:40 The power drill noises recommence.