Budget on a Diet

It was a dark and stormy night.

Ok- so I’m totally ripping of Snoopy’s opening line for all of his novels. But the intro here is accurate in regards how each day and night will feel on my month-long excursion into saving money.

The aforementioned excursion began on the Friday edition of FOX and Friends. Along with the fetching Shayla Bazdrob, a fellow producer, we were kind/unwise enough to allow our total monthly expenses to be shared with a financial advisor (and along with over a million people watching) to determine where we could cut the fat out of our spending.

Turns out that I need to go on the financial equivalent of the South Beach Diet, Atkins and Weight Watchers combined, at least according to Anthony Canale, a certified financial planner who looks like a cross between John Calipari and the Czar of the Telestrator, Mike Fratello. Anthony basically says that I need to cut down of what I consider necessities, but he considers luxuries if I ever hope to truly save the kind of moo-la it would take to buy a house in the ‘burbs of Jersey.

No more late-night taxis ten times a week to and from work.

No more dry cleaning for every button-down shirt I own.

No more socializing like the world is going get hit by the asteroid out of Armegeddon in three days (See: No more visits to Helga’s House of Pain).

And definitely no more keeping the local take-out economy thriving in Hoboken by ordering in three times a day…

If I keep close tabs on all of the above items, I should be able to save into the four figures range per month.

And here I thought I was barely getting by… So here’s a blow-by-blow of my fiscally-responsible self in just Day 1 alone:

8:40 AM: Just before my segment with Anthony, Shayla and host Brian Kilmeade, I run into Tony Danza in the greenroom. Not surprisingly, he’s not anything different from his character on Who’s the Boss and Taxi. Affable, calls everybody by their first name and adds a “Y” for a personal New York touch. Bill Hemmer walks in, he calls him Billy. Steve Doocy walks in, he calls him Stevie. I walk in after my segment upon introducing myself seven minutes earlier, he says, “How did it go, Jimmy?”

8:46 AM: All of my expenses are on a screen not unlike the Jumbotron at Yankee Stadium. It’s a more horrifying sight than a Sean Penn acceptance speech. Meanwhile, back at my parents’ house, my mother is speed-dialing the Betty Ford Clinic after Kilmeade makes a special point to highlight my weekly cost in alcohol intake:

“$100.00 a week for alcohol?!” he exclaims. “That’s an expensive bottle of wine!”

I then explain to Brian that the cost for a drink in New York these days is $16.00 a pop when taking a lady friend out for dinner, which used to be cost for an entire keg back at his days at Long Island University. I would have used Alisyn here as a comparison, but she’s was (and still is) a Boone’s Strawberry Ale kind-of-gal. Heh.

9:00 AM: This is usually the time when I pick up some breakfast at Metro Cafe, which, given its touristy location (Rockefeller Center), is arguably the most expensive breakfast in the Northern Hemisphere. For just $9.00, you TOO can get five egg whites with cheese and two pieces of toast. But it’s fast and convenient, which is basically a microcosm of my entire philosophy in life to this point.

11:00 AM: Upon taking the subway to another subway (called the PATH in these parts) to New Jersey, I walk outside and start looking for Sarah Palin and/or an Iditarod somewhere nearby…because it’s that friggin’ cold. My apartment is about a mile from this point in Hoboken, and usually without hesitation would I hail the first cab that came into view. It is then that the financial planner’s angel pops on to my shoulder:

“Remember Joe, NOT taking cabs to and from home from the PATH will save you $250.00 per month.”


But since I vowed (unlike college), I wouldn’t cheat on this exam, I started walking. For those of you not from Northern New Jersey but follow football, you know how color commentators always talk about the swirling winds at Giants Stadium wreaking havoc on quarterbacks and kickers alike? That’s completely true. And now, in 18 degree weather, I was walking into a 20 MPH wind with comfy-looking cabs zoom by me.

“$250.00, Conch. $250.00, Conch” I say to myself in the third person over and over again.

The walk takes about 20 minutes, but it wasn’t all that bad. The deal was done: If I can handle walking in these conditions today, I can do it ANY day for the rest of the month. And that $250.00 pays for my utilities and cable/home phone/internet bill. Not a bad trade off for purple ears and a temporarily stuffy nose.

6:00 PM: After getting my seven hours of daytime sleep (I work nights and mornings at FOX), I’m back out to do some food shopping. A&P is right around the corner, and since I can no longer order in food whenever I wish in an effort to save a substantial amount of money, buying and actually cooking my own food is now the only option on the proverbial menu. Besides, as I mentioned on the air, I use my oven for storage.

Since I have no ability to cook (unless mixing Apple Jacks and Frosted Flakes is considered culinary genius), I opt to purchase as much microwavable stuff as possible. Lean Cuisine is cheap and easy, so I buy 20 boxes of every kind of chicken dish under the sun along with something like 30 containers of yogurt. I figure while I’m at it, I might as well lose some weight since I was starting to look like the Octomom eight months in.

Total cost of all food to avoid takeout for two weeks: $145.00

Total cost of all food when ordering in for two weeks: $450.00

Chew on those savings.

My phone starts to buzz with the usual text messages concerning plans for the night. One option is to hit the bar at the Hotel Gansevoort, which will easily result in $100.00 for the first round of drinks for seven people alone. Another option is to stay somewhat local and hit a Nets game. $8.00 beers, $4.25 hot dogs and $15.00 parking means $100.00 night to watch a mediocre team that will be moving moving to Brooklyn in 3-13 years.

9:40 PM: In an effort to save a few bucks (and avoid the usual hangover), I decide to go see Slumdog Millionaire instead. Two tickets, $11.25 each. Soda, $4.00.

Savings (at least): $150.00

And what a great movie. So original. And whoever that girl is who played Latika is the hottest thing to hit the big screen since a young Cameron Diaz in The Mask.

And so my first day of saving was now complete. But like New Year’s resolutions, the first few days are the easiest. The true test will be if I can actually keep this up over the next 29 days, where I will experience my share of financially-tempting dark and stormy nights.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my Lean Cuisine Pesto Chicken just beeped.