A Money Diary That is Accidentally Also a Food Diary

Let MR Visual Assistant Maria Jia Ling Pitt be your go-to guide for chowing down in Chinatown

I’ve never been particularly terrible with finances, but I’ve never been great with them either. As a kid, I had a weekly allowance of $1 (later inflated to $5) for doing the dishes, cleaning up and generally being good. Every once in a while we would go to Target, where I would spend all my money on Swedish Fish and Bratz dolls. In high school, I discovered Starbucks Venti Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccinos and eBay, squandering most of my allowance on sugary drinks and obscure objects like stopwatches and beads. When my parents discovered this habit, they weren’t thrilled. Fortunately, they stepped in and helped me be better with money.

I’m still working on being in charge of my expenses. Since graduating from college a year ago and moving to New York in August, I’ve had no choice but to do the damn thing. I pay my rent and bills, clean my apartment, do my laundry and leave my room at least adequately organized. I’m basically Miss Independent a la Ne-Yo. It feels good.

Below, I’ve chronicled my past week’s expenses and, if my personal alarm bells are any indication, I see a phone call from my dad in the near future, recommending I start tracking my expenses in a spreadsheet. But alas, I did it for the people, for the fans…for Amelia, who asked me to. So I can take it.

Here we go:

I started the day by loading my Metrocard. I’ve been getting a weekly card instead of a monthly because I keep forgetting to sign up for a pre-tax card through work. Ugh.

I’ve committed to bringing my own breakfast because when I buy it every day, my money disappears. I prep a variety of fruits and vegetables in mason jars at night and keep them in the fridge at work. This convinces my coworkers that I’m healthy, but I eat out for lunch almost every day. It gives me an opportunity to get out of the office, stretch my legs and get fresh air. Today I walked to Bite for a sandwich and stopped at CVS for some Lays Mesquite BBQ chips. 

When I finished work, I ran over to Whole Foods. I went there specifically for a box of chocolate croissants, but they only had plain ones, which I bought reluctantly. I also bought cookies, squash (to feel healthy) and Italian soda because I was swayed by the cool bottle. I saved $.10 for bringing my own bags.

The J train is basically defunct after 9:45 pm, so I called a shared Lyft ride and headed over the bridge in silence with my two new friends.

Today my breakfast was pretty typical: croissant, sweet potato, watermelon. I was disappointed with the croissant and felt sad I’d have to eat the same kind for the next week. I’ll return to the mini chocolate croissants next time. For lunch, I impulse bought three pounds of cherries for $5 (fantastic) in Chinatown and then got some spicy noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods because I’m overcoming a cold and I thought it might help. (It did!)

After work, I stopped at my grocery store in Brooklyn to get more fruit and vegetables. For dinner, I made pasta with Alfredo sauce and sauteed onions, squash and chicken.

Today was a pretty uninspiring food day: same breakfast, same lunch spot and same dinner situation. My mom always used to say that when she was a kid in China, her dad would cook the same meal over and over again until they forced him to choose something different. I guess you could say that I’m just honoring tradition.

I eat at the same three spots in Chinatown over and over. I know this because I spend an irrational amount of time checking in on Swarm, the app that I use to document where I’ve been. Currently, three of my top five categories include: Asian restaurants, bubble tea shops and dumpling restaurants. I am truly living my best Asian American life.

For lunch, I ventured outside of my regular haunts, stopping in a bakery to get shumai and wonton noodle soup. So delicious and so reasonably priced. I knew I’d have to stay late at work to finish some projects, so I brought some chicken and pasta from home for dinner and felt like a bonafide adult.

By the time I got to the J subway platform, the booth attendant yelled at me that I just missed the last train. I grunted, shook my fist at the sky and called another shared Lyft ride.

I braved the rain and went to one of my favorite low-key lunch spots for some chicken fried rice, then popped next door to Kung Fu Tea to treat myself to an oolong tea with bubbles. I am addicted to bubble tea and have been trying to stop buying it for financial reasons. Unfortunately it’s watermelon slush season so I don’t see that happening soon.

It felt like a long week, so I deserved to treat myself. I leaned into my suburban childhood nostalgia and went to Outback Steakhouse. It’s an authentic Australian steakhouse…have you heard of it? Before I got there, I stopped at The Home Depot (I love Home Depot) for some supplies, then went to Outback and happily stuffed myself with a whole bread loaf, steak, shrimp and potatoes. High school me would be proud.

My friend and I met at the Union Square Greenmarket because I’m looking to get a cactus. It was raining and when I got to the market, there were no cacti, only loads of flowers. I ended up taking pictures of flowers (free), and purchasing a carrot-oatmeal cookie, which tasted way too healthy.

My friend had already eaten, so instead of going to Dig Inn for lunch, I got Wendy’s. Then we wandered around the park and into Sephora, where I purchased another glitter eyeshadow and an orange nail polish that semi-matches my hair.

After that, we went to a coffee shop where I bought a red/pink tea (good but mostly purchased so we could sit and draw and play Mancala). After a couple of hours, we got ramen. I love ramen. After dinner, we wanted dessert so we headed up to Ktown where I purchased not one, but two nutella taiyaki for myself. My friend got a bubble tea. Asian American living continues.

I wake up late and end up chatting with my parents while I do my laundry. The laundromat is right below my apartment and owned by my landlord, a very illusive man. It’s a very normal place, apart from the fact that it has its own Instagram. My dad asks me why I don’t pay for the laundromat to wash my clothes, but I think that doing it myself really solidifies the fact that I have my life together. Later, I ventured over to Bushwick to check out some thrift stores and bought a couple of skirts. I finished the day by sitting at home and tallying up my purchases for the week.

I feel like this number is supposed to make me feel guilty or ashamed, but I don’t want it to. While it may seem like a lot, these were all choices I made on things that made me happy or full or sustained. I live in Brooklyn in a relatively small room so that I can afford to eat out, go to different places or buy glitter eyeshadow. I definitely have work to do in regards to saving — and parsing necessity from desire — but, as of right now, I think I’m doing a pretty good job at being Miss Independent.

Now, I’ll just wait for my dad to call…

Photos by Edith Young, featuring Moleskine notebook and sketchbook.

  • Ashley Hamilton

    Tell me where to eat lunch every day please.

    • Maria Jia Ling Pitt

      😏😏😏 hehe, yes

  • Cristina

    I was happy to see someone eating Wendy’s, BBQ chips and sandwiches instead of like, raw vegan salads and acai bowls. Spend on sister!

    • Maria Jia Ling Pitt

      hahaha I also frequent Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken despite not going this week! I love fruit but also equally love fried chicken, dumplings and dessert. This money diary could have also been called the gluten or pasta diary lol

      • Lil

        Also nice to see someone eat in Chinatown instead of the village! 🙂

        • rull.c

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      • Debbie

        you could try eating those meal subscriptions like purple carrot or sakara life. sakara life is a diet tho.

        • Meg S

          Meal subscriptions are WAY too big if you’re cooking for one. Where’s the single person meal subscription option?

          • Debbie

            You could always save some for latee

          • Meg S

            Nah, I tried that. One meal will feed me twice. Two meals will feed me four times. Three meals a week for two will feed me 12 times. I don’t want to eat the same thing that much. I live in a condo so I have an apartment sized kitchen and an apartment sized fridge. I ended up throwing out a lot of food.

            I work for an environmental organization, and most meal delivery services use giant gel freezer packs. The gel isn’t biodegradable, so even if I emptied it from the plastic bag (and put it in another plastic bag), it would sit in the landfill forever. Everything came in individual plastic bags and containers. There was a lot of unnecessary waste for a clove of garlic or a small bottle of olive oil/soy sauce/etc that I already had.

  • Lillian

    Laundry instagram, please.

    • Maria Jia Ling Pitt

      lol I would but they sometimes like my photos somehow??? It’s very strange. I’m seriously confused by it.

    • AlliW

      So interesting, haha! Can’t wait to check it out 🙂

  • EP

    I commend you for not having one cult-of-Sweetgreen purchase in that $300.

    • Maria Jia Ling Pitt

      I have never bought a salad… I don’t think I ever will. To spend $9+ on a salad seems ridiculous to me. I understand when people eat them for health reasons but I feel that salads are unnecessarily gendered, so I PASS on that.

      • Cristina

        Same! I just can’t justify spending money on something I can make at home if I really wanted too lol

        • gracesface

          $3 or $4 fresh express caesar salad kits are my jam….

  • Abby

    This made me very hungry! I am also a fan of eating my dollars, so you do you!

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    I don’t think you have a lot to feel guilty about it either. I spend a lot eating out as well. But I also don’t really cook dinner when I get home from work and often bring my left over lunch home and eat that. My major daily splurge is my Starbucks habit. I go every morning. And when I was in my 20’s I felt really guilty about it after adding up how much I spent on a weekly basis. But now that I’m in my 30’s – I say do whatever you need to to create a happy routine for your life. Having a green tea latte every morning is what I need to start my day off. Is it a necessity? No of course not. But most things in life we purchase aren’t necessities. I do agree with your father about paying to have your laundry done. I’m over doing my own laundry and am more than happy to pay someone else to do it.

  • ihaveacooch

    damn i am always amazed at how much the people who write these (same with some of the r29 money diaries too) on eating out!!!

  • Maria, I’ve always loved your visual work on the site and it was a delight to get to read some of your words. Your writing style is wonderful and you are hilarious.

    • Maria Jia Ling Pitt

      Thank youuuuuu! My writing is mostly just random commentary. Shoutout to Haley for editing my brain dump and helping my jokes land.

  • Rheanonn Perez

    mariaaa i have always loved ur illustrations & ur writing is just as good!! i would love to read more from u. also, i think this has been my most fav money diaries thus far!! it really did feel like a city guide for chinatown lol & i love ur use of emojis on ur iphone notepad 😆😂😆!!


    • Maria Jia Ling Pitt

      haha thank you!! Chinatown is life.

  • I thought I was the only one who still uses Swarm like my life depends on it.

    3+ years and counting, yo.

    Charmaine Ng
    Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    • Maria Jia Ling Pitt

      I freaking love Swarm!!!

  • I don’t think you should feel guilty! I’m also a 2016 college grad, and I’m als learning to live on my own in this big expensive– yet amazing– city. You gotta eat! And nowhere you went was something that was outrageous.

    I love when you guys do these articles! It puts $pending in perspective. 🙂

    • Cristina

      Me too! It’s like a whole new world to see how and what people spend their money on in NYC! I think they should have guest writers from all regions of the US. **I volunteer as the Midwest tribute!**

      • gracesface

        that would be awesomeeeee, would love to see it cristina!

      • Meg S

        I would totally do this. But then the world would see how often I go to Sephora and buy things on Amazon. Oops.

  • Lindsay D

    are you eating those sweet potatoes they sell on the street for breakfast?!!!!!

  • Lil

    So glad you shared this! Nice to see how realistic and affordable your purchases are!

  • I think this is the most relatable money diary I’ve seen on here so far! Most of my money goes towards food too. I try to only eat out on weekends, but I still find myself going to the grocery store every other day.

  • missmg

    I loved this Maria so realistic and fun to read xxx

  • Elaine Lo

    Loved this money diary! Also appreciate the Asian American representation 💪💪💪 keep living your best life

  • Kay Nguyen

    I used to eat out so much (I still do sometimes) and I never knew how much money I spend on food alone since well I rarely pay attention to receipt. It was shocking to see how unhealthy the food I ate (barely any vegetable whenever I eat out) and they are so damn expensive! I turned into making my own good (mostly) and it’s life changing <3


  • Meg S

    By reading this, I realize I’ve spent a crazy amount of money this week on things like breakfast, coffee and lunch because I’m traveling for two weeks and don’t want to buy anything perishable that will be a rotten mess when I come home. I didn’t break the bank on anything, but I probably didn’t have to do it that way. I just didn’t think about it, and it’s on a card I didn’t plan on using while I traveled anyway.

    I’ve bought a salad once in the last year. It was a $10 salad, but I could put whatever I wanted in it. Of course, this place sells the best smoothies ($6!!!!!!) and I have to get one every time I’m in. They’ve also gotten me to pay $9 for a BLT (the B is turkey bacon so it’s healthy???) because it has egg and avocado on it. But it’s across the street from my office and they deliver. Plus yelp gives $2 off coupons all the time (or posts codes on their twitter) so the delivery charge is p much waived. Idk why it costs $2 to go across the street but hey. I’ll pay it (or get rid of it with a coupon) to avoid talking to people. Sometimes I question my ‘I want things done without talking to anyone’ way of doing things.

    I’m going to add p much everything to my list of places to eat next time I’m in New York. Which will be some weekend to see the Comme des Garcons exhibit at the met. I want to go now and see Seurat’s Circus Sideshow, but Europe with my bestie wins.

  • keri

    lol “asian american living continues”
    i see post-college me in maria, completely dependent on chinese restaurants


    Maria, your last paragraph was really the point. Now, yes, I could wax eloquent about saving strategies, but as a PF writer, I mostly hone in on smart spending strategies too. When you are financially independent, you have full right to do what makes you a) feel good and b) save. Everyone’s path is different, and as long as you are aware, you are in good shape! Oh, and Ramen as medicine…amen. 🙂

  • Pepa Aran Paredes

    Hey! I’ll be in the city for the week and I wanted to try some real good chinese food? What are your favorite restaurants and the best foods to order there?? Also, any ramen recomendations?
    I loved this story when I read it in Spain and was super excited to try everything you talked about during my visit! You should definately write more food diaries, they are so much fun 😍