Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This is Why I Hate NYU Kids

At Which Point I Assume the Government Supplies You with a Personal Chef

NYU chick #1: What's the poverty level anyway?
NYU chick #2: I don't know, like $100,000 a year?

--NYU Dorm

via Overheard in New York, Mar 26, 2009

We're not all this bad... but I still want to apologize on behalf of my college.

And Now For Something Completely Different

My sister Meredith (seen above) was recently the subject of an NPR interview due to her outstanding work as a first year teacher in Washington, D.C. Check it out!


What a terrible time to be an NYU student.  According to an article in Fox 28, New York is considering a new tax on alcohol products- everything from the hard stuff to beer and wine.

Currently, New York's alcohol taxes are among the lowest in the country- about 60 cents lower per gallon of wine than the national average, according to an opinion piece in The Buffalo News. But doesn't the $2.75 tax on a pack of cigarettes more than compensate?

Modern Day Hoovervilles?

Click here to read a sobering article by The New York Times about the rise of "shanty towns"- makeshift homeless communities- in California.  New York will be seeing it next...

Can't Afford Public Transportation? Ever Consider a Scooter?

My last post on the MTA's ridiculous fare hikes has me considering my options. If you're like me and the subway will no longer be a viable option after May 31st, here are some more cost effective ways to get around NYC: 

1. Walking

I know, I know, I'm not exactly reinventing the wheel here.  And it's no surprise that New Yorkers are pretty used to walking.  But we all slack off a little, and sometimes the walk from 14 and Lex to 31st and Broadway can be daunting. But come on- do you really need to take the L train from 8th Ave to First?  The entire island of manhattan is only 13.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide (approximate). Suck it up. Plus, you won't have to feel guil
ty about drinking that iced grande latte later. You've earned it- the cost and the calories.

And for those of us who wear high heels- just carry a pair of Old Navy flip-flops in your bag. Trust me. You'll want them later.

2. Taxi

When it comes to getting from Point A to Point B, I think every
 budget conscious New Yorker considers taxis as the ultimate money waster.  But when you're in a group, that's not always the case, especially with the new fare hikes. After paying an initial fee of $2.50 ($3.50 during peak hours)  taxis have a flat rate of 40 cents per 1/5 of a mile, or every 60 seconds that the car is idle.  Check hop stop for an approximate cost, and as long as you're not going to Penn Station at 5:00 on Friday, go ahead and wave one down.  With a couple of friends in tow, you'll most likely break even- and get to your destination faster.

3. Scooter

If you have no qualms wearing a business suit while riding a scooter, you can save a ton of money on your daily commute. A $40-60 dollar investment on can get you a pretty sweet Razor Scooter, designed to carry up to 143 pounds.  Remember, they're called scooters for a reason: those things can move.  And if you get embarrassed riding it, hey, at least it's not a segway.

4. Roller Blades
These are a little more pricey, but consider them a long term investment. Most rollerblades run from around $60-100, but you can get a decent pair for $40 if you look hard enough.  Just make sure to try them out in Central Park before taking them to the streets- learning to brake is an art.

5.  Bikes. (Not.)

Please, don't ride a bike in New York. Dozens of bicyclists die every year in NYC from traffic related injuries, and I've heard horror stories from friends who own bikes here.  If you do decide to use a bike, PLEASE look up bicycle-friendly streets (such as 5th ave) and buy a helmet.

$2.50 For A Single Ride, and Be Prepared to Wait: The MTA Price Hikes

For those of us who wince at spending $4 to take a trip uptown, I've got some bad news: the oft whispered, dreaded fare hikes are officially coming to a public transport near you.

According to an article in today's New York Times, public transport on buses and subways will increase to $2.50 a ride, up from $2, beginning May 31st.  The hikes will also affect tolls.   

But that's not all, unfortunately.  In addition to the hikes, 35 bus routes will be eliminated, as well as the Z and W trains, which may cause overcrowding in the already often packed trains. Service will also be significantly cut on off-peak and weekend hours, while buses and commuter rail will also see a marked decrease.

And if you're thinking of saving by getting a monthly pass, think again: monthly passes will go to a staggering $103 per month, up from $81.

The changes were voted in this morning, with 12 in favor and one opposed.  The Times reports, 
"Before the vote, the board heard from a parade of M.T.A. employees, transit advocates and city officials who criticized the fare hikes and service cutbacks that would affect a system that covers two-thirds of all mass transit riders in the United States. A number complained about how the cuts would disproportionately affect the middle class, who were already struggling in the city’s economic downtown." 

But the board members were unmoved- all except sole dissenter Norman I. Seabrook.

One reader, identified only as Alex, commented, "'Let's decrease service and make it more expensive for the handful of people who still have jobs to get to work. Brilliant!'"

I couldn't have said it better myself, Alex. 

A Quick Note: Adding Ads

You may have noticed that there are now ads on Recession Obsessions. Some might call that selling out, but hey, this is a recession themed blog, after all. Help out a broke college student and click on a couple! Every time someone clicks on an ad, I get that much closer to graduate school, so don't be shy! Click away. You know you're secretly interested in hoodies with pockets designed for beer. Very interested.

Seriously, though.  Thanks for reading! And clicking!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cheap Food Causes Big Problems.

...and big waistlines.

Cheap, unhealthy food (such as the entirety of McDonald's dollar menu) has been on the rise in America since the recession hit, according to this great article in CBS news. It's nothing you haven't heard before, but that doesn't make it any less depressing. Read the article, then have a salad! Don't be a statistic!

Would You Pay $25 For a Vibrating Movie Theater Seat?

That's a rhetorical question.  But it's one that D-BOX Technologies is attempting to answer with their trademarked rumbling theater seats, as a new (and unique) method of attracting theatergoers. The seats, which are already being tested in select theaters in Los Angeles and Arizona, are designed to move along with the action in a film.

According to the company website,

"Our completely new D-BOX Motion Code™ system, conceived for use within commercial theatres, adds a new dimension to your experience. It allows moviegoers to Live the Action onscreen with an unmatched realism. In other terms, the D-BOX Motion Code™ system creates movements: pitch, roll, heave, and intelligent vibrations – perfectly synchronized with the onscreen action."

While it is true that going to the movies is becoming more and more pricey- I just paid $12 to go see I Love You, Man last Saturday- I really don't think a restless chair is going to attract the public.  Just the words they use to describe it turn me off.  Pitching, rolling, and heaving.  Kind of sounds like a late night bout with the flu to me, but hey, to each his own.

But just in case you're interested, here's an example of the chair. (Note: this one was designed for a home movie theater, not a commercial one.)

Just imagine trying to eat popcorn in that thing. 

Need Some New Shirts for Spring?

Want some new threads but can't afford to spend $20 on a plain white tee from American Apparel? No worries: I know a website where you can get a new shirt for less than the cost of a Chipotle burrito (my standard unit of measurement). 

Intrigued? Go to, where the shirts come in a variety of colors and sizes, but they're all sold for the same price: six bucks. (Duh.) Or, you can stock up on witty apparel for the summer and get the recession special of 10 tees for fifty dollars. 

The t-shirts range from television topical

to political

to downright artsy

And I studied abroad last semester in Prague so I will definitely be adding this shirt to my shopping cart: 

Also, all the shirts are made right in the U.S. of A., so it's a great way to support the economy and look fashionable at the same time. Happy shopping!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Prince Offers New Three Disk Album for $11.98, Exclusively at Target

Prince's new albums, "LOtUSFLOW3R" and "MPLSoUND," as well as a third bonus album dubbed "Elixir," will be bundled together and sold exlusively at Target for the low, low, price of $11.98.

The albums, which drop March 29th, will also be available online through a new, subscription website. For $77, subscribers will be able to access the entire site, as well as download the disks and view "a robust selection of exclusive videos, behind the scenes action, news and concert info." The site will be ready for subscribers on March 24th.

I think this is a smart move- mostly.  With iTunes selling albums for around $10 a pop, it's hard to justify going to Virgin for the hard copy- even though I prefer it. (My car still takes CDs.) It's a great way for Prince to stay competitive in both markets- the digital world and the hard copy.

But $77 for a subscription? Prince has been successful in the past with subscription websites (he's one of the few artists that were) but that was pre-recession. I guess the stakes aren't too high- fans will buy his CDs in one form or another.

Businesses Staying On Top of Recession

Another great little article from the Times about businesses that are doing well despite the recession.  Some of them are pretty obvious (if I was ever going to buy a lottery ticket, it'd be now) while others are simply baffling (cosmetic surgery? seriously?).  Worth checking out.

The Recession As a Contraceptive?

Well, not exactly- but it does seem to be making couples think again before adding a kid into the mix. 

According to a recent article in Time, condom sales (as well as other items in "family planning") have been up 10.2% percent in January and December of 2009.  The explanation?  I think the article explains it best- albeit politically correct-ively:

"To cut expenses, consumers are going out less, a phenomenon retail analysts call cocooning. Among couples, cocooning can lead to canoodling, which can lead to... recreation. 'People are spending a lot less on entertainment,' says Rick Shea, a branding expert and founder of Shea Marketing Consulting. 'And 'that,' for the most part, is free.'"

The article also includes several other new trends for budget-conscious American shoppers, such as stocking up on canned goods, buying containers to make their food fresher longer, and alcohol for drinking at home. 

And just as another reminder to be safe, here's an amazing commerical that got banned in Europe a few years ago that's pretty hilarious.  (probably the most effective safe sex education I've ever seen.)

(thanks Megha for the article!) 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This Makes Me Hate Wal-Mart Slightly Less

In move of generosity atypical of the retail giant, Wal-Mart has exceeded all previous years of fiscal reward to its employees, giving over 2 billion dollars this year, according to an article in CNN.

Personally, I'm far from singing praises. Wal-Mart is one of the few companies that are thriving as a result of the recession, posting solid gains for 2008. The least recently appointed CEO Mike Duke can do is give his employees a piece of the pie- although Wal-Mart doesn't exactly have a stellar history for treating its employees well...

Apple Unveils Awesome New iPod for $79

Gotta love those folks over at Apple. They've just released the latest ipod shuffle- half as big as the original, with double the capacity. And at $79, it's affordable for pretty much anyone who wants an iPod.

The new shuffle in comparison to the older model- almost half the size.

The shuffle is equipped with a stainless steel clip bearing the apple logo.

The shuffle can play over a thousand songs and has a funky new feature: voiceover. But rather than explain it myself, I think I'll let Hannah, an Apple employee, do the job for me: 

See, this is why their stock is going up. Awesome.

In Nebraska, One Family Owned Baking Company Thrives In Spite Of Recession

Imagine this: a caramel cinnamon roll made of over 100 layers of dough and butter, decadent, dripping, and delicious, fresh out of the oven.

No, I didn’t just describe the latest creation by a Top Chef winner. It’s not the newest dessert entrée at Le Bernadin. It’s one of several pastries sold by James Skinner, president of the family owned James Skinner Baking Company.

In a time where most small companies and family run businesses are either failing or floundering, the company has been seeing record gains. A recent article in USA Today reported a profit increase of 18% from 2007 to 2008. And in December of this year- one of the poorest holiday seasons on record for the vast majority of retail- sales for the company rose 25%.

In a recessive economy, only the strong survive. Usually, it’s the bargain giants: well established corporations with thousands of stores and questionable ethics. In a recent press release, Wal-Mart reported a profit increase of 1.7% in 2009, up over $1.5 billion dollars from 2008. And in January, McDonald’s announced a staggering 7.1% increase in global profits.

It’s not surprising, but it is upsetting. As America shifts its priorities from quality to cost, many small businesses and family owned companies are failing. And though most Americans are now picking up their new summer wardrobe at Target instead of Macy’s, or grabbing a coffee at Burger King rather than Starbucks, the search continues for smaller companies that provide quality service at low prices- while remaining financially stable enough to weather a tough economic climate.

Enter James Skinner, 58-year-old president of the James Skinner Company. His company, family owned since 1983, sells a variety of homemade pastries, from streusel topped cinnamon rolls to Bavarian crème coffee cake. And at $3.49 to $5.99 for a pack of six pastries (a package that sells for $8.99 is being discontinued), the price is definitely right.

Since taking over the business in 2004, Skinner relies on quality products and a tight knit staff of over 300 to maintain a profitable enterprise. And whatever he’s doing, it’s working.

All this success stemming from a man who, at one point, wasn’t sure whether he wanted to take over the family business.

“I was interested in marine biology, however I knew my father wanted me in the business,” wrote James through an email interview. “Besides, there's not much marine activity in Nebraska.” 

The company, which bakes over 200 million pastries annually, relies on a method hundreds of years old for its baking process. An exclusive layering method ensures that each pastry is made with 100 layers of dough and butter, then kept overnight in a time delay process to provide maximum flavor.

“It is an old world European process, and is very time consuming,” admits Skinner. “Throughout the years most large bakeries have shortened the process, which we believe has lessened the quality of the finished product.” 

From there, the privately labeled products are shipped off and sold across the country to bakeries in several supermarket chains- Nash Finch, Supervalu, Associated Wholesale Grocers, Target, and Hannaford brothers, for example. While the pastries are not sold directly to the supermarkets- yet- Skinner is considering the idea.

“Presently we have a Vice President of sales and two sales associates who direct over 45 food brokers throughout the country,” wrote Skinner. “Within retail sale we have always utilized a broker network but are exploring direct sales.”

Since he’s confident in his products, he’s not really worried about the recession. “Our products are quality based and priced right for the consumer,” wrote Skinner. “The recession, as [with] past recessions, have not had that much of an adverse effect.”

He does admit, however, that sales usually slag in the late winter months.

"Sales have historically fallen off a bit every January and February and usually pick up toward the end of February and beyond,” wrote Skinner. “We are addressing this and will plan additional promotional activities during these months next year.”

Skinner believes that maintaining his company as private is one of the key components of its current success.

“We look at areas within the company- people, operations, etc-
where we are inefficient, and explore ways to make improvements,” wrote Skinner. “Because we are family owned and operated we can react quickly, compared to a publicly owned company that must answer to shareholders.” 

But while times are good for the mid sized, family owned company, Skinner is anything but complacent, preparing the company for the tough times ahead. In addition to making improvements to their purchasing and engineering departments, the company is also currently working on a healthier product line, “to complement our existing line of products.” A smart move, considering just one five-ounce cream cheese iced cinnamon roll packs 580 calories and 30 grams of fat. (But what did you expect from a pastry that boasts over 100 layers of dough and butter?)

But that doesn’t stop Skinner from admitting it’s his favorite.

“It's a tie between our cheese strip danish and our cream cheese iced cinnamon rolls,” he wrote. 

For more on the company, or to place an order (I highly recommend the Bavarian Creme Coffee Cake or the Cream Cheese Iced Cinnamon Rolls), check out their website. Support family businesses!

Drink Cheap!

There's nothing I hate more than shelling out $6 dollars for a Bud Light in a bar on the West Village.  Unfortunately, in NY, high drink prices are hard to avoid- especially when you've got a questionable ID. Now that I'm 21, it's a lot easier to get into those places that have great prices- whether during a happy hour special or all day long.  Here's a couple of my favorite places:

The name is pretty explanatory- $1 burgers, $2 shots, $3 beers. But don't go expecting a double decker and a jigger of Jack Daniels- these burgers are definitely more of the White Castle variety. Still, they're great drunk munchie food, and at $1 apiece, they won't cut into your budget.

With names ranging from "Jolly Rancher" to "Screaming Orgasm," the shots are more sugar than alcohol- but hey, what did you expect for two dollars?  And you're always safe with the beer, which goes above and beyond the typical happy hour priced Natty Ice- Newcastle, Sam Adams, even Stella goes for just $3 a pop.

With six locations in the NYC area, Mexican restaurant blockheads is a drinker's delight, with frozen margaritas starting at three dollars (add a variety of fruity flavors for just a dollar more). Unlike the ones at Burger Shot, these margaritas pack a punch, so make sure to complement your drink with some of their cheap, but delicious, Mexican fare. (Try the guacamole.)

Also, be sure to try their speciality, the Mexican Bulldog: a frozen margarita topped with a full sized Corona and an extra shot of tequila, all for just $7. (Just don't have more than one.)

Immediately recognizable by the famed oversized pig statue at the entrance, Rudy's Bar and Grill in Hell's Kitchen is a great place to pound brewskies. Bottled beer ranges from $2.50 for a Stegmier to $5, but if you're going with a big group, it's probably better to invest in pitchers. Seven bucks will get you a pitcher of "Rudy's Blonde," the house special, which goes down easy. If you're getting hungry after a few pitchers, you can always go up to the bar and get a hot dog or two- they're free, anytime of the week.

Side Note: This bar has a zero tolerance policy on fake IDs, which they confiscate and proudly display in a collage above the bar- which, for many college students, is a lost $50+ investment. Since they card at the door on weekends, it's probably not a good idea to risk it. 

Like hookah but hate spending $25 with a two drink minimum? Come to Horus Cafe on Avenue B and 10th.  Prices start at just $15 for a hookah with a one drink minimum, with prices ranging from $4 for a shirley temple to $8 for a bellini. The place is always packed on a weekend, yet the staff is very attentive. Definitely worth checking out.

They have belly dancers in every Friday and Saturday night, and karaoke on Sundays- although it's gotta be hard to sing with all that smoke circling.

A staple in the East Village, The Pour House has never been high on my list- until I took a look at their weeklong specials.  Every night has a different deal- from Monday's 25 cent wings and $1.95 natty ice's (served in a brown bag) to Fridays, where ladies drink half price cocktails from 10 pm to close. And it's not just the drinks: Tuesdays are Rock Band and Wii night, and Saturdays boast an 80's dance party. 

Happy drinking!

High Dining For Low Prices

I've always been a fan of expensive culinary fare. Although I have had the opportunity to dine at some of New  York finest restaurants- Balthazar's, Ben & Jack's, The Ocean Grill  - it's always been with a longfaced parent or boyfriend in tow. 

Now single, and with parents who, after four years of visiting in New York, are less inclined to dine at Daniel's, I have been increasingly forced of late to- gasp!- supply my own culinary adventures. Naturally, I'm much more inclined to look for deals, especially in light of the current economic climate.

And while looking for bargains in fine restaurants, I've been pleasantly surprised at how many places are offering terrific deals. (And I'm not just talking about the monthlong restaurant week.) Not only that, but there are several restaurants offering delicious meals for less than you'd spend at lunch at Chipotle. Here's what I've been able to come up with thus far:

Okay, okay, I know it's a chain. But Ruth's Chris has a history of delivering when it comes to steak, but at an average of $30-40 for the filet alone, few of us can afford to splurge very often.  But just recently, the steakhouse made a smart move, introducing a pre-fix menu dubbed Ruth's Classics. For just under $40, patrons get a full three course meal with their choice of side. Selections include filet topped with shrimp with a fresh cream chocolate mousse for dessert- how can you go wrong?

While sitting on stools hardly qualifies as fine dining, I had to include Mary's anyway. The restaurant has gotten rave reviews since opening in 2000, and you certainly can't beat the prices- everything on the menu is under $25, and the vast majority of selections under $15. Be sure to try their famous lobster roll, but be prepared to wait for it.  Oh, and beware the pricey wine list. 

In a city where you can get a slice of pizza for a buck at anytime, anywhere, it may seem extreme to spend $4.00 on a slice after waiting on line for 30 minutes- but do it.  Artichoke, a closet sized pizzeria which opened on 14th st and 1st in late 2008,  may have the best damn slice of margarita in the city, if not in the whole damn country. 

The menu is short and succinct- crab pizza, margarita, and finally, their namesake artichoke- a thick crusted piece of heaven covered in cheese, artichokes, spinach, butter and wine.  The settings may be less than gourmet- the restaurant is lit by a lamp in the shape of a woman's leg (to scale)- but none of that matters when you take that first perfect bite. Plus, the place is open until 4 am on weekends, so it's the perfect way to soak up a shot or two after a night out.

Bon Appetit! 

Want to Travel? 10 Ways to Cut Costs

USA Today just released an excellent article on ten ways to cut expenses while traveling during a recession.  

Us Americans tend to be narcissistic, and personally, I sometimes forget that the recession has hit on a global scale- so you might be surprised at how the dollar is faring in other countries.  As a 'for example': when I studied in Prague last year in the spring semester, the Czech Koruna plummeted from around 23 Kc to the dollar to around 16-17- all in the course of four months.  And that was before the crisis really hit.  Now, one US dollar will exchange for a little under 20 Kc... giving your vacation to Praha an increased financial punch of 10%. 

Can anyone really justify leisure travel right now? As a college student halfway through my last semester with loans to pay off, I probably can't... but that doesn't mean others shouldn't take advantage of the great deals being offered by airlines, cruises, hotels, and the Eurail.

And if you're interested in seeing how the dollar is faring in other countries, Yahoo has an continually updated currency converter. Now just may be the time for that long put off trip to Barcelona!