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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

Yet Another Blog Entry by Yan Z. '12

My expenses for the semester in pie form, topped with a scoop of IAP.

Back in the sepia-toned pages of my high school years, Personal Finance was one of two classes that the school administrators recognized as a practical art, colloquially known as an Alternative Free Period. (Inexplicably, the other one was Web Design instead of Wikipedia-Related Procrastination Games, although the two were sometimes interchangeable if you could switch windows fast enough. Anyway, enough about my world-class education.) Although I eschewed practical arts completely from the piddly grid of my high school schedule, I’ve always suspected that finances are sort of important, especially the personal ones. This semester, I fastidiously scribed every cent of my personal spending into a spreadsheet, which I later rolled out, filled with 24-bit colors, and baked into pie graphs, just like the kind Grandma used to make (where Grandma is a spontaneous euphemism for Microsoft Office 1997). Without further ado, I present a summary of my non-tuition expenses for this semester.

Breakdown of Total Personal Expenses:

Notice: I spent as much on textbooks this semester as I spent on food*. And textbooks don’t even make good sandwiches.

*All books were bought used at reduced prices. Food was bought unused, but usually at reduced prices.

Since food happens to be one of the protagonists in this blog, here’s a slightly ridiculous gloss of how my grocery expenses were distributed:

Notice the conspicuous absence of a “Ramen” category. Interestingly, when I look at this in terms of chemical composition, probably 80% of my grocery money this semester was spent on water (contained in fruits, vegetables, soymilk, soup, other liquids, frozen matter, and condiments).

Since Fruits and Vegetables was the Soviet Russia of categories in the previous graph, I give you this:

. . . where “fractal-like vegetable” indicates a vegetable with Hausdorff dimension greater than 2.33. Thanks to their high surface-area to volume ratios, fractal vegetables are delightfully prone to soaking up huge amounts of condiments, which happen to occupy about 30% of my fridge/cabinet space.

Apples, arguably, are the most plentiful and well-nourished fruits in the Boston Area, thanks to the plenteous peppering of apple orchards across this region. I buy all fruit from grocery stores on Massachusetts Avenue north of MIT instead of at LaVerde’s in the Student Center, where the selection is smaller and the prices are higher.

(In the previous graph, “fractal-like vegetable” indicates a vegetable with Hausdorff dimension greater than 2.33. Thanks to their high surface-area to volume ratios, fractal vegetables are delightfully prone to soaking up huge amounts of condiments, which happen to occupy about 30% of my fridge/cabinet space.)

Practically all of the food that I paid for last semester was in the form of groceries, purchased biweekly. The remainder came from free food events and my freshman advising seminar, which provided two dinners a week on average in addition to leftovers that could be recycled into one or two meals. Sadly, easily-accessible free food dwindles to a trickle after first semester, so with much grief I anticipate spending lots more on food in the coming months.

Also, here’s one for the money that went into recreational activities:

Contrary to appearances, I only went bowling once during the semester. It just happened to be comparatively expensive.

Cumulatively, I spent $757.01 this semester and earned $705.88 from working 4-5 hours per week and taking paid surveys. The following breakdown of my income for this semester borders on the hilarious:

It’s fairly certain that I earned more from taking surveys than from one of my jobs.

I was extraordinarily fortunate last semester to have registered for an advising seminar that paid for tickets to various arts-related events in Boston with free dinners tossed in. If my estimations are even vaguely within range of a ballpark, MIT’s Office of the Arts spent more than $600 on me this semester, which means that they love me more than most of my relatives do.

Naturally, this entry would have ended here with some urbane remarks about the state of the economy, but I’ve decided to give you 80% more blog for the same price by throwing in an IAP update. Also, I couldn’t think of any urbane remarks about the economy, but I wasn’t going to admit it, except I just did anyway.

It strains my toleration of absurdity to say the following, but I’m more worn-out now than I was for practically all of last semester. The punchline is that I love it. The past week has consisted of waking up at 7 or 8, running across the river in meat-locker temperatures, grappling through the life-changing twists of Mechanics II lectures at 9 in the morning, cramming grocery runs into the cracks in my schedule, sorting chemicals and building (failed) batteries in my UROP lab, kicking and punching a lot of nothingness in Sport Taekwondo class, and reading and rereading and rererereading Vol. 1 of Landau’s Course of Theoretical Physics* until midnight. Notice that there’s no regret in the previous sentence.

*From a literary as well as scientific standpoint, Landau’s explanation of physics is straight-up incomparable. The first fourteen pages alone can pummel your paunchy, oversimplified AP Physics textbook into an unrecognizable pulp without breaking a sweat or missing an integral. At the same time, it’s as clear and succinct and beautiful as a haiku that you won’t understand until the fifth time you read it.

(Funnily enough, almost half of MIT is still on break. January here is a free-for-all of independent activities: options range from taking up to 12 units of classes and working in a lab to staying at home and playing Guitar Hero for an entire month to doing an externship at a company in another state. Should you choose to return to campus instead of annexing January into your winter break period, you’re also free to take as many fun, not-for-credit classes like chocolate tasting or orienteering as you can handle before you explode in recreational bliss.)

Through Mechanics II, I was serendipitously reunited with a Physics major friend that I hadn’t seen around campus since my stumbling, suitcase-hauling visit as a prefrosh last October. The increased likelihood of rediscovering an old friend is one more reason to take extra physics classes in your spare time. Especially if you end up going to dinner with aforementioned friend and roommates at the deserted-and-mediocre-but-highly-convenient Thai restaurant next to Random. Onto the food snapshots.

Katelyn ’12 came along and ordered noodles, one of civilization’s greatest inventions.

My curry was sorely underwhelming in flavor, but the satay was a crisp and dignified representation of the avian species.

Afterwards, we strolled down the block to Toscanini’s, the contested home of the Best Ice Cream in America, and pontificated about topics of great profundity deep into the heart of the snowy night. I elocuted beautifully about the genius of Tiramisu ice cream, which was at least as mind-blowing as Lagrangian physics.

Later that night, the clouds opened their gaping maws and messily slathered Boston with snow. I slept on bean bags in another dorm and didn’t return myself to Random Hall until 9 AM the next morning.

In short, IAP is great.

(Addendum: According to Keri, it is my honorable duty to recount the ferocious, not-really-blood-soaked battle that took place in the courtyard of East Campus on the desolate eve following the Great Snowfall. Denizens of Random Hall, fully armed with boffer swords and plastic lightsabers and a shopping cart filled with hard-packed snowballs, marched up to the walls of East Campus under the cover of darkness and launched an impressive volley of icy projectiles at the windows of the 3rd floor. Aided by the the soul-crushing force of gravity, 3rd East responded by spraying the Random Hall Army with fire extinguishers. Brawling ensued deep into the lonely, impassive night.)

54 responses to “Yet Another Blog Entry”

  1. Yan says:

    @ Kevin:

    I’m in a paroxysm of visual, gluttonous bliss right now. A food photo blog with all photos and no text . . . it’s like eating a peanut butter sandwich with no bread.

    @ Deng:

    Some MIT clubs will charge you about $5 per year, which is a vanishingly small fee compared to the amount of free food that you will probably receive from joining. Not to mention subsidized trips to restaurants and such.

    Concerning the report of battle: I had to keep it PG-13.

  2. Anonymous says:

    hah. when i first saw your recreational activities pie graph I thought that you just REALLY liked bowling — wow, bowling mustve been pretty expensive to take up that great a percentage of your spending

  3. Yan says:

    @ Anonymous:

    I’ll admit it, bowling cost me an abysmal $20 (including shoe rental and chipping in for car rental, which was necessary because the subway shuts down at 2 AM or so).

    In my personal and unquotable opinion, bowling is a waste of arms. I don’t even enjoy Wii bowling.

    However, the bowling alley gave me a free pair of socks.

  4. Ngozi '13 says:

    *sigh* Yan, you know how to blog, my Internet Acquaintance.

    “How much does Snively Spend?” should be a future post here.

  5. Yan says:

    Re: Snively’s spending graph

    Take the first one I posted, replace “Groceries” sector with “Random Stuff Bought from Websites That Basically Define Geek Culture.”

  6. Anonymous says:

    And for anyone interested
    going to haymarket about every other weekend can save you a lot of money as well.
    The groceries there cost about 1/6 to 1/2 the price of Shaws. Most things are like $1 (6 big apples, bag of onions, 2 small box of blueberries, 1 pound of string beans, 3 pounds of cabbage etc)
    I always go there to buy a LOT of fruits.

  7. MIT Parent says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite quotes on the blogs:
    “Thanks to their high surface-area to volume ratios, fractal vegetables are delightfully prone to soaking up huge amounts of condiments, which happen to occupy about 30% of my fridge/cabinet space.”

    Only an MIT student would describe the veggies in her fridge this way.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I am impressed by your monetary records.

    I am also curious as to what “non-edible food” entails…

  9. Yan says:

    @ Anonymous:

    Mostly gum.

  10. Matt A. says:

    A midnight, Lord of the Rings-esque siege… this is not helping the whole trying to not be absolutely crushed if I don’t get in thing. *sigh*

    Anywho, how did the whole adjustment to shopping/cooking for yourself go? I feel like I’d like to do that if I got in, but I don’t know how well I’d handle it in terms of allotting time for it.

  11. anonymous says:

    … what kinds of things do you cook to eat?

  12. kayla '12 says:

    oh man i worked 4 hours a week and still had a net loss of $1500 for fall semester. =[
    and i thought i was doing so well…

  13. hill says:

    Yan, your blogs always cheer me up… and make me hungry, but that’s just a biproduct. Sounds like IAP really is the MIT version of heaven.

  14. Janet says:

    I’m curious about what Matt A. and anonymous are asking, too. I.e., how did you adjust, and what do you cook?

    I remember one of your blog entries mentioned (and contained pictures of) a salad that contained apple and spinach. Brief recipe please? smile

  15. Yan says:

    @ Pie guy:

    Basically all the dorms have kitchens and appliances, so cooking is easy to do. Also, if you share your desserts with the dorm, sometimes you can get reimbursed for the cost of the ingredients. Random Hall, for instance, has a weekly cookie share that is paid for by the house tax.

    Plus, the cheesecake will make lots of friends for you.

    @ Karen:

    It’s official. There’s two of us. We can legitimately start a facebook group now.

    @ Ouce:

    Thanks for the hyperbolic compliments. Dictionary sandwiches are hard to digest, I suppose.

    @ Anonymous 1:

    Good point about Haymarket. On a similar (well, locationally similar) note, Chinatown also has cheap groceries if you’re feeling adventurous.

  16. Yan says:

    Thanks to my prodigious natural culinary talents, I mastered the art of microwaving at age 8 and the nuances of toaster oven operation at age 11. The blender was a challenge, but I got the hang of it sometime during high school. Since I became Beethoven of basic kitchen appliances, the frozen/canned food aisles have been my orchestra.

    In all seriousness, I’m far less fancy in cookery than most people on my floor. Then again, I live with people who make their own pasta and salted salmon.

    My own staples include frozen vegetables, apples and citrus, fresh spinach, various types of canned soup, tuna, eggs, milk, cereal, coffee, a staggering variety of condiments and sauces, bread, granola bars, tortillas, hummus, and mixed nuts. Occasionally I’ll buy oatmeal or seasoned rice or eggplants or whatever else is on sale. All of the above are far on the cheap end of groceries.

    Most likely, you’ll adjust quickly with no effort. No practical knowledge is necessary beyond basic operation of microwaves and stoves. A lot of my floormates just look up recipes on the Internet when they need them.

  17. Kevin S Lin says:

    “MIT’s Office of the Arts spent more than $600 on me this semester, which means that they love me more than most of my relatives”

    Greatest line ever; I can totally relate.

    About what percentage of MIT’s students take advantage of IAP (eg. take classes/internships/etc. as opposed to slacking off)?

  18. Yan says:

    Also, you end up inventing recipes out of necessity.

    @ Janet:

    Thanks for asking. I’m happy to share the spinach apple salad recipe.

    Ingredients: 1 small apple, a medium-large bowl of spinach, 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, sugar to taste, dash of cloves, dash of nutmeg, raisins, walnuts, sprouts and cherry tomatoes if you have them.

    0. Pour vinegar into bowl. Add as much sugar as you want, depending on how tart you prefer your dressing.
    1. Cut apple into bite-sized chunks. Put into vinegar. Sprinkle with spices. Mix.
    2. Roughly tear spinach leaves. Put into bowl with apples and vinegar. Add other vegetables if you have them.
    3. Mix so that spinach is covered in vinegar mix.
    4. Top with raisins and walnuts.

    The End.

  19. Ruth '13 says:

    I approve of your diet. When I am in college, I plan to have a whole section of my food-expenditure pie chart devoted to hummus.

  20. Hey, I actually think the Landau book is really good.

    @People concerned about cooking:
    Look at cooking as another medium through which to practice science smile. I could hardly operate a microwave without getting sunburn when I first got here, now I am churning out monstrous Frankenmeals left and right, many of which actually taste good.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Hey Yan, I love your pictures, they are so… real? Lol. Anyways, is MIT cooking friendly? Because I love to cook pies and brownies :D.

    PS: If I get to go to MIT, you’ll see, or more like taste, an awesome key lime pie and a tremendous cheese cake.

  22. Orims says:

    Ugh, sorry for the double post, forgot to add my name to the comment. (I am the pie guy)

  23. Keri says:

    I heard there were meatballs involved on Tetazoo’s part.

  24. Varun says:

    Really nice post Yan. I enjoy reading your blogs – especially the “adjectives”!

    ” The first fourteen pages alone can pummel your paunchy, oversimplified AP Physics textbook into an unrecognizable pulp without breaking a sweat or missing an integral.” – simlpy loved the line!

  25. well i want to get into this school.

  26. Karen says:

    Tosci’s tiramisu ice cream is possibly the most delicious food in existence.

  27. Ouce says:

    Goodness, after reading this I’m beginning to believe you’ve somehow managed to ingest (in the literal sense) an entire dictionary. you’ve the knowledge of the entire english language (or much of whats politically accepted of it) coursing through your veins (again, in the literal sense). Or you simply burned it into your photographic memory. That works too.

    And I disagree, in some cases textbooks DO make good sandwiches.
    If the prior statement incites curiosity I politely request that you inquire no further.

  28. Matt A. says:

    Thanks for the thoughts! Now if I can just get in I can worry about the food decision…

  29. Absolutely love this magnificent piece to technology.

  30. Hey Yan, I love your pictures, they are so… real?

  31. Anonymous says:

    not first. just kidding!

  32. Victor says:

    I like your blog entries.

  33. Kevin says:

    Wooah awesome statistics Yan. Haha I think I might start keeping track of all my expenses on a spreadsheet purely so I can make fancy pie graphs at the end of the semester. Thanks for inspiring :D

    Also I think you should check out I can so imagine all your food photos being there. Also be warned: you will be hungry after visiting.

  34. deng says:

    club membership fees? are those clubs outside of MIT? it doesn’t cost money to join clubs at MIT, does it?

    hmm? why was there a “ferocious,” yet “not-really-blood-soaked battle”?

  35. Fouad says:

    haha, your blog’s are sooo great! Loved this one!

    keep em coming!

  36. Narce says:

    I’d like to note that I appreciate the entirety of your blog entries even though I almost only comment on the food.

    With that said, all that food looks delicious, and the fact that your only other pictures were pie charts really made me remember to eat breakfast for once!

    Thanks XP

  37. Banerjee says:

    Oh my gosh, there is your awesome food photography again. And Pies (charts).

    Anywho, nice post!!!!!!!

  38. Ashwin says:

    That’s a lot of apples and grapes!

    Nice post. Nice pie charts!
    And yummy food =D

  39. Anonymous says:


    I didn’t see any meatballs. We all (Tetazoans and Randomites alike) just ended up really clean…

  40. Anonymous says:

    The Arts of Fridge-Opening also have many benefits =D

  41. Cass says:

    Awesome post. What camera was used for your photos?

  42. Pan says:

    That break down of the break down of your food expenses was classic !:D!
    That icecream looks pretty good too!

  43. lory says:

    im too lazy too see the pies..^^!
    anyway, the food looks tasty..
    its rarely to see foods like these in my country!!:)

  44. Anonymous says:


  45. Ginger '12 says:

    You are as awesome as ever at blogging :D

    We should cook together some day.

  46. Andras Kiss says:

    The detail you keep on your spending habits is pretty scary. Is everyone at MIT like this? raspberry

    Good to talk to you! Cya at CPW!

  47. Yan says:

    @ Keri:

    If by meatballs you mean . . . well, never mind.

    @ Cass:

    Canon G9. I think G10 came out right after I bought it.

    @ Anonymous:

    Oh crap, I should be at the telethon . . .

  48. Anonymous says:

    do u eat lunch on campus and does ur cost breakdown include techcash?? i find it hard to believe that you only spent around 800 dollars last semester. i spend like 1000 a month.

  49. Yan says:

    I make my own lunch usually. Also, the figures include everything that I spent in cash, techcash, debit, and spare change. Meaning that it includes all expenses.

  50. Anonymous says:


  51. jay says:

    hello yan, i see that u made income from taking surveys. i’m trying to find a place where i can do that. any ideas?



  52. Sandra says:

    like your style.
    I would like some advice about going to MIT.