A Failed Attempt at the Dollarbird App

On a cold day a few weeks ago, I’d bought a scarf at a night market after comparing prices at two stores. It cost NT$270, not super expensive, but that’s almost a week of breakfasts, or two dinners.  I complained that the scarf was a little too big to my host mother, and two days later, she’d given me a smaller, and much cheaper scarf. At that moment I felt like I should be paying more attention to my income ( which is NT$4000 monthly from my host club, and NT$400-500 for breakfast each week from host mom) and expenses (all meals, transport, clothes, and anything for fun).

To keep track, I downloaded a free app called Dollarbird onto my phone. It looked pretty simple to use.

You could add categories for any type of expense you have.

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You can see, per month, what your biggest expense is.

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My favorite part is the graph that charts your balance as it changes over time.

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I was in love with this app, gleefully subtracting $60 for each breakfast, looking at the graph go downwards, until every Sunday evening, when it hopped back up by $500.

Then the problems began troubling me.


First, there was the problem of scale. I had about NT$8000 when I started using the app, plus ~$500 in my wallet. If I counted my starting balance as $8500, then each time I ate breakfast(only NT$60 at most!), the graph would barely change at all. I decided to keep the NT$4000 I get monthly from the club, plus the NT$8000 I had stored already, in a “bank” and not count it in the app. Therefore, I made my balance the amount in my wallet (NT$500), and for the rest of the lifetime of the app, the graph showed only the balance in my wallet.

Second, there was the small problem of representing my MRT pass. I added money to it once every couple weeks, but I wanted to see an impact on the graph each time I used the card. This way I can see how many times I used the MRT each week, instead of how much I paid to put money on the MRT pass every few weeks. Therefore, I decided to only deduct money from my balance when I used it for transportation, not when I took money from my wallet and deposited it into my MRT pass.

Third, it is really hard to keep track of small change.

Fourth, there were so many grey areas when I used money for non-regular expenses. For example, when I had to pay NT$300 to add texts and call time on my phone, I deducted it from the chart because it could be a regular expense, but also only happens once every three months. Also, what about chewing gum?

And the graphs turned out to not look so pretty. I wished that each data point would be a spike, then lead to a flat valley of non-spending, the length of the valley directly related to the time between transactions. But I realized that there are no flat lines, only straight lines going from one data point to the next (look at the last of the three photos posted above).

I am deleting the app soon. It was a good month or so with Dollarbird. I hope I will start it again later in life, when my expenses and income become more straightforward (I will include ALL my money in the starting balance). And when I get back to the US currency.

I Crave Traditional Breakfasts in Taiwan

There are two types of breakfast in Taiwan: Western and Chinese. Western breakfast is popular among young people and are sold on main streets while Chinese breakfast is more popular with older people and is sold in side streets and alleys.

Western breakfast: Sandwiches, always cut triangularly, very white bread, no crust. It is often three slices of bread. Ingredients often include this like ham, fried chicken, egg, and 肉鬆 (the best I can describe it is meat powder). Very few sammiches have vegetables.

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Here was a not very tasty western breakfast that cost NT$70. I’d ordered the same thing as my classmate. That is my Lactaid pill.

Chinese breakfast: Soymilk, stuffed buns, 饅頭 (buns without stuffing), dumplings, 蛋餅 (translates to egg wrap, basically egg and your choice of meat filling (often tuna) wrapped in an crepe-like pancake). I like Chinese breakfasts because it is warm (sandwiches aren’t) and I can drink soy milk (I am lactose intolerant).

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Pan fried dumplings with soy sauce and hot sauce, plus soy milk in the background.

One cool thing that I slowly realized eating breakfast here is that the soy sauce is almost always soy sauce paste. It is thicker and easier to dip into because it sticks better than watery soy sauce.

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Egg wrap with soy sauce paste inside a typical breakfast carry-out container.

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Breakfast is cheap here. I can get one egg wrap and a medium soy milk for NT$40 which is less than $2 USD. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A fancy breakfast with dumplings, white carrot cake, and egg with basil. And soy sauce paste of course.

I drink soy milk every morning instead of milk or coffee because I am lactose intolerant, as I mentioned before. Soy milk at a breakfast shop always comes in a paper cup with a plastic covering like the ones on bubble tea. People here don’t usually drink cold soy milk, and I get mine warm.

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The jokes on all the soy milk cups in this shop were really bad. This one says: Q: What color is spiderman? Red? Wrong! A: He’s white! Spider man (is a Caucasian). 

Intro to Lactaid

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Since the second semester of my senior year of high school, I have been lactose intolerant. I might’ve been lactose intolerant a bit earlier than that, but I was “diagnosed” earlier this year after I went to my local hospital for a test. I’d been getting an upset stomach nearly every day.

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The test was very painful. I had to fast for 8-12 hours before the test, then the actual test was 4 hours, during which I drank a cup of pure lactose (with orange flavor…ew!) and then blew into a tube every 15 minutes. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything during this test. I’d planned on doing homework during the exam, but I was so hungry that all I could do was find iPhone games, play them for a few minutes, then delete them because I couldn’t find them entertaining.

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Now, whenever I want to eat something that has milk in it, I have to take a Lactaid pill along with the first bite of my dairy-food, and if I eat the dairy-food for more than 30 minutes, I should take another pill. Sometimes I just take two at once if I feel like the product contains a lot of milk:

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I carry at least 3-4 Lactaid pills in my wallet at all times, and my school backpack has 40-50 pills. They are individually wrapped, and I try to take a photo of the pill stuck inside my food.

The pills are chewable and taste like nothing.

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I use Lactaid pills only when I’m eating a dessert. I’ve never used a pill for drinking milk because I can drink soy milk instead, and I’m not sure one or two pills would be enough for a glass of pure milk.

I’ll keep ya’ll updated on the Lactaid pills as I get more photos.