Anything for a Buck

A conversation with Julie Rottenberg, author of the August 2009 Life Lessons essay.

Money Monica Buck
Real Simple’s Noelle Howey spoke with proudly frugal Julie Rottenberg, a coproducer and scribe for Sex and the City and the author of the Life Lessons essay “Anything for a Buck” (August 2009), about adapting to the recession, her writing process, and what she’s working on next.
 
 Real Simple: I know you just went on a vacation. Since, as you noted, you’re famously tight with money, how hard was it for you to spend cash while you were there?
 Julie Rottenberg: When I first got to France and withdrew a bunch of euros from an ATM, I experienced a rare moment of alternate personality. Maybe because they weren’t real dollars (those euros are so pretty!), they didn’t feel like actual money. It was like play money, and I found I was able to spend much more freely than I ever would at home. But that didn’t last long, as the reality of the exchange rate set in, and my old frugal-calculator brain emerged from my jet-lagged, free-spending haze. I do try to be less money-conscious when I’m on vacation, but I still get a thrill if I can manage to get a good deal somewhere or when we cook at the house instead of eating out at a pricey restaurant.
 
 RS: This is the second Life Lessons essay you’ve written for Real Simple. What do you think makes for a successful (and funny) essay?
 JR: Well, I’m definitely still trying to figure that out! I guess the only way I know how to write an essay is to be as honest as I can, and I’ve found the Life Lessons column a particularly hospitable place for that. After seeing the response to my piece about my sleep obsession [Ed. note: The magazine received dozens of letters from readers praising an essay that Rottenberg wrote about her unabashed love for sleep], I was reminded that no matter how freaky or embarrassing I may think one of my traits is, there are always going to be other people out there who relate―which is hugely reassuring.
 
 RS: How does writing for TV―say, Sex and the City―compare to writing essays such as this one? Do you approach the writing process differently in each case?
 JR: Sex and the City was this hugely collaborative effort involving my fellow writers, the actors, directors, costume and set designers, editors, prop masters, camera operators, and a million crew members―not to mention all the previous story lines and character histories we had to take into account for each new script. In comparison, writing an essay for Real Simple is just that―real simple―because it’s just me, sitting at my computer, jotting out an essay as if I were talking to a friend.
 
 RS: What are you reading these days?
 JR: I just finished Identical Strangers, by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, about two women who discovered in their mid-30s that they are identical twins, and now I’m reading a phenomenal memoir, The Kids Are All Right, by Liz and Diana Welch.
 
 RS: What’s your next project?
 JR: Along with my writing partner, Elisa Zuritsky, I’m writing a movie called Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched, based on a New York Times Modern Love column about a woman who uses techniques from an exotic-animal training school to save her marriage. And we’re also developing a new comedy series for television that will probably focus on women, friendship, and love (our favorite topics!).
 
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