We in the personal finance community – especially those of us focused on frugal living – sure love to harp on the same few targets when it comes to frivolous spending.
Coffee seems to have gotten the worst of it. Mentions of the “latte factor” even appear regularly in major media these days. Fair enough: good coffee is easily made at home for pennies in lieu of dropping five dollars a day at Starbucks. (I suppose you could stop drinking it entirely, but then what would be the point of living?)
Cable TV isn’t far behind. With the proliferation of Netflix, Hulu, and borrowed Xfinity passwords, is there even anyone left who pays a hundred bucks a month for television service?
A couple others get regular mentions. Leased vehicles (gas-guzzlers, especially) are a big waste of money, of course. Gigantic houses take their share of flak too – the cost of mortgage interest, property taxes, and utilities can add up to a mighty sum.
And then there’s dining out. “You’re just throwing money away!” the common refrain goes. “Cooking at home is a fraction of the cost. You should never spend more than a couple hundred dollars a month on food.”
Whoa. Hold up. Now it’s gotten personal.
Here’s our frugality confession for the day: We love, love, love dining out.
And for the record, I’m not talking about getting an overcooked chicken sandwich at Applebee’s or crappy breadsticks at the Olive Garden. If those were our only choices, we would cook at home every time.
For these past few years, though, Daniel and I have lived in two of the best culinary cities in the country: Seattle and Portland. There are awesome local restaurants on every corner serving up recipes from across the world. Some of it – like the food carts in Portland – is actually quite affordable. For us, food is one of the great joys of living in the city.
Dining out is a core part of our travel experiences, too. This year, we’ve been wine-tasting in California and brewery-hopping in Oregon. We’ve sought out burritos in San Francisco’s Mission District, hole-in-the-wall barbecue in Kansas City, deep-dish pizza in Chicago, and pasties in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We’ve tried seafood in Croatia, doner kebab in Turkey, goulash in Hungary, and Guinness in Ireland. How could we not?
Dining out serves as our entertainment, too. It’s a great setting for conversation with friends and family. On the road, it gets us out of the van for a few hours. We love people-watching in new places. And although we’re reasonably skilled cooks, it lets us try new cuisines we either couldn’t pull off ourselves or for which we wouldn’t have the patience.
Related frugality confession #2: We blow a ton of money on food.
Last month, we had a particularly obscene total for restaurant spending (it’s what prompted this post). We blew over $1,000 on restaurants and bars in October, not even including another $200+ spent on groceries. That’s over a third of our total spending for the month on something completely optional – yikes!
[Related post: Our Frugality is a Sham]
We’re not alone in our penchant for dining out. In 2015, for the first time ever, Commerce Department data showed that Americans are spending more money at restaurants and bars than on groceries. For our millennial generation, in particular, going out to a restaurant seems to be the default option for socializing. Suggest a potluck or cooking together at home and you might just get strange looks.
[Related post: When Did My Friends Get So Expensive?]
For many people, this is a recipe for financial disaster. Take, as an example, our friend who invited us to a meal out at an expensive brunch restaurant last weekend:
When your friend invites you out for a pricey brunch, then casually mentions that she has less than $1,000 to her name pic.twitter.com/Nf15umiGRV
— Matt @The Resume Gap (@TheResumeGap) October 31, 2016
That, my friends, is certifiably insane.
Here’s the difference for us: We can afford it.
Yes, we love the experience of restaurant dining. Yes, it’s one of our favorite splurges. But it’s still a splurge – and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. We’re comfortable indulging for a few reasons:
We have no debt. Zero. No credit cards, no student loans, no mortgages. It’s all paid off – or never taken out in the first place. If we were sitting on high-interest consumer debt, you bet your ass we’d be cooking rice and beans every night.
It’s built into our budget. We’re spending an amount of money well within our comfort zone. Our spending projections for FIRE didn’t assume we would suddenly start spending less on food, either. It’s always been part of the target.
We still monitor and adjust regularly. In some of Croatia’s more touristy cities, for example, entrée prices were way out of our comfort zone – $40-60 for a single dish, in some cases. Instead, we sought out the local grocery stores, bakeries, and farmer’s markets. On the road in the States, we make sandwiches and cook dinners regularly with our two-burner camp stove. Just because we’re comfortable splurging sometimes doesn’t mean we’re comfortable splurging all the time.
What do you think, readers? Do you share our love of restaurant dining? What’s your splurge?