My wife is an excellent cook.
Coupled with the fact that both of us have a variety of food allergies, we tend to eat at home more often than not. Occasionally we go out, but it’s usually a bit stressful as we have to make sure we can find something that’s safe to eat. And, we don’t have a lot of money, so eating out is something we have to do with intentionality.
I am somewhat amazed by how often many people eat out. I know lots of people who go to the office 5 days a week and eat out for lunch every day. And then pick up something for dinner too. I can’t help but see dollar signs floating through the drive-thrus of America.
I’ve always been a brown-bag guy myself (like my father). I was known for eating the same lunch every day for each year of high school. One year was ham sandwiches. One year was roast beef. Then turkey for the next year. Simple. Predictable. Cheap.
I’ve been thinking about the perspective that surrounds this option of eating out. It seems that there are two ways to look at it: luxury or life.
For some people, eating out is just the norm; it’s life. Whether it’s because it’s convenient, or efficient, or its quality is simply preferred, many people regularly eat out for 5, 7, 10 meals a week. Even if you averaged only $6 per meal, one week of eating out adds up to being more than my monthly grocery budget in some of the places I’ve lived. Seems costly to me.
The other perspective (which admittedly I feel) is that eating out is a luxury. It’s more expensive than eating at home. It’s an occasion to have someone prepare a meal for you…and even clean the dishes afterward!
I really don’t want to try and judge one perspective as right. For the lifers, eating at home is a way to save money, cheaper than the normal routine of eating out. For the luxuriants, eating out is an added expense, with mental calculations quickly determining how many meals could be prepared at home for just the cost of that appetizer alone.
My only question comes when I hear lifers complaining about finances being so tight. The opportunity to save money by eating out less seems so obvious to me, but apparently it’s not so easy to make the change. Sometimes, eating out is more than just a convenience. Sometimes it’s a symbol of status. Sometimes it’s a business platform. Sometimes it’s a remedy for laziness. Sometimes (perhaps rarely) it is the most economical option.
I find myself wondering how many people work just so that they can eat out. We all work in order to take care of our needs, but for some people, I really wonder how much their salary carries them beyond their expenditures on meals. Maybe I just don’t understand how much money some people really make, such that $8 or $10 a meal is really not a significant consideration for them.
I admit that I like to be frugal. I’ve even been accused of being a miser when it comes to eating out, forsaking a social opportunity for the sake of the family budget. And there’s certainly a caution for me as well. I clearly remember being in a Starbucks in Japan with some friends. Now I would never normally pay $5 for a small hot chocolate, but in that case I realized that the value of the relationship, the opportunity for conversation, was certainly worth the $5. I thought of it as paying $4.95 for the dialogue, and just a nickel for the drink. Good deal, eh?
We are all in different situations, with different priorities, opportunities, and available resources. My caution for all of us is simply to live with intentionality. The defaults that we can slip into–from living life to fleeing from luxury–can all be possible traps. Both forethought (budgeting) and taking into account the needs of the moment ($4.95 for conversation) are important for living wisely and using our resources well–which doesn’t necessarily mean saving our money.
Luxury or life. Either way: wisdom and intentionality.