Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Girl's Gotta Eat

Yesterday, a commenter on my "Sticking to a Budget" post suggested that $650 a month is a lot for a single person to spend on food, even in NYC. This is probably true, depending on how you look at it. Some months I spend quite a bit more than that, some months I spend less. My actual average for last year seems to have been about $610 per month. I'm sure there are plenty of single people in NYC who spend way more than that.
I know I could cut back from this level of food spending. For breakfast, I could eat cereal and make coffee at home instead of buying coffee and a bagel at a deli near work. For lunch, I could be much better about bringing food from home, instead of buying salads, pizza and sandwiches, as I do quite often. And for dinner, though I do buy groceries and cook my own meals at home a lot, I also go out to eat a lot, by which I mean once or twice a week. I could just eat at home even more often, and be really careful about buying the cheapest groceries and taking advantage of sales.
I'm sure I could easily halve my food spending by changing these habits. But I don't really want to. This is one of those quality of life issues. I do think it will change a little once I'm in my new home, but for the last few years, having a dinner party and cooking a meal for a group of friends just hasn't been an option. And frankly, I'm not that fancy a cook anyway. I like going to restaurants, to socialize with friends, but also just to try new kinds of food-- it's about having an enjoyable experience, not just the ingestion of sufficient calories to sustain life.
My breakfast and lunch choices can't be justified this way, and those are the areas where I'd like to change my habits a bit. But still, I'm not going to beat myself up about going for convenience over cost sometimes. Convenience is something that costs money, and I'm willing to account for that in my budget. This is rationalization, of course, and if you tally up the compound interest on the money I could be saving, I'm probably cheating myself out of retiring with a live-aboard yacht. (Well, maybe just a smaller yacht-- I calculate that $300 a month earning 4.5% makes you about $227,000 in 30 years.) But we all have to make these choices about a million things every day. If we lived in cardboard shacks, ate nothing but hot dogs and wore nothing but burlap, we could all probably retire with 10 live-aboard yachts, but would it be worth it?
You just have to limit how much you use this argument. If you come up with ways to justify all your current spending habits as reasonable and necessary, then you'll be in trouble, unless you find a good enough job to pay for them.
And as of last night, I am officially over my month's budget on my food spending... but a lobster roll at the Pearl Oyster Bar was a great way to do it!


Anonymous said...

How many times do you eat out in a month..?

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with spending money on food, assuming you can afford it. After all, we all have jobs so we can spend money, whether now or in retirement.

However, if you are in debt and spending massive amounts on eating out, that is just stupid and immature; regardless as to how you justify it.

calgirlfinance said...

I love Pearl Oyster Bar! It's one of my favorite restaurants in NYC!!

Anonymous said...

What difference does it make how many times one eats out. Everyone has their own ideas of what is an enjoyable way to spend discretionary $$.

I have a friend who goes out to dinner and a movie several times a week, but never travels more than 30 minutes from home. We never go out to movies and rarely have dinner out when home, but average about 12 weeks of vacation travel per year.

Anonymous said...

You go girl!

I 'wish' I lived in NYC -- the absolute food capital of the world. You've got a pretty decent handle on how you budget your income and, if anything, I would probably reshuffle between categories to even 'increase' the food budget if I were in your place. Eating out, trying new restaurants, exciting new foods -- in one of life's greatest pleasures for many people.

Here's a tip: You don't have the expense of a car. Figure out what car you would buy -- if you bought one -- and what the monthly payments would be (you'd have to come up with this money from one or more of your budget categories, anyway), and add that amount to your food budget.

Never again worry about how much you spend for food! Eat out as often as you want to within the framework of your 'new' food budget.

To live in NYC and have to restrain one's self from eating out -- would be one of the worst punishment's imaginable!

mapgirl said...

I think it's weird how people will start to judge you for dining out (or any way that you spend money). If it's something you enjoy and you're still meeting your financial goals, then what does it matter that you dine out a lot or spend more than other people on certain discretionary items? You enjoy life! There's nothing wrong with that.

Sometimes I think in the world of PFBlogging, people forget to budget for some fun in their lives. Dining out and being social makes me happy too so I probably dine out more than I should, but it's my way of getting out of the house and see my friends regularly. I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all. Screw the money. Yes, I could be saving more, but I'd rather not be a hermit either.

Anonymous said...

Must be great to live in a place where great restaurant food is available. Eating at a restaraunt, and thinking "I can cook better than that" or even thinking "My mother in law can cook better than that" has to be one of lifes most disappointing experiences.

Anonymous said...

I used to live in a big city and going out to eat with friends was one of the main cornerstones of my (and most people's, really) social lives.

Now I'm living in a smallish town and instead of going out to eat we tend to go for hikes with friends or just hang out in each other's houses/ backyards... I find this new way to be more relaxed, more human, though I do sometimes miss the big city vibe. I am saving far more money this way, too.

Anonymous said...

Great post. We've been to NYC exactly once - my head was constantly spinning at the sheer number of food options.

Weirdly enough, GQ just named Chicago the culinary capital of the US - and that's a very bad thing for our meager dining out budget.

mOOm said...

Sounds to me that you have a very balanced approach, which works for you. It's silly in my opinion to sacrifice now for future wealth later. Saving money should be mainly in order to smooth consumption over time as economists say. So that you don't have to suffer a big fall in living standards at some point. So when you are young and not earning much you SHOULD borrow money (I did when I was a student). Then when you are in your 30s and 40s you should be saving if as is usual and like us you are earning a relatively high income.

But a lot of people seem to make moral judgements about saving and spending unrelated to income and wealth levels. Which I find strange.