Treating Spending as a Diet

Yesterday I received a text from my roommate from college, she was in town and wanted to grab dinner. I replied with an ecstatic “yes!” It had been a couple of years since I saw her last. We had a lovely meal at one of my favorite restaurants in Los Feliz and caught up on each other’s lives over a beer. It was a really pleasant evening.

As we were wrapping up and tabs were being closed out, it hit me, going to restaurants can be expensive.

Now, I’m not that naive, I know that going out to restaurants is pricey. Prior to my effort to start saving my money, I ate out all the time. I got take out for lunch several times a week, I would go grocery shopping after work and then be too tired to cook so I would go out to eat, I would never turn down a dinner invitation and I would tack on going out to a restaurant when I was out with friends. I really never thought twice about going out to eat.

When my boyfriend and I decided to combine our efforts and start doing our weekly grocery shopping together, we made it a goal to only spend about $100 on food for the week ($50 each). Our groceries last from Sunday to Saturday, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This method has been working out incredibly well. We never have to question what’s for dinner because it’s planned out for the entire week and we always make enough so that there are left overs for lunch the next day.

So when I was leaving the restaurant last night, I was reflecting on my bill. I paid nearly $30 for dinner and drinks. A few months ago, I wouldn’t think anything of it, but now I’m realizing that’s over half of my weekly grocery bill, for one meal! If I were to turn back time, would I have turned down the dinner reservation? Absolutely not. But it reminded me how easy it is for our meal budget to get out of hand.

Spending is a Diet

When I was in high school, I had free reign of the kitchen when I would get home. My mom would load the fridge with Bagel Bites, Pepsi, Oreos, you name it, we probably had it. After consuming almost a liter of Pepsi a day, I noticed that I was putting on weight fast. I knew I had to make a change. The first thing I did was stop drinking a liter of Pepsi a day. I also cut back on my after school snacks and favored some low calorie options (mostly Cheerios). Within a couple of months, I had shed all the weight I put on plus a little extra.

During this time, I was a serial calorie counter. I knew the caloric content of everything in my fridge (Yoplait Lite: 100 calories, Diet Snapple, 10 calories, Snickers Bar: 230 calories). I would allow myself a strict amount of calories and very rarely strayed from the diet. I was a self conscious teenager so of course I was obsessed with my appearance and that made the diet even easier.

When I became mindful of my spending, it felt a lot like my teenage diet. I started keeping track of all of my purchases down to the 75 cents I spend on the dryer at the laundromat. I also started seeing my money as a very finite resource and spending now could affect the future. When I would start to crave an afternoon cappuccino, I would ask if it’s really worth it? Could that $4.00 and 120 calories be better spent elsewhere? I would do the math, 2 cappuccinos a week, $4.00 a cappuccino, that would equal a little over $400 spent on cappuccinos in a year which is a also the same cost of a round trip flight to go see my family.

Decisions are becoming easier when it comes to spending. When I first had the mindset to start saving, it was scary. I worried about pulling my credit card out of my wallet, I almost feared spending money. As I get more used to curbing my spending on unnecessary things, I can start spending on things that matter most to me like sharing a good meal with an old friend.

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