In lieu of a traditional budget, I track all of my purchases on a spreadsheet. While I'm more diligent about recording every expense some months than others, one thing is clear: The majority of my discretionary income goes toward food.
Trying new dishes and restaurants is a priority for me, as I've mentioned before. It's a way to both connect with friends and explore New York City.
But for every standout burger and innovative dessert the city has to offer, there are numerous opportunities to throw money away on food. Breakfast carts line the route from the subway to my office each morning. When I walk home from work alone, at least a dozen places tempt me not to cook dinner and indulge instead.
Don't even get me started on the temptation of working just blocks away from a Chick-Fil-A.
Between stopping for Chipotle when I didn't feel like preparing something and ordering bagels via Seamless on particularly lazy mornings, I used to indulge far more than my budget allowed. That put me at a crossroads: Should I give up eating out even though it brings me joy? Or do I continue on the same path despite the threat of financial ruin?
In January 2015, I landed on a compromise: I'm only allowed to dine out if I'm with a friend.
The rule allows me to maintain the social aspects of restaurants that I love — connecting with friends both old and new, expanding my palette, getting to experience some of the best dishes New York City has to offer — but limits the purchases that don't improve my life in a lasting way.
I said goodbye to burritos inhaled after a hard day at work and lukewarm soup procured only because I was too lazy to slap together a lunch from home. I stopped thinking of dining out as a commonplace part of life and started relishing it for what it truly is: a treat.
Not only did implementing this rule put me in a better mindset to enjoy the meals I choose to buy, but it saves me about a thousand dollars a year. Though I don't have any hard data on how often I went out to lunch or ordered Seamless instead of cooking, let's say I was taking the lazy way out for one lunch and one dinner per week. At about $10 per meal, that's $20 a week, $80 a month or $1,040 per year.
That's $1,000 I can now put toward planning for the future, saving for bigger goals or traveling to new places.
My rule forces me to align my spending with my priorities. While I care deeply about sharing a meal with my best friend, mediocre Thai food ordered from a no-name restaurant on Seamless is almost immediately a regret.
You'll find me waiting in line for Levain cookies, but also turning to Trader Joe's pasta when the laziness hits.
My one exception to the rule? Late night mozzarella sticks. Some habits die hard.
From splitting the check to DIY adventures, "Young Money" helps you navigate tricky financial situations.
Check out more in the series:
- A couples therapist says this is the best way to talk about money with your friends
- How I spent $1,230 on convenience in just two months
- 5 things you should never pay full price for
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