Still…if I don’t spend any more on anything else (and there’s no reason I should), by the end of this month (which it already IS, almost!) I’ll have $200 left in the budget. Why should I not spend it on myself?
Or, one might reasonably ask, why should I spend it on myself?
Thing is, a perfectly fine collection of fancy Wüsthof and Henckels knives is sitting right there in the drawer. I don’t need any fancy new knives.
But…but…the other thing is, every one of them is all scratched up, from the time I took it into my hot little head to use my father’s whetstone to sharpen the knives, which had gone mightily dull. This was an exceptionally bad idea. In my clumsiness, I ruined every knife in the house!
Except they’re not ruined. They look terrible, but they take a perfectly fine edge and there’s nothing wrong with the way they work. So what if they look terrible? Who sees them?
So, here’s another Thing:
Whenever you go to one of those uncountable estate sales out in Sun City, these scratched-up knives are the sort of thing you run into. Those, and the blue-and-pink furniture and the much-scrubbed Revereware pans and on and on. You find the leavings of the make-it-do, use-it-up generation: people who pay a middling-high price to get the best Stuff they can afford and who are then stuck with it, because it never wears out. By the time you’ve owned it half your lifetime and you’re tired of it, it really isn’t worn out.
These houses are full of tired, out-of-style Stuff that’s still perfectly serviceable. Serviceable outmoded furniture. Serviceable old-fashioned pots and pans. Serviceable mixers. Serviceable food processors. Serviceable blenders. Serviceable fans. Serviceable old analog scales and clocks. Serviceable towels. Serviceable sheets. Serviceable throw pillows. Serviceable half-bottles of Arpège and Windsong. Auuughhhh! So depressing it comes out on the other side of depressing.
So the question becomes one of WTF are you saving that two hundred bucks for, anyway?
I dunno. I’m so cheap I don’t want to part with it. Plus I like my knives. I’ve collected them over a lifetime. Handing them over to Goodwill feels like a betrayal. How can I even think of taking my knives to the pound? Auuughhhh!
One thing we can be assured of: despite all those expensive German brand names, the best knife in that drawer was made by Chicago Knives. It takes an edge like a razor blade and holds the edge forever with just light honing. A-n-n-d you cannot buy a decent Chicago knife anymore. That’s another fine American product that has gone down the tubes — though reviews at Amazon average in the four-star range, still some 11 percent of reviewers hate it. Here’s my knife: one guy says Chicago “must be the name of a town in China.” 😀 This one is particularly juicy: “After some very light use and cleaning, the wood on the handle SHRANK exposing the sharp edge of the full tang in the handle. The edge of the tang is sharp enough to cut my fingers.” Hee HEEEEE!
Okay. Yeah. Why, again, do I want to replace a lifetime collection of high-quality German and (real!) American cutlery for…what? Something made in China, like everything else? So my knives are old folks’ stuff. BFD: I am an old folk.
Getting rid of stuff feels so good!Out with it! Seriously: one tried and true frugalist strategy is simply not to buy things you don’t really need. Another, though, is getting rid of stuff that you no longer need. (Or…ahem…maybe never needed in the first place.)
Case in point: the beloved Pawley Island hammock that has resided in the backyard since I moved into this place. Actually, I bought it in the old house, quite some years before I moved out. Since I was there about 12 or 14 years, I’d probably had it there about 8 or 10 years. That house had park-like landscaping full of mature trees, and so I could hang it between a big old olive tree and a silk oak, one of the messiest trees known to personkind.
Loved loafing in that hammock. Once it came over here, though, I had no place to hang it. Satan and Proserpine (the previous owners) were great at DIY interior redecorating, but they simply did not know what to do with any space not under roof. The backyard had almost no trees. So I bought one of those arc-shaped hammock stands. Like this…
Expensive as all get-out. Took three men and a horse to put it together. Too heavy to move without said three men and the horse. But once in place, it worked fine.
I’ve been in this house for 14 years now. So…that hammock lasted about twenty years before it finally rotted in the sun and rain and fell apart under my weight. No kidding. This: a couple weeks ago. No problem hauling off the hammock. But the wooden stand itself was a challenge.
Thought about replacing the hammock, to the tune of $150. Then thought…why?
Gerardo came by Saturday with his crew. They were happy to take it away. They did deconstruct it (the only way they could get it into their truck). Whether they’ll reconstruct it, I don’t know. But with four guys there, I expect one of them will cheerfully accept the donation.
SDXB used to say that throwing out stuff he was no longer using made him feel lighter. And there’s something to that. In the old house, the thing hung over a patio, so I could walk up to it bare-footed. Here, it stood in the middle of a field of quarter-minus. That’s very fine gravel. It pokes your feet, and if that doesn’t poke your feet, the sharp debris the devil-pod tree drops surely will. So to lay on the hammock, first I had to put my shoes on! Since I’m usually barefoot in the house, shoes are usually lost somewhere. Having to track them down made hammock-swinging more trouble than it was worth.
Hence, the contraption’s near-abandonment.
I’m so glad to get that thing out of there. Even though it served its purpose, it took up a phenomenal amount of room. The dogs would go in behind it to do their business, meaning I would have to climb in behind it to clean up after them. One fewer thing to have to take care of! The yard looks better without the clutter, and now there’s nothing over there for the hose to get caught up on.
Deciding to get rid of the arc stand, which was approaching decrepitude, too, meant I saved a hundred and fifty bucks.
No. Make that more like three hundred bucks. The stand itself was getting pretty weather-beaten and would soon need replacing…and those things cost $150, sans hammock.
There’s no way I’d get another $300 worth of use out of a new hammock and new fancy stand. At the old house, I certainly got my money’s worth out of the hammock. But here, for the reasons above, I’ve rarely used it.
How does that translate into a general Frugality Rule of Thumb?
Well, when something gives up the ghost, delay replacing it. Don’t hurry right out and buy a new one right this minute. Put off a new purchase long enough to see whether you can comfortably do without the thing. Maybe you really don’t need it. Maybe you really don’t want it.
Yesterday I finished cleaning out the bedroom closet. Donated a pile of old clothes, so as to make room for the new shirts I bought and ended up feeling about 10 pounds lighter. Something there is about divesting oneself of junk that improves your mood.
This task led to some reflections on frugality, as I suppose it must for all of us. Whenever you get into a closet or storage shelves, you think about the stuff you bought, how you used it, and how you didn’t use it. And over time, you develop a set of unconscious rules governing what you buy and what you do with it. Hence…
Funny’s Seven Unwritten Rules of Frugality
Don’t buy it if you’re not gonna use it.
This is no doubt the most challenging of the Frugal Rules. The whole (profitable) principle of the impulse buy is predicated on the fact that if you look at something and think “Oh! That’s neat,” you’ll buy it whether you need it or not. To combat this lure, slow down.
SDXB, the all-time Master of Frugality, had a shopping technique that worked to address the “what do you need this thing for” issue. As we perambulated through a store, something would catch his eye. Sometimes this was just an interesting item; sometimes it was something he was shopping for. But rather than grabbing it off the shelf and tossing it into the shopping cart, he would stop and pick the thing up. He would turn it over in his hands. He would assume a contemplative air. He would study the item. Then he would set it back on the shelf and go on about the rest of his shopping.
After he’d loaded up the cart with stuff he knew he wanted, he would return to the object in question. He would pick it up again. He would turn it over in his hands again, inspecting every aspect of the thing. He would stand there (interminably!) and think on it. About half the time, he would buy it. The other half of the time, he would put it down and walk away.
Think of that: he saved about half the money he otherwise would have diddled away on impulse buys. Putting the thing down and going on about your business, then coming back to it gives you time. It gives you time to cool off a bit, so the object doesn’t look so burningly fascinating when you return to it. And it gives you time to consider whether you really want this doodad, whether this is the particular specimen of the desired doodad you want, whether the price is right, whether you might do better somewhere else, whether you can live without it.
So, the corollary of Rule 1 (Don’t buy it if you’re not gonna use it) is take your time.
If you do buy it and you don’t like it, use it anyway.
Probably the second most difficult Frugal Rule. Sometimes we buy things and realize we made a mistake. The reasonable thing to do in that case is to take it back — which you should, if you can. But some things can’t be returned.
Case in point: four fake-feather pillows I purchased awhile back at First Tuesday.
My down pillows, which had resided on the bed for years, had gotten pretty beat up. I decided to buy some new ones and, against my better nature, decided to buy synthetic by way of beating back allergies. (Note that I did not evict the dogs from the bed, suggesting that I wasn’t very serious about this anti-allergy scheme.) I bring them home, stuff them into the pillowcases, and toss them on the bed.
Come bed-time, I try to sleep on these beanbags. Ugh! They were so uncomfortable that no amount of trying to get used to them — and I tried for a couple of weeks — made them tolerable.
Ultimately, I ended up traipsing to Costco and buying four down pillows, making this the most expensive purchase of cheap feather pillows in the history of personkind.
I didn’t throw away or donate the pillows, though. Instead, I’ve stashed them for the use of guests. If one day I get around to putting a twin bed in the spare room, I’ll buy or make some shams and use the beanbags as decorative pillows in there. For the nonce, they’re on the top shelf of the bedroom closet, wrapped in an old throw to protect them from dust.
Use it up, wear it out, make it do
When something starts to show signs of wear, don’t throw it out. Fix it.
Ruby the Corgi Puppy chewed the ends off one of my outdoor wicker rockers. Did I throw it out and buy a new one? Hell, no. I sanded the rockers down and spray-painted them. Again.
These rockers are about 20 years old. In fact, I doubt if you can even buy real wicker rockers anymore — they’re all that weather-proof plastic stuff. Practical, I suppose. Expensive, for sure. And uncomfortable. About every three years, I spray those now-antique rockers with another layer of white paint. In between times, I drag them indoors when it looks like rain.
Similarly, the accursed Samsung washer punched holes in my pillowcases (this was before it ripped two sheets lengthwise…). The cases came with a set, so I couldn’t easily run out and buy new ones. Nor could I afford to: pillowcases are darned expensive. So I embroidered a couple of primitive flowers over the holes.
One of the holes has managed to escape the stitching, so pretty soon I’ll have to buy a new set of Costco sheets. But in the meantime, the patching job extracted an extra year or two out of the damaged sheets.
Buy quality items that last longer
We visited this subject the other day, when I held forth about the pricey shirts I recently bought, which I expect will last several years. Among the pile of stuff I donated yesterday was an Eileen Fisher top that was still perfectly usable. I decided to get rid of it because it makes a Boobless Wonder look even more curiously flat than necessary, even though it still had a fair amount of wear left in it.
I bought that shirt while I was still teaching. Since I moved into administration in 2004, that means the shirt is thirteen years old, and still usable. Yes, I paid a lot for it — though I got it on sale. But it seems to have paid for itself by not wearing out.
Buy something, get rid of something else
If you don’t want to get rid of x, then don’t buy y.
This was the principle driving yesterday’s Great Closet Clean-Out. And as a matter of fact, I got rid of considerably more than the five new items I installed in the closet. About twice as many, come to think of it.
If you have nothing that you want to get rid of, then presumably you don’t need anything new. So…don’t go out and buy stuff you don’t need.
The other day, reader LeShea reported a brilliant idea: using sprinkles jars to store single servings of salad dressing.
This reminded me that it’s been a long time since I’ve made real salad dressing — of late, I’ve fallen into the habit of dribbling on a little olive oil and squirting a quarter of a lemon over it.
I’d bought some heavy cream in a one-pint returnable glass jar. A rather handsome little glass jar, come to think of it. Just about the right size to hold a week or two’s worth of home-made salad dressing.
Not bad. I might not even be too embarrassed to haul that out in front of guests. 🙂
If you can make it cheaper or better than you can buy it, make it
Salad dressing is ridiculously easy to make, and home-made tastes so much better than the commercial stuff, there’s no comparison. The basic principle for vinaigrette: one part sour stuff (lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar) to three parts oil of your choice. Add flavorings of your choice. Or not. The above?
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
about a tablespoon mixed dried herbs (I used fines herbes, but herbes de Provence or anything else to your taste will work just fine.
You can make your own window cleaner far more cheaply than Windex and its knock-offs cost, and it works as well or better. Take a squirt bottle; fill it about 1/3 to 1/2 full of rubbing alcohol. Add 1 tablespoon (or so) of ammonia. Fill the rest of the way with water.
IMHO the best of all money-saving habits is simply to cook your own dinner. Why go out to eat when you can fix far better food yourself for a fraction of the price?
Don’t know how to cook? Not an excuse: Buy my cookboook!
In my notecard stack, it means more than live “within” your means, which suggests you live up to the limit of what your income will support. Living below your means is spending significantly less than you earn, and doing so in a meaningful, strategized way.
The primary way to accomplish this is to automatically set aside a portion of your income for savings. Most employers that direct deposit can deposit portions of a paycheck to different accounts. If yours will do that, arrange to have, say, 10 percent of your take-home pay deposited to a savings account. Alternatively, you can set up your bank account to do an automatic transfer from checking to savings on a certain day of the month. If you have a side gig, you may be able to put the most or all of that net paycheck into savings and live on the income from your main job.
That’s after you’ve had a specific amount withheld for a 401(k) or 403(b). If your employer doesn’t provide a savings plan, then set up an investment savings fund and have 15% of your pay deposited to that, right off the top. IMHO the preferred device for this is probably an index fund with a low-overhead mutual fund company such as Vanguard or Fidelity. At least part of this amount should go into a Roth IRA, which will protect you from the onerous and tax-heavy Required Minimum Distribution rule after you retire. Keep the rest of it in regular funds, if you think there’s any chance at all that your income after retirement is likely to be close to what you get while working.
So: 15% of your pay should go to an employer retirement plan or, if contributions are not matched, to your own long-term investment savings. THEN at least another 10% (up to 20%) of the remainder goes into savings in a bank.
What’s left is what you live on. That’s living below your means.
And how do you accomplish this frugal lifestyle on the few pennies you have left? Any number of ways…
Buy a smaller house than you can actually afford.
Buy in a lesser neighborhood than you could in theory afford.
Buy less expensive cars than you can afford.
Eat in most of the time. Learning to cook is one of the biggest moneysavers out there.
Never charge more than you can afford to pay out of pocket in a given billing cycle.
Stay out of debt. If you can’t pay for something in cash, don’t buy it.
Never pay full price for anything. Buy clothing on sale, at outlet stores, or in thrift stores.
Vacation frugally. Consider a camping trip instead of a flight across the globe.
Break the “Stuff” habit: don’t buy things you don’t need. Pass on a clothing purchase if you already have something that will do. And refrain from collecting bric-a-brac and useless items, be it piggy banks, comic books, computer games, or old CDs. Think minimalist.
Choose a hobby that doesn’t break the bank. If it requires pricey equipment or supplies, find another way to pass the time.
Learn to do things yourself.
None of these is very hard.
What about that 10% you put into the bank? Before long enough will accrue to provide a decent emergency savings stash. If you’re lucky and two or three years pass without a really big unplanned bill, you may have enough to skim off some to contribute to your retirement savings.
I have three sets of savings: short-term emergency savings (enough to cover a routine plumbing or car repair, for example); long-term emergency savings (major repairs, non-routine dental bills), and retirement savings. A bank account will do for the first two; retirement savings, of course, should go into some kind of investment. Back in the day when CDs paid a little interest, I used to have long-term emergency savings in a credit-union CD. Now it’s all in the same savings account. My retirement savings are professionally managed; most of it is with Fidelity.
As we’ll see in this series, the key to stress-free finances is to live not within your means but under your means. Your goal is to live comfortably on less than you earn. Preferably, on lots less. If you’re bringing home, say, $3,000 a month, you would like to live on $2,000 or, at most, $2,500.
It’s not very difficult. The strategy is to determine what you really need and what you want, and then pare back the junk and the services to a level that’s as close as you can get to the need level, within reason.
I say “within reason” because I don’t believe it’s necessary to live like an anchorite to stabilize your finances and keep financial worries under control. Nor do we have to live like robber barons to be comfortable. What we’re looking for is a happy medium. To find that, you quietly engineer your expenses so that your cost of living is significantly less than your income, and then keep those costs as steady as possible—or even cut them—as your income rises.
The surest way to cut regular, unavoidable costs is to pay off debt and then, once free of it, to stay out of debt by never charging more than you have coming in during a specific period. At first, this strategy may require you to increase outgo, as you pay more than the minimum toward charge cards, student loans, and auto payments. But keep the faith: obviously after a time you’ll get this albatross off your neck, and then the amount you were paying toward it will no longer be going out the door. You have better things to do with this money; namely, saving it for a rainy day, for the kids’ education, and for your own retirement.
The second, surprisingly effective strategy is to pursue a minimalist lifestyle. Look around you: how much sheer junk do you own? Do you collect doodads that have their own collection—of dust? Does your closet shelter clothing that you haven’t worn in a year or more? Are the shelves groaning under decorator items waiting for you to dust them? Got an extra phone, computer, television, pair of skis that you really didn’t need in the first place? Subscribing to 110 premium cable channels when in fact you mostly watch only a dozen, or mostly rent movies? How many times this year did you use that boat in the side yard?
Exercise Number One: lighten your load! Declutter the house and the yard. If you’re not using something, if it decoratively collects dust, or if serves no urgent purpose, get rid of it. Yard-sale it, Craig’s-List it, e-Bay it, donate it, recycle it!
As a first step, this process makes you feel amazingly liberated. Just getting rid of the junk makes your home look bigger and brighter, frees you of a bunch of stuff to take care of, and leaves you feeling about ten pounds lighter. Speaking of your home…
Right-size Your Home
If you’ve not locked yourself into an underwater mortgage, consider this fact: A house or apartment should suffice to fill your needs and only your needs. No extra rooms are needed. No empty basements need apply. All you need is enough space for you and your family to occupy.If you’re buying, try to avoid spending on more square feet than you need. With real estate still running upwards of $90 a square foot, one extra 10 x 10 “sun room,” “hobby room,” or “guest bedroom”can cost you $9,000. Or more. Plus tax. Plus insurance.
Houses that fit are back in style, and they were coming back long before the recession hit. Take a look at Sara Susanka and Kira Obolensky’s books on the not-so-big house for some ideas on how inviting and comfortable a human-sized dwelling can look. And if bungalow size is larger than you need, Little House on a Small Planet, by Shay Solomon, Nigel Valdez, and Frances Moore Lappe, will inspire a wealth of ideas about how to build your financial and spiritual wealth by living in the right space.
Rent, Don’t Buy
Consider renting instead of buying, at least until you can save up more than 20% of a house’s purchase price. By now most of us have come to understand that all the persuasive palaver to the effect that renting is pouring money down the drain and the mortgage deduction offers us all some vast tax advantage is just so much hooey. Too many Americans watched their money flow down the drain, all right—after they purchased homes guaranteed to increase in value with mortgages costing far more than they could afford when they lost their jobs.
Renting has several sterling advantages:
First, most of the time you’re not responsible for repairs. New homebuyers are often shocked to learn how much homeownership actually costs, once all those trips to Home Depot are factored in. Roof repairs, plumbing repairs, mold abatement, dead tree removal: yike! Let the landlord pay for it—he can take it as a tax deduction.
Second, renting gives you mobility. Consider the number of people who can’t pursue job offers in other cities because they’re locked into mortgages for more than their homes are worth. Renters can move pretty much any time they please.
And third, because a renter saves money on maintenance bills, your overall shelter costs are lower than a homeowner’s. Stash the savings in an investment account.
Select a Safe but Not Extravagant Neighborhood
Look for homes on the outer fringes of upscale areas. Often residents share the better schools of their more affluent neighbors but not the prices of the larger, gaudier homes. Before renting or buying, check the local crime reports. Google “Crime Reports” plus your city or state, or try CrimeReports.com.
Keep Transportation Costs within Reason
If you’re a couple, possibly you can get by with just one car. One person might car-pool to work, or one might drop off and pick up the other during the morning and evening commutes. By all means, if you’re lucky enough to live in a city with decent public transit, use it!
But if the adults in the house each really need a car, why buy new? Excellent late-model vehicles can be had at very reasonable costs—let someone else pay for that outlandish first-year depreciation. Once you’ve driven a new car off the lot, it’s an instant used car, anyway. Insurance and registration costs are lower on older cars, making them a much better buy for anyone even faintly interested in building wealth.
In considering the cost of a place to live, keep in mind the cost of commuting. Gasoline, upkeep, and wear and tear on a vehicle are real costs to living in the suburbs. One Lifehacker writer reckons that over ten years, a 40-minute commute—considered by many to be within reason—will set the driver back $125,000. You can figure it out for yourself with this handy calculator. Though a more centrally located home may cost more than a stick-and-styrofoam number halfway to the Timbuktu, the expense of commuting may outweigh the higher rent or mortgage. And the savings in time and stress provided by a shorter commute are huge.
Note, too, that a car for a teenager is really not a need. Let the kids wait until they can afford the payments and the insurance (to say nothing of the speeding tickets) before they take off on wheels.
Where does it say you have to wear Ralph Lauren or Banana Republic to work? Attractive, generic clothing is to be found at Penney’s, Target, even Costco. If you’ll feel just too, too humiliated appearing in public in anything less than Armani, try shopping in upscale thrift shops. I just found my second St. John outfit at My Sister’s Closet. Looks like it was made for me! The store is awash in designer labels for men as well as women, ranging from professional attire to dressy and casual.
Select Friends Who Live Modestly
High-living peers exert an outrageous amount of pressure on us to spend more than we need: eating out, shopping at unnecessarily expensive stores, traveling to places we don’t need to go, driving expensive cars we don’t need to drive.
I used to hang out with a woman who had a million-dollar appetite. Even though her present husband was a mid-level bureaucrat, she still lived as though she were married to the one who owned the thoroughbred ranch in Kentucky—yeah, the place where she once entertained Queen Elizabeth II. This lady liked company as she made the rounds of Saks and the various boutiques she favored. Just being with her in a store virtually guaranteed that I would buy a new Eileen Fisher or some such…even as I knew very well that 99.9% of the places I went did not require me to surface in a designer costume. I exaggerate not: after a couple of these shopping junkets, I developed the habit of returning everything I bought a day or two later!
Today I prefer the company of people with more common sense.
Eat Great Food—at Home
Cooking is not very hard. Neither is shopping for food. Even if your idea of a home-cooked dinner is something that comes out of a microwave, dining at home is many, many times more economical than eating out. And nine times out of ten, you can prepare a meal that’s far superior to what you can get in any but the most expensive restaurants.
Last night I had prime sirloin tips (purchased at Costco at a dollar less per pound than the choice ribeyes), scalloped potatoes, glorious corn on the cob, a glass of very palatable wine, and a bowl of fresh strawberries. The whole meal cost about what one glass of Cabernet would have run at the sort of place that serves prime beef sautéed in butter. You understand…I eat like that every night. And I live on less than 30 grand a year.
Resist Filling Your Life with Junk
Who doesn’t need this…and this…and this…?
Imagine having to take care of it all!
And imagine the cost, over time, involved in collecting all that junk. He who restrains himself wins the jackpot.
Do It Yourself
Some of us are handier than others. But most people can drive a nail or turn a screwdriver. Changing the oil in your car is not nuclear physics. Neither is sewing flat-panel curtains or replacing a toilet handle. Try to learn how to do at least some of the things around the house. The savings can be significant.
Sometimes, too, one discovers the truth of the old saw that if you want something done right, you should do it yourself. When I was employed, I could afford cleaning ladies. Occasionally I would hire them. One wrecked a parquet floor by applying undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a janitorial dustmop. Another pair created several weekends of hands-and-knees work for me when they smeared undiluted Simple Green all over 1860 square feet of tile, thinking they were mopping. Gerardo the Yard Dude, who handles physical work I can no longer do, has a sidekick who breaks parts of the irrigation system and then, to stay out of trouble, hides the parts so that I don’t find out about it until some plant dies.
The frugal life is a lot less stressful than the heedless one. You end up with less real estate to clean and maintain, less junk to find places for and keep clean, better food, nicer clothing, cheaper wheels, fewer messes created by other people, less debt, and more money.
And as they say…money isn’t everything, but it sure beats whatever’s in second place.
Check out Richly Reasonable’s small tour de force,In or Out Burger? Cruising the Internet in search of some material for a post, she ran across an article from an apparently disinterested source claiming that a McDonald’s hamburger costs no more than a burger made at home.
Breaking out the calculator, she begs to differ. This lady is an accountant, and so her results are a bit more credible than my English-major math. You need to see what she concluded.
There are many benefits to eating in. IMHO, the financial aspect amounts to the least part of the matter. The fact is, if you’re even a halfway decent cook, home-cooked food tastes better. I like the occasional grilled hamburger, but I can’t stomach a McDonald’s…eewww! A McDonald’s patty doesn’t even taste like meat to me. Put it inside a flavorless balloon-bread bun and slather it with institutional garnish, and what have you got? Not anything you’d want to put in your mouth.
Also, even though you don’t know where your groceries have been before you get them, at least you do know how the food was stored and prepared after it arrived in your kitchen.
My ex- and I used to eat out all the time—three to five times a week. After I left him, I took up with SDXB, who had been a multi-award-winning investigative reporter. He refused to eat in restaurants, partly because he was famously frugal but mainly because he had once done a series on what goes on in the restaurant kitchen. Because of what he learned in that project, he simply would not eat in restaurants.
I spent several years with this man, who loved to cook. The result was that I came to dislike restaurant food. The truth is, it’s not very good! Now I still enjoy eating in a few restaurants, but, with the exception of one family-run Mexican joint, they’re way too expensive to enjoy more than once every month or two.
It’s a matter of breaking a habit. When you start fixing your own meals with real, unprocessed food, you discover that most restaurant and junk food is not very good, just as you realize, six or eight weeks after kicking the soda-pop habit, that sicky-sweet soft drinks don’t really taste very good or, a year after quitting cigarettes, that tobacco smoke stinks.
Once that particular light dawns, the cost is irrelevant: today I wouldn’t drink a glass of pop if it was free and I had to pay for water. Nor, given a choice, would I prefer to eat out than in.