I’ve eaten in restaurants more often in the past 10 weeks than I have in the entire previous year. That’s not as big a deal as it seems, since in Seattle I cook almost all my own meals. Here in Anchorage, though, my hostess and I like to go to Harley’s Old Thyme Café. I’ve also enjoyed taking my muddy nephew, his little brother and his mom out to eat.
Not that I’ve completely lost my cheap edge: I often use BOGOs or other coupons that I’ve gotten from social media, the Val-Pak mailings and newspaper supplements.
Naturally it would be cheaper to heat up a can of soup. But isn’t it swell to have someone cook for you once in a while?
Besides, I’m supporting the economy.
Not that I think it’s my duty, or yours, to go into debt so that retailers and restaurateurs can stay in business. In fact, I’m one of those deadbeats who neither shops recreationally nor carries a credit-card balance.
No, I’m talking about the impact that lunch out will have on your life and yeah, on some waiter’s life.
Personally, I’m debt-free and working my way toward financial goals such as a retirement that doesn’t include the phrase “Welcome to Wal-Mart.” As a self-employed writer, I need to be prudent: meals at home, new clothes only when absolutely necessary (and then most of them from thrift stores), no constantly updated stable of electronic gizmos, vacations courtesy of frequent-flier miles or discount airfares plus the spare rooms of family or friends.
Some people think that sounds like a miserable existence. It really isn’t. Even though I eat more pasta and pinto beans than anyone I know, I’m really quite happy. And it’s precisely because I eat so much pasta and pintos that a plate of chicken teriyaki is a wonderful treat.
When times are tight, even a small indulgence can make a huge difference, especially in helping prevent frugal burnout. It doesn’t have to be lunch, incidentally. You could get the same effect with a pound of chocolate, a brightly colored scarf, a can of paint to change the look of your living room.
For me, lunch out that feels like luxury. Any food you don’t have to cook yourself (or clean up after) is, by definition, good food.
Too jumpy about your finances to pry loose a few bucks for a calzone? Maybe you have reason to be, especially if you’re unemployed, carrying consumer debt or having trouble meeting even basic expenses. If that’s the case, by all means take care of business.
But if your wallet has simply slammed shut in reaction to the continuing national financial nightmare, then give yourself a reality check:
- Finances in order?
- Emergency fund up to speed?
- Consumer debt paid off?
- Plans in place to meet long-term goals such as homeownership or retirement?
If most or all those things are looking good, then for heaven’s sake go get yourself a cheeseburger. Think of it as a reward for good behavior, or as insurance against that burnout.
If lately your purse strings have been tighter than Ebenezer Scrooge’s, consider loosening them just a bit. You can always tell yourself that you’re supporting the economy.
P.S. If you use coupons, please tip the server on the amount the check should have been.