That’s Not What I Ordered!

Last week, we talked a bit about what minimalists eat. I thought maybe the post would get people thinking about food (and it did) but I didn’t anticipate that a lot of those people would be the ones I live with every day!

My sister and I spent an hour yesterday weighing the pro/cons of various fad diets we’ve seen come and go in our lifetime (remember the Grapefruit Diet??). My 12-year-old niece asked me if I thought it was time to stop being a vegetarian, just before we had a heart-to-heart on why not all carbs are bad. Angie spent an afternoon at the DMV talking to folks about the benefits of online grocery shopping. My mom told her doctor that she attributes her improved health to eating less meat. And me…well, since that post, I’ve decided we’re no longer going to dine out.

Now, I would love to tell you that my decision was based on some higher ideal. I’d love to show you how dining at home saves money (it does) or how it’s healthier for you (it is) but while all these things are true, we’re calling it quits on restaurants for another reason – quality.

The last few times that Angie and I have gone to a restaurant, the quality of food, the quality of service, and the quality of the experience have all been lacking. The sad part though, we’ve gotten so used to this being commonplace that we find ourselves making excuses for it, as if it is somehow our fault we receive poor service. What do we expect from a place like that? It’s not exactly a 5-star restaurant. Maybe the server was having a bad day. They were just too busy. We should have known better than to stop in at dinner time. 

Seriously??

If someone hires me to write a grant for them, it doesn’t matter if my cat threw up on the bed that morning, my car wouldn’t start, and my best friend’s first cousin broke up with her boyfriend. I can’t turn around and say – well, if you wanted it done on time, you should have gone with a $60/hour grant writer instead of me. You get what you pay for! And if I have 5 clients all with deadlines on the first day of the month, it isn’t on them to come back when I have more time. It’s on me to learn to prioritize (or say no, if I can’t do something!)

So why do we accept sub-par quality from a restaurant, especially ones that fall in the category of fast food or fast casual? Because we expect that cheap equals bad? Let me tell you – there’s nothing cheap about paying $10 for a salad at McAlister’s or $8 for a burrito at Moe’s or $9 for two frozen custards at Culver’s. Yet, every single one of these places has been a disappointment to us for one reason or another, all of which can be summed up in one word – quality.

You might say, Culver’s was the last straw though. My mom wanted to go there specifically to try their frozen custard. She saw an ad and being a dessert nut, she thought it would be delicious. We ordered two caramel cashew sundaes and what we got instead was a plain dish of vanilla custard, a cone of vanilla custard, and a few cashews in a separate cup. When I asked about the mix-up, I was told that “they weren’t allowed to mix add-ins for a cone”. Okay, that’s all well and good but we ordered two sundaes – which were prominently displayed on the menu board, dripping in caramel and cashews. Despite the fact that we were in the right, the manager wanted to argue with us  and we ended up with two vanilla custards and a handful of cashews.

Now, I understand that a lot of folks would have persisted until the restaurant got the order right. Under normal circumstances, I might have too but after one round, I knew I was going to lose. The manager was the one who prepared our desserts and there was no convincing her that she had done it wrong or that we weren’t asking for something they couldn’t do. It was a mess and instead of a sundae, I got a headache.

And a new perspective on dining out.

Our budget is smaller than it has been in years so every dollar is important. I don’t want to give them away in support of poor quality products or services and I definitely don’t want to give them away for something I didn’t ask for in the first place. And that doesn’t just apply to restaurants. Throughout my life, I’ve lost a lot of dollars to poor quality goods and services and I don’t want to do it any more. Frugal living just doesn’t make allowances for wasteful spending.

I expect, because we’re human, there will be the temptation to dine out again in the future (especially after we’re over this recent rash of bad experiences), which is why I’m writing about this today. You all are now our accountability partners. If I even so much as mention a restaurant (that isn’t work related), you have my permission to call me out on it. 🙂

Have you banned a particular restaurant, service-provider, or retailer for poor service? Or maybe you’ve banned restaurants altogether? How’s that working for you? Are you ever tempted to return? We’d love to hear your story!

Why Dating Didn’t Work (Reflections on 2019)

Last January, we created a project called 48 Great Dates, whereby we were going to alternate the planning (and execution) of a weekly date for 48 of the 52 weeks in 2019. From the get-go, our endeavor to do something “fun” was anything but. We found that either the planning part was a hassle or the “do something fun” part led us to do things that were somewhat fun but actually took us away from doing something we really wanted to do. Example: Going to play indoor mini-golf on a beautiful January day when we really just wanted to be outside.

After a few weeks of headaches with the dating game, we decided to change the rules. We opted instead to just try to do something together, without interruption, at least once a week. We could plan it in advance, or not. It could even be something we were going to do anyway – like go to a festival or pick peaches at the U-pick farm. This seemed to work out better (in the beginning) but even with the modified rules, we lost interest.

Now let me clarify. We lost interest in the dating game, not in doing things together or in each other. What we actually learned was that we didn’t really need to “date”. We weren’t disconnected or failing to find time for one another. We spend at least 150 of our 168 hours each week together. Even when one of us is writing (me) and the other is working out (Angie), we are in the same space together. I can see her jumping up and down in front of the TV and she can see me giving her annoyed looks from across the room as I try to concentrate.

All jokes aside, we love each other tremendously. We tease each other relentlessly – it’s just one of our things. And we do so many things together – from washing dishes to putting a jigsaw puzzle together – that dating seemed so contrived.

We managed to put together a montage of 38 outings or activities that you can loosely call dates in 2019 but quickly decided that this was a project we would not repeat or recommend (unless you are actually in the dating phase of your relationship or are indeed trying to rekindle a spark that has gotten buried in the busyness of life). You’re welcome to read about each date (the good, the bad, and the indifferent) on our 48 Great Dates page and see if there are any ideas you might like to use. We did do some fun things, a lot of which would be great to do as a family or “just because”. Many of them, we’ll probably do again ourselves (we just won’t be calling them dates).

For the other nerds out there who love numbers and statistics (like me), here’s the details of our project:

  • We spent a total of $492.55 on 38 dates.
  • 13 dates cost $0.
  • On average, we spent $13 per date ($19.70 per date if you factor out the free ones).
  • Our most expensive date was #24: Camping in Crossville ($65).
  • 19 dates took place outdoors and included U-pick farms, nature walks, and letterboxing.
  • 9 dates took us to places we might not have visited otherwise, including a book signing at Whole Foods, the Tennessee State Museum, and Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace Museum.
  • While it seemed (to us) that many of our dates revolved around food, only 6 dates were all about dining out.
  • 5 dates took place at home and included movie night, making tamales, and a spa day.
  • My favorite date: #13: All Ablaze for Good Food
  • Angie’s favorite date: #27: Pickin’ Again – Peaches!

Though we might not repeat this dating project, we didn’t come away empty handed. We learned a few things along the way. First, we learned that creating a 365-project simply for the sake of having a 365-project doesn’t work for us. We have many, many goals and ideas for the direction of our life as a minimalist couple. Taking on a project that’s’ not necessarily aligned with those goals is somewhat counterproductive. Midway through our dating project, we found that we were just doing things because we said that we would, so we stopped. We still did the things we would normally do for fun but we rerouted the time and energy wasted in planning dates to other parts of our life. Second, we realized that we have fun together doing nothing. Angie and I could both be curled up the couch reading a book and we’re just as happy as we are when we’re out on the town.

Reading time!

And last but not least, we learned that what makes our relationship successful isn’t the amount of time we spend with one another or even how that time is spent together. It’s wanting the same things in life and having common goals.

As you know, we have decided not to do a 365-project in 2020. Instead, we’re focusing on a couple of goals – some fun, some serious, but all important. Be sure to check those out at in the post New Decade = A New Take on Old Ideas and leave a comment below with your thoughts on 2019. Was it a successful year for you? Did you complete a 365-project? We’d love to hear your story!