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!

Freedom Tastes Better Than Ice Cream

After getting my head back in the financial game, I decided to take a hard look at our spending during the months that we were doing a “no-budget” budget. Being the big spenders that we are, most of our unplanned purchases during that time went to food. Not dining out. Just plain old groceries. Okay, maybe “plain old groceries” is a bit of a misstatement. We seem to have developed a serious penchant for high-dollar yogurts, fancy ice cream bars, and fresh cuts of salmon. And what’s with that $12 bag of “hand-crafted” chips we bought at the produce stand?? They weren’t even all that good!

After analyzing the data, I popped my head into the living room where Angie was reading a book.

“Did you know we’ve been spending more than $450 a month on groceries and household stuff over the past 3 months?”

“No,” she replied, and kept on reading.

Not to be ignored, I plopped down on the ottoman. “$450,” I reiterated. “Remember when we used to spend $150 a month on groceries in Florida?”

“Yes. And remember how we also spent $20 a week at the Amish market?” she countered.

“Okay, fine,” I said, doing the math in my head. “But that’s still just $230 a month. I know groceries aren’t that much more expensive here. And we ate red meat back then! Something has changed.”

That something was us.

Over the years, we’ve gone in a lot of different directions, all for pretty much the same reason – to live with less. We embraced minimalism and tackled downsizing. Then we paid off debt, which meant we could work less. Next, we took some time to travel. And then we settled in to try living more sustainably. Each of these directions has required us to be diligent with our budget. It gave purpose to our spending…and our saving.

We’ve been living a pretty comfortable minimalist life for quite a few years. If you were to look at us on paper, we’d look something like this – we’re a one income couple with no kids, no consumer debt, and no mortgage. We rent a mid-priced one-bedroom apartment in a growing suburb of Nashville, where the cost of living is 27% below the national average. We have one car, one cat, and one heck of a good time taking advantage of all the free outdoor activities we have nearby. In short, we’re doing all right. But we have no goals…which means there’s little reason to think about the difference between spending $230 on groceries and $450. Both are reasonable (one, I’d even call cheap) so why be concerned?

Because life is better when you have a direction.

I mentioned last week that the landscape of my employment is changing. Our CEO is leaving at the end of July. Generally, management changes mean little to me but this one is different. Over the past 8 ½ years, I’ve quit this job twice (or rather, tried to quit). Both times, the demands of family were my primary motivators and both times, our wonderful CEO made accommodations that allowed me to stay. I am the only remote employee of a community center located 1,200 miles away. I work 4 days a week and still receive all the benefits of a full-time employee. In short, it’s a pretty good job (as far as jobs go) and I do enjoy the work; but I mainly stay because of the relationship I have with the CEO. She is not a micromanager. She trusts me and I trust her. I always said that if she left, I’d leave too but I guess, I didn’t think that would happen this year.

I haven’t turned in a notice or set a quit date or anything like that. I’m simply exploring our options right now. You see, leaving my job is not so much a loyalty thing as it is a freedom thing. I felt compelled to stay because so much was done on my behalf, but my heart has always been in a different place – a place where I could wake up every day and choose what I wanted to do without the constraints of any one job.

Along the way, I’ve made contingencies for such a day. Though we had a bit of a falling out with finance this year, we’ve never stopped saving for (and dreaming of) this opportunity. That commitment to minimalism that I described above has put us in a good position where I could work even less than I do now – provided we stop buying $12 bags of chips – and the thought of finally being able to do that (without feeling guilty) is pretty exciting. So exciting, in fact, that it’s the main reason I started rethinking our budget this week. If cutting our grocery budget is what it takes to achieve our version of a “work optional” life, then bring on the beans and rice, baby! I’m all in!

Simply said – saving money makes so much more sense when it is in pursuit of something attainable. If I can own my most precious resource – time – then I don’t just want to toss money around carelessly, even if it is for food. That $5 ice cream bar may be delicious, but I don’t want to look back one day and find that it (and others like it) stood in the way of our achieving something truly rewarding.