Before I share today’s article about eating well, a quick reminder: don’t forget to enter the TF “Beginner’s Guide” Giveaway! The prizes include a copy of the book, PUMA headphones, a gift card and a genuine 80% silver piece of Canadiana! Lots of people have been getting comment entries, but don’t throw away the social media entries. Only three people have entered on Twitter (which is worth TWO entries each) and six people on Facebook (again, two entries each).
I’m a conflicted man. You see, I like eating well. I also don’t want to spend a lot of money.
I should quickly define what I mean by “eating well”. No, I’m not referring to eating healthy food — that’s not a financial challenge. I do try to eat fruits and vegetables, and recently redoubled my efforts on the latter, but keep it in perspective. Fruits and vegetables are dirt cheap in first world countries — even northern wastelands like Canada. Shop out of flyers and buy things in season. Problem solved. If you’re truly destitute, go to the food bank. There’s just no excuse. What I’m referring to when I say “eating well” is eating delicious food. You know: meats, cheeses, cheesy meats, and the like. It’s tougher to reconcile this type of eating with frugality.
I don’t ration toilet paper like Trent Hamm (who looks like he’s eating well but who only actually eats weird broths and nasty, cheese-less breakfast burritos). On this ‘micro-scale’, I live frugally by ruthlessly cutting unnecessary expenses — my monthly bills are limited to electricity, internet, a cell phone, and car insurance. I’ll spare you my rant about cable bills today — it’s coming soon — but I’ll state the thesis: I refuse to pay for TV. I don’t pay bank fees. I shop sales and use coupons. I could go on ad nauseum, but this would turn into the kind of benign article you’d see on MoneyLifeandMore (at the end of yesterday’s article, he seriously asked “Do you think tooth fairy inflation is outrageous?“).
I know, I know ControlYourCash. Nobody ever got insanely wealthy by harnessing the powerful secret of the latte factor. But, left to their undisciplined Ids, people are stupid enough to outspend any income. Small leaks sink great ships, etc. People have gotten rich by living extremely frugally and passively investing the proceeds wisely, despite a meager wage. So I do believe in frugality to a point. I don’t compete with people to see who can use less toilet paper, but I don’t use five dollar bills.
One area that I’m willing to spend some money, because I think it improves my enjoyment of life significantly, is food. How is it possible to save 50%+ of my income, while still eating well?
A tool like MoneyLifeandMore would give an easy answer without thinking: “don’t eat in restaurants.” It’s one of personal finance’s Ten Commandments, after all (OH LOLOLOL I SHOULD DO A POST ON THAT! GENIUS!).
But if you think you can make a burger better than Five Guys, apply for a Zagat’s rating. Until then, you’re full of it. Burger’s Priest grinds their own chuck multiple times a freaking day. Your burger is a sad, over-cooked amalgam of poor quality ground beef.
OK, so I fundamentally disagree with the idea that I could produce a better burger than Five Guys for a cheaper price. Heck, I really don’t think I could beat a $1.89 Wendy’s Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, especially given its low price-point.
So I don’t even try. I blow $15 or $20 on burgers every month (you laugh, but when I lived in Toronto it was more like $50 thanks to Five Guys. They’re just that good. If you live in America, you also have In’n'Out Burger. You really don’t grasp how lucky you are). Buying that many burgers might make me fat, but it doesn’t make me a spendthrift.
Let’s talk, however, about a more complicated money issue: steak. I enjoy steak. As they say in Texas, steak is murder. Tasty, tasty murder.
Can I buy a whole sirloin at the grocery store? Yes. Will it taste like a steak from The Keg? Yes, if I took it home to my humidity-controlled dry-aging room and carefully aged the cut for a month. Damn, I should have built that, rather than my walk-in cigar humidor. So, no, it won’t taste the same.
But I really can’t afford to eat weekly or even monthly at The Keg, let alone at a truly great steakhouse, while saving as much money as I do.
This is why, to me, premium grocers like M&M Meats are a godsend. They offer simple, one-step food items that you can use to orchestrate a delicious meal.
Top sirloin isn’t quite as good as sirloin, but when it’s been aged for three weeks it’ll still cut like butter and melt in your mouth. A top sirloin steak was less than four bucks, taxes in, at M&M Meats last week. Compare that to at least $22 (taxes and tip in) at a steakhouse. Thaw one out, toss it on the George Foreman grill, and enjoy. After thawing a steak, I often add the step of applying a thick layer of salt, waiting an hour, and washing it off, to make it extra tender. But so long as you cook it to medium rare and let the meat rest for seven minutes before you eat it, you really can’t go wrong. Here’s an example I grilled the other day:
My partner, earlier in the day, had picked up some fresh, stuffed pasta on sale at the grocery store for two bucks. She made a simple sauce with a base of ricotta she’d bought for $1.
This pasta could have been a sidedish for four people, but I ate half, so I’ll be honest and say it’s $1.50 per fat-person serving. For an even better starch, I’d recommend a cheese- and bacon-stuffed baked potato with a dollop of sour cream.
I also ate a microwavable lava-cake cookie for dessert, which cost $1.39 plus tax (did I mention I’m fat?):
Total cost: seven bucks. That’s $14 for a couple, which is less than I’d pay for two Wendy’s combos (well, at least in Canada). It’s proof that eating affordable food isn’t synonymous with eating like a student, and that eating well isn’t synonymous with paying too much. This is the Goldilocks zone of eating well for people who aren’t rich but aren’t poor. It’s living life to its fullest without using your line of credit to its fullest.
If you’re still in debt, eat some lentils. If you’re super rich, then just go to The Keg all the time.