Accept No Substitutes

Master your wants and you_ll be left with more of what you need.

“Oh, fuck. I really want octopus ceviche.”

Normally, I’d never crave restaurant food like this, but I didn’t have as much free time anymore. It was a rare “day off” from the day job, and dangerously, I was looking to treat myself. As an amateur foodie, this ticked all the boxes. It was a restaurant I’d never been to before, I’d probably learn what it took to make octopus ceviche at home, and it’d give me a break from my home office. Win-win, right? Heck, I might even be able to write a blog post there! I checked the price online. It was $10. Damn. (I’d recently adopted a rule that any purchase over $10 should be reexamined for alternatives.) The drink I was eyeing too — Boulevard’s “kentucky cold toddy” — would set me back another $7 plus tax and tip. Together, I was looking at blowing over $20 on a whim. That might have been fine for Old Ben, but not anymore. I decided to find a substitute.

Even though I was craving octopus ceviche hard, I knew the responsible thing to do was save money. Instead, I settled on a happy hour in the same neighbourhood where a beer was only $4.75. I’m drinking it now as I write this. Here’s the weird thing: My initial, super strong craving for octopus ceviche is now… gone? It’s almost as though any food or drink in front of me was enough. I didn’t need $20 in seafood and bougie cocktails; a $5 beer was extravagant enough.

You’ve probably seen that nutrition meme that says, “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry. You’re just bored.” I kinda believe that. I used to be terrible with splurging on food. If I wanted sushi, I’d just get it — no matter how much it was. Now, even though I still get those cravings, I’m far better at finding the affordable alternative. The $5 Subway 6” tuna was often just as satisfying as the $15 chirashi don! I challenge you to master your cravings. You’ll save money doing it, and reach a mystical level of financial zen. By becoming okay with getting not-exactly-what-you-want, you’ll be able to save for the big goals. Your cravings can basically always be satisfied with something that costs less!

Master your wants and you’ll be left with more of what you need. I know my $20 cravings can disappear with a $5 substitute. Do you?

Why Eating Out Makes Me Sad

15326460_10157966025560691_4130141601681846063_n

Mr. Money Mustache said it best: Look at me, I am renting this huge venue and paying an army of servants to prepare food for me!

Yep, that’s how I feel now. When I enter a restaurant, it all feels like the worst kind of transaction. From the moment I open the door, I’m spending money on literally every encounter. It really skeeves me out. You know that feeling you get at strip clubs? Kinda like that.

“Welcome to W____ S­____! Table for two?”

Welp, someone’s paying that hostess, I think to myself. It’s me. I’m paying her wages just by dining out like an idiot.

“How’s your day going?” she says.

“Fine, thanks.”

Ugh. All that trouble for a canned response.

I’m led to my table and handed a menu of oversalted pasta and old meat in white bread. Yum.

*****

There was a time when I loved eating out. Lost in the idea I deserved luxury at every turn, I had no problem spending hundreds on a Michelin-star meal. Now that I’ve had that experience – ugh. – I decided to learn how to cook so I wouldn’t fall into that trap again. Now, I see making meals at home as an immense privilege! You mean I get to use FRESH ingredients, LEARN an art form with a huge potential to save me more MONEY, AND I get the added benefits of INCREASED HEALTH and SEX APPEAL? (Okay, maybe that last one’s just me, but everyone loves a good cook, so…) Then, there’s the benefit of making things EXACTLY how I like them without having to explain to some 16-year-old I’m indirectly paying that, no, I don’t want your pancakes because your pancakes are shit. There’s really zero loss to cooking at home. My roommates and I eat like kings. I mean, look. This is from our last two months.

WEEK 11 – Tuna tataki, spicy eggplant and “takeout” noodles
WEEK 12 – Scallop ceviche, tuna tataki, Atlantic razor clams
WEEK 13 – Sticky chicken, asparagus, and rice
WEEK 14 – Century egg congee
WEEK 15 – Rosemary steak and bacon lentil salad
WEEK 16 – Butter clams and crusty bread
WEEK 17 – Spinach omelette
WEEK 18 – Coriander-rubbed duck breast, bacon lentil salad, and smoked salmon crostini

Cooking, for us, is now a cakewalk as we perfect our recipes and learn new skills. Not only that, but it’s HUGELY enjoyable. Sipping brandy as the aromas of duck fat and orange zest fill the kitchen? Easily a peak experience. Nailing the perfect crust on a lamb persillade and then sinking your teeth into the most decadent rare meat you’ve ever had? Goddamn orgasmic. Mastering the comfort foods of your childhood and knowing you can have a soul-warming congee whenever you want? Bliss.

Resolving to cook one ambitious meal a week has done wonders for me, and I highly recommend you make that a goal for yourself as well. You get to find out where your food comes from, and you develop a healthy respect for the nutrients you’re putting in your body. Ever wonder why people who adult well have so many dinner parties? You get to make an entire evening out of simple ingredients that – if you’re doing it right – only cost $8-$10 a person! I used to get absolutely fucking obliterated at bars for $150/night, only to go home sad and alone. Dinner parties are the obvious win! AND: Instead of hiring a culinary slave horde for two hours every time I’m feeling peckish, I’m using all that money ON MYSELF. I’m investing in my health, my life skills, and my enjoyment. What an easy freakin’ choice.

Just cook. You’ll love it, I promise.

*****

“Hi, can I take your order?”

Oh, fuck you. I’m cooking at home.

Thrifty Vegan vs. Spendy Omnivore

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-8-00-24-am

This wasn’t even close. Obviously, I couldn’t have expected anything different seeing as how I was going up against our favourite artist “A”, but I didn’t realize how much work I needed to do until I saw her numbers. She can cover her three daily meals for the cost of my typical lunch! She doesn’t drink much either. Where I spent $1,340.83 this November on comestibles – $902.33 on food, $438.50 on alcohol – “A” averages $10/day if we don’t count eating out, and $12/day if we do. I guess this is normal spending? I have no idea because I have such a warped view of money. The rare occasions I make thousands in a day have largely destroyed any intelligent relationship I had with money. I need a fucking intervention.

“A” broke down her meals in way more detail than I expected. The following breakdowns are lifted directly from her email. Remember, she’s vegan, so she’s using things like almond milk instead of regular milk. Veggie burgers and beefless ground make appearances too. Here’s a typical breakfast:

Pancakes
     PancakeMix    $2.50/box  0.42
     Almond Milk 0.67
     Vegetable Oil  0.20
     Maple Syrup   $10?/1L 0.70
      Meal cost: $1.99

In case you’re wondering, I picked the most expensive of the three breakfasts she sent me. Cereal runs her $1.33/meal and oatmeal is $1.20/meal.

A typical lunch might be a veggie stirfry and rice:

Veggie StirFry and Rice
     Various veggies $0.75 (if you’re keen on saving money you can try to get the cheapest in-season ones and/or work in frozen veggies)
     Gardein Beefless Ground   $4.60bag/4   $1.15
     Garlic 0.20
     Olive or Vegetable Oil 0.10
     Soy Sauce 0.10
     Sriracha 0.10
     Rice   $20 for a big bag  (individual serving – 0.10??)
     Meal cost: $2.50

Dinner could be something like pasta:

Pasta
     Spaghetti   $10 / 4.2kg   49 suggested servings. probably 25 real servings     0.40
     Gardein Beefless Ground (1/3 pack) – $1.55
     Vegetable Oil  0.20
     Pasta Sauce 7.99 for 1.75Lx2   0.79
     Frozen veggies $10 for 2kg   0.75
     Garlic .10
     Meal cost: $3.79

Miscellaneous snack and drink costs bring the daily average from ~$8.28 to about $10/day. Also, as “A” wrote in her email to me:

I usually only eat out maybe twice a month, usually for a social event or date night so that tends to come out of my fun money budget not my grocery budget. A meal out might be $15-$30.

Factoring in everything above and even assuming she spends on the high end of her restaurant budget, “A” spends only $360/month on edibles. I’M FUCKING EMBARRASSED. I SPEND MORE THAN THAT PER MONTH ON ALCOHOL ALONE.

My food costs are insane too. Even my “most frugal” meals tend to be things like ham sandwiches from Subway for $7, or phở for $10. Then, there’s my cooking habit where I make ambitious meals once a week. Take a look at the shit I’ve been doing lately:

WEEK 6 – Roast rack of lamb persillade, garlic asparagus and buttered orzo
WEEK 7 – Ratatouille, lemon basil orzo and bok choy
WEEK 8 – Rotisserie-style roast chicken and quinoa tabbouleh
WEEK 9 – Cantonese lobster, dongpo pork, bok choy and rice
WEEK 10 – Lobster linguine and arugula salad

I BOUGHT THREE FUCKING LOBSTERS LAST MONTH. No wonder I’m in so much debt

In November, I spent $30.08/day on food alone. Including alcohol, that’s $44.69/day. I sincerely hope you’re nowhere near that. I’m definitely backsliding into full-blown idiocy.

In the end, as embarrassing as this exercise was, I’m glad I put in the work to add it all up. If I adopted all the same eating habits as “A” and ate for $32.69 less per day, I could save $980.70/month, or $11,768.40/year! Wanna see something truly scary? If I invested that every year from now until I turn 65 and got 7% annually like I usually do, I’D HAVE $2,018,998.71 IN MY BANK ACCOUNT. I’m literally fucking lightheaded right now. Less lobster, more millions. I’m eating myself out of a decent retirement.

The absolutely crazy thing is a lot of you reading this are eating for less per day than even “A”. $12/day is pretty luxurious, and here I am eating like a goddamn emperor. I can’t even justify what I’ve been doing lately. I’m floored right now because I hadn’t even added this up until I started researching this article.

I’m seriously fucking embarrassed, guys. Learn from my mistakes. Make me feel even worse by telling us YOUR food costs on Facebook.