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Drawing a Line in the Sand – A $37 Decision

drawing a line in the sandA couple of weeks ago, I had a not so great day at work. Nothing really dramatic happened, it was just one of those long days where everything seemed to be a little off and annoying. After work, things didn’t get much better.

I had to stop at the bank and then was supposed to meet a contractor at one of our rental properties to discuss some repair work. Something came up after school (which often does for teachers) that did not allow me to leave as soon as I had hoped. I’m a stickler for being late to appointments, so this didn’t set well with me.

At the bank we had to wait in line at the drive thru for 10 minutes to make our deposit. That’s unusual but they were shorthanded for some reason. Needless to say, I’m feeling the pressure to arrive at my appointment on time.

At this point, I encountered one of the strange oddities of life.

Ever notice that when you are in a hurry you hit every red light, get behind every slow driver and have to stop for every school bus dropping off children? Interesting how that works.

I finally arrived to our rental property five minutes late, only to find the contractor wasn’t there yet. He called me a few minutes later saying he was coming but had gotten turned around with his directions. Fifteen minutes later he showed up and we ended up talking for thirty minutes about our project.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I was doing all this with my four tired, restless, and hungry children with me in the van?

We finally got home at which point all the kids immediately want something to eat. The dinner I had planned for that evening would take around 90 minutes to prepare, cook, eat and clean up from. And I hate finishing dinner late into the evening.

Plus I’m physically and mentally drained. I had no energy or desire to cook. Mrs. Luke1428 will be getting home late from work because it’s tax season so I’ll just be eating with the kids anyway. Every fiber in my being is telling me to pile the kids back into the van and go out to eat.

It would have cost me around $30 to take my kids out to eat if we go the fast food route. Oh, plus another $7 for my wife to pick something up on the way home because I hadn’t fixed dinner. So, basically I’m making a $37 decision. No big deal right?

It’s not really a big deal, except these kind of days happen all the time. One could easily end up facing this decision 10 times a month. That’s close to an expenditure of $400 just for eating out. Ouch!

My financial life would not have been ruined had we gone out to eat. However, I made the difficult decision to stay home and cook dinner. After it was all done, I felt really good about myself.

I think I was able to fight through this decision for a couple of reasons:

1. I was paying attention to our budget and knew we had eaten out a lot in the last month. Cutting back on that expenditure was already front-and-center in my mind.

2. I thought about the big picture. We are working towards paying off our mortgage debt. Every little bit saved towards that goal helps.

3. I had actually planned a week in advance for what we would be eating that night. If I had been unprepared, my decision would have been different.

I have found that personal finance is a battle between our emotions and will. When we win routinely in the daily, small battles, it makes the bigger ones easier to win. Success breeds success.

Questions: What $37 dollar decisions are you making right now? What’s your favorite, quick go-to meal when you are running late? When have you decided on drawing a line in the sand?

Image Credit: by lockstockb at stock.xchng

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  1. Steven J Fromm & Associates says

    Well it is tax season for me so I understand how this impacts your life. My wife has always had to help out more and take on more during this not-enough time of the year. One thing we try to do is cook ahead for the week and have a lot of prepared food in the frig for nights like you are talking about.

    • Hope you are breathing easier now that tax season is done! It’s great to be home with the family now for dinnertime 🙂

  2. It’s always tough making the decision to either save money or spend the money. It requires discipline and a goal, which is why most people are in debt. If you figure out a budget though, it is easier to keep you on track. We do this for everything and although it is tough sometimes to not indulge in what we want, it sure is worth it to watch our savings and investments grow.

    • I agree, budgets are the key. And in this instance, it was a knowledge of our budget from the prior month that helped me through the decision. We had blown our eating out budget really bad the month before and I didn’t want that to happen again.

  3. I have leftovers from previous days in the refrigerator and freezer to help with days like this, which seems to be every day. I like to do batch cooking on the weekend in order to have extras, because I am not home enough because of school and work to be able to cook every night. Besides Mr. FBS works 12 hour shifts and is never home to eat with me during the week, so leftovers work just fine for both of us.

    • I’ve never tried batch cooking before but have heard that is very helpful. Eating leftovers can significantly reduce one’s food budget. Growing up we had dinner nights mom would call “must-go” nights. That meant for that dinner we tried to clean out the refrigerator of all the leftovers from the previous couple of nights.

      • That’s awesome, my mom had Friday night “Mom’s not cooking” nights, but essentially the same thing. You could eat anything, but preferably leftovers so mom didn’t have to cook. 🙂

  4. Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    Planning is the key for us. We always know what we are going to eat at least a week in advance.

    • Your absolutely right about planning Glen. That in itself takes time which frustrates a lot of people. I usually spend at least an hour each weekend planning meals for the week, looking at recipes, and making a shopping list.

  5. This is a great post. I find that I give in at my weakest moments, like you mentioned above. Many times we don’t realize that “just this one time” actually happens a few times a month and that adds up. Sure we can just eat out and pay the $37, but that has to be the exception and not become the norm.

    • I agree Jon. It is easy to lose track of the “I’ll just do it this once” moments. Then we are surprised at the end of the month when we review our budget numbers and see how much we actually spent.

  6. We plan our meals for the week and just cook twice. Today, I had to pick up more ingredients and went hungry. Oops, that was a mistake.

    • I agree that planning is the biggest key to this issue. I sit down every weekend and plan out our meals based on what activities are going on each day that week. When we have evening activities or are getting home late from school, I’ll plan a quick meal. Other nights when I have more time, I can cook something more elaborate.

  7. We’ve let our dining plans slip lately. Sometimes I’ll stop at a fast food place on the way home from work because I’m too tired to turn on the oven for 15 min. It’s something I need to work on.

    Good job drawing that line in the sand though. Small victories like that can help win the financial war.

  8. We’ve been really terrible about our dining out lately. There are a million places to eat within a mile of us, so we get a lot of take out (well we used to, the last two weeks we’ve been making an effort to only eat at home mon-friday). Mexican and pizza are my quick and easy go to meals

    • It just occurred to me as I read our comment that people in rural areas may not struggle with this as much as those who live in the city where there are an abundance of places to eat out. If I had to drive 20 minutes into town to go eat out, I would be less likely to do so.

  9. When we were too tired to cook we use to order in chinese food. Then the next day we would feel all bloated and say stuff like we gotta stop doing that. We haven’t ordered in for about the last 6 months and even though we get a craving once in a while we quickly remind ourselves how we feel afterwards as well as how much it costs. But I feel the same as you, after all the running around you did after working all day it is easy to not want to spend the night in the kitchen. Good for you for having a plan from the week before that you could follow to at least make the evening a little easier.

  10. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says

    Love these types of stories, Brian. It’s funny how a seemingly small decision can result in such a big triumph, isn’t it? It’s winning at these kinds of decisions that have kept us on our road to debt free. Every penny really does add up. Great job, Brian, on not taking the easy way out!

    • Thanks Laurie. It’s so easy to cave in these situations, especially for someone who enjoys spending money like me 🙂 I find little victories like this every once in awhile reboot my mind and keep me on track.

  11. Yes, I have noticed when I’m in a rush that ever car is going below the speed limit, my checkout line is always the slowest, etc. 🙂 Good for you for drawing a line in the sand. Sometimes it makes sense to go out to eat and sometimes it doesn’t. And it is easy once you fall into the habit of eating out, that you do it more and more frequently, which isn’t necessarily bad if you’ve budgeted for it. But when you’re trying to stick to a budget, it can be a huge budget-buster. For me, meal plans help keep me organized and I’m less likely to call for take-out too, when I think about some food spoiling, etc.

    • I don’t mind eating out as long as we aren’t breaking our budget. I just don’t want it to become a habit like you said. Plus, with six of us, we cannot go out to eat some place moderately nice for under $50. Anything else is fast food which isn’t the healthiest.

  12. John S @ Frugal Rules says

    We go through this all the time. It sucks, but you just get so busy and the last thing you want to do is make a meal. We’re not always perfect, but we force ourselves to step back and ask ourselves if the cost is truly worth it or not. Once is fine, ten times a month though is a completely different thing. We budget a little for ourselves each month so we can eat out when need to, but not a whole lot.

    • We budget money for ourselves to eat out as well. You have to plan that in I think because you know something is going to come up that will require a quick trip through the drive thru. When this happened we had just blown our eating out budget big time the month before so I was really focused on cutting that expenditure.

  13. I have that fight with myself all the time. Over the past couple of years, I usually win over fast food, but it is tempting sometimes, even with a meal plan. Without one, McD’s or Subway wins every time. Our go to is pasta and red sauce. Nothing fancy, but it’s ready quick and it’s cheap. I also try to have something I’ve made previously in the freezer as a backup. Right now I have some soup that I made a huge pot of a few weeks ago. It is funny that we tend to run into all the obstacles when we’re running late, or maybe we only notice them when we’re late?


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