Thursday, July 3, 2008

Eating Socially For Free

I kid you not, literally 11 hours into the Pseudo Freegan Challenge, my mettle was tested for the first time.

It began very simply.

"Wanna go to lunch?"

I have a very, very hard time saying no to that. I enjoy being social, I enjoy eating out, I enjoy the activity of "breaking bread" with another human being. Sharing meals with other people is an important aspect of my life.

It's also the number one charge on my credit card bill. Every month my bill is a litany of food-related charges: Mexican, sushi, California cuisine, pizza. Not only does my restaurant addiction hurt my finances, but I've found that in the past month, it's messed with my meal planning as well. Because I agree to go out to eat at the drop of a hat, the shiny, happy food I buy at the farmers' market sometimes rots before I have a chance to cook. To make matters worse, while I rarely go to chain restaurants and almost never eat fast food, I don't only patronize restaurants that serve local, sustainable, organic food either. So though my grocery shopping tends to be very environmentally responsible these days, it's counter-balanced by my less than eco-friendly meal consumption at restaurants.

I'm obviously not against eating out, but clearly I haven't learned moderation. And I simply have to figure out a good way to curb my restaurant addiction while still spending time with my friends, family, and co-workers.

On Tuesday, when my co-worker asked me to lunch, I told her very honestly, "I'm on a spending freeze." Then I offered to either sit with her while she ate, or just go for a walk during lunch. She suggested we walk over to her apartment during lunch. I could bring my sandwich, she'd heat up her leftovers, and we could spend our lunch hour relaxing and chatting for free.

So that's what we did. And it was great. I got to meet my friend's cats and see her apartment. I didn't spend any money, and my sandwich was made with farmers' market bread, cheese, and produce.

Tuesday it worked out just fine. Let's hope the rest of the month works out that well.


hmd said...

A few months ago I had a similar experience. I pack my lunch when I go to work. I friend asked to have lunch together and we ended up meeting in one of the university gardens for lunch. It was so nice and peaceful. No waiting in lines, in fact, nobody else was around. We're planning to do it again.

I stopped eating out so much when I realized how much I was spending (and I'm cheap) - about $100 a month to eat out every day at lunch. My hubby spends twice that a month, but I have to let him make that decision on his own. He admits, though, if money gets tight, that's the first thing to go.

Unknown said...

This year I've been trying to stop eating out by myself and be better about bringing my lunch. It has saved me so much money. However, I still have a lot of invitations to eat with friends and, like you, it's so hard for me to say no to eating socially too. The past couple times I've tried to explain about 'my budget' people have offered to pay. That's a nice gesture, but it isn't what I want. Eventually, I will be expected to reciprocate the favor, which is as it should be, but then I've spent the same amount anyway. Your lunch with your friend sounds like it worked out perfectly.

EcoBurban said...

Good for you! I find it so hard to eat my leftovers when the entire office is ordering deli or pizza. I was out of town earlier this week visiting a company that has a wonderful balcony with market umbrellas and we all ate outside in the sunshine and it was so wonderful!

It's also important to note that taking a break from your desk (I am a habitual work through lunch person) is good for the body and mind!!

maryann said...

My problem isn't really eating lunch out but dinners. There are many nights hubby and I are just too lazy and don't feel like cooking anything. I keep real good records of where our money gets spent every month and a good portion was eating out, not including most lunches. This year we've been doing much better, usually just a pizza to go one night a week which I don't feel guilty about. Good luck with cutting back on lunches out, it's not the easiest thing to pass up, especially when what you brought to eat seems less appetizing then what you could purchase instead.

Joyce said...

What a good friend! This must be a big temptation for everyone. My husband has leared to take his brown bag with him to restaurants and just order a coke while everyone else gets food from the menu. I'm not sure I could do that!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's amazing! I will practice this phrase...."I'm on a spending freeze....I'm on a spending freeze... I'm on a spending freeze." Just getting some words out that aren't self-righteous or preachy or esoteric or overstated is the hardest part for me. The best thing is that you found a stress-free solution that worked for both of you. Well done!

Green Bean said...

I read in Simple Prosperity that people never picnic anymore. I cannot remember the percentage drop but it was pretty big. There is something wonderful, though, about taking a meal you've prepared at home and eating it outside of our home while connecting with another human being (and some cats). Nice.

J said...

I have found going out to eat to be one of my weaknesses as well. I've gotten far better at it, but still need work, hence why I chose to give it up for the month of July for Chile's Quit Now Challenge.

What you and your friend did was such an excellent idea. Hang out together, enjoy each other, eat meals together, but it doesn't have to require going out to eat. Maybe you guys could start a tradition where you bring 'picnic' lunches and go eat together somewhere.

ruchi said...

Heather, yeah I generally don't eat out at lunch unless I'm going out with a co-worker, but that happens fairly regularly. And it DOES add up!!

Jam, I am so lucky to have some of the awesomest co-workers. They know about most of the insane things I do, and they are totally supportive.

Kaitlin, I know, it's a struggle. Eating out is just a real part of our social culture. And I don't think that's a bad thing per se. But it can be really hard on your wallet, so I'm trying to find ways to be social without using the eating out as a crutch.

EBM, I know, I'm terrible about going out at lunch. So often I find myself at my computer writing up a blog post or something when I really need to get outside the office and away from the computer.

Maryann, I get lazy too, but I managed to cut down pretty hard on non-social eating and since I live alone that has helped. So lunches are harder for me than dinners....

Joyce, she is a good friend! Did I mention, that when I went to her apartment, she also gave me some hummus and bread and some Thin Mints? :)

Megan, thanks! Let's see how I keep this up the rest of the month!

GB, that's interesting. I wonder why people don't picnic much anymore. Personally, I don't think there's anything so nice as taking a hike and bringing some cheese, bread, and fruit. Yum!

Jennifer, yeah you're right. I think I'm going to start suggesting picnic lunches to my co-workers and see what they say.

Jennifer said...

What a nice sounding lunch. So nice that your co-worker came up with a very nice suggestion for what to do!

Jenn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenn said...

What? No picture of the kitty?


Seriously - I hear ya. I can't resist offers to go out to lunch and have a deadly weakness for any variety of fried tofu. And you know all the thai/indonesian/chinese joints around the Tenderloin/Union Square are not using organic tofu... *sigh*

My checkbook, my values and my ass will all do much better if I just say 'NO'

FWIW - I usually make up 5 salads on Sunday to bring to work every day. The salads are all organic, and have greens, nuts, dried fruit/berries and lots of different colored vegetables - usually around 500 calories and 20-30 g of protein (have weighed, calculated and photographed... well, because people ask... "how do you get enough protein")

Robj98168 said...

LOL I can empathize with you arduous! This was my peak oil addiction for last month. You know it's easy to pack a lunch and say no to going out wtih friends, coworkers but I tell you it's no fun. I have to admit I am glad the month of june is over. Although I did learn a great many new recipes cooking all my meals!

Robyn Wright of Robyn's Online World said...

My family is like you, but with dinner. I carefully plan a menu and spend all this money at the grocery store. Then too often we just decide to go out to eat instead. I am frustrated when I end of throwing out food that I bought to cook plus I spent all that money eating out! I've been trying to at least plan that we will eat out maybe one or two times per week so at least I'm not wasting as much.

Chile said...

Sounds like a much nicer way to spend your lunch time than at a restaurant. Way to go.

I also was tested. On Thursday, I'd planned to go to breakfast with a friend and then we were going on an errand together. I seriously considered just sneaking out with her and "forgetting" to mention it on the blog. But no, I was good. I invited her over to my house instead and I made us pancakes and coffee. (My super secret vegan pancake recipe, not Melinda's. *grin*)

It was nice to spend the time together in a home environment and definitely better on the budget.

Anonymous said...

Eating out is a big problem for me too. After working all day and taking care of my baby all night, I just never feel like cooking. As he gets older and is more willing to sit on his own for a while, I've been able to find a little more time to cook (just a few months ago, setting him down to cook meant listening to crying baby during the entire meal preparation). I cook giant portions and then freeze the left overs in serving sizes in Ziplock baggies, to have home made microwave meals to bring for lunch in the future. Its been really convenient.
I always pack my lunch at work. People think I'm strange for it, but it saves me a lot of money and its way healthier. You'd think, being military and all, people would understand wanting to save money and keep my weight under control, but none of them seem to. I guess its easier for them.

ruchi said...

Jennifer, thanks it was a nice lunch!

Sorry Jenn, no pictures of kitty. I know what you mean. There is a *delicious* vegan Thai place a few blocks from my work that has the best pad thai ever! But I'm pretty sure that tofu isn't organic either. It is delicious though....

Rob, I know that's the thing. I can eat by myself every day, but that's no fun. That's why I want to come up with ways that I can still be social, but not have to go out to eat.

Robynlynn, good idea. I think we have to be realistic and make the choices that work for us.

Chile, good for you!!

Jessica, I know what you mean. It's very hard to cook after a long day at work. I try to do the same as you and cook large portions on the weekend, but there are some weekends where I just can't get myself to spend an afternoon in the kitchen. It's hard when you have so little time!!

Going Crunchy said...

We very rarely eat out, and found that the extra cash goes better to buy quality groceries. I do picnic with the kids once or twice a week at almost any place we go, and we've grown to love it.

I found that when I used to get take out or "buy" out for work lunches, it was more the "getting out" and less about the food. I think if you find fun subs, then your co-workers would probably appreciate it just as much too! Most people are looking for the companionship, not the dining.

You and your friend could each make a simple dish and trade up too, or go for a cup of tea or coffee after a meal if you still wanted to get out.

I have a forest preserve near where I work, and I know many times I've taken a book or a sandwich out there to just get out of the building for a little bit.

Enjoying catching up on your blog! Shan