Rationalizing Spendthrift Ways

It is amazing the ways in which people will justify their wasteful spendthrift ways. I cite a piece entitled “Is eating out cheaper than cooking?” that was reprinted on MSN Money.

The crux of the article:

By the time he’s driven to the farmers market, bought the organic veggies and spent an hour cooking a meal for himself and his wife, Mark Chernesky figures he’s spent $30.

That’s why recently, after fighting rush hour, the Atlanta multimedia coordinator dashed in to Figo, a pasta place, for hand-stuffed ravioli slathered with puttanesca sauce. “I’ll get out of here for $17 plus tip,” he said.

Crunch the numbers, and across America the refrain is the same: Eating out is the new eating in. Even with wages stagnant, time-strapped workers are abandoning the family kitchen in droves.

Can we count the fallacies in this article? Can we spot all the signs of someone who is not a Penny Pincher and clearly not in control of their finances?

  1. Chernesky figures he’s spent $30. The key word is that he figures as opposed to knows. This is a sign that Mr. Chernesky does not really know with certainty how much he spends where. A sign that he is not in control of his budget.
  2. Comparing what is not comparable. Where was the alleged $30 spent? On organic (read overpriced) organic vegetables and presumably his lumping in the amount he would have “earned” if working while preparing the food. However, this is nonsensical. He would not have been paid while eating at a restaurant and he would have spent two to three times less buying regular veggies at a local supermarket. I have nothing against organic, but if you have to drive any distance to get organic food, you are canceling out whatever help you are doing to the environment.
  3. Do you save money by going to the restaurant? I will use the meal that I prepared yesterday. I adapted a Slow Cooker Pulled Pork recipe and used been instead of pork. I used this recipe as I had a can of tomato paste and tomato sauce lying around and did not want to buy groceries until I used up what I had. For meat, I used three pounds of stew beef. I bought meat in bulk from a local butcher (50 pounds of meat for $149). So, I have $9 worth of beef, a few dollars worth of tomato sauce and paste, and a couple of dollars worth of onion and spices. Grand total spent: approximately $14. Out of this dish, however, my wife and I had supper yesterday (add a few potatoes and a can of corn) and at least two lunches (I bought 6 buns for 1.99 and I will use the meat that was left over to make sandwiches). In total, I spent less than $20 and this will feed my wife and me for at least three meals, maybe four. This is close to what Mr. Chernesky spent for one meal once you factor in the tip. My cooking works out to a bit less than $7 a meal or less than $3.50 per person per meal. Where could I eat anywhere at that cost? Also, there is the issue of quality: I not only ate cheaply, but I also eat well. The meat is of high quality.
  4. The above meal is one of the most expensive meals that I prepare. My wife and I prepare homemade Russian pelmeni. The last time we made pelmeni, it cost us $13.50 to make 500 pelmeni. It took us 3.5 hours to prepare 500 pelmeni which we then froze. Once prepared, the frozen pelmeni are dropped into boiling water and the total cooking time is 10 minutes or so. For lunch, we will cook 20 pelmeni (10 each). This works out to 50 cents or so of pelmeni per meal. Again, where could I eat for so little? Even if I throw in a cup of tea and some a bit of sour cream for the pelmeni, it will still cost my wife and I less than a $1 for both of us for lunch. No restaurant will be able to beat that deal.
  5. Time: Cooking need not take a lot of time. The slow cooker been meal I prepared took me less than 30 minutes to prepare. The sandwiches that I prepare for lunch take me five minutes or so. In total, I will have spent 40 minutes to prepare three meals or less than 15 minutes per meal. I would have spent more time eating out.
  6. Clearly, then, money is not the issue, nor is it time. The only explanation is the search for rationalizations to justify wasteful habits.

All told, it is no wonder that North Americans are so deep in debt and have trillions of dollars owing on credit cards. Have we reached the point that we no longer understand the preparing your own meals will always be cheaper than eating out?

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