One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from the kid movie Meet the Robinsons: “From failure, you learn. From success, not so much.” Never mind the fact that I should have learned enough by now to be a genius – that goes without saying if you’ve read here before. The point is, if you get things right the first time around, there is no incentive to find ways to do it better. But if, like me, you tend to require several practice runs to accomplish things, you’re more likely to come across something that truly works for you.
When I posted my July spending roundup I noticed that, once again, I spent way too much on eating out. This has been an ongoing problem ever since I got my first job – I’m tired at the end of the day, I pretty much suck at cooking, and I hate cleaning up afterward. Plus my son only eats about 10 things and I get kind of tired of spaghetti and tacos. It’s so much easier to go through a drive-thru and grab something!
There are several problems with this. First, it’s expensive. My financial situation is okay right now, but I could do a lot more if I wasn’t swiping my debit card at a restaurant several times each week. Second, I’m gaining weight and my clothes don’t fit. It makes much more sense to change my eating habits than buy new clothes all the time (am I the only one who has seriously looked at maternity jeans because I can’t find regular ones that button?). Finally, eating out all the time just makes me feel like crap. Both physically and because of the guilt. It needs to stop.
I’ve tried a couple of ways to spend less on restaurants. First, I set a budget of $150 a month. Wow, you’re probably thinking. That’s a lot of money! It is, but it’s nothing compared to what I used to spend. I know myself well enough to know that I’ll never quit eating out cold turkey, so I thought I would set limits and gradually decrease them. Except I go over my limit each month. The next plan was taking my lunch to work one day a week, then two days, etc. I did that and did pretty well, eventually only eating out on Fridays as a reward. Except for the days when I didn’t love what I took to work and everyone was going out somewhere. And the fact that I usually ended up going out for dinner instead because I was “so well behaved” at lunch. So yeah, my previous attempts have totally failed.
A Possible Solution
Over the weekend I was inspired – I started thinking about my (similar) failed attempts to lose weight. The one thing that worked for me was the Weight Watchers point system. I had to stop because I was a little TOO obsessed with the points – I was supposed to get 20 per day, and after awhile I thought, “Gee, I bet I could do 19 tomorrow!” And then I thought, “I can do 19, so I’m going to try 18!” Essentially, I was starving myself, which made me gain more weight. Not cool. A doctor friend told me I am forbidden to use any kind of weight loss system that involves numbers, so I continue to expand in ways I don’t like to talk about.
Here’s my idea – I will assign a point value to different types of restaurants (cheap fast like Taco Bell = 3 points, expensive fast like Panera = 5 points, and decent like Outback = 7 points) and limit myself to 50 points per month. I won’t worry about the money necessarily, because that hasn’t been working. I’ll just keep up with my points, possibly in my sidebar, and see where I’m at after the first month to decide whether it’s helping.
Obviously if I eat at cheaper restaurants, I can eat out more – that’s what was so great about Weight Watchers. I could eat more stuff if I chose items with lower point values, even though I was actually consuming fewer calories. It’s totally a mental thing. I may think I’m cheating the system by eating at Taco Bell ten times, but I’m actually spending far less on those meals, thus staying under $150 a month without realizing it.
Is this really that different from forcing myself to stay under budget? No. But if something doesn’t work, you have to either give up or find a way to MAKE it work. For me, arbitrary points are more motivating than dollar amounts. And part of succeeding at anything to do with money is knowing what makes you tick. I can’t swear that this will work any better than anything else I’ve tried, but I think it’s worth a trial run.
But What About Me?
What does this have to do with you? Maybe nothing, but possibly a lot. Do you have a recurrent financial problem that you just can’t seem to solve? What have you tried? What has worked in a similar situation before? Asking yourself questions like these can help you come up with a new idea to combat the issue you’re facing.
If something doesn’t work, it’s pointless to keep doing it. Even if you think it should work. I should be able to control myself better and stop spending so much money on restaurants, yet I haven’t been able to do it. So do I keep beating myself up about it, or do I look for a new way to do things?
If you try something new and it doesn’t work either, what have you gained? More knowledge about what you DON’T want to do in the future. More room to think about it and try yet another idea. When you finally hit the jackpot with a solution that fits your needs and lifestyle, you’ll realize just how smart you’ve become.
What do you think about my point system for restaurant spending? Have you ever tried something similar to decrease spending in a certain area? Am I a total idiot for thinking this will work? Let me know what you think in the comments!