Money/Investment Tips (Part One): On Eating Out

I did not come from a wise or rich family. Not having a mentor in the form of a financially savvy parent, older sibling, or other close confidant hurt me in a myriad of ways.

Now at age 62 and looking back on my life, I’m surprised I’ve made it as far as I have. Though not wealthy by any stretch of the definition, I’ve had a few financial successes in life and have not had money problems for years.

I sometimes wonder where I would be if I had a wise dad who lovingly dispensed his knowledge into my life. Much further ahead in life, I’m certain, in more ways than I can imagine.

My path to moderate success and achievement is an interesting one, so much that I think it might be helpful to others—especially younger people starting out in life—to learn from my mistakes, successes, and philosophy.

In that spirit, I will start this new series of posts, “Money/Investment Tips” with this Part One and see where the idea goes. Hopefully, it will help someone to better secure their own financial future and that of their families.

These posts will be random thoughts and will not be in any particular order of importance. For example, this Part One will not represent the most important financial tip of my life, but something I have long observed that sets apart someone with money and those who financially struggle.

Early in my business career as a contractor (I started a painting business circa 1982), I was broke—really broke. I was going to the UA and was 100% self-supportive: no one was paying my bills (though I did take out a Pell grant for my first semester or two and eventually paid it all back) and, like most self-funded students, I struggled to make ends meet.

At one time I was so broke I was reduced to selling my plasma—a horrible experience.

How I got into the painting business is an interesting story, but one I will save for later. I want to discuss what I clearly saw was a waste of money: going out to eat when it came time for lunch.

Painting houses for a living is hard work. I’ve always been an early riser and made it a point to arrive at job sites as early as possible: 6:00 a.m. if the customer didn’t mind and if it was in the summer. My hours would change as the seasons did, but I always wanted to start early.

Since I often worked ten or more hours, I naturally needed to take a lunch break. Most of my jobs were in the foothills of Tucson and not near a fast food joint. Since I took 30 minutes for lunch, hopping in my truck and driving ten or more minutes to some restaurant, ordering food, eating the food, and driving back another ten minutes meant stress due to not enough time for a relaxing, pleasant meal.

The second thing I noticed was the cost. Because of my naturally frugal mindset, I compared what it cost to pack my own lunch versus going out to eat. A home packed lunch cost pennies while going out to eat cost dollars. Calculating this “going out to eat vs. packing my own lunch” over years and decades provided me a no-brainer incentive to pack my own lunch every day, a practice I never abandoned.

And one thing I noticed with other contractors and hourly employees: those who went out to eat every day were the ones who never seemed to have any money. I made the same observation with friends and family members: those who made a regular habit of regularly going out to eat were usually the most broke of all the people I knew.

I’m not alleging this is a rule that is set in stone; there are many people who go out to eat every day and have money to spare. They are high income earners and going out to eat is simply a business expense like anything else, or an affordable luxury, or an integral part of their jobs, like sales people who have to schmooze others.

Constantly eating out is one of the big “money leaks” many people fail to recognize.

No, I’m making this observation based on my own first hand experiences with blue collar workers like myself, people who earn their livings with their hands.

I have a younger half-sister who has struggled financially most of her life. She is one of those people who go out to eat at least once a day and more. For most of her life she had regular jobs, nothing that brought in huge money, and I noticed her constant going out to eat was one of the reasons why she never had money.

I know another contractor who eats out most every day not only for lunch, but for breakfast and dinner. It’s unreal. If it was not for the hefty stock portfolio his deceased parents left him which he regularly draws upon, he might be living under a bridge by now.

There is a bible verse from the Song of Solomon 2:15 reads, in part, “…it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines.” It can be taken several different ways and one of the ways I’ve interpreted it is in money matters: it’s the small things in our daily lives—like constantly going out to eat type things—that rob us of financial security.

In line with going out to eat is paying a daily visit to a Starbucks. What a waste of money this is for vastly overpriced products.

It’s the little foxes that spoil the vines.

I’m not saying we should not enjoy life—not at all. Going out to eat, enjoying a Starbucks, buying ice cream at Dairy Queen—there is nothing wrong with indulging in these luxuries if it is done in moderation. But when a young person is just starting out and they are living on their own with no one but themselves to rely on and have no access to inherited wealth or other such privileges, if they wish to get ahead they need to live and spend wisely.

When eating out becomes a regular habit, something you routinely do as part of your daily life, trust me: unless you possess a lot of money, you will never get ahead financially.