Results of the 30-Day No Restaurant Challenge

Spoiler alert: I failed.

What’s that? Don’t you dare call me a Debbie Downer! I’m fine with the fact that I failed. For you detail-oriented types, I bought food for myself at a restaurant four times – three times at Starbucks and once at Carl’s Jr. – during desperate events because ravenous-hunger-and-potentially-anemia. Or stupidity for not planning ahead. I simply wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t mostly the latter.

Nonetheless, the experiment was far more about learning than it was about doing things perfectly. And boy did I learn, perhaps with a bit of regret.

I say this because, to put things into perspective, I spent $261.78 during the challenge compared to over $700 just feeding myself from mid-February to mid-March this year. SEVEN. HUNDRED. FREAKING. DOLLARS. Who does this? Really, does Anthony Bourdain even do this?! Okay, maybe he does, but what about you guys? It’s no surprise that I saved money eating in, but it was absolutely jarring to do those calculations and figure out that I have typically spent a small fortune ($500-700) per month just to enjoy the fruits of the world…literally. Needless to say, this has given me a massive amount of perspective moving forward and I definitely plan to end the cycle of spending more money on food each month that most people spend on a car payment.

A more positive realization, which became evident from the get-go, was the amount of free food I am lucky enough to be exposed to. Given the loopholes in my challenge, my boyfriend’s parents were able to take me out to dinner the day after I began it. My own parents took me out several times this last month. I went on a business trip where all I ingested was graciously covered by the government gift of per diem. At any given time, my firm would be having a “Bagel Friday” or “Motivation Monday” (yeah, motivation to have a heart attack – donuts and pastries galore in that thing) to sweeten the deal (heh) of us working there. These circumstances came far more often that not and made me realize my incredible luck with this being the case.

I also realized that I don’t really pay attention to how much I spend on food normally – which, as proven, is disastrous. But how did this happen? Well, in the grand tradition of Post-Grads with Good Jobs, I saw nothing but dollar signs in my eyes and was dropping indiscriminate amounts of money on eating wherever I wanted, wherever I wanted. Meeting up with friends? Let’s go out to eat. Date night? Let’s try the new and trendy place down the street. If I was walking around town and hungry, into the nearest $5-a-coffee, $13-a-sandwich joint I went, no questions pondered. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but you can imagine my horror when I actually sat down and did the math. Being a foodie is great, but I’m spending all of this just to fuel my body? Yeah, probably not ideal.

Another (vitally important) realization I made was that it’s really not that hard to avoid restaurant eating. People have this notion that life is boring and pallid without constantly going out to dinner or getting to go out for lunch during the workday, but that’s simply not true. My friends and I were able to enjoy a number of home-cooked, delicious brunches and dinners at our houses for a fraction of what a group outing would cost. My boyfriend and I cooked some award-winning, homemade pizza during some of our nightly hangouts. I showed my gratitude to people by bringing them food that we could both cook and share. It wasn’t just about saving money – it was about minimizing distractions and taking on a fun activity with people I cared about. Not a bad deal.

It’s as simple as that. This experiment wasn’t meant to be ground-breaking, just re-calibrating. Even though I slipped a few times, I still feel like I got just as much value out of it, especially when I did the ending calculations. My new goal is to keep my monthly food expenditure under $300, including both grocery visits and restaurant eating. I could probably get it even lower, but this is good for now.

I’m in Salt Lake City for the weekend, tagging along with my boyfriend as he attends a fitness seminar at the acclaimed Gym Jones. The day is young, and I plan to take the weekend to explore the city and its surroundings full-circle. That said, I should probably get off my computer. Stay tuned for my recap after the jump and feel free to shoot me any suggestions along the way!

Keep adventuring,

– H

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