Home Cooking for One

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It always amazes me how much more food costs in a restaurant than at home. As a student on a budget, I am constantly surveying the prices of meals out, asking myself if it is truly worth it. The short answer for me is if it’s dipping into credit – no thank you. I will happily make my own kale Caesar salad, grilled bison sandwich, or green smoothie at a fraction of the cost. Learning these skills is easy, but the discipline to avoid charging meals to my credit card is hard.

So as a student I look for that value in terms of cost per meal, but also in terms of quality. Many meals I can make at home taste better, and are created just how I want them vs. the prepared food I enjoy in a café, deli counter, or take-out. On the other hand there is no arguing the convenience of grab-and-go food, and for those on UVic campus, there are so many delicious and affordable options.

How to Live the Life

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Besides the convenience of eating out is the lifestyle we get to enjoy. We get variety and choice. Compared to my coffee at home, most baristas offer carefully crafted cups of art that satisfy with multitudes of great pleasure. 

We go for the environment, to get out, have a study date, be in a busy place. Home alone with my French press can be isolating and, let’s face it, studying alone can be daunting. I like to socialize around food and drink, and have conversation about what I am studying, especially as a way to engage my interest in the subject.

Keep Track of Impulse Buying

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What I’m learning from studying financial planning and debt management suggests that the pleasures we seek from spending are temporary. Impulse buying runs counter to smart financial planning, and convenient ready-made consumables can be temptations to run up a tab.

The immediate gratification of our desires signals pleasure until we see the bill. At 18% interest, you better believe I want my balance paid down in full on my credit cards. We complain about sales tax, but what about the self-imposed “tax” we pay on all our purchases when we fail to pay down our high interest credit cards? Only, the credit card compounds annually, so the bigger the balance and the longer the term, the more interest paid. That $6 latte a year from now is over $7.

There are some things that the café does exceptionally well and I am glad to purchase what to me has great value. I need a line item in my budget for fine coffee experiences.

How do I deal with the disappointment of missing those coffee shop dates when there is no room in the budget? I think that the answer is to prioritize. Making most of my food from scratch, and shopping intelligently, I can save some money for those simple daily pleasures.

I say daily because I know that when I am making more money as a full-time employee, I tend to indulge in some of these things daily – and I think that most people do. Just look at the drive-through lineup at Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s during rush hour in the morning.

The Best Things in Life

A friend of mine once said to me that his recipe for wealth was to limit his spending when he was a student. Having learned to live frugally, he eventually found work that earned him a substantial living, but his spending did not change, at least initially. He was mostly able to save the difference.

Many of us are in that “no-choice” scenario as students with limited budgets. The problem is when we start to earn more money, we automatically want to spend more on those things which we were deprived of during those harder times. I think the lesson is to learn how to find pleasure in the harder times and be disciplined to prioritize the important purchases.

There are other students who have given up the lifestyle of impulse buying and convenience for the very rich life of idea-sharing. Instead of a study date at the coffee shop, go for a walk with a classmate or invite a professor for a stroll. Sometimes it’s the togetherness and the sharing of ideas that we crave.

You can join a study group that meets in a common space where the temptation to buy treats is taken off the menu, and bring some snacks from home. At York University I was part of the Aspiring Creative Writers Club – before the days of smartphones! Bottom line – find ways to share ideas and learn with others. I prioritize going out when it is really worthwhile, when I know I will have a great time.

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