I don’t buy greeting cards. You’re paying $3.99 for a poorly written sentiment complemented by a poorly drawn graphic, which seems like a huge waste to me. Especially when I can come up with my own poorly written sentiments and bad artwork in much less time than it takes me to go to CVS, pick out the first card I see in the appropriate category, then wait in line for ten minutes while the people ahead of me invariably have some sort of issue completing their transactions. And don’t get me started on thank-you notes. A waste of postage and time. If you got me a gift, my thank-you is always said aloud to your face, or at least on the phone. If I got you a gift, the thank-you is implied. You don’t even have to say it to me.
The point of all this is that I monitor my expenses down to the dollar. I have no tolerance for financial waste. So when I decided to make the switch to vegetarianism, my secret (and biggest) fear was that my grocery bill would be hit pretty hard. And I don’t think that fear was irrational. Quite a few people have come up to me and said things like, “I’d make the switch too, but it would just be so expensive,” or “I just don’t think our budget could handle that.”
All my fears that vegetarianism would create a financial domino effect ending with a sheriff’s sale of my home were entirely misplaced. Our grocery bills have been lighter since I started this (and no, it’s not because I only eat Ramen noodles). Most meals average under six dollars, and they feed both my wife and me. Usually, I take the leftovers for lunch the next day. That’s three full meals for about two dollars apiece. Here’s the deal: vegetables are cheap. Eggs are cheap. Tofu—especially compared with ground beef or chicken—is cheap. Pasta is even cheaper. And for you health nuts, whole wheat pasta is only marginally more expensive than regular pasta.
The extra money has been nice—budgets have always sort of been a game for me, and I feel like it’s one I’ve been winning so far this summer. As if this victory weren’t enough, I’ve noticed that we’ve saved even more money on our restaurant budget. A lot more money. I think there are two reasons for this.
First, we have vegetables in the house that will go bad if we don’t use them. In the past, we might have just thrown that package of chicken breast in the freezer. But vegetables? Those go in the trash if they’re not used. And that’s something that I just can’t abide. So when Molly and I are batting around the idea of maybe going to Cannoli Queen or the New Bethel Ordinary or Gallagher’s (I live on the south side, by the way), one of us will invariably say something like, “But the zucchini’ll go bad.” And we’ll stay in and eat what we have.
The other reason is probably more particular to me and my views on what’s a good buy and what’s not. Restaurant salads are not a good buy. Restaurant pasta dishes are not a good buy. Buffalo wings? Well, I guess that depends on the sauce. But since buffalo wings are off the table, I have a really hard time going out to eat and paying ten bucks for a salad I can make at home for a quarter of the price or less. So I just don’t do it.
Not only do I save money, but dinner time is much less stressful. No packing a three year old into a car seat. No tantrums in public. No ordering a $5.99 cup of mac ‘n cheese for her at BW3′s (which nearly puts me over the edge every time we do it). We stay at home, cook together, and eat together. Which is really about the greatest gift a guy cook ask for.
Just don’t expect a thank-you card.
Photo by mhaller1979 [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.