One of the pitfalls of working in the middle of a major city is that it’s easy to blow your paycheck before it ever makes it into your bank account.
Since I don’t take actual lunch “breaks” too often (and because there is no guitar store in easy walking distance) I’ve stayed relatively insulated from midday shopping. Where I’m at risk is food.
When I first started working after graduation I was in the early throes of my obsessive budget-keeping, and I figured out quickly that the breakfast smoothies and muffins I had been accustomed to ordering every day during my internship added up to a bank-breaking amount over the course of a year – I wouldn’t have had to borrow money from my mother for a down payment on our first apartment if I had gone smoothlieless as an intern!
On my first day of full-time work I showed up with my own homemade smoothie and bagel, and continued to do so for several months, until finally my slothfulness caught up with my budget. Rather then blend up a confection every morning, I opted to allow myself a fixed weekly lunch budget to use however I pleased – buying groceries, eating modestly every day, or starving myself all week to go out for one big lunch.
Over four years of employment I’ve hewed pretty close to the budget, which rendered my $5 a day smoothie habit an obsolete luxury. The casualty was breakfast – I altogether stopped eating it, which made me a ravenous beast around 11:15 a.m.. I shrugged off plenty of health-concious co-workers bugging me to start my day with a meal, but when I began working on our healthy living initiatives earlier this year the message was drilled home by project after project: I was wrecking my naturally awesome metabolism, and I needed to eat more fresh fruit.
So, this summer when I found a nearby fruit cart that made $3.25 16oz. smoothies I was ecstatic – $16.15 a week was only a portion of my food budget, and it meant I’d actually eat my daily recommended servings of fruit. I immediately became a daily customer, and they’d have a smoothie ready to be blended when they saw me coming from a block away!
Two weeks ago my precious cart disappeared like clockwork on the first near-freezing morning, and without thinking about it I retreated to my four-year old smoothie/bagel habit. By the end of the week I had racked up $30 in spending – a huge chunk of my weekly food allowance, and over $1500 over the course of the year!
I had to put a stop to it, but I had become addicted to the energetic, breakfast-eating me I rediscovered over the summer. Could I produce my own smoothies and bagels for the convenient $16.25 I had been spending weekly over the summer?
The first hurdle was that I’d have to buy my supplies at the supermarket most convenient to me, which meant a slight markup. Five bananas came out to between $2-$3. Over the winter I’d rely on frozen organic strawberries, which were $.218 an ounce, and I’d need 50 oz. a week, for a total of $11. I’d also need a carton of off-brand OJ to fill out my concoction ($3), and a can or two of coconut milk to sweeten it a little (less than $2).
That’s a total of $18 for smoothie ingredients, proving the value of my cart-bound friend. Add to that a six-pack of everything bagels for $4 and $.90 weekly for my share of non-hydrogenated buttery spread for a total of $22.90 a week – a scant $7.10 savings over my gourmet breakfast. It would net me $555 in savings a year, but it still cost a bank-breaking $1195! And, that’s not including my time expenditure of thirty minutes of grocery shopping, plus 15 minutes a day of preparation.
No matter how I slice it, my morning smoothie is a major budget hit – a significant detraction from my ability to acquire new gear, my potential to pay off credit cards, my plan to save for a house.
Yet, what’s the comparative value of starting every day with a healthy breakfast, and getting my daily fix of fruit? Not to mention that my bagels and butter are healthier than the ones I’d be served in town. Sure, the monetary expense seems steep, but in the long term is it costing me less than the effects of eschewing fruit and starting my day with lunch?
Since the answer to that is unknowable at the moment, I’m going to have to find another way to justify my smoothie-enabling weekly shopping trips. Next steps? See if I can score my ingredients more cheaply elsewhere, or create a better economy of scale by also rolling in shopping for my lunch rather than buying it.