For now our slice of the American Dream is an actual slice. Once a month my wife, daughter, and I eat out at our favorite pizza spot, American Dream. The bill for a large Dream Special, a pint of whatever local IPA they have on tap and a tip rings in right around $30. At face value we get one meal and some leftovers for sack lunches. But to me that meal is a mental investment.
A little background: 21 months ago my daughter was born and my wife quit her office job. Going to one income was a mutual decision we arrived at after a lot of talking and examination of our personal values before we decided to have kids. My mother-in-law stayed at home until her kids were in school and, as they got older, worked jobs that allowed her to be with them when they got out of class. My mom also chose to stay at home. We both felt that following a similar path was the right choice for us as we started our family. On a values level, we were providing the kind of home life that we wanted; on a practical level, we were chopping our cash flow in half.
Needless to say, financially not everything’s been a decadent feast laid out on the tabletop of bounty. Money’s tighter than uncomfortable smiles on Thanksgiving when Uncle Drunkle’s had too many drinks. When we were flush with cash in our two-income days, eating out was a spur-of-the-moment impulse. These days it’s a planned event, a budgeted expense, and for the most part, a single-line-item entry in the withdrawal column on our monthly bank statement.
We’ve cut out the happy hours, and I only eat out for lunch on rare work-related occasions like a coworkers birthday. There are a lot more beans and rice in our diets, and our tabletop is dominated by meals that can be re-purposed or re-heated like enchiladas or roast chicken (use the bones and chicken bit leftovers to make the base for delicious chicken-noodle soup). Our menu has basically morphed into what we grew up eating when we were kids and our parents were counting the beans.
It’s in this environment that the lights, music, and food of American Dream shine like a beacon of anticipated palate pleasure. It’s counterintuitive to think of pizza and beer as an investment because of its transient nature. However, the novelty (due to its infrequency) of that meal, the life-affirming social interaction of a night out, and the knowledge that even in tight circumstances we can splurge a tiny bit is worth every Lincoln penny in morale.
Dream on and don’t forget to put a little honey on the crust.