Reason for Not Eating Out #19: Because you can almost afford to live alone

In the words of Roy Orbison, only the lonely know the way I feel tonight. I’m putting my feet up on a coffee table, pulling a blanket up to my chin, trying to decide which channel to turn on, or which of the eight magazines in front of me to pick up and look through, then relinquishing in contented inactivity, the only sounds in the entire apartment from stock simmering on the stove, ever so lightly, underneath the pot’s lid. The aroma creeps into my nose. It’s probably not the way poor Roy felt when he sang it, but I feel great tonight. Dum dum dum dumdy-doo-wah.

And this is because I’m living alone for the first time in my life, something I didn’t imagine plausible for another few years, if at all. True, the hurried exile from my last apartment wasn’t exactly something I’d planned, as I’ve whined about here already. But whatever. Living alone feels the right thing to do, and for once it’s right financially, too. Well, almost.

Ask any expert and your twenties are the best years of your life… to save. Hence, making sacrifices with regards to our living situations is something of an art for New Yorkers. Finding an apartment can feel like a series of compromises in terms of space, privacy, proximity to parks, laundromats, or subway lines not including the G. It goes on, and the way those sacrifices fall in any given arrangement can really determine a lot about how your life will be, even the most mundane-seeming of them. Have higher ceilings, and you may find yourself in a very vertically stacked room, where getting on a stool on a daily basis is as ordinary as tying your shoes. I’ve always sacrificed comfort before cost in the past, living in a room barely bigger than a full-sized bed for a year and not eating out with a kitchen the size of an elevator for another. While stepping on stools is great and all that, by squeezing my activities into such tight quarters, I was probably giving myself little room to grow. As a person.

The unthinkable option of living alone all started when I found a modestly priced one-bedroom that I liked. But, the monthly rent would still be a steep increase from my last apartment’s, which was shared. About $400 more. I knew what that looked like on paper, but it was difficult to grasp exactly what having $400 less at the end of the month was going to feel like, and how I was going to compensate for it. What was that even equal to? A few nice outfits, and maybe a haircut? Ten less nights of going out to bars, seeing music and catching a cab home once or twice? (Impossible.) I’d almost forgotten that most people go out to eat, too. Ooh! I thought. Could $400 a month be what I’ve been saving by not eating out?

Let’s start with weekday lunches. These days I couldn’t care too much about what I bring for lunch. It’s usually leftovers or something invented out of which; a snacky thing or two, a piece of fruit. I figure, considering I never shop specifically for much of the makings, I probably spend around $1 for one brought-from-home lunch a day. Whereas, if I were eating out I’d most certainly be spending about $8 a day on a filling meal in Midtown. That’s just the way it is. (Unless I wanted to settle for street meat or a small soup every day.) That’s also not counting the coffee runs, occasional smoothies or breakfasts, which many people engage in during the day, too. So, let’s say that saving $7 a day on lunches and breakfasts is a modest estimate.

With dinners it gets trickier. When I ate out, of course it was always a mixed bag of extravagant new restaurant dinners, cheap neighborhood brunches, Chinese take-out, etc., and at-home cooking experiments could be expensive, too. So if a person eats out at a nice place for dinner only once a week, let’s say they spend a (modest) $30 at that restaurant. If they eat take-out for dinner at least three other nights of that week, at $10 a pop each, that’s another $30. That’s $60 a week worth of things that I don’t do. I go grocery shopping, of course, and I suspect the model eating-out antithesis I’ve created here would too, for those other three nights of the week and whatnot. Let’s say he or she spends $15 a week in food groceries and I spend $25 (which I commonly do). Let’s add this all up:

Me: $25 a week, 52 weeks of the year = $1300, plus $1 a week, 48 weeks of the year (for workday lunches) = $1348

Eating-Out Antithesis: $60 in eating out + $15 in groceries is $75 a week, 52 weeks of the year = $3,900

As you can imagine, that’s a very rough estimate, which doesn’t take into consideration vacations, parties and I suppose a whole host of other factors. I warned these calculations were tricky. But what I’ve ended up with is that I spend well under half of what I might if I ate out like a (so says I) normal person. Let’s see what it means in monthly savings:

Me: $1348 divided by 12 = $112.33

Eating-Out Antithesis: $3,900 divided by 12 = $325

So I’ve been saving approximately $212.67 a month by not eating out. Granted, this is not $400. Still, this made for a compelling argument to sacrifice this time in favor of my own personal space.

So maybe not eating out alone doesn’t make up the deficit for not having roommates, in my situation. It’s never going to be a cut-and-dry case, though. I’ve also got to point out all the communal things that help you save when living with someone else. Of course it’s a big plus on the budget that you can share the utilities bill, but you’re also bound to be sharing the forks and knives, the coffee maker, toaster, toast, breaking one another’s cups and so forth. I’m lucky that throughout my years of cohabitation, I’ve managed to gather all the home essentials I’ll need, and then some (vintage pasta-cranked fresh tagliatelli, anyone?). So, with the exception of the pesky Internet bill, I’m liking this steep-rent sacrifice so far. And damn glad I won’t have to give up going out to bars ten times a month to enjoy it.

17 Responses

  1. Ginny

    Having spent the last couple years with the roommates, I am very happy to stop eating out too, if it means being able to afford to live alone. I’m jealous!

  2. Emily

    How do you only spend $25 a week on groceries? I feel like with all the great things you cook, it would be a lot more than that. I’m not trying to ruin your calculations for living alone, just curious because I feel like I spend much more on groceries (and I usually buy generic brands).

  3. rachel

    Spending only $25 a week on groceries is amazing! I was very frugal and lived in a much cheaper city than New York and couldn’t do that when I lived alone.

    Good luck with the budget! Not eating out is how we save money as well.

  4. erin

    I think living alone is worth the extra $$, if only because you can do (and cook!) anything you want at any time of day or night.

    I have a somewhat unrelated question regarding going out to bars and eating out–have you basically forsaken happy hours or meeting friends after work for drinks? That’s the hardest thing for me–the husband and I meet up for a cocktail after work and the willpower to go home and cook basically disappears!

    Anyway, good for you–having a place of your own!

  5. Your cubemate

    Cathy, I think it’s time for you to join the coop. The grocery savings will be incredible, and the produce… unbeatable. (see you in a few hours, btw)

  6. Terry B

    Cathy–Congratulations on your lovely new apartment and divine solitude! Sounds very cozy.

  7. cathy

    I’m so glad that I’ve fooled people into thinking I spend more than $25 a week on groceries, but it really is quite an accurate estimate, as the cost calculator for each recipe can attest to… those Obama Rolls? Didn’t hardly cost nothin’. Of course the total fluctuates given the week’s activities, but in general, for one person? Totally.
    Erin: Yes, happy hours can get dicey, but my friends and I prefer hanging out in Brooklyn so we tend to stop home first before meeting up anyway. I do bring snacks/dinner if I know that I’m going out right after work, though. Actually, the last time I met up with a friend for a happy hour, she got a little hungry. So we went to the D’Agostino grocery across the street and ended up cooking a skirt steak and green beans at her place. It was awesome.

  8. michelle @ TNS

    $25 bucks a week? whoa! can you come over and give me lessons?

    still, even though i spend considerably more than $25/week on food, it’s astounding how much more $ i have in my pocket since i’ve started committing to eating in. seriously, starting a food blog has been such a wise financial decision i didn’t even anticipate.

  9. liz

    your first paragraph is making me feel all nostalgic. i loved living alone — the feeling of being able to do (and cook) whatever you want, whenever you want is the best! Not that I’m complaining. But having your own space is definitely a good incentive to stay in, whether you want to save cash or just play around in the kitchen.

  10. Yvo

    I’m going to guess people are shocked but it’s a steady, consistent $25 a week, so about $100 a month, right? I mean… that’s totally reasonable because you have stuff in your pantry that you don’t need to buy… and every once in a while you go out and restock so that week would be more… right? I’m totally saving a ton of money by bringing lunch from home every day.

    And living alone is so blissful, so amazing, so wonderful. When’s dinner? WHENEVER I WANT IT. What’s for dinner? WHATEVER I WANT! No one else to be responsible for *blissful gleeful sob* Yes, I’m liking it very much indeed.

  11. Koren

    This gives me so much comfort, as I am currently contemplating a move from a shared apartment to my own place, and expect to be paying $400 more a month in rent. I’m hoping I can make it work.

    I can imagine spending $25 a week on groceries, although only because I shop at the Park Slope Food Coop. If anything, I think your estimate of how much people spend eating out each week in New York is conservative. I love not spending all that money by cooking and eating at home.

  12. kittie

    Wow – I spend so much money on groceries since I started my food blog, as I keep thinking up experiments I want to make!

    I am now living alone again, and am determined to try to cut my costs down – I’m thinking pulses might have to be the way to go!

  13. Carmen

    Ah, I really miss living alone .. I did it for years before getting married. When it was just me, I could easily spend $25 or less on groceries. Unfortunately, it costs much more to feed my husband.

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