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Monday, July 13, 2009

Keep it a Treat: A Key to Frugality

I don't know if I've mentioned quite how divine a daughter I have. Her current divine activity involves spending three weeks with her recently-widowed grandmother, who did not want to go to her summer house alone. I was under the impression that Miss Em's willingness to, as she put it, "be Grandma's boyfriend," was unusual, but many people to whom I've spoken have declared that their children--16-20--would do the same. So whatever this generation is called (Y,Z,AA???), what a wonderful bunch of kids!

Anyway, a certain amount of stress is involved, so we get daily phone calls. There are a number of areas where Grandma-family-values are different from our-family-values. One that has come up already is the issue of restaurant meals. Miss Em's grandparents were almost daily restaurant-goers in retirement. Our family, as my devoted readers must have noticed, is a cooking family. In addition to her job as boyfriend, Miss Em has contracted to do all the cooking for Grandma.

Miss Em called this morning, with the news that (surprise!) Grandma wants to go out to eat again. Miss Em said, "I want to cook tonight, so that when we go out again, it will be a real treat."

My wise daughter has hit the frugal nail on the head! If you go out to eat all the time, it ceases to be a treat. Somewhere in the Amy Dacyczyn oeuvre--aka The Tightwad Gazette--is a story that makes a similar point. Amy talked about how she took her kids out for single-dip ice cream cones. These evoked an ecstatic response. Amy said that many parents, seeing the ecstasy, would respond by taking the kids out for ice cream more and more, eventually graduating to double- and then triple-scoops. Amy took the opposite tack: she responded by not taking her kids out for ice-cream again for a looonnggg time, to keep it a much-awaited (rather than simply expected) treat.

I must say that I remain in awe of Amy's austere self-control in the frugal department. I can't quite pull it off. But I do try to keep things a treat. And it is interesting that my dear daughter is begging her grandma, "Please don't take me out to dinner! Let me cook. Let's keep it a treat!"

Dear Readers, do you agree? And, do tell, how do you keep it a treat?


Duchesse said...

Amy's deprive-to-enjoy is so Calvinist, so weird to me... kind of like refusing to heat your house so when you turn it on you feel really good.

There's a lot one can do to not escalate the treat. Set a limit: it's a single, period. Or buy an ice cream maker and make your own.

As far as Grandma's preference, I'm for going out when she wants. Older folks are creatures of habit and like what's familiar. It may not be about being a treat, it might be more about her enjoyment of familiar rituals, her independence and feelings of control.

Terrific that she has volunteered to be there.

Funny about Money said...

What a graceful response, esp. for one so young. I wouldn't have thought of it at my advanced old age.

I'm torn: Duchesse is right that we old bats are comforted by habit. On the other hand, a lovely dinner at home cooked by one's gracious granddaughter is something worth changing one's habits for. A little habit-changing is good...but if she's really suffering from grief, it may be better to take her out to her favorite eateries, where she'll see her friends and her favorite restaurant staff members.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--I am still trying to figure out a response. I am a little slow, but working on it.

@Duchesse and Funny--For my parents, going out to eat became habit, rather than treat.

Suzy said...

It ceased being a treat to me when I ate out too often. I do remember enjoying it when we ate out about every 2 weeks when I was a kid though. We never did the 'too busy let's do the drive-thru' routine; even if it meant supper was a sandwich and chips! Out on my own fast food and eating out became too much of a habit that I've been breaking. So, I'd say a short break or maybe a 'set' routing of knowing you'll eat out or get a 'treat' say every other Friday instead of the extremes of either every day or you-never-know -when-you'll -see-Dairy-Queen-again. Ithink the 'never know' scenario could lead to too much self indulgence later.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Suzy--We always get a fast food burger on the way back from the airport: a family tradition/treat.

FB @ said...

I do agree that going out to eat all the time ruins the experience.

I prefer to go out to eat once a month to keep it alive...

Shelley said...

I started teaching myself to cook -- out of a cookbook -- after a couple of years of fast food on the way to university classes (got my education in night school). I was completely fed up with junk food. Didn't really learn to cook, though, until I started using Amy D's universal recipes (Bless her!). I agree that one should indulge one's elders as far as possible; also that eating out too often ruins the fun of it.