An Actual Financial Misstep

Some personal finance blogs (and by “some” we mean “all but these“) are nothing but chronicles of the authors’ bad financial decisions. Fortunately for them, they’ll never run out of material. Unfortunately for them, they’ll never get out of debt and don’t really want to. Meanwhile, we sit here from our relatively affluent perch, laughing at their foolishness and patting ourselves on the back for being so savvy.

We’re not perfect, it only seems that way. Case in point, last week we went to the Capital Grille. What a mistake.

If you’re unfamiliar, Capital Grille is one of those chain restaurants whose each location makes an effort to have you believe it’s not a chain restaurant. It’s an upscale steak joint, but not so upscale that they’ll turn you away for wearing shorts. The hostess wears a formal pantsuit, there’s a guy in a blazer who stands next to her and wears an earpiece, and everything is cherrywood and superfluous cutlery. But Capital Grille is still a subsidiary of the same company that owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

Maybe once or twice a year, your hosts splurge and eat somewhere expensive, and even that’s too many. The only reasons we went to the Capital Grille this particular night were a) we were going to be in its neighborhood anyway and b) American Express had sent us a $50 no-strings-attached gift card. That we used it makes us the betting favorites for next month’s RoTM award.

The rationale went something like this. “$50, that’s $25 apiece. How much more than that can an entrée be? We’ll end up enjoying a fancy steak dinner for like $10 each.”

Two steaks, a salad for one of us, and two shareable side dishes (green beans and pommes frites, and good God that’s a pretentious way of saying french fries.) Neither of us drink. So…total with tax and tip, including the discount?


Not to go Trent Hamm on you, but we felt dirty. We could have had more fulfilling, more flavorful and healthier burritos at Qdoba for $7 apiece, and would have if we had the night to live over again. Our distaff half even said afterwards, “This is stupid. Let’s never do this again.”

Thank God our tastes are normally cheap. That Qdoba date is next on our list, assuming we can take enough time away from buying our groceries at Winco and flying coach to do so. However, we have plenty of friends – you probably have a couple too – who spend money like this as a matter of course. Maybe not on overpriced food, but on overpriced alcohol or overpriced mood alterers or vehicle rustproofing or something.

Our evening made us wonder if people really enjoy fancy dining, or if it’s just a rite that people adhere to unthinkingly. Most of our fellow diners appeared to be on business. A couple groups of 12, one group of 20, all obviously from overseas and all probably enjoying expense accounts. Plus they were visiting a city where financial recklessness is practically a requisite for entering.

Again, opportunity cost. That $112 could have gone to countless better places. We’re not agonizing over this; we can afford to drop $112 in a night and not worry about how we’re going to pay the power bill. But it’s just such a freaking waste. For an experience that lasted about 45 minutes, and that required us to wear clothes significantly less comfortable than what we usually wear.

The moral? Spend $112 on a hotel room if you know it’s going to be much more comfortable and cleaner than the $40 fleabag palace across town. Spend $112 on music, books or ski equipment that you know you’ll enjoy over and over again, as opposed to going without them. But $112 to keep yourself nourished for a few more hours, when you could do so for far less? Lunacy.

A dumb and/or rationalizing person would say “Hey, you only live once” and add the $112 to his credit card balance. (Oh, who are we kidding? His bill would be closer to $200 with wine and maybe dessert.) Then he’d try to win it back at the tables, fail, and go to the “Hey, you only live once” defense again. Vegas, baby. Meanwhile, your authors will think nothing of spending thousands of dollars a month on a property manager to save us the trouble of having to deal with our rental housing tenants. We value our time.

If you’re not spending money to improve your life, to make your life easier, to free up time, or to get a greater return in the future, what the hell are you spending money for? Us squandering $112 was no different than that kook at The Simple Dollar blowing 5 hours making his own Pop-Tarts and toothpaste. Time is indeed money. Worst of all, the food wasn’t even that great. The steaks sat in our intestines like lead. Vegetables are meant to be blanched, not smothered in grease and heavy sauces. Steak belongs on a list with movies, Radiohead, nightclubs, New Year’s Eve, Derek Jeter, Shakespeare and kids as the most overrated things in the universe. runs on the Genesis Framework

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