(Ed.'s Note- Every Monday, Chicago's Jason Hissong writes Windy City Cooking, a column whose title says it all. Enjoy! -Max)
by Jason Hissong
01 March 2010
A few weeks ago I read Sam Walker's Fantasyland. Reading a book about his foray into the world of fantasy baseball elicited a couple of reactions. First, it made me hungry for baseball season. Second, it made me hungry for statistics consumption.
Let me stop here and say that I am not a numbers person. There's a reason I majored in English and History in my undergraduate career. Numbers and I are not friends. I don't like that there is always an answer. I don't like that there are things in mathematics that I just don't understand, and maybe, never will. That said, I'm beginning to enjoy spreadsheets when it comes to certain things, baseball being one of them.
It's too early to do a spreadsheet for my own fantasy baseball league. And I thought "what else could I do?"
And then it hit me: look at how I spent money on food in 2009. So I took three hours and 12 bank statements and went line by line entering how I spent money on food in 2009.
And that's the number I came up with. Of my take home income last year I spent $3,770.47 on food, to the best of my knowledge. That number is off in its exactness. For example, the $60 or so I spent at the Daily in the first part of July was not $60 for myself. Katie and Jason paid me cash and I put the bill on my card. But it's as an exact number as I am able to deduce.
My sister once told me that I eat like a rock star. And she's right. That's a lot of money to spend on food. Here's how it breaks down:
November was my most expensive month, coming in at $539.28. Me second most expensive month was October at $439.03. On the other side of the spectrum May was my least expensive month at $204.72. March came in at $217, and April $220.
There were two vendors to whom I gave more of my money than any other, save groceries. I work in an office building in downtown Chicago. And while somedays I get moments of awe walking those streets, the people that run them know that convenience is king. On the first floor of my building are both an Au Bon Pain and a Starbucks. I made at least 50 visits to both places in 2009, and together I gave them $735.75 of my money. $239.63 of that to Au Bon, the remaining $735.75 to Starbucks.
It's a misnomer to say that all of those funds went to the same Starbucks. Indeed, they did not. I'm sure the majority of those dollars went to the Starbucks in my building, but there's also a Starbucks within a three minute walk of my apartment. And one just over a half a mile north of that one, where I like to walk and run in the summer. And there's another on my way to my church, and still another close by church the other direction as well. They're everywhere. And justifying a three dollar expense here and there is so easy, and so deadly.
And this is where it gets really scary. It appears, again given my best efforts that probably have a slight margin of error, that I spent only twenty dollars less at Au Bon Pain and Starbucks than I did at Trader Joe's, Jewel, and Whole Foods. The grocers received $523.01, $156.87. and $74.92, respectively.
My single largest splurge was the $72.34 at Uncommon Ground in December. It was dinner for two, and a couple of drinks, and gratuity included.
There are vendors that I went to every single month, or nearly. I at at a Corner Bakery Cafe eight of the twelve months of 09. The same for Fast Super Burrito. Potbelly's came in first in that race, however, with ten of twelve months.
What does all this tell me? Well, it tells me that I spend a lot of money on food. I eat out quite often. It also tells me that I'm probably have way in between being super lazy and being bamboozled by convienence. $700 for coffee? Somehow I did it. It's ridiculous, and clearly indicates that I need to change my behavior.
This was an interesting experiment. The numbers were tough for me to look at, no question. Contrary to that guilt and fear, however, is the opportunity to make 2010 better in terms of food frugality. How do I do that? Well, first, I start buying coffee and making it at home. I have the tools with which to do that. I just don't. Second, I start planning my meals better. Two weeks ago I went to Trader Joe's and purchased a lot of food. I usually only cook for one and had to throw some of it out. That's wasted dollars. Inefficient dollars. So, planning better would curtail this, I think.
Next week: reader mailbag! If you have questions about cooking, eating out, etc., please leave a comment, or email me at jason dot hissong at gmail dot com.
What Others Cooked For Me, What I Cooked, Where I Ate
This week I cooked a couple of things. I made an incredible chicken and broccoli cheese soup. I made roasted salmon with blanched asparagus, and I made braised Italian sausage with blanched green beans and a basmati rice mixture. All good meals.
I didn't eat anywhere spectacular, but I did share meals with people important to me. Friday night Jason, Aaron, Jonathan, Ben, Tim and I ordered some pizza and had chips and other snack food while we played Risk. Thank you to Aaron's mom who cooked us this wonderful cookie dough cheesecake dessert thing. Saturday night I had cause to take a there-and-back road trip to Milwaukee with my friends Tim, Kip, Jessica, and Tracy. We dined at La Perla and I very much enjoyed my carne asada tacos.