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Prime of Life

Kristine Hayes  |  June 18, 2019

I WAS 51-YEARS-OLD when I ate prime rib for the first time. As it turned out, it was a life-changing moment. It might be difficult to believe eating a choice cut of beef could lead to an altered understanding of financial priorities, but it did.

I grew up in a fairly typical 1970s middle class family. Hamburger Helper, tuna casserole and peanut butter sandwiches made up the bulk of my diet. Our family rarely ate out and, when we did, it was almost always at McDonald’s. When I was a teenager, I got to pick where I wanted to dine on my birthday and usually opted for the local all-you-can-eat buffet. Having unlimited access to fried chicken, baked beans and soft serve ice cream seemed like gourmet dining to me.

I think it’s safe to say I didn’t develop a sophisticated palate as a child.

When I was in college, money was tight and my roommate and I subsisted almost entirely on Top Ramen and grilled cheese sandwiches, with the occasional splurge on a frozen pizza. When I graduated and married, my cooking skills were, not surprisingly, fairly limited. Tacos and spaghetti were the two main dishes I knew how to make. I slowly taught myself how to cook more elaborate meals, but ground beef and chicken were almost always the main ingredients of any meal I prepared.

When I divorced and began living on my own, my self-imposed frugality heavily influenced my meal plans. I started eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. But as a financial tradeoff, I would often forgo meat. I saw food as an expense that, while necessary, could be controlled by simply opting for low-cost ingredients. My frugal mindset didn’t necessarily carry over to all the members of my household. My corgi often ate food that cost more per pound than my meals.

In short, I viewed food as a necessity and not something to be enjoyed.

When I remarried, I discovered a new side of food. My husband rarely compares prices on grocery items and instead chooses to buy whatever he knows he likes. He enjoys savoring a good meal and wouldn’t consider skimping on it for the sake of saving a few pennies. When he suggested cooking a prime rib for Christmas dinner last year, I agreed, even though I didn’t know what a prime rib was—or the cost.

When we went to the local supermarket to get the roast, my husband spoke directly to the meat department manager and described exactly what cut he wanted. A few minutes later, as we were walking to the register, I snuck a peek at the price tag and was surprised at how reasonably priced the roast was. What I hadn’t realized, until we paid at the register, was that I’d misread the label, mistaking a “7” for a “2.” Our Christmas 2018 dinner was $75, not $25. My thoughts quickly turned south as I realized there had been times in my life when I hadn’t spent $75 on an entire week’s worth of food, much less a single item.

On Christmas day, my Mom joined us and we dined on one of the finest meals I’d ever had. My husband cooked the roast to perfection and I, for once, allowed myself to indulge in the pleasure of food. I’d probably never consumed as much protein in one sitting as I did that evening, but every bite was worth it.

As I grow older, I find myself reflecting more on life’s priorities. I’m realizing how quickly time passes and how fragile life is. I’m learning that the occasional indulgence—be it food, travel or crossing off a bucket-list item—helps keep life interesting. These days, my husband and I plan a “prime rib night” once a month. I consider it money well spent.

Kristine Hayes’s previous articles include School’s OutSix Years Later and State of Change. Kristine enjoys competitive pistol shooting and hanging out with her husband and their three dogs.

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lisavfr
lisavfr
1 year ago

I think your husband is a smart man. By purchasing the Prime Rib himself you enjoyed a lovely dinner at home. Not rushed while saving on taxes, tip and other costs associated with going out to dine such as valet/parking.
I have found that spending more in the grocery store to get exactly what I want leads to me eating out far less.

booch221
booch221
1 year ago

When I was in college 1971-75 I budgeted $5/week for groceries. I could buy milk, eggs, bread, ground beef, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. We didn’t have Top Ramen then.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
1 year ago
Reply to  booch221

I don’t remember my exact budget number for food when I was in college, but I suspect it hovered somewhere around $25/week. I work at a college now, and that dollar amount would buy you about 3 meals (total) at the cafeteria!

Bart Moran
Bart Moran
1 year ago

Saving, investing and managing one’s budget are all very important lifestyle choices. But always remember it’s better to cry in a Lexus than on a bicycle.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
1 year ago
Reply to  Bart Moran

One thing I’ve discovered is that enjoying life doesn’t always mean compromising on budgeting. When my mother (also a frugal grocery shopper), recently noticed a grocery store advertisement offering prime rib at $5.00 per pound, she let me know. My husband and I managed to pick up a six-month supply of roasts for our monthly ‘prime rib night’ at a substantial savings. Happy wife. Happy husband.

Jonathan Clements
Jonathan Clements
1 year ago
Reply to  Bart Moran

Hey, don’t knock bicycles! I’ve owned bicycles and I’ve owned a (used) Lexus — and I’m not sure I got more joy from the Lexus.

Joe Tillman
Joe Tillman
1 year ago

Bill Bernstein once said BMW was not an automobile but an IQ test.

Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  Bart Moran

Depends on the bike. 😉

David J. Kupstas
David J. Kupstas
1 year ago

I don’t enjoy food when I know it’s expensive, but if someone else pays (or even uses my money and doesn’t tell me how much it’s costing me), bring on the expensive food!

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