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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Spending more money on food: an experiment in decumulation

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When I turned 45 in mid-2022, I decided to enter a phase-out phase. Instead of continuing to save and invest aggressively, I decided to spend more aggressively. One way to decumulate is to spend more money on food.

Dying with too much money is suboptimal. If we do, it means that we have wasted time and energy in our younger years trying to make money. It would have been optimal if we had worked less and enjoyed life more.

The problem when entering the decumulation phase is that old habits are difficult to break. Even after I semi-retired in 2012 I couldn’t stop saving some of my money passive and active income streams. Not saving felt strange, so I continued my frugal habits.

So, as with any new financial venture, I decided to start small and work my way up. My biggest problem was figuring out where to spend more money.

Since I love food and have three other loved ones to feed, I decided to spend a lot more money on food for three months.

Decumulation experiment: eating everything I want

Like most people, I love food! But I’m afraid of eating too much because I don’t want to gain too much weight. Extra weight will slow me down when playing tennis and… pickleball courts. Eating too much can also increase my risk for heart disease.

However, I need to spend more money somehow to start my decumulation journey. Food is the ideal cumulative expense because it is recurring, necessary and enjoyable.

Luckily we live in San Francisco, which is always in the top three culinary capitals of America. Furthermore, almost all food delivery apps were invented here.

For a family of four, we spend between €2,000 – €2,500 per month on food. We think that eating healthier foods leads to a healthier life. We are happy to pay for fresh, organic fruit and vegetables. Finally, save time, we regularly order food delivery.

Even though we spend plenty of money on food, I still have to cut back on what I want to buy from time to time. But for this three-month experiment, I decided to lift the limit and try to spend a thousand dollars more on food for two months and an unlimited amount for the third month.

The first joy of eating something

During the first week when I ordered more than usual, it was difficult to spend more money. It felt wasteful and gluttonous.

However, within three weeks it was easier to increase my spending by $33 per day without feeling guilty. For example, instead of ordering McDonald’s cheeseburgers for my kids for 99 cents, I ordered them each a Filet-O-Fish for $4.99. Instead of ordering hamachi nigiri sushi for $7, I’d order toro nigiri sushi for $16, and so on.

To boost food spending, I also ordered a lot of freshly squeezed juices. I especially like carrot-apple juice. Each cup costs about $12, after tax and tip. Before, I would never pay that much for juice, but I figured I might as well during this food spending experiment.

I also started ordering a lot more bubble tea at $7-9 a cup. However, I was reminded that each drink contains between 800 and 1200 calories, so I stopped ordering that much after the first month.

Below is a sample menu from Cultivar restaurant on Uber Eats. The final price is approximately 20% higher due to taxes, delivery fees and delivery tip. Food delivery apps make it easier to spend more money, so beware!

Easier to spend more money on food than I thought

The increase in food expenditure was relatively easy due to the substitution of higher quality food. If the extra spending was mainly about eating a larger amount of food, it would have been much harder to spend more.

Now I clearly understand why gourmet restaurants offer such small portions. There is only so much we can eat!

Plus, I didn’t gain weight during the experiment, which I feared was the biggest downside to spending more on food. I have practiced hara hachi bu, which is a Japanese saying: eat until 80% full. To prevent overheating, practice mindfulness about the suffering of others who don’t have enough to eat.

Below is a photo of chirashi toro, a Japanese dish that I started eating once a week. In the past, I would order regular chirashi maybe once a month for $29-32. However, toro is a more expensive piece of fish, bringing the price of the dish to $40.

The experiment of spending more money on food - Toro chirashi

Ordered special food

In addition to ordering all kinds of delicious food via the delivery apps, I also ordered specialty food online. The items were delivered within about a week.

Jamon Iberico

The first article was jamon iberico, the tastiest ham you can eat from Spain. I first tasted jamon iberico when I was on holiday in Mallorca in 2015. Each package costs about $80 at Iberico Club, an online store that specializes in this type of meat.

I could probably eat four packs of jamon iberico a month. However, there is research that says eating cured meats can be carcinogenic. That’s why I decided to eat only one pack a month.

Jason Iberico

Gourmet cookies

The second item I ordered was a box of luxury cookies from Last Crumb in Los Angeles. My friend gave me an individually wrapped banana chocolate chip cookie one day on the tennis court and I was hooked. Each box comes with 12 cookies and costs approximately $160 before taxes and shipping!

Each cookie is individually wrapped so they can last for several weeks. The cookies are so rich that it took my wife and me a month to eat all twelve cookies. In total we ordered three boxes in three months.

Last Crub box of cookies

Good wine

We are definitely not big wine drinkers. Maybe the two of us will have a bottle of wine once a quarter. We usually just buy Two Buck Chucks and use them to make bolognese sauce and drink the rest with our meal.

However, with this experiment with increased food spending, we decided to try some $50-$80 bottles of wine from Mantazas Creek and Benzinger since we were driving to Sonoma County for vacation. Sonoma is beautiful and only about a 1.15 hour drive from San Francisco.

We enjoyed several cabernets with our jamon ibericos and steaks. But there wasn’t really a specific bottle of wine that blew us out of the water. A red blend from Ménage à Trois for $15 tastes just as delicious.

For my 46th birthday, one of my good friends gave me a bottle of wine. It was a surprise gift during our tennis hit. He told me it was a nice bottle of wine and that I should keep it in a cool place.

Not knowing my wine, I looked up Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2006 when I got home and the cheapest price I found was $800! Now I don’t know if I should ever open it. It feels like the value of the wine has invaded the collector’s territory.

Spend more on food and wine experiments

My favorite fruit

There is one area where I can spend more on food that I really appreciate, and that is buying my favorite fruits. Since my parents have mango trees at home in Hawaii, I used to pick mangoes straight from the trees for free.

Every time I used to go to the farmer’s market or supermarket to buy mangoes, I was shocked by the price. $3-7 for one? Forget it! I’m just going to use my mango picker at home!

With my food spending experiment, we regularly order boxes of Keitt and Esquire mangoes from Good Eggs and all kinds of tasty melons. Eating just fruit for breakfast is my favorite meal.

Keith mango is so good

The beginning of the end of food

At the end of the third month something interesting happened. My taste buds started to go numb. I remember sitting with my wife asking what we should order for dinner one night.

We have listed all types of dishes: Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Italian, Ethiopian, Vegetarian, Korean, Mexican, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, BBQ, burgers, steaks, oysters, lobster, crab, and decided WE WERE SICK OF EVERYTHING!

After just three months of gluttony, we no longer felt the need for any kind of food. We had eaten one too many pieces of toro, one too many lobster tails dipped in melted butter, and one too many pieces of dry-aged rib-eye with potatoes au gratin.

The only food that doesn’t make us sick is fresh fruit. I think we will spend the rest of our lives ordering the best seasonal fruit money can buy.

Related: Ideal body weight pisses me off

We could have gone to a fancy restaurant to blow our budget

To spend even more money, we could have gone on date night to one of those ultra-fine dining restaurants with Michelin stars. But we don’t like to spend eat for two to three hours by ourselves, it regularly takes that long at these types of restaurants. Add to that the fact that we have two young children, and it felt too wasteful to spend so much time making dinner.

We also don’t like food so much that we are willing to spend more than €200 per person on this experiment. After all, I’m an In N’ Out burger type! A double-double for $6 is heaven on earth, especially after a good workout.

The entire meal below, consisting of four protein-style doubles, four single cheeseburgers, and a milkshake, cost just $42. It was enough to feed my entire family of four after taking my son swimming for 1.5 hours. Spending 10x more for just two people just feels stupid.

In and Out burger and spend more money on food.  It's so much cheaper and tastier to buy an In N' Out Burger than fine dining

Moderation is key

To detox from our binges, we didn’t order food for a week. Instead, we made salads, boiled fried eggs, and made instant yakisoba noodles. We essentially went from eating like kings and queens to eating like students again.

And you know what? Our taste buds recovered.

Eating an extensive meal once a week is nice, but not every day. Even if you have all the money in the world, you will get tired of eating the most expensive foods if you do it too often.

Eventually, you will also start to take the food you eat for granted. Instead of enjoying the $20 piece of miso-glazed black cod, you eat it in 20 seconds. Instead of saving the nice bottle of wine for a special occasion, maybe open one on a random Monday.

Just as vacations are more exciting after months, if not years, of hard work, fancy food tastes better after longer periods of normal food.

These days I order a dry-aged steak maybe once a quarter. When I do, I try to open a $40+ bottle of wine and slowly savor each bite. But knowing my eating habits, I’m sure I’ll be happy with a $15 bottle instead.

You need less money than you think to eat well

This experiment with food spending teaches me that we don’t need as much as we think to live a rich life. An occasional luxurious meal is sufficient feel rich. Because I guarantee you that the richest person in the world doesn’t eat caviar every day!

I always wondered who on earth spends $350+ on a regular season NBA game ticket. I love my Golden State Warriors and all, but come on. That’s a lot of money for 2.75 hours of entertainment per person!

Then I realized that most of these people don’t go to the game regularly. Instead, they could attend two games per season. With such a low frequency, a middle class household can afford such tickets. The rest of the games can easily be watched for free in the comfort of their own home.

Enjoy nicer things every now and then to avoid taking luxury for granted.

Decumulation error with food

Decreasing your wealth by spending more money on food is a great first step. However, I doubt this will move the needle as you won’t be able to maintain your high spending for long.

There’s only so much you can eat before you get full. And you can only keep food in the refrigerator for so long before it spoils. Freezing also tends to deteriorate the quality of the food over time.

A year after I joined my decumulation phase, I’m back to spending my regular amount on food for the family. My body cannot tolerate foods that are too rich on a regular basis. It’s as if I have a self-regulating mechanism that determines how much and what type of food I can eat.

So if you want to spend your wealth, spend more money on tastier food every now and then. Go to the top rated restaurants and drink the best drinks around. Eventually, your frequency of pleasure eating will decrease and you will crave quick and simple foods again.

Questions and suggestions from readers

Readers, have you ever had an experiment with food spending? If so, how did that go? What are some other baby-step ways to spend more money? How did you convince yourself to spend your wealth? At what age did you start decumulation mode?

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