Young Broke People – A Fundamental Difference in Thought


Over the weekend my wife and I went to eat at one of those hibachi style restaurants, you know the ones where the chef does a little song and dance while cooking in front of you. Luckily I was able to escape with both of my eyebrows and a full stomach but it was an interesting meal all the same. When you eat at one of these style restaurants you only get sat when they have enough people for a full table. Typically this means you are going to end up sharing your table with a bunch of people you don’t know.  At our table we had me, my wife, my son, and three couples of what “appeared” to be varying stages of relationships.

To me there was nothing out of the ordinary about this meal, my wife and I both ordered and shared with our three year old son. The “Young” dating couple ordered 1 meal and split it for a $6.00 fee. The “Older” couple to our right both ordered separate meals. The “middle” couple at the end of the table ordered a single meal split, again with the $6.00 fee. Keep in mind a meal for one at this restaurant costs you no less than $16.00 without tip, drink, or tax.

We ate our meal, everyone paid, and we all went our separate ways. On the way home however my wife made a comment about how she could tell how the young couple was broke. My response was how could you tell they were broke? I find it hard to believe that in the short amount of time we were able to observe these people that we could make a determination on their financial status. I have written in the past about how knowing someone’s financial situation affects how we think about them, but here is a case of allowing simple choices at a meal to fashion an unjustified image of a person’s status.

Frugal Fundamentals

This is where we diverged in our thought processes. You see to me frugality is not indicative of a person who has no money. I find, more often than not, that frugal people have enough money and prefer to hang on to it longer than non frugal people. Anyone who has ever been to a hibachi style restaurant knows the amount of food your served is severely disproportionate to the amount of food you need. To me this is a great opportunity for people to lower their costs for eating out by sharing a meal. To my wife, at least in this instance, she “assumed” the couples splitting their meals were doing so out of necessity, not a genuine desire to just not spend more than they need to.

I am frugal by nature, I just do not see the reason in paying more for something than I really need to. This goes for just about everything I do financially. I will pay more for quality when it is needed but there is just a lot of places where it doesn’t matter. I don’t care that I still wear t-shirts and shorts from 5 years ago. It isn’t that I can’t buy new shorts and shirts, I just don’t see why I need to do it. It seems to me that in the case of diners splitting meals and drinking water they have made the decision that they just don’t need to spend the extra money when a single meal will be more than sufficient (they even had a togo box when they were done.) 

While I don’t think anyone is a bad person for making such assumptions, it always amazes me how frugality is looked at as something reserved for the poor and destitute. I have read The Millionaire Next Door , I get it that people who really get ahead financially are people who don’t spend ostentatiously. Keep in mind the next time you are out and about, that person haggling over the price of a 2 dollar hot dog could be worth 20 million, or they could be worth $20, but you can’t tell just by looking at them.

Photo: (purpleslog)


1 a.b. @ Modern Tightwad July 28, 2009 at 10:14 am

I completely agree. My family was extremely wealthy, but always split meals, used coupons, etc. I think some families have maintained their depression-era mentalities, and even managed to pass it down (which in my opinion is one of the best inheritances I ever received).

2 Kyle July 28, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Coming from a frugal family really influenced how I perceive spending. My wife comes from the opposite so we see things differently. Not to say that she is thinking anything bad about people spending less, just that she assumes they have to where I assume they want to.

3 Jason R Fisher July 28, 2009 at 10:26 am

My wife and I almost never order separately. We share a meal and our daughters share one as well (I am sure our servers hate us) We only eat at places we have coupons for too so we look like cheap people but we just paid off the last of our non-mortgage debt so I don’t care. 🙂

4 Kyle July 28, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Good for you, we are down to just my student loan, it is at a sub 2% interest rate though so we are holding off on kicking it to the curb until things settle down with the new baby. Hard to believe I only have four weeks left.

5 Jason @ Redeeming Riches July 28, 2009 at 3:11 pm

This post made me laugh because my wife is a very frugal person and always wants to split meals. The problem is she’s a plain eater so unless I want grilled chicken almost every time (which I dont) I usually need to order something else! =)

6 Jace July 28, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Sometimes it’s not about money at all. America needs to go on a diet in general. My girlfriend and I usually split meals just because the portion sizes are so large. We commonly order a sandwich that comes with a pasta salad and eat half of each and we’re satisfied. Granted, we have our moments when we gorge ourselves but our decision to split our meal has nothing to do with money. I am very happy that our lunch only cost $12 for two people but I love food and am just as happy at spending $25/ea for a nice meal (food is my weakness). If someone were to think we’re poor for splitting our meal, they would be completely wrong, especially if they’re only considering financial reasons.

Besides, we don’t really eat leftovers so a doggie bag is just wasted money and food abuse 😛 (there’s my frugality).

7 Donnie July 28, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Paying an extra $6 for what is essentially the same amount of food seems like a bad financial decision, no matter how much money you have.

8 Jace July 29, 2009 at 11:23 am

@Donnie, at my local hibachi place, if you want the Filet Mignon and Chicken, it’s $25/ea without drinks – so an extra $6 for a larger portion is a better deal than another $25.. perhaps not for the $15 or $16 plate but definitely for the $25 one.

9 Michael R August 7, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Whenever my wife sees someone who is very frugal she exclaims “That’s how the rich stay rich!” I’ve come to agree with her.

10 MoneyMateKate August 11, 2009 at 8:51 pm

My father acted like he was to the manor born, but never “made good”. We were very, very broke. But he liked to order big when we went out to dinner (this would be when credit cards were being dished out to everyone and their dog, literally) – always the most expensive thing on the menu, always an after-dinner drink, that sort of thing. Even at a young age, I thought it was ostentatious. And if you dared suggest that he hold back a bit, he’d add a bottle of wine and a dram of single malt to the order. So my parents rarely went out – just as well really.

My mom loves going out to eat with me – we don’t order alcohol, I’m usually up on any available “buy one entree get one free” deals, and so the bill is never painful.

11 Revanche August 13, 2009 at 4:19 pm

The only problem with splitting meals is that I usually can’t decide between 2-3 dishes, and SO knows that he invariably likes whatever I like, so we end up ordering two entrees and sharing both. Greedy!! 😛

We don’t eat out much so that’s sort of par for the course, but we do split meals in restaurants where we know that the entree is too large to handle. I prefer to do the latter, I feel less guilty about spending money eating out when we make frugal choices.

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