Expensive Meals, But at What Cost?

Ginia Bellafante’s most recent Big City column looks at young people/foodies who spend an extraordinary amount of money on food, including a 23-year-old MTV production assistant named Yaffa Fredrick who earns $30,000 a year after taxes and spends half of what she earns eating in restaurants:

Typically, she told me, she spends about $250 a week eating in good restaurants, which amounts to about $13,000 annually, and this does not include the additional $50 to $100 a week she spends on cooking classes, wine tastings and cheese pairings. Because about half of her salary is given over to food, she works an additional 10 to 15 hours a week tutoring and baby-sitting to supplement it.

Things I wished Bellafante addressed in her column that I believe would provide more insight into Fredrick’s spending: Does she have student loans or other debt? Does she save, or does she have plans to save? Are her dining out habits putting her in debt, or is she just dedicating what she’d spend on clothes/electronics/cable TV/vacations on food because she loves going to restaurants? Basically, I want to know whether or not the spending is irresponsible, or if she’s making tradeoffs. Because finding an additional 15 hours a week in side gigs to help pay for your dinners out doesn’t sound reckless to me, and we’d need a fuller financial picture before coming to any conclusions.

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23 Comments / Post A Comment

Megano! (#124)

Yeah I would like to know how shitty her apartment is. Something tells me that since she works at MTV, she’s not supplementing this by not buying clothes.

ArizonaTime (#2,694)

@Megano! My friends that work at MTV all dress like they shop at thrift stores. Which means they may actually be thrifty, or they’re spending a lot of money at Anthropologie to appear so.

Megano! (#124)

@ArizonaTime It might be a bit of both.

ArizonaTime (#2,694)

That’s the toss up – sounds like she’s turning her foodie nature into an entertainment outlet, which if she can afford it sounds great to me. But $250 a week? Yikes. I try to stay under $300 a MONTH. (Granted my success at this is varying…)

Megano! (#124)

@ArizonaTime Man, I WISH I could spend $300 a month at restaurants!

OhMarie (#299)

Eating out is my biggest unnecessary expense by a pretty wide margin, but this seems out of control.

Though if you are going to have a major unnecessary expense, getting supplementary income and using that seems like a pretty solid way of going about it, especially if you wouldn’t have the extra job(s) if you couldn’t think of it as “my extra income for restaurants.”

eagerber (#1,958)

The article says she already spends over half of her income on her rent (I’ll say $17,000, which would be about $1400 a month) and then the other half on food ($13,000).

So I guess the 10-15 hours tutoring/babysitting she does per week (let’s say she makes $15/hr) would earn her an additional $150-$225 per week, which she could put towards cooking classes/savings/utilities/clothes/loans, which doesn’t seem like much, but we don’t really know what her bills and other habits are like.

emmabee (#2,008)

@eagerber If she’s tutoring in NY, she’s probably making at least $20/hr and possibly much more. Assuming it’s under the table, that would be enough to offset the cost of the meals entirely.

eagerber (#1,958)

@emmabee I guess my point was that, according to the original article, she’s spending over half her income on rent, and the other half on food. So, $13k food, plus $17k rent totals her $30k annual income after taxes. That leaves $0 at the end of the month and my point was that she’s babysitting/tutoring/whatever 10-15 hrs/wk in order to spend another $50-100 on food oriented extracurriculars, and everything else it costs to be a young urbanite (clothes/metro/taxis/books/tickets/movies, etc). Whether it’s $15/hr or $20/hr, it sounds like she can’t have all that much leftover at the end of the month.

I feel like the real issue here is expensive habits, not just meals, and what that means for your financial future. I guess she’s moving in the right direction by taking cooking classes, so that one day she might learn to cook for herself? Who knows.

ellabella (#1,480)

It’s a bit misleading for the article to say this woman is spending half her income on food, when she’s actually making more like $45,000 a year ($30,000 post-tax dollars plus $20/hour*15 hours a week*52 weeks). That means $250 comes out to 29% of her income. If she’s paying another ~1/3 of her income (as is financially prudent and more prudent than what most New Yorkers actually spend), that’s another 15,000 a year (~$1250 a month, which sounds pretty standard for a nice place with a roommate in NYC). Then she has $15,000 for incidentals, any smallish student loans she may have, a gym membership for burning those calories, etc.

Comments on the NYTimes article suggest she should save for other things, but I would say, why, if she’s happy and not going into debt? i.e. She should save to travel–she’s already paying to live in NYC, why not experience the city in the ways she wants to? She could save for a down payment–ha! It may never be fiscally responsible for her to buy an apartment in NYC. She could put $500 into an S&P– At 23, having a job and avoiding debt while living in NYC would put her pretty high up the “fiscally responsible” ladder anyway.

Of course, all of these arguments mean zilch if this is supported by credit card debt and/or help from her parents.

@ellabella Exactly! Other people spend lots of money on electronics, clothes, fancy houses, whatever. Why not food?* It’s sustenance and entertainment, all in one. I mean, she could be spending that much on heroin…

*With the caveat that this isn’t financed by credit card or other debt.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@angry little raincloud Yeah, I kind of think that criticizing people for spending on a category that you don’t personally believe is worth spending on is a bit nasty. Obviously the subject of the article really enjoys food and eating out, and does not care about saving for an apartment. Just because the author finds owning an apartment to be way more important to her than food or eating out, why does this merit a tsk-ing NYT article? Everyone has one or two categories of thing that they prioritize over other categories. Some people don’t give a crap about travel; I love it. I don’t give a crap about sports; some people pay thousands of dollars for sports tickets and jerseys and whatnot. As long as you have the money, who cares what you choose to spend it on?

aetataureate (#1,310)

This highlights something I think of as the “shame test,” which is: If my parents/boss read this about me, would I be ashamed of myself? In this case yes. I think five-years-from-now me would also be ashamed of myself.

Markovaa (#1,509)

As someone who lives in NYC, I think its important to keep some emergency money at the back of a bank account. Moving in NYC is really expensive between broker fees, deposits, first/last months’ rent not to mention a moving truck/movers. And you never know when a building might change ownership or when you may need to break a lease.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Matt Levine@twitter Terrific!

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Matt Levine@twitter Thank you for this link! I have found my people!

OllyOlly (#669)

@Matt Levine@twitter Great counterpoint. Didn’t think I could be made to feel guilty about how much money I saved last year (also my year of being 23), but I totally have fallen into this personal finance pathos. Not that I would ever stop saving but I probably need to give my self more permission to enjoy things now as well as later.

kitten_witawip (#1,309)

@Matt Levine@twitter She is also probably doing a lot of networking with colleagues while dining out that Bellafante does not take into account.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@kitten_witawip Great point – is some of this put on an MTV expense account?

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Matt Levine@twitter Yeah, this jives with what almost every reasonable personal finance person says, which is like . . . If you want the damn latte every day, buy it. Be yourself and do what you want. People don’t cut expenses so they can put every one of those dollars into a 401(k) at age 23.

E$ (#1,636)

This is a great example of how personal finance is PERSONAL. That said, “Save everything because you’re already behind on life expenses” is not a very good way to sell 23-year-olds on fiscal responsibility.

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