Dining Out: The Ongoing Quest for Good Food at Great Prices

After last week’s post on Six Ways to Buy Happiness, I started thinking more about my expenses. Are they really aligned with the six key areas that will increase happiness?

Well, I certainly know we spend a fair bit of our money on buying food experiences!.

Let’s take a second and think about what’s more valuable than money?

The real value of money begins when we look beyond it and see ourselves as better—as more valuable—than money is. True value is not about the accumulation of stuff, but rather it’s about the experiences we have. You know, like tasting the best darn food your taste buds have ever experienced.

My wife and I LOVE to eat.

Food makes us happy. It transports us to another culture, another country, it spikes our dopamine levels, it serves as a great social outing and it creates new exciting experiences… it’s simply the best!

Most personal finance best practices would pick our eating out habits and use them as an example of what not to do. However, we try as much as possible to be intentional and aware of our spending habits. We 100% know how much we are spending on eating out each month. We budget and modify other expenses to open the runway for our food expenses. And we LOVE it.

However, we quickly realized that if we wanted to dine out as often as we do, we needed a game plan. This is where the Happiness Per Unit Calculation comes in! This simple little calculation has helped sustain our love for dining out.

The calculation allows us to align our expenses and make sure the money we are spending is making us happy.  


Step #1:              Name your expense

Step #2:              How much does it cost?

Step #3:              Happiness score (out of 10)

Step #4:              How many hours of happiness?

= cost / hour of happiness

Let’s take a look at our dining out example:

Step #1:         Eating at our favourite Vietnamese restaurant (Pho Hoan Pasteur)

Step #2:              $25.75 + GST/TIP– includes free tea ($14.50 – 5 Color Vermicelli Bowl and a                                     small Beef Satay Soup)

Step #3:              7/10

Step #4:              2 (1.5 hours eating/talking and 30 minutes thinking about it)

= $12.88 / hour of happiness

$12.88 is not for an hour of happiness.

For us, we find the excitement lies in researching the BEST hidden gem restaurants that also have the BEST prices. We know that eating good quality food is important, but the time we spend researching, the time we spend eating together (with family/friends) and the time we spend traveling around the city is where the real magic comes from.

Last week’s post showed that one of the six ways to buy happiness was to portion your spending: spend small amounts of money on many small, temporary pleasures. (LINK)

Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE, and I mean LOVE a good quality meal at a restaurant that charges $35 plus for a meal. But for us, we consider those kinds of meals an occasional treat. And we have found by keeping them a treat – it makes it that much more enjoyable when we go.  

And when we calculate the Happiness Per Unit Calculation, it costs a lot more. This cost prevents us from eating out at find dining restaurants as often.

  • Step #1:              Eating at a fine dining restaurant
  • Step #2:              $150 + GST/TIP for two (1 appetizer, 2 drinks and 2 mains)
  • Step #3:              8/10
  • Step #4:              3 (2 hours eating/talking and 1 hour thinking about it)

= $50.00 / hour of happiness

There is no RIGHT way to eat out.

For us, dining at quality, but less expensive places that we meticulously researched is the winning combination. Then, the two or three times a year that we treat ourselves at a fine dining restaurant is amazing!

In an upcoming post, I will share the fruits of our labour and highlight a handful of Edmonton-based restaurants that we spent time researching, that we love, and that check the good food at good prices boxes! So, if you’re a foodie on a budget, stay tuned!

I would love to hear from you. What’s your go-to restaurant when you are looking for great food for a great price?

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  • Reply
    Mark Anielski
    June 5, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    Shaun, great analysis in determination of the optimum levels of happiness value per $ of eating out. You can do the same time/cost/happiness score on preparing wonderful home cooked meals; though when you consider the full costs of time you would put in to prepare the vermicelli bowls it might be more optimal to eat out. At least for certain meals! I’d love to see a $/unit of happiness rating system on Edmonton restaurants!

    • Reply
      June 6, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      Hey Mark, yes you are right! Also, cooking delicious home meals gives a nice sense of an accomplishment as well.

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