Introducing the Frugal Man: Why Are Hamburgers So Expensive?

    I took my wife out for dinner at a local burger joint last night and was a little annoyed on the drive home as I contemplated the bill: $10.81.

    I had Johnny’s Classic Burger. She had chicken wings. We split an order of curly fries.

    “I think they overcharged us,” I said as we pulled in the driveway.

    She rolled her eyes and responded: “Bring in the garbage can and recycle bins,” and then slammed the door for emphasis.

    In other words, “I’m not listening. You got off cheap – again – so let it go.”

    I do get off cheap. Always have. It comes as naturally as breathing. I get more out of less than anybody I know.

    I had 100 dates in college – if you count inviting girls to a party as a date – that didn’t cost me anything.

    I’ve had front-row seats at Super Bowls, NBA Finals, New Year’s Day bowl games, Final Fours – and all the parties that accompany those events – and never paid a dime for a ticket.

    I’ve done a week of skiing in Colorado – skis, clothing, lift tickets, food, room and airfare included – for less than $500. Three times.

    So, no, I don’t spend much on anything. I take it as a compliment whenever my family, friends or wife scream, “You are being so cheap!” I hear it often.

    Of course, now that I’m older (and clearly more refined), I prefer to be called frugal. I think my friends at dictionary.com had me in mind when they defined it as: “…prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful.”

    I definitely am sparing, so much so that people make jokes about it. That’s why they asked me to offer Debt.org readers some tips on how to be sparing in hopes you will laugh some and save some.

    I agreed, but these tips come with some disclaimers:

    • My financial background is purely amateur. I have no training or expertise that I can cite, just practical, every day experiences.
    • I don’t know the first thing about a budget. I hear that’s a popular word among financial planners and cheapskates alike, but I’ve never done one and don’t plan on it during this lifetime.
    • I do not work at being frugal. If it takes effort, I pass. I don’t clip coupons. I don’t read sales ads and I don’t do price comparisons, unless someone sticks them in my face.

    Instead, I happen upon good deals and figure out ways to take advantage.

    For example, if I see a roadside billboard that says 50 percent off all dinners on Tuesday, guess where I’m eating Tuesday night?

    Which brings me back to the $10.81 bill for dinner. The real total should have been $21.62, but last night was Tuesday, and the burger place indeed advertised that it would take half off all dinners.

    Mrs. Fay had spent the day moving all sorts of stuff into the kitchen and family room and pulling up carpet so she could finish putting down wood floors. Access to the refrigerator and stove was limited, at best. Seemed like a good time to spring for a night out for dinner.

    It went famously until the ride home. I couldn’t figure out how a burger, wings and fries came to $21.62. Granted, the meal was good and the restaurant picked up half the tab, but my half – the $10.81 – still seemed excessive.

    So when I got home, I looked closer at my receipt. And there it was: Pepper Jack Cheese at $1.50.

    How does a “Classic Burger” not come with cheese? Worse, how do you get off charging $1.50 for a slice of cheese?

    I was so mad I was going to go back to raise some hell, but it was raining.

    And I still had to bring in the garbage can and recycle bins.

    I’ll be back for half-off Tuesdays — but hold the cheese.

    Bill Fay is the Most Frugal Man in America

    Send thoughts, tips or actual experiences regarding frugal behavior to Bill Fay at bfay@debt.org.

    Author

    Bill Fay
    Staff Writer

    Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it seven years ago, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering college and professional sports, which are the fantasy worlds of finance. His work has been published by the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, among others. His interest in sports has waned some, but his interest in never reaching for his wallet is as passionate as ever. Bill can be reached at bfay@debt.org.

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