Your comments on my last post led to enough thoughts for two follow-ups. This one here, about money, and one inspired by xykademiqz about midlife ennui that will have to wait a few days.
No, I do not think its wrong/bad to go out to eat or drink. In fact, I love it! Its one of my great joys in life to have an exotic, complicated or simply delicious meal someone prepared for me (and will clean up after me!) and to drink delicious boozy drinks in enormous fancy glasses that I get to pick out of a menu. But, like all luxuries, its way more luxurious when I don't do it very often.
The truth is, we've gone out to eat at least once a week since late May. My birthday, work travel, our anniversary, my sister visiting, my parents visiting, kids being gone, G's birthday, MIL visiting---there have been LOTS of special events that spurred us to leave the house and leave lots of our cash on the table. Celebrations, rare free baby-sitting, wanting to spend time with loved ones/friends---those are all valid reasons to go out to eat. But when enough 'valid reasons" come up, you have to eventually draw the line.
And, frankly, I don't think "boredom" or "stress" is a valid reason to go out to eat. Then I really am falling into the "roadblock opiate" trap. We used to schedule sitters for "date nights" that basically consisted of us stuffing ourselves with food/booze to numb ourselves and forget about the stress of work and kids and our relationship issues---it was not bringing us closer as a couple, or refreshing us to get back to life. We would go home and feel simultaneously overfull and completely empty and unsatisfied---mystified that "date nights" were not working as billed to strengthen our relationship. There were also times when I'd come home from work, and the thought of the usual dinner/bed/chores routine bummed me out so much, I'd beg to go out to a restaurant for a change of pace. Of course, 2 small, loud & active kids in a restaurant was not anyone's idea of fun, we would scarf down food while wrangling kids, and again, come home unsatisfied.
I've been working on changing my mindset from immediately landing on "lets go out" as a way to celebrate or make things special. Its laziness in thinking & being that make that the default answer. It takes creativity (and maybe a bit of work) to come up with other ways to make an evening special, whether as a couple or with the family.
Growing up, we NEVER went out to eat. Maybe once or twice a year when we were older, for birthdays (aside from fast food joints on long road trips, even then, my parents would eat the food they packed). But we had plenty of fun and special times as a family or with friends.
The "with friends" part is the key, I think. My parents always had a huge network of friends (many with kids that became my friends) that we got together with on the weekends. Almost every weekend we were at someone's house for dinner, often both Friday & Saturday night. Many summer Saturdays were spent at the lake with potluck parties with several families. What made the time special was spending it with fun people, maybe cooking different (unhealthier!) foods than our usual weekday fare. When I grew up, I went out a lot with my friends, but we also had potlucks, and grilled by the pool, or had each over to watch movies & have beer and popcorn. There were lots of frugal things we did, because we had to as students, but also because it was fun.
I wonder how much of our default "lets go out to eat" is a reaction to the fact that we don't have many friends to just "have over" on a weekend. Even planning way in advance, we end up seeing our (few) friends sometimes only a couple times a year. I would like to work on that, but I'm not sure how. And in the meanwhile, I'm wondering how to make it "special" with just us.
If I'm willing to put a little work into I'm sure we could figure it out. The key is novelty. Anything new would be exciting, fun and give us something to look forward to. We could cook fancy breakfasts at home. We haven't made waffles in YEARS and the boys are always asking for them. Pre-kids we loved making fancy brunches at home and having mimosas, but we haven't done it in years. G & I could do at-home date nights and take turns making fancy meals for each other (or cooking together)---we could have ingredients delivered by Instacart if we weren't prepared. I'm sure I'll have to go first on this, to convince him its worth the effort! Weeknight picnic dinners at the park---we used to do this---I'd grab some food from home and meet G & the boys on their way home---but it was stressful when the boys were little because they kept running away and bothering other people who were relaxing or canoodling on the grass. Maybe they've grown out of this? Have a drink upstairs on our deck---we haven't been out their all summer yet! Early dinner on weekends followed by a park trip---the kids rarely (if ever) get to leave the house post-dinner so this is extra-special.
We have a birthday party for L's friend and kindergarten play date for B tomorrow, and plans to have friends over for Sunday dinner, but I'm hoping we can work in one of the above options into the weekend. I'm ready to expand my idea of "fun". We'll go out to dinner another time.