Recessionistas: Forgo the lobster for the $26 burger

I was reading a story about how to eat cheaply during the recession, one of those stories that says you can keep living your same lifestyle if you make a few simple adjustments and cut out a few luxuries. One of their suggestions was to order the hamburger at high-end restaurants instead of the daily special. Then they rated the hamburgers at eight posh restaurants. They thought the $26 hamburger was the best, but the $18 hamburger was a close second. They couldn’t choke down the $14 burger, which was apparently loathsome. So you can see how the savings would mount up. If you simply cut back to eating $26 hamburgers instead of what you regularly order, you can breeze through this economic downturn. The magazine was full of tips like that, not just about food.

“Clean the pool yourself” was a big one. Buy a brand-new diesel car for better mileage. Send Chip to Princeton instead of Yale. Rent out your third home. Host cocktail parties instead of dinners. Put the cheap vodka in the expensive bottle. Take vacations in poor, Third World countries like Iceland.

I know a lot of my friends have cut back on luxuries. My friend Marty has cut back on house payments, car payments, college-loan payments. Who needs them? And besides, not paying your bills is a good way to stretch a dollar.

“We’ve stopped going to the doctor,” he told me. “It’s just a waste of money, anyway. They can’t cure the common cold. Sure, they could have fixed Billy’s broken arm but I learned how to reset it myself on the Internet, so we’ve cut way back on the high cost of health care. Would you like to sign his cast? Better use this silver marker. It’s the only thing that shows up on black. I’m studying to give myself a colonoscopy next week if you’d like to come and observe. It’s something everyone over 50 should know how to do.

“And I save a lot of gas by not having to drive to the factory anymore. There’s a rumor that they may open it again. Congress has passed this Cash for Clunkers bill, and everybody’s pretty sure that the company may reopen to start making clunkers again!”

I wanted to know if Marty had given up fine dining and started eating $28 hamburgers.

“I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a $28 hamburger. Besides, we’ve kinda gone vegetarian,” he said. “Actually, we’re freegans.”

“What’s that? I’ve never heard of a freegan.”

“We don’t eat anything that costs money. You should try it. Those ugly pounds will just slip away.”

“I’ve already lost all the weight I plan to lose.”

“Yikes, you must have dropped the good-looking pounds. There’s nothing the recession can do about just plain ugly. Did they have any other suggestions on how to save money?”

“I’m trying to remember. I didn’t buy the thing, who can afford a magazine? I just looked at it on the magazine rack before they chased me out of the store. They said if I wasn’t going to buy anything I should leave. So I decided to take my business elsewhere.”

“That’s no way to run a business.”

“Well, I guess the Consolidated Charities Thrift Shop runs on different rules than everybody else. From now on, I’ll do my reading at the Salvation Army store.”

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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