My Love Affair With Fast Food

In one of my first posts, I talked about the value of time vs. money. If you read that post, you can probably tell how much more I value the former over the latter.

Sometimes this prioritization hurts my finances.

For instance, once I started tracking all my expenses in Mint, I was disturbed by how much money I was spending on fast food on a regular basis. Spending 4 figures in drive thru lanes over the course of a year is a little disgusting to think about.

But when I really look back at my days and weeks, I remember how much time these fast food indulgences saved me.

Until this fall, I spent the last 2 years in an MBA program for working professionals. I went to class 2 nights most weeks (though sometimes 3 or 4), for 3.5 hours each session. That was an extra 7 hours per week, plus time spent outside of class on homework and studying, on top of my full-time job. With a wife and baby at home.

Frankly, I wasn’t disciplined enough to plan my meals, much less prepare them in advance. These days, I’ll pack a lunch most mornings before leaving for work, but back then it was the furthest thing from my mind.

I would come home from class those nights to find a dark and silent house, since my wife and son would already be asleep. If I wasn’t studying, my weekends were spent decompressing by catching up with friends, shows or other hobbies.

I would eat lunch in the food court near my work, which (thank goodness) incentivized healthy eating by making the more nutritious meals half-price for employees like me. A win-win in my book.

After work, grabbing a quick bite somewhere in the half before class didn’t seem like a big deal. In fact, as weird as it sounds, it was an amazing mental break. For maybe the only time that day, I was fully in control of where I went and what I did, if only for 30 minutes.

More importantly, I saved myself tons of stress and mental energy with these choices. When I was finally home, or it was finally the weekend, I got to actually be home. No fuss with a grocery list or hassle with meal prep. Just catching up on lost time with the people and things most important to me.

Now that I’m past the hellish days of the night classes, I have the energy and desire to refocus my priorities and cut back on the (now) unnecessary expenses in my life. I no longer spend so much money on fast food cravings, and my expense reports look much better for it.

Looking back, while prioritizing my time over my finances (and health?) has looked like a bad idea at times, the trade-off was almost always worth it. I hope to never lose sight of the dynamic between time and money, because squandering one is so much worse than the other.

What do you think? Do you have guilty pleasures that might not be so guilt-worthy?