How to Turn Failure Into Success

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from the kid movie Meet the Robinsons: “From failure, you learn. From success, not so much.” Never mind the fact that I should have learned enough by now to be a genius - that goes without saying if you’ve read here before. The point is, if you get things right the first time around, there is no incentive to find ways to do it better. But if, like me, you tend to require several practice runs to accomplish things, you’re more likely to come across something that truly works for you.

My Problem

When I posted my July spending roundup I noticed that, once again, I spent way too much on eating out. This has been an ongoing problem ever since I got my first job - I’m tired at the end of the day, I pretty much suck at cooking, and I hate cleaning up afterward. Plus my son only eats about 10 things and I get kind of tired of spaghetti and tacos. It’s so much easier to go through a drive-thru and grab something!

There are several problems with this. First, it’s expensive. My financial situation is okay right now, but I could do a lot more if I wasn’t swiping my debit card at a restaurant several times each week. Second, I’m gaining weight and my clothes don’t fit. It makes much more sense to change my eating habits than buy new clothes all the time (am I the only one who has seriously looked at maternity jeans because I can’t find regular ones that button?). Finally, eating out all the time just makes me feel like crap. Both physically and because of the guilt. It needs to stop.

I’ve tried a couple of ways to spend less on restaurants. First, I set a budget of $150 a month. Wow, you’re probably thinking. That’s a lot of money! It is, but it’s nothing compared to what I used to spend. I know myself well enough to know that I’ll never quit eating out cold turkey, so I thought I would set limits and gradually decrease them. Except I go over my limit each month. The next plan was taking my lunch to work one day a week, then two days, etc. I did that and did pretty well, eventually only eating out on Fridays as a reward. Except for the days when I didn’t love what I took to work and everyone was going out somewhere. And the fact that I usually ended up going out for dinner instead because I was “so well behaved” at lunch. So yeah, my previous attempts have totally failed.

A Possible Solution

Over the weekend I was inspired - I started thinking about my (similar) failed attempts to lose weight. The one thing that worked for me was the Weight Watchers point system. I had to stop because I was a little TOO obsessed with the points - I was supposed to get 20 per day, and after awhile I thought, “Gee, I bet I could do 19 tomorrow!” And then I thought, “I can do 19, so I’m going to try 18!” Essentially, I was starving myself, which made me gain more weight. Not cool. A doctor friend told me I am forbidden to use any kind of weight loss system that involves numbers, so I continue to expand in ways I don’t like to talk about.

Here’s my idea - I will assign a point value to different types of restaurants (cheap fast like Taco Bell = 3 points, expensive fast like Panera = 5 points, and decent like Outback = 7 points) and limit myself to 50 points per month. I won’t worry about the money necessarily, because that hasn’t been working. I’ll just keep up with my points, possibly in my sidebar, and see where I’m at after the first month to decide whether it’s helping.

Obviously if I eat at cheaper restaurants, I can eat out more - that’s what was so great about Weight Watchers. I could eat more stuff if I chose items with lower point values, even though I was actually consuming fewer calories. It’s totally a mental thing. I may think I’m cheating the system by eating at Taco Bell ten times, but I’m actually spending far less on those meals, thus staying under $150 a month without realizing it.

Is this really that different from forcing myself to stay under budget? No. But if something doesn’t work, you have to either give up or find a way to MAKE it work. For me, arbitrary points are more motivating than dollar amounts. And part of succeeding at anything to do with money is knowing what makes you tick. I can’t swear that this will work any better than anything else I’ve tried, but I think it’s worth a trial run.

But What About Me?

What does this have to do with you? Maybe nothing, but possibly a lot. Do you have a recurrent financial problem that you just can’t seem to solve? What have you tried? What has worked in a similar situation before? Asking yourself questions like these can help you come up with a new idea to combat the issue you’re facing.

If something doesn’t work, it’s pointless to keep doing it. Even if you think it should work. I should be able to control myself better and stop spending so much money on restaurants, yet I haven’t been able to do it. So do I keep beating myself up about it, or do I look for a new way to do things?

If you try something new and it doesn’t work either, what have you gained? More knowledge about what you DON’T want to do in the future. More room to think about it and try yet another idea. When you finally hit the jackpot with a solution that fits your needs and lifestyle, you’ll realize just how smart you’ve become. :)

What do you think about my point system for restaurant spending? Have you ever tried something similar to decrease spending in a certain area? Am I a total idiot for thinking this will work? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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  • Dee

    Wow, that’s such a good idea! Eating out is my problem area for the same reasons (tired, don’t want to clean up).

    I like how you don’t get hung up on where you “should” be but instead focus on what you can do to get a bit closer to where you want to be.

  • Daisy

    That’s a really great idea!

    I never thought I’d do good with weight watchers. I know what is high calorie and what is not - my mom was a fitness and nutrition consultant for part of my young life. SO I know that there a lot of points in Starbucks frapps and I’m okay to just get a tea, but it’s hard to make that good choice for me.

    ANyway, I think that your idea is great! I love eating out, mainly because I hate to cook :)

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I learned a long time ago that if I think about where I should be, I’ll realize how far away from that I am and get upset. Not that I don’t still do it occasionally, but I try not to. It’s much easier to do things gradually than all at once.

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I know what’s high calorie, but my problem is that ALL the things I like to eat are high calorie. :) I’m not good at self-regulating because I heart food so very much.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates to cook! I have cooked from scratch a few times and the food was actually good, but it’s just not worth the effort to me. I like it much better when someone else does the cooking!

  • sAm

    I like the plan, but have a concern…
    You mentioned two goals - 1) not spending as much 2) not gaining weight. I know there are “good” choices at all restaurants, but don’t you think it’s more difficult to find/actually purchase the good choices from cheaper restaurants? Taco Bell as an example - they have their “drive through diet” meal choices, but for the SAME amount of money (and the same number of points, for you) I can get a Chalupa. With sour cream. And cinnamon sticks on the side. Compare that with Panera where I can get a tasty soup lower in calories (of course, with the delicious bread I can’t seem to give up!).
    Just my gut reaction to your plan.

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    Good point! I do want to lose weight, but right now I’m worried more about the money I’m spending on food. I’m hoping that weight loss will come with eating more meals from home - when I eat at home, I tend to eat simple things like a bowl of soup or a sandwich.

  • Anonymous

    It may work for some people! We like inexpensive good restaurants. It is a rare occasion that we spend more than $20-25 for a meal and in most cases less. Often, I use discount coupons, or the restaurant belongs to a loyalty program.

  • Jackie

    I’d have trouble remembering a point system if it were me, but I see the appeal in eating out more often for less money, and it sounds like it could definitely work for you! (And if it’s any consolation, I saw your $150 number and thought, oh, that’s reasonable! Mine is uh, usually much higher. Just for me alone. But I did MUCH better last month!

  • Twenty-Two Months

    This is SUCH a good idea!! Might I recommend the Fresco Menu at Taco Bell? I love the Fresco Chicken Soft Tacos!

    The thing we were having the most trouble with was staying under $100 per week on groceries. What would happen is we’d make a grocery list, but I’d try to guess what everything cost and when we got to the Supermarket, we’d always think of other things we “needed” and thought we could afford, because we didn’t really know how much everything cost. It was frustrating and we kept trying different techniques until I finally got geeky and made a spreadsheet with formulas. I swear, it was like magic. It totally clicked and I know EXACTLY how much we’re going to spend before we go to the supermarket, so if it isn’t on the list, we either take something else off or don’t get it - all in the name of staying under $100.
    We’ve gotten so good at it that we want to try to lower it down to $75 per week and save another $100 per month! :)

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    Ooh, I love those too! Unfortunately Taco Bell won’t be as available now that I’ve switched jobs. But that’s a good thing - less selection means less temptation. All the restaurants in my area suck.
    I need to do something about groceries too, but I want to tackle one issue at a time. My grocery spending isn’t horrible for 2 people but not great either. I spend WAY too much on pre made junk.

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    PS You’ve inspired me. I have to get groceries tomorrow and I’m making a list right now. I very rarely (gasp!) shop from a list.

  • Anonymous

    I like your points idea - very creative! Make sure you do an status update post in the near future. I wonder what else this points idea can be applied to……shopping, travel expenses….the possibilities are endless! Good luck!

  • Miss T

    Very cool idea. I think I am going to use this for our recreation and entertainment budget. It has been a little over lately. So have our groceries. Thanks for such a neat idea.

  • Miss T

    Very cool idea. I think I am going to use this for our recreation and entertainment budget. It has been a little over lately. So have our groceries. Thanks for such a neat idea.

  • Crystal @ Frugal Living

    Wow, this could be me. No diet plan worked until Weight Watchers and we still spend too much eating out. I will have to try this next month!

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I’ll let you know if it works! So far so good - I’m terrified to go to a restaurant because I might lose points!

  • Money Beagle

    It sounds kind of complicated so I wonder if it will last in the long term.

    Have you tried planning your meals in advance so that you know what you’re having each night?

  • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    No, that’s something I always say I’m going to do, but it doesn’t happen. Historically, my work hours have been too unpredictable to allow for any kind of planning - many nights I didn’t get home until 9 PM. That should change with the new job (hopefully).
    It’s really not complicated in the sense that it’s just like Weight Watchers. When I eat a meal, I record the points. When I’m out of points for the month, I don’t eat at restaurants for the rest of the month. Just like keeping track of dollar amounts, except I’m switching to points because that works better for me.

  • Jenn @ Paying Myself

    Your restaurant points system sounds like a great idea!

  • Jeena Cho

    Eating out is always the budget breaker for us. We’ve tried various methods - both you’ve mentioned. We also tried withdrawing the “dining out” money in cash so we are not tempted to go over. One thing that’s helped for us to plan out our meals on Sunday because we’ll often eat out simply because we are hungry and want to fix it NOW. I also make chili, pot roast and other meals that freezes well so there is always a go-to meal ready. It’s not a 100% fix but it’s working so far.

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