Once I hit 45 in mid-2022, I decided to enter a decumulation phase. Instead of continuing to save and invest aggressively, I decided to spend more aggressively. One way to decumulate is to spend more money on food.
Dying with an excess of money is suboptimal. If we do, it will have meant that we wasted time and energy trying to make money in our younger days. It would have been more optimal if we had worked less and enjoyed life more instead.
The problem with entering the decumulation phase is that old habits are hard to break. Even after I semi-retired in 2012, I couldn't stop saving a portion of my passive and active income streams. To not save felt foreign so I continued my frugal habits.
Therefore, like with any new financial endeavor, I decided to start small and work my way up. My main problem was figuring out what to spend more money on.
Given I love food and have three other loved ones to feed, I decided to spend a lot more money on food for three months.
Decumulation Experiment: Eating Anything I Want
Like most people, I love to eat! But I'm afraid to eat too much because I don't want to gain too much weight. Extra weight will slow me down on the tennis and pickleball courts. Eating too much may also increase my risk of heart disease.
However, I need to spend more money somehow to initiate my decumulation journey. Food is the ideal decumulation expense since it is recurring, necessary, and enjoyable.
Thankfully we live in San Francisco, perennially one of the top three culinary capitals of America. Further, practically all the food delivery apps were invented here.
For a family of four, we spend between $2,000 – $2,500 a month on food. We figure eating healthier foods leads to healthier lives. We will happily pay up for fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. Finally, to save time, we regularly order food delivery.
Although we spend comfortably on food, I still have had to throttle what I want to buy at times. But for this three-month experimentation, I decided to lift the cap to try and spend $1,000 more on food for two months and an unlimited amount during the third month.
The Initial Joy Of Eating Anything
During the first week of ordering more than normal, it was hard to spend more money. It felt wasteful and gluttonous.
Within three weeks, however, it was easier to increase my spending by $33 a day without feeling guilty. For example, instead of ordering my kids McDonald's cheeseburgers for 99 cents, I'd order them each a Filet-O-Fish for $4.99. Instead of ordering hamachi nigiri sushi for $7, I'd order toro nigiri sushi for $16, and so forth.
To help boost food spending, I also ordered a lot of freshly squeezed juices. I particularly like carrot-apple juice. Each cup costs about $12 after tax and tip. I would never pay so much for juice in the past, but I thought I might as well during this food spending experiment.
I also began ordering a lot more bubble tea for $7-9 a cup. However, I was reminded each drink contains between 800 – 1,200 calories, so I stopped ordering so much after the first month.
Below is a sample menu from a restaurant called Cultivar on Uber Eats. The final price is about 20% more due to taxes, delivery fees, and delivery tip. Food delivery apps make it easier to spend more money, so watch out!
Easier To Spend More Money On Food Than I Thought
The food spending creep was relatively easy due to the substitution of higher-quality food. If the extra spending was mostly about eating a larger quantity of food, it would have been much harder to spend more.
Now I clearly understand why fine dining restaurants offer such small portions. There's only so much we can eat!
Also, I didn't gain weight during the experiment, which I feared was the biggest downside to spending more on food. I practiced hara hachi bu, which is a Japanese saying to eat until 80% full. To prevent overheating, practice mindfulness about the suffering of others who do not have enough to eat.
Below is a picture of chirashi toro, a Japanese dish I began eating once a week. In the past, I'd order normal chirashi maybe once a month for $29-32. Toro, however, is a more expensive cut of fish, which increased the dish's price to $40.
Ordered Speciality Foods
In addition to ordering all sorts of yummy food from the food delivery apps, I also ordered specialty foods online. The items were delivered in about a week.
The first item was jamon iberico, the best cured ham you can eat from Spain. I had my first taste of jamon iberico when I vacationed in Mallorca back in 2015. Each package costs about $80 from Iberico Club, an online store that specializes in this type of meat.
I could probably eat four packs of jamon iberico a month. However, there's research that says eating cured meats may be carcinogenic. Hence, I decided to eat only one pack a month.
The second item I ordered was a box of deluxe cookies from Last Crumb in Los Angeles. My buddy gave me an individually wrapped banana chocolate cookie on the tennis court one day and I was sold. Each box comes with 12 cookies and costs about $160 after tax and shipping!
Each cookie is individually wrapped so they can last for several weeks. The cookies are so rich that it took my wife and me a month to eat all 12 cookies. In total, we ordered three boxes over three months.
We aren't big wine drinkers by any means. We might drink a bottle of wine once a quarter between the two of us. Usually, we'll just buy Two Buck Chucks and use them for making bolognese sauce and then drink the rest with our meal.
However, with this increased food spending experiment, we decided to try out some $50 – $80 bottles of wine from Mantazas Creek and Benzinger since we drove up to Sonoma County for vacation. Sonoma is beautiful and only about 1.15 hours drive away from San Francisco.
We enjoyed various cabernets with our jamon ibericos and steaks. But there wasn't really a specific bottle of wine that blew us out of the water. A red blend from Ménage à Trois for $15 tastes just as wonderful.
For my 46th birthday, one of my good friends gave me a bottle of wine. It was a surprise gift during our tennis hit. He told me it was a nice bottle of wine so I should store it in a cool place.
Not knowing my wine, I looked up Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2006 when I got home and the cheapest price I found was $800! Now I don't know if I should ever open it. It feels like the wine's value has crossed into the collector's territory.
My Favorite Fruits
There is one area of spending more on food that I really appreciate, and that's buying my favorite fruits. Because my parents have mango trees at their home in Hawaii, I'd always pick mangoes straight from the trees for free.
In the past, every time I'd go to the farmer's market or supermarket to buy mangoes, I'd balk at the price. $3-7 for one? Forget about it! I'll just go use my mango picker at home!
With my food spending experiment, we regularly order boxes of Keitt and Esquire mangoes from Good Eggs and all sorts of yummy melons. Eating just fruits for breakfast is my favorite meal.
The Beginning Of The End Of Food
At the end of the third month, something interesting happened. My taste buds started getting numb. I remember sitting down with my wife to ask what we should order for dinner one night.
We listed all types of cuisine: Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Italian, Ethiopian, Vegetarian, Korean, Mexican, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, BBQ, burgers, steaks, oysters, lobster, crab, and decided WE WERE SICK OF EVERYTHING!
After only three months of gluttony, we no longer had a craving for any type of food. We had eaten one too many pieces of toro, one too many lobster tails dipped in melted butter, and one too many slabs of dry-aged rib-eye with scalloped potatoes.
The only type of food we are not sick of is fresh fruits. I think we'll continue to order the best seasonal fruit money can buy for the rest of our lives.
Related: The Ideal Body Weight Pisses Me Off
Could Have Gone To A Fancy Restaurant To Blow Our Budget
To spend even more money, we could have gone on a date night to one of those ultra-fine dining Michelin-star restaurants. But we don't like spending two-to-three hours eating by ourselves, which is how long it regularly takes at these type of restaurants. Add on the fact that we have two young kids, and spending so much time on dinner felt too wasteful.
We also don't enjoy food so much that we are willing to spend $200+/person on this experiment. After all, I'm an In N' Out burger type of guy! A double-double for $6 is heaven on earth, especially after a good workout.
The entire meal below consisting of four protein-style double-doubles, four single cheeseburgers, and a milkshake only cost $42. It was enough to feed my entire family of four after taking my son swimming for 1.5 hours. Spending 10X more for only two people just feels stupid.
Moderation Is The Key
To detox from our food binging, we took a break from ordering any food for a week. Instead, we made salads, cooked fried eggs, and made instant yakisoba noodles. We essentially went from eating like Kings and Queens to eating like college students again.
And you know what? Our taste buds recovered.
Having a fancy meal once a week is nice, but not every day. Even if you have all the money in the world, you will get sick of eating the most expensive food if you do so too often.
Eventually, you'll start taking the food you eat for granted as well. Instead of savoring the $20 piece of miso-glazed black cod, you'll wolf it down in 20 seconds. Instead of saving the fancy bottle of wine for a special occasion, you might just pop one open on a random Monday.
Just like how vacations are more exciting after months, if not years, of hard work, fancy foods taste better after prolonged periods of eating normal foods.
Today, I might order a dry-aged steak once a quarter. When I do, I'll try to open up a $40+ bottle of wine and slowly enjoy every morsel. But knowing my eating habits, I'm sure I'll be happy with a $15 bottle instead.
Need Less Money Than You Think To Eat Well
This food spending experiment teaches me we don't need as much as we think to live a rich life. A fancy meal every so often is enough to feel rich. Because I guarantee you the richest person in the world isn't eating caviar every day!
I used to wonder who the heck spends $350+ for a regular-season NBA game ticket. I love my Golden State Warriors and all, but come on. That's a lot of money for 2.75 hours of entertainment per person!
Then I realized most of these folks aren't going to the game regularly. Instead, they might be attending two games a season. With such a low frequency, a middle-class income household can afford such tickets. The rest of the games can be easily watched for free in the comfort of their own homes.
Enjoy nicer things on occasion to prevent taking luxuries for granted.
Decumulation Failure With Food
Decumulating your wealth by spending more money on food is a nice first step. However, I doubt it will move the needle because you will not be able to keep up your elevated spending for very long.
There's only so much you can eat before you get full. And there's only so long you can keep food in the refrigerator before it goes bad. Freezing tends to degrade the quality of food after a while too.
A year after entering my decumulation phase, I'm back to spending my steady state amount on food for the family. My body can't regularly take food that is too rich. It's as if I have a self-regulating mechanism on how much and what types of food I can eat.
Hence, if you're looking to spend down your wealth, by all means, spend more money on nicer foods on occasion. Go out to the highest-rated restaurants and drink the finest beverages available. Eventually, your frequency for fine dining will decline and you'll long for quick and simple foods again.
Reader Questions And Suggestions
Readers, have you ever had a food spending experiment? If so, how did that go? What are some other baby-step ways to begin spending more money? How have you been able to convince yourself to spend down your wealth? At what age did you start decumulation mode?
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