BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

Advice for the Modern Man: The Value of a Home-Cooked Meal

Home-cooking

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Other than a turkey hangover, if any issues popped up over the holiday, from family tension to Black Friday frustrations, we’re here to help.

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(Questions have been modified for space and clarity.)

My wife and I live in a double-income household. When we get home from work, we’re exhausted and usually end up ordering take-out or going out to eat. We want to start a family soon and know we should eat at home more, especially if we want to set a good example for our kids. The deeper issue is that it’s straining our relationship — emotionally and financially. What’s the best way to address this problem?
–Joe Conture; Atlanta, GA

Why are home-cooked meals so difficult to commit to? You have a refrigerator and pantry dedicated solely to storing their ingredients. They’re cheaper and healthier, and you can prepare them and eat them without ever putting on pants. Yet for some reason, we still stop for E.coli-laced burritos from Chipotle.

While it’s obvious how this could apply a financial strain to your relationship (we’ll get to that in a bit), I’m curious as to how it’s straining you and your wife emotionally.

You didn’t mention anything about this in your question, but was there a change in your meal acquisition procedures? Did, say, one of you used to cook but has now stopped doing so? Is there a sense that one of you isn’t carrying his/her weight?

A balanced, agreed-upon allocation of responsibilities in a marriage is critical. Let it get out of whack, and there’s oxygen for resentment.

In my marriage, my wife and I each oversee our own jurisdictions, the list of chores and duties evenly split. That’s what works for us.

For instance, when it comes to meals, I do not cook. While I can generate something edible, and did so when I was single, my creations are nothing I’d force upon anyone else. The world is a better place when my George Foreman grill remains unplugged.

Mercifully, my wife loves to cook. And when she does, I do the cleaning. It’s what I learned to do from watching my father when I was a kid. My mom made dinner four nights a week (on Fridays, we ordered Domino’s, the perfect Sabbath meal), and when we finished, my dad stood at the sink until the kitchen was clear, the personification of teamwork.

If you and your wife had a similar arrangement (or some variation of it), and that arrangement has gone by the wayside, then this dining out/picking up phenomenon is a symptom of a deeper issue — that one of you believes the other isn’t doing his/her fair share.

That’s a whole other column in and of itself, but the first step to addressing this problem is to talk about it, and talk about it now. Don’t allow any bitterness to breed.

If that’s not the case, if you and your wife have simply fallen into a dinnertime rut, I’ll assume the emotional strain you’re experiencing is a byproduct of the financial burden of eating out so much.

Divorce-worthy offenses aside (abuse, infidelity), few things put more stress on a marriage than money. Money is an uncomfortable topic to begin with, laced with the volatility and (potential) vitriol associated with topics like politics and religion. Yet money is something husbands and wives have to discuss.

And when they do, it’s wise to adhere to the following three steps…

Make it clear

How you spend your money feels like the most personal of decisions. You work hard for it, and you want to decide what to do with it.

That autonomy is a given when you’re single. Beholden to nobody but your landlord and Visa, you can binge on Amazon or parlay the Dallas Cowboys and the “Over” with your bookie. It’s only up to you.

But when you get married and that “Me” turns upside down into “We,” your bank account shifts from being ruled by dictatorship to a democracy. Suddenly, there’s a second name on the top-left of your checks. (People still use checks, right?) What gets purchased, the priority of those purchases — it’s now a two-person decision-making operation.

This requires communication.

When it comes to what to do with your money, are you and your wife on the same page? You implied she’s aware that you should eat at home more, but does she fully understand your concerns? Does she share them to the same degree? And is she as motivated as you are to do something about it?

The only way you’re going to get past this problem is for the two of you to align. And as with any issue, the best way — the only way — to do that is to talk it out. Make it clear what you’re thinking, what worries you and what you want/need, and let her do the same.

Once you know where the other stands, you can pick the direction in which you need to head. Together.

Make a plan

My wife is a cover thief. Deep in her REM cycle, she unknowingly (so she claims) yanks the blankets toward her, burritoing herself in a tortilla of what should be my warmth.

She does feel bad about this (so she claims), so to combat it, we now start the night with our comforter pulled way over to my side of the bed. By accounting for her larceny in advance, I’m no longer exposed to the elements, no matter how greedy her subconscious gets.

If you’re living with someone, you’ve made plenty of arrangements like this. The morning shower schedule, the division of closet space, the seating chart while watching TV — these are all things you’ve had to decide in order to coexist.

Spending habits are no different. Lucky for you, you both want to save more money, and you both are in agreement as to how to do it — more cooking, less eating out. You’re ahead of the game.

Now all you have to do is run the numbers to figure out the specifics — how many meals per week/month/year do you need to eat at home to save the requisite amount of money?

Make the change

Breaking a pattern is difficult. And it’s especially difficult when you have to break it in the face of hunger and exhaustion, as would be the case for you and your wife.

That’s why you want to make this change incrementally. Even if you determine you need to eat at home three nights a week, maybe start with just one.

This is how you build a habit. It won’t be overwhelming, and in time, it’ll become part of your standard routine. At which point it’ll be easier to add another night. And then another, and so on.

Keep your focus on the long game. Quit eating out cold turkey, and it’s only a matter of time until you’re dialing the number on that Chinese menu that gets rubber-banded to your front door knob.

Besides, while cooking once a week doesn’t seem like it’ll make much difference, it will. Those savings add up, every bit of which will count when it comes time to feed your expanding family.

What do you think? What advice would you give this reader? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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