When My Boyfriend Stole My Lunch, and How My Frugality Has Limits

My frugality is a really important part of my identity at this point in my life. I’ve embraced a somewhat extreme downsizing on spending in my life, compared to most 20 somethings.

It’s a pretty even split between wanting to live a simple, renewable life and saving money. I want to have as small an impact on the world as possible in terms of my consumption. Buying used clothes, walking instead of driving, and eating catering leftovers is a partly an effort to that end. Those things also help boost my savings rate, which is dope.




Last week I ran into a situation that confronted my frugality in a mildly uncomfortable way, and I realized that it has some limits.

When my boyfriend accidentally took my leftovers for lunch instead of his recently, he texted me in a panic. He had all sorts of solutions: he’d meet me halfway between our jobs to bring me them. He’d pay me back if I bought lunch out. He felt terrible at the thought that my frugality was negatively affected by his mistake.

This panic (he literally texted me “shit shit shit’), made me in turn feel terrible! I don’t want my frugality to put myself, or my boyfriend in a box. I don’t want him stressing out at the thought that I might have to spend $7 for some tacos because he grabbed the wrong box.

I’ve talked a lot this year about how I’m searching for more balance in my life. I want to work less, but this encounter made me realize that I may need to re-evaluate what effect frugality has on my life.

My boyfriend is 100% on track with my frugal life choices. He supports me in wanting to live my life this way- but it’s not how he always wants to live his life.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. He shops at Goodwill, he doesn’t pay for entertainment, and he’s super happy to cook most meals at home. Just like me! We’re in sync for the most part.

But. (There’s always a but, isn’t there?)

He also enjoys buying a lunch out now and then. He pays for a monthly guitar pedal club at a local guitar store. He randomly purchases a few used books a year. It’s not crazy consumption, but it’s a bit out of step with my frugal autopilot mindset of ‘eliminate all unnecessary spending.’

My frugality is mine. It’s not his. For the most part, this works beautifully in our relationship. Again, we’re not that far apart on the spectrum here. But the absolute fear that rose in him when he realized I might have to spend money due to his mistake was a huge red flag for me.

Maybe my frugality needs a limit. I don’t want to save money at the expense of my relationship, or my boyfriend’s comfort level around me. Nor do I want to go buck wild on spending to make my boyfriend feel better. I mean, I love him, but come on. Let’s be reasonable!

So what’s a girl to do? The answer, my friends, is the answer to most things in a relationship. Communicate.

I brought this up with the boo. I told him that my frugality should not make him feel that he needs to be the one to spring for things like date nights out, and it also shouldn’t make him feel that he needs to mimic me. He’s in charge of his money. I’m in charge of mine. Mistakes sometimes happen, and in the grand scheme of things, if I have to spend money on something like this, it’s not a crisis. He shouldn’t feel bad about it.

This conversation was pretty timely, as we’re moving in together in nine days. (Ps- AH! Moving in together!) We’ve talked before about how we’re going to handle finances together, but this was a different take on that conversation.

It was a good topic to cover, I think. We have a pretty amazing relationship, and it means the world to me. I want to empower and uplift my partner, not confine him in a frugal box that doesn’t exactly fit him. This lunch mishap made me realize that my frugality needs to be a fluid thing for me. I can’t be rigid in my habits, because life happens, man!

Back to the lunch. There I was, stick without a lunch, and in pretty desperate need of food. I was facing a bit of a frugal dilemma. Did I buy lunch out? Did I drive 12 minutes to meet my boo, grab my leftovers and then drive back to work? What was the best frugal option!?

Luckily, I had a protein bar (hint: get them at costco or buy them bulk online), and nut filled trail mix to sustain me. I fed myself and managed to not spend any money. Hooray for office snacks!

I also enjoyed those wayward leftovers for an early dinner with my boyfriend. All was well, and all was delicious.

For more on being frugal in relationships and how to make frugality a habit check out these articles.

Being Frugal While in a Relationship
Frugal Autopilot: Maintenance of a Frugal Lifev
Staying Frugal When You Celebrate

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27 Replies to “When My Boyfriend Stole My Lunch, and How My Frugality Has Limits”

  1. OH MAN have I ever had this conversation in a different context!

    I’m the one who buys all of the food for my boyfriend and I, and we split the cost at the end of the month each month. Recently, he wanted to add something to our food budget that he specifically really likes and was SO sheepish bringing it up, based on how it would impact our budget.

    I felt terrible that he was so worried about eating the food he likes just based on concerns about our budget! He even offered to pay for it himself and not split it, which is bonkers because the whole system is predicated on us splitting all the food costs, haha. I made sure to clarify that I care more about his happiness and nutrition than sticking to our food budget down to the penny, haha (I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love our food budget.) But so much yes to communication being important in these situations!

    Also PS. YAY to moving in together, that is so exciting!!

    1. Exactly! My budget is important to me, but not as important as my partner feeling heard! I’m not some frugal dictator, hahaha. I think sometimes my excitement and passion for frugal living is confused with a ‘no exceptions, ever!’ and that’s not a healthy place to be. And yes, I’m so excited to move in, but it also feels so surreal!

    2. Same!! My guy wanted to buy natural peanut butter, but I wanted to buy regular because it was less than half the price. I realized in that moment that I can’t be selfish about every purchasing decision, because sometimes I buy food that isn’t always cost-effective too.

      #PersonalFinanceLearningCurves

      1. #relationshipcurves! My boyfriend is so flexible on everything and has no problem letting me take the lead 99% of the time. But then I dont want to ignore his interests and desires! So whether it’s peanut butter or something bigger, I am constantly trying to find balance in out relationship, financial or otherwise

  2. This is a really healthy way of looking at your frugality. I struggle to do the same– it seems like you’re a lot better at it than I am! My fiancée and I have the same shared long term goals, but are at different places in terms of our habits, so I know that I can overdo it when I push her to be more frugal on certain things. Next time, I’m going to try to think of your example. 🙂

    1. I am definitely the bigger personality in the relationship, so I have to watch that I don’t just steamroll him on things. Even though we are both laid back and casual people, I’m much more goal oriented than he is. So I’ll throw myself after a goal like FIRE, and he’s just chilling, taking the cheap, but scenic route. Communication about it all is the only way I’ve found to temper myself, and give him the space to be him!

  3. It sounds like you have a really good relationship with your boyfriend, built on mutual respect of each other’s priorities and ideals. Communication is key to sustaining your relationship.

    Also, snacks in my desk can be a lifesaver, and coffee. I have good coffee at work that can keep me going for a while without food.

    1. Yes, coffee is such an appetite suppressor! I have to have snacks, even if I have my regular lunch! Thanks for the kind words on my relationship. I think we have a really special bond, and I work really hard on it to stay that way!

  4. Man, this was a big sort of sticking point when Mrs. SSC and I first got married. I viewed her as this “money czar” because she was so much more reserved in spending. It took a while before we communicated well enough that I felt comfortable bringing up things that only affected me, or make suggestions to stuff on the grocery list. Seriously, it was a steep learning curve, but we communicated and worked through it, and it was way more on me by making her into something she wasn’t, rather than her actually being this tightwad money controlling person.
    When bringing two people together with different money perspectives, it can turn into a hot button issue pretty quickly. It’s good you guys are communicative about it and can work through it early on.

    1. I love me some communication. It is a hard thing to try and mesh with another person, but all part of adulting I suppose. I love hearing from couple who have been together for a long time, because we’ve only been together two years. It’s nice to hear how other people have dealt with similar issues!

  5. Ha ha I did have a chuckle as this is the kind of thing I say to myself when I leave my lunch at home!
    Yes you do have to know your limits with frugality especially around those you love.
    Great that you and your boyfriend have communicated before moving in. It’s a fun milestone but does require some compromises along the way. Enjoy!

    1. Thanks! It’s exciting and scary all at once. I know there’ll be some growing pains, but hopefully we’ll find a groove quickly for our finances and our new life together!

  6. In the scheme of things, it sure seems like you and your BF are pretty darn close together in terms of frugality. The stuff you say he spends on is not the stuff that red flags are made of. I bet over time, you guys will have way fewer arguments than most couples do about spending, which is awesome. But I think it’s good this happened, since it forced you to think about your limits, as you said, and consciously decide that some things are not worth freaking out over. Life will always happen, things will go the opposite of what you’ve planned, and being able to roll with that is priceless. It sounds like you handled it all just great. 🙂 Good luck with the move, and congrats on shacking up!

    1. We’re definitely not apples and oranges. More like apples and a different flavor of apples. It’s awesome, and im really grateful for it. I also want to protect it- yes, even from myself! I think frugal autopilot is a great thing, but frugal mindlessness is not. Frugality shouldn’t ever be detracting from my life or relationship

  7. HAHAHAHAHA – I’m sorry, I know this is a super heartfelt post but that sh!t was funny!! I love that your boyfriend freaked out about taking your lunch. I’m a little bit more loosey-goosey on the frugality end (if I have to buy a lunch, I am buying that damn lunch and no one is stopping me) so I admire your ability to stay disciplined but agree – it’s never a crisis.

    Congrats on moving in together!
    Matt and I officially moved in together last July, and it’s been so much fun 🙂

    1. I’m glad you laughed, I did at first too! It was after some reflecting that I thought this might be a bigger issue. But come on, getting a s.o.s text over lunch is hilarious!

  8. Oh my, I can totally relate to this.
    Although at first I handled it totally differently than you did :/
    I usually get the coffee beans on VitaCost online, where the kind we use costs $8.99. Well, T. (husband) instead of letting me buy it and wait for it, just went for it and got it at a local overpriced store for $13.99. Let me just say that I totally over-reacted. I regretted it later and felt a bit crazy. The $5 definitely was not worth it. He is very frugal most of the time, just did not want to wait (since I get 2 day shipping). It probably would have cost much more as he would have gone to a coffee shop to buy a couple of cups.
    In moments like this, I am trying to remember that it is me who is more penny pinching than he is and sometime I need to just ‘let go’ and appreciate that in the big picture he is frugal in the areas that I really want him to be.

    1. I agree. In large part, my partner is on the same page as me. In small ways we differ. Sometimes it’s me who needs the reality check! That’s why we gave partners who aren’t mirror images of ourselves.

  9. It really sounds like you two have an amazing relationship, what a great chat to have. And yay for keeping snacks on hand in case of an emergency. I do exactly the same. I’ve worked at my current job for almost two years and have forgotten my lunch once. I had some peanut butter which I keep in my drawer.

    1. Wow, just once is very impressive. Hunger can get so real! I live for snacks. I keep some in my car too, just in case!

  10. I keep so many stacks at my job, because I hate being hungry.

    It is great that he is on board with your frugality, and also great that you realized that his reaction meant that a conversation was necessary. These things evolve. Balance is important to find.

    Congrats on moving in!

    1. Thank you! It’s been good so far. You’re right that balance is important. And hard sometimes! I think we’re more on the same page financially now.

  11. I love your writing style, Kara – totally engaging! (I love snacks too…)
    Anyway, I feel i must add a perspective from someone who is older (am I allowed to be visiting your site, BTW? – LOL).
    Your situation is a small representation of what is to come in your lives together. Don’t even get me started on what happens if/when you have kids…

    Now, I, like you, would like to have everything a certain way as a general rule, frugality being no exception, but as you pointed out, life gets in the way. To discuss more ‘recent history’, I made a goal to pay off our mortgage and car loans “just in case” my workload was cut back drastically (which incidentally happened one week before the last debt payment) and my husband was fully on board. This took about three years of hardcore economizing but we did it.

    That experience really kicked the ol’ frugality engine into overdrive. I have had in mind to continue this way, watching every penny in and out, and every purchase, one in and one out, except that I have one huge weakness, my hubby. From your story, your boyfriend reminds me of him in many ways.

    My hubby is such a sweety. He grew up in a poor immigrant family; he never had anything but the clothes he wore, essentially. He is just happy to be alive and, through sheer determination, educated himself and found a great career that he loves, as an educator. He has integrity, is honest, kind, and always unselfish. He never asks for anything at all – like you described your boyfriend, wouldn’t dream of upsetting any plans that are afoot by buying something he might like or need.

    So, what else can I do, but see to it that he is taken care of? Well, it goes without saying that I’ve been doing that for over 30 years now, but things have been brought home to me that our time is running out. He has had some serious health issues, the latest being a heart attack. So, knowing that what he truly loves to do is to work with his tools, I freed up money that was earmarked elsewhere so that he could build himself a workshop. Before that, it was a lawn tractor, utility trailers, a hobby sailboat, tools and equipment of all kinds, and a powerful laptop equipped with animation software, so that he could have fun and continue to learn about things. The money gets juggled and everything is paid for upfront.

    These major purchases are the opposite of frugality, and the simple/minimalist lifestyle that I embrace for myself. I am happy with just my laptop. But he’s a hands-on person at heart, and that requires ‘things’ to work with… and he would never dream of asking, so I observe him closely and listen to what he’s not telling me.

    You are one smart cookie. You realize that, the way your boyfriend feels and how you feel about him, is really what it’s all about. As your lives together grow and become more complex, please continue to consider that frugality is a way of life but it is also a tool to have the life you want, for yourself and for those you love. Your frugality is yours, but sometimes you have to let it go (just a bit?) when you let others into you life, so that you can be part of their happiness.

    I am bookmarking your page.

    1. Wow, what an amazing comment. I’m so glad you found your way to my blog! You’re exactly right- my frugality is important, but it’s a tool to make the rest of my life better. My boyfriend is a big part of my life and I want to cherish him and our relationship. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s inspirational!

  12. […] When My Boyfriend Stole My Lunch — From Frugal to Free […]

  13. Nice post! When frugality becomes second nature – that is the sweet spot!

    1. Thank you! Yes, living on frugal autopilot is pretty awesome!

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