restaurant dining

How I Almost Went to Jail for Eating Out

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How Eating Out Almost Put Me in Jail

Eating out has and will probably always be one of my weaknesses. There is something about eating out, where you’re being served a beautiful plate of food that you didn’t have to cook that makes the experience enjoyable. What a bonus that you don’t have to clean up afterward either.

Yup, eating out is something that I love to do, even now when I’m practicing frugality and building my wealth.

eating out

I’ll never forget the day when eating out almost resulted in me going to jail. No joke, this isn’t click bait, I promise.

I was 20 years old at the time and my cousin wanted to go out to eat. I only had about $15 to my name and I still decided it was a good idea to go. My mind was set. The only problem was that I needed at least another $5 to afford it.

At that time, you could buy something for a few dollars from the drugstore using a check and get cash back. So, I walked in to Sav-on (which is now CVS) and I bought a pack of tissue for $2 and wrote a check for $7 so I could get $5 back in cash.

Everything went as planned. I wrote the check, got the cash and tissue, and was on my way to meet my cousin. I was ready to eat.

eating out

We went to the restaurant and ate, and that hour and half was just like any other eating out experience.

I don’t even remember where we went or have any memory of what I ate. In other words, it wasn’t a memorable occasion by any means.

A few weeks later, I get a letter in the mail from the district attorney of the county I lived in saying that I would have a warrant out for my arrest.

Here’s the juice.

The check that I wrote to Sav-on for $7 bounced three times!!

I had no money in the bank (which I knew), but somehow I thought that the bank would just overdraw my account and then my paycheck would cover the overdraft and the fees in a couple of weeks.

I was wrong.

The bank didn’t cover the check and in fact returned it 3 times.

Now, most drugstores at the time were not that strict.

The reason I know this is because this wasn’t my first time doing this. It’s shameful how broke I was and how desperate I was to eat out like everyone else so I could feel normal.

But this drugstore was super strict. They went straight to the DA to claim their money. I later found out that they even file a report for $2 check!!

Needless to say that letter freaked me out and put me in a panic. Up until this point, I was an upstanding citizen. I fully struggled with money, but I was never a thief. I truly thought my bank would pay it and I thought of it as borrowing from my paycheck.

But now, I was considered a criminal.

Jailtime

Not only did the DA want me to pay back the check, but now I had to pay a fine of $150, plus go to a debt-management class for an additional $50. If I didn’t do all 3 of these things, I would have a warrant out for my arrest.

As a 20 year old new mama, I was terrified. I had been a straight A student, a hard worker, a kind person, and I just ran into money trouble that got me here.

I was not a criminal.

So, I used my paycheck to pay $207 and took the debt management class.

That class scared me straight.

There were people in their that were struggling more than I was. They were on welfare with more than 3 kids and no support from family at all.

There were ex-convicts and people who had no income.

Some were repeat offenders, stuck in this cycle and attended this class many times.

Here I am, in this class, completely thinking to myself that I didn’t belong there. I wasn’t like these people. I was a college student, I came from a good home, I was a teller at a bank, making $1500 a month. How in the world did I get myself here?

I realized I wasn’t here because I had money trouble, I was here because of MY choices.

I was here because I didn’t understand how to prioritize my wants vs. my needs.

Here I am, in an all-day class with a bunch of people who would probably never amount to much. It’s sad to say, but none of them cared that they were in the class and didn’t even take the matter seriously.  

But, me? I did not want to be there.

Right then, I knew I HAD to change. I wanted to have money and be able to enjoy life like the rest of the people I knew.

I needed to be financially stable.

To create a good life for myself and my baby daughter.

Going out to eat was not worth all of this.

I essentially paid $207 for that meal and spent 8 hours with people who scared me straight. None of that was worth the meal I ate.

This was the last time I wrote a check for anything without having money in the bank.

It was one of the most valuable lessons I learned early in life.

Even in my continued money struggles through my 20’s, I never made the mistake of choosing to risk my financial security to fulfill a want.

This lesson was a turning point to one important change. Learning that my wants are not more important than my needs.

At that point in my life, my need was to save money and focus on my goals of working hard in college and achieving my degree.

Anything that slowed down this focus should have been avoided.

Eating out, shopping, going to the movies, all of these things could have waited.

More often than not, we give too much importance to our wants, as if they have an expiration date.

I’m here to tell you that they don’t.

They’ll be there waiting for us when we are ready…financially ready.

You want to buy a new wardrobe? Cool! Save for it by putting away a small amount each month.

You want to eat out but know you can’t afford it (like I did)? Recreate that dish at home and invite friends over to share it with you. You’ll get so much more out of that meal and you won’t spend money you don’t have. Here’s a popular post recipe to try. 

You want to go on vacation with your friends? Don’t put it on a credit card where you’ll pay interest on it for years. Instead, save money each month or choose a local destination that you could go to for a fraction of the price. And make sure you can afford it before booking. Or even look into cruising!

If you have to say no to some of your wants temporarily, just remember it’s not going to be like this forever.

Bottom line is that there are alternatives to our wants that can still make us happy without risking our financial future.

As crazy as my story is, I wanted to share it with you, in hopes that you learn from my mistake.

We often think that something as small as $7 won’t do much to harm us, but you can see here that it almost cost me my reputation and integrity. Having a crime on my record of writing bad checks isn’t good for a Business major in college.

Everything we do, even if it’s small, can negatively or positively affect our financial future.

So, why not strive to take positive steps in the right direction and avoid impulsive choices that may derail our journey?

Impulsive spending will always keep you behind your goals. You can’t achieve financial independence if impulsive spending is part of your habits.

I’ve learned this the hard way.

I hope that this story inspires you to think of what steps you’re taking right now to improve your financial stability.

I’d love to hear from you, so make sure to comment with one step you’ve taken or plan to take to save more money this week.

Until next time my frugal friend,

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