The Role of “Free Luxury”

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SustainableHappiness
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The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by SustainableHappiness » Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:48 pm

If you are in a situation where you are given free rein to spend on living expenses like food, shelter, etc. where do you draw the line on what you spend? With a work expense account this situation comes up and I have the decision on whether or not to get Subway or to get the more expensive option of Sushi as an example.

I guess my curiosity is aroused by whether or not you would (or should) stick to voluntary simplicity or frugality when the bill is not your own, or you would/should use it as an opportunity to indulge in consumerism within the constraints of what the company will tolerate.

My current take on it is that every time I am in this situation I treat it as a luxury and try to be grateful for the fact I get to eat food made by somebody else and try something I wouldn’t (or can’t) cook in my own kitchen. Any other opinions or thoughts?

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Dragline
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by Dragline » Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:24 pm

Eat healthy. The biggest danger here is over-eating or eating poorly. After that, get what you want or are allowed to have. Consider the perk as part of your compensation -- which it is.

George the original one
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by George the original one » Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:27 pm

+1 to Riggerjack. Basically, given free rein with living expenses, keep healthy living as a priority because money (for the most part) can't replace good health.

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BRUTE
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by BRUTE » Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:34 pm

steak

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Ego
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by Ego » Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:37 pm

+1 to 7Wannabe5, because wine!? Seriously though, it is possible to become accustomed to things you would rather not.

SustainableHappiness
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by SustainableHappiness » Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:43 pm

I can't see a post from either Riggerjack or 7Wannabe5. Am I broken or inept?

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Ego
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by Ego » Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:48 pm

Just me making fun of Friday night George the original one.

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Fish
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by Fish » Fri Apr 14, 2017 10:14 pm

I don't see a reason to reject the generosity of your environment. It's not free. You do pay for it with your labor. ;)

But, if you expect the environment to be less generous in the future, it is prudent to not become dependent on the elements that are not sustainable. This is basically what Jacob has advocated with ERE.

If you have roommates or live in a van, it doesn't mean you're not allowed to enjoy a hotel room to yourself on business travel. Appreciate the "free" luxuries and be prepared for a future where you no longer have them.

I wouldn't be as concerned about hedonic adaptation to fancy restaurant food. The big one is employer-subsidized health insurance! Take care of yourself and don't let your health stand between you and FIRE. Though, my favorite perk of white-collar STEM work is collaborating with highly intelligent and educated peers who otherwise may not associate with you, or devote energy to collaborative technical pursuits, outside of the four walls of the office.

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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by scriptbunny » Sat Apr 15, 2017 8:49 am

Does your company not have suggested spending caps for these sorts of situations? Otherwise I would just whatever felt right in the moment, both in terms of health and general taste. I wouldn't worry about hedonic adaptation. After being given free reign for a while on a corporate CC, even sushi gets old. I actually found abundant access to all types of foods made me more attune to what I actually wanted vs. what seemed like it would be a special treat. I remember going on multi-week work trips, starting off with daily eggs benedict and nightly steak. By the end I craved vegetables so badly I was literally walking to the grocery store buying $2 bags of lettuce and greens for dinner.

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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by thrifty++ » Sat Apr 15, 2017 2:49 pm

I periodically am away for work. During such times I have a credit card. Since I dont have a sufficient kitchen in the hotels I stay at I need to eat at restaurants. I eat at expensive ones as that ensures I can get a healthy meal. I have to say that what I notice is I really dont care about eating at fancy restaurants. I derive no added value from them. So it reminds me not to waste my own money. Would rather cook my own food at home if I am on my own which is always guaranteed to be a little bit more healthy.

When going to satellte ofices in the same city I have the option of taking a taxi or pool car but I often take public transit because I loathe traffic and because I want to get that little bit of exercise which comes in with using public transit.

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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sat Apr 15, 2017 3:41 pm

If your travel doesn't involve any troublesome border crossings or need for extremely light luggage, you could just do something like go to an upscale market with prepared food buffet for all of your meals, and fill half of your to-go meal containers with whatever is expensive/nutritious and also likely to keep well at room temperature. Cheese comes to mind. Then you can eat it as part of other meals when you get back home.

This is actually a very real problem for me with dating. I have probably put on 10 lbs in the last year or two due to being fed for "free" at restaurants too much. Even if I share an entree and just order an additional soup or salad for myself, it ends up being too much of something or another for proper nutrition. I am weak, weak, weak when it comes to somebody texting me "Pick you up at 5. Thai or Italian?"

George the original one
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by George the original one » Sat Apr 15, 2017 7:51 pm

Ego wrote:
Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:48 pm
Just me making fun of Friday night George the original one.
Great, I shouldn't have had that wine...

Scott 2
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by Scott 2 » Sat Apr 15, 2017 11:51 pm

I spend according to my values, regardless of who is paying. The company I work for is privately owned, so pushing the expense limits is literally taking money from the pockets of the owners, who have already been quite generous to me.

I did learn not to pick up food at a grocery store to avoid expensing meals. Turns out that gets rejected when expensed, at least at my company.

I've found that luxury events tend to conflict with my values and make me quite uncomfortable as a result. I typically opt out now - sports games, dinners, parties, travel, etc.

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C40
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by C40 » Sun Apr 16, 2017 12:06 am

When I was traveling for work, I would buy and eat food that was as healthy as what I would've been eating at home, and that had my desired macro-nutrient content. That is also basically what the company's travel guidelines said to do. They also said to aim to spend less than a certain amount per day (maybe $35, but there didn't seem to be any consequence for regularly spending more. Over the hundreds of expense reports I made, no one ever asked me to spend less).

Anyways, The health and macronutrient thing is reasonable, and an employer should not expect or ask you to make any sacrifices in this area. At home I was eating food from my garden and food that was pretty cheap from a grocery store. To replicate that while traveling was way more expensive that what I was spending at home. In some ways, it was basically impossible to eat as healthy. For example, the vast majority of restaurants put things in food that I don't want to eat. Shitty oils. Tons of shitty butter. Tons of salt. MSG. etc. Restaurants that don't do that are often expensive. To some degree, I would make up for eating some of that shit sometimes by eating better than at home in some ways (generally either food that tastes better (= expensive), or by juggling around macronutrient content (eating more protein on all the weekdays I was traveling, and then sometimes laying off on it and eating less when I was at home)

Anyways, I generally think you should have no qualms at all about eating at least as well as you do at home - in whatever ways are important to you. If you're just being a dick and eating sushi all the time just because you can, well, you probably shouldn't do that. (Unless you do also eat like that normally at home)


Also - usually an expense account exists in a situation where the employee is doing something inconvenient. In my case, that was traveling, and therefore not being at home about 15 days per month. That's a pretty big inconvenience. In some cases, expense accounts are one way for an employer to pay for the employee to be willing to take that inconvenience.

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C40
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by C40 » Sun Apr 16, 2017 12:18 am

To add, in your example about whether to eat Subway (or sushi):

when I was working and traveling, I usually would not eat at a place like Subway. For a number of different reasons:
1 - Mainly that I don't like the meat they serve. At home, I eat real meat. Chickens that I bought whole and roasted. Not deli meat that actually has a bunch of fillers (often cornstarch) and salt added.
2 - I don't like the macronutrient content (partly due to #1, and otherwise because it's just a ton of bread)

So, I'd go to a greek restaurant instead where I can get a big salad that has real chicken. The food and tip might cost three times what a meal from Subway would've. But that's what it costs to eat reasonably at restaurants.

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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by jacob » Sun Apr 16, 2017 10:15 am

Back in the days ...

We were usually paid per diem in which case I would eat the minimal possible since we could pocket the rest. I would even occasionally bring tupperware boxes of oatmeal and just eat that. Per diem is a substantial fraction of a grad student's salary (like a 50% raise for the travel days). It's even a nice bonus for a postdoc.

Otherwise, I would use those travel opportunities to pig out on fastfood which is otherwise not an everyday thing, so there was my chance. Go in and order 5 big macs. No problem. They have electrolytes. In many cases, because the travel was conference related, we'd go as a group taking away the optionality. Then it would be standard consumer grade (and I'd be crying inside for spending almost two weeks of homemade food money on a single meal that I liked less than what I could make myself for $2).

I don't get any value-add out of restaurants. I've been dragged along to a few fancy ones, especially in finance. The most expensive meals I've ever eaten would as far as I know have cost $150-200 per head. Big plates with a little decorated sauce and 2 cubic inches of perfectly cooked something or another. Then repeat that 4-8 times with different things. Some get really really into that and become foodies. I suspect it's one of those things where you get about as much out of it as you put in. Even a bumpkin like me can taste the correlation with price when comparing $-steak with $$$$$-steak, but it's not a difference I care about and I'd rather eat something else anyway.

PS: In Snowball (Buffett's biography) there are some amusing stories about him being wined and dined with fancy food (so not cherry coke and Wendy's burgers) and pretending to eat while not eating anything at all.

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BRUTE
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by BRUTE » Sun Apr 16, 2017 10:18 am

Scott 2 wrote:
Sat Apr 15, 2017 11:51 pm
pushing the expense limits is literally taking money from the pockets of the owners
Scott 2 wrote:
Sat Apr 15, 2017 11:51 pm
I did learn not to pick up food at a grocery store to avoid expensing meals. Turns out that gets rejected when expensed, at least at my company.
sounds like the owners of the company don't want Scott 2 to save money on food.

luxury doesn't have to be $100 a meal with red wine or whatever. for brute, eating steak is not a luxury, it's the default. the company contract does not mention depriving brute from his usual cuisine, therefore brute keeps it up. now when cooking for himself, a nice steak costs $15. to replicate the same at a restaurant, it is $50+. if the company won't allow expensing groceries, restaurant it is.

edit: maybe Scott 2 could talk to whoever makes expense decisions and convince them that he'd rather buy groceries and cook for himself, rather than go to restaurants? sounds like a win-win, doesn't it? company saves money, Scott 2 gets to eat what he wants.

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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by Scott 2 » Sun Apr 16, 2017 3:15 pm

I'm sure I could ask the owner to have accounting make an exception for me. But when I'm going to rock the boat, I save it for something good, like declining a travel event entirely. One of my values is being easy to manage. I try to avoid complaining over small problems.

I do think for the company, it can make sense to indulge employees who enjoy the fancy stuff. It can be very effective team building, cutting through weeks of relationship development in an evening. That benefit will get me to the three hour dinners a couple times a year.

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BRUTE
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by BRUTE » Sun Apr 16, 2017 4:20 pm

saving the company money isn't exactly a favor they're giving Scott 2 - it's the other way around. this is not a complaint, it's saving the company money!

Jean
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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by Jean » Sun Apr 16, 2017 4:38 pm

I had some pleasure to report 10.- a day expenses in Ghana, making the professor who claimed 120.- a day staying at the same place look like a thief.

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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by Did » Mon Apr 17, 2017 1:47 am

I quit my legal job (the first time) at 28. 10k in debt.

I guess sometimes you can behave as though you have fuck you money, and get the benefits, even when you don't, as they offered me a 3 day a week gig even though I was returning home to Brisbane - 1000k away. Then they started flying me down for those 3 days, and putting me up in a $600 per night place - and this was 15 years ago. Every bloody week. Even then, pre-ERE or related reading, I knew the luxury of that place, and the sheer wastage of staying there, and ordering expensive food on top of it, was not the direction I wanted to go in. So, much to the surprise of the admin chick, I asked that I be downgraded to a serviced apartment where I could cook my own meals. And I did.

Too much luxury can be sickening.

When I challenged one of the partners about the cost of it (we were also friends) he said relax, it's standard business accommodation. And frankly, the cost isn't even a rounding error.

Funny post ERE, with much more experience, nobody is lining up to fly me anywhere or even pay a wage for my time remotely. If you are in the bubble and playing by their rules you can grab the cash, but do something too different and you fall off the radar altogether.

But then that was the plan.

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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by bryan » Mon Apr 17, 2017 12:32 pm

If I ran a large business I would let every employee have a company credit card and to use that for all business expenses. The employee would be in charge of all bookings/reservations, unless it is a group at which point the most senior person (or someone he chooses) would do that stuff. Then again maybe I would just give out per diems, or a personal annual bonus tied to being frugal w/ expenses? Maybe have a second business credit card meant only for sales interactions. Overall I would want company culture to shape such spending.

If I am a lowly employee.. I would do as jacob did if offered per diems, else I would treat the expenses as if they were perks and I would choose a step up in luxury (I mean a step up from the average person in my situation, less the ERE). For example, ordering from a menu without looking at prices, getting an extra course or two, getting the beer/wine/whiskey you've never had before or is a favourite, having coffee or before/after dinner drinks somewhere, etc.

It's annoying when my more senior co-workers would waste money by picking a shitty but still expensive restaurant.. then again I love it when they take charge at bigger functions I wasn't expecting to be expensed (tab's open! switching from PBR to St. Bernardus and cigars). It's annoying if travel or accommodations are over-priced.

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Re: The Role of “Free Luxury”

Post by SustainableHappiness » Wed Apr 19, 2017 3:06 pm

Thanks for all the insight/opinions. I think I may just order steak 3-4 times a day as per Brute's suggestion.
Did wrote:
Mon Apr 17, 2017 1:47 am
Too much luxury can be sickening.
But seriously, this rings true.

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