I had an interesting discussion yesterday with some co-workers at lunchtime. One of my co-workers had gone to dinner to celebrate his girlfriend’s birthday. They went to a steakhouse and dropped over $100 on their meal. Read that again, $100 for two people for dinner. No big deal? Maybe it’s just me then.

I was raised in a house of seven kids. I was the eldest of the brood, six boys, and one girl. My mother was able to stay home and run the ship, while dad would head out to work each day to pay for supplies. For a time, we lived in Alaska (another story), where I attended and graduated high school. At the time, a gallon of milk was around $4 (the mid-1980s). Not a big deal until you consider that my brothers and I could destroy a gallon in one sitting.

I can recall coming home from school, opening the fridge, and to my amazement seeing several gallons of milk! As I would grab a gallon and reach for the cap, foregoing a cup (who needs to dirty a cup for a quick chug, and remember, BOY). I would twist the plastic jug in my hand to see the marker writing on the front. You see, my mom would buy milk and then take a marker and write which day of the week we were able to crack the seal on the jug. It was the only way to make sure that the milk lasted more than the day it was purchased.

Drinking milk and living in Alaska! Cold and expensive!

Inevitably the milk would not be for today, some kind of cruel joke, possibly to make sure that we appreciate the milk more with age. I would put that jug back in the fridge and begin a plastic-jug-spinning-exercise to see the days written on the jug. With shoulders drooping and a short exhale, I would turn the jugs so that the writing would face the back of the fridge; causing my brothers to suffer the same exercise and defeat.

Living in a large family had some concessions, food being one of them, resulting in some strange rituals in order to provide for your family (see milk paragraph above). An even better example was the yearly hamburger promotion at McDonald’s, again while living in Alaska.

Once a year, McDonald’s would have a sale on their basic hamburgers, 10 cents each. You read that right, 10 cents! The only caveat was that each person was limited to purchasing 10 hamburgers. No problem. Mom would drive us down, give each of us a dollar, and line us up. Six kids and one adult…70 hamburgers! Before you go crazy picturing us scarfing down 70 burgers in a delirium of hamburger goodness, picture my mom taking all of the burgers, except for the two apiece that she would give us to inhale on our way out the door and before climbing back into the van. When we got home, she would take the balance of the hamburgers and put them in the freezer to be heated up later in the 500-pound microwave (remember these?).

It was an act of parenting and fiscal genius! We dented McDonald’s for 70 burgers for $7. A lesson that carried forward into my own life…

Fast forward several years and I’m now living in Las Vegas, Nevada, with my wife and six kids (see a pattern here?). We head to the local grocery store with all the kids in tow, kind of like a field trip in a minivan.

At the store, the kids go down the single-aisle that has some cheap toys on it while the wife and I are taking note of an end-cap offer for macaroni and cheese. We then notice the sign declaring that these glorious boxes of cheesy goodness (did I mention I LOVE Mac-n-cheese?!?) are 10 cents each…10 cents each!!!

Parallel parking the cart next to the display, I begin swiping my arm across the shelves, causing an avalanche of boxes to land in the cart. I don’t recall, but I’m pretty sure that I was uncontrollably giggling at the sight of these boxes tumbling into the bottom of the mesh cart.

Heavenly goodness…on a budget!

In the middle of my delirium, I hear a voice calling out and then see a manager rushing toward us.

“What are you doing?” he shrieks with concern.

“Buying macaroni and cheese,” I triumphantly proclaim, hands on hips and tilting my head back a little.

“You can’t buy that many boxes,” he says, shaking his head and observing the damage to his now dis-shelved boxes.

“Where does it say that?” I ask, meticulously reading the poster that was advertising this astonishing offer.

Leaning down, he began to inspect the poster. I’m not sure if he was just putting on a show or was looking in vain for a disclaimer on the poster; someone may have later lost their job for this faux pax. Unable to find any quantity-binding documentation on the poster, he said, “You can’t take that many boxes.”

I asked, “Well, how many can we take?”

The manager surveyed my wife and me, and then looked at our youngest in the front of the cart. He then announced, “You can have 10 boxes per person.”

I repeated his decision, just to make sure that he was on board with his own decision. I’m sure he was calculating that a purchase of 30 boxes was a win for himself and the store.

“Yes, 10 boxes per person,” he proudly agreed.

With that, I took a couple steps around him and called down to my five sons, “Hey boys, come on, we’re ready to go!”

The look of defeat on the manager’s face was priceless. For the record, it wasn’t so much that I beat him at his own game (maybe a little), but it was the fact that I was spending $8 on 80 boxes of macaroni and cheese. To a father of six kids, this was a ginormous victory!

This story reminds me of the time I ended up buying 100 pounds (five-pound tubes) of hamburger from the same store at about 50 cents a pound. Will tell you about it another time.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Spending $100 on two people at dinner. Nah. Grind up that steak, add some cheese and awesome sauce, and you have a fantastic burger at In-N-Out Burger for $2/each. WIN!

Winning at Parenting on a Budget!

Originally published at Man Ramblings.

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