I was sitting in a newly opened Italian restaurant earlier today with my friend Elizabeth when I saw something that really shocked me – I’m not referring to the prices, either. (I have gotten used to kosher restaurants costing a little more than non-kosher restaurants at this point in my life.)

What Recession?
A family was sitting happily together, enjoying their meal. I was eating some of the best macaroni and cheese I have ever had in my life, a statement that I had made to a friend of mine that was eating lunch with her mother and children that got her to say that her mother could surely make it better. I saw that as a win-win situation. The family had ordered an enormous amount of food – well more than they probably should have considering how few of them there were. When they had finished eating, there were nearly three whole slices of pizza and half of a container of macaroni and cheese. I quickly did the math and realized that they were about to leave behind over thirteen dollars of food. I was about to ask the waiter if I could take the leftovers with me but Elizabeth stopped me. There’s something about asking for somebody else’s leftovers in a restaurant that just has a cheap feeling to it.

I really wanted to protest but I saw that it was futile. The person that was cleaing the table took everything off and dumped it all directly into the garbage. It will undoubtedly sit in a landfill for at least a thousand years thanks to the beauty that we know as plastic and its amazing ability to prevent things from biodegrading that would normally become part of the soil within a matter of months. What’s a good plate with nothing on it has now become why leave a perfectly good plate with so much on it.

This got me really thinking about what we are doing wrong in this country and a few things that we can do to turn it around. It would mean a lot to me if even one person would consider taking one idea from this article and going with it.

Let’s start with the most immediately accessible idea, and that is to take away leftovers so that they don’t just sit in a garbage bag just long enough that people will be celebrating the twenty-third expansion to Walt Disney World before the remains of your grilled eggplant sees the light of day. When you do get the leftovers, insist that they be put in containers that can then be reused or recycled. Better yet, try to get your favorite restaurant of choice to use a newer style of packaging that can then be put into any compost pile or bin and be quickly reintegrated into our ecosystem without polluting it and eventually choking us.

I Read It In A Book
It’s really great to read a good book but if you are truly concerned about your budget, do the right thing and get your books used. Even better, go to the library and sign up for a membership. If you have ever looked in the inside of a lot of paperback books, it gives you a stern warning not to purchase the book if the cover is missing because that is an indicator that the book was reported as unsold. I remember as a child being given a book from a bookstore that they were just going to throw out in the trash because they were unable to sell it and so had reported it as being unsold. If that should tell you anything, it’s that far too many books are printed and that you can really get good deals on books if you know where to look.

Another way to enhance your reading experience is through web sites like BookCrossing. The concept of the site is that you give away your books in a manner that allows people to discover them, read them, and then to share them with other people. The site allows you to create unique identification marks for each book that then allow you to track it, much like a monetary bill on a certain money tracking site that seems to be heavily advertised on bills themselves. Where is George, indeed? I like the notion of sharing books with others and seeing what people like to read.

Being Musically Inclined
I was once quite guilty of this myself. I’m sure I have written in the past how I would purchase dozens of live Pearl Jam cds directly from them. I have at this point probably only a handful of them on my handy portable music device – the rest are sitting in my mother’s basement somewhere, comfortable in the temperature controlled environment. Did I really need to spend the money on them? Of course I didn’t. Did I love the feeling of buying them at the time? Of course I did.

Now I am a bit older than I was when I was buying the live cds (it was actually only a few months after I started writing for Go Inside magazine) and the music world has been revolutionized by online music stores that allow you to purchase pretty much any given song from any album that you like, without the need to purchase the entire album. My father used to tease us because we would buy an album and then only listen to the two or three tracks that we actually liked. I copied Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” onto a tape over and over again because that was the only song I liked to hear. I had a friend of mine copy “Imagine” onto a tape because that was the only song on the album I liked to hear. (Now I like nothing more than hitting the “shuffle” mode and listening to whatever is selected for me!)

You don’t need to have a big budget to have a good time. In fact, there are a lot of ways that trimming the budget may make you have a much better time in the long run – I know there’s nothing fun about looking at a tremendous credit card bill.