The Millionaire Next Door

In Texas, Do as Texans Do

In a recent article from Vanguard reviewing my latest book, Stop Acting Rich, the author referred to the story about “a restaurant with bugzappers.”  This topic generated a lot of comments. Here are the details from the book.

After I interviewed an entrepreneur from Texas with a net worth in the mid eight figures, he told me that he was pleased that his profile would be included in my forthcoming book. I then insisted that I treat him to dinner; he countered with an offer that I could not refuse. But first, he asked what type of food I liked. “Ah, Mexican,” I said. Al and his wife then offered to take me to their very “favorite dinner spot,” a Mexican place often frequented by “Texas born and bred millionaires.”

A few hours after interviewing Al, he and his wife picked me up at my hotel in Al’s well worn ten year old Lincoln. After a short drive, we pulled into a parking lot adjacent to the restaurant. It looked more like a small single story factory than a restaurant. This place had no greeter, no palm trees, no maitre d’, no morning suits, and no wine consultants. It did have a sign that read “seat yourself.” The tables and seats, aka benches, all painted bright yellow were of the picnic bench variety often seen in public parks. Also, several electric bug zappers (designed for outdoor use) were strategically hanging from the beams inside the restaurant.

Al noticed that I was a bit surprised by the décor, and said, “Don’t let the looks of this place fool you. It is the best Mexican restaurant in Texas.”

I had confidence in Al, although it did waver a bit after looking over the menu. The most expensive item was priced at $9.95! Plus, I did not need a wine guide to help me select the ideal vintage. Just two types of wine were listed: red and white. In contrast, the variety of brands of beer offered was substantial.

Shortly after our waitress served us a large basket of tortilla chips and salsa, Al stood up and reached inside his jacket pocket  He proceeded to remove from his jacket a quarter pound bar of “real” butter brought from home and placed it in the center of the picnic table. With that he said something I will never forget:
“I hate the synthetic stuff (margarine). That’s the only problem with this place, no butter. Please help yourself.”

You may wonder why a deca millionaire would carry his own spread to a restaurant. Why would a multimillionaire couple even consider dining at a restaurant filled with picnic tables and “synthetic stuff” that required patrons to byob (bring your own butter)? Why would the financially secure Al and his wife dine at a place where the most expensive item was $9.95? The answer to all of these questions is quite simple but something that many people do not understand. There is not a perfect correlation between how satisfying customers find the food offered and the price a restaurant charges for it. Al and his wife apparently were well aware of this fact. Plus their judgment of the food offered by their favorite restaurant was not negatively influenced by picnic tables, a limited wine selection, or even the absence of butter. Al and his wife dine where they want to dine and not where food critics dictate they should. Certainly they could afford to eat at a four star restaurant each and every night of the week. But according to Al, it has been many years since they last set foot in a so-called four star restaurant. Some may argue that Al and his wife simply don’t have taste (pun intended). They may be rich but they have no appreciation for the finer things in life.
Al and his wife are not just rich (or rich rubes); they both graduated from a top-20-rated college. But they don’t need to define themselves according to where they dine. Like most of the self made rich, they do what they want to do and are not embarrassed by how they live. It is not a threat to their self esteem to eat dinner off a picnic table garnished with a bar of brought-from-home-butter.

4 thoughts on “In Texas, Do as Texans Do”

  1. My first blog experience, I had to check yours out! What an interesting time for communication.

    It is fascinating how far we,(many americans) have strayed from what is real and important, and been swept away by hollywood glitz-style living.

    The best things in life really are free and some are very inexpensive! There is so much in life we could/should edit that would make a positive impact on our finacial security. I think so many people have been consumed by materialism and personal consumption: the size of the houses have gone crazy, then you have to fill it up with all the latest and greatest. If you don’t have the money to do so, there were credit cards. Housing prices went up, people rolled credit card balances into the mortgage, till folks had 90 & 100% loans!

    The lives of many of the millionaires you have interviewed are so much less complicated as they certainly enjoy the comforts of life, but in a more sensible and simple way. Their comfort and security is the knowledge that they and their families are well set.

    Those living beyond their means have the daily stress and fear of loosing everything. I heard that 1 in 4 American’s homes are under water – whew!

    Then there is our overuse and dependance on credit cards…often used to go to the 4 star resturant. = Cost of dinner +20% at least if not paid off…

    Thanks for your work and for sharing this valuable information!

  2. This tale is CLASSIC, and my favorite lines in your wonderful post, Tom, are:

    “But they don’t need to define themselves according to where they dine. Like most of the self made rich, they do what they want to do and are not embarrassed by how they live. It is not a threat to their self esteem to eat dinner off a picnic table garnished with a bar of brought-from-home-butter.”

    As someone who spent 15 years working in the financial services industry during the go-go years, I was constantly surprise by how many people I met who were ask you so wisely noted in THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR… “big hat, no cattle.” Please keep spreading the important word about what REAL WEALTH looks (and tastes 🙂 like. I continue to think your books should be required reading for every single college senior heading out into the real world.

  3. My husband and I have “date night” every Friday evening and have breakfast out every Saturday morning. This is something we started when the kids were in high school in order to get some time with just the two of us and it has continued in the years since the kids have all moved out.

    We first began eating out at very nice restaurants. We’d go with another couple friend of our who had no children and between the four of us, with cocktails and wine, would cover a $400 – $500 evening each week – WHEW! We stopped that relatively quickly and discovered a new game:

    We now budget just $100 every two weeks for dining. Our goal is to find new and good places to have dinner each week and we frequent the same “greasy spoon” for breakfast every morning. We generally stay under our $100 per 2-week period and have even found some exceptional restaurants here in the Bay Area where we can both dine til we’re full – for $25.

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