As my winter New Zealand vacation looms nearer, the thought occurs to me that maybe I should pay all my bills early so I don’t get dinged with late fees. Particularly when it comes to my biggest bill, my estimated quarterly taxes, a part of me is thinking, “Why not just pay them now so I don’t have to worry about it while on holiday?” Well sure, that makes sense. But the cheapskate part of me is running a different calculation. “Wait a second, why should the Internal Revenue Service be collecting interest on my money? The longer I keep it in my own account, the more interest for me and the less for the IRS.” Now, I haven’t actually calculated that interest, but I’m sure it’s probably worth about two cups of coffee at Starbucks. But it’s the principle that matters, right??!

I’m guessing I’m not alone in my schizophrenic relationship with money. Growing up in a family that repeated the mantra, “We’re poor, we’re poor,” then went out and bought a new car for “dependability,” I go back and forth between spending money on a whim and then pinching pennies over a few sweet potatoes at the market. Sound familiar? This confusion only amplifies when I’m traveling, and most particularly, when I’m hungry and searching for food. Even today, a middle-aged person with cash in the bank, $30 remains about the max I want to spend on a meal. When I’m on the road, it’s even worse – “We can’t eat there. It’s $20/plate. I’m sure we can find it for $15 or less.” I remember back in the 80s when I was living in Japan and the yen was strong, I used to make it a quest to find the cheapest set-menu in town. Imagine my elation when I stumbled upon a blue-collar restaurant that offered rice, fish, soup and pickles for $5! It wasn’t the cleanest, or the most artfully displayed, but you can’t beat that price!

Well, all this preamble is meant to say that I was doubly excited to discover this little restaurant in Kyoto called “Peace Rice Padma.” Located on the main river, a hop, skip and a jump from the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Padma is an unassuming place with a very chill vibe. Soft jazz envelops you as you consider the all-vegan men, which includes 5 or 6 set menus for a whopping $10/pp each. Now that’s what I’m talking about! Better yet the food, served on cute little small bowls and plates, is bountiful and delicious. As you can see from the photo, I devoured my humongous meal of dumplings, spring rolls, rice, tofu, vegetables and soup. It was the perfect combination of luxurious taste and shoe-string prices. To this day, I consider it to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Would I eat there if the prices were double? Hmm, yeah probably, but I’d need a food shrink afterwards.

(Is there any right answer about how much to spend when traveling [or otherwise]? Absolutely not. So many of our actions are based on our childhood, and what “feels like home.” About all we can do is turn our spending habits into a meditation. “What comes up for me when I think about buying something? Do I feel pleasure in my body, or discomfort? Do I use spending to numb myself from feeling other emotions?” The next time you’re eating out – whether it’s a $2-dive or a Michelin star restaurant, take a moment to check in with yourself and see what you learn about yourself.)