When I was growing up, eating out was a treat. We only got to dine out maybe once a month, if that. These days, the typical American eats out about two times a week. It’s no wonder that at the beginning of 2015, studies have found that Americans now for the first time spend more at restaurants than at grocery stores. In January 2015, Americans spent over $50 billion on dining out!
In our busy, fast-paced society, it’s just seems easier to grab a bite to eat on the run. I find myself doing it as well. Instead of driving home to grab food between meetings or spending the time to pack a lunch, I’ll grab a bite to eat to “save” myself time and gas. Here’s a great example of how eating out twice a week can translate into a mortgage payment or vacation:
Tuesday – Chicken burrito with side of guacamole, no drink = $9.10 including tax (*Chipotle)
Thursday – Chicken bacon avocado wrap, regular fountain drink, kid’s pizza = $13.35 including tax (*Earl of Sandwich)
- Total Weekly Spend = $22.45
- Total Yearly Spend = $22.45 x 52 weeks = $1,167.40
- Total 5 Year Spend= $1,167.40 x 5 years = $5,837.00
In one year, regularly eating out twice a week can total to a mortgage payment of over $1,000. So if you are trying to save up money for a down payment on your first house and don’t know how you’re going to come up with the 20%, try cutting down your fast food and restaurant expenses.
For those who have kids and don’t think they can afford a luxury vacation like Disney, here’s how you can get the money – decrease your dining out by two times a week for five years and you’ll have over $5,000, which is a decent budget for a family of four. It makes me sad when I hear moms who really want to take their kids to Disney World, but resign themselves to the fact that they will never go because there is never any money left at the end of the month.
Realistically, most folks are probably eating out more than twice a week, especially with dual income families working and taking kids from school to soccer practice, dance class, football game, etc. So decreasing the number of times dining out could result in more savings than the example provided. Now, I will admit that I am a foodie and enjoy dining out at new restaurants. I fully support going out and spending money on the things you enjoy. Just be mindful of how and where you are spending your money. If you don’t really enjoy fast food and are just going through the drive-through because you didn’t plan in advance, it’s probably time to make some changes. However, if you and your significant other have been looking forward to trying a new restaurant for a date night, then that’s intentional spending that may be worth it to both of you.
- Look at your previous month’s credit card statements and receipts to see how often and how much was spent on groceries versus dining out.
- Write down both numbers as your baseline spending.
- Make it a game to try to eat out 1 – 2 times less per week and/or spend $xx.xx less per week for one month.
- Find someone to hold you accountable like a financial coach or make it a competition between you and your significant other or friend.
- Decide on your reward if you achieve your goal.
- Plan in advance for meals, including cooking a double portion so leftovers can be taken for lunch, and packing lunch the night before.
- Keep track of all your spending on groceries and dining out throughout the month.
- Put money saved each week into a “Reward” cash envelope or separate bank account.
- Track your total spent at the end of the month and if you achieve your goal, reward yourself based on #5!
(*Note – Check with your tax accountant or CPA, but if you are dining out with a colleague, boss, or potential client, you may qualify to deduct your meals and entertainment if business-related. If so, make sure to write the name(s) and purpose on the back of the receipts, photocopy the receipts, and keep your receipts for tax records.)