Eating out for at least one, possibly two and even three meals a day. Add to that coffees, snacks and food items purchased at movies and sports games and all of a sudden eating out has eaten every penny of your budget and any extra cash you may have had leaving you in a negative position every month. So what is the answer?
Does Eating out Affect my Finances
How Much Does the Average American Spend on Eating Out Per Day
Food is one of those 'budget' items that everyone tends to 'let slip' when it comes time to calculate how much an individual or family spend. Two young millennials living together recently took the time to calculate exactly how much they spent each month as they preferred the ease of eating out every meal - cooking was not their forte and they felt they had better things to do with their time. They calculated over a 5 month period that they were spending on average $1,800 - $2,000 per month eating out. They explained that this was not high-end restaurant eating out, more family, fast-casual food. Eating at either just fast food or high-end restaurants would change this budget slightly.
But cooking every meal? Today's schedule is extremely busy - work, kid's activities, sports, gym, the list goes on. Or look at the realistic downside of cooking - buy the groceries, have great intentions of NOT eating out, run out of time to cook and spend money eating out and wasting the fresh produce purchased.
The Trend Continues to Grow towards Eating Out
Lux Research explain the increasing trend of consumers buying meals through delivery models and how quickly this industry is growing.
Eating out Has Surpassed Groceries
According to the Bureau of National Statistics in 2015, the average American household spent $3,008 a year eating out vs. $4,015 on groceries. Eating out is no longer considered a luxury, but the norm. Recent studies (2016) show that millennials are spending 44% of their food budget on fast-casual restaurants and food delivery services. Fox News (January 1, 2017) stated that Americans are taking eating out to an extreme. From 2015 - 2016, for the first time in history, Americans spent more money at bars and restaurants ($54,857 billion) than they did on groceries ($52,503 billion). This shrinking margin points to a serious spending problem among consumers and our finances are hurting as a result. (Fox News - January 1, 2017). If you are earning more than enough money to cover your monthly bills and loans, have a huge savings account, then eating out is a non-issue. But if your monthly salary isn't enough to pay the bills, credit cards and put money into a savings account, then eating out regularly becomes a huge issue and a financial problem to you and your family.
Is There a Balance
What should a family be spending on groceries? How much does the average cost of eating out versus cooking at home really affect my family's cash flow. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) lists on their site (cnpp.usda.gov) what the cost of Food At Home should cost a family. For example, if a young couple was to eat at home being very liberal in their choices - the USDA states that they would spend approximately $758.10 per month. That is just under 1/3 of what it is costing them to eat out. If they added in a couple of 'eating out' days and cut back on their 'liberal' grocery purchases, they would still be easily $800 to $1,000 a month ahead. This is money that they could save and use for a bigger purchase, safety net or even a nice vacation.
Eating out becomes the silent villain eating away at your budget and savings
But what if you don't like to cook? It is all about balance and preparation. Pick the days that you want to eat out and work around that. Planning a simple menu for the days you are home, lunches at work, breakfast, and then buying those items for the week will help you begin to cook your meals at home. It does not have to be elaborate. One of the gifts of the internet is all of the cooking sites and blogs that offer meal plans from simple to complicated. Sign up to receive their emails and you have meal ideas and plans without having to give it a second thought. We as Americans have moved away from the joys of spending time together. As a young couple, a young family, even a huge family get together, the camaraderie of cooking together fosters a closeness, a connectedness with another person or group of people. Chatting and food prep go hand in hand. Not every meal needs to take a lot of time - a bit of meal prep and menu planning ahead of time means there is less time spent cooking. Meals can be made within 30 minutes. Compare that to the drive to McDonald's or Taco Bell, waiting in line, driving home or waiting in line to be seated at a sit-down restaurant, ordering, waiting for the meal to come, eating and then driving home. This cuts into even more time than it would take to cook.
Health Benefits of Eating at Home vs. Eating Out
At home, a person can control what goes into the meal - less butter, more vegetables, leaner meat, better quality items. Restaurants tend to prepare their food with more trans and saturated fats, sugars, salt, and simple carbohydrates so that the taste is enhanced. Larger portions with less of the healthy nutrients included such as minerals and vitamins. When our taste buds become accustomed to the taste of fats and sugars, we tend to eat more than is necessary. Take a look at nutritional charts and calories for some of your favorite fast-casual restaurants.
1. So what is the solution - how do you even start? Awareness is everything. Start by changing nothing - take one month and calculate what you actually spend on eating out, coffees, sodas, snacks. Be consistent - be honest. This blog is about money - getting out of debt, moving forward financially, but it is also important to be aware of your health and how this is affecting it. Take your calculations one-step further and record where and what you are eating. What are the calories? What are the nutrients?
2.Go to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) to get an estimate of what you should be spending. Pull up a Weight, Gender, Height chart to see what you should weigh.
3. If you have a significant other, have a discussion about what you want your goals to be. For some it is baby steps, others it is a dramatic life change in habits. Do what works for you so that you are successful.
4. Meal planning with the internet is awesome. You can download an app such as 'Tasty' that will give you daily meal plans or you can find simple recipes on a budget to cooking more complex meals. Keep the weekdays simple, the weekends for more complicated cooking. Find recipes that will work with your scheduled activities and the nights you are home. Write down the ingredients on your weekly grocery list.
5. Lists are your best friend. There are apps that will keep track of what you need to buy for groceries. Never go to the grocery store at meal time or without a list of ingredients required for your weekly menu. If you shop blindly, you will overspend and waste items every time
6. Use part of the week to pre-make and prep meals for the week. If you are making a lasagne, make two and freeze one for another time. Cook enough for tomorrow's meal (leftovers are great)
7.Only buy the fresh produce that you need for your recipes. Add enough for snacks
8.Discuss how many times you are going to eat out per week - plan ahead for the day and restaurant. Eating out becomes a reward, a break from the busy week
9.You mess up, eat out more than planned, waste food. This is a process and takes time. Be disciplined but don't beat yourself up if one week you end up eating out a couple of extra time
10. At the end of the month - calculate what you spend on groceries and eating out. How much did you save? Even if it is $200 - $300 per month - it is now money that you can save or use to pay down those high-interest credit cards
Remember knowledge and awareness are the tools every individual needs to change. Being informed and accountable to yourself is your responsibility. Taking charge of your finances is your responsibility. Taking charge of your health and what you eat is your responsibility. Be informed. Be aware. A change will be inevitable.