Americans are still blowing their budgets dining out. Repeated surveys list the top budget buster as eating out, followed by food and groceries (20%) and travel (20%). Around 15% of consumers said not saving enough was their biggest financial blunder of the year.
Whether fine dining, casual dining or quick-service dining (“fast food”) most meals are loaded with salt, sugar and fat for optimum taste, which translates into calories today and maybe “love handles” tomorrow.
However, it could save your marriage.
Henry Youngman once said “some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music, and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend, on average, around 6% of their budget on food. However, the study also shows that they also spend 5% of their disposable income on dining out. That makes your food budget 11% of your overall income.
If you use this method, budget 6% for groceries each month and 5% for dining out. If your take-home income is $3,000 a month, you will budget around $180 for groceries and $150 for dining out. Of course, if $180 won’t cover your needs, you should cut back on dining out and use any additional money towards your grocery needs.
If you find yourself in a discretionary spending rut, always consider the annual cost.
A daily $5 latte at Starbucks could easily run over $1500 per year. Dining out once a week for a family of four at a Ruby Tuesday, Perkins, Appleby’s, etc. could easily top $4,000 per year.
Eating meals that we like shouldn’t be something we do only in restaurants. Find out what everyone likes, or would like to try, write it down and then do it. If we want to eat fewer meals out, we need to satisfy more preferences at home.
Part of the reason people go out for dinner is because they want something different, maybe even exotic, but you can and should do this at home too. We all have a repertoire of meals that we prepare, but we can gradually work in new meal plans over time. Try adding a couple of new recipes to your meal plan each month so you are rotating dinner selections continuously.
Packaged (or pre-prepared) meals are the idiot cousin of restaurant meals, often seen as a happy medium between eating at home and eating out. However, by price, many packaged meals are about the same as what you would pay in a restaurant, but not nearly as good. They’re more like take out and have nothing in common with home cooking. Think of them as appetizers for restaurant meals that will set you up for a return.
Even if you hate cooking and don’t consider yourself up to the challenge of preparing different meals, you can still make your meals more enticing. Adding homemade bread (bread machines are really easy to use), fresh fruit or a nice dessert can make an otherwise ordinary meal into something special. You’re not breaking your food budget here, just adding at the fringes.
Unless you’re one of those people who are naturally creative in the kitchen, you’ll need inspiration in order to keep fresh ideas coming. Cookbooks help immensely in this regard. Get one or two, but don’t overwhelm yourself with a small library.
In many households dinner gets too routine. Try changing the atmosphere by turning off the TV, turning on quiet dinner music, lighting a candle or two or making whatever changes necessary to make eating at home a more positive experience. Dinner shouldn’t be just about eating; when it is, restaurants begin to beckon.
Frequently have guests over for dinner. The camaraderie enjoyed will make eating at restaurants mostly unnecessary. It’s possible you’re going to restaurants today mostly in search of that camaraderie. Be more purposeful about getting together with others for dinner — it adds a dimension to an everyday meal and eliminates the need to pay for a restaurant. Though it does cost more to have company for dinner, reciprocal eating arrangements and pot luck suppers can easily offset that.
Do you watch cooking shows on TV? Stop watching and start imitating! Cooking is very much a creative endeavor, and we tend to miss that in our drive for convenience. In fact, many of us complain that our talents aren’t being properly used on our jobs, and while that may be true, there are opportunities to spread our creative wings at home, and one of the places to do that is in the kitchen. Engage in creative cooking the way you might if you decided to paint, sculpt or compose music. Make cooking an art form, and it’ll seem less like a chore.
There are dozens of downloadable apps available to count your every penny and help you save, however there are simple methods from the past for saving painlessly. Savings is a big deal as the vast majority of American families have less than $500 in the “cookie jar” for emergencies, relying solely on income tax refunds. Upcoming retirees have the “vapors” over savings.