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5 Ways I Could Have Improved My Life With The Money I’ve Spent On Takeout In 2016


When I first moved to New York, about two and a half years ago, there was one thing I was most excited about for my new city life: takeout. And not just takeout, but food delivery. I’d heard about the famed Seamless on many a city-based podcast, a website and app that allows you to order food from pretty much anywhere in your area and have it delivered to you within an hour. This fabled instant gratification for the lazy was what I pictured “adult life” to be like: having your meals delivered to you on the regular because you are too busy being fabulous and independent to figure out how to make them for yourself.

With that mindset, I racked up quite the credit card bill my first month in the city, with almost $300 going to Seamless alone. Once I realized where all of my money was going — after the initial “Where did all my money go??” moment of panic due to never checking my statements — I decided to cut out ordering in, cold turkey, by deleting the Seamless app on my phone.

That didn’t last, of course. When you’re wine-tipsy, re-downloading an app is just one small step to getting you the only thing you want in the whole world, which in that moment is pineapple fried rice and scallion pancakes. So, I would go through the same thing every month or so: delete Seamless until I really “needed” it, then re-download it and regret it in the morning (but not regret the greasy food that definitely prevented a worse hangover), or at dinnertime when I realized I really should have just saved half that meal I ordered for lunch.

It’s not that ordering food every once in awhile is all that bad for my wallet, but the costs add up. Especially with websites like GrubHub and Seamless, even if there’s no delivery fee, you still have to add a tip (or be an asshole), and often you have to meet a delivery minimum. So even if the Pad Thai lunch special I’m ordering costs just $6.99, I still have to make my order add up to at least $10 in order to get delivery, so I decide what the hell, I’ll just get an order of dumplings, too.

I haven’t been nearly as bad about ordering food as I was in that first month in the big city, but I’ve also never paid much attention to how often I’m ordering. This morning, I logged into my Seamless account and totaled up all the orders I’ve had delivered this year. I regret to inform you that, so far in 2016, I have spent $418.01 on ordering food alone. Some of these orders perhaps included a boyfriend or roommate’s noodle dish, but for the most part, they were just me. And when I consider that I’ve “only” tallied 20 orders from Seamless in 2016, each meal I ordered came out to over $20 on average.

I’m not going to delude myself with the idea that I would have put that money towards my retirement, if only I’d had some foresight. The returns on $400 compounded over the next few decades would, of course, be nothing to turn my nose up at, but until recently, I never would have thought about that particular hypothetical. Instead, I’d rather think about the other things I could have put that money towards that would have improved my life — things that bring me a lot more joy or improve my standard of living much more than mediocre enchiladas, whose only perk is not having to leave my apartment to eat them.

1. A Roundtrip Ticket Home

I’m very close with my family and feel my best when I get to see them often. My immediate family lives in Atlanta, which is a very easy flight from NYC. The total I spent on ordering food this year would easily cover the cost of one ticket to and from home, and with enough planning, it would have even covered a ticket for my boyfriend, too.

2. Weekly Fresh Flowers For 41 Weeks

I never buy flowers when I go grocery shopping because they always seem like an unnecessary expense. However, I always appreciate being around them (even moreso now that I’m regularly in the TFD office, tbh), and the grocery near me has pretty stellar options in the $10 bouquet bin. They would have really brightened my apartment on the dreary NYC winter days at the start of the year.

3. 4+ Apartment Cleanings

My apartment isn’t huge, but good cleaning services in the city can run pretty steep, so a session of a few hours would be about $100. Still, that means I could have gotten even the areas I never pay attention to (hello, baseboards) in sparkling shape four times since last January with the money I lost to Seamless.

4. 38 Discount Movie Tickets

If you live in New York and don’t yet have an ID NYC, I highly recommend making an appointment right now. There are tons of benefits available to you by getting one (which is totally free!), one of which being discount movie tickets. You generally have to buy them in bulk, but when you go to the movies as often as I do — it’s my whole family’s favorite past-time — it’s totally worth it. AMC or Regal tickets come out to about $11 each after the discount and added fees, which is much better than the typical $15-20 range you’ll generally spend on one evening movie ticket in New York.

5. 7-ish Haircuts

I only ever get a haircut once every three months or so because knowingly spending $55-60 at one time gives me some anxiety (of course, I just *expect* to spend this much at a restaurant in New York…). I would much rather go every six weeks to keep my hair as healthy as possible, and if I’d had this extra cash in my account, that would have been pretty easy to do.

There are tons of things I could have spent with an extra $400 this year, of course. And I don’t want to let myself get into a shame spiral about my ordering habits — sometimes these were on really bad days, and food delivery was a fun thing to share with my roommates and get over something. Other times were particularly busy days, and ordering food meant I was able to be a lot more productive, so it was maybe even “worth it” financially. Still, it’s sobering to add up everything I’ve spent just to pay for this one (often rather silly) convenience.

Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at!

Image via Unsplash

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  • The good thing about doing this is that you can see all the options and then you get to pick which to spend your money on in future and it may well be food delivery! 🙂

    I have a medical condition that leaves me in a lot of pain and sometimes if I want to eat hot food then delivery is the best/only option so I probably spend a lot of money on it that others may on the surface see as frivolous.

    It is really fun to look at all the options for my money though, and still decide I spent it in the best way for me, it makes me feel more in control and less like a teenager blowing my money on stuff!

  • nicolacash

    A cost-effective way to cut down on spending on takeout is by making large batches of your favorite easy-to-reheat food and keeping them in your freezer for future moments of weakness. I do this with burritos & quesadillas and it has saved me so much!

    • Holly Trantham

      Great point – I try to do this with fried rice sometimes, which is always what I want to order anyway!

  • I loved how you showed what you could buy with the money you spent on Seamless. Have you ever considered using info graphics?

  • Diana

    This is crazy. Slightly more than $400 in 10 months for take-out is NOT excessive in any city. And I find it humorous that in the same breath, the author has no hesitation suggesting that she can’t clean her own apartment.

    This site is all over the place.

    • Allie Ray

      I don’t think she’s saying she can’t clean her own apartment, but rather it would be nice to have someone to help with areas like baseboards that can be overlooked in regular cleaning.

      • Diana

        I got that. My point was if someone is complaining/writing an entire piece about how $400 for food is excessive, certainly $100 or more for someone else to clean your house is also excessive!

        • Allie Ray

          It’s all about balance in finance and otherwise in life. I could definitely contribute way more to my emergency fund savings each month if I didn’t have someone to help me clean the house bi-weekly but it would significantly reduce my amount of free time to do anything else, so I see it as a trade off I’m more than willing to do.

          • Diana

            Of course, it’s your right to pay someone to clean your house, if that is what you chose, but your piece is about how $400 in take-out in 10 months in excessive and I find that amount very small and your overall argument ridiculous when you’re willing to pay someone to clean for you.

        • C_29

          I think most people (definitely not all, but most) enjoy cooking more than cleaning. If you’re one of those people, and can afford to outsource one of those tasks, might as well make it the one you dislike the most.

  • Sarah

    learning how to make your fave takeout dishes at home is such a fun way to learn how to cook/improve your cooking skills! plus save some money, explore different international grocery stores, etc. etc. my current project is learning how to make pad thai. 🙂

    • Holly Trantham

      Learning to make pad thai has been on my list for a while – thanks for bumping it to the top!

  • Brit

    Who spends that much on haircuts?

    • Summer

      A lot of people do. The quality of a cut you’ll get at a nice salon is far different from the one you’ll receive for $15 by popping into the Cost Cutters at the nearby strip mall.

    • C_29

      When I saw that I thought “Wow, that’s great that she can get haircuts so cheaply”. City salons are not cheap, especially if you’re good about tipping the stylist and shampooer. And when you think about it, you’re paying for a skilled professional to dedicate at least an hour of labor solely to you. That (plus the cost of using the salon space and products and having the everything cleaned up) is worth at least $60 in my opinion.

  • Summer

    I don’t think $400 on takeout over the course of 10 months is really so bad. That’s what, $40 a month? If your average order came out to $20, that’s only twice a month you’ve ordered from Seamless, which seems extremely reasonable. If you were dropping $400/mo on it, then maybe there’d be a problem, but 40 bucks? Nah.

    I think it’s easy to default to guilting ourselves about spending money on anything deemed a “convenience,” but where should we really draw the line? I bet you’d still manage to spend that monthly $40 on “unnecessary” food even if you went to the grocery store to buy ingredients to cook your own meals. It’s a pretty rare day when my visits to the grocery don’t involve the purchase of a few unplanned (and arguably unnecessary) items. I think Seamless and similar services only feel extra ~naughty~ because you’re literally able to summon someone to your apartment with hot food at the tap of a digital button.

    • Holly Trantham

      I agree that it’s not nearly as bad as it could be! This is just one fun way to reassess where I’m spending to try and make room for other “frivolities” that personally bring me more joy – because you’re right, that 40 bucks a month would definitely be spent elsewhere 🙂

  • Tara

    tbh I would find spending $400 on weekly fresh flowers a hell of a lot more wasteful than ordering takeout twice a month.

  • GBee

    I like this! Yes, $400 over 10 months isn’t “excessive” but that money *could* have been spent differently (whether or not it *should* have been spent differently is a personal decision). Budgeting for me is ALL about priorities and it’s great to be aware that every dollar you spend on X effects your ability to purchase Y or save for Z.

  • I wish my takeout bill for 10 months was $400. In the last 12 month I’ve spent over $1800 on Grubhub and other delivery. You are far more disciplined than I.