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How You Can Make $27,000 By Going Out To Eat Less

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When I think about places where money goes to die, it’s not into fixer-upper houses or trips across the globe. It’s everyday stuff. Stuff that I think I need in the moment, then a few hours later I wonder why it was such a big deal. There’s nothing wrong with these purchases, it’s just that over time, they really add up. And this year, we’ve crossed the line. Americans now spend more at bars and restaurants than on groceries. A few billion dollars more. And millennials spend more than any other generation.

Millennials (ages 20-34) are now America’s largest generation, making up 25% of the population. We are the generation who loves spending time with friends, our choices are driven by purpose, and we love trying new things. What better combines all of that than dinner with friends at the new non-chain restaurant downtown? (That also sources its produce locally.) And we’ll do it 3-4 times per week. Millennials spend an average of $174 per month on eating out, vs. $153 for non-millennials. And 87% will splurge on a meal even if money is tight. Sound familiar?

Eating out has become part of our culture. We place it above buying new electronics, clothes, and cosmetics, regardless of our income level. We identify it as an experience more than a means to nutritionally sustain ourselves. So how do we keep the things that are special about this trend while becoming more financially responsible adults?

Set a Reasonable Food Budget

Don’t swear off restaurants and up your grocery budget to compensate. Average grocery prices have actually fallen .5% since last year, while restaurant prices rose 2.7% (versus the overall inflation rate increase of 1.4%). Don’t set yourself up for that feeling of failure when you go over budget in the first two weeks.

As of 2010, of the food that Americans buy, 43% of it is out-of-home, compared to 26% in 1970. So try to set your dining out budget to 25-30% of your total food budget. Remember that this is the easiest item to adjust to meet your short-term financial goals.

Do the Math

Let me lay some knowledge down on ya. What if instead of spending $174 per month on eating out you only spent $74? And you invest that extra $100 a month for the next 10 years at 8% interest. That $12,000 you would’ve spent ordering the second drink or adding the appetizer will be about $18,300. That’s you rewarding yourself with $6,300 for trimming down nothing but your dining out budget.

And just one more calculation: say you leave it in there for 10 more years, and don’t add anything else to it (because this is the decade you decide to treat yo self). You would now have $39,500.

By eating out less for a few years, you can make over $27,000.

Oh and PSA: If you’re not investing yet, maybe you should be. Find a nice financial advisor, or check out various apps if you’re interested in online investing. #CompoundInterest

Go a Week Without Dining Out

See if you can go one week without buying lunch out, ordering takeout at the end of the day, or eating out with friends on the weekend. I know it’s hard. I don’t get a lunch break at work, but I get off early, and my hangry brain used to make me go out for lunch multiple times a week. But you don’t need to punish yourself for being smart with your money. Plan it on weeks you know you have obligations on the weekend that will keep you from going out. Don’t plan it on the weekend of your friend’s dirty thirty. Or if you can’t find a weekend that’s right, try four or five days during the week.

Try a Meal Delivery Service

Last year, we found a Groupon for HelloFresh that made 2 boxes of 3 meals each for two people only $69. That’s more than our grocery budget for one week now, but if you’re someone who eats out a lot because you like the diversity of cuisine and you’re a little terrified of the kitchen, This would be a great option to try. For $69, we got a total of 12 meals, which comes out to $5.75 per meal. (Cheaper than a burrito at you-know-where.) And while this offer is only good for first-time customers, Groupon offers deals for other companies that send ingredients for a DIY job or fully cooked meals ready for your microwave.

Plan For the Week

I actually really enjoy sitting down on Sundays and planning my weekly menu and grocery list. When I started doing this, it transformed the way we eat. I plan meals with a lot of prep on nights we’re staying in, quick and easy meals on nights we have to go out, or leftovers if I’m working.

Do I follow this menu perfectly every week? Nope. Things come up and we go with the flow. But if I don’t cook something this week, it’s first on the list next week. And having a menu allows me to have a list for grocery shopping, which is a must if you’re an over-spender at the grocery store. If you don’t have the time to plan I highly suggest a service like Platejoy that does it for you. You choose your type of diet, nix any foods you don’t like, and voila, a menu and grocery list is there for you every week.

Meal Prep

Home cooked meals cost up to 60% less than dining out. So once you’ve planned and bought your ingredients, make it easy for yourself to grab and go. Need some inspiration? Search #MealPrep or #MealPrepSunday on Instagram to see how the rest of the world is doing it.

House Party!

Plan more house parties. Your money loves ‘em. Cooking a meal together is a fun activity, and if you’re honest with your friends about what you’re doing, they’ll be more than willing to eat at home. They’re likely in the same financial boat as you (or lack of boat).

Last but not least, I found a few cooking channels on YouTube to help you with ideas and techniques for cooking:

Laura in the Kitchen
Hilah Cooking
Byron Talbott
The Simple Cooking Channel

Anything you love for saving money when eating out?

Jen writes about her and her husband’s journey to pay off $86,000 of debt in less than 2 years on her website, Saving with Spunk. Follow her on Twitter here!

Image via Unsplash

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  • Violaine

    That baffles me!! Eating out 3-4 times a week?? Sorry I know I always compare with Europe, but I have a good job in the UK and I could never afford eating out 3-4 times a week. Like, 3 times a month is the norm, but a week??
    I genuinely don’t get how normal people can afford to eat out so often – and if they go to nice places or if eating out can be just a soup in a small cafe but not a proper meal.

    • Jen @ Saving with Spunk

      It’s so easy to take the lazy route and eat out instead of cooking. It shocks me too but I know people who do it!

      • Violaine

        I don’t mind cooking (I do it for the week and freeze eveyrthing), but there are so many times I’d love to eat out because I feel lazy but it’s just too expensive. Is it cheap to eat out in the US? Because here it would be easily £12 a meal if I go for cheap, 4 times a week would be £48, and as an example, my weekly travel card costs £25, an appointment at the hairdresser is £50 etc. £12 is the same price as getting my nails done!

  • Karissa Lowe

    Great article! I’ve also found The Minimalist Baker to be a really good recipe site. Their schtick is that their recipes use 10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl, and/or take 30 minutes or less to prepare. This site has helped me let go of the “ugh I’m too busy to cook” excuse, which has always been one of my favorites.

    A lot of their recipes are vegan and/or gluten free, which is great for me, but nonvegans could always toss some cheese on top or something if they didn’t want a vegan meal.

    Here’s a link to their site: http://minimalistbaker.com/

    • Jack

      Love Minimalist Baker! Her biscuits are AMAZING.
      Love and Lemons is my other go-to!

    • Jen @ Saving with Spunk

      Thank you! Love them. I make Dana’s curry as often as possible. For my vegetarian friends I love NaturallyElla.com She’s got some quick and easy recipes too!

  • Jack

    Nice article! It’s also WAY healthier to cook your own food! I used to think cooking was a bore, and I would shy away from so many recipes that had meat or something I thought was difficult to cook.
    After going vegan in the spring (YAY!), I began to LOVE cooking. Partially out of necessity (fast food was no longer an option for me) and also because most every recipe I look at now is simple, healthy, delicious, AND affordable!

    • Jen @ Saving with Spunk

      Thank you! I concur, it’s much healthier. I’ve been vegetarian for 8 years so I’ve had to get creative. I used to hate cooking and doing dishes but I love coking now! Still hate dishes.

  • I don’t understand the thrill with eating out in the US. You don’t know who’s making your food, if they washed their hands properly, if they used fresh produce. Even soda machines are disgusting. I know people that won’t spend $500 on a decent suit that will last them for years, or $3 extra for organic food that will benefit their insides, but will happily spend $100 and up a week on eating out. I work with guys that eat lunch out M-F and also go out with their family over the weekend. Eating organic food at home is much cheaper than eating out. Invest the difference. It’s not that difficult.

    • Violaine

      Preach 🙂

  • Really liked this post. Eating out was my biggest expenditure for a while, and it’s a hard habit to curb! (In fact, the only thing that has really helped me is that there are fewer restaurants where I live now!) One of the best “do not order out” tips I found was on the Frugalwoods: Always have a back up meal in the freezer ready to go. On those days where you cannot possibly cook, it can really help you stick to your goals to have a pizza in the freezer and know it will be ready in 15 minutes.

  • Cooking meals at home instead of going out to eat is one of the quickest and easiest improvements for your financial situation. It’s so much less expensive and there’s so many resources out there to help implement good habits of buying groceries and preparing meals. I think some people feel like it’s going to be hard and inconvenient at first, but the more you practice the easier it gets. I eat out maybe 1-2 times per month, and we save so much money because of it.

  • Summer

    As everyone else has commented, cooking at home is SO important. Beyond that, it’s fun as hell. I get that not everyone is interested in cooking enough to make it a personal hobby and that’s totally fine, but at least master a few basics. Find yourself a few new cookbooks that will get you excited (say what you will about spending money on actual cookbooks in the age of the internet, but I find them to be investment pieces in their own right!), start yourself a pinterest board for pinning recipes you don’t want to forget about, and then get thee to thy grocery store with list in hand.

    My partner and I are pretty good about eating at home during the week, but we sometimes get a little out of hand on the weekends and find ourselves eating dinner out both Friday and Saturday nights, then often grabbing takeout (Thai food I can’t slash won’t quit you) on Sunday evening. BUT, I’ve noticed that especially as of late, we’ve had a few weekends where we don’t go out for meals at all because we’ve had something ~exciting~ planned for eating at home. I think it’s helpful to differentiate between weeknight meals and wEeKeNd meals that feel noticeably more elevated than whatever you might throw together on a Tuesday. Making a nice pasta dish of some sort is our go-to, and it rarely disappoints. Yes, I end up spending more on groceries, but the bang-for-buck is higher and we sometimes end up with enough leftovers for a light lunch the next day, which is virtually never the case when we dine out. Open a bottle of wine and enjoy a glass as you’re prepping dinner, make a lil caprese salad starter and have a pint of gelato waiting in the freezer for dessert, and you’ve got yourself a nice night in that doesn’t feel like a “waste” of a Friday.