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.
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.
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:
Anything you love for saving money when eating out?
Image via Unsplash