Eating Out On a Budget

Katie and I love eating out. And we’ve been eating out on a budget since we got married over eleven years ago. The budget has allowed us to come a long way since our first Valentine’s Day at Chipotle.

Groceries and eating out are probably two of your biggest spending categories too, and an area where many people struggle. How do you stack up?

How much are people spending on eating out?

Millennials spend 44 percent of their food dollars on eating out. According to The Food Institute, the average millennial spends $2,639 eating out every year.

And according to the [American Enterprise Institute](According to data gathered by the American Enterprise Institute), American’s are now spending more on eating out than groceries.

Let’s face it – restaurant food always seems to taste better. It might be just because I didn’t have to cook it or do the dishes.

If you’re trying to set aside money for saving or investing, here are some tips on you how you can eat out and keep your spending on track.

1. Prioritize your budget

So you’ve decided you simply must have the Wednesday night pizza as part of your routine to make it through the week.

Then order the Wednesday night pizza.

Before you do, figure out where the money is going to come from. Many people just pile on more credit card debt and get stuck in the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. It can lead to paying for the pizza over and over again for years.

If you have a working budget and want to eat out more – take money from other variable budget categories.

We do this all the time. Pull money from the grocery budget to eat out, or to throw a dinner party. Sometimes we pull from the entertainment category to buy more groceries (if it’s a fancy meal).

Another option is to brown bag your lunch, and put that extra towards a night out.

2. Make a plan

You’ll have more money to eat out on Saturday if you plan your week in advance. It’s easy to be driving home from work or picking up the kids and going through the drive-thru. As we experienced recently with a $29 bill from McDonald’s for five people – even cheap fast food isn’t cheap.

And something simple like Panda Express can be $11 for one person!

It adds up fast. Do that twice a week, and you’ve blown through $100 before Saturday rolls up.

Instead of eating out three times at three places you won’t even remember next week, save up for one nice meal and have an experience you’ll enjoy more.

Plan ahead and give some thought to where you want to eat out the most. Believe me – the meal will taste much better because of the anticipation.

Think of it like this – if you ate cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, after about two weeks, you would hate cookies. If you ate cookies once every two weeks, you’d circle that date on the calendar and enjoy every last crumb.

3. Spend less when you do eat out

Recently we went to one of our favorite places (Texas de Brazil). We like this restaurant because you can bring any bottle of wine you want and they charge you a $20 corking fee. We can bring an $8 bottle of Blackstone Merlot or something extra special from Del Dotto Vineyards. Restaurant markups on beer and wine are usually 100% so we can eat well and still save.

Here are a bunch of tips on how to eat out and save money.

4. Be content

It’s fun to eat at nice restaurants and enjoy great service. But unless you’re super rich you can’t spend thousands of dollars eating out every month (I wish we could!)

And if you’re getting out of debt or trying to save up for retirement or a house, spending more on eating out will only delay your other goals.

The $10 meal really costs $13, because you had to pay for it with after-tax money. And the $13 if invested, would be worth $30 in 10 years. Which doesn’t seem like much, but it is if you eat out for lunch every day. Eating out adds up very quickly!

You’ll need to figure out your healthy balance between saving and spending based on your goals and how long you want to take to reach them. Depriving yourself by never eating out will just as likely lead to failure as staying in debt and continuing to eat out.

You might just need some inspiration from Cathy Erway who saved $7,000 by not eating out for two years.

The best thing you can do is come up with a plan you can live with and stick to it.

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