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My Wife and I Spent $30,000 Eating Out Last Year

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How much do you spend eating out each year? I met someone who spends $30,000. Here are ways to stop the insanity and save more money each month.

Have you ever had one of those times where you can’t believe the words you’re hearing? I’m talking about something so crazy you wonder whether or not the person is telling the truth.

I had such a situation a couple of months ago. We were looking at replacing our roof thanks to some hail damage this past summer. Over the course of several conversations, the roofer and I built a rapport and I shared with him what I do for a living.

He then opened up by telling me that he and his wife needed help with their money. They knew they needed to make changes but had made excuse after excuse (his words, not mine). Then he lowered the boom… “My wife and I spent over $30,000 eating out last year…” The size of his family…his wife, their young daughter and himself.

Not believing him I asked if he was sure of that, to which he said, “Yes, my wife and I just finished going through our credit card statements last week.” Worse yet, he admitted to spending $200 per month for two separate gym memberships that they don’t use. He ended the conversation by sharing that he and his wife make good money but don’t seem to have much left at the end of the month, never mind saving for retirement.

Stopping the Insanity

 

This conversation, and many others like it have reinforced one thing in my mind – when you feel like you’re spending too much or have too little left over at the end of the month, it’s time to take a good, hard look at where you’re spending your money.

In other words, you need to stop the insanity and get back on track. Insanity, by definition, is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. Crazy spending is like hitting your hand with a hammer everyday hoping it won’t hurt. At some point, you need to wonder if hitting your hand with a hammer is worth the pain.

Back to my point…stopping the spending insanity means looking at your spending to see why you’re in the same desperate situation each month. It means asking yourself some of the following questions:

Is the money I’m spending bringing me happiness?

Are these purchases in line with my long-term goals?

Am I not stopping because I simply don’t know how?

Are there simple changes I can make that won’t hurt much and will help me grow my money?

I’m sure there are many other questions to ask, but these provide a good place to start. The goal here is to get you thinking through the impact of your foolish spending and what it will mean in one, five and ten years down the road. If that’s a challenge, look at one, two or three weeks or months down the road. Assuming it means the same, if not worse situation, then changes need to be made.

Start Simple

 

When you want to change a bad behavior you’ve indulged in for months or years, it can be overwhelming to think of stopping. It becomes so ingrained that you think it’s impossible to stop and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, taking you further down the rabbit hole.

It’s been said that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. I can only imagine it’s longer when we’re changing a bad habit into a new, good habit. Going cold turkey to start a new habit will rarely be successful, but you exponentially increase your probability of success by taking small steps.

In this case, find one area you feel you can cut back and find ways to curb the spending. This is a key part of making a budget, which will be much simpler once you identify a few areas to cut.

Going back to my roofer friend, he identified the one obvious area where they can cut back – eating out. He readily identified why they spend so much; they’re tired at the end of the day, and it’s easier to get takeout than to make a meal. Done occasionally is one thing, but $30,000 is not an occasional expense for most.

They won’t stop eating out so much overnight, but what if they were to add in meals at home 2-3 nights per week? One small step will help them see it’s possible to change and put more money back in their pockets. When paired with light meal planning, the change can be nearly painless.

If you don’t know how to meal plan, or feel overwhelmed by the idea of it, a simple service like $5 Meal Plan may help you get started.

Meal planning is only one example. If you’re not saving money each month, you can sign up for Digit to save small amounts. You can open an account with Betterment if you’ve not started investing because of lack of money, as they have no minimum balance requirement.

If you have high-interest credit card debt you can also consolidate them through Avant or Lending Club to help you kill your debt quicker.

There are many other things you can do, but know that by breaking down something big into smaller steps you’ll increase your rate of success.

How much do you spend eating out each year? I met someone who spends $30,000. Here are ways to stop the insanity and save more money each month.

Finding Balance

 

Let’s take a step back. We know, or at least we should know, that out of control spending will get us nowhere. Should we swing to the other extreme and not spend at all on anything fun in our lives? No!

Life is meant to be enjoyed. Regardless of whether you’re trying to cut out of control spending, pay off debt or some other challenge, you need balance. Without it, you increase the likelihood of failure. I was taught this when I first started paying off debt years ago. I was told to set aside something for myself each month so I could spend on something I enjoy.

Looking back, I know there were many times that’s what got me through some months. It provided a brief light in the tunnel of working to achieve debt freedom. It gave me a brief glimpse of what financial freedom was – the ability to do what I want, when I want because I was in control of my money, not living paycheck-to-paycheck with no idea how I was going to make ends meet.

If you’re currently trying to cut out of control spending, find one way you can cut it back. Don’t give into the lie that it’s impossible. Don’t look for excuses. Don’t think it’ll get you nowhere. Instead, look for opportunities. Look for reasons why you should do it. Look for what can happen if you start cutting back $100, $500 or more each month. That’s life-changing kind of money if you manage it wisely.

 

What’s one area you want to cut back on spending, but don’t seem to be able to? How do you find balance between spending and saving for the future? Why do you think so many give in to excuses rather than change?

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more.

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31 Comments

  • K says:

    Oh my goodness! I love eating out and would never actually stop doing so but spending $30K on it is insane. It’s easy to see how eating out can get out of control especially when you’re busy, have a higher disposable income, and/or don’t know how to cook.

    I think it’s important to make room in your budget for things like eating out – it’s a simple pleasure and there are so many great restaurants and cuisines to try – but not at the expense of your savings and investments.

    I give myself $100 a week to spend on whatever I like. The rest gets split up between my savings, mortgage and regular bills.

  • Kathy says:

    Isn’t it interesting how the most obvious solution seems to elude some people? I love to eat out but I can’t conceive of spending that much. I suppose they have kids that go out with them as well so that probably boosts the number. But they must get lobster every meal to spend that amount. How do they not see the solution?

    • John Schmoll says:

      Completely agreed Kathy, it happens to a lot of people. That’s a good point and forgot to mention it in the post, but they have one daughter and she’s 8-10 so it’s not like they have three teenagers that eat as much as they do, if not more. That just makes it worse in my opinion.

  • That’s impressive John! I guess the good thing is that you are eating like a King and not worrying about it. And the other thing is, if you haven’t gained weight in 2016, but actually lost weight in 2016, then eat away I say!

    I’ve found that I’m struggling to maintain my ideal weight the older I get. I swear I don’t eat any more and I’m still gaining weight (167-170 lbs at 5’10”, when I want to be 155 lbs). So I’ve tried to improve what I eat and eat less. The problem is, I need energy to compete on the tennis court.

    To be able to spend $30,000 a year on food means you’re financially well to do. Start celebrating!

    Sam

    • John Schmoll says:

      Ha ha, I think you misread it Sam – it wasn’t us who spent $30k on eating out last year, but our contractor friend. The only thing we spend that much on is investing. 🙂

      That being said, you’re not the only one. I fear it’s one of the curses of getting older. I don’t eat that much as it is, but it’s about eating smarter so I have the energy I need while not gaining weight.

      • Haha I thought the same thing at first but you probably expected people to think that when you title it like that! Did you end up gathering the contact info of the guy? Do you think you’ll help him out? This is an area I’m trying to focus on this year. I want to set aside time to actually help people improve their finances in a 1:1 setting.

        • John Schmoll says:

          Yea, can understand especially if the person doesn’t read past the first few paragraphs. I have it and spoke with him a fair bit of some changes they can do to turn things around. I’d love to as that’s definitely a focus of mine but we’ll see if it’s something he’s even open to/wants more help with.

  • Wow! $30k/year is a life-changing amount of money. Agreed – just making small wins in one problem area can make a huge difference (and will probably create some momentum to keep making changes).

    • John Schmoll says:

      Agreed, that’s more than some people make in a year. Exactly! Start with those small steps and use it for momentum – sadly many don’t see that as a possibility of becoming a reality.

  • I was so guilty of eating out too much when I was in college. The small paycheck I received would be blown every week – soon enough I had to stop and ask if it was really worth it! Great advice!

  • you have 30,000 to spend on eating out. that’s impressive, but not. 😉

  • Nathan says:

    My wife and I can completely relate to this story. Thankfully we learned the curse of gym membership many years ago. Both of us have had great jobs and 3-5 times a week each of us would go out to lunch with our co-workers. You can imagine how much that added up to and quick. While we manage our money pretty well, we budget $300 a month for groceries and household item, invest a minimum of $1300 a month, and put at least another $500 a month into savings, we didn’t realize how much money we were spending going out. My bill alone for lunches in 2015 was $24k, my wife was much better at $16k. This was in addition to our monthly nice date night and weekly regular dine out. All said and done we had spent around $50k on dining out. Thankfully, I got fed up with my job and left to take a year off. Upon going through every expenditure we had in 2015 we realized how much money we had wasted on eating out. I’ll tell you the first thing we did was to buy microwavable food containers, enough for a week for each of us. We still managed to stay within our $300 grocery/household budget, but decided to boost to $400 due to saving so much and it allowed more elaborate dishes. Needless to say we’ve been able to save/invest an additional $1200 a month now, even though we were only on one salary. We were shocked at how easily something like this was able to get away from us. Now with me returning to work we are hoping to save and invest my entire salary as well. Thank you for some of the links as they look like they can be valuable tools to continue to save.

  • Cecy says:

    I usually budget 100.00 a month for eating out and it’s usually for date night. It saves tons of money to make your food every day and then leftovers are for lunch. People think I’m weird that I bring lunch to work, but we have managed to pay $60,000 of debt in two years by making changes and sacrificing.

  • C.W. says:

    This is why I love using Quicken to keep track of my money. I track every penny that comes out of my checking account. So I know why I’m broke all the time 🙂 So for the record We spent $5700 on dining last year. (which is too high for me, but my wife deserves it) This includes sit down, fast food, carry out, pizza deliver etc….. I’m just curious what others spend.

  • KJR says:

    Thank you for your post. Eating in makes such a big difference in one’s finances. My husband and I were out of control with our “eating meal out” spending when we realized we had spent close to $1700 in December. We have a large amount of other debt, but we are lucky enough put money away in a savings plan. We decided to go further and strictly adhere to our budget and use one credit card to keep track of all meal items, whether they were groceries, quick week day lunches, or a coffee out. Most online banking and credit cards have options to download transactions into a spreadsheet which make it easier to keep track of spending.

    In January we got ourselves in the habit of meal planning, meal shopping, and having back-up plans for the days we are too tired to cook. Due to our self-imposed austerity, we ended up saving $1000 extra for the past month. We are so excited and motivated by our success, that we look forward to sticking to this way of living.

    We also noticed that we feel healthier and have lost a few lbs because we have been eating at home. It really is a win-win situation.

  • Sophie says:

    I enjoy eating at restaurants too! To help me stay on budget, I withdraw in cash the amount I’ve allowed myself for the month. It’s a ton of cash to have on hand, but it’s real and tangible, instead of using credit cards. It also makes me stop to think if it’s really worth spending my cold hard cash, and I can easily track how much I’m spending.

  • Shandy says:

    I too give myself a budget for entertainment including eating out. It’s $20 a week. That covers my movie, popcorn and eating out.

  • Jim in NJ says:

    Eating out for me is usually a Saturday hot dog and soda at Costco for $1.60 and the free samples in the store. I also stop by Panera for a $15 dinner one night a week after work as it’s on the way to Tuesday evening community band rehearsal. Almost all other meals are at home, except for special occasions. I pack my lunch and bring it to work every day too.

    By the way, my wife and I both have very good paying jobs and we’re multi millionaires.

  • Christopher Keller says:

    To the tune of $30,000/year? Lobster and caviar every night? LOL.

    I quit imbibing alcohol 8 years ago, and my partner and I quit going out to eat when we found out what crappy service “non drinkers” get. Wow!

    It never really occurred to me that the “booze” part of the food bill is where they make their money.

    Once the server found out that we were a ‘no booze table’ and only 2, we never saw them again, EVER.

    Then I found “Pinterest” and learned the tricks of the “restaurant industry trade” from those who had WORKED in the different restaurants and subsequently were laid off when the 2008 recession hit, they took to the internet and became “foodie blogers”. You can find a “copy cat recipe” for just about ANYTHING that is served in a restaurant.

    Going out to dinner, even for 2, isn’t worth the money, time nor effort. I can make it at home, cheaper, better and I know what’s going into my food.

    People these days seem to live beyond their means, and then “kvetch” about it and wonder why. *rolls eyes*

    • John Schmoll says:

      You’re telling me! I can’t imagine spending anything like that on eating out. Doing so every once in awhile, for a nice occasion, is one thing – but going overboard is something else altogether.

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