Americans spend more money eating out than on groceries
Q. I often read about how you believe budgeting is the key to reaching personal goals, but I think budgeting is a frustrating process. It costs so much to live these days that I don’t know how anyone can get ahead. Even food is a major expense for our family. How do we pay for what we need and still reach our goals?
A. I won’t disagree that it costs a lot to live today. But my experience has also shown me that most people spend money in some areas without thinking about it. It’s easy for all of us to confuse our needs with our wants.
Food is, of course, an example of a need. However, meals out and convenience foods are not needs. According to Quart (a news source), Americans spent more money at eating and drinking establishments than we spent at grocery stores last year.
Now there’s nothing wrong with eating out. But if the money you spend on meals out exceeds the amount you spend on groceries, and you are frustrated with your finances, then it is time look at this area more closely.
No matter how economical you are, it costs more to eat out than it does to cook a meal. If you are a family of 4 and go out for lunch, you will probably spend anywhere from $25 to $50, depending on where you go and what you order.
On the other hand, you could spend less than $25 and buy deli meat, a loaf of bread, condiments for your sandwich, fruit, chips, a gallon of juice, and a box of ice creams bars and still have a few leftovers for another meal. Similarly, you could purchase a box of instant oatmeal, a gallon of milk, and juice for a family of 4 for what one person would have to pay for instant oatmeal and an iced coffee at a drive-thru.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, it almost always less expensive to make your meals at home than it is to buy them. What’s more, when you prepare your own food, it is healthier for you, since you can control the amount of salt, sugar, and fat that goes into your food.
It might take practice to get in the habit of preparing meals at home, but you can do it. It will be easier if you make food planning, preparation and clean-up a family responsibility. No one person should have to do this alone. If one person is left to do it all, then the end result will be the family will spend more money on meals out which can create stress on the family’s finances.
I’m not saying that you should never eat a meal out – but do so in moderation. If you’re frustrated with your finances, I encourage you to track what you are spending on eating out for a whole month. Count all those seemingly insignificant purchases—even the candy bar at the gas station or the coffee at the drive-thru. Getting a clear picture of what you’re spending will help you see where you can save money to reach your personal goals.
Bonnie Spain is the executive director of the American Center for Credit Education and Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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