If you’ve been spending more than you’d like lately, personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary has one helpful tip. She recommends eating out less and focusing on using whatever groceries you have at home.
It may be simple, but if you eat and drink often, cutting back can really boost your finances. In fact, Singletary has said that some of the families she works with save more than $1,000 a month this way.
You don’t need to make big changes to spend less on dining out. In most cases, a few tweaks here and there can help you free up more money without reducing your quality of life.
Why dining is a good place to cut corners?
Singletary works with families to improve their budgets and their financial situation. On the Fur fool money podcast, she said eating out is the third largest expense in many people’s budgets. It was usually behind housing and transportation costs, but before retirement savings and school fees for children.
In terms of numbers, Singletary says that people who stopped eating saved an average of $500 to $600 per month. The normal range was a few hundred dollars to $1,000, with some families spending up to $1,500 a month dining out.
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Everyone’s spending habits are different, but dining is definitely one of those areas where it’s easy to overspend. If going out with friends usually involves going to a restaurant or bar, those tabs can add up quickly, especially in big cities. I’m used to Los Angeles prices, so I get it. It’s a battle between wanting to visit all those cool restaurants and not spending hundreds every weekend.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with eating out. If you are a foodie and are restaurants where you like to spend money, that’s great. The key is that those expenses shouldn’t get in the way of other financial goals, such as saving for retirement or paying off debt. And for foodies, I also recommend looking into diner credit cards that will at least give you more money on those restaurant bills.
How to spend less on dining out
If you want to reduce your dinner expenses, there are many ways you can do it and have more money in your bank accounts at the end of the month.
Singletary has a financial challenge she recommends, the 21 Day Financial Fast. During those three weeks you only spend money on the bare essentials. That means you don’t eat out and you only buy what you need in the supermarket. She also challenges families to use all those extra food items they have lying around, such as canned food in the pantry and chicken in the back of the freezer.
That’s one way to go, but if it’s a bit much for you, there are tamer options out there too. I’ve been trying to keep an eye on my eating expenses lately, and what has worked for me the most is swapping out some (not all) expensive meals for more affordable alternatives.
For example, instead of eating every time, I go for lunch, or go to a cafe for coffee and cake. Other days it’s just cocktails instead of a full dinner and drinks. I also looked for other activities to go out, such as hiking, visiting museums, and watching movies. Changing things up is a nice change of pace, and it often costs less.
It’s also a good idea to find out how much you spend per month on dinners. For the best results, you need a limit and a way to track your spending so you don’t exceed it. Budget apps can help with this.
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