If Only We Could Stop Eating

Our first paycheck of the month melted away like ice cream on a Mexican beach. It was not because I failed my no-buy self-induced painful challenge (I will elaborate on this shameful event later this month). There was something else eating away at our paycheck. Quite literary, by the way.

We all know that the most important money management tool is knowing where your money goes. As soon as I noticed that our paycheck was performing a continual disappearing act, I tuned into Mint and took a very close look at our spending.

One particular item in our budget was flashing at me in a bright red color. We budget to dine in restaurants $300 per month. It does not break our budget. It does not harm our savings. Of course it doesn’t hurt us, if we stay within our budget.

Why We Do It

Learning something new. Dining out is not a waste of money. I view dining as a very enjoyable and learning experience. Trying out new foods will not only spoil your palate, but it might educate you on different cultures as well.

Taking A Break. Dining out gives you a great excuse to get a nice break from cooking. You change your routine. You give yourself some nice time off, a short one but a time off nevertheless, away from your kitchen.

Socializing. It can be a social event. You dress up, meet up with your friends you haven’t seen for a while, and relax over a nice dinner and a couple of drinks.

Remembering the experience. We don’t eat out rarely, even though sometimes I think we should. Dining out should be a special experience. Special does not constitute fast food restaurants. We don’t go to Applebees or Chili’s. I refuse to pay money for a microwave heated and preservatives loaded greasy food. We go to a nice (sometimes exquisite) restaurants. If we are paying for experience, it’s better be something worth remembering.

What Americans Spend on Dining Out

This month things got a little bit out of control, and our dining out category turned into a budget buster. We have spent $289 on dining in the first ten days of the month! I guess we got carried away.

Do you know how much on average an American household spends on eating out? I did not know, so I looked into it.

According to Bundle (bundle.com), an on-line consumer spending guide that tracks consumer spending by analyzing credit card transactions, the average American spends $232 a month on dining out. This number made me feel somewhat better. We are not alone! I love Texans because people in Austin spend $525 a month. Either Texans make more money or they just like to eat!

I checked Bundle to see how much money people are spending on dining out in Utah. I was unpleasantly surprised to see that it is only $188. For some reason I expected a little higher figure. After all, we are a part of these statistics.

How much on average do you spend each month on eating out?

48 thoughts on “If Only We Could Stop Eating”

  1. Eating out is something I really, REALLY enjoy so it’s one of the most difficult line items in my budget to tame. When I wasn’t paying close attention to how much I spent, the amount of money that went to food and alcohol would easily climb over $600 a month. By the way, that’s for a single woman. Even now, keeping the budget below $300 is quite challenging. What is wrong with me?!

  2. Our dining out expenses were insane, but we are a family of five who could easily spend $75 at any regularly priced restaurant. I think I have tried to tackle this so much in our budget because we were not experiencing any of the good things about dining out, like you said. We live in a the middle of nowhere, there are not a lot of new cuisines to try. All the the restaurants around here are Applebees or Bob Evans. It was more out of convenience than experience. And if i am going to lay down some dough I want experience.

    I also found that I do enjoy cooking new and different foods. I will always try making something new. I think I would be more likely to go out more if we had better restaurants. I do enjoy dining out, but until we move (soon hopefully) I am staying home.

    1. I think if we would be in the middle of nowhere with only Applebees available, we would stay home and try to cook more too. We are lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) to have a lot of restaurants around us. And good ones!

  3. I’d say we spend a couple hundred a month eating out. I love eating out, but we usually get take out and hang out watching a movie on Friday night. I agree with you – it’s also an experience to me. I usually don’t eat out alone, and I’m ok spending on things that allow me time with my friends, family, and boyfriend.

  4. We usually go out once a week for a family dinner. We might get a quick lunch one other time. We try to use coupons from the Entertainment book, restaurant.com or other ‘saving’ opportunities to cut our cost. I’d say it’s probably around $200 per month for us.

    1. Yes, we are trying to do it once a week also. It just seems that this months was out of control completely. Spring in the air perhaps? 🙂

  5. we used to go out to eat quite a bit.. but do it very rarely these days..
    i have lunch out at work with friends once p/ week (for <$10), and we maybe go once a month as a family.

    i am sure we'll go out more, once our financial situation improves..
    but we also have dietary restrictions in the family that make eating out less attractive.

  6. We spend way too much on dining out. My bf eats out everyday before work (cheap fast food). And we tend to eat out all weekend, every weekend. It needs to stop but we’re lazy. We could be saving a ton of money though.

    1. Cheap fast food is not good for you. Especially if you do it everyday. I hope your bf realizes it.

  7. I probably eat out twice a month or so, although last month it was way more. I hook up with my bff and we go out and catch up on what’s been happening. With budget and dietary concerns and food preferences taken into consideration, we have a somewhat limited selection, but it’s always a good time.

  8. We like to eat out too, but we haven’t been to a nice restaurant in a while. Diners do not like babies. 🙂
    So are you going to reduce eating out the rest of this month?
    Did you have any memorable dining experience in this first 10 days of March?

    1. Yes, we had some really good experience in a new Asian restaurant that just opened downtown. I don’t like Asian food that much (except sushi) but this place was REALLY good. Excellent food, interesting decor and a very unusual dessert.
      We are definitely reducing our eating out for the rest of the month. 🙁

  9. I eat out rarely but I spend a ton of money at the grocery store. Since I’m not eating out, why not buy that gorgeous piece of yellowtail tuna and have a special dining experience at home?

  10. We use to go to all kinds of restaurants, fast food, chains like Montanas, Boston Pizza, Rickys, etc. simply for the convenience of not having to cook. Heck we use to go out for breakfast twice a month and spend $30 bucks each time.

    But many times we found that we would come out of the restaurant and look at each other and say did we really enjoy that? Why did we just spend $60 bucks on 2 steak dinners? For $60 bucks I can buy 2 very nice prime rib roasts and make them at home.

    But I do agree that it is very nice to dress up and dine out for a special occassion. When we want to do that I make sure that we are actually going to a restaurant that we will really enjoy. It may cost more, but we do get to try things that we wouldn’t make at home and we do leave feeling happy about our evening out.

    1. I guess it depends on a restaurant. We love going out for breakfast as well! Especially on the weekends. Those chains you mentioned – I’ve never even heard of them!

  11. Food is a huge line item on my budget too, with the majority of my “fun money” going to restaurants.
    We have a tendency to run out by the end of the month, so when the next month rolls around, we end up going out a lot. Then we run out and start the cycle again…

  12. I can totally see how Austinites spend that much on eating out a month – I lived there for a summer in college and spent ALL my extra cash on restaurant/bar hopping (luckily, I lost the 15 extra pounds I gained during those four months).

    My parents have always gone out to dinner, probably 3-4 nights a week. My mom hates to cook! That was their indulgence – they budgeted for it, and they didn’t mind the expense because it was their one must-have luxury.

    1. The problem with going out often enough is all those calories that add up. 🙁 Otherwise I would be out and eating every day. If my wallet would let me.

  13. We used to eat out a lot more often , but have cut back to about $100 or less a month, simply to pay down debt and save. We do enjoy it but we’ve learned we love going out to brunch a LOT more than going out to dinner. we’re usually too tired to enjoy a nice dinner out. we’re so lame like that!

  14. We have $10.00 per week for dining out. It’s not much, but we love fast food–so it’s definitely something we look forward to! We usually share a meal at McDonalds, Lick’s or Five Guys. I know this is often scoffed at by gourmets, but we know what we like 🙂

    I really see nothing wrong with allotting that much towards food if you can afford it though–especially if it’s an experience that really improves your quality of life.

  15. I don’t track it that closely because a lot of our restaurant meals come from our blow money, but if I had to guess I would say we spend about $250 a month eating out. That is just sit down dinners at real restaurants, it does not include what we spend on street vendors. We are in Bangkok if that helps your research 🙂

      1. They probably eat out a lot and in upscale places. I agree that $250 in Thailand is a lot of money. 🙂

  16. Now that you stop and think about it I think ours is close to that. Infact we ate out last night even though my wife had bought food to make, the little kiddies were grouchy and eating out was the easiest. I am trying very hard to break this habit. And add the fact that my wife is 100% italian she loves food…not only do i have to pay for food now…i have to get a gym membership because i love food now.

    1. This is the problem with eating out – calories add up fast, not just money. It is hard to control portions. Another good reason to cut down on going out. 🙂

  17. We used to do loads of eating out as well. Until I developed this obsession with cooking (partly technology driven – I have a nintendo cooking chip; and partly because my mother passed away – apparently this is part of women morfing into their mothers). Now I cook very elaborate meals, this is very relaxing for ‘creators’ and we save a fortune in money and fat.

  18. Analytical Planner

    Oh my goodness! Eating out and groceries is always where we miss the budget! We overspent 10% on groceries and about 17% on eating out in February 2012. It’s just things keep coming up and we end up eating out a lot.

  19. I love eating out. It is a event for me, and the best way to get together with friends that I dont see very often. I have discovered that I like quite a few different foods that I never thought I would.

    I find that as long as its budgeted for properly, I find it money well spent.

  20. I’m also a big fan of eating out. Though my wife and I usually keep the costs down pretty well as neither of us are really big drinkers. Those glasses of wine and cocktails can certainly add up!

  21. I agree dining out is not a waste of money if you do it right. I often try and eat something that I could’nt realistically make at home. Buying the ingredients for some meals is a real job in itself before you start cooking, washing up etc. My wife works in the restaurant industry and works long hours. We grab most chances we can to go and eat out together so that we can really enjoy our time together. We do sometimes enjoy cooking together, but you can’t beat a good meal out with good service!

    1. Sometimes it is difficult to find ingredients in stores. It took us a while to find harrisa paste for A Moroccan chicken sandwich. We checked three stores and, finally, found it in William-Sonoma.

  22. Eating out is by far my biggest weakness. I love it! I’ve had to cut back in this area because gas prices (and the additional rise in food prices) have really cut into our funds. It’s been quite the struggle, but it has made me appreciate a restaurant meal more than when I used to go all the time.

  23. We LOVE eating out – it’s our main form of entertainment.

    We’ve managed to get this down to around $160 a month which I think is more than reasonable. We could definitely spend much, much more easily, though.

  24. I LOVE going out to dinner. Unfortunately my budget doesn’t. I think we might spend somewhere around $400-$500 a month on food (groceries + restaurant). It’s pretty ugly.

  25. $232 dollars a month per person?!? That’s a lot! I agree that eating out is an important and enjoyable part of life… and we do make sure to eat out regularly. We make a point of going out for dinner once a week, and spend on average $25 each time… so we end up spending $100 per month, of $50 each.

  26. As a Texan I can only speak for myself- but I like to eat.

    Our average eating out in 2011 was $897 per month! We’ve cut that to about $550 in 2012 (except this month which will shatter all other records).

    I don’t think we make more money here…we just spend it differently- eating out & running our A/C 10 months a year!

    1. That’s a lot of money to spend on going out. But we sometimes go overboard too. 🙂 I need to visit Texas to see why you guys like to eat out so much. 😉

  27. ……..and meanwhile in India people live on slums for less than $1 a day
    or next door to you there may be someone living off welfare, unable to afford hardly any food at all because they have to pay the gas bill instead
    and hey all that extra food that gets grown and cooked for you specially for your regular ‘dine out’ treat? Redirecting it to vulnerable people wouldn’t just end hunger, it might end poverty.

    I freaked out today because a member of my household came back with 2 packs ( 6 in each pack) yoghurts when we already had a pot of greek yoghurt in the fridge that still needed to be eaten.
    The excuse was ‘ well.. it was on offer’. And then she proceeded to get out a roast chicken which, if she’d just bought a raw one and roasted it would have cost her half of what she just paid for that product. This is a woman in her 60’s who moans half the time that she’s poor and never has any money to spend on herself and nice things like clothes, as she really is ‘poor’ in that way. My only reaction to this, however, is ‘ Grow the heck up and spend less on food then unless you are starving’. But does she listen? No. Just moans about how her credit rating is bad because earlier in her life she ran up really bad debts which she never paid back and how no-one will give her money.

    .. in any case, whether it be closer to home or in some far off country.. there are consequences for wild spending habits that start from you and have a ripple effect. Going out once every once in a while for fun if you can afford it ( i.e once every month/two to three months in my world) is fine but .. seriously… if I had as much money to spend on eating out as the Right Honourable author and the readers of this blog??
    I’d get my greedy self a moral compass and just give the extra dosh to charity!
    I bet the current Homelessness charity I give the little I can afford to give to would be thrilled to receive a proper cheque from me on top of my time and the occasional meagre monetary donation. $300 spare?? Wow.

    1. I am not preaching to others how they should live their lives and what they are supposed to do with their money. I would appreciate people not imposing on me their lifestyle as well. If you cannot afford to dine out, don’t go out. But don’t bitch about other people doing it. If you want to donate to charity, kudos to you for doing it. However, do not tell me that because I chose to do something differently that it is wrong.

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