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The True Cost of Dining Out and How to Become a Frugal Foodie

People often say that if you want to start saving money, stop eating out so much. With hectic schedules that can be much easier said than done. Plus, eating out can be a fun social event and part of people’s emotional well-being.  However, restaurant dining can be expensive, especially regularly eating out a couple of times a week or buying breakfast and lunch at the company cafeteria or local eating spot 5 days a week.  And don’t forget the cost of the cup or two of coffee a day that many of us get while at or on the way to work. Luckily, there are still ways to indulge the foodie in you while still saving money.  The average American household spends $3,500 a year eating out.1 This is the average so that means about half of Americans spend more than that, and not surprisingly, people with higher incomes are likely to spend more than the average on dining out.    

Perhaps more surprising is the average spending by generation, with diners ages 35-54 spending the most3

Here are 5 Ways to Be a Frugal Foodie

1. Make Your Coffee at Home 

This may seem like a small step, but small steps can lead to real gains taken over years or decades.   And if you are buying coffee on the way to work 5x or more per week, the savings can be substantial. The extra money you save by making your morning cup (or thermos for fellow caffeine junkies) at home can be put towards other things such as a special meal out on occasion. You’ll be surprised how much this small change can help you save.  Just cutting back on a cup a day of your favorite coffee shop cup of joe could save almost $500 a year!

2.Cut Back on Eating Out at Work

Instead of eating breakfast in the company cafeteria (or vending machine) 5 days and week and going out to lunch the same amount, try cutting back to two days a week. Or even none to one. Dining can be very social and a great break from work. There may be emotional and health drawbacks to stopping that positive part of your workday. But if you and your colleagues band together and pledge to eat together with lunches brought from home, you retain the social aspects of lunch without the high costs. You could even agree that Friday’s will be lunch at a local restaurant and brown bags for the rest of the week.

3. Meal Prep and Cook at Home More Often 

Generally, you can spend about 30% of the cost of a restaurant meal if you cook it yourself.  After the initial investment in purchasing the basic necessities for cooking at home such as olive oil, flour, spices, etc. your grocery bill won’t be as high when you meal prep. Cooking at home will save you money, but this doesn’t mean you can never eat out again. Instead, tell yourself that you will meal prep and cook at home five to six nights a week and treat yourself to a dinner out with friends on the night or nights that you aren't cooking. Restaurants apply huge markups to alcoholic drinks, so you can often splurge on a better bottle of wine to enjoy with your home-cooked meal but still spend less than the cheapest restaurant offering.    

4. Give Up The Extras 

Just because you go out to dinner doesn’t mean you have to order multiple drinks, a lavish desert, and numerous appetizers. In other words, you can still eat out but just make some more frugal choices when you order. If you stick to one main entree, you can keep your eating out spending more under control and still enjoy the experience of eating out. 

5. Look at The Restaurant Prices in Advance 

This tip is crucial to saving money when eating out. If you are someone who has to eat out from time to time but you don’t want to break the bank, make sure to check out the menu ahead of time to make the best choices on what to order once you arrive. This can also help you decide what restaurants to frequent. Maybe you look at the menu ahead of time and realize that the entree prices are a bit out of your budget. That gives you the chance to make a financially smart decision and choose to eat at a restaurant where the entrees are more reasonably priced. 

Proclaiming that you’ll never eat out again to save money is probably unrealistic. The good news is, you don’t have to give up eating out entirely to save major cash. Most Americans eat out about four times a week. If you make just two of these meals at home instead, you could save almost $1,000 a year!2  That adds up:  $1,000 a year saved for 40 years, earning 5% a year, would give you an extra $120,000 in retirement.  

  1. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm
  2. https://www.moneyunder30.com/the-true-cost-of-eating-in-restaurants-and-how-to-save
  3. https://www.businessinsider.com/average-restaurant-takeout-spending-generation-2018-9