Monday, May 9, 2011

Money Monday - Stop Eating Your Nest Egg

Part 1 of 3: Dining Out Less

Let's talk about dining out. It's ridiculously expensive. You have to eat, but does it have to be so damn expensive?? 13% of the average American budget is spent on food. This is definitely something you can control. There's some things in your budget that you just can get any cheaper, gas and insurance are some examples. But, food? Oh, there's definitely room for improvement in that department. The average American family of four spends $9,534 a year on food, 44% of that being on dining out. That's almost $350 a month eating out! Are you fucking kidding me?! Really?! I can imagine a zillion other things I would love to do with $350 a month.

In our home, we spend $300 a month on food, period. That's groceries and dining out. That's a savings of $444 a month over the national average, or $5,328 a year. Now that's a pretty penny. Put away those savings for 30 years (the average amount of years an adult would work), and you would have $159,840. That's a good bit of money. That's money that can be earning interest. Combine that with your usual retirement plan and your golden years might look pretty nice (despite the shit economy).

 Now, I am not saying that your budget has to look like ours or you even have to take my advice, but I am saying that you should definitely rethink the way you dine out. You can still save a good bit of money by just trimming the edges a little bit. Don't get into a dining out habit. You can throw thousands of dollars away over your lifetime eating away from home and not even enjoying it. You know what I am talking about. The I'm-too-rushed-to-make-my-coffee-Starbucks-run, the I-didn't-have-time-to-pack-my-lunch-so-I'll-grab-a-sub-here, and the I'm-too-tired-to-cook-let's-get-take-out. It's not even enjoyable dining out. You are just eating out because life keeps getting in the way. With a little bit of planning and some better conscious decisions, you can turn your whole food budget around. If you are going to spend some money going out, let it be for fun, not just a mundane habitual rut.

Here are some great ways to cut down the habit:

Learn To Cook
Not knowing how to cook is not a good reason to eat away at your child's college savings account. Learning to cook can be fun, rewarding, and best of all, YUMMY! If you don't have the funds or time for formal cooking lessons, turn it into a mini goal or hobby. There are countless resources out there to help you out on this. YouTube videos, cookbooks, friends/relatives, websites, and the list goes on. Start simple. Easy homestyle recipes will feed your family just fine. Only do the fancy stuff if you really want to.

Set Limits
Eating out is fun but don't over do it if you have more important priorities. Set aside a realistic budget for dining out. If you're in a bad money situation, eating out once a month with a $50 budget should be just right. If there's breathing room in your budget, perhaps 2-3 times a month better suits you, but keep the bill low ($30 or less for a couple). In part 2 of this topic I will cover how to dine for less and still have a blast. Personally, we only eat out for special occasions or if someone is treating us out. We try to have a date night once a month but if there's a holiday or special occasion that month, then that's our eating out night. Sometimes there's a couple of "special" things going on in a month. We just try to keep it to a minimum or find "extra" income (doing odd jobs) to make up the difference.

Stock Up
To fight away the take-out temptation, always have a stocked fridge and pantry. It's much harder to justify getting a pizza delivered when you have all the ingredients on hand to make something much yummier yourself. In part 3 I will cover how to shop sales and fill your pantries with staples and other stuff to make meals. At any point and time I always have all kinds of stuff to make a dinner. Always. It's great that way. No running to the store the last minute to grab a missing ingredient and walking out $50 later with everything but that ingredient.

This one is pretty important. To stop dining out, you're gonna have to plan some meals and shop accordingly. Never leave a night with nothing planned for dinner. You'll get home tired and end up just getting something. That's no good. Once you have a stockpile, know how to cook, and have broken that nasty dining out habit, you probably won't have to plan quite as much and still eat at home regularly.

Socially...Dining out is usually a social thing if it's not a I'm-too-tired-to-cook thing. Entertain at home. Have friends bring a dish. If you're buying, cooking and serving food at home is still much cheaper than going out if you do it wisely. If you have to go out to eat for social reasons, in part 3 I will cover some ways to do it cheaper.

The Bottom Line
Eating out can be a hard habit to break. With some lifestyle changes and willpower, it can totally be done and you will be richer in the long run. Just stop flushing your money down the toilet (literally and figuratively). Eating your nest egg is never a good idea. Even if you eat organically, you can save money eating at home.

Check back next week for Part 2: Dining Out Cheaper

Weekly Totals:

I didn't bother with CVS this week. There wasn't anything we really needed and the sale wasn't really all that awesome in my opinion. I refreshed my ECB last week so I can hold out for a good sale for a couple of weeks. Publix kinda sucked too. Most of the deals required newspaper insert coupons and because I only subscribe to one paper, I didn't save as much as I could have.

Publix $86.05OOP+$86.09 Saved= $172.14 worth of groceries at 50% savings. Nothing special. Still saved half. Got some cheap ziplock bags and windex among other things. Nothing worth mentioning.

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