Dining out can make you broke. People in America spend more money on food each year than they do on almost every other household item. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend more than $7,700 per year on groceries and dining out. For the people living in the suburbs of big cities, food is the third biggest expense. Residents of major cities tend to spend more on food than anything else except a place to live.
My family eats at home probably more than most, but when we do go out it is easy to quickly see that there is an issue with people being in debt and eating out. It always surprises me on even a Monday or Tuesday evening how crowded most restaurants are. Having to be put on a waiting list for a seat at a local chain restaurant at dinner time on a Monday evening and it’s easy to see that more people are eating out than they probably should. The result is people are not only able to not save money, but they are also spending more due to the health problems by eating away from home.
With the rising costs of housing, education, and healthcare, eating out is probably one of the easiest places to cut back and save a few dollars. However, not many people seem to be recognizing this or doing it to get out of debt or become financially independent.
There is nothing wrong with eating out, but doing it several nights each and every week will be costly. Most people eat out a majority of the time due to convenience, but it does not have to take a lot of time to eat more at home. It won’t only save a lot of money, but it will make you healthier.
Why do so many people eat out?
First, it’s important to understand why people eat out so much to know why many of them decide to be broke in favor of having a meal prepared for them. This is one thing I never really understood by the consumers that complain of debt.
When I talk to people that have a lot of consumer debt or student loan debt, they often say it is hard to pay down the people they owe. These are a lot of times the same people that are eating out several times a week and even multiple times in a day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So instead of saving money or paying down debt by preparing their own meals more often, why do these people decide to keep paying the high prices for others to prepare their food?
Yes, let’s face the facts here. Some people are just lazy and they do not want to take the time to make their own food. In today’s world of technology doing many of the tasks for us without ever having to get up and the so very interesting garbage of reality television, people are many times just too lazy to make food at home anymore.
Think about the causes of obesity and heart disease on the rise. Many people just do not want to do much anymore unless it involves binge-watching their favorite reality television show or taking in an entire series on Netflix in one day.
It’s not just food preparation at home that could save money as a result of getting off the couch. So many people that could easily mow their own lawn or wash their own car decide to pay someone else to do it. If you can afford it, then great. It might make sense to have someone do your chores and eat at a local restaurant every night. But if you are in debt and can’t save any money then start doing some of your own chores and staying at home to eat. There will be an immediate saving.
Think about it this way. With all of the meal delivery services today like Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Door Dash being able to stay in business, it is a clear sign there is an issue with people not choosing to eat at home. It always makes me laugh just a little when I see advertisements for meal delivery services at fast-food chains. Is it that bad where you have to order from McDonald’s and have it delivered? How difficult can it be to go through the drive-thru or find the closest McDonald’s which can be found every two blocks in most cities? Instead, people would rather have their food delivered for either a flat fee or service charge on top of the cost for the meal.
2. Some people just don’t like to cook
It is true that some people just don’t like to cook at home. Not everyone enjoys cooking. According to a Harvard Business Review study, 45% of people hate to cook. If you want to save some money or pay off debt, then just hating to cook really isn’t much of an excuse.
Most people hate their job. Much more hate getting up to go to work each day. Some people hate cleaning their homes or just plain doing anything other than enjoying themselves. Daily chores are a part of life for most people and making a meal at home is just one of them.
People that do not like cooking often believe it is just too difficult and time-consuming, which really isn’t the case. It can be very easy and simple with some planning. Just do a little research on using a slow cooker. This is one of my favorite ways to make an easy meal. Put the ingredients in a crock-pot in the morning and then in the evening, there is a home-made meal with possible leftovers to make it even easier the following day.
Just not liking to cook is really not a good excuse to spend thousands of dollars every year. This is especially the case if you don’t really have the money to spend. For people that are carrying the average credit debt in America of over $6000, stop eating out as much. You don’t have to like cooking, but you will like the money you can save.
3. Some people don’t know how to cook
You might or might not be surprised to know that some people just do not know how to cook. For me, I am always shocked when someone genuinely doesn’t know how to prepare a meal. I understand not everyone is a professional chef in the kitchen. Yet, some people do not even know how to make a spaghetti dinner or cook a scrambled egg.
You might ask yourself as I do how it is possible that someone would not know how to cook. But these people do exist. With the ease of microwave ovens, convection ovens and quick heat up frozen meals, numerous people never learn to cook. Gone are the days for many young adults learning to cook from a parent or grandparent. This is not only alarming, but all of those great generational recipes are sure to get lost forever.
If you don’t know how to cook, take the time to learn. It really isn’t that difficult and the investment of your time will save you money in the long run.
4. Don’t have the time
Not having the time to cook I believe might be the most credible answer for eating out regularly. However, it still can be a very weak excuse due to some easy ways to plan meals.
The problem today is things are very different than they were decades ago. There was a time when both parents in a household only worked about 25% of the time. Today, it is not uncommon for both parents in a home to be working 60% of the time. When one parent is at home full time it certainly can be much easier to have dinner at home each night.
People in America are also working more hours than they did at one time. Ten-hour workdays and long commutes are becoming a much more normal part of life for many people. Workers are many times even needing to take a second job or come up with a side hustle to make ends meet. The time constraints are certainly making it more challenging to eat at home.
I have even been guilty of the time constraints of eating at home. At one time many years ago, it was not uncommon for me to be working 12-hour days six or seven days a week for about 4 months out of the year. During these times, the last thing I wanted to do was take 15 minutes to prepare a meal at home. I did what I could, but I will admit I ate out more than I should have.
As I mentioned, it can be difficult to prepare meals at home when there isn’t much time to do it. However, there are easy ways to dine at home. You just need to take the time to do a little research and plan ahead. This will give you the time you need.
Why should you eat at home more?
Now that we have looked at the most popular reasons people eat out so much, it’s important to know why eating out will leave your bank account empty. Dining at a restaurant regularly will not only make you broke, but it will also lead to a very unhealthy lifestyle. There is a reason all that food at your local favorite steak house tastes so good and it’s not because it’s full of healthy ingredients.
How much does it really cost to eat out?
It should not really come as a shock that eating out is getting more expensive. It’s not just the food costs that are going up. Operating expenses, labor, and insurance costs are also on the rise for many food business owners.
Think of all the services you pay for that go up in cost every year. Rent, taxes, cable bills, and electric bills are just a few. I can’t ever remember a year where most of the recurring living expenses I have haven’t gone up. It is many times just a dollar here and five dollars there, but all of these add up. Also, the increases are never really just an inflationary hike. They are much more.
The reason it is becoming more expensive to eat out is you are paying for the service. This is not just for the chosen place to prepare a meal. You are also paying for their location, electricity, salaries, cleaning, advertising, and the list can go on. Food business owners are getting hit with the same recurring rising costs consumers have and they are passing the expenses back to their customers.
What is the average markup for restaurants?
It is estimated that the average restaurant has a markup of about 60% for food and their beverages may go as high as 500%. If you want to have an adult beverage while you are eating out, be prepared to line the pockets of the restaurant. A $10 bottle of Vodka might make $100 or more depending on the establishment. That $10 bottle of wine at the grocery store might cost $30 or more with your food.
Some of the Bigger Profits
Some of the bigger profits at a restaurant are with items like pasta and rice. Think about that ninety-nine-cent box of spaghetti at the grocery store that feeds your entire family and then take a look at your favorite Italian restaurant and what they are charging for a pasta and meatball dinner. Pasta has an average retail cost for a single serving at about $1.29 per pound, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can quickly see how spaghetti at home can be much less expensive.
Soft Drinks are another big profit maker when dining out. Take a look at the bill closely the next time you eat out and order a cola. They are many times $3 or more. Foodservice.com calculates the estimated cost of a 20 oz fountain drink at a restaurant to be around just 12 cents. If you still want to eat out and save some money, try drinking just water. This will even save a little money here and there.
Eggs are one of the largest profit makers for protein. The average markup for scrambled eggs is said to be around 80 percent. Breakfast is one of the biggest profit makers in the right place and it is one that probably gets to me the most when it comes to saving money. Luckily, I have an inexpensive diner close to home that costs barely anything to eat breakfast. However, I have eaten breakfast at places that might charge $12 or more for a few scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns, and toast. Add in coffee and a tip and it’s probably close to $20 for breakfast. For just a few dollars the same meal could easily be made at home.
It’s Easy to Do the Math
If you compare the costs of eating out and at home, it should be easy to see that a ton of money can be saved by preparing meals in your own kitchen.
Take for example a family of three that might eat out three times a week on average for an entire year with an average price of $10 each. This comes out to $90 per week, $360 a month and $4320 a year on the low side. The $10 eating out per meal price is very conservative and probably quick fast food or run in and out meals.
Now, let’s change it to an average for the year of $15 each for a family of three. Eating out just three times a week is $135 per week, $540 per month and $6,480 per year. This is before buying just regular items you may eat and drink at home. It isn’t likely that every single thing will be purchased eating out.
Cutting back just a little can save a lot of money. Take the average $15 per meal for a family of three to eat out and cut back to just one time a week at a restaurant. This comes out to $45 a week, $180 a month, and $2160 per year. That is a difference of $4320 per year by dining out one time a week compared to three. If you prepared the same meals at home for just one-third of this savings roughly $1400, there would be a savings still of close to $3000 for a year. Think about that savings in a college fund for your kid or the extra money saved for emergencies and retirement.
A Word of Caution
You should now be able to see how eating at home more can save a lot of money. If you are eating out and charging it, you should be cutting back right now if it includes carrying a balance and monthly finance charges on a credit card.
Charging meals at your favorite restaurant regularly and then taking your time to pay the balance is a sure way to get into a mountain of debt. Although food is great, there is no real monetary value and return from ordering that $12 hamburger. The average credit card interest is now around 16%. Add this to the hamburger you ate two months ago and you should be able to clearly see the problem.
Unfortunately, dining out is a big problem when it comes to credit card debt. If you find yourself taking a year to pay off all your meals, it is a good sign you should be eating at home.
It’s Not Just About Saving Money
Although this article is primarily about the reasons to eat at home more to save money and not go broke, the more important motive you should have to not eat out often is for health. This should probably be the biggest concern with dining out too much.
It should be very concerning that only one in three children today are physically active every day. Children today spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a videogame, computer or television. Adults are not far behind as many are on their smartphones all day long.
The diet of most Americans today exceeds the recommended limits for calories, fats, sugars, sodium, and saturated fat. These are not the only things that are not being watched in the food we eat.
Fast food is a problem as most people would think with the number of these chains more than doubling since the 1970s. It is estimated, according to statista.com, that 72% of Americans typically visit a quick-serve restaurant for lunch. Although fast-food chains like to say they have healthy options, the truth is not many of them really do. Take a look at the great-looking salad more closely.
The problem with fast food is certainly the health side to it, but also have you priced a value meal lately? Many of them are no longer much of value and often just one meal will equate to a complete day of recommended calories.
It’s not just fast-food restaurants that are unhealthy. Most places you eat outside of your own home today will have portions that are always larger than they should be. Also, they put things in their food to give them a stronger taste. The result is a meal that is too much food with more salt and sugar that will generally take longer to digest.
A study by the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health found typical restaurant food portion sizes averaged 674 calories. Appetizers had an average of 813 calories, side items 260, salads 496 and drinks alone had an average of 419 calories. The truth is most people order more than one or two items when eating out and the total calorie intake is often more than the average 2000 calories per day recommended by the Institute of Medicine.
With restaurants routinely serving meals with more calories and larger portions than people really need, the outcome is a dangerous risk of obesity and diet-related health issues. Heart disease is a real problem in America and high-calorie meals loaded with fats, sugars, and salt are certainly not helping.
There is Really No Transparency
It would seem that most food service places these days are trying to accommodate some type of transparency when it comes to the calories and what is in their food. You can see it on many menus listing the calories and ingredients. However, the truth is you probably never really will know what is in the food you are eating and this is a big problem with eating out and being healthy.
There is a reason much of the food eaten out tastes so good many times. The reason is it’s loaded with sugar and salt. You can make the same thing at home just about, but other ingredients can be used to make it healthy.
When it comes to eating something you didn’t make, you really have to wonder what is in it. Think about a $5 pizza that you might be able to get out someplace. It’s $5! Do you think the best and most healthy ingredients are really being used to serve it?
Just like some things in the grocery store have certain preservatives to increase the shelf life, restaurants need to keep their food as fresh as they can for as long as possible in many cases. This should leave you wondering what you are eating.
It shouldn’t be difficult to see that eating out on a regular basis can cost a lot of money. In the United States alone the restaurant industry had food and drink sales amounting to over 700 billion dollars. That is a lot of people dining out.
The problems really aren’t that people eat out and restaurants are charging high mark-ups on the food they serve. People should be able to enjoy a meal out now and then. Restaurant owners should also be able to make a living along with the people they employ.
Eating out really isn’t the issue, but it is often the frequency that people are doing it that causes a problem. With student loan debt at record levels, stagnant wages for many people and daily living costs often rising faster than inflation, many people are not able to save much money. Eating out frequently is leaving them broke.
Although eating more at home can save quite a bit of money, the real benefit is a healthy lifestyle. Regularly eating out results in higher portions and calories with elevated sugars and salt. This can many times lead to weight problems and health issues related to a poor diet.
If you are in debt and want to be debt-free, stop eating out if you are doing it frequently. Cut back if you can’t seem to completely stop. Your bank account will thank you and your heart will as well.
There isn’t anything wrong with going out to eat, but it really should be saved for special occasions or limited as much as possible. Cooking at home doesn’t have to be a challenge or time-consuming. Take the time to plan and do a little research. It will be worth the effort.