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How much money would you save if you stopped going out to eat?
If you don’t track it with a budget, chances are it’s a lot more than you think. In 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average American household spent $3,008 a year dining out. That’s $250 a month! How would an extra $250 a month change your budget?
Where do you stack up? If you’re not sure how much you spend, now is a great time to start tracking it. Try it for a month or two to get an accurate picture of how much you actually dine out.
In 2013, my wife and I decided to stop going out to eat altogether. It was a big change, but it completely transformed our finances and enhanced our ability to get out of debt.
Jesus Promised Us a Debt Free Life, and We Said Yes
A few years ago, Jenna revealed to me that she felt Jesus telling her that she would be debt free in five years.
I don’t remember if I laughed out loud or if it was only in my head, but I had a lot of questions at how that would happen.
At the time, we were practically on a shared budget (even though we weren’t even engaged yet) so we knew exactly how much debt we had between us, and it was nearly $90,000.
I’m not great at math, but that’s nearly $20,000 every year and we didn’t exactly have money shooting out of our ears!
We were both paraprofessionals bringing home just under $20,000 a year after taxes, not to mention our student loan repayment plans were ten years at minimum.
Where in the world would the extra money come from?!?! How would we accelerate our repayment plans that drastically?!!?
That is when Jenna dropped the next bombshell on me.
Jesus Asked Us to Stop Going Out to Eat
In addition, God was asking her to stop going out to eat. 100% home cooked meals. We couldn’t even get a crappy gas station coffee!
Not eating out was a big change. We were in our mid twenties and often went out for drinks and food with friends and coworkers.
We place a high value on community and a great way to invest in community is around a table of food, whether it’s your own or at a restaurant. If we didn’t go out to eat, how would this affect our community? If we chose to stop eating out, we would have to face difficult realities related to our community, more on that later.
Also, it’s such an easy way to get together and you get to eat great food with no preparation or clean up. We probably ate out with friends 2-3 times a week. I was quickly trying to process all of this in my head, but I was anxious to hear more.
Crunching Numbers: How Much Do You Spend Dining Out?
Let’s pause the conversation for a minute and think for a moment how often you go out to eat and how much it costs.
It can be a shocking reality check. Our quick math went something like this. One of our favorite places was a little Mexican restaurant that had cheap drinks, free chips and salsa, and wonderfully cheesy food.
I got the same thing nearly every time. A cheap beer for about four bucks and a ten dollar meal, complemented by free chips and salsa.
After taxes and a tip, it came down to about $20, $15 if I didn’t get a drink. Not too bad. But if I spend $15 (at minimum) every time I go out to eat, that’s going to start adding up.
We estimated that we each went out to eat a minimum of 5 times a month. Now adding it all together, each of us was spending at least $75 a month. The reality was that we often went out more than 5 times a month.
Combining our finances brings us to a total of $150 a month to eat out, and that’s on the very conservative side. The reality was we probably spent $250-300 every month. If you expand that to a year, we spent between $1,800-$3,600. Now that’s crazy!
Then if you add in normal grocery costs, trips to the coffee shop, or random gas station snacks, you are all of a sudden spending loads of money on food every month.
What Does it Actually Look Like to Stop Dining Out?
We were shocked after breaking down the numbers! Being new to budgeting we saw massive potential to influence our debt free journey and a chance to climb out of the hole faster than we thought possible!
However, before we made a decision, we had to talk about the realities of choosing not to eat out.
We decided that if we said yes to Jesus in this, that we would go all out with no exceptions. The only food we would buy needed to be from a grocery store, and needed to stay within our budget constraints of $60 at the time. If we didn’t have the cash, we wouldn’t buy it. Pretty simple, right? I will spare you the suspense, we said yes to Jesus.
As I mentioned in the intro, we had difficult realities to face by choosing to not eat out.
Reality #1: People would still ask us to grab drinks or food with them. How would we respond?
Of course we wanted to hang out with our friends, but that collided with our decision to not eat out. If we said no, we would lose out on valuable friend time and possibly in the long run that would have severe impacts on some of our friendships.
On the other hand, if we said yes, how would we tell our friends about our decision? How would they react, especially when we sat there drinking water while they all ate food? It just sounds awkward!
We guessed that our friends would feel uncomfortable. We also anticipated some would offer to pay our tab because it appeared as if we couldn’t afford to eat out.
In the end though, none of that mattered because this was our decision and an investment in our future. If our friends and family didn’t understand, that was okay. After a while, we guessed everyone would get used to it.
Reality #2: We would need to be more intentional about planning our meals.
Grocery shopping and cooking are time consuming. Personally, I don’t like to spend a lot of time buying groceries, and even less time cooking.
If I’m cooking by myself, I’m usually thinking, “what can I make that requires the least effort possible?” My ideal meal is leftovers or anything that can be microwaved or tossed in the oven. While I love good home cooked food, I’m not a great cook and prefer something quick and easy.
On the other hand, my wife Jenna is a great cook and loves to make home cooked meals! This is just one of a bajillion reasons I know I married my dream woman! 🙂
We Learned How to Meal Prep to Save Time and Money
Here’s how it looks for us. Each week, our budget allows us $60 for food. This includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two, totaling 42 meals a week.
As I mentioned before, I love eating leftovers and it turns out Jenna does too. Using this to our advantage, we choose a breakfast, lunch, and a dinner we want to eat for an entire week.
Next, we buy in bulk from SAMs Club to get the most bang for our buck, and Wal-Mart for some smaller things. Then Sunday afternoon turns into meal prep day when we cook a really big batch of our meals. Jenna is the chef and I cut a lot of veggies. It actually turns out that we really love cooking together with music, sometimes dancing and singing around our kitchen. It’s almost a mini date night.
Once our food is done, we portion it into individual Tupperware for grab and go meals. That means we eat the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner for roughly six days in a row.
Yes, sometimes we get sick of eating the same meals everyday, but overall, we love it! We only really have to cook one day a week, and eat leftovers the rest of the week! And the goal was to save money to get out of debt fast. To us, it was totally worth the repetitiveness.
It really is my cooking dream come true! 🙂
How Much Money Could You Save if You Stopped Going Out to Eat?
Let’s use some basic numbers to make it more real. If I spend $150 to eat out, a conservative $300 on normal groceries, and $50 on trips to the coffee shop and gas stations snacks, my total monthly budget for food comes to $500, and $6,000 yearly.
However, by cutting out going out to eat, coffee shops, and gas station snacks, I’m only spending $300. Then to be extra frugal, I can trim my grocery bill down to $250 by meal prepping. It’s hard work, but I cut my expenses in half!
That gives me an extra $250 a month, and $3,000 a year. All of that is extra I can put towards paying off my student loans. How would an extra $3,000 a year change your financial goals?
Now again, I think these are conservative numbers for going out to eat and each person or family is different. All you can do is analyze and crunch your own numbers to see your potential savings!
We Still Choose to Say Yes to Jesus
Four years after our initial conversation, Jenna and I are still saying yes to Jesus. We don’t spend money going out to eat, unless it’s specifically budgeted.
Not going out to eat launched us into a head on battle against our debt and we came out on top. We became debt free in May 2017, one year ahead of schedule. We paid off $73,000 of student loan debt in just under 4 years. The rest qualifies for student loan forgiveness.
We have experienced both joy and frustration in this journey, but saying yes to Jesus in our finances has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
He has transformed our outlook on money, changed our spending habits, and blessed us beyond anything we could’ve imagined!
Let Me Know in the Comments
How much do you spend eating out each month? Where would you invest that money if you decided to stop eating out?
Our budget and goals changed our lives and it can change yours too.
Do you want the same debt snowball spreadsheet we used to pay off $100,000 of total debt in 5 years? Tap the button.
As an Educator and Personal Finance Blogger, Jamie has helped hundreds of families learn how to budget, save money, and pay off debt (go here to subscribe and start your debt free journey). Read our debt free story, “How We Paid Off $73,000 of Debt in Less Than Four Years”.