by Kailey Hagen | Updated July 17, 2021 - First published on March 14, 2020
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You may not realize how much this one expense costs you.
Ever look at your bank account balance and wonder where all your money went? You earned some this month, you swear, but it seems like it disappeared before you got a chance to enjoy it. You can dig into your bank and credit card statements trying to figure out where it all went, but the answer might just be deceptively simple.
The typical American spends $288 per month on food away from home, according to The Ascent's recent research on the average American budget. That's about 43% of all the money the average person spends on food in a month.
Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? Let's take a closer look.
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Obviously, everyone spends their dining-out money a little differently. For some people, it's a pit stop at a coffee shop every morning on the way to work. For others, it's a lunch here and there with friends, or a dinner out to avoid having to cook at home.
It never seems like a big deal when you're spending $5 here or $10 there, and that's why a lot of people don't realize the true cost. That $288 spread out over a 30-day month comes out to about $9.60 per day. Buy one fancy $4 latte and lunch, even somewhere cheap, and you're probably already going to be over that daily amount.
The average restaurant meal costs about $20.37 per serving, according to a Wellio analysis. It only takes five of those, and you're over $100. Meal kits, a popular option among those who want to cook at home but don't want to bother with grocery shopping and finding recipes, are a little cheaper. The average meal kit costs about $12.53 per serving, according to Wellio. But you know what's even cheaper? Cooking at home, which came out to about $4.31 per serving. If you ate those five restaurant meals at home instead of dining out, you'd save about $80.30.
It's fine to go out to eat once in a while, but you shouldn't do so mindlessly, especially if you're trying to save up for important financial goals. Decide on a reasonable amount of money to spend on dining out per month, and limit yourself to that. Track your spending on dining out, on paper or with a budgeting app, to make sure you're not going over.
This might require some changes to your regular dining habits. Making coffee at home instead of buying it out is one small change that could save you quite a few dollars if you buy often. It could require a higher upfront investment if you don't already have a coffee maker, but over time, that pays for itself. You can make a cup of coffee for around $0.60 at home, according to ToughNickel, so you're saving yourself several dollars on every cup.
Meal kits can serve as a nice transition from dining out often if you're not sure what to cook, or you don't have time to run to the grocery store, but if you're trying to save the most, go with strictly homemade meals. You can even keep your meal kit recipe cards and make them from scratch.
If time is a big part of the issue, try planning all your meals for the week on the weekend. Then you’ll have what you need to put it together fast and pop the food in the microwave or the oven. Slow cooker and one-pot recipes are also a good choice -- they don't usually require a lot of prep work.
It might take a little experimenting to find the home-cooked meals you like and a routine that works best for you, but it's worth the effort. You may notice the difference in your bank account pretty quickly. If you think dining out is part of your budgeting problem, try some of these tips to start fixing it now.
Many people are missing out on guaranteed returns as their money languishes in a big bank savings account earning next to no interest. The Ascent's picks of the best online savings accounts can earn you more than 8x the national average savings account rate.
We're firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers. The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.