Appetite For (Budget) Destruction: The High Costs of Eating Out

A woman eating at a restaurant.

We’ve all done it: You’re tired after a long day, and you’re starving. You have food in the fridge and the pantry — but none of it looks particularly appetizing, and you really don’t feel like cooking. You want a hit of salt, sugar, and fat, and you want it now.

It’s a primal urge. There isn’t much you can do about it. So, you fire up one of the several food delivery apps on your phone, like GrubHub, Uber Eats, etc. You scroll until you see something that looks like it’ll hit the spot — maybe pad see ew? — and place an order. It’s pricey, but it’ll be darned tasty!

There’s nothing particularly wrong with eating out. It’s fun, delicious, and as we learned during the pandemic, a near necessity in some cases. But doing it too often? It can seriously dent your wallet, and blow up your budget. In fact, most people spend way more than they think when eating out.

How much do we spend eating out?

The most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the average American spends roughly $3,000 per year eating out. Now, we have to assume that that figure has increased over the past couple of years, too, with the pandemic causing many people to stay at home and look for something, anything, to break the monotony.

But generally speaking, Americans spend thousands of dollars eating out every year. You can also tack more onto that depending on where you live. If you live in New York City, for example, you may have a small kitchen and a plethora of nearby restaurants to choose from, and eat out more often than, say, someone who lives on a farm, where the nearest take-out options are 15 miles away.

Additionally, you probably eat out more than you realize. The average American eats out almost six times per week!

We also have to take into account the fact that food prices have increased in a big way recently. Between November 2020 and November 2021, the average cost of eating out increased almost 6% — and has probably increased more since then.

Add it all up, and one thing becomes clear: There are high costs to eating out.

How to save on food costs

The obvious answer for cutting down your take-out costs is to, well, stay in. While that’s no fun, and perhaps not realistic all the time, perhaps the best thing to do is to simply try to be more mindful of how often you’re buying food or drinks.

When you start paying attention, it can really add up. 

For instance, you might buy a coffee (and maybe a muffin or something) in the morning. If you’re at work or school, you might also go grab lunch with your colleagues. And then, someone might mention that grabbing an ice cream cone at around 3 PM for an afternoon pick-me-up sounds like a swell idea. 

Before you know it, you’ve eaten out three or four times in one day, without giving it much thought! There are some obvious ways to save in there (pack a lunch, skip the ice cream but tag along). So, just try and be more mindful of what you’re doing.

Another trick that may help you: Carry cash. Take out, say, $40 for the week, and use it as your spending money on coffee, lunch, etc. You’re likely to notice much faster that you’re burning through that cash reserve, rather than how often you’re swiping your card or using a payment application.

Again, you’re going to get take-out and eat at restaurants. And you should. Just do so in moderation, and do your best not to break your budget!

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