zero day challenge eating out is killing your budget

Eating Out is Killing Your Budget

Everyone loves hating on Millennials and our food habits. There are all of those ridiculous articles that say we are killing chain restaurants by dining at super hipster bars, and in the next breath we can read about how we’re so poor we can’t even afford to buy groceries. We have billionaires yelling at us, saying that avocado toast is the reason why we can’t retire.

And we rise up and we rage. We talk about how Millennials receive all of the frustration from the older generations. We’re misunderstood, and we turn to our blogs to write about our feelings. I 100% support this, but I also 100% support looking at our actual budgets, and seeing if all the haters are right, or they’re full of S^&%.

Let’s Talk About My “Eating Out” Budget

Okay, here’s a bit of a confession: I don’t have an explicit budget. I have a monthly spending goal, but I don’t divide this goal into set groups with spending limits. This has never worked for me.

So when I first went and started looking at my food expenses, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Was I spending $200 a month, $300 or even $400? I meticulously track my spending every month as part of the Zero Day Challenge, but I sort of forget my spending at the end of each month.


zero day challenge oops

Anyway, you can see what my actual spending is for each month, and that’s where I got my data from. In the first 6 months of the year, I spent $2,250 on eating out. Ouch. I didn’t think I spent that much!

On average, I’ve spent about $380 per month eating out. While doing the Zero Day Challenge. Let that sink in for a minute. I’m meticulously tracking my spending, but still spending hundreds on food, and haven’t remembered a lot of it.

I can tell you, this is sort of killing my budget. Here is why: my goal spending is about $1,350 per month. How many months is my spending less than $380 above my goal? 3 times. How many months have I met my spending goal (so far?). 2 months.

So out of the first 6 months in the year, I would have met my budget 5 times if I controlled my eating out. I would have saved an additional $2,250 without eating out, but more likely saved an extra $1,250 by being more reasonable.

It’s tough to say, but eating out has killed my food budget for the first 6 months. Gone, goodbye. But now I have enough information to do better in the last half of the year. But how did this happen?

Forgetting Spending is Easy

It’s so easy to forget what you spend money on. That’s because you swipe your credit card and you think about the $12 you spent on tacos. But then the tacos arrive at your table, and you’re only thinking about the delicious pork shoulder and guacamole. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

But seriously, it is so easy to forget what you spend your money on. And this fact can easily sabotage your budget, just like those angry people raging about avocado toast.

Here’s how.

Let’s say that you go out to lunch with your coworkers twice a week, and it costs $15. You also go out to the bar with your friends on Friday and Saturday night, which costs $40 each time (a real bargain price for Washington, D.C.).

How much money do you spend a week doing this? $110. That’s $440 a month, and $5,720 per year.

Who here knows what the maximum contribution for your Roth IRA is? $5,500. That means you could fully fund your Roth IRA if you stopped going out and instead invested your money. If you do this for 40 years, you’ll have about $1 million dollars when you retire, enough for an extremely comfortable retirement.

Don’t Stop Eating Out (If you Don’t Want to)

Since we can just stop eating out and (for the most part) guarantee a comfortable retirement, not eating out is the right decision, right?


Absolutely 100% wrong. This is the aspect that all of those Millennial shaming writers miss. Eating out and socializing with friends has real value. It isn’t just the food, but the social aspect. Relieving stress, having a good time. Stop listening to the haters.

Plus, we are adults, we can do whatever we want, and that doesn’t give you the moral high ground to judge us. And who says that we should trade 40 years of enjoying food with friends for a comfortable retirement in our 60’s?

We need to make our own decisions. We need to make our own mistakes. We need to find our own paths.

But we also need to be reasonable. We can’t throw away all our money on fancy lunches and push our money problems to tomorrow. We must find a middle ground.

And that is what the Zero Day Challenge is all about. Every single time you are about to buy something, you make an assessment. “Is this spending worth it?

You are the only person who can answer the question. In your scenario, spending $50 to go to the bar with your friends is totally worth it. Or maybe it isn’t. The answer doesn’t really matter. As long as your decision helps you achieve your goals, then do what you want, and don’t listen to all the haters.

Are you ready to take the Zero Day Challenge? Then join the mailing list to gain access to the exclusive spreadsheet, plus other insider information.

Comments 7

  1. Every single time you are about to buy something, you make an assessment. β€œIs this spending worth it?β€œ

    You bring up a key point here! I find that the times I feel like I am wasting money eating out is when I am eating out impromptu or because we are out and about without other options. But there are other times that we plan a nice evening and truly enjoy the delicious dinner out or savor the food at an interesting place… and that is oftentimes completely worth it (in moderation of course)!

    ~Mrs. Adventure Rich

    1. Post

      That’s the key! We are free to make our own decisions and do whatever we want, but we can also examine our decisions and find that we’re buying food “just cause.”

  2. We enjoy eating out and without a doubt our first choice when it comes to selecting a restaurant would not be a chain. Call me a spoiled millennial but I prefer an original unique establishment over a generic cookie cutter microwaved restaurant meal any day!
    We just try to be mindful of our outings and make sure we don’t get in the habit of grabbing something easy while we’re randomly out. We plan in advance when and where we’re going to go so that it’s not a surprise to our budget at the end of the month. Avoiding the impromptu too outings are key and we’ve found that planning is the best solution for that. But sometimes those impromptu outings can be the most fun.
    It’s all about balance!

    1. Post

      That is the exact same thing I do. I may have spent $2300+ on food, but a single dinner was more than $400 because I took my family out to a nice seafood restaurant. Money very well spent. I really try and avoid all of the chains and other crap because it isn’t worth the money, not even close.

  3. Both my husband and I have multiple chronic illnesses, and after much frustration, arguments and self-recrimination, we finally accepted that we are people who don’t cook. I hate it, but I’ve tried every version I can think of. It’s not sustainable. So yeah, our food budget sucks up a huge chunk of would-be savings. We do our best to keep convenience food around the house, use discount GCs and try to make peace with it.

    In the end, no one else’s budget will quite work for you. You have to decide which areas of your spending is worth keeping and find ways to cut elsewhere. As my mom likes to say, frugality is ago saving where you can to spend on what matters (to you).

    1. Post

      Absolutely, it’s very important to make a budget that works for you. Spending money on food isn’t bad, it’s only bad if you eat out more than you have allocated in your budget, the same thing for pretty much everything. Plus, we’ve gotta enjoy life and we are hard wired to get very happy when we eat something tasty.

  4. My issue with eating out is that most of the time the food is bad, otherwise it would cost me 100 bucks/meal. So I’d rather cook my meals with better ingredients and do it for less money πŸ˜€

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