Easting Out is Hard on the Family BudgetMy wife and I have recently recommitted ourselves to the budgeting process.  We’ve lived on a budget for the past several years since we discovered Dave Ramsey and followed his plan to become debt free in 2008.

However, in the past six months or so, we got a bit lazy and lackadaisical in our day-to-day finances.  I decided to check out some new budgeting software that would make things both easier and more fun to track than my good ole, self-made Excel spreadsheets.  I learned a lot about what’s available in the world of budgeting software, and you can read my review of five top budgeting software systems for the details.

For this post, I just had to get something off my chest…I seem to have a big problem with eating out at restaurants!

Every day?  Yep.

As I took the time to reflect on our spending habits over the past several months, it quickly occurred to me that I had eaten at least one meal at a restaurant virtually every…single…day!

74 Simple Things You Can Do to Brighten Your Spouse's Day

Join our free newsletter to get this popular checklist... plus even more tips to make your marriage thrive:

This habit is really apparent during the work week.  Last spring and summer, I was doing great and using my lunch time to go cycling when it was nice outside or hit the gym on rainy days.  I brought a simple lunch most days and maybe went out for lunch once a week or so and usually when I was traveling for work (and it was reimbursable).

Not lately.  I have literally been going out every day for the past four months or so.  This could be a sit-down restaurant with co-workers, lunch with clients or just fast-food drive-through on the way to a meeting. And our family usually eats at least one meal in the form of carryout each day of the weekend just to top off our excess.

Wow, this explains a lot!

Holy Crap, that’s Big Money!

So, what’s the big deal?  Well, let’s take a look at what this is costing our family.

For just my lunches, I spend probably an average of $11 per meal when you average out a few $6 value meals with more frequent sit-down restaurants with bills around $12-15 with a tip.

At five days per week, that’s $55.  That adds up to around $220 per month.  Or more than $2,800 a year…for lunch!

That’s half of a fully-funded Roth IRA.  Or a nice used car every five years.  If you invested that money every year in a good index fund and averaged 8% annually for the next 30 years, those Big Macs start looking like $350,000!

Holy Crap, that’s a Big Belly!

If you’ve been following the Improve Yourself! challenge, you know that I am trying to shed some extra pounds.  Well, I think I found a big part of my problem.

I looked up the nutritional value of one of favorite meals at Applebee’s Restaurant.  The Oriental Chicken Roll-up with a side of fries weighs in with an artery-clogging 51 grams of fat and more than 1,100 calories.  And that’s with a side of zero-calorie Diet Pepsi!

This is certainly not the worst thing I eat each week, but it probably represents a fair average.  I could instead be eating a healthy turkey sandwich and baked chips at under 500 calories.  That’s a net difference of around 600 calories per meal.

So, over the course of a five-day workweek, I am consuming around 3,000 extra calories!  That’s the equivalent of almost one pound per week…just from my lunch choices!  Or around 50 pounds per year if all else is held constant!

My Family Deserves Better

I am really glad that we decided to take a fresh look at our family budget.  It seems so obvious now, but it really took the effort of focusing on my habits to reveal my lunchtime problem.

So, I have committed to reform my expensive and fattening ways.  I will be limiting myself to one lunch out per week, and I’ll try to make that on a day when I am traveling and get reimbursed for the expense.

Our family is looking forward to having some extra money in our account and less weight around my waist as a result.

How often does your family eat out each week?  Do you have any other habitual budget-busters that you know you need to address?

Photo by pointnshoot


About the author 


Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. Looking at the photo it really is artery-clogging meal. It is good you have intercepted your meal spending as well as your calorie count. There are times we do make lapses on our goals and that’s fine if we are able to fix it.

    I guess eating out would be fine once in a while–a form of reward for all your efforts. 🙂

  2. I’m looking forward to reading about the budget software! I too have been using self-made Excel spreadsheets, but I would love something more sophisticated.

    Also, I had the same exact food epiphany as you a couple of years ago. It was when I first started the budgeting process and had to track my expenditures for a month. I was horrified at how many HUNDREDS of dollars we were spending per pay period on restaurants. Sure, eating at restaurants is easy, but the little extra planning and preparation is worth so much in terms of your money and your health. People at work laugh at me for eating Lean Cuisines for lunch, but they are usually about $2 on sale with about 300 calories apiece. $10 for a week’s worth of lunches that won’t make me fat? SOLD.

    1. I’m looking forward to writing about the budget software, Kate (hopefully later this week).

      And I for one admire your Lean Cuisine crusade! 🙂

  3. Dustin – I’m with you dude. Eating out is the biggest budget buster for us as well. We decided to take a look at our finances at the beginning of the year and we were spending $200+ per month on eating out. I make my lunch everyday so that wasn’t affecting our budget. We found Pear Budget online and have since been using it. Since we started using Pear Budget at the beginning of the year we have cut our eating out bill to approx. $50 per month. The best part is that we got the kids involved and they are loving it. We search the web for deals and have signed up with a couple of the larger restaurants recognition programs. The last time Alisa and I went out for Date Night we spent $20 after using all of our coupons. To us it has been worth getting back to basics. Thanks for the great post.
    .-= Tony´s last blog ..Valentine’s Day Rant =-.

    1. Thanks, Tony! Thanks for the great tips on the coupons and restaurant programs. To be honest, if we spent ONLY $200 per month on restaurants, we’d be doing great at this point!

  4. Boy, you nailed it! We were very disciplined up until the wedding since we were affording a huge chunk of it ourselves. Eating out was once a week (Tuesdays). But after the wedding (ie, reaching a big financial goal), we let ourselves go a bit. No longer were the purse strings tight. The honeymoon (taken 3 months later) was paid for and in place, we were footloose and fancy free again!

    Except that I got fired the day I returned from the honeymoon. Oh look.. is that our budget.. lying over there?

    But what really helped me get back to discipline about eating out was a fitness challenge I set up for myself using stones. Each day, I could put a stone in the jar if I worked out, another for drinking water, etc. But eating fast food meant I had to take a stone Out. And lemme tell you, the visual and tactile connection with a stone that canceled out an entire workout, rendering it null and void? Powerful. I avoided fast food like the plague and now after 2 months, it hardly registers on my food radar.
    .-= Newlywed & Unemployed´s last blog ..Mom Discusses Discipline and Privileges =-.

    1. Thanks for the great comment, Newlywed & Unemployed. I really like your “stones in a jar” system for accountability. I may have to steal it!

    2. Where did you get that “stones in a jar” idea? How cool! I love it!
      .-= Kathleen Quiring´s last blog ..In Defense of Early Marriage =-.

  5. I’m new here, but I couldn’t pass this post up because I represent the tiny minority of people who never eat out. We went out for my folks’ wedding anniversary in October 2009 and before that on our first anniversary July 2008.

    My husband and I don’t eat out because we both enjoy cooking. People always told us they ate out because they didn’t have time to cook – but until my daughter was born, we both left the house at 7am, came back at 6pm, and still found time to cook our meals. It was never a budget choice for us, it was a health choice (I have Crohn’s, so eating out can be tricky) and a personal preference. Now, when we do go out, it’s a treat =)
    .-= Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com´s last blog ..Another blurry. =-.

    1. First of all, Welcome Sarah! I just checked out your blog and it’s great!

      And I totally admire you and your husband for never eating out. Maybe we’ll get there someday, but I doubt it….baby steps! 🙂

    2. I know I’m late chiming in, but I’ll chime anyway. We hardly eat out either. My dh will take both daughters out for a birthday lunch, but I stay home. And when we go on vacation (tent camping in the Adirondacks) we do go out for breakfast once during the week and hit some fast food joint after tubing. It is too expensive for us to even think of grabbing a meal out most days. When I go out anywhere I throw some apples/crackers or pb & J sandwiches into a bag along with water or koolade in a container. And I don’t bring more than a couple dollars with me because if I don’t have the money it isn’t tempting.

      Oh, sorry this is getting long. The other thing is my son (who has Crohn’s also) is a wonderful cook! And he’ll cook 2-3 times in a week. When you have someone providing really good meals the fast food/restaurant option isn’t so tempting. And my husband always has great leftovers for his lunch.

  6. Great post! Since you (and I) are such a big Dave Ramsey fan, try something that I did. There is a company that advertises a lot on Dave’s show called E-Mealz (www.mealtimemakeover.com). Every week they post 5 good, cheap, quick meals including recipes and required shopping list. It ends up costing 5 bucks a month. The thing that I like best is that E-Mealz has forced me into variety in meals. I highly recommend it.

    1. Thanks, Troy! I had heard of E-Mealz before (I actually follow them on Twitter), but I’ve never taken the time to look into the specifics. It sounds like just the sort of thing we need. I appreciate the suggestion!

  7. I could not agree more. Restaurants used to absolutely kill us. We used to eat out EVERY meal. THAT gets expensive! We’re far from perfect, but we’ve come a long way, and are continually working to reduce that food budget.
    .-= Jason @ MyMoneyMinute´s last blog ..Sinners to Saints: What To Learn About Success =-.

  8. I have the same problem. Some mornings i just can’t be bothered getting something ready for lunch in the morning, and i tell myself i won’t be hungry, but i always am. So i end up in the food court at the nearby shopping centre.
    I try to make an effort to have left overs from the night before to take to work, because then i know its yummy and its something to look forward to.
    .-= Mary´s last blog ..No Strings Attached =-.

  9. I’d say cutting down on eating out is one of the best things that my wife, Tracy, and I have done this year. Our budget has worked out much better, but we also feel better. I especially feel like we’re setting a good example for our daughter by having most of the meals done in the home.

    The only time we’ve had any fast food was the night that our daughter was born because we had barely eaten that day and McDonald’s was the only thing open.

    Make it as easy as you can to bring a lunch, also. We prepare our lunches the night before, either from leftovers or making sandwiches.

    If you’re interested in really bringing down cost of lunch, try baking your own bread at home. It’s works out to something like $.25 per loaf.
    .-= Dan | Becoming A Husband´s last blog ..10 Tips For Saving Money =-.

  10. We were that way too, my husband and I, before we became a family of there. But since we now live on one-income, we had to budget better and eating out was the first thing to go! More power to you guys for working on this! (This is my first time here, and I’ll be sure visiting again!)
    .-= Vina´s last blog ..The Ebb and Flow of Marriage: A Time To Strive and A Time To Be =-.

  11. Dustin, I go home for lunch every day and still am battling the bulge:(.

    We cut back on eating out since I started Financial Peace U. last May and it’s been a big savings. I can’t give it up totally because I work all week and really don’t enjoy cooking (but don’t want to rely on my husband’s cooking). It’s a treat to have ONE meal out a week.

    It’s part of our budget and we use coupons and specials to keep it affordable.
    .-= Bucksome Boomer´s last blog ..4 Steps to Successful Gift Giving =-.

  12. This is something so many of us deal with and it literally can become a massive strain on a marriage, as I know all too well. I can’t tell you have many times I have checked the bank website to find charges to Culver’s, McDonalds, and so many others. Then the challenge becomes how to “gently” remind my husband once again that not only can we so not afford for him to being going out to eat so often, but that it opens up a whole new can of worms about the weight problem that has been the pink elephant in the room for our entire relationship. This whole issue is something we struggle with on a daily basis. Thanks for writing about it!
    .-= Sarah K´s last blog ..Letter to the Boss =-.

    1. Thanks for your insightful comment, Sarah. It’s amazing how something as simple as eating out can really be impactful to your relationship…not to mention your health and your wallet.

  13. Loved the line “those Big Macs start looking like $350,000! Makes me want to skip the occasional food snag from arby’s or taco bell. Wow! I love to eat out, especially for lunch. Reigning in my lunch spending has really helped us to settle into a great budget and begin paying down our debts. woo hoo! Thanks for the honest post.
    .-= Ted´s last blog ..Boo to credit card companies =-.

    1. Thanks, Ted! I’m glad I could provide a little entertainment and motivation for you. Thanks for commenting and congrats on the progress you guys are making in your financial life!

  14. Pingback: Week in Review: Gold Medal Edition
  15. Pingback: Budget Software Reviews: Choose Your Tool for Successful Money Management
  16. Pingback: Our Debt-Free Marriage: How We Paid Off $54,500 in the Name of Freedom | Engaged Marriage
  17. Pingback: 37 Family Things to Do at Home on a Rainy Sunday | Engaged Marriage
  18. Pingback: You Need A Budget: Money Management for a Happy Marriage | Engaged Marriage
  19. I must admit, I am a food addict myself. I am just too lazy to cook or I feel like something fast. I don’t really budget but I do realize I could be saving that money instead of blowing it on something I never see again… well maybe a few hours later. ;o)

    Thanks for the article, it’s nice to hear about other people and their struggles. It makes it easier knowing you are not alone!

  20. Pingback: Married Money Management Step 1: Make a Budget | Engaged Marriage
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}