In honor of the new year I want to encourage everyone out there to take control of their finances and save, save, save! One of the easiest and fastest ways to immediately boost your savings is to cut your food budget. When people ask me for my number one frugal tip that’s what I tell them, and they mostly don’t believe me.
I think this dynamic happens for 4 different reasons:
- People don’t think $5 here or $10 there makes much of a difference.
- People massively underestimate how much they spend on takeout because they don’t actually look at their monthly spending.
- Cooking every day and packing lunch seems impossible.
- People don’t believe there is a big difference between the cost of takeout food and the cost of home prepared food. (Of course, if there wasn’t a huge food markup restaurants wouldn’t turn a profit.)
Restaurant food makes up about 47% of the average American’s diet. In New York City where we live it’s even higher. Here 58% of people’s meals consist of takeout/restaurant food. In this article there’s an interesting breakdown of how much people in different New York neighborhoods spend on takeout each month. Even in average neighborhoods like Astoria ($233), Jackson Heights ($194), and Greenpoint ($200-$265) people are spending thousands a year on takeout. Keep in mind that this is only for takeout; this doesn’t cover meals eaten in restaurants, cafes, fast food establishments, bodegas, etc. These numbers also consider things like store bought frozen pizza and microwave meals “cooking at home”.
Like it or not here’s the truth:
- The average American family makes around $50k a year take home pay.
- Most Americans are eating out regularly.
- If it were possible to eat out regularly, like most Americans do, and save lots of money at the same time people would be doing exactly that.
- And they aren’t: 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with less than 6 months of living expenses saved.
I’m not saying eating out is the only reason people can’t save money, but you have to start somewhere and food budgets are highly malleable! If you’re like a lot of people and you don’t think food is a problematic spending area for you just do an easy monthly review to humor me! If you’re right you’ll be validated and if you’re wrong you can start fixing it.
Begin by monitoring your food spending for an entire month. Just shop, eat, and spend like you usually do! Divide your mini audit into two categories: restaurant food and grocery store food. Just to be clear when I say “restaurant food” I mean coffee, fast food, smoothies, bodega sandwiches, dinners out, delivery, etc. I mean anything you didn’t make yourself at home or get for free.
At the end of the month you should know exactly how much you spend on restaurant food and grocery store food every month. From there you can calculate how much you spend in each category over the course of a year, and how much you spend on food total in a year. Check out that number and think carefully about how much that will add up to in 5, 10, or 15 years.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have more money to save, put towards debt, use to buy a house, move to a nicer neighborhood, invest, or even travel? Learning to budget, grocery shop, and cook can do all of that for you! The fella and I spend $200 a month on groceries in New York City and we rarely eat out. We make less than the average American family does and we still manage to save over 40% of our income. The average American family saves less than 5%. Think about that!
You don’t have to become a gourmet chef or extreme coupon clipper overnight to save serious money. The first step is to simply stop eating out all the time! Pack simple sandwiches and salads for lunch, make coffee at home, cook dinner at home. Start small. Gradually you’ll learn to cook from scratch more, shop sales, meal plan, bulk shop, and budget like a total boss!