Does the thought of learning what you spend on restaurants and carry-out each month make you uneasy? If you answered “Yes,” you aren’t alone. As a financial advisor, I regularly hear the stress in a new client’s voice when we come to the “Dining Out” category of their expenses. “I’m not sure I want to know how much we spend eating out. I know it’s too much.” They’re fearful I’ll be judgmental. They’re surprised when I share my empathy and say, “You’re looking at the Carry-Out King!”
Dining out ranks amongst the top lifestyle expenses for many of my clients each month. Spending time at the gym, playing with the kids or pets, or watching a favorite streaming series may be a higher priority for you than cooking dinner and cleaning-up afterwards. Nothing wrong with that. If preparing a meal helps you wind down and be in the moment, that’s wonderful. But for many of us it can feel burdensome. Did you know the word, restaurant, derives from the French verb “restaurer” and literally means “that which restores”? Yes!
For those of you who dine out (a lot), I’ve put together some thoughts to consider that may help relieve your anxiety about spending money on prepared meals, and help you make more intentional and satisfying dining-out choices.
Cut yourself some slack. Dining at restaurants frequently or grabbing carry-out during the week doesn’t mean you’re lazy or irresponsible. In today’s culture, dining out is usually for convenience and for socializing. So, stop beating yourself up because you’ve made cooking lower on your priority list.
Build it into your plan. Be realistic when you establish an amount for “Dining Out” in your monthly spending plan (yes, you should be doing one of those!) Pull up your credit card statements, add up what you spent dining out over the past 3 months, and divide by 3. If your monthly cash flows can support that number, go with it. If not, you’ll have to pare back from other places in your lifestyle spend. It’s all about establishing priorities.
Be impactful. Patronize minority-owned restaurants. You’ll be supporting small business owners and helping close the unjust wealth gap faced by black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC). Learning more about cultures through their food helps us appreciate the diversity among us. And foods of these communities are often less expensive, healthier (beans and greens), and more flavorful. (I’ve become a big fan of Ethiopian food after a small restaurant opened nearby. And the staff are happy to share their stories.) Support those businesses that use paper-based or biodegradable to-go packaging. And always turn down the plastic cutlery & bag.
Consider the coupon. When I was dating my now partner, he would unabashedly pull out a coupon at a restaurant to my embarrassment. I’ve since gotten over myself and never hesitate to use a coupon. I’ve learned businesses are actually thrilled to know their direct marketing campaign brought you in! But don’t let a coupon be the primary driver of your decision where to dine. Eating what you enjoy should supersede getting a good deal.
Make wellness a priority. Physical wellness is an important step toward financial wellness. Avoid traditional fast-food joints if you dine out frequently. I add pounds just looking at fries. There are many convenient, prepared-food options that support your wellness, taste great, and are kind to your spending plan. Just look within a short radius of fitness clubs and you’ll typically find several good options. And even the delis in most grocery stores have discovered offering healthy, plant-based meals are better for the environment and better for their bottom line.
I’ll close by expressing my gratitude for being able to once again spend time with family and friends over a meal. The COVID pandemic taught me these simple pleasures are fundamental to our humanity. Let’s remember there are billions of vulnerable people in our world who are at risk when they sit down to a meal with their loved ones because they don’t have the means to access the vaccine. Much work to be done.