Down to your last belt loop and your last penny? These seemingly unrelated phenomena may have more in common than you think, a new survey shows.
Dining out is the No. 1 thing that Americans blow their budgets on, according to the Principal Financial Group’s annual Financial Well Being Index, which will be released Wednesday (MarketWatch got an early look at the data). The company surveyed more than 1,100 employed American adults.
Those restaurant meals are also adding to our growing waistlines: On days when people dine out, they tend to consume 200 more calories than when they eat at home, according to a study of more than 12,500 people published by Public Health Nutrition last year, and government research shows that “when eating out, people either eat more or eat higher calorie foods — or both — and that this tendency appears to be increasing.” Other studies show that eating out more frequently is associated with obesity and higher body fat.
And the problem is getting worse. While 22% of Americans blew their budgets on dining out in 2014, this year, 24% did so.
Table: 10 things Americans spend too much on
2015 2014 Dining out 24% 22% Food/groceries 19% 18% Entertainment 15% 15% Other consumer goods 15% 9% Travel 14% 12% Housing/housing improvements 14% 10% Clothing/apparel/shoes 11% 10% Gas 9% 13% Coffee 6% 3% Other 10% 11% None of the above 30% 34%
The reason lies, in part, in our hectic lifestyles, says Kevin Morris, the vice president and chief marketing officer for Principal Financial Group’s retirement and income solutions division. “The world isn’t slowing down, it’s getting faster,” he says. “There are more and more demands out of everybody’s time.” Because of that, we sometimes opt to dine out instead of cook at home because it’s more convenient and a small pleasure/treat that we can give ourselves, he explains.
One of the best ways to to keep our dining out budget in check is to plan better, says Morris — which has the added benefit of helping you cut calories too. Prep healthy meals for the week on the weekend (freeze what you need to) so you have something quick and ready to go for each night.
Of course, this isn’t always possible, so here are a few ways to dine out in a financially responsible manner when you can’t eat at home. Savings expert Andrea Woroch recommends buying discounted gift cards for restaurants (Costco often sells bundle packs of these) and looking for coupons and savings on Restaurant.com and coupon sites like CouponSherpa.com.
Woroch adds that you can find savings on Yelp as well: “Not only is Yelp a good place to find honest restaurant reviews and menu recommendations, but you can also search for “dining deals” as well as “cheap dinner” and sometimes stumble upon special discounts through these listings,” she says.
Teri Gault, CEO of savings website The Grocery Game, recommends that to save money you change the days and times when you eat out. “You can save up to 50% just by changing your schedule on dining out,” she says. “If you have kids, patronize restaurants where kids eat free on Tuesday night; for adults only, hit happy hour for half price food and drink.” Furthermore, she says you should “look for coupons for BOGO (Buy One Get One) dinners, and you’ll find that the fine print often has specified days of the week, and usually not weekends.”