I came across this article last week that said January 2015 was the first month that Americans are spending more in restaurants than in grocery stores. I guess I’m not surprised. It seems that whenever we go out to eat, the restaurant is always packed. Even in our small town, it seems there are tons of people eating out. The article took it as a good sign because it meant the economy was recovering, but I’m not so sure.
Cost of Eating Out Versus Eating At Home
While the yahoo article quoted one diner as saying he could eat cheaper at restaurants than at home, I think that’s misleading. In his case, he was talking about buying a good steak for $32 at the grocery store compared to ordering a steak for less at a restaurant. I’m not sure what kind of steak he was buying, but I don’t think groceries as a whole cost more than ordering out.
I’m sure if all you buy is local, grass fed filet mignon and organic hand made potato chips from Whole Foods, you can rack up a pretty hefty grocery bill. However, shopping at a regular supermarket or discount grocer is not more expensive than going out to eat, even if you buy organic and don’t necessarily shop sales or use coupons. There is no way.
For my family of three, if we go to Applebee’s and order a chicken quesadilla, a sandwich of some sort, side salads, a kid’s meal, and iced tea, it is almost always $25-$30. I could make the same meals at home for about $5, although I wouldn’t have someone to wait on me and clean up the mess, which is the real reason I like going out to eat. I would never try to rationalize it by saying it’s cheaper.
It’s OK To Eat Out
I think it’s fine to eat out from time to time. In our house, restaurant meals tend to be a treat that we save for vacations or for special occasions. We do value going to restaurants, but that doesn’t mean we should spend more on eating out than we do on groceries. Even if we throw out the financial arguments, eating out usually means eating more food and not knowing how it was prepared. I guarantee that I eat more calories and fat at restaurants than at home. Even ordering a salad often means a huge portion size and without careful discipline, I might eat the whole thing!
It Takes Planning To Eat At Home
With how busy family life can get, I totally understand the desire to eat out. On days when I work and we have after school activities, I find time slipping away while we struggle to do homework, walk the dog, get the kid in the bath, and find old panty hose and wire clothes hangers for art class the next day. If you haven’t planned ahead with the proper groceries and/or food preparation, it’s very easy to say, “Screw it, we’re going out!”
We justify food spending by thinking we deserve to be waited on or that by sitting at a table in the restaurant, we are getting more quality family time than if we were rushing around trying to cook and clean. I’ve done it myself. Not having enough time is a reality. How you choose to deal with it can cost or save thousands of dollars.
If you know your week will be busy, take time on the weekends to shop, cook, and make extra food that can be reheated for quick meals on the crazy days. It also helps to wash and cut up produce into serving sizes right when you get home from the store. Remember, every meal does not have to be gourmet. Grilled cheese sandwiches and a can of tomato soup work great in a pinch.
Make a Dollar, Spend a Dollar
For a while during the recession, it seemed like people were cutting back. We knew lots of people who hunkered down and quit spending on unnecessary things, like going out to eat. Now that the economy is in better shape and the stock market is going like gang busters, I think people are forgetting just how fast money situations can change. I’m afraid my friends who turned frugal for a while are back to the make a dollar, spend a dollar philosophy.
Yes, hopefully people are working and making more money that they were in 2008, but are we saving for the next rainy day? I really hope so.
How does your restaurant spending compare to groceries? Do you think a family can eat cheaper at a restaurant than at home?