How to Stop This One Big Expense From Wrecking Your Budget in 2024

Lots of people say that they want to save money, but they don’t know how. What if the biggest way to find extra savings in your budget was staring you in the face from your dinner plate?

That’s right: According to a new survey from Empower, Americans are spending a huge amount of money on dining out. Getting takeout, going to restaurants, and otherwise spending on “meals away from home” can be convenient and delicious, but it comes at a cost. If you want to save more money in 2024, you might want to re-evaluate your meal planning.

Let’s look at a few details from Empower’s survey on how Americans are spending, and see how to improve your personal finances (while still eating well).

Americans dine out 1 out of 5 meals

According to a Dec. 2023 survey from Empower on Americans’ daily spending habits, restaurant meals have become a big source of America’s daily calories. Americans eat out for 1 out of every 5 meals (about 20% of the time). And the numbers are even higher for the younger generations:

  • Millennials dine out 21% of the time
  • Gen Zers dine out 26% of the time

The biggest reasons why Americans get their meals from restaurants were listed as:

  • Convenience and speed (62%)
  • Schedule accommodation (52%)
  • To have as a treat (42%)

How to save money: Cook at home

Even though dining out has become a part of everyday life for many Americans, the survey also found that 29% of Americans are eating out less often to save money. If you are horrified by the rising price of feeding yourself and your family and you want to regain control of your monthly food budget, trying to cook more meals at home could be a good strategy.

Groceries and home cooking are almost always less expensive than dining out, especially if you can find good deals at the store and plan ahead to cook and freeze leftovers. Get a Sam’s Club or Costco membership to save on bulk groceries. Or use cash back apps to get extra discounts while grocery shopping.

The Empower survey found that Americans’ average food budget was about $145 per week. That’s about $7,540 per year, or $628 per month. That is quite a bit lower than the average monthly food budget (groceries plus food away from home) found in The Motley Fool Ascent’s research. As of 2022, Americans spent:

  • $475 per month on groceries
  • $303 per month on food away from home

For a total of $778 per month or $9,336 per year spent on food. Those numbers might have gone up since 2022, due to high inflation on food prices.

The point is, no matter how much you’re spending on groceries and restaurants, making choices about which foods to buy and when/where/how to eat is one of the fundamental freedoms that everyone has in their personal finances. It can be hard to find time and energy to cook. But if your monthly budget is suffering, look at your food spending and try to re-prioritize.

Bottom line

A new survey from Empower found that Americans are getting 20% of their meals from restaurants, takeout, and food delivery apps. It’s understandable that the convenience and deliciousness of restaurant-prepared meals might seem more appealing than a healthy balance in your bank account. Everyone’s pressed for time and trying their best. But if you’re serious about saving money, join the 29% of Americans who are dining out less. Spending more time in the kitchen can help you spend less on food.

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