Most of us have heard that it is cheaper to cook your own food than it is to dine out. But the truth is, going out to eat doesn't have to drain your bank account. You just have to be thoughtful about how much to spend eating out.
There is no universal right or wrong amount of money to spend eating out — it just depends on what you can afford and what you value. Once you figure that out, personal finance educator Brian Davis tells Bustle he recommends setting a monthly "dining out" budget to make sure you stay within your means. You can use it all at once at one fancy meal or spread it out between a bunch of smaller meals. If you want to reduce how much you spend, try learning to cook your favorite meals and eating a snack a few hours before going out so you order less.
Even though it's totally a personal decision, hearing other people's reasoning can help us make it. So, I surveyed 46 millennial women on how much they spend eating out each month, and the average came out to $200.71. Here's how a few of them decided on their monthly budgets.
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1Casey, 23: $200
"It's really my only form of socializing or hanging out with people."
2Wendy, 25: $200
"I don't have the time or energy to meal-prep every day. Sometimes, I feel guilty grabbing that $13 burger next to my office for lunch because I think to myself, 'I could've saved this money and made pasta at home instead.' But life doesn't always work that way, and sometimes, you just need to spend the money in order to take care of yourself."
3Elle, 27: $50
"I'm trying to save up for a lot of things right now (classes, travel, paying off student loans, holiday gifts). It just seems like eating in is just as easy and the best way to save money."
4G., 27: $300
"I go out for lunch and dinner once or twice a week. I work from home, so going out gives me the chance to get out of the house. I take overnight (or longer) trips once every month or two, and I generally eat out when on the road."
5Rachel, 24: $50
"I spend hardly any money on groceries, and I don't do a lot of expensive activities (drinking, movies, trips, etc.), so it pretty much makes up my entire fun budget."
6Laura, 31: $150
"But if we're talking about Seamless, that's a horse of a different color. Because I work long hours, takeout is my way of home cooking, and I think that's closer to $400 or more every month."
7Michele, 27: $15-$50
"I really only eat out if I'm meeting up with friends to catch up (and for logistical reasons couldn't meet at someone's house), or my partner and I are treating ourselves to a date. I live in an expensive city making a non-profit salary, so don't have the money to spend on things like going out to eat. So I save it for special occasions."
8Sara, 30: $200
"About half of that would be spent on lunch for myself a couple times a week, and the other half on dinners out with friends about two to four times a month. I cook and prepare a lot of food for myself but love socializing over good food once a week or so."
9Kat, 25: $60-100
"I enjoy having the dining experience, having time with friends, and trying new foods, and I believe I should be able to enjoy things now with the money and time I have rather than put it off. I like experiences rather than things."
10Candice, 31: $200
"I like food, and I don't have a house or car, so my bills are minimal. It's always a social activity, however. I rarely eat alone (unless I'm traveling)."
11Mac, 25: $600
"I live with my significant other, and we split all expenses. I would have thought that would mean spending less on eating out, but since the two of us enjoy going out together a few times a week, it's actually upped my budget."
12Amanda, 31: $300
"Part is social, as I don't get many opportunities for socializing, and during the school year, I go out weekly with friends. Part is mental health; some nights I just can't force myself to make food."
13Sam, 26: $100-300
"NYC is expensive, so I try to make sure the only times I eat out are for a special date with my boyfriend, showing a friend around the city and all it has to offer, or the rare time I see something on Instagram and I just have to try it for myself. When I'm traveling (which is often), I don't even really spend a lot of money eating out and eat food from the grocery store or value menu of McDonald's to save money."
14Jessica, 30: $1,000
"I just don't have time to cook."
15Nora, 31: $120
"I work hard to bring lunch every day and make dinner at home, but with three jobs, it just sometimes doesn't happen."
16Ashley, 28: $160
"Lunch is provided at my work, so I don't need to buy lunch, and I also love to cook, so we cook at home. I eat out when it's Friday, since it feels 'celebratory' somehow, or when we're both just too tired to cook."
17Kate, 29: $600
"My social life revolves around seeing friends at brunches, lunches, dinners, and drinks."
18Eleanor, 24: $400-$450
"I have a job with a long commute and long hours, and the novelty of meal-prepping wore out quickly, so I eat lunch out most days. On longer days, I'll also grab dinner before I head home. That combined with splitting the cost of biweekly date night with my fiancée adds up!"
19S., 30: $300
"I just really like to eat all the yummy things and am usually too tired to cook."
20Michelle, 24: $150
"A lot of socializing, without a lot of time to cook. And sometimes you gotta do it for the 'gram."
21Jessica, 29: $100
"I'm a freelancer and often eat while working in coffee shops. I also regularly have drinks/appetizers with friends."
22Emily, 22: $150+
"Food is how I choose to socialize, which is why I don't mind spending money on going out to eat. I don't spend money on new clothes or expensive tech stuff, so I feel OK about spending my money on food. I do bring my lunch to work daily and only eat out with friends or family. Sometimes eating out is just an excuse to get out of the house."
23Rachael, 28: $350-500
"I work from home, so I try and stick to breakfast and lunch at home. But I live in New York, so not only is dinner my social hour, but also delicious food just makes me plain happy."
24Michelle, 30: $200
"Eating out is so expensive in NYC. Luckily, I'm a pretty picky eater and I like to cook and have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home typically, but I'll go to dinner with friends or my BF at least once a week to be social — so I justify the cost that way."
A few explanations that came up over and over are that people like socializing over meals and people like good food. In short, eating out is fun. And IMHO, that's a totally valid reason to do it.