Trimming the Fat (Literally!)

Everyone has had a time in our life where we’ve added a few extra pounds. Our lives get busy, we’re out enjoying time with our friends and families or stressed out, we lose sight of our routines and start loading on extra calories.  Before you know it – those jeans are too snug and we’re rocking leggings.

The same is true about personal finances – if you take your eye off your financial goals for too long you start to layer on excess “fat”. Fat in the form of extra expenses and luxuries that start to increase day to day expectations. This is what we call lifestyle creep. Before you know it, your credit card bill is off the charts and you’re wonder how you let things get so out of control. In the summer of 2018, my husband and I realized just how big our lifestyle (and our waists) were becoming.

When we first took a deep dive into our monthly spending, one of the first areas the Hubs & I needed to trim the budget fat was on dining out. In July 2018, the month prior to starting our budget, we had dined out 12 times or 3 times per week! 

The average dinner cost us that month was $125 per meal. We typically would order an appetizer or a salad, two entrées, and almost always several rounds of top-shelf drinks. A meal at a fancy steakhouse, a bottle (or two) of expensive wine, and inviting guests to dine with us all helped up that month’s average dining out expense.

When we started golfing last year, we played 9 holes after work a couple of nights a week, which was followed by dinner at the club out of convenience. Then one nice dinner out on the weekend. And voilà – dinner out 3 nights a week! The funny part was, some of these meals were not even very enjoyable, more and more we had sub-par service, way too much food, or were not impressed with the quality.

The Hubs is an outstanding chef, but his meals are usually more hands-on and extravagant and typically only occur on weekends. As he started to get better at cooking, we started to appreciate a home cooked meal even more. And although I enjoy cooking, our meal planning was in a rut. I was struggling to plan weekday meals that were delicious and convenient.  As two busy professional, dinner planning was always a last-minute priority and at best we had 1-2 meals on hand. That meant more frequent trips to the grocery store.

As we discussed our budget, we agreed we would cut the frequency of dining out in half, reduce our drinking, and find better dining deals.  Last month, we dined out 6 times and our average cost was only $36 per meal (and no, we didn’t switch to any fast food places). Instead of ordering a bunch of cocktails or bottles of wine, we now try to order whatever drinks are on special. We also try to hit up restaurants only when it’s happy hour and we take advantage of ½ off appetizers or dining specials. On occasion, we even share an entrée, especially if we’ve had an app to start. We also cut back our drinking substantially – just one drink or sometimes two if it’s a good value.

The results instantly impacted our budget and our waistline!  Not only did we cut the fat out of our budget, but we both started to lose weight.  We’re both down at least 15lbs and cut our average dining out by expenses by about $500 per month. 

Surprisingly, it hasn’t been much of a sacrifice to cut back on dining out. Instead of eating big expensive meals 3 times a week, we eat a smaller, healthier meal at home. We enjoy the value of budget friendly quality home-cooked cuisine.  We still struggle to meal plan from time to time, but one thing that has helped is taking time to print out some new recipe ideas and loading them into a recipe binder. Now when we’re in a rut, we just open our recipe binder to get inspired. You’ll find some of our favorite recipes coming soon on the Homestead section.

Questions, Comments, Thoughts?