$3,000 for Lunch? Little Splurges Add Up if You’re Not Careful

© Blend Images/Getty Images
© Blend Images/Getty Images

Dining out a few times per week might not seem like a big deal … until you do the math.

On average, Americans spend about $20 per week getting lunch in restaurants, or $1,043 a year, according to a survey of 2,033 people by Visa in July and August. What’s more, when you add in the costs of takeout and brown-bag meals, respondents spent $53 a week, for a grand total of $2,746 a year.

“Most people might not realize that they are spending over $50 a week on lunch,” said Nat Sillin, global head of financial literacy at Visa. He said spending a little time in the kitchen can have a big impact on the bottom line because while eating out costs $11 per meal, it’s only $6.30 on average if you prepare your own lunch.

The survey found that men and students are more likely to spend money eating out. Men spend an average of $24.93 per week, compared with $15.55 for women. Students pay $27.47 dining out every week, the highest among all groups. And being out of work doesn’t stop folks from going out for lunch. Unemployed American workers, the report says, purchase lunch out more than once a week, at over $15 per week.

“Grocery store or gastro pub, don’t burst your budget on your midday meal,” Sillin said.

Hugh Norton, U.S. head of financial education at Visa, agreed. He said you should set a daily budget and track your spending. Packing your lunch, like sandwiches, is an easy way to cut your spending, said Barbara O’Neill, a professor at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. She said you can also stock up on convenience foods, such as Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice frozen meals when they are on sale.

However, even the budget experts agree that sometimes a nuked frozen meatloaf just won’t do. When you reach a milestone in your life, meeting your financial goals or other achievements, O’Neill said by all means, go out and treat yourself.

When you do, Norton recommends that you do your homework to search for coupons and compare restaurant prices before you head out. Apps like Yelp can give you a sense of how much it might cost dining in a particular restaurant.

Sillin agreed. “Clipping a coupon or choosing a less expensive item can save you hundreds over the course of a year.”

And if you go with friends and share, O’Nell added, you can “split the calories and costs.”

To keep your spending in check, Visa launched a free app called Lunch Tracker on Nov. 4. Besides adding up how much you have spent on your meals, the app makes saving money a game among friends. You can share photos of your lunch with friends, compare your month-over-month spending with them to see who is a better saver and learn saving strategies.

The survey also found:

  • Americans in the South eat lunch out most often and spend $1,240 dining out every year.
  • Northeasterners spend $1,001 per year dining out for lunch, the second highest in the nation. Midwesterners, however, spend $866 every year, the lowest among all.
  • Homemakers are least likely to go out, but they tend to spend more when they do, an average of $17.60.

Written by Jiayue Huang of USA Today

(Source: USA Today)

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