Dining out is something many people do at least on occasion. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports mean annual spending on food away from home at $3,639 per consumer unit.
In my household, we spend a little more than this because we really enjoy trying out new restaurants. For a long time, I fought against this and tried to cut my spending in this area by setting budget limits. But I found that I almost always went over the amount I'd allocated for myself, especially if there was something unique happening like an invitation to a tasting dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.
After dealing with this problem for quite a while, here's what I ultimately ended up doing to balance out my personal finances.
How I solved my problem of spending too much on dining out
After trying hard to stick with a strict budget for dining out, I decided it just wasn't working. Since I was taking more than planned out of my bank account each month, I was left scrambling to make up the difference. After all, I definitely didn't want to go into credit card debt for restaurant spending. That would have forced me into paying interest and spending even more on my habit.
So instead, I decided I was just going to dramatically increase my budget for restaurant spending so I could enjoy all of the special meals I wanted — and then make big cuts elsewhere in things I did not care nearly as much about.
I slashed my spending on clothing to almost nothing (I work from home, so who really cares if I have fancy fashion), my husband opted to drive a cheap used car instead of a new one (he doesn't drive the kids around, and he doesn't care about vehicles very much), we switched to a less expensive cellphone plan, and we made cuts to our entertainment budget (we're old and boring now anyway, so Netflix at home is often more attractive than a night on the town).
Now, I realize I was lucky to have other things in my budget that I could cut. Not everyone does, especially if you're living paycheck to paycheck. But I did go over my spending list with a fine-tooth comb, tracking exactly where my money was going so I could find the money to free up to make dining out more possible.
You can find ways to adjust your spending
If you want to keep your total spending in check, you don't necessarily need to get hung up on limiting yourself in all categories — which is the mistake that I was making. You just need to make sure your total spending doesn't go above a reasonable limit (typically, about 30% of your income is OK for discretionary expenses, with 50% going to fixed costs and 20% to savings).
There's no right way to allocate your discretionary spending, and if you decide you want to splurge on dining out or shoes or Lego figurines and be stingy on everything else, that's OK — even if, on paper, it looks like you're going way overboard on a single category. It's your money and only you know how to spend it in a way that makes you the happiest.
So if you have something you love and want to spend more on it, go ahead and take a look at your budget today to see if you can make that happen. Then enjoy that activity guilt-free since you'll have made the sacrifices necessary to enable you to do so.
Alert: highest cash back card we've seen now has 0% intro APR until nearly 2025
If you're using the wrong credit or debit card, it could be costing you serious money. Our experts love this top pick, which features a 0% intro APR for 15 months, an insane cash back rate of up to 5%, and all somehow for no annual fee.
In fact, this card is so good that our experts even use it personally. Click here to read our full review for free and apply in just 2 minutes.
We're firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers.
The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.Christy Bieber has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.