Millennials spend a lot on going out to eat. In fact, 49 percent of Americans ages 22 to 37 spend more on dining out than they put towards retirement, and 27 percent are spending more just on coffee than they are managing to sock away, according to recent data from LendEDU.
When I first moved to New York City after graduating from college, I did the same. I found a seemingly endless number of bars, restaurants, museums and shops to explore. It was easy to combine my love of food with the fun of going out to eat in a group.
After work, heading to dinner with friends or grabbing drinks with coworkers became the norm. And usually, setting out to do one led to doing both. Instead of drinking on an empty stomach, we ordered food. Or, we reasoned, what's the harm in having a margarita or two with dinner?
The harm is that the tab quickly adds up. After more than a few expensive weeknights, I knew I needed to rein in my spending habits. So I implemented a simple rule: I could either order drinks or food, but not both.
Now, if I choose to go out to dinner, I skip the wine. If I head to the bar, I commit to cooking dinner myself when I get home.
I usually make plans around three times a week. If I choose to forgo one $10 drink each time, that saves me around $120 a month. But since, more often than not, one drink turns into two, skipping two drinks three times a week saves $240.
Deciding to do happy hour instead of dinner saves me even more. Looking back on what I've typically spent on dinners out in New York, it can run anywhere from $15 to $40. If I skip three $25 dinners a week, that's $300 in savings for the month.
Of course, I could save a whole lot more by not going out to eat at all and cooking dinner at home every night. And a lot of days, I do. But the combination of exploring the culinary options New York has to offer and sharing a meal with friends is a win-win in my book, and one I'm happy to pay for — especially since I save by packing my lunch every day.
My food-or-alcohol rule forces me to prioritize and choose what's worth it in the moment. I'm able to continue enjoying the city I love while still saving for the future.
This is an updated version of a previously published article.
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