Last month I participated in a friendly competition to see how much money I could save by not eating out for 30 days straight. While many participants in the challenge are working on digging themselves out of debt, this wasn’t my motivation. Instead, I was competing to see what people fighting debt typically go through. I work for PerkStreet operating this blog, so it’s important to me to understand exactly what PerkStreet’s customers are going through. Many of our customers say our debt-free banking is the best when it comes to fighting debt.
While I did struggle to avoid eating out altogether, I’m pleased to say I saved $199.96 in April by avoiding eating out. Although I wasn’t planning to use the money I saved to fight any debt, the cash I saved has already gone towards my very last credit card payment ever! Inadvertently, I found myself automatically battling the little debt I do have by competing in this challenge… I guess you could say the true spirit of the challenge rubbed off.
Brad writes here at the PerkStreet Blog every other week as one of our Customer Columnists, sharing his best tips for getting out of debt. (They’re pretty solid given that he dug himself out of $26,000 in debt in just 20 months!)
The rules were simple: Don’t eat out and see how much you can save! We could allow others to buy us meals, and, if we wanted to, we could establish a few free passes for eating meals out. My mother’s birthday was in April so my only exception was to be taking her to dinner. Trying to avoid paying for food at restaurants was harder than I expected!
What I Spent
I knew my only chance at a meal out needed to be a good one, so I opted to take my mother, sister and girlfriend all out for my mom’s birthday. We went to a pretty swanky place here in Boston, and I ended up spending $125.69 on the meal. This was on April 9, so after that I was supposed to keep it all buttoned up.
Unfortunately, this proved harder than I imagined. On the morning of the 15th, I bought myself a $1.00 breakfast sandwich from a little spot near the PerkStreet HQ to mark the half-way point. It was an exception I figured I could explain to you readers in this post so I didn’t worry about it much. But then, a friend from home and his wife came to town, and I ended up paying for two meals out with them so we could catch up. These cost me $11.59 and $13.51, so by the end of April I had spent $151.79 at restaurants in a month where I was only planning to eat one meal out.
What I Saved
Living in the City of Boston isn’t exactly cheap, and PerkStreet’s HQ is located downtown, near all kinds of awesome restaurants. So I tend to eat out more than I realized on normal months. For example, in the month of March, I ate out 20 times for a total of $351.75. Again, this means I saved almost $200 in eating out expenses in April.
I did spend about $50 more on groceries in April, bringing my actual savings down to around $150 for the month, but if I hadn’t taken my family out to eat for such an expensive meal, I would have saved a LOT more money. Of course, this one meal out was a really important expense for me and a chance to be more generous than I can normally afford to be, so I have no regrets… The fact that my actual savings could have almost doubled if I hadn’t made that one exception demonstrates an important lesson when it comes to budgeting: Being disciplined about your budget is the only way to make it work for you.
In other words, a single slip-up can mean the difference between an awesome budget month and one that’s merely decent.
What I Did Not Expect
A bunch of things happened that I wasn’t prepared for, making this challenge even more enlightening when it comes to my own budget.
The first thing I learned was that my friends and family are really generous. The team at PerkStreet treated me to at least five meals during the month of April — John, our VP of Analytics even treated me to dinner in Boston’s China Town after we decided to take in a Neil Young concert on a whim. Even my 14-year-old cousin took me out when a new Japanese ramen place opened up that we had to try. (It’s sort of our thing.)
I also ate a lot less. By not leaving myself open to grab random meals, I found myself simply eating fewer whole meals and munching more snacks over the course of the day. One trick I discovered is that CVS Pharmacy is the ultimate city-dwellers snack zone — who would have thought they had so many great deals on “grazing” food? As a result of this discovery, half the PerkStreet team has now taken to making a weekly trip to the local CVS to stock up. (There’s no grocery store in Down Town Boston.)
What I Learned
I learned that I eat out way too much in general. A little more planning than usual means I can bring a sandwich made at home every day instead of just sometimes and avoid paying around $80 per month in lunches out. I learned that there are dozens of people in my life who will support me during a crazy month — people I should be more supportive of myself. And I learned what it’s like to actually snowflake debt, even though my own debt isn’t out of control.
In the end, I couldn’t be happier that I took this opportunity to optimize my own budget. It’s so important to challenge your own behaviors when it comes to your budget if you want it to continue working for you. I’d encourage any PerkStreet Blog readers out there to consider trying this challenge themselves — even if you’re not in terrible debt.
Do you have any other challenges worth trying? Have you ever eliminated eating out from your own budget? What did you learn? Please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.
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