Frequently Dining Out can Make You Lose Control of Your Food Budget

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-22 08:57

What do you do to keep your budget for food on track?
[Photo by Alejandro Escamilla]

Researchers have found that frequently going out for meals is bad for your food budget.

Of course, this isn't really all that surprising. However, a study details how exactly this behavior messes up your budget for food and a lot of other things as well.

Budgeting may be easy to a lot of people, but for some, controlling spending may be somewhat more difficult. Setting a budget for different expenses and sticking to it helps keep spending habits under control. However, these habits are somewhat subjective, and people can adjust the control they have on their spending depending on the situation.

The study found that dining out frequently can make people less able to mentally control their spending. They would underestimate the food budget they have for one week of dining out, so they raise the budget for the following week. This is because they rationalized the amount they spent that first week, so raising their budget the following week was justified.

Needless to say, this behavior doesn't bode well for their monthly budget.

Rationalizing Food Budget Increases

People who regularly went out for meals participated in the research. The researchers tracked how much money the participants spent on food. Some of the participants budgeted an average of about $18 for food on the first week. On the second week, however, their food budget increased to an average of about $55. Families, meanwhile, budgeted $33 for the first week and raised the budget to $41 on the second week. In fact, the study found that families spend more than half of their food budget on dining out.

If you're a worker, the more you dine out, the more you increase your food budget. Workers who went out for lunch once or twice a week set a budget of $13 on the first week. On the second week, they raised the budget to $35. Workers who went out for lunch three or more times a week had a budget of $55 for the first week. On the second week, they more than doubled that amount for a budget of $121.

"We tend to discount the future more than we should and, therefore, place higher value on current consumption," says Amit Sharma, one of the researchers. He noted that during the course of the study, participants consistently raised their budget for the second week. According to Sharma, one reason for this may be mental budgeting, which can lead to a more flexible budget.

Ineffective Mental Constraints

Money spent on dining out may not seem all that much—at the time, at least. However, these expenses do add up over time. In fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture, dining out makes up almost half of people's budget for food.

The study suggests that mentally constraining ourselves regarding our spending choices may not be all that effective. Instead of enabling us to control our spending habits, mental budgeting may actually lead to overspending. Sharma says that there is a need for more research on how raising one's food budget can affect financial and even physical health.

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