America’s eating habits are causing more than just bloated waistlines. Across the nation, budgets are busting as consumers indulge in their most gluttonous desires.
A new survey finds that food costs are the most common area where Americans break the budget. According to the Principal Financial Group, 22% of respondents say they went over budget on dining-out expenses in the fourth quarter, followed by 18% who spent more than planned on grocery bills. Those levels are relatively unchanged from last year. Entertainment spending was the third most commonly-cited problem area at 15%. Coffee also made the top 10 at 3%.
Breaking the budget to enjoy gluttonous or convenient meals may not seem like a serious financial faux pas, but food is a major component of expenditures. In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average American household spent $6,602 on food. In fact, $2,625 of that total was spent on food away from home. Adding more salt to financial wounds, a good portion of this spending is not exactly nutritious. A survey earlier this year found that Americans spend an average of $1,200 on fast food each year.
The nation clearly has a need to reduce food expenditures. The Principal Financial Group’s survey reveals that 17% of respondents say “not saving enough” was their top financial blunder of the year. “Accumulating credit card debt” and “spending outside my means” followed at 9% each. Overall, 44% feel better about their finances now than they did at the beginning of the year, but 46% do not feel better financially.
Fortunately, there are several simple ways to help shrink budgets and waistlines. The first is to view dining out as a luxury, not a necessity. Preparing most of your own meals will significantly help you save money — from packing a homemade lunch for work to enjoying a healthy dinner cooked at home. Making a weekly schedule for homemade meals will also help you stay on track. Websites such as Budget Bytes and Cooking Light offer great ideas for budget-friendly meals.
Slight changes to your shopping methods can further improve savings. If you can handle the responsibility of a credit card, the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express offers 6% cash back on U.S. supermarkets for an annual fee of only $75. If the annual fee doesn’t work in your favor, the Sallie Mae Mastercard offers 5% cash back on groceries with no annual fee. When you do visit restaurants, skip the appetizers and keep in mind that a glass of water is usually free while other beverage drinks have the biggest markups you can find in the industry. Your waistline and wallet will thank you.
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