When All Your Dough Is Eaten By Pizza

In 2017 the average American household spent $3,365 eating out. My family of 5 spends less than $100 per person per month on food, which is far less than average. My number includes eating out, so I never kept separate account of how much we spent at restaurants. So I was curious: how much did my family spend eating out in 2018? How do our numbers compare to yours?

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2017 households spent $3,365 eating out compared to $4,363 spent on food at home. This is a problem when many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and, according to The Motley Fool, many restaurants charge a 300% markup.

My own experiment found that even the least expensive fast food meals still cost more than eating comparable meals purchased from the grocery store.

My 2017 Food Expenses

Since having kids, we reserved eating out for special occasions and social events. This has helped keep our food expenses quite low.

In 2017, my family of 5 spent a total of $4,731.07 on groceries and restaurants combined, which averages out to be $394.26 per month. This included food from the grocery store, eating out, household products (including pet supplies), and hygiene products (including diapers and wipes).

Paying the Cost in my Wallet and My Waistline

Now that my kids are getting older and our lives have become busier, I find that we are going out to eat more often.

I realized that we were eating out more frequently when I noticed my monthly food spending was higher than it’s ever been. At the same time, my weight was increasing. Like my finances, I record my weight as well as everything I eat each day. After seeing my weight going up over the past couple of months, I looked for changes in what I had been consuming.

Who Are These People Bringing Me Food?

I admit that I am not used to eating at places where there is a wait staff. If I do patronage such a place, I go for the lunch special. When my co-worker invited me out to lunch one day at her favorite spot and my bill came to $15.00, I couldn’t believe it. “People really spend that much on one meal?!” I thought. It was a buffet lunch at a family owned Indian restaurant.

The next week, I took her to my favorite restaurant for lunch. We had a nice sit-down meal at a family owned Vietnamese restaurant and ordered from the lunch menu. When the server brought the check, my friend couldn’t believe the bill. “Less than $7?! I spent more than that on a protein bar at the gym this morning” she said.

This got me thinking. How much have I been spending eating out this year. And how does my spending compare to others?

How Much Have I Been Spending in 2018?

In the past 12 months, my family went out to eat 80 times and spent a total of $1,368.06, which averages out to $17.10 per meal.

Coincidentally, $17.10 is the cost of 2 large pizzas. In total, I spent $131.15 this year just on pizza.

Here is our 2018 breakdown by month:

Month # Times Monthly total Avg cost per meal
Jan 4 $101.11 $25.28
Feb 5 $90.45 $18.09
March 5 $101.28 $20.26
April 6 $81.14 $13.52
May 4 $73.55 $18.39
June 3 $79.50 $26.50
July 6 $164.19 $27.37
Aug 12 $106.41 $8.87
Sept 5 $81.84 $16.37
Oct 14 $179.74 $12.84
Nov 3 $56.60 $18.87
Dec 13 $252.25 $19.40
Total 80 $1,368.06
Lunch with Friends

When I go out with friends or co-workers for lunch, I have a limit of $8.

I usually spend $6.94 on a sandwich. I bring my own water and don’t order any sides.

Dinner with Kids

When I go out with my husband and kids, we have a budget of $25 for the family (unless it’s a special occasion, like a birthday).

To stick to our budget, these family meals are usually something like:

  • 2 Large pizzas
    • carry out, not delivery
  • Chinese take-out
    • shared family style
  • Lunch at local Mexican restaurant
    • Kids order a la carte enchiladas, no kids meals
  • Large order of chicken tenders we all share
    • we’ll order 25 tenders and have enough left for dinner
  • Coupons for buy-one-get-one free meals

Come to think of it, it’s not hard to see how I’ve been gaining weight.


Special Occasions

The most expensive meal this past year was $50 for 2 adult meals and 2 kids meals, tax, and tip at a restaurant to celebrate my mother’s retirement.

Quite frankly, the meal was not very good and I felt rushed out the door. Understandably, the wait staff needed to turn over the tables. It is a business after all. But I would have much preferred to have a dinner catered at one of our homes.

It seems I am often disappointed when we go out to a restaurant.

Yesterday was my husband and I’s 20 year anniversary from when we started dating. My mother watched the children while we went to our favorite Mexican restaurant for lunch. We were so happy to enjoy a meal alone. Then the staff started to mop the floor behind the bar. The smell of chemicals was overwhelming. We had eaten less than half our food when we lost our appetites and had to leave. The meal was very reasonably priced at only $19.05 after tax and tip. I am just sad that we could not enjoy it.

Budget Blown

Our Q4 expenses will be posted soon. I already know that our food budget, about which I have been so proud in the past, has been blown away. And now I see why I didn’t stick to our budget.

In 2018, I went out to lunch with co-workers more than I ever had in the past. (And yes, I did take my friend out to lunch for my birthday and again told her how she inspired me to overcome my December depression.)

Going out to eat with friends is well worth the money. However, I don’t need to be taking my kids out to eat as often as I have. My daughter has become addicted to chicken tenders. And I have developed a pretty serious pizza addiction.

As all three of my children’s birthdays are in January and my oldest is out of school for a couple of weeks, I predict next month’s spending won’t be any better.

Changes for 2019

In 2019, I will make it a goal to go back to reserving eating out for social events and special occasions. We used to make our own pizza (dough and all), but it just wasn’t the same as the greasy goodness of take-out. However, I need to return to healthy eating and will continue to search for ways to recreate our favorite restaurant meals at home.

I don’t think my body or my finances can handle the extra cost of eating out.



How much do you spend eating out?


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