Finances & Money Frugality

Ashamed: 5 Reasons We Went Over Our Dining Budget by $300

We were doing so well. We set a monthly budget of $200 for dining out for dinners, $100 for dining out for lunches and $200 for groceries (just food, not personal care). Also, we decided to only allow ourselves to dine out in the evenings on Friday through Sunday, and on special occasions. Well, last month I believe a number of factors came together to cause us to overspend the $200 budget by another $300!

We spent $506 on dining out in the evenings last month! We also overspent our $100 for lunch dining by another $40, but I can explain that by going to Fogo de Chao for lunch with old coworkers, which was about $44 after tax and tip (and no drinks).

The Blame Game

We’re taking full responsibility for our overexpenditures, but I do want to call to mind the factors that caused us to overspend:

  1. Ignoring the budget: In past months, I kept an eye on how much we were spending in various categories (dining, groceries, gas) by running a Quicken report each week or two. But in March, not only did I not run reports, I also didn’t both entering the receipts into Quicken until a week or two later. Basically, we didn’t bother looking to see how well we were doing against budget in order to correct ourselves as needed.
  2. Eating out with friends: One particular meal cost us $82, and we could easily have avoided it. One of our older friends is a single woman with a lot of money and expensive tastes (but she’s not at all obnoxious about it). The first time we went out with her, we ended up spending about $70. This time, she picked another expensive place, but instead of suggesting someplace else, or sharing an entree, Stacie and I both got our own dishes, plus salads and soups and dessert and two glasses of wine. Plus, thinking back, I couldn’t place where a certain $15 on the check was from, but I didn’t question it. I’ve never been so lax at a restaurant before, and I’ll blame my horrendous back pain that night.
  3. Not using coupons: We get the Entertainment Book, and we actually have two of them right now, but we didn’t use a single coupon when dining out last month! Not from the book, or local clipper magazines or newspaper inserts. None.
  4. Lent: Stacie chose to give up meat for all of Lent, but I wasn’t willing to give up tasty meat dishes and share a plate with her. We could have saved loads of money since we went to no less than a 8 Indian or Ethiopian restaurants where one entree easily feeds two people. We each got our own meal, usually costing $10-15 each. We also added on teas and coffees which we usually skip for just water, but that has nothing to do with Lent, just our need for caffeine or warm beverages.
  5. Stress and Excuses: With so much happening this spring, such as a new job for me and Stacie, huge amount of work load for my graduates program, and meeting up with a different friend every weekend for dinner, we celebrated every little win as an excuse to spend more for food. New job? Big meal. Turned in a homework? Tack on a few glasses of wine. Dying of back pain? Buy dessert!

Unfortunately we’re only 5 days into this month and we’ve already spent almost $100 on dining out, thanks again to more excuses, not using coupons and not sharing meals. At least we’ve gotten the shock from last month to teach us, but with a trip to see friends in PA as well as a trip to Chicago coming up in April, it’ll be hard to only spend another $100 dining out. I guess we have to eat at home except when we absolutely can’t, and then use our frugal dining methods to get us by the other times.

How about all of you? Do you have a dining out budget? Do you stick to it, or do you often go way over it each month?

About the author

Clever Dude


  • I can really appreciate that fact that you are willing to step forward and learn from your slip-ups. The far easier path would be to forget about it and move on. A lot of people can benefit from this level of personal accountability.

    We currently have around $25 left in our eating out budget for this month. Let’s just say, it will be a real struggle to not to go over, but we are gonna fight for as long as we can!

  • Wow – Apart from the money, I don’t know how you can afford all of the calories and fat grams that you inevitably consume from eating out so much. Doesn’t anyone in your family know how to cook or at least use a microwave?

    At least you are man enough to admit what’s going on. Now for some discipline.

  • We don’t normally hit ours, but we almost did last month. We’re going to have to take a look at it, because now Micah is meeting up with other dissertating pre-PhDs a couple times a month, plus man-dates with a friend once a month, plus blogger get-togethers. There’s a lot going on and we need to figure out how we’re going to make it work and maybe have a little left over for us as a couple.

  • I’m sure you won’t do this but making excuses is the least of your problems – I always used to fail to make it up the next month, so this excess in one budget category would mean additional debt!

    Try not to beat yourself up about it – you can’t change what has been, but only learn from it and change what will be 🙂 (am so zen today).

  • I don’t know. Do you need to reallocate, or do you really want to work with this budget? Sometimes life seems to reprioritise itself.

    But really you should have shared the vegetarian food with Stacey. That would have saved you at least $80 if not more.

    Live and learn. I try not to worry too much about eating out, but then it’s not a big feature of my life. Why not compensate by making more out of an eating at home experience?

  • @Mr. ToughMoneyLove: Perhaps you didn’t read that we only eat out on Fri-Sun, and I should clarify that we don’t eat out for every meal on those days. We never go out for breakfast, and usually just lunch on Sundays. So it was really just Fri Dinner, Sat Lunch/Dinner and Sun Lunch that killed our budget. The rest of the time we eat pretty frugally and healthfully.

    @Plonkee: We’ve been under budget for months, but I had a hint we would go over this month, just not by that much. I was a shock. We’ve thought of revising upwards, but we did so well within $200 by using coupons and sharing meals. Last month, we just ignored all our frugal ways!

  • Oh no! Going out to dinner is tough! I love the ACT of going out to dinner and therefore could care less if we went to Friday’s or Friendly’s rather then a more fancy place. One major way my husband and I have been cutting back on the eating out budget is by not going out to dinner with friends. When we do that I watch what I order, don’t order appetizers, or alcoholic beverages…and then when the bill comes, they decide to split it and somehow my meal is at least $20 more than it should be! My husband hates when I complain about this (he’s so macho) but it drives me crazy. Therefore, when we go with friends I have a tendency to order more than i should because I know we will split it….or now, we try to do dinner just the two of us and then meet up with friends after!


  • I, too went over my budget in March and April isn’t looking so good either. I have similar excuses… it’s the end of the semester and I’m really busy… etc, etc.

    To get back on track, I’m on a stricter than normal budget this week (and for the rest of the month!)

  • I try to have a monthly budget for groceries and stick to it, the prob is even when I stay in my budget I still spend about $300 per month, and that’s just for me. I always brown bag lunch and make dinner which is why it’s more than others. I do my best to not go out to eat a lot, and have been doing a great job at it. But being single in DC, taking out girls some times adds up.

  • Don’t beat yourself up too much. You guys are usually under budget (according to your posts) from month to month, so as long as this doesn’t turn into a regular thing, you’ll be alright. No one likes the feeling of overspending in their budget, but it does happen from time to time. The important thing is that you recognize it for what it is and look for ways to improve it next time.

    If it’s any consolation, I wouldn’t have shared the vegetarian meal with Stacie, either. 😉

    Good luck with this month!

  • I hate our restaurant budget – it’s $275, of which $200 is the mister’s LUNCH budget for his workweek. His office shuts down for data-conversion at 1145 and he eats out with his boss everyday. Good for the career, but bad on the budget! The boss is vegetarian, so they really only go to sit-down restaurants. I averaged his spending (thank goodness for spending-tracking on the credit union’s website) and it’s about $8 per workday for lunch… The other $75 is usually takeout for the family when I work late & don’t want to cook – about 4 or 5 times a month. So I guess I just resent that I plan and pack my lunch (leftovers mostly) each day and he gets to try all the good downtown restaurants!

  • This is the category that I always go over in also by like $25-$50, but never by $300. That’s like a blatant disregard for budgeting. Our excuse is eating out with friends also. We’ve worked on getting better at it, but we still have trouble. The problem is we can afford to eat out more, but it just takes away from our savings. I’d rather have the savings.

  • As an immigrant, one thing I find really difficult understand in American culture is your love of eating out. In many other cultures eating out is a special occasion, not something you’d do regularly.

    I don’t need to count pennies, and I could easily afford to eat out. I just prefer to cook, and also consider spending the cost of two nice skirts on one meal a total waste of money. I can buy a sweater and a skirt at Ann Taylor on sale for less than $82. Nowadays, when expensive stores cannot sell much of their stuff so stores like TJ Maxx get a lot of nice things, I recently bought two pairs of new all-leather designer shoes at TJ Maxx and spent less in total. Is a single meal really worth 2 nice pairs of shoes? If you don’t care about shoes, I am sure you can think of a number of useful items $82 can buy. It seems totally strange to me to spend that much for a single meal.

    Oh well, I can and do spend on other stuff, like theater tickets, and maybe you get as much in “experience” from a single dinner as I get from a visit to the Metropolitan opera. But… I can easily afford what I do with my 6 digit salary and no debt, not even mortgage. I don’t even bother with having a budget. So If you can afford dinners and they give you as much pleasure as some of the other items that cost the same, no problem. I just could never bring myself to spend that much on eating out. Probably a cultural thing – most of my immigrant friends cook.

  • Wow! You eat out three times a weekend. That’s mind boggling to me. I think cars and eatting out are the easiest places anyone can save money, and you seem to live large in those areas. I get that you’ve had success staying under budget the past few months, but it seems like your budget in unrealistic! I’d recommend getting HDTV and eating home. I think you’d save money.

  • @Aaron, the HDTV comment was weird as that wouldn’t save me money at all. I’d have to spend hundreds or thousands for a new TV as my current ones are not HD. And we don’t have cable anyway (just the $20 a month basic stuff).

    And yes, we do live large in the areas of cars and dining out, but my wife’s MINI has been paid off for 1.5 years and my truck is 3 years old and 2/3rds paid off. We both really like our vehicles and we’re pretty content with them. The problem before was that we didn’t align our needs and wants and bought cars that weren’t right for us.

    The problem for us is that we can more than afford even $500 a month, but we recognize that just because we can doesn’t mean we should. And that’s why I’m being open on here, partly to tell you guys a story, but also to keep us accountable to our own budget. It’s been realistic for 2 years now, but only because we use coupons and share dinners.

  • Dude,

    That’s great that you feel you can afford $500 a month for eating out while you have a loan for a depreciating asset and minimal equity in your home.

  • @Aaron, start your own blog, put all your information out there (truthfully) and let the world take pot shots on your lifestyle. I’m sure it’s the pot calling the kettle black here, but I’m sure you’ll say you lead the perfect financial lifestyle.

  • Dude,

    Love your blog! Think you’re a great source of information. Wasn’t trying to take pot shots. Just surprised at the amount you spend on eating out. For the record, I use coupon mom to save on groceries, eat out once a month, car pool with my wife in our only car, max out our Roth’s, max out 401k/TSP, use Heath Savings Accounts, set thermostat to 66 in winter, have 18%/23% debt ratio w/ 30 yr fixed, and don’t have loans on depreciating assets. I practice what I preach.

    Once again, can’t thank you enough for the information over the months I’ve been reading. I always appreciate your opinion.

  • Unless you are swimming in debt or not saving any money at all then I consider a budget a guide only. As long as you are still achieving you underlining goals more power to you clever dude.

    I try to go out for a $500+ meal once a year. We have $200 dining out budget and sometimes we go over. Its fine because that what we enjoy doing. My goal of early retirement is right on track because we still save 30% of our salary, we’ve increased our mortgage payments so that 50% goes towards principal, we are also putting a lump sum payment.

    Life is meant to be enjoyed but if saving every last dime is what you enjoy then go live in a grass hut and drink your own recycled urine.

  • My husband and I had the same problem. I suspect that one reason you like to eat out is for the social experience, too. I definitely want to avoid cooking and washing dishes every meal of every day, so an opportunity to have a leisurely dinner out is important to us once or twice a week.

    We’ve been real estate investors until the market turned and our income began to disappear. So, in an effort to still get to eat out, my husband and I started challenging each other to find restaurants that we could eat at for $5 each. We actually didn’t mind just ordering water to drink and receiving smaller portions of food (which was better for us anyway).

    It was so much fun, that the project evolved into creating a website for restaurants to post their $5 and $10 meals for everyone to see. It’s been so popular here in San Antonio that we’re branching out to other cities. Consumers like us are really appreciating knowing about affordable places to eat that don’t require “drive through”.

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