I spend too much on eating out. How can I budget better?

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Q. I spend too much on eating out. But when I cook, or I plan to cook, I end up throwing out food that I just don’t have time to cook. How can I set a budget for both of these so I don’t waste money on groceries or on too many meals out?
— Struggling

A. When we have busy lives, it can be hard to plan ahead.

Calling in for a delivery or picking up something on the way home from work seems easy, but you’re right: It can hurt your wallet.

The first exercise would be to create a household budget, said Jody D’Agostini, a certified financial planner with Equitable Advisors/The Falcon Financial Group in Morristown.

She said you should start with fixed expenses or “needs” which are those items that you must pay such as mortgage, utilities, health insurance, transportation expenses, food for home, internet access and more.

You should include savings in this bucket, too, D’Agostini said.

“Part of determining how much you need to save depends on what your needs are and what you already have saved, but a good starting point would be 10 to 15% of your income.,” she said.

Then, add in the discretionary expenses, or the “wants.”

This bucket should include eating out, vacation, entertainment, and other expenses that are not necessary, but the stuff you want to spend on.

“Now look at your household income and subtract the fixed expenses and see how much is left over,’ she said. “You should set priorities for your wants and decide how much you can spend on eating out and stick to this monthly amount.”

Good planning would be to decide weekly what your daily meals will be and buy enough food to meet those needs, she said.

“If you know you want to eat out for some days, work those into the budget,” she said. “Recipes often can help you plan out the amount to buy so that you will have minimal waste. There are also some home delivery services that send out portion-sized meals to you that require minimal preparation that will reduce waste.”

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This story was originally published on March 6, 2023.

NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.