Much to the relief of Financial Diet participants and fast-food chains everywhere, the Restaurant Challenge has come to a close. March rounded out our third and final month of the money-saving project. While I will no longer be forced to track each of my restaurant purchases, I think I’ve already created the habit. I am so much more aware of the little purchases and making myself take a second to think, “It may only be a $3 burrito, but I’ve got deli meat and chips at home.”
Frankly, I’m really proud of myself. I have completely revamped my finances and outlook on eating out. The Financial Diet forced me to realize how much I was spending each month and decide if that was a realistic amount for ME. By the end of the project, I learned that a food allowance of $160/month is unnecessary. I do not need to spend that much.
How did I get here?
The past two months were filled with the most changes. January was a learning month; I was definitely more conscientious of my number of restaurant visits, but unfortunately used that as justification for heavier spending the few times I did eat out. February and March; however, I kicked the Financial Diet into full gear and really took things seriously. I got my boyfriend on the same page so he was respectful of my goals and I had regular dinner exchanges with a neighboring friend. I even bought a new lunchbox.
The feeling of being in control gave me a complete attitude change. Instead of grabbing a quick lunch being the norm, the new routine was to have my lunchbox (I wasn’t kidding) ready to go in the fridge for the next morning. By doing this, I quickly learned that Thursday is my “hard day.” It’s nearing the end of the week, I’m out of leftovers, the grocery list has grown and I’m hungry… but that’s okay. I’m all about being realistic. I can reasonably eat out one lunch a week and pack a lunch the rest of the time. I can also have dinner at home during the week and save the restaurants for social eating on the weekends. My mentality is different, my attitude is better and my wallet is thanking me.
While I had an improvement in January knocking down my spending to $133, I felt it wasn’t good enough. In February, I spent an insane $29! And in March, just under $50 for the whole month. The monthly totals bring my new target average to $71. Which, thanks to my new spending habits, I consider completely realistic and responsible. $71 gives me than enough wiggle room for late night pizza or dinner dates with friends, but also creating a savings of nearly 60% every month. And since I’ve already proven that I don’t need the full $71, I expect an even better level of savings.
Now that I’ve successfully completed my “Dear Journal” moment, it’s time to reflect on the totals and savings of all our Financial Diet participants. As you can see, our efforts span the board. Some saved, some remained consistent and some struggled. While our main mission was to save more money, the underlying lesson was to have more awareness of your own spending habits. Then, take that awareness and make it meaningful.
I am certainly thrilled for the participants who came out with savings in the end— special congratulations to Janet’s household for their success— but I’m also really pleased with those who stayed close to their starting average. It may not have resulted in savings, but it did give insight to the fact that maybe the starting average is right for them and their current lifestyle. And even still, for those with a lack of savings, they still took away the underlying goal: awareness.
|Participant||Avg. Spent||Spent||$ Saved||% Saved||New Avg.||$ Saved||% Saved|
Even though the Restaurant Challenge is complete, I challenge everyone to stick with the idea of a Financial Diet and strive to do better. And if a little motivation is all it takes, just picture that $3 burrito as a tiny, little cruise ship…