But there is one budget category that I realized long ago that it just wasn't practical to cut all the way to zero. It seemed that we would always have at least some spending in this area, and it was much better not to be surprised by the expense popping up rather than denying that it would be there.
What was it? The restaurants and dining budget.
Yes, one of the best money-saving strategies out there is to cut down on eating out. It's true. You can spend anywhere from twice to 10 times as much when you eat out as opposed to cooking at home.
It seems there's always going to be something that comes up. A social outing that you can't get out of that revolves around eating out. Hubby runs out of the house late and doesn't have time for breakfast and has to pick something up. You get sick or you get home right before dinner and there's nothing prepared. Life happens.
Yes you could cook from scratch at home in these situations given unlimited time and energy. But sometimes convenience feels downright necessary.
The extreme budgeter in me would like to say DON'T EAT OUT EVER and cut this budget category to the bone. In our family, (and maybe yours too?) it just doesn't work that way.
We learned early on that it was much better to keep $40 in there for dining "emergencies". Even during No Spend Month we saw this crop up, and I'm so glad that I had saved just a little bit in our already reduced budget to accommodate it.
It's better to let go of the perfection and guilt that go along with making an unrealistic budget (yes, I'm talking to myself here). If we set ourselves up to fail, we may just end up giving up and going back to our old habits. (That's probably the same reason extreme diets don't often work long term.)
So, even if you're working hard to meet your financial goals like getting out of debt of building an a emergency fund, think twice before cutting your dining budget. Your budget needs to be something you can sustain long term more-so than it needs to be free from all non-necessities and indulgences.