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Love of eating out takes a bite out of millennials' finances, new study finds

Coffee shops, bars, eateries hard to resist
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Jul 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-24 07:53:25-04

CINCINNATI -- The last thing many people want to do after walking in the door from work is to start cooking dinner, what with the crying kids, tired parents, unpacked lunches, unfinished baths and unwatched Netflix shows. The result? The average millennial (born between roughly 1981 and 1999) eats out, including coffee stops and bar tabs, five times per week, according to a new Bankrate study revealed in USA Today

The generation known for tech-savviness is falling short in the money savings department because of these vices. Sarah Berger, aka “The Cashelorette,” writes on her Bankrate blog, “We are spending a lot of money on vices.” 

“Financial vices can easily add up to thousands of dollars a year, having a major impact on your future financial fate. Such a buzzkill, right?” she wrote.

The study found that 30 percent of millennials buy coffee at least three times per week; 51 percent of those aged 21 to 26 go to a bar at least once a week. By comparison, 59 percent of Americans overall don’t purchase any brewed coffee per week, 73 percent don’t drink at bars habitually and 40 percent only buy takeout once per week, according to USA Today.

Financial experts recommend that people save 20 percent of their income, but the food spending is making it harder for millennials to save.

Berger recommended the usual tips: cook more, buy alcohol from discount liquor stores, make a modern budget using a virtual envelope app (such as Mvelopes) and invest smarter. More importantly, cut the coffee habit that has millennials investing more in Starbucks (and other favorite cafes) than in their retirement plans yearly.

“Brew your coffee at home (hot tip, Trader Joe’s has super affordable coffee compatible with Keurigs),” she wrote.

Jill Joseph of West Price Hill, along with her husband and son, have trimmed their budget and a few pounds by planning meals. With the goal of buying a house in mind, they evaluated expenses and found they were spending $300-$400 every week and a half to two weeks on dining out.

“My husband and I have started to sit down together at the beginning of each week and to think of some meals we would like for dinner. We go to the grocery store with a plan and then have a plan for the week so we don't come home from work tired and starving, with no idea what to do for dinner,” she said.

Rycca Thacker of Amelia knows the struggle millennials face. Why does she eat out frequently? “I’m lazy,” she said. “We drink coffee at least three times a week, and dinner out two to three times a week,” she said.

Thacker makes four “good solid dinners” at home weekly but doesn’t want to shop for more meals than that. Her family also encounters another common struggle: what to do about the workday lunch.

“I work as a project manager, so sometimes eating at a desk isn’t possible for me,” she said. “My husband works construction, which makes packing lunch hard. He gets burnt out on sandwiches. I usually pack leftovers but sometimes have to eat out. My husband eats out at least three days a week.”

Her dining out choices usually involve pizza, Chipotle and wings. She also weighs out the cost of eating out versus groceries, and like many young professionals she struggles with the lack of savings at the grocery, especially as she buys organic food.

“Eating out is expensive, but so is trying to make healthy meals. We spend $180 a week at the grocery. Probably the same eating out,” she said.

She isn’t wrong about grocery costs creeping close to equaling restaurant costs. Economists predict that, unlike with previous ebbs and flows in food costs, the rising prices are here to stay.

Another factor in the trend: More two-parent families have both parents working, up to 46 percent in 2015 from 31 percent in 1970, leaving less time for meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. 

Berger has advice for her millennial fans when it comes to trying to work on the habit: “Let’s start adulting.”