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Social Eating: Are Friends Costing You Too Much?

By Rikki Bertagnolli, Office for Financial Success Counselor

After successfully maintaining a monthly budget, I was able to analyze where all my money went. Rent, utilities, insurance and other basic living expenses did not surprise me, but the amount of money I spend on eating out, did. Over a period of two months my largest variable expense was eating out. $5.00 here and $3.50 there really add up throughout the month. When I became more conscious of when I spent that large eating out fund, I found that two main factors were to blame. The two culprits that were to blame were; social eating and lack of time.

The amount of social time spent with friends took place in restaurants, or in a student study lounge were food and beverages were available. Even going to the movies constituted spending money on food.

Busy lifestyles, such as being a full-time student, or having a family with children that do extra-curricular activities, or just working a full time job doesn’t leave much time, more or less the energy, to cook three meals a day at home. This makes the temptation of just rushing through the drive-thru at Taco Bell seem pretty reasonable, if not economical at times.

How do we fix these problems? First of all, when it comes to socializing with friends, try hanging out in a place that isn’t a restaurant. Hanging out with friends doesn’t always have to revolve around food. Grabbing a coffee at Starbucks, or a piece of pizza at the student center with a friend just three times a week can add up to almost $20.00! Most college students hang out with their friends on a daily basis, and if these hangout sessions are costing $3-$5, that’s over $100.00 a month spent on coming up with a common interest to see a friend.

Having a busy lifestyle isn’t something that can just be eliminated in one day. Taking ten minutes every morning to pack a lunch, and a few light snacks can help eliminate the temptation to eat out. Those ten minutes packing up some food from home is less time than a drive thru would take. The $5.00 that you spend on a value meal a McDonalds could buy you a week’s worth of turkey sandwiches and granola bars from the grocery store. Not to mention the nutritional value of most fast food places are absolutely horrible, compared to a nice sack lunch.

Eating out with friends, and indulging yourself at Taco Bell shouldn’t be eliminated completely. Drive thru and food places at student unions wouldn’t exist if millions of people didn’t partake in these activities every day. But for those of us who are conscious of where our money is going, we definitely shouldn’t give into temptation multiple times a day, or even once a day. Eating out once or twice a week is what I have limited myself to, and I am saving quite a bit of money and time. I have also strengthened my friendships, since the time we usually spend stuffing our face with food, is now spent talking and exploring the activities that Columbia has to offer!