Why You Need to Control Your Fast Food Spending

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Fast food seems like such an easy and harmless thing – a burger here, a pizza there, maybe a latte in the morning, but before you know it, it can really sabotage your budget.  Take a look at some of the statistics below:

  • Most Americans eat fast food 1-3 times a week.
  • One third of Americans are eating fast food on any given day.
  • People ages 20-39 years old eat the most fast food on any given day.
  • Men consume more fast food than women.
  • 83% of American families eat fast food at least once a week.
  • The average American household spends 10% of their annual income on fast food.
  • People who earn more money tend to eat more fast food than those who earn lower incomes.
  • Lunchtime is the most popular time to eat fast food.
  • 34% of children eat fast food on any given day.
  • Regular fast food consumption increases your risks for obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes & depression.
  • Fast food consumption increases 2.2% every year.
  • McDonald’s is still the most popular fast food restaurant with $130.4 Billion spent there worldwide in 2019.

Source – https://www.thebarbecuelab.com/fast-food/

That last one came as a bit of a surprise to me because most of the people I know avoid McD’s like the plague.  They would rather eat ANYWHERE else – myself included, but the numbers weren’t even CLOSE.  See how CRAZY is that??

Fast food statistics

One of the things I found the MOST interesting was the breakdown by age.  Basically, the younger you are, the stronger your fast food habit is.  This is the age range that is trying to save for first homes, for college (their own and their kids!), and for their potential retirement.  And they are EATING more than 10% of their income.  That’s pretty concerning, especially for those of us with kids in this age range.  All 3 of my kids are 20-39, but mine are pretty moderate in their fast food habits.  I’m probably worse about it than they are because I HATE to cook!

Fast food challenge

Even if you’ve just got little kids, you are currently setting the habits they will retain for life.  So are you raising the Happy Meal generation?  Maybe.  But it’s a great time to make a change.

I do a lot of coaching sessions with people on their budgets in my No BS Financial Freedom Framework sessions.  And it’s really fascinating because I work with people of all ages and all income levels, but one thing I see frequently is that they are spending anywhere from $200 to $800 per month on eating out.  It can add up SO fast, you don’t even notice.  Sometimes, it’s their largest expense behind their rent or mortgage.  Kind of crazy if you are deep in debt, but I see it in about 3/4 of my clients.  

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Ideas to Cut Your Fast Food Budget

I’ve been following Jordan Page from the website FunCheaporFree.com.  She’s got 8 kids and she’s got tons of great videos and Instagram stories about home cooking, freezer meals, and food prep. With a family that large, you kind of have to get organized and it would break the bank to take 10 people out for even fast food on a regular basis. She has several programs and planners to help you with meal planning and budgeting.  Check it out.

Read my post on Freezer Cooking.  It’s been a total game-changer for our family.  Like I said, I hate to cook, but I don’t mind tossing something in the crockpot for dinner. And I’ve got links for a whole series of great recipes your whole family will LOVE.

I recently discovered Jamba Juice.  It’s delicious and pretty healthy, but yikes!  It’s like $7 for a smoothie or a yogurt bowl.  I love it, but I generally save that for a special once a week treat.  Same thing for Starbucks.  I can see why people develop that habit!  I’m not a huge coffee person, like most people, but their oatmeal is to die for.  Again, special treat, but not a daily indulgence.

I get it – we lead such busy lives, and these foods are specially designed by food scientists to appeal to our taste buds.  You have no idea how much science goes into the lowly McDonald’s french fry!  Read up on it.

My last few years at work, I had gotten into the habit of using these little bento boxes to pack up leftovers.  Now, when I talk about bento boxes, I immediately think FANCY Pinterest-inspired meals.  But you know me, I am definitely NOT fancy.  Simple is the only thing that works in this busy household!

Tonight I baked up a huge package of BBQ chicken, a double-batch of Zatarains yellow rice and some frozen green beans.  I fed it to my family for dinner, then packed up the leftovers into my little Bento boxes for 3 days of identical healthy lunches.  These beauties go easily from freezer to fridge to microwave.  It was much easier and healthier and certainly less expensive then eating out or buying frozen entrees.

And I got a Silver Bullet to make my own smoothies.  They aren’t as exotic as the ones from Jamba Juice, but they’re pretty good. I do them for breakfast a couple of days a week – either vanilla or chocolate.  Sometimes, I add berries or flavored yogurt to the vanilla one and it’s so delicious.  And it’s a quick and easy breakfast that’s low in calories.  And sometimes for a special healthy dessert.  They aren’t as exotic as the fancy ones from Jamba juice, but they don’t cost $7 a pop either!

Plan Ahead – Your Weekly Fast Food Plan

And there are just going to be some days, when you are tired, fed up, and too overwhelmed to even think about preparing a meal.  So you build those days right into your plan.  There’s never going to be ZERO fast food, but even if you cut it back by 30%-40%, you could do all sorts of things with that money – save it for a fun vacation, get yourself out of debt, start building a down payment on a house or a kitchen remodel.

I joke with my husband that we could’ve put one or two kids through college just for what he has spend on soda pop. It sounds silly, but I think it’s absolutely TRUE.  2-3 sodas per day – a buck or two a piece X 365 days X 25 years.  It ends up being between forty and fifty thousand dollars!

And that’s just the soda. Figure in all the pizza, chicken, tacos, and burgers we eat in a year, not to mention the rare times we go out for a nice meal. Shoot, it usually costs me $40-$50 just to take everyone out to Denny’s for pancakes and double that for a nice dinner. Heck with college, we could’ve bought an extra HOUSE with that money!  But you don’t want to have to live like Amish people – you’ve got to have some fun treats and enjoyable occasions along the way.

And of course, you are paying for all that eating in another way too. With your health. We’ve all heard all the statistics – heard Dr. Oz spouting forth on Oprah about childhood obesity, diabetes rates, and all the damage we are doing to our bodies with all this excessive amounts of unhealthy food we eat. We’re literally digging our graves with our teeth!

How to Control Your Fast Food Spending

So, what’s a Mom to do about it? Well, it’s probably a little too late if you’ve got kids in the 18 to 25 age range like I do. They’re pretty well set in their habits at this point. But if you’ve got younger kids, now might be a good time to start talking to them about this.

But talk isn’t enough, is it? You’ve got to set the example and consistently teach them how to feed themselves and their families without falling into this trap. It would be an interesting challenge to see how long you could go without buying ANY outside food or drink at all. One day? Three days? A week? A month?

It would be kind of fun if you put the money into a jar, so you could see how much you had saved over that time. I’d like that part. Even if you did it on paper, it would make it feel so much more worthwhile.

Give it a try.  I’d be interested to see what your results are.

Here are some other posts you may enjoy:

10 Secrets of Women Who Always Have Money

How to Help Your Future College Student

Time to Refinance? Your Largest Money Saver

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  1. I have found that one of the best things I can do for our health and finances on a daily basis is to cook a real dinner. My husband is always hungry when he comes home from work, and unlike me, he actually likes fast food so he’d be happy to pick up a meal on the way home (that’s what he was in the habit of doing when he was single). But he won’t be tempted to do that if he knows there’s a tasty hot meal waiting for him at home. I know that making the choice not to be lazy and to cook really helps our health and our finances–plus, that means there’s money available when we do want to go out on a date!

  2. I haven’t eaten fast food for 3 1/2 years!! And I don’t miss it! I just made the choice. At first it was hard because fast food is convenient, but once I got past that, I don’t even miss it 🙂

  3. We order pizza out once a week IF the kids have friends over. No fast food, ever. We do eat out, but usually if we must be away from home (no choices, like being out of town) or if we are really hungry for a certain kind of food (we don’t “make” sushi at home) Other than that we eat homemade stuff, at home.I am a real food advocate, and I buy little to no processed foods. My food expenditures are pretty much the same as if we were eating out though, since I try to by local, organic and non GMO- Eating in all the time allows us to spend the same, but really increase the quality of the food we consume. We do cut corners a bit by eating vegetarian meals at least twice a week, and vegan at least once or twice as well. Everyone feels much better since we started doing it, and I am getting better about shopping sales and utilizing the freezer, so maybe eventually I’ll see a financial difference!

  4. We don’t eat out much – fast food or otherwise because I can’t afford it anyway.

    Good points though – kids aren’t learning how to cook (I think) – so I can actually see my 17 yr old son doing this when he gets on his own, he can hardly boil water – lol

    Stopping by from #SITSSharefest

  5. It is so easy to go through the drive through or order up something to be delivered. But, I find that when I prepare ahead, I can usually keep us from eating out. We make it a point to sit down and eat together almost every single night. It is rare when we don’t eat together – usually due to a meeting or the kids are at their grandparents. I always keep “go to” meals handy like spaghetti, tortillas, and chicken breast in the freezer that I can thaw out quick in the microwave. This helps – the only time I struggle is weekend lunches because weekends get so busy with sports and I’m totally addicted to Firehouse Subs.

  6. That’s money that could be used to Feed America.

    Read about it on my post on my blog..

    Keep it Touched

  7. Just thinking about my own habits when I was in that age group, I can see how that stat came about. From 18-25, many kids have jobs but are still subsidized by their parents. Socializing usually started with dinner and drinks.

  8. I recently found our family sliding into this statistic, even though we’re a bit older than the demographic. Far too easy to go through the drive through and let the kids eat while I drove!

    Now, I’m starting to cook healthy meals and freeze a second batch of everything so I have something, even on nights when life is busy!

  9. I love that you are writing about this! I don’t personally eat fast, junk or restaurant food (not even a latte!) because I find that NOT eating healthy directly – and negatively – affects my fibromyalgia symptoms. But I know so many people who eat out on a regular basis, and I’ve known a few parents who were so tired and overworked that fast food became their answer to busy days.
    I hope you have lots of responses to your challenge!
    Visiting from SITS Girls 🙂

  10. This is a very compelling challenge. I’m going to try my best, too. I figured up the math earlier this year and I can save about $3-4/day by bringing my lunch to work rather than grabbing something from Wendy’s or Tim Horton’s, but I usually find myself going out for lunch at least twice a week.

    Good luck to everybody else who plans to participate!

  11. Oh i wish I could break my eatting out habit. I have gone long periods of time (2 months -not consecutive, several weeks, days) but I always go back to it. It is a terrible habit.

    i will do my best with your challenge!

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