I am a cost conscious person. I dislike unnecessary expenditure and review my spending behavior on an adhoc basis.
That being said, I have never tracked my spending using tools or analyzed it in a structured manner. Instead, my “tracking” has been based onmy monthly savings ratio, which indirectly defines spending. I have not really had any reason to look further into my spending because my savings ratio has been stable. Nevertheless, I have been planning for some time to look into my monthly costs to understand what I actually spend money on and see if I should tweak it improve my savings ratio.
Mrs. Money introduced me to an app, Money Lover. I didn’t compare it to any other apps since my requirements were quite basic to do this evaluation – I just needed to be able to log my expenditure and segregate the items over the period. My first expense was a F&B item on the 20th of October. The period would ideally only cover my spending in Malaysia but I happened to be in Europe from the 24th to the 30th of October. Initially, I wanted to do two posts covering a two-month period with one including the trip and the other only Malaysian costs. But I realized that unexpected costs do always come up, and the Europe trip could attribute to an unexpected cost in a “normal” month.
Therefore, the period I will share is the expenditure from the 20th of October until the 20th of November.
My total expenditure was RM4,416.82. (This does not include the flight ticket since it was booked the month before).
My spending pattern doesn’t really come as a surprise. There is one item that contributes to 69% to my total expenditure – food & beverage. I do not cook, eating all my meals out. This has been the case for most of the past 13 years. I would say that convenience has been a big factor, plus that eating out is very affordable in Malaysia. My total F&B spending ended up at RM3,013.23, which I felt was quite low considering that it includes my dining in Europe.
The remaining are items I can’t really avoid. Bills and utilities expenses relates to my housing arrangements, as well as electricity and water bills. Since my office is within walking distance from my home and I do not drive, transportation is usually a very small expense. The transportation expense this month is mostly related to the trip.
My take away from this exercise is that I do in fact live a very cost efficient lifestyle. However, I would like to balance my F&B expenses so that it moves from 100% dining out, to around 60%. There is a strong negative health aspect to consider when eating out frequently, which is something Mrs Money mentions to me often. It also just doesn’t feel right to indulge with dining out every day. I am planning to try out a 60% dining out ratio for a month in 2020 (possibly January) to evaluate the cost benefits of this.
How does your spending habits look? Do you keep track of your monthly expenditures? What have you noticed?
Mrs. Money here. There are many people in the Financial Independence (“FI”) community who really maximize savings by almost never eating out and living an extremely frugal lifestyle. That’s not us.
Mr Money and I eat out. A lot. I would say at upwards of 4 times a week. Sometimes, it’s simple hawker or cafe food, other times, we dine at nicer restaurants. It is probably the largest expense of mine (I’m keeping track over the next few months so I’ll know this for sure soon), and definitely the largest for Mr. Money, who eats out even more than I do.
Why? The fact is, it’s really hard not to. Food is so cheap and accessible in Malaysia. And of course, so oh-my-God-yummy.
But it’s still a bit of a sticking point for us. Mr. Money thinks it sometimes costs more to buy groceries and cook for two rather than eating out. That’s in addition to time and convenience factors, and not to mention the additional element of wasted produce dying a slow death in the fridge, which really bothers him. I can’t disagree with some of those points, especially on time and convenience, but I try to avoid eating out as much just because I tend to eat more unhealthy and meat dishes (I’m an aspiring flexitarian), and I do think the cost adds up.
While one of our big couple goals this year is to cook more and reduce dining expenses, the fact that we do eat out quite a bit, combined with our generally cheap genes means we are always looking at ways to cut costs when eating out!
Here are our top tips so far:
If you are someone who eats out a lot and entertains, you really should download the Entertainer app. You pay around RM120 a year, and it gives you tons of savings. Most restaurants allow you to buy one main, and get one main free of charge – and you have 3 of these vouchers per year at the same restaurant. Others give 1-for-1 promotions of alcoholic beverages, including bottles of wine. You can check out places in your vicinity, and there are usually quite a lot of restaurants and bars in the Klang Valley listed there. You can make back your RM120 in just 3-4 meals! A friend of mine also recently mentioned that you can get the “family” package, where you pay slightly more, but you can get up to 4 members access your account.
Our only rule we use when using the Entertainer is to make sure that we are anyway going to be eating out, so that we are not spending money on meals that we wouldn’t anyway be doing.
Download discount apps
This includes Boost, Fave Pay etc. where you can get discounts on your next trip to the restaurant, and sometimes cash back too. Similarly, we wouldn’t select a restaurant just because we could get back some money, but if we’re anyway going in there, why not save a few bucks?
Check if your credit card gets you a discount
So many restaurants have discounts for certain credit cards. Use them. You’ll have to ask though, and be ok with sounding like a penny-pincher. Which also applies to the next tip…
Always ask about promotions
So I figured out this sinister trick restaurants use recently! I was at a popular Japanese food chain that shall not be named, and only after I paid and left, did I realize that there was a happy hour promo (I was eating lunch at 3pm) that provided a significant discount at that time. It was displayed for anyone walking outside the restaurant (to lure customers in), but once you’re in, it’s not something the wait staff will always mention, well because, you’re already baited fish to them. I was so annoyed by this, but realized that many restaurants DO use this trick of displaying promotions outside, but not on the table or anywhere visible to existing customers. Do not fall prey! Always just make it a point to ask.
Lunch specials and happy hour
One thing we’ve tried to do when we want to try out a new restaurant, especially if it’s fancy, is to go there for lunch instead. There are usually lunch promotions, and we are less likely to order alcohol which then hikes up the bill.
For heaven’s sake, skip the drink
Some of you know by know that I’m a strong advocate for not ordering sugary and unnecessary drinks while eating out. I stick to warm water (which is my favourite drink), and if they charge for bottled water, I say thanks no thanks because I usually have my own little flask of water that I carry with me everywhere. Ordering a drink at a restaurant can easily come up to half the price of your meal, which is just totally not worth it.
As Mama says (not mine, though), don’t over-order
My parents have always shown love through food. We would go for meals at Chinese restaurants and order 7 dishes for 5 of us. And my dad, never allowing us to waste anything, would always say: “you can order anything you want, as long as you finish it”. I recall an incident once where my two sisters and I went to a restaurant and ordered so many dishes that the restaurant manager who was taking our order actually suggested that we drop a few. Offended that he was doubting our eating abilities, we insisted and forced ourselves to finish the food. We were almost blue in the face in the end, but we felt ridiculously proud.
Fast forward many years, I really have tried to drop this one. Trying to generally not do anything in excess and striving to lead a minimalist lifestyle means that I also just eat in moderation. When we order, we just try to make sure that we are keeping it light enough, but not too light that we get hungry later. And of course, if we have any left-overs, we just take them home and have it the following day.
I still struggle with family dinners though; I’m always the annoying one telling everyone not to over-order and inevitably gets ignored. And then I’m usually the garbage truck at the end finishing up all the food.
We’d love to hear from you! Do you have any other money-saving tips that you use when eating out?