Americans Most Frequently Overspend on This, Survey Shows

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Is this expense your biggest budget buster, too?

Many of us overspend a little from time to time. You might agree to a last-minute social invitation even if you've already exhausted your entertainment budget for the month. Similarly, you might overspend at the store if your favorite clothing brand goes on sale, or if you're trying to take advantage of a limited-time offer.

But overspending on a consistent basis can have negative consequences. For one thing, it can make it difficult to meet your savings goals. It can also mean having to put off certain milestones, like buying a home. And if you're not careful, spending too much could land you in a pile of credit card debt.

In a recent Personal Capital survey of people earning over $20,000 a year, the most common item that people overspend on is dining out, with a little over 39% of respondents citing restaurant meals as their biggest budget buster. As a point of comparison, about 32% of respondents said they overspend on groceries, while around 22% overspend on entertainment.

If you've been known to overspend on dining out, here are a few ways to cut back.

1. Replace one restaurant meal each week with a home-cooked one

Restaurants are known to charge a huge markup on food. If you can replace even one restaurant meal a week with a home-cooked alternative, you could save yourself a lot of money. Say your average restaurant meal costs $30 when you factor in tips, but your average meal prepared at home costs just $5. That means you can easily shave an extra $100 a month off of your expenses.

2. Do a meal-swap with your friends

The great thing about restaurant meals is getting to eat different foods rather than getting stuck with the same boring leftovers all week. If you're looking to spend less at dining establishments, arrange a meal-swap with your friends. Make an agreement that you'll each prepare four portions of a meal at the start of the week. That way, you'll keep one portion for yourself, give out the other three, and get three different things to eat for the next few days.

3. Host potlucks instead of meeting at restaurants

Restaurants are a good place to gather socially. But there's a lower-cost alternative -- your own dining room table. Start hosting potluck dinners where everyone pitches in so you're not overburdened with cooking. If you and your friends agree to rotate, you can meet up every week and enjoy each other's company without having to pay restaurant prices.

An easy way to cut back

You'll notice that none of these tips involve cutting out restaurant meals altogether. Rather, they're designed to help keep your spending in check in this specific category.

That said, if you're going to continue dining at restaurants, make sure you're using the right credit cards. Some cards offer more generous cash back than others for dining out, so if that expense eats up a lot of your income, you might as well find ways to get rewarded for it.

Dining out is a great way to socialize, enjoy new foods, and get a break from cooking. But it shouldn't cause you to spend more than you can afford. If that's what you've been doing, it pays to cut back -- before your finances take a hit and you start suffering the consequences of being in debt.

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