In this age of out-of-control debt, reducing expenses is a priority.
A great place to start is with Canadians’ top financial guilty pleasure: eating out at restaurants and bars. Also included are coffees, and so-called treats, many of which are laced with sugar, salt, and fat.
Canada's restaurants, bars, and caterers rang up $68.1-billion in sales in 2017, a nearly 120% increase from $31-billion in 1998, according to Restaurants Canada.
As these numbers aren’t broken down into categories, I’m going to focus on food outlets that represent habitual day-to-day expenses; you know… those stops on the way to work where lattes, muffins, Egg McMuffins or maybe a Starbucks smoothie are picked up.
After a brief discussion, I provide some tips and tricks on reducing expenses and keeping more money in your possession. This isn’t an extensive list, just some ideas to get you started.
Tim Bits for All!
The chart below reflects the most profitable restaurant chains in Canada in 2017.
It’s clear that Canadians love ‘Timmies’ and their frequent visits fed that company $8.4 billion dollars over a year. That’s a lot of Tim Bits and double-doubles. Like McDonalds, Tim Hortons has a fairly extensive menu that covers an entire day’s worth of meals and treats.
Other chains offer snack meals, sit down ones, take-out, burgers-fries, and The Keg rounds out this list with its primarily dinner menu.
Reducing Expenses Challenge
What I propose to you is a monthly or weekly reducing expenses challenge. Ok, let’s start with a week since whatever I introduce will be a new wrinkle in your day-to-day.
Set a Goal and a Destination
It’s important to set some type of goal to make this cost reduction exercise meaningful. Maybe, limit yourself to $10-$20 for the week in outside-your-place meals, treats, and drinks. Having a destination for that pre-allocated money is also a good idea. How about putting it towards your smartphone bill or credit card debt?
Put Away the Plastic
Much of the spending at eateries and restaurants has been put on credit or debit cards, so it doesn’t feel like spending. All you have to do is place the new chip card on the counter top gizmo and you can leave.
Change of plan: Start paying in cash to make yourself more aware of the money leaving your possession. This also means withdrawing only a certain amount of bills from the ATM, not a handful.
'Just say No' to Buying Coffee by the Cup
It's an expensive habit that becomes more so when a pastry or doughnut is added. Buy your coffee by the pound or bagful at a grocery store. Doing so at coffee shop....well, it'll be hard to resist that temptation.
Buy a small Thermos at a discount or second-hand store and pour yourself a coffee for later. You can bring it with you each day and take sips when you feel the need. Adopting this tip, should you have the coffee habit, will reduce your daily spend by $3-$6.
Avoid Uncooperative People
When you have a new goal, paying attention to who supports you and who doesn’t can make a big difference. If you have someone picking on you because you’re no longer buying meals and snacks, mention your goal and check their reaction. A real friend cooperates while a phony one makes a fuss.
Create a Tip-Tax Card
Here’s a home craft for your spare time. Get your phone out and begin calculating what a 15% tip is on a bill of $15 up to $30 in increments of $5. Do the same for the 13% tax on the original amount. This will help in reducing expenses.
Restaurant-bound, despite Best Efforts to Avoid
If your job or circle of friends has you often ending up at a bar or eatery, remember your reducing expenses commitment. Set a budget and stay within it. To further reduce expenses, you may want to plan different activities after work.
If you’re in a group, sharing the bill is a common practice. Insist on paying for your meal, as shared meals often lead to inequalities in the payment department. If you can’t manage that, have your Tip-Tax card ready so that you pay appropriately.
Skip the Bread & Buns
Did you know that eating wheat stimulates your appetite? I learned that in a book called Wheat Belly. Restaurants, especially European ones, deliver baskets of complimentary bread products then wait 15-20 minutes by which time, you’re ravenous. You may nibble, but that’s it.
What to Order?
Go for the least expensive, healthiest option: a chicken salad or, if you don’t eat meat, a bigger salad with nuts and fruit. It will fill you up and keep your appetite in check. For those who are gluten-intolerant, be mindful that most everything in after-work pubs and grills is dusted with flour (wheat) to rev up your appetite.
Skip the Alcohol and Soft Drinks
If you absolutely must go to a restaurant, regardless of its type, skip the drinks except water. All drinks such as milk, soft drinks, and especially alcoholic ones are marked-up big time, adding an unexpected wallop to your bill. Water is better for you anyway.
With the exception of white milk, each of the other choices contains a ton of sugar which contributes to moodiness and weight gain; sugar also dehydrates you, making you thirstier.
Nuts, seeds, pieces of dried fruit, or a making up a trail mix combining all is a good start. I don’t recommend buying a mix as they’re often laced with salt, sugar, fat, and preservatives.
Any type of fruit is good and should you require a natural sugar fix, try several dates and-or figs. Avoid “nutrition” bars as they can be expensive and loaded with sugar. Cheese sticks, chopped up celery with a nutritious topping like a nut or seed butter also come to mind. Go online to find inexpensive options and YouTube for guidance.
In closing, it is hoped that these tips for reducing expenses will inspire and encourage you to begin economizing, as soon as possible. With Canadian consumer debt at a record $608 billion as of the end of May 2018, taking action now gives you a head start.