Meet the Biggest Budget Buster for 2016

Meet the Biggest Budget Buster for 2016

You shop around for deals on clothes, drive a pre-owned vehicle and rely on Netflix for your movie fix rather than hand over $20 for a theater ticket.

But if you aren’t keeping close tabs on how much you shell out for eating and drinking, then you’re likely ignoring the biggest wallet drainer of them all.

When asked what they blew their budget on this year, 45% of respondents to the November 2016 Principal Financial Well-Being Index pointed the finger at food. When broken down, 25% said they overspent most on dining out, while another 20% blamed other food and grocery costs.

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And no surprise to anyone who regularly braves the line at Starbucks: 9% of respondents indicated that coffee was a major budget buster for the year.

Food prices also ranked second when it came to things consumers are most concerned about for 2017, the survey reported. Forty percent of respondents said they were worried about this, second only to health care costs.

It's hard to predict which supermarket or menu items will be subject to a price creep in the new year—and, of course, it's not realistic for many households to simply quit eating out altogether. That said, it is possible to get your food and drink outlay under control so you can adhere to a budget, if you consider ground rules like these.

When Eating Out

Ditch pricey drinks or BYOB. Ordering alcohol is an easy way to ring up that tab, so consider skipping the pricey cocktails altogether when eating out. If sipping water during a special dinner just doesn't feel right, then consider bringing a bottle of vino if the restaurant allows it. After all, at some places a single glass of wine could run you about the price of an entire bottle from your local liquor store.

Keep an eye out for specials. Some restaurants offer deals on slow nights of the week or happy hour specials between their lunch and dinner rushes. If you are flexible with your schedule, then consider timing your dining out strategically to take advantage of a discount. (And of course, there are always sites and apps like BlackBoard Eats, Living Social or Groupon that can help you find restaurant deals.)

Brew your own coffee. We hear you on your morning latte addiction. But consider this: By not spending $4 a day, five days a week, on a beverage that you could make at home, you could potentially save more than a grand by this time next year.

RELATED: 12 Drinking and Dining Hacks From Restaurant Insiders

At the Grocery Store

Dial back on pre-made or prepackaged foods. Already cut veggies and grab-and-go sandwiches are super convenient, but anything that requires human prep will have a markup. Simply buying a bag of carrots or sandwich ingredients and doing the work on your own will help you save in the long run.

Download your grocery store's sales app. Many major chains have mobile apps that send you coupons for items you regularly purchase. Some apps may even work with your store loyalty card, so you could score even bigger deals if you're a regular customer.

Be smart about sales and bulk buying. Unless you’re truly sure your family will finish them off, resist bulk purchases of perishables like produce, dairy and meat products. Same goes with two-for-one sales; you might get seduced into purchasing a lot of a food you really don't want or can't finish before the expiration date.

RELATED: Grocery Budget Clinic: 6 Hacks for Smarter Meal Planning

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