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Saving Strategy: Eat Before You Go Out

I haven't posted about a money saving strategy since I posted about 25 ways to save money, but I came up a tip to write about while shopping over the weekend. 

On a typical Saturday morning, my wife and I will get up, have breakfast, relax for a bit, then head out on our adventure for the day.  This adventure usually involves shopping for household essentials or groceries at the local big box store (exciting hey?).

As the title suggests, one saving strategy that we try to implement whenever we can is to leave the house on a full stomach.  Why?  Lets take a look at a couple of scenarios.

When we go out shopping, we usually spend a couple hours picking up a few odds and ends.  If we don't have some food in our stomach during the shopping trip, we'll inevitably get hungry (especially my pregnant wife).  When this happens, we'll usually stop by a Subway or a Tim Hortons to grab a quick bite.  Even though these fast food joints are reasonable in price, it can cost around $15-$20 for the both of us for lunch.  If we were to do this every weekend, this would be an extra $80/month bill or $1000/yr

When grocery shopping, people are more inclined to buy more (junk) on an empty stomach.  We've experimented with this phenomenon, and it's right on the money.  Not only do we spend around 10%-15% more when grocery shopping hungry, we tend to load up on unhealthy items.

Eating before you go shopping can not only save you a few dollars, but it can also be the healthier alternative.

Of course, this strategy may not work that well if you plan on going out to eat.

Photo credit: DanieVDM

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FT About the author: FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • The Financial Blogger February 18, 2008, 8:34 am

    I do the same thing before I go to the grocery store.
    Every time that my wife and I go and we didn’t eat, we are sure to buy for an additional $40 just because everything looks so tasty when you are hungry!

  • CanadianRetiredGuy February 18, 2008, 10:39 am

    I am in charge of the “cooler bag” when we go out on one of our excursions. I include some combination of milk, water, soft drinks, juice, slices of cold meat (might be processed meat and might be last night’s roast), cheese and crackers, carrots, celery, radishes and sufficient ice packs to keep it all safe and cold.

    Then when lunch time comes we get to make a decision as to whether we eat “in” (the car) or “out”.

    When I get home the left over “leftovers” are unpacked back in to the fridge – except we now have an assortment of crackers in the “warm section of the bag”.

    The bag cost me $10 at Wal-Mart and has saved me hundreds in lunch charges.

  • Dividendgrowth February 18, 2008, 11:26 am

    I do the same thing. Whenever I am hungry and I am grocery shopping, oh man, I tend to overspend by 30-40%.
    I also like to put my savings into perspective. For example if I go out to lunch with colleagues/friends once a week, and I spend $10 per occasion, that’s $520 per year. Knowing the annual impact on your net worth of a recurring expense, can have very strong psychological advantages for your wealth

  • squawkfox February 18, 2008, 11:34 am

    I always bring a snack when I go shopping. I also think drinking more water is important as most of us are actually dehydrated when we think we are hungry. :)

  • CanadianDollars February 18, 2008, 12:25 pm

    Actually I find that when I eat a little bit before going out for a meal with some friends, I tend to eat less at the restaurant which means that my portion of the food bill is less.

    I know this may sound rather frugal but it’s true and it does work. While everyone is eating their multi appetizers, I can save room for the big show.

    The only exception to this case is if we’re going to All-You-Can-Eat places. It would be counter intuitive to eat something before going!

  • George February 18, 2008, 12:42 pm

    It’s even better to eat first, and bring a list of things that you need to buy. If it isn’t on the list, you don’t buy it. This eliminates “impulse” purchases, and I’ve found it helps keep frivolous spending in check.

  • MunEconomist February 18, 2008, 1:28 pm

    I think an amazing way to save money is bring your own food on road trips.

  • Little Ms. Scrooge February 18, 2008, 1:45 pm

    I agree with all the above mentioned comments. This is especially so when trying to get things done with two kids and a husband who hates shopping. For them boredom can quickly translate to hunger/thirst. So when there is a multi stop trip, I let my kids bring along electronics soothers(nintendo, littlest pet shop digital thingamajiggy- all received as birthday presents!!). Another thing that has worked for me is to stop at Costco in the middle and there is always enough to eat/drink to keep going for a couple of hrs. more.

  • Telly February 18, 2008, 1:59 pm

    Wow…I’m surprised to see how many people make shopping a weekend “event”. My husband and I stop for a few fresh items once or twice a week on our way home from work based on our menu for that week.

    Spending 3-4 hours shopping every weekend seems torturous as we both really dislike it so quick trips make more sense for us. I have to admit to having grabbed a little tub of ice cream once or twice that wasn’t on the list though. :)

  • CheapCanuck February 18, 2008, 2:23 pm

    Good advice. Whenever we are heading out my wife will inevitably ask where we are going for lunch. I tell her I’ll make something for her at home before we leave. Most days that’s fine, but some days this answer gets a lukewarm reception. If the response is too chilly I end up taking her out for lunch instead. Gotta know when to hold em, know when to fold em :)

  • Matt February 18, 2008, 2:31 pm

    Good idea, eating out can become so expensive. I used to hate brining a lunch and I would get snacks at the office until I realized just how much this was costing me. Even at $10 a day for lunch (which is pretty decent) adds up to thousands per year. Now since you mentioned food its time to put some in my stomach.

  • Fabulously Broke February 19, 2008, 12:08 pm

    I do that too. Plus I bring snacks when I’m out for the whole day, like a granola bar, or something to chew on. Or a huge cup of tea in my Starbucks mug :)

  • Cannon_fodder March 6, 2008, 10:25 am

    I don’t do this as a rule (although I probably should) but Sunday evening brought some great bargains during a grocery store visit.

    Near where I live there is a 24 hour Dominion store. It sometimes happens that Sunday evening rolls around and we’ve run out of a critical item (e.g. milk). I end up picking up whatever is critical or unique to Dominion (we usually shop at RCSS). I then go over to the meat department where I discover a large assortment of quality meat that has been marked down because it is a day or 2 from its ‘Best by date’. I can usually pick up really top notch steaks and even seasoned chicken and pork that I wouldn’t normally purchase. By the time I leave, there is little left as I can frequently find 6-10 steaks.

    Saving anywhere from 30% to 50% has proved to be a very good move. The meat has been exceptional and we end up spending less to feed 3 than we would to feed 1 at a restaurant. And, typically, the restaurant dinner steaks aren’t as good as the ones we cook at home.

  • Matt Ellsworth March 27, 2008, 12:12 pm

    I haven’t tried this before going to the mall, but I have for grocery shopping and it is definately better to eat something before going to the grocery store. I grew up 1 block away from the market – so we frequently would go get things as needed. We also got a lot of non needed junk.

  • Colourful Money May 2, 2009, 7:26 am

    Aye, eating until you have a full stomach may not be the best idea for those trying to lose weight. As the addage goes about eating small meals every 3-4 hours, stuffing yourself may be counterproductive.

    However, if you care not about losing weight, this is fine. Back when I was a student, I’d stuff myself at the Chinese buffet and won’t have to eat again until the next day!

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