How Can I Tell My Friends That I Can’t Afford to Eat Out All the Time?

  • For Love & Money is a biweekly column from Insider answering your relationship and money questions.
  • This week, a reader asks how to talk to friends who always want to dine out.
  • Our columnist recommends inviting them over for dinner to spend time together.
  • Got a question for our columnist? Write to For Love & Money using this Google form.

Dear For Love & Money,

Our friends prefer eating out, and when I say eating out, I mean every single meal. It’s so expensive, but they say it’s the same cost to eat at home, so they don’t want to change their ways.

My husband and I only want to eat out a couple of times a week because we can eat so much cheaper at home. Typically, we make it work, but it’s hard because we’re usually the ones caving and going out to spend time with them.

Having a relationship with them is beginning to feel like a choice between going broke or saving money and losing the friendship. What do we do?

Sincerely,

Friend to foodies


Dear Friend to Foodies,

The intersection between food and finances is fascinating because while food is a relatively controllable variable in our budgets, it’s also necessary for survival. Millennials have infamously been told that lattes and avocado toast are the only things standing between us and homeownership, while other personal finance experts say that if you’re agonizing over a $5 coffee, you have bigger problems.

I suspect this emphasis on food in personal finance is due to the way that both nourishing ourselves and handling our finances have come to reflect our values ​​systems. Since everyone’s values ​​system is different, when our values ​​collide with those of our loved ones, it feels like a question of identity. It feels staff.

So, before I get into my suggestions, I want to encourage you to remember that while your friends are affecting you with their restaurant-prone tendencies, it’s not intentional. They aren’t doing this at you; they simply like what they like, and what they like is to have someone else prepare their meals.

But since that understanding doesn’t change the financial burden of nightly dinners out, I have three suggestions for saving your money and your friendships.

First, invite them over for dinner

I grew up with parents who had friends over for dinner constantly. My mom was a pastor’s kid turned officer’s wife, so even after my dad left the military, hosting remained an essential part of who my mom is.

Growing up in an environment where large, home-cooked meals with friends around the dining table were weekly, sometimes twice-weekly, occurrences, I moved into adulthood believing that hosting friends for dinner was part of being a grown-up. But it turned out that my friends were baffled and intimidated by the idea of ​​dinner parties.

While friends always accepted my dinner invitations with enthusiasm, the invitations my husband and I received in return always involved restaurants and bars. Don’t get me wrong, I love little more than a lazy afternoon spent listening to live music at an outdoor brewery — but to your point, it gets expensive.

I addressed this by leading the way. I kept inviting my friends to dinner at our house. I demonstrated how easy it could be by throwing a roll of paper towels on the table instead of cloth napkin origami. My guests were always in charge of beverages, and my husband and I had a handful of low-effort, crowd-pleasing, budget-friendly meals we made on rotation.

Between the good food, laid-back environment, and excellent company, our dinner parties were always fun. More fun, in fact, than dinner in a noisy restaurant with a surly waiter that will inevitably end with an awkward battle over the check.

This isn’t my opinion: It’s become the consensus of our friend group. Because, after several dinners at our house, our friends are no longer intimidated by the idea of ​​reciprocating. And now the unspoken understanding is that restaurants and bars are the exception, but eating at one another’s homes is the norm.

So, try inviting your friends over for dinner. If you’re in a small living space, ask them about a few at a time. If they seem reluctant to change things up initially, play the best friend card and cajole them into it.

Be willing to host the first several dinners. If your friends are foodies, and that’s why they love restaurants so much, turn dinner at home into a culinary adventure. Invite them over early enough to help you cook and experiment with the trending vegetable of the month together.

Before long, you’ll likely find that you’ve transformed the dynamic of your group.

Second, when you do eat out, be intentional

If everything about my first suggestion made you want to run away screaming, another option is to reserve your restaurant meals for your friends.

You mentioned that your friends want to eat out every meal while you and your husband only want to eat out a couple of times a week.

Two dinners a week with your friends is all it should take to preserve your relationships. For the rest of the week, you and your husband can eat at home, allowing you to budget your time and money for those two dinners a week out with your friends.

Third, talk to them

You mentioned that you’re always the ones caving and doing things their way. If this feels unfair, that’s because it is. Tell your friends you don’t want to eat out. Don’t attribute this preference to finances because I have a feeling that’s when they pull you into the weeds of grocery costs versus restaurant costs. Be gentle but firm, and remember that these people are your friends. If they don’t let you have your way 50% of the time, then maybe they aren’t as good of friends as you think.

That said, I don’t think food choices need to come between you and your loved ones. No matter how weird we can all get when it comes to money and meals, a good friend will see you, hear you, and, when appropriate, follow your lead. So lead your friends back to the kitchen, and share a fabulous meal.

rooting for you

For Love & Money

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