Cafe-Frugalometer 2018: Compare Your Restaurant Spending to Others Who Earn the Same Income

Restaurant spending is on the rise.

Consider these results from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CEX), the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual study of more than 7,500 households:

Average US Household Spending on Food: 2013-2016 (latest available surveys)
2013 2014 2015 2016 Increase
Food at home $3,977 $3,971 $4,015 $4,049 1.81%
Food away from home $2,624 $2,787 $3,008 $3,154 20.20%

source: https://www.bls.gov/cex/2016/standard/multiyr.pdf

As the chart shows, over a four year period spending at restaurants has grown more than 10 times faster than grocery spending. From a frugal perspective, this statistic is hard to swallow. A home-cooked meal costs one-tenth of what a sit-down restaurant charges for the same food. To anyone seeking financial independence the choice seems obvious. But more than ever, US consumers choose to overpay.

Curious about how you stack up against your dining-crazed cohorts? If so you’ve come to the right place.

Welcome to the “Cafe-Frugalometer.” As the name suggests, this is a scaled down version of Frugalometer 2018, an interactive calculator that analyzes your total annual household spending. The hyper-focused cafe edition looks only at your spending for “food away from home,” which the CEX defines as follows:

“all meals (breakfast and brunch, lunch, dinner and snacks and nonalcoholic beverages) including tips at fast food, take-out, delivery, concession stands, buffet and cafeteria, at full-service restaurants, and at vending machines and mobile vendors. Also included are board (including at school), meals as pay, special catered affairs, such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, and confirmations, school lunches, and meals away from home on trips.”

Source: https://www.bls.gov/cex/csxgloss.htm.

To work the Cafe-Frugalometer, all you have to do is input your annual pre-tax income and restaurant spending. In return, you’ll see detailed information about how your household ranks—there’s even a nifty bar chart.

As is true with all other calculators on this website, the Cafe-Frugalometer is completely confidential. Nothing you enter is recorded or stored in any way. (Note: the Cafe-Frugalometer doesn’t work for gross incomes below $16,229 or above $300,000.)

Cafe-Frugalometer 2018

Enter Your Annual Pre-Tax Income from all Sources: $
Enter Your Annual Restaurant Spending: $

1. Your Pre-Tax Income:
2. Your Restaurant Spending:
3. US Average Restaurant Spending for Your Income:
4. Dollar Difference between US Average & Your Spending (line 3-line 2):
5. Percent Difference Between US Average & Your Spending (line 4/line 3):
6. Your Frugalometer Score (100 is Average):
7. Your Frugalometer Grade (C is Average):


Key to Cafe-Frugalometer Results 

Line 3: US  Average Restaurant Spending for Your Income. Using 2016 CEX data, this shows US average expenses of dining out for your income level. As to incomes $269,644 and lower, the averages were derived through linear interpolation. As to incomes above $269,644 and up to $300,000, the averages were obtained through a process of linear extrapolation. To review the 2016 CEX data in detail, click here.

Line 4: Dollar Difference Between US Average and Your Restaurant Spending. This states in dollars the difference between US average restaurant spending at your income level and your household's actual spending. If line 10 is a positive amount, then you've spent less than the national average (celebrate tonight by cooking a gourmet meal at home). However, if line 10 is a negative amount, you've spent more than the national average (drown your sorrows by cooking up a plan to spend less in the future).

Line 5: Percentage Difference Between US Average and Your Restaurant Spending. This restates the dollar amount on line 4 as a percentage. A positive percentage is good (your cafe spending is below the national average) and a negative percentage is bad (you're above the national average).

Line 6: Your Cafe-Frugalometer Score. Regardless of whether line 5 states a positive or negative value, this line rounds it off and adds 100 points. The higher your score the more frugal you are as compared to others. An average score is 100. For some frugal-nerdish fun, compare your specialized score here to your score on the full-blown Frugalometer 2018, which analyses your household's total annual spending.

Line 7: Your Cafe-Frugalometer Grade. This provides a letter grade to accompany the numerical score on line 6. Grades appear in increments of C, C+, B-, B, B+, A-, etc. Generally, you move up one grade level for every five points added to your line 6 score.

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Has the Cafe-Frugalometer inspired you to consider a change of spending habits? If so, head over to my checklist of 22 tactics for saving money at restaurants.

The Cafe-Frugalometer is intended to help you nudge yourself just a little further into the habit of frugality. I've prepared other interactive tools tailored to the same purpose. Visit these links:

Photo by James Loesch

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