One big reason Americans are broke and overweight


Chew on this.

More than half of Americans confessed to making a financial mistake when pursuing their financial goals this year — and the most common mistake had to do with dining out.

One in four Americans confessed that they dined out too much last year, according to a survey of more than 2,000 people released Thursday by financial company Fidelity. What’s more, the No. 1 thing Americans bust their budget on is dining out, according to research released by financial company Principal this year. Nearly one in three Americans (29%, up from 26% last year) said that this was this year’s top budget buster for them, followed closely by food/groceries (27%).

One problem: People who eat out a lot tend to underestimate what this will cost them, according to a study released in 2017 from researchers at Penn State. The researchers asked the participants what they thought they would spend eating out at the beginning of a two-week period and then in the middle of that period; participants upped their average budget from a little under $18 in week one to about $55 in week two.

"What this tells us is that obviously they thought they would spend less in a week, but as the week progressed they realized they were spending a lot more and they rationalized that increase,” says Amit Sharma, associate professor of hospitality management and director of the Food Decisions Research Laboratory, Penn State.

The reality is that we’re spending thousands dining out: Government data shows that in 2017 American spent more than $3,300 a year on dining out — a 6.7% increase just from the year prior. Earlier this year, Bloomberg noted that spending at restaurants had “surged by the most on record.” And Gallup data from last year showed that six in 10 Americans ate dinner out at least once in last week with 16% saying their did it three or more times a week.

“Dining rooms and kitchens across the U.S. are getting a little less use than they used to,” research firm Nielsen noted this year. “That’s because Americans have embraced the experience of eating out.”

Not only is eating out wreaking havoc on your savings, it may be expanding your waistline. On days when Americans eat out, they scarf an average of 200 more calories than when they eat at home, according to a study of more than 12,500 people published by Public Health Nutrition in 2015. Furthermore, government research reveals that “when eating out, people either eat more or eat higher calorie foods — or both — and that this tendency appears to be increasing” and additional studies have found that dining out is associated with obesity and more body fat. All told, nearly three in four Americans are now either overweight or obese, according to the CDC. And that’s costly: “The medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight,” the CDC notes.

Still, it’s important to point out that there are plenty of other reasons Americans are overweight and don’t have fat savings accounts besides dining out often, and that people can certainly put on the pounds — and spend big — when cooking their own foods.

This story was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.

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