Tag: food

A dissection of a doctor’s food expenses

A dissection of a doctor’s food expenses

Spend less than you make—that is the motto in beating the financial game.  Unfortunately as high-income earners, doctors can have more difficulty sticking to a budget than one would realize.  The problem is that each one of our paychecks will typically cover most impulse purchases.  If a purchase requires more than one paycheck, it also isn’t too difficult to string along a few paychecks to cover a bigger ticket item, like a fancy family vacation or a home remodel.   You can see that once the ball starts rolling down the hill, it becomes harder to stop.  Frankly, it’s not difficult for a high-earning professional to live paycheck to paycheck. Society simply makes it easy to consume.  Work your way up on your expenditures, get a few extra credit cards along the way, and somehow you’re knee deep into a $2 million home mortgage and needing a means to moonlight simply to make ends meet. 

A look inside the refrigerator

While we tend to focus on reducing large expenses as a means to control our wallet (you business types like to phrase this as low-hanging fruit), how we decide to fill our stomachs can constitute a good portion of our income.  
I have been impressed how the grocery industry has adapted to busy lifestyles.  Most stores will have shopping and delivery services for those who have no time to waste buying groceries.  Leading the pack in high-end shopping is the ubiquitous Whole Foods, or how my friends in residency referred to it, Whole Paycheck.  Most cities also have various organic farmer’s markets, Morton-Williams, West-side Markets, and Good Life Markets where you can do some serious damage to your wallet. Some of the wallet-busting consumables that my colleagues—I, too, have also been guilty of purchasing as well—have purchased include:

  • Manuka honey — This honey hails from New Zealand, and supposedly has great health benefits. If you haven’t seen this before, it is relatively high-end honey that you can buy pretty much anywhere.
  • Organic cotton candy grapes — I’ll admit, these types of grapes are some of the sweetest I’ve ever eaten.  There is a vendor in San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market that deals these for $9.99/lb! You’d be surprised how many pounds of these grapes that your kids will be able to chow down.
  • Cold-pressed juices — While shopping for produce at the farmer’s market, don’t forget to pick up a cold one. This will set you back a few extra bucks or eight.

A family of four shopping for high-quality, low-volume grocery items can easily rack up a monthly grocery bill over a thousand dollars.  I once had a coworker who told me how he scores premium class airfare by earning points through his grocery purchases!  For those of you in the credit card know-how group, he earned his tickets purely from purchases and not sign-on bonuses.  He spent nearly $20,000 a year at the grocery store!  I guess that’s one way to score “free” luxury travel.  

Restaurant and prepared food expenses

My colleague who spends $20,000 a year for grocery items swears that he actually saves money by not eating out as much.  Who knows how much he actually spent before making that lifestyle change.  Unfortunately a busy career is more conducive to both unhealthy eating as well as unrestrained food expenditures.  Bars tend to be frequent stops to unwind with colleagues, and we all know that alcohol is not cheap.  A modest week’s restaurant tab for a single person might look like this:

  • Monday – Quick sandwich and pressed juice for lunch: $16. Deli at the grocery store for dinner: $17
  • Tuesday – Grand rounds lunch: free. Grubhub for dinner: $22.
  • Wednesday – Pharma lunch: free. Bar with coworker: $36.
  • Thursday – Seamless for lunch: $21. Light dinner with college friend: $45.
  • Friday – Grocery store prepared lunch: $16. Dinner: $60. Bar tab afterward: $50.

Total: $273. 

Eventually all of the happy hour bills will add up…

For a family with restaurant habits, the tab could easily triple without much effort.  If you include take-out and restaurant delivery the monthly damage can easily fall into four figures.  Anecdotally, we start seeing indiscriminate food bills rack up when the workweek starts exceeding 55 hours a week.  This number is relatively frequent in the medical field.


It’s not common that a doctor household would spend $20,000 annually on grocery bills.  It’s also not common for a restaurant-loving busy physician family would spend $35,0000 annually on restaurant bills either.  However, it really doesn’t take much effort for a typical physician household to spend half that amount. 

Only you will know whether that amount is actually sustainable based on your income.  For many of us, this amount might amount to 15-20% of our post-tax income.  That’s not chump change, especially if you take into account the mandatory living expenses such as mortgage, tuition for your kids, and basic costs. 

How much of your earnings are you putting into you stomachs?

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Save on Groceries and Control Your Restaurant Expenses

This article serves as part 3 of our series on growing net worth without having to increase your income.



Saving on groceries doesn’t mean that you should clip and coupons, download browser plugins to print coupons, and combine them strategically to earn free dental floss and get store credit. It also doesn’t mean that you’re condemned to a life of eating beans in a crockpot or salty budget brand pasta sauce either. Obviously if you find that you have the time and interest to clip coupons, no one is stopping you. If you like beans, they are also nutritious and high in fiber.

That being said, grocery bills can easily get out of hand, especially if you do not pay attention to prices or shop only in gourmet organic stores. I’ve discovered over the years that deals can be had if you’re flexible and smart about seasonal    deals on fruits and vegetables.

Learning when grocery sales occur does require some homework initially but essentially becomes routine with time.

Step 1: Find the stores that are convenient to your normal routine. If you shop at stores along your commute to work, you can save time–even if eggs cost $0.35 more, it may be worth your sanity to get your grocery shopping out of the way instead of making a separate trip. Learn where your bulk grocers like Sam’s Club and Costco are located too.

Step 2: Learn where discount stores are located. I shop at a factory bread outlet where bread items are discounted over 50%. If there is a staple that you eat weekly, find out where you can buy it most conveniently and inexpensively.  There is a local grocer that sells grains in bulk where I buy steel cut oats on discount at $0.69/lb once a month.

Step 3: Keep track of specials and which stores discount their groceries. There are several grocers in my area that deeply discount certain items that are nearing expiration. Ironically, some of the most expensive organic stores tend to slash their prices the most. Half gallon of organic milk for $1? So what if it expires in 8 days? I usually go through a half gallon in 1 week anyway.

Step 4: Gift cards are important. While finding when grocery sales are discounted will likely save you the most money, gift card sales can help give you an extra boost. One of my grocery stores offers a 10% discount on store gift cards once a year. I buy several of them to use for the rest of the year. Sometimes credit card companies also offer certain discounts on grocery gift cards. Pay attention to them, but do not become obsessed. The most savings will come from Step 3, knowing when items are discounted, and where to buy them.


Contrary to grocery spending, savings on restaurant spending is almost always dictated by how frequently you eat at restaurants. Chain restaurants do offer specials and but obviously are only valid if you choose to dine with them. Other savings options include buying gift cards at the grocery stores or accruing credit card rewards through restaurant spending.

There are various other “restaurant hacks” that I have seen that include ordering items that have generous enough portions to take away the leftovers for a second meal or splitting entrees with your dinnermate.

Again, these strategies will all contribute towards restaurant savings, but ultimately the major savings comes from controlled the frequency you dine out.

Keep in mind that restaurant meals are traditionally less healthy than meals you cook at home. The ability for you to control you restaurant spending will not only protect your wallet but also help control your waistline as well!

Do you have smart money tips on groceries or restaurant eating? Comment below

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