How to Save Over $2,000 a Year on Lunch

When I was younger, I was always a bit envious of the kids in school who didn’t have to bring their own lunch from home. They simply walked up to the cafeteria line, got themselves the most delicious looking burger or pizza slice I have ever seen, and enjoy it at a table with all of their friends. Then here was me, eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with some cut up apples out of a zip lock bag.

It only occurred to me recently how much money my parents saved by taking the time to make a lunch for me every day throughout middle school, and how much money I saved later on in high school when choosing to make my own lunch at home. I was lucky enough to develop a habit which carried over to my independent life and ended up saving me more cash than I have ever realized.

To this day I see grown adults constantly choosing to go out for lunch to their favorite deli, pizza joint, or restaurant and I just can’t wrap my mind around how they can afford it. Even with a high salary, why choose to spend your hard earned money in such a thoughtless way?

Choosing to dine out for lunch is a bad idea on many levels. Besides the economic disadvantages, there is also a terrible nutritional factor. The top three most eaten foods in America are hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries.

The rest of that top 10 list isn’t very healthy either. It consists of items like pizza, soda, and Oreo cookies. Did you know that a hamburger has been dubbed as a “high risk” food because of the low health standards under which they are made? I am sure hot dogs aren’t that far behind. Why would anyone choose to opt out of a healthier, less expensive lunch is beyond me.

While there are a few people who simply skip lunch, a recent study in Canada has shown that about 60% of people do eat out for lunch at least one time per week. Those same people spend roughly around $7 to $13 each. However, many of those same people actually eat out more than once per week; generally at least three times per week.

Going with an average of $10 per each lunch and three lunches per week, that adds up to about $1,500 per year. If you eat out every workday you are actually spending closer to $2,500 per year. That’s equivalent to a really nice car in about 7 years.

Of course, depending on where you live, these numbers can be a bit different. Let’s apply the same calculations to someone who lives in New York, for example. Most likely someone living there would spend about $15 per lunch, while brown-bagging it would only cost them around $3. That adds up to about $31,200 in 10 years.

To some of us, this number might not be that significant. But if you are just starting your career and have not yet landed the job of your dreams then this is probably a big chunk. We can take this even further. Let’s simplify everything and assume you save $2,000 per year by brown-bagging.

Since you are a new employee at your company, your salary is about $34,000. You will be opening a 401k which your company will match at 50% for up to 6% of your salary. The $2,000 per year that you save on your lunch is pretty close to that max contribution that your company offers to match.

If you started at the age of 22, your lunch savings’ 401k will most likely grow at a conservative rate of 7% per year, which would end up being worth about $640,000 by the time you are 62. More than half a million dollars because you chose to brown bag it for 40 years instead of going out to lunch!

Pretty crazy, huh? But we aren’t done yet.

Obviously, it takes a lot longer to go out and have lunch rather than eat it at the office. Think about all the hours and additional time you could save by brown bagging. You could dedicate it to working out, finishing work projects, saving money by changing your own breaks, paying bills, or spending more time with your family. The possibilities are endless.

There’s one last this we haven’t talked about yet. What about the nutritional aspects of making your own lunch? This is the real bonus that may be worth more than both the time and money combined. Making your own lunch instead of eating out puts you in direct control of your entire calorie, fat, salt, and sugar intake during lunch. Let’s put this into perspective.
Let’s add up a takeout lunch from Wendy’s:

Dave's Hot ‘N Juicy 1/2 lb Double Hamburger (819cal)
+ Value French Fries 2.7oz (222cal)
+ All Natural Lemonade, small (150cal)
= 1,191 calories
Now let’s look at a brown bag lunch made at home:

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich (343cal)
+ Medium Granny Smith Apple (80cal)
+ Fuze LemonAid Healthy Infuzions (70cal)
= 493 calories

If you substituted your daily lunch trip to the local burger joint, you could end up cutting out nearly 700 calories per day. This is just pure calories; we aren’t even talking about any other nutritional factors.

After taking everything into perspective and adding it all up, you really can’t afford to not make your own lunch at home. The benefits far outweigh the small amount of indulgence you would get from going to that nearby deli, hot dog stand, or the fast food joint.

If it is the company of your fellow workers that you miss or the opportunity to chat and gossip, then try getting them on the brown bagging train as well.

After all, they can’t afford to miss out on all the savings and benefits either.

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