Does bringing your lunch to work actually save you money?
I recently read an interesting statistic that said Americans, on average, spend around $3,000 a year on lunches. That is a mix of eating out and eating in when at work.
That is a lot of money. And, if you’re not careful and aware of your spending, that’s an area that can creep up on you and lead to something disastrous, such as credit card debt.
And, that's the thing about buying lunch at work – it’s a small purchase that doesn’t seem like it would add up to much.
The cost of going out to eat for lunch can vary – you may spend $5 on a sandwich or you may go to a restaurant and spend $20.
Now, bringing lunch to work isn't free either.
But, bringing lunch to work has the potential to save the average person at least $100 a month, if you know what you are doing.Just like the cost of buying lunch adds up, so does the savings of bringing it from home. Let's do the math – if you are able to save just $100 a month by bringing your lunch, that could be an extra $1,200 a year or $12,000 every 10 years.
I'm not saying that you have to bring your lunch 100% of the time. I understand that it can be fun to eat at a tasty restaurant, and there may be other positives of going out to eat, such as socializing with coworkers.
Whenever I hear the tip “bring your lunch to work” I always read the comments, and many of them are pretty negative – that bringing your lunch doesn’t save you money, blah blah blah. As someone who believes that it DOES save money, I decided to look further into this and see why it seems like so many people hate this money saving tip.
I decided to get help from you, my readers, and asked the question “Does bringing lunch to work save money?”
I asked this question on my Facebook page as well as in my private community group.
Here are some of the responses I received:
- “Bringing lunch definitely saves money in our household, we make large meals (just my husband and I to eat), and portion leftovers to eat for lunch, as well as leftovers for other meals. You can eat a roast for days by making leftovers into new meals and/or lunches!” – Jennifer C.
- “Saves about $35-$50 depending on what I bring.” – Zack B.
- “I don't work outside the home anymore, but when I did I always brought my lunch, except for maybe 5-8 times a year – it's a lot cheaper to cook – just today I was at an outside market and one Vietnamese roll was $4. I remembered I had the rice wrapper, some turkey, all kinds of veggies and sauces – came home and made 2 nice ones at no extra cost.” – Marguerite T.
- “It saves a little but not much for us. My husband is cheap and would eat Costco pizza or subway so it's $5 per day at most usually. But he usually takes leftovers.” – Aileen B.
- “I pack food specifically for lunches every week. It saves so much more than the money that it takes to go out to eat which is usually $5-15 depending on where we go. It takes gas for me to leave work. Going anywhere for lunch from my office takes 30-40 minutes just to leave, get food from a drive thru, and bring it back to eat it at my desk. The time saved is the best part for me because during my lunch I work on blog stuff at my office desk.” – Elyse L.
- “If my husband and I both eat lunch out it's about $9-$12 a day. We quit eating out all together and have finally been able to get our bills back on track. It's amazing how much money we wasted eating lunch out.” – Deb S.
- “It does save money, but not a lot. The only way it’ll make a difference in your future is if you invest the savings, which almost no one does. That being said, I try to bring my lunch at least several times a week, and typically save about $5/day. Just be careful that you’re packing healthy stuff. I like frozen meals that are typically loaded with sodium so I try to limit myself to one per week. Also, sometimes you need to treat yourself. If you’re working 40-50 hours a week, sometimes you deserve sushi or a good sandwich to brighten your day a little. That’s why I typically buy around twice a week (always on Friday!!).” – Brian R.
- “We have vending machines that charge around $2.50 per sandwich. Chips are around $1.00 A pop costs $1.40. If you get a cookie or treat it's $1.00. So $6 a day times five days equals $30.00. I can eat for 2 weeks lunch for that.” – Jill H.
- “Easily saves $30 bucks a week. I just make a little extra dinner and he takes leftovers pretty much every day.” – Kelly W.
- “Yes! I’d estimate it saves me on average about $50 a week! And that adds up.” – Jenifer S.
- “Need to make sure you stick to it and the food doesn't just go off before you eat it. For me, it’s been a waste. $5 sandwich for lunch is fine.” – Gavin M.
The majority of my readers said that bringing lunch to work did, in fact, save them money.
Cost savings of bringing lunch to work.
For the most part, and for the average person, money can be saved by bringing lunch to work.
According to USA Today, eating out for lunch, on average, costs $11 per meal. Whereas it's only $6.30, on average, if you prepare your own lunch. And, I know many people who are able to get this down even lower.
Other findings from that same survey:
- Nearly $3,000 is spent each year on lunch alone.
- Men and students are groups that are more likely to eat out for lunch.
- Students spend on average $27.47 per week.
- Men spend an average of $24.93 per week.
- Women spend on average $15.55 per week.
Surprisingly, according to the USDA, in 2014, Americans spent 5.5% of their disposable personal incomes on food at home and 4.3% on food away from home. That means a very similar amount of money each month is spent on groceries as with eating at restaurants.
Socializing with coworkers
One reader responded to my question with:
“Absolutely it saves money but at my last employer going to lunch with coworkers kept you part of the “team” and in a better position for job success. Those who didn't go were not kept in the upward track so saving money by bringing lunch had a negative long term impact on income.” – Donna T. I have heard others say this as well.
I hardly ever went out to eat with coworkers at any of the jobs I've ever held, and I still have long lasting friendships. So, I can say that this isn't true for everyone.
There are other ways to form friendships. And, you can still go out occasion if you want to socialize with your coworkers at lunch time.
You can spend the time side hustling
I almost always brought my lunch to work when I had a day job so that I could spend the time side hustling at my desk instead. That was an extra five hours each week that I could focus on my side job, and making extra money!
By bringing lunch to work, I was able to save a decent amount of time each day and each week.
And, I didn't really spend too much time at home making my lunch each day. I usually either prepped my lunch for the week ahead of time, took leftovers, or made something easy to bring to work each day.
Going to lunch may not actually save you any time
I've heard people say “Going out to eat saves me time because I don't have to make my food.”
I used to believe this as well.
However, it's not always true. When going out to lunch, you spend time driving to the lunch spot, waiting for your food to be made, paying your bill, and driving back to work after lunch.
This is all valuable time, and it’s probably more time than it would take you to make your lunch for work.
You can save a lot of time making your lunch by taking leftovers from a previous dinner. To make this easier, you may even want to make a little extra for dinner so that you know that you will have enough for leftovers for lunch, and when you’re cleaning up dinner, pack your leftovers up for lunch. You can also meal prep for the whole week by making a whole week’s worth of lunches on Sunday, before your work week even starts. Another option is keeping it simple, like packing a sandwich and some fruit.
You're spending money on gas going to and from the lunch spot
Another factor about spending money on lunch is that it costs money to drive to and from a restaurant, deli, or wherever you’re getting lunch from. You may be someone that works within walking distance of a lunch spot, or have a short drive around the corner, but many people drive 10-15 minutes a way to get lunch.
This can eat up a lot of time, as well as fuel!
Original article by Michelle Schroeder-Gardner appears on Making Sense of Cents.
Photo courtesy of Making Sense of Cents.