Brown Bag Budgeting: the financial benefits of having a lunch plan


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Colleagues eating lunch togetherDropping $260 at lunch recently got me thinking about how much I save when I pack my lunch instead. And yes, I was eating alone but please don’t judge me. You might be spending even more on lunch than I did if you really think about it. The problem is that most of us don’t think about it at all.

So, how did I manage to find a lunch that cost that much? Actually, it found me. I was working downtown for the day and headed down to the underground mall to grab a bite. I saw some amazing ties on sale on my way to the food court, couldn’t resist, and had to have the matching shirts, which naturally weren’t on sale and bing – I was out $250. (The other $10 was spent in the food court – Szechuan if you’re wondering).

That was some pretty silly impulsive shopping and not something anyone should do very often, but people do. They must. My underground mall is 30 kilometers long, with 1,200 stores that are only open weekdays. Think about that for a moment: these shopping centers cater almost solely to employees on their coffee and lunch breaks! You may not work in my shopping mall but there’s a pretty good chance you spend a lot more on your lunch break than you think.

Here’s why there are considerable financial benefits of having a lunch plan:

  • It’s pretty hard to order lunch in a sit-down restaurant for under $12.
  • You also have “upgrades” like beverages, tax and tip. If you order an appetizer 25% of the time, that will add on an average of $3 per meal.
  • Sitting down for lunch twice a week, and eating in a food court the other three days (excluding dessert and shopping), I’m spending $70 a week on lunch. That’s $3,500 a year, and if I’m in a 30% tax bracket, that’s $5,000 of earnings just for lunch! Think about it!

For five grand, I’ll happily brown bag my lunch but let’s also be smart about it:

  • You can buy the same snack ingredients (ham, cheese & crackers) for pennies a week.
  • By cooking a whole turkey, slicing, portioning and freezing it for later use, you can have the best stacked turkey sandwiches (with mayo, cranberries and lettuce on cracked wheat) and still only spend a few dollars.

Think about your own financial benefits of having a lunch plan: delicious healthy food, significant savings and avoiding silly impulse shopping. I don’t mind doing the cooking on the weekend if it’s going to get me an easy work lunch. Frankly, it’s fun, and I know that no matter what I want to make, from piled-high roast beef with sliced pickles on fresh rye ($3) to succulent overstuffed lobster rolls ($7), I’m going to save a bucket of hard-earned cash. Plus, in all honestly, I have enough ties already!

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