Every Tuesday is Finance & Family Day at Zen Habits.
Every day at work, my co-workers go out to lunch at various restaurants in our area, while I stay in the office and eat my brown-bagged lunch. I man the office, answering the phones and any visitors that come in, while they go and have a good time at lunch.
Why do I do it? Several reasons:
- My lunch, being home-made, is healthier than theirs, which is usually processed or fried or rich in extra calories.
- The food I cook is also tastier than that I can get at restaurants, fast food or not.
- I get to read my blogs and email while they’re out, making me more productive during my lunch hour.
- If I want, I can take off early because I work through lunch.
- I save a ton of money.
I submit that I save at least $3,000 a year (and possibly more). How? Well, my co-workers often spend $10-15 per meal on lunch. A brown-bagged lunch costs between $1-3. If you save $11-12 every weekday, for 52 weeks of the year, you get about $3,000. Now, if you also eat out a lot for dinner, eating in for dinner would save you just as much. And if you eat out on weekends, your total amount saved by cooking for yourself could reach $7,500 or more.
As always, here are my suggestions for brown-baggin’ it to work:
- Make it great. I like sandwiches a lot, and I’ll add slices of fresh tomato, some fresh basil, spinach, sprouts, French mustard … mmmm. Spruce up your homemade lunch with some tasty extras, like condiments.
- Leftovers. Sometimes my favorite lunches are great meals I had from the night before. When I make the Best … Soup … Ever, or my veggie chili, for example, I pack a whole bunch in different containers so I can just grab them for lunch during the week. When the food’s this good, I don’t mind eating it all week long. It’s delicious and I look forward to it.
- Snacks. I don’t just eat one meal during the middle of the day. I’ll usually prepare two sandwiches, to be eaten a couple hours apart, so I don’t get to be starving by dinner time and make a pig of myself. I also pack snacks, such as nuts or fruits or yogurt (I use soy yogurt and granola and berries) or pretzels, and I can eat these whenever I get hungry.
- Canned foods. I don’t take this route often, but I’ll usually have a can of Amy’s spicy vegetarian chili or baked beans or something that I can heat up at work if I don’t have time to prepare lunch.
- Prep the night before. Mornings can be crazy, so I often prepare my lunch the night before — by packing up leftovers, for example, or getting my snacks ready. Then I just grab and go in the morning.
- Be sure to save the savings. Saving money on lunch doesn’t really matter if you don’t actually save the money. It’s easy to just absorb the savings in your other spending. Calculate exactly how much you’re saving by brown baggin’ it, and deposit that much extra into your savings every payday. Make your effort count.
- Designate your lunch time. If you eat lunch at your desk, you’re probably saving at least 30 minutes of driving time along with the time you wait for your food — so designate that extra time for something productive, or relaxing. Don’t let that time slip away too.
Here’s the clincher: Put that $3,000 a year into an index fund and continue to contribute to it every month for 25 years … and you’ve saved $500,000! Make one other similar change in your spending habits, and you’ve found the easy way to a million dollars.
Good articles on this topic elsewhere:
- Brown bag lunch: Is it worth my time and effort?
- Frugal Lunch by Clever Dudette
- The Simple Dollar: Make a Sandwich
- 10 Habits to Develop for Financial Success
- How I Ended My Affair with the Credit Card
- Monitor Your Impulse Spending Urges
- How I Save Money
- What is truly necessary? A guide to living frugal
- Reward Yourself Without Spending a lot
- How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck
- Baby Makes Eight: Raising Six Kids, Part 1 – Finances