Brownbag Lunches

As you all know, my tendency has been to eat out for lunches. How much has this been costing me?

  • In 2010, a total of $780.51 or an average of a little over $100/month. The highest month was $117.54.
  • In 2011, a total of $1,699.64 or an average of $141.64/month. The highest month was $202.32, but that was an anomaly.
  • In 2012, a total of $1,994.52 (through November) or an average of $181.32/month. The highest month was $235.27 and there were a few others at or around $200.

These numbers include the cost of lunches, anything I’ve bought from the vending machine, and cafes. The amount that I spent in 2010 and 2011 was fairly reasonable, but my lunch costs definitely went through the roof in 2012 and I want to fix that.

My new job gives me a fresh start and I’m going to take that as an opportunity to pack my lunch and snacks. This means morning and afternoon snacks including chocolate, muffins, fruits, and vegetables, as well as the main lunch portion. I’ve found places in my new office to eat with people without buying lunch and some of my new coworkers bring their lunch, so I’m going to give this a try.

I used to buy muffins from a coffee shop for $2-3, then lunch at $5-15, and a chocolate bar from the vending machine in the afternoon for $1. I also would buy yogurts from the grocery store for $0.65 and keep them in the kitchen at the office, but that is included in my Groceries spending. (I know some people who buy yogurts from the coffee shops for > $1 per day.)

How much do I think this is going to cost me? (I’m ignoring yogurts since I was buying those from the grocery store all along.) Well, let’s take a look at today’s groceries receipt:

  1. Large block of cheese, $5.49. I’m guessing this is at least two weeks’ worth of sandwiches, so $2.75/week.
  2. Deli ham for four lunches, $5.28.
  3. Muffin mixes, $1.99-2.49 each. Each of these makes about 12 muffins, which is two weeks’ worth of snacks. Bought 50 baking cups for $0.99, which is enough for ~4 batches of muffins or ~8 weeks. $1.24/week
  4. Fruit, ~$5/week.
  5. Loaf of bread, $2.50. This is probably enough for two weeks of sandwiches, but I’m not sure if I’ll want to eat it the second week or not. We’ll see how it tastes :)

The cost of the large block of cheese, the deli ham, and the loaf of bread is the equivalent of two lunches out. But the block of cheese should last for two weeks of sandwiches and the loaf of bread might.

  • Total cost per week: ~$16.77
  • Old cost per week: $40 (I’m only counting four days since my plan involves eating out on Fridays, but bringing my lunch the other days.)
  • Weekly savings: $23.23

I’m likely to only gain $100 back each month from this, so we’ll see how it goes, but that’s an extra $100/month to throw at the mortgage!

I’m not doing this for the cost savings, but to make lunches more easily time efficient and to have more control over what I’m eating. It’s far easier to bring fruit to eat throughout the day if I’m already going to the effort of bringing lunch food to eat. I’m curious to see how much I end up spending on lunches/groceries going forward, to see if I actually save much money this way.

Readers, what do you do for lunch? Do you brown bag, do you grab a quick lunch, or do you do sit down lunches? Why did you go that way?

26 thoughts on “Brownbag Lunches

  1. I grab a quick lunch aNd I do it to save time. With two young boys at home I need to save time more than anything, sleep deprivation is no fun and too much of it cuts my work performance down.

    • That makes sense. There are a few quick lunch options around, but the cheapest really is $6-8. I’m going to try bringing my lunch for a month or two and see how it goes.

  2. Our tiny cafeteria is very limited, and it takes a long time to get lunch elsewhere (requires driving pretty far). I generally take leftovers from the night before and two pieces of fruit (one for my 10:30 snack and one for my 3:30 snack). I also keep Green and Black chocolate bars and a big bag of nuts in my desk for additional calorie needs.

    • Woot for fruit snacking and chocolate bars! What are Green and Black chocolate bars? Is that a brand?

      You have such specific snack times! I usually just eat whenever I feel hungry, which works out okay since most of my day is spent at or near my desk or with my immediate group.

      • It is a brand. They’re high quality/lower sugar so you only need a square at a time for the chocolate boost. I also just eat when I’m hungry, but my body has decided that I’m hungry at 10:30 and 3:30. I don’t know why.

        • I’ll give those a try – I think I’ve seen them in the grocery store. I don’t like eating a whole chocolate bar when I just want a chocolate boost.

          My body used to be hungry for lunch at 10 am and was capable of eating a full meal. That was pretty annoying since no one else wanted to eat lunch then :(

  3. Getting lunch is a treat. I don’t like the cafeteria food much, so it takes at least 30 minutes to get a decent lunch. I bring my lunch more so I have the option of eating at my desk and working to save time. If by some miracle it is NOT a busy day, sometimes I eat at my desk then run a couple of errnads during lunch. now and again, i go out with a coworker.

    On days i don’t bring a lunch and don’t want to go out, i often have success with checking the break room for free food left from the numerous lunch meetings that are held in order to convince people to attend meetings that don’t come with a charge number. :) Rarely healthy though!

    • “Getting lunch is a treat.” This is why I’m trying to get away from it. It used to be a treat, but now it’s so normal that I don’t really appreciate it anymore. And I’d far rather have homemade food than argue with the sandwich place for what I want or get a super greasy lunch. I don’t like eating at my desk though – I find I’m not very productive AND I eat super slowly, staying hungry.

      How often do you end up going out? Are there places within walking distance of your office?

  4. I don’t think I’ve bought any food on campus in… 2 years-ish? Buying lunch is expensive and takes forever! My lunch today is chicken curry and (separately) Paleo chili. I just pop it in the microwave and eat at my desk, usually catching up on blog stuff. If I ever eat with a friend, nearly always he/she has also brought a lunch. My consistency in preparing my own lunch is not so much monetarily-motivated as it is that I like to eat what I consider healthy food.

    • Yeah I hate how long it takes! There is online ordering now though, which makes it a tad more efficient, but you still have to go grab it and I’m not a huge fan of leaving the office building unless I have to when it’s cold out, haha. Thankfully with my new office building, I can now get food without going outside at least. My motivation is mostly to have complete control over what I’m eating and when I’m dragging snack food all the way to work, it’s not that much more effort to drag lunch too.

  5. After baby #2 I fell off the bring my lunch to work wagon. However, recently we’ve gotten back to cooking big batches of soup and other lunch friendly items. So I’ve been bring my lunch to work and I love it- not only is it saving a ton of money but I feel a lot better. Even healthy take out is usually not as good for you as homemade.

    I have also been making my coffee or tea in the office each morning which is also saving a ton of time and money. I still go to the coffee shop if it’s a social or networking thing.

    I need to try those green and black chocolate bars. I’m trying to cut back on my sugar but I do love chocolate!

    • I can definitely see how a new baby would make it harder to bring lunches to work! My office has a kitchen with free tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. There’s hot water, so it’s easy to steep the tea or make hot chocolate from the packets. I try to do that more than going out for coffee, but yes, I agree actually going to the coffee shop can be important for social/networking!

      I would highly recommend buying high quality chocolate. I find I tend to eat less of it than normal chocolate. I’m probably spending about the same amount cost wise, but I’m eating tastier chocolate!

  6. I go home for lunch, but that usually includes hitting the drive-thru, and eating at home…spending money on gas AND food, instead of walking (10 minutes each way) and eating left-overs. Not the best habit, and something I hope to change, but for now, getting out of the office for the hour is the only thing that matters to me and the one of the few things keeping me sane.

    • Don’t try to change everything at once and don’t beat yourself up over it – that’ll just make you even less likely to change. Make the smallest possible change first and then identify the next one you can make once you’re comfortable with that. If I were you, I would try walking the 10 minutes each way first. Maybe the exercise will help to keep you sane – I know it does for me! You could even find that walking is less stressful than driving.

  7. I stop on the way to work every day and get a Mountain Dew and a snack. I do ok with the lunch part, sometimes I bag it, sometimes I order takeout, and sometimes I eat leftovers. I could save a lot of money by cutting out that daily stop.

  8. You certainly spent a serious amount on lunches in the past! I am lucky in that I have a heavily subsidised restaurant at my work – I can eat a three course meal for £1!!

    • A three course meal for that cheap?! There’s no way I can easily beat that with homemade food, so I’d probably eat out if I was in your situation!

  9. After college and starting in the workforce I was eating out to lunch 5 days a week. I had money and it was fun and great for socializing with co-workers I found. After about 6-8 months of that I was really looking at all the money I was spending and just said wow… I really don’t need all that. I started cutting back to a few day a week out and brown bagging leftovers.

    Now 5 years later, I’m finding there are very very very few places to go where you can actually get a healthy meal. I am more concerned with the health aspect of bringing my own food and saving money these days. I pick up extra fruit at the grocery store for snacks and I just always cook enough for 3/4 meals and take my leftovers to work. I completely cut out the daily snack / soda at the vending machine. Because honestly, you body does NEED it and there are less fortunate people in the world who really are staving.

    This combination I can’t really tell you how much I save now but its on the order of $1000 a year if I had to put a number on it. Another upside benefit to it is that I have lost 30 lbs this year alone. Also I’ve been able to cut my workout times by about 40% because I don’t have to work out all that other junk I’m not eating.

    So it saves money and time on both sides, not to mention the increased health benefit.


    • Another option is to convince your coworkers to also brownbag it or for the going out coworkers to eat their food somewhere that the brownbaggers can eat with them (that’s my preference – no ostracizing based on lunch spending preferences). I think the kicker for me was when I started spending over $200/month on lunches out.

      Sounds like brownbagging it has worked out really well for you, congrats!!

  10. haha, I like your thinking! Any money saved, goes straight to the mortgage! I’m kind of the same way when it comes to saving, any extra goes straight into my brokerage account.

    It’s not much, but a penny saved is a penny earned! I still brown bag it, but will eat out from time to time when I feel like I really need to get away from the office. My old company subsidized, so the cafeteria food was good and cheap.

    • Haha, I’m pretty sure we’re of the same mind, but doing different things with our savings ;) My idea is to eat out once a week with my coworkers and brown bag it the other days. I’m finding that it provides way more flexibility and there are no lines to order food or waiting for someone to come by with your food after you ordered!

      I miss the days of company subsidized food…$2-3 sandwiches were pretty good and I couldn’t really beat that homemade very easily at all!

      Any money saved also reduces the emergency fund necessary and the amount necessary for retirement!! $100/month less in expenses = $30,000 less in savings needed before you can retire!

  11. I bring canned soup for lunch, its good for me, doesnt cost much, and is easy to heat up. I used to order takeout, either from the Chinese place nearby or Dominoes, but that was adding up and hurting my wallet and my waistline. Buying yogurt doesnt sound like a bad idea either.

    • I love eating canned soup for weekend lunches! I haven’t found a good container that doesn’t get stained by heating up soups though, so that isn’t the greatest option for me. Yogurts are really awesome and I’ve also discovered muffin mixes!

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