how I managed to spend almost $9000 on lunch this year

carrot for lunch

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I try to bring my lunch to work with me, both for health and wealth reasons, but it just doesn’t happen all the time. I’ll say:

  • “I forgot to pack it and now I’ll miss the bus”
  • “There’s nothing good I want to eat”
  • “I like eating fresh veggies at the salad bar”

Basically it all boils down to “I’m lazy.” Either too lazy to cook, too lazy to prepare, or too lazy to pack it. Whatever the reason, I end up getting a salad most days. But as I mentioned, I decided this past year to track my spending to keep it down. I put together a spreadsheet and kept track of every dime I spent on food this year.

So the results, one week short of a year of tracking? I spent almost $9000.

Let me explain, because that’s not entirely true.
I spent $1300 out of my pocket. But if I had taken that money and invested it at a return of 8% (which I don’t believe is a realistic assumption but that’s another story) for 25 years, it would have been almost $9000. That’s a lot of money to pass up.

On the other hand, I do get cash back rewards since I put lunch on my Amex Blue every day. Before you gasp at the fact that I put food on my credit card, I should point out that we pay off our credit cards promptly every month, and I never spend anything that I couldn’t pay cash for if I needed to – other than our mortgage.

I also did see a massive downward trend after I started keeping track (with a few bumps).
Almost every week I managed to smash down my weekly average, and in recent weeks I was down to about $4 per day. Of course I had a few outliers in there, but generally the trend was good and my habit of writing things down paid off.

The final benefit was eating healthier. If I bring food from home it might be a whole wheat sandwich with turkey or some sort of meat substitute. Fine, but not as good as what I get from the salad bar – lettuce, carrots, oil and vinegar. So I did realize some sort of health benefit from not bringing my lunch. You may argue I could do the same thing at home, but it’s tough to transport salad back and forth to work. Not impossible…but not my first preference.

Planning is the biggest key to success – making sure that you shop wisely and pack the night before are 90% of the battle. So next year I’ll try to cut back from that $9000!

Creative Commons License photo credit: malias

16 comments

  • I love to eat out at lunch! Dinner is fun, but lunch is fantastic! I walk with a few coworkers to different restaurants…we catch up, get away from work, and I get to try different types of food that I probably wouldn’t try. Most of my coworkers foreign are very persuasive. Plus, they really enjoy sharing their food likes and dislikes…

  • Keeping really careful (almost neurotic) track of your spending is a great way to psychologically keep yourself focused on saving. It really works well, for me at least.

  • @Trent: The more I do it, the better I find it helps, too. I think the “writing down” part helps a lot, as opposed to just tracking through Mint or Yodlee or other online sources. It’s one thing to see it and another to actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write that number down.

  • lemme see: big tub organic spring mix: $4-5, 16 cans of tuna at Costco: $10, organic dressing $2-3 a bottle. so for a 5-day workweek that’s what, like $1.75 a day for my lunch, and it’s good for ya.

    too bad my breath smells like cat food, and by Friday I just want a cheeseburger, but I sure am saving money on lunches!

  • Makes me wonder how much we could cut down our spending if we all carried around a ‘Future Value Calculator’? 🙂

  • Ahh, the cost of not investing the “lunch money” brings the total to 9K. You got me in a panic there. My work colleagues always poke a little fun at me for brown bagging my lunch daily. I’m laughing all the way to the bank to be honest. I even put together a guide to eating lunch frugally: 5 Frugalicious Lunches (A Visual Guide).

    Basically, being honest and less lazy is a good start. 😉

  • I have to take 2-3 clients out to breakfast/lunch per week. So it looks like I spend a lot too — on my AMEX Blue Cash. But I don’t really have a choice… eating healthy with clients is hard, too.

  • Whew, so not $9000 out of pocket. I was wondering where the heck you’d been eating. And thinking that we made a little bit over twice that this year (since I was a student for the first half). Crazy. But even $1300 is a lot.

  • @42: Haha 🙂 and ewww 🙂 Actually, you inspired me – I had tuna fish for dinner.
    @AJC: True – although you could end up obsessing too much…
    @Squawkfox: Thanks – I hope it is, at least. Actually as I mentioned I’ve been much better recently.
    @No Debt Plan: I have found there’s only one way to eat healthy if you go out frequently, which is to become a whiny jerk. In the last few weeks I’ve been trying to cut back on carbs and I just refuse absolutely to participate in any departmental activities that are carb-heavy.
    @Mrs. Micah: $1300 is a lot although if you saw my $5 salad today you’d realize that an average of $6.50 per day in New York is not exactly buying the filet mignon, so short of bringing food I’m doing well. Today, I had lettuce, shredded carrots, sunflower seeds, olive oil, and some lentils. $5. Argh…

  • I put EVERYTHING on my Amex Costco Cash Rebate card – food gets me 3% cash back. I also pay it off every month, so its essentially free money.

    Two years ago I found out that I had spent about $6,000 on eating out. On the flip side, we did get $427 back at the end of the year!

  • Steve, why don’t you just cook more food for dinner and brown bag it for the next day? It will be cheap and healthy 😀

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  • One thing that makes bringing salad to work easier is leaving a bottle of dressing at work and just bringing the veggies everyday. That way the salad doesn’t get soaked in the dressing before you eat it.

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  • Frugalchick

    Heh, that $9K spent on lunches really caught my attention. But you’re right, one way to really control the spending is to think how much that money will be if you invest it. Gosh, I don’t think I’ll be eating out for lunch anytime soon!