“I can’t cook!”
“I don’t have time.”
“Buying lunch tastes better.”
The excuses for not bringing a lunch to work are common, but here’s a reason to switch that thinking — the cost. With 60% of Canadians spending between $7 and $25 at least once per week on lunch, let’s look at the cost of take-out and compare it to the cash spent on “brown bagging” it — that’s preparing lunch at home and bringing it to work or school.
How much of your paycheque can you save by changing this single habit? Answer: thousands.
Check out my segment “Lunch Money” on CBC’s On The Money to see my frugal meals in action.
The Real Cost of $10 and $15 Lunches
While spending $10 on lunch a few times a week may not seem like a big deal, it does add up. For example, buying a $10 lunch once per week costs you $490 per year, while a daily $10 habit at $50 per week totals $2,450 per year.
- The $10 Lunch
- 1 lunch/week = $10/week or $490/year
- 5 lunches/week = $50/week or $2,450/year
Working downtown? Good luck finding something tasty for under ten bucks. You’ll spend $735 per year on a weekly $15 lunch, but a daily take out habit rings in at a staggering $3,675 per year.
- $15 Lunch
- 1 lunch/week = $15/week or $735/year
- 5 lunches/week = $75/week or $3,675/year
For the nerds: I figured 245 work days for calculating lunch. That’s 52 weeks/year – 2 weeks vacation – 1 week stat holidays (about 5 days). So 49 weeks * 5 days/week = 245 work days. Feel free to adjust days worked and lunches required based on your schedule.
The $3 Brown Bag Lunch
I’m neither a talented chef nor a fancy food guru, but I managed to make a few lunches for under $3 using the ingredients in my fridge.
These are the lunches I took along with me to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This very popular On The Money Facebook Live features host Dianne Bucker (of Dragons’ Den Fame) and me squawking about lunch money.
Lunch One: The ‘Wich
Behold my chicken and brie sandwich with crisp veggies and a side of hummus.
Lunch Two: Salad with Goodies
It’s a romaine hearts green salad with a boiled egg, tomatoes, balsamic vinaigrette, and a kale topper. My snack is yogourt and blueberries. So easy.
Lunch Three: Leftovers
I own this super amazing and popular cooking device called an Instant Pot. It cooks food in a fraction of the time and costs under $100. I love my Instant Pot so much I can’t remember the last time I turned on the stove.
Need a fridge makeover? Check out my post Refrigerator Inventory: 5 Steps to a Freshly Frugal Fridge for cleaning, storing, and instructions on keeping your leftovers lovely.
Lunch Four: Avocado Toast To Go!
No need to boast cooking skills with this “I have no time to cook” lunch on the run. Just stick an avocado, boiled egg, toast, pink Himalayan salt, and a knife in a baggie and launch!
Save $2,940 on Lunch?
Packing your lunch is a big wealth builder. A simple $3 packed lunch served 5 days per work week costs just $735 per year — that’s 245 days of total lunches, people!
Bottom Line: A $3 brown bagged lunch saves you $1,715 per year over a $10 lunch and a whopping $2,940 on a $15 take out meal. That’s nearly three thousand dollars in savings, just on lunch!
How to change the lunch habit
I have a few tricks to take a bite out of your lunch habit. Two tricks require a bit of number crunching, others a just a perspective switch. You choose.
Calculate your hours worked.
Paying $15 a few times a week may seem insignificant, but consider the big picture to change the habit. My favourite way to put real costs in perspective is to consider how many hours you must work to pay for something.
For example, if you earn $15 per hour that lunch costs you OVER an hour of work — yes, you must subtract income taxes. Now let’s say you earn 75K per year, after taxes your pay is around $28 per hour. So to pay for that $15 lunch you must work over 30 minutes to take-out lunch. Is take lunch worth it? That’s up to you.
Consider total paycheques spent.
How many paycheques do you eat for lunch? Buying a $10 lunch five days a week costs $50/week or $2,450 per year. If your annual income is $75K and you get paid twice a month, then that’s one after-tax paycheque you’ve just eaten. You’re total cost may be $2,450 but now consider 4.2% of your take-home pay just went out to lunch.
If you make less than $75K (which most of us do) then you’re eating more and more pays.
It’s not cooking, it’s “layering”.
A recent Dalhousie study says 42% of Canadians buy lunch because they don’t have time to cook.
I agree. With a toddler in tow and job to work and a life to live and so on I don’t have spare minutes to cook either. So I don’t cook. I layer. By using my Instant Pot I layer my ingredients from the bottom to the top and and let the gadget do the cookin’ work for me. Layering, people.
Layering is also how I make my lunch. This salad is, really, just a bunch of layers. Yogourt and berries, also layers.
Take a hike.
Getting outta the office and spending time away with colleagues was the biggest reason I used to buy my lunch. Eating at my desk, alone, did nothing for my morale.
The day I brought my lunch, walked to a park, and invited others to dine with me was the day our “lunch bunch” was created and this changed everything about my midday meal. Not only was I more productive in the afternoon but I saved money and felt happier.
If you need an afternoon break don’t let lunch be the cost to distract you. Use your office lunchroom, find a park, get outside, or just take a brief stroll to get a breather.
If you need a little nudge to learn about meal planning, I’ve got the photos, tools, and downloads in my post Meal Planning: Save time and money in your kitchen to get you from hangry to happy in a snap.
It’s also healthier.
A recent health study found that you’ll consume 200 more calories a day by eating out. Fast food outlets and full service restaurants often boast meals higher in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium than meals prepared at home.
Need brown bag inspiration? Think about your longevity, your health.
Forget the brown bag.
Nothing kills my appetite more than pulling some stale thing out of a brown bag. Eons ago I bought a set of microwave safe, fridge safe, oven save, and dishwasher safe GlassLock Containers for storing leftovers and carrying lunches.
Now go “layer” some lunch.
Love love love,