“Buying lunch tastes better.”
“I can’t cook!”
“I don’t have time.”

Bite me.

lunch money

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.

squawkfox cbc
Yes, go watch!

Lunch One: The ‘Wich

Behold my chicken and brie sandwich with crisp veggies and a side of hummus.

chicken sandwich
If you need a sandwich making refresher, check out my post How to Make a Sandwich for the “no skills needed” instructions to build a classic lunch for 68 cents or $2.70. There are pictures.

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.

brownbag lunch

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.

instant pot chicken
So, behold my chicken, bean, mushroom, and zucchini meal with a side of basmati rice. I’d take the kudos but the Instant Pot gets full credit for making my meals fast, frugal, and easy. The darn thing also makes yogourt and boils eggs. Sadly it doesn’t do the dishes.

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!

avocado toast
The idea here is to dash out the door and assemble your toast at work. This is assembling, not cooking. So there.

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!

lunch cost

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.

salad lunch
So is this sandwich. More layers. Chicken, brie, lettuce, bread. No cooking, just layers.

sandwich chicken
Change your perspective and suddenly you have 10 minutes before bed to layer together some lunch.

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.

save money lunch
Using quality containers that have multiple uses has made reheating, storing, cleaning, and eating my lunches easy and waaaay more attractive. Switch your lunch kit if your brown bag isn’t making lunch lovely.

Now go “layer” some lunch.

Love love love,