Why it pays to bring your lunch to work

portland food cart goodies
Portland food cart goodness

I bring my lunch to work every day except for the occasional Friday when I go out with my coworkers.  This is pretty hard for me because restaurants are the Achilles heel of my household budget, well, that and travel.  I love a nice meal, especially one with friends, so I figured that I would make sure the view was worth the climb.

I can now definitively say that it is worth it for me to bring my lunch to work.  I am probably saving about $1,800 per year by bringing my lunch to work.

In this example, I took a conservative approach by assuming that you would pack a moderately gourmet and healthy lunch every day and that you weren’t wasting any time or fuel when you ate lunch out (ex: delivery or in-office cafe).  If anything, the numbers are a little understated.

Okay, let’s break it down:

  • 10-Year NPV: $9,584
  • 10-Year ROI: 77%
  • 10-Year Payback: 0.4 years

Okay, so here is how I came up with these numbers.  I assumed that you would spend about $8.00 per meal if you went out for lunch during the work week.  I also assumed a really nice bring your lunch to work alternative, consisting of wild arugula salad, plums, cheddar snack mix, and a turkey and cheddar sandwich.  The estimated cost for this lunch is about $5.10 per meal.  The intangible costs include the time costs of making your lunch and extra shopping in the grocery store, estimated at 25 minutes total for the week.

A few things to point out… First, if you buy into the $8.00 per meal at a restaurant (or food cart), that means that you spend about $20,000 on lunches every decade.  So eliminating lunch completely would be worth about $20k, or $30k with growth.  That is quite a figure, but who is going to stop eating lunch?  This blog is about trying to find spending solutions that don’t eat into your happiness too much, and I know that skipping lunch completely would make me pretty grumpy in the afternoon.

Overall, if you bring your lunch to work every day, we are talking about a minimum of $9,584 extra in your pocket after 10 years.  This is a big chunk of change, but not jaw-dropping big for 10 years of boring lunches.  However, say you decided to go with peanut butter and jelly instead of turkey and cheese sandwich, now you are talking about $15,000 over 10 years.  Crazy to think that simply switching sandwiches could save you over $5,000, but deli meat is expensive!  And maybe you could substitute cheaper fruits and veggies like bulk apples and carrots to save more money, taking it closer to $20,000.  A less monotonous possibility is to bring leftovers, but this is harder to model.

What all this says to me, as someone who loves try new restaurants, is that bringing your lunch to work is generally a best practice for the financial independence enthusiast.  Caving on the occasional Friday won’t kill your savings rate, but do try to stick to the habit most of the time.

Also, as a reminder, this is modeled on just one person.  So a two-person household would save double this amount or more due to economies of scale.


  1. 5 day work weeks, 50 weeks a year
  2. $8.00 lunches out
  3. $25.50 grocery cost for making your own lunch
    • 1 lb deli meat = $10.00
    • 5 plums = $2.50
    • 1 bag of arugula = $2.50
    • good sandwich bread = $4.00
    • 6 oz of cheddar cheese = $2.50
    • 9oz organic cheddar snack mix = $4.00
  4. 20 minutes extra to make your lunch every week, and 5 minutes extra in the grocery store (25 minutes total).
  5. time valued at $10.00 per hour
  6. Savings grow at inflation-adjusted rate of 4% per year

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