My Brown Bag Lunch Experiment – Save Over $1,000 a Year

My wife and I are busy people, and generally our only option for lunch while at work is to pick up something at a restaurant, or in my case, the cafeteria here where I work. We always knew it was an expensive habit, but the fact that it is so convenient and there are a variety of good meals to choose from each day has made it a tough habit to break. So to have a better understanding of what the true cost of eating out for lunch was and to see how much money we could save by eating lunch out less often, we spent a few months this year conducting the Brown Bag Experiment.

First, we kept track of expenses for one month with our normal habits. I would generally spend on average $5 per day, or approximately $25 per week. My wife found her spending to be closer to $6 per day, or roughly $30 per week. My costs are a bit less because our cafeteria has very affordable meal options as opposed to having to go to an actual restaurant.

Next, we decided to each take a brown bag lunch to work for 3 out of the 5 work days. Generally we just made sandwiches and took a little bag of chips or an apple or something and then drank water. Considering we already keep a loaf of bread on hand, and have the various condiments such as mustard and mayo in the fridge, we really only had to spend money on sandwich meat and fruit. This resulted in around $6 per week in sandwich supplies and about $5 per week in fruit or snacks.

Finally, we took it one step further, and instead of just taking a lunch we made by purchasing sandwich items, we realized that at least once a week we have a dinner that provides enough leftovers for lunch the next day. So, for another month we not only took our own lunch 3 days a week, but some of those were even leftover meals that did not cost anything additional. This resulted in a reduction in sandwich meat and fruit/snack money that needed to be allocated.

This chart displays the savings:

Brown Bag Results

The findings were a bit shocking. By choosing to purchase lunch everyday, we were spending $2,640 annually just for weekday lunches! And these aren’t even meals at places where you’d have to leave a tip. When we reduced our eating lunch out by 3 days per week each and purchased items to make lunch at home to bring to work we found a savings of about $88 per month or $1,056 annually. When you put it in those terms, think of what bills an extra $88 a month could pay for. When we took it one step further and included leftover dinner for some lunches we saw a total savings of $110 a month or about $1,320 annually.

Needless to say, just replacing a few days a week with a bag lunch can really add up to big savings. Not only does it save money, but these lunches tend to be much more healthy than eating out all the time, so it should also result in losing a few pounds and overall being more healthy, which could end up being worth far more than the money that is saved.

Try It For Yourself

If you don’t already, you should try packing a lunch just for a couple days each week. Obviously, not all work situations will make this easy, but it’s at least worth a shot. You can figure that even eating a modest lunch out each day is costing you $1,000 annually, and if your spouse is doing the same, you’re spending over $2,000 each year on lunch. Even if you can save just $500 a year that would make a nice dent in any debt, a boost to your retirement savings, or even just some fun spending money.

Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle

My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

22 comments
Rin Chanthuch
Rin Chanthuch

i don't have money, so  i must to find people to help  me , i am student  so need money , who can help me , my email: rinchanthuch@ymail.com

Save Money Hound
Save Money Hound

Bringing your own lunch is also a healthier option too. Keep the theme and variation going with leftovers from dinner, fresh salads, sandwiches, and pasta salads. The cost of buying lunch these days seems to be on the rise.

Marcia
Marcia

Great experiment! I sometimes get teased by my coworkers for my cheap brown-bagging habit. One reason: I used to eat out a lot. And I used to be fat. I'm 39. I can't be eating out if I want to maintain a healthy weight.

But it's also the money. I calculated that I save about $3000 a year by making our lunches ($7-8 a day eating out per person vs. leftovers), and that's a new car every 6 years (at least, my new Honda Civic.)

Sam
Sam

Unfortunately, the bread and condiments you had on hand anyway weren't free - you still had to buy them, and using them in your lunches meant they weren't there to use for other meals at home. Same with the leftovers - they're only free if you would otherwise have thrown them away. Yes, taking your lunch probably saves money most of the time, but not as much as your numbers indicate.

Nifty
Nifty

In addition to taking a big bite out of my food expense each month, one other benefit to brownbagging is that because I'm eating lunch at my desk, I'm only taking 1/2 hour for lunch. This means I get to leave work earlier. Bonus!!

pays to live green
pays to live green

I see countless people at my work who buy lunch every day. They go through so much money and it's just not worth it. I also noticed that you eat better when you take your own lunch.

The York Budget
The York Budget

Don't forget the power of compounding, if you can save $1200 a year, that's $12,000 over ten years. Plus any income you may derive from that savings.

I don't save as much as you do as a couple because I am single but along with other savings, brown-bagging it for me adds up to a positive result at the end of each year.

Plus I know how to cook and my food taste better than Taco Bell.

fern
fern

Actually, Taco Bell's bean burritos (for about $1) are fairly nutritious: non-red meat protein and fiber. (Get it without that hot sauce.)

Damon Day
Damon Day

I haven't had to commute to an office in quite a while but when I was in college I found that by picking things from value menus at various places you could actually eat lunch for 2 or 3 dollars provided you didn't also buy a soda.

At taco bell you can get some decent size burritos for a buck. Granted I am not vouching for their nutritional value :-)

Jen
Jen

I go through periods where I bring my lunch to work regularly. Right now, I'm eating out every day. It's like exercise - sometimes I get into a groove and I can do it regularly, and then I fall off the wagon, so to speak. I do, however, try to keep my lunch expenses under $6/day, but with the MA sales tax increase and places raising their prices overall, that's becoming harder to do.

fern
fern

I occasionally ate out or in the building cafeteria when i started my job a year and a half ago, but i don't like spending $5 or $6 a day either. I weaned myself of that habit entirely and now bring lunch 99% of the time, using leftovers after a weekend or frozen entrees. I used to pay full price, around $3.75,for Lean Cuisine, but noticed they periodically went on sale for $2.50 each so i'd time my purchases for sale periods and stock up. Then I discovered Banquet frozen entrees for $1 each. I guess that's about as CHEAP as you can go and granted, they're not gourmet food and not huge portions, but if you want to save $.... i always supplement the Banquet meal with fresh fruit or other snacks i bring from home.

On the rare occasions i forget to bring lunch, i will only allow myself to eat out by ordering from the $1 menu at Mcdonalds. Yup, I'm cheap, but I'd rather spend my money on something meaningful and lasting, like the sun room i'm currently having converted from a screened porch.

Money Funk
Money Funk

I am saving $18 a week by brown bagging it on food alone. But, I am also saving on the products used to wrap that lunch. I use a reusable lunch bag, reusable snack bags, and my reusable sandwich wrap. Maybe far fetched but I am all about saving money right now! Oh ya, and my food taste better than what is here at work. ;)

Wow, didn't calculate. But you are right... I am saving $1000+ right now by brown bagging. Makes me feel better.

Craig
Craig

I brown bag lunch every day. I don't know the exact potential savings, but it definitely is cheaper and a lot healthier too. I always pack fruits and vegetables and make smaller sandwiches.

will BC
will BC

I calculate a savings for myself at about $2k/year. My wife, a little less. Lunches are more expensive here I guess.

Garry - thisimprovedlife
Garry - thisimprovedlife

Great result. I have been brown bagging for a few years now (well actually I use a lunch box). You are in much more control of what you eat and is a great way to loose weight. Why don't you go one further and make your own bread? We make our own bread and yoghurt at the begining of the week and it is much tastier and more filling than any shop bought stuff.

Savings Accounts Girl
Savings Accounts Girl

It's great to break out the costs of everything and see how much you can save at the end of the year. That extra amount can buy you a great vacation package :)

Rich
Rich

I've had to start brown bagging per my divorce, for over a year and a half now, and I will never go back and as a side benefit, at least you know what you are putting into your lunch, helps on keeping your caloric intake down.

AJ
AJ

I have been doing this. It is working out so far.

Miranda
Miranda

My husband takes his lunch every day. We have an insulated bag that cost $12 as a one-time expense. He takes his sandwiches in those cool reusable sandwich holders ($4). So for a small initial upfront cost, we have stuff he can reuse, so that we don't have to keep buying. I work from home, so my lunches don't usually cost much at all :)

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin

Well done! I've been doing the same thing myself for over four years now and I've saved over $2,000 by being boring. I'll never go back!

Erica Thomas
Erica Thomas

During college, I brought my lunch so I didn't have to eat in the expensive cafeteria. Once I started working, I decided to continue bringing my lunch and began making it for my husband.

I've never really sat down to calculate the savings, but I imagine it would add up quickly. He'll grab a lunch once a week to meet up with friends and do networking activities. I normally only eat out lunch once every 2 or 3 weeks, and it's special occasions like birthdays, etc.

J
J

Great job! But you should also account for any baggies/disposable containers, etc and the cost of the brown bags themselves in this analysis. This probably won't make a huge dent in your savings, but it's interesting.