How Packing Lunch Can Save You Thousands of Dollars

Lunch. You’ve got that hour in the day when some of you work and some of you are home. There’s not really time to cook it. It’s not ever really convenient. But, regardless, most of us get hungry for it. Plus, for some strange reason, even if you send your kids off to school, they still have to eat during the day. Here is the compelling financial reason why you should try packing lunch instead of buying it.

brown bag

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It’s old hat by now- everyone knows it- but it’s really true that you can save a big chunk of change during the week by packing lunches for your family. It seems like common sense to me, but I’m always surprised by how many people don’t brown-bag it! (Or use a reusable cooler… you get the idea…)


Think about it. You may only get something from the dollar menu at McDonald’s. Or maybe you only go to the vending machine for a pick-me up. Fine. Health concerns aside, if you go five days a week, this is costing you $5. In a four-week month, you’ve spent $20 on your daily snack. If you do it for 12 months, you will have spent $240 each year. That’s a lot of money to buy a small bit of junk lunch each day!

But let’s face it. Most of us aren’t buying only a $1 item at the fast-food places. Who can resist the fries with the sandwich? And once you do that, you might as well buy the “value” meal and get a drink too. Even the least expensive meal combos will usually cost about $5. Eat something like this every day of the work week? Do the math. That translates into an average of $1200/year!

And if you don’t like fast food, or if you choose to take frequent meals at nicer restaurants, or even if you just happen to like ordering “extras,” your meals can cost you anywhere between $8 and $12 a plate. Granted, most of us aren’t taking lunch at a sit-down restaurant each day of the work week. But if you were, that would average between $1,920 and $2,880 a year.

Remember, these figures are for one person eating out during the work week. Just for fun, let’s go with a nice round number of $4 per person for a family of four, 5 days a week, to cover the average expense of coffee and a sandwich for adults, and a well-rounded school lunch for kids, or a summer camp lunch, or even Lunchable packs. This adds up to a staggering $3,840 a year.

Obviously, home-packed lunches are not free. However, they can easily slash these costs by a large percentage. Trade pre-packaged selections for a homemade salad, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, or just good old leftovers. Everyone’ preferences are different, but it’s definitely possible to find a frugal option.

How much could you save this year by changing your lunch habits? $1000? $2000? Maybe even more?


Now, lest you think I am always a perfect meal packing machine, let me confess that I too enjoy indulging in a pre-made lunch. I get it- it’s wearisome to pack a homemade lunch every single day. Creativity runs low, you get tired at night and don’t feel like doing it, and convenience is awfully tempting. (Plus, there can be genuinely good things about purchasing a lunch. For example, I do enjoy supporting locally owned restaurants, or supporting a good cause via a fundraiser, etc.) Believe me- it’s not that I think you should never be allowed to eat out.

However, re-evaluating how much is being spent on lunch can be strong motivation to help cut back. Perhaps for your family it means eating out only one or two days a week instead of all five, or packing lunch for you and your husband while you still buy school lunches for your children. Think about what a reasonable change might be for you, and then implement it as often as you can throughout the week. Every little bit helps.

What’s your favorite home-packed lunch? How do you cut back on lunch expenses? Share the simple solutions that work best for your family.

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