If you’ve never run the numbers before on packing a lunch versus eating out everyday, then you might be surprised how easy it is to save a good chunk of change each month.

Eating out is something that usually prevails thanks to our busy schedules.  We’re always running late, and it takes time to pack a lunch, so we figure it’s more convenient to just grab something by the office.

But the only thing that’s convenient about it is that you didn’t have to make it yourself.  Eating out everyday certainly isn’t convenient for your bank account, or your waistline.

 

Doesn’t Everyone Go Out For Lunch?

Let’s say you are an average employee.  You go to work, and on your lunch break, you head over to Jack in the Box or Subway or whatever is close by.  You probably haven’t given this a second thought, because so many of your co-workers are doing the same thing.

Although, there is that one guy that always brings his own lunch…

Maybe that guy eats on his own, or maybe he brings his food and eats at the picnic tables with you.  But chances are, his lunch is probably more healthy and less expensive.

 

Alright, Fine.  Hit Me With The Numbers.

First, let’s look at how much you are probably spending.  I went and surveyed a few random lunch destinations to get a feel for what an average might be.  Keep in mind, these are probably on the cheaper end of the spectrum, because they fall into the fast food category, more or less.  Sit-down restaurants will tend to cost more.  Anyways, here you go:

 Average Lunch Costs

 

Not surprisingly, we see a fairly consistent trend across these different fast food restaurants.  All of them are around $6 for one of their combo meals.

Now you might be thinking, “Six bucks for lunch isn’t bad.”  And you’re right, it’s not terrible.  However, a lot of people go for the upsize/super-size/extra-cheese/toasted/milkshake route.  Which can add anywhere from 50 cents to $3.

And as mentioned above, if you are going to a sit-down restaurant for lunch, it’s going to cost you $10+ for lunch.  So between an average $6 fast-food meal with add-ons, and an average $10 dine-in option equally distributed across weekdays, our average lunch cost is $8.  (For some people, that’s still low, but we’ll work with that for now.)

Assuming a five day workweek, that’s $40 per week, or $160 per month.  If you tend to spend more on your lunches, say $10, that puts you at $50 per week and $200 per month.  Start paying attention to your receipts to figure out how much you are spending on lunch each month.

 

So The Alternative Is To Start Packing A Lunch?

Yes indeed!

Before you groan and say that you don’t have time, let’s go over the costs of three different homemade lunches:

 

Lunch 1Lunch 2Lunch 3
LunchablesSandwichSandwich
YogurtCereal Bar
Granola BarCrackers
Baby CarrotsFruit Cup
AppleBanana
WaterJuice

 

One of the biggest differences between eating out and packing a lunch is that when you eat out, you are buying one lunch at a time.  When you pack your own, you buy ingredients for multiple lunches at a time.  Thus the cost is spread out, bringing the price down as you get more bang for your buck.

When you make your own lunch, you have a lot of options.  It’s good to look at prices and servings per package, so you know how many lunches you are getting out of that product.  Should you buy name-brand, or off-brand?  Is there a difference?  I think brand matters for some items, but usually it doesn’t.  And while Lunchables are hardly homemade, they are included for comparison as a time-saving alternative.  All prices are from Ralph’s, as of this past week.

 

Homemade Lunch Comparisons

Here are some comparisons of the above lunches with a low and high option (depending on which brands you pick):

Lunch 1 – Low

Item DescriptionPriceServings/PkgPrice/Unit
Lunchables Small$1.691$1.69
Total Cost$1.69

 

Lunch 1 – High

Item DescriptionPriceServings/PkgPrice/Unit
Lunchables Large$3.991$3.99
Total Cost$3.99

 

Lunch 1 is pretty straightforward – you buy a Lunchable, and that’s it.  Easy, no hassle.  You want more food?  You buy the big one.  Either way, it is cheaper than a fast food restaurant.  But the quality of food (and the healthiness thereof) is definitely suspect.  We can do better…

 

Lunch 2 – Low

Item DescriptionPriceServings/PkgPrice/UnitNotes
Van de Kamps Bread$112$0.08Servings = # of slices in loaf (2 slices = 1 serving)
Off-brand lunchmeat low average$46$0.67Price is per pound, serving size is 2-3 oz per sandwich
Ralph’s Cheddar Cheese$2.508$0.31
Ralph’s Pickles$3.1918$0.18
Lettuce$0.9910$0.10Price is for one head of lettuce; serving size varies
Onions$1.2950$0.03Price is per pound, assuming 5 onions per pound; assuming 10 servings per onion
Kroger Yogurt$0.501$0.50
Ralph’s Crunchy Granola Bars$2.4912$0.21
Apples$0.993$0.33Price is per pound; assuming an apple weighs .33 lbs
Baby Carrots (large)$4.9920$0.25Large bag is 5lbs, serving size is 3 oz
Total Cost$2.66

 

Lunch 2 – High

Item DescriptionPriceServings/PkgPrice/UnitNotes
Sara Lee Bread$4.199$0.47Servings = # of slices in loaf (2 slices = 1 serving)
Kroger – Roast Beef$86$1.33Price is per pound, serving size is 2-3 oz per sandwich
Ralph’s Swiss Cheese$2.506$0.42
Ralph’s Pickles$3.1918$0.18
Lettuce$0.9910$0.10Price is for one head of lettuce; serving size varies
Onions$1.2950$0.03Price is per pound, assuming 5 onions per pound; assuming 10 servings per onion
Chobani Yogurt$1.251$1.25
Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars$6.4924$0.27
Apples$0.993$0.33Price is per pound; assuming an apple weighs .33 lbs
Baby Carrots (small)$1.998$0.25Small bag is 2lbs, serving size is 3 oz
Total Cost$4.63

 

Lunch 2 gives you a lot more food for the cost.  Especially if you go with the more affordable brands.  But even with more expensive name brands, Lunch 2 is still less than eating out at Del Taco.

 

Lunch 3 – Low

Item DescriptionPriceServings/PkgPrice/Unit
Van de Kamps Bread$112$0.08Servings = # of slices in loaf (2 slices = 1 serving)
Off-brand lunchmeat low average$46$0.67Price is per pound, serving size is 2-3 oz per sandwich
Ralph’s Cheddar Cheese$2.508$0.31
Ralph’s Pickles$3.1918$0.18
Lettuce$0.9910$0.10Price is for one head of lettuce; serving size varies
Onions$1.2950$0.03Price is per pound, assuming 5 onions per pound; assuming 10 servings per onion
Triscuits$29$0.22
Capri Sun Juice$2.5010$0.25
Kroger Cereal Bars$2.498$0.31
Ralph’s Fruit Cups$1.994$0.50
Bananas$0.693$0.23Price is per pound; assuming a banana weighs .33 lbs
Total Cost$2.88

Lunch 3 – High

Item DescriptionPriceServings/PkgPrice/Unit
Sara Lee Bread$4.199$0.47Servings = # of slices in loaf (2 slices = 1 serving)
Kroger – Roast Beef$86$1.33Price is per pound, serving size is 2-3 oz per sandwich
Ralph’s Colby Cheese$2.506$0.42
Mt. Olive Pickles$4.6916$0.29
Lettuce$0.9910$0.10Price is for one head of lettuce; serving size varies
Onions$1.2950$0.03Price is per pound, assuming 5 onions per pound; assuming 10 servings per onion
Goldfish (Carton)$7.9928$0.29
Minute Maid Juice Boxes$3.4910$0.35
Nutrigrain Bars$3.198$0.40
Dole Fruit Cups$2.504$0.63
Bananas$0.693$0.23Price is per pound; assuming a banana weighs .33 lbs
Total Cost$4.54

 

Lunch 3 shows some different options, but the resulting prices are still below the eating out costs.  And when you make your own lunch, you have the option of infusing as much variety as you want — you might mix things up week to week with different types of sandwich meat, eating yogurt, or different types of fruit and crackers.

Let’s add the average cost of each homemade lunch to our chart from earlier to compare:

 

Average Lunch Costs 2

 

So it looks like we have some noticeable savings adding up.  If you are on the low end of eating out costs, you could save about $60 per month by making your own lunches.  If you are on the high end of eating out (around $10 per meal), then you could save as much as $140 per month!

That’s nothing to sneeze at — you could put that towards a new computer or TV at Christmas each year (or into savings, since you don’t need a TV every year).

Packing A Lunch

Everyone’s countertop looks like this, right?

Not to mention the fact that our homemade lunches are MUCH healthier than eating burgers and fries all the time.  And soda.  You aren’t helping yourself be healthy if you are eating fast food every day.

It’s really not that difficult to make the switch — you can use a grocery bag or buy a lunch cooler.  You can use plastic baggies or get some tupperware (that way you have the option of taking leftovers too).  And yes, you have the time.

If you want to take charge of your diet, make your own lunch.  It’s a simple change that your wallet (and your waistline) will thank you for making.

 

Have you made the switch?  Was it easy?  Hard?  Worth it?  Leave a comment below!