Save $112,000 During Your Career By Bringing Your Lunch To Work In A Brown Bag

by Hank Coleman

My boy, J Money, over at the awesome personal finance blog, BudgetsAreSexy, tackled the age old question the other day of whether it is worth it or not to save money by bringing your lunch to work in a brown bag. J talked about diverging from the “all or nothing” approach and supplementing your brown bag lunches for work with a few days of going out to eat with coworkers when the spirit strikes you.

I can completely understand the temptation of heading out to eat lunch a few days a week just out of the sheer boredom of staying in the office and eating the same old peanut butter and jelly sandwiches day in and day out. But, going out to eat lunch, as little as twice a week, can still seriously cripple your well thought out monthly budget if you are not careful. Let me give you a few specific examples from my painstaking real world research I did last week on the difference between eating out and brining brown bag lunches for work. I have broke down by the numbers to illustrate.

The “All” Approach To Brown Bag Lunches For Work

Below is the breakdown of the actual costs of my meals each day last week when I went out to eat with my coworkers for lunch everyday.

Day of Week

Lunch Menu


Monday Thai Buffet


Tuesday Pizza (small plate)


Wednesday Fast Food Hamburger Meal


Thursday Corporate Dinning Hall


Friday Chinese Buffet


TOTAL Eating Out 5 Times


The “Or Nothing” Approach To Brown Bag Lunches For Work

When I bring my brown bag lunches for work, I typically have a sandwich, soda, and a banana at my desk.  Of course, some days it varies, but for the most part, I eat a sandwich everyday for lunch.  So, here is a breakdown of the costs for that meal taken straight off of my latest grocery store receipt.

Grocery List

Days of Supply ***

Cost Per Item

Cost Per Day



Case of soda (cans)






Loaf of Bread






Bunch of Bananas






Pkg of Sliced Cheese






Pkg of Sliced Turkey






Jar Peanut Butter






Jar Jelly











*** There are ten slices of cheese in the typical package that I buy. So, that package can support making ten sandwiches, and that is how I calculated the number of days worth of food that each item would produce (very scientific!).  I did this in order to give a more realistic and fair evaluation for the amount of food bought and price consumed in one meal.  While the details of your food buying habits are different than mine, of course, the calculations should be close and will give you a great reference point.

Or “Twice A Week” Approach To Brown Bag Lunches For Work

Based on my calculations above, it costs an average of $6.97 per day to eat lunch at a restaurant as opposed to eating at my desk.  It costs $1.26 per day to bring a brown bag lunch and eat sandwich. That figure comes from the cost of each item divided by the number of days of supply for that the item. Based on those figures, it costs $17.72 per week to eat out twice a week with the other three days consisting of a brown bag lunch ($6.97 x 2 days + $1.26 x 3 days).

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of going out to eat, and I do it way too much. So, this topic is a little near and dear to my heart. I constantly fight between boredom in the office and blowing my monthly budget for eating out during lunches. There is nothing worst than having to turn coworkers and peers down for lunch invitations.


The weekly total costs are listed below.

  1. Eating Out Everyday
  1. Eating Out 2 Days & Brown Bagging It 3 Days
  1. Brown Bagging It Everyday

Eating out everyday for lunch over the course of a fifty week work year will cost you approximately $1,740 over the course of the year. Eating lunch in a restaurant only two days a week isn’t too much better.  It will cost you about $886 a year. But, eating a sandwich at your desk cost you only $315 per year and can potentially saves you $1,425 per year. 

Just to kick you while you are down….if you invested that $1,425 each year at a 6% annual interest rate for your entire thirty year working career, you would have saved over $112,000 by bringing brown bag lunches for work.  I think that I will stick with my brown bags and try to curb the cravings to eat out with my coworkers no matter how unpopular and boring it may be.

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J. Money June 15, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Hah! You’re a good man, sir. You should invest that saved money so one day we can retire @ the beach together 😉 just don’t expect me to make your lunch while we’re there…

Imee June 18, 2009 at 5:52 am

Wow, that’s great! Thanks so much for these tips. I bring lunch to work too, not just to save money but also so I know what I’m eating.

Money Funk November 2, 2009 at 7:55 pm

I love calculations! Thank you for doing all the hard work of figuring out how much I could save by packing my lunch. And why I am a knuckle head for being too lazy to do it today. Okay, starting today – we are … oh wait! You forgot to add the cost of a package of brown bags and ziplocs (if you use them). 😉
I am bringing mine in my nifty cloth reusable bag and snack bags (yup, sewed them all by myself).
Great article!

Funny March 23, 2010 at 10:42 am

Just go out and enjoy your live. At an old age you may have 100,000 less (I doubt it) but you’ll have had nice lunches. And why retire if you like to work? If you are not capable anymore you won’t go around spending money and enjoying yourself anyway. Live today.

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