One of the best ways to keep a frugal budget is obviously to reduce or eliminate needless spending. Convenience does come at a price. One very easy way to save money is to bring your own healthy lunch from home with you to school or work and avoid purchasing lunch on a daily basis. We’ve already discussed that it makes a lot of financial sense to brew your own coffee and the same logic extends to lunches. An added bonus is that when you bring your own healthy lunch food you have ingredient and packaging control. As the saying goes, brown bag it! Better yet, re-usable lunch bag it!
Why healthy lunches from home?
Most convenient food is not healthy, that’s why. Sure there are exceptions if you hunt for the healthy restaurants but more than likely a quick lunch out consists of some kind of fast food, potentially fried, lathered in some sort of sauce and loaded with trans fats. A place like Subway, with it’s legendary “6 grams of fat or less” has small print – don’t you dare have cheese or sauce on that sandwich! And at the nicer places? Those who have worked in a restaurant kitchen will tell you the golden rule of tasty food: fat tastes good – bring on the butter.
When you make your own lunches you have total ingredient control. You’ll know if the vegetables came fresh from your garden or the market instead of having been shipped from half way across the globe. You can avoid processed or low grade cheese by using a slice from the block in your fridge. Not all whole wheat bread is the same – at home you can opt for the healthier brands (or better yet, home made). And if you eat meat on your sandwich you can opt for the low fat types.
Do healthy lunches cost more?
Not if you bring it from home. You would be hard pressed to find a fast food meal, let alone a decent restaurant meal or healthy meal for lunch at a lower cost than what you can put together at home. For 5 lunches I need the following foods:
- Loaf of bread – I would need 10 slices, about 1/2 a loaf. At $2.50 a loaf I would spend $1.25 – $0.25 a day
- Head of lettuce – again about 1/2 a head. At $1.19 per I would spend $0.60 on the week or $0.20 daily
- 1/20th of a jay of light mayonaise. At $4.00 per jar, I would spend $0.20 per day
- 250 grams of turkey (50g per sandwich) for $5.00, so $0.50 spent per day
- 1/2 bag of organic baby carrots for $3.00, $1.50 for the week or $0.30 a day
- one of Mrs. SPFs Bake Your Own muffins at about $0.45 each
- one can of diet coke (my guilty mid-day pleasure) which I buy in cases for no more than $0.30 per can.
Taking a look at the alternatives in our downtown core the cheapest “meal” I can find would be a McDonalds McDouble and a small fries + the diet coke. This unhealthy option costs $3.12. A more filling meal at the same grease joint, a Big Mac combo would cost $6.69 + 13% tax (yes – you read that correctly non-Canadian readers, we pay 13% sales tax here) for a total of $7.56 and REALLY far from healthy. Down the road I can go to Subway and get one of their “low fat” subs for $5.65 w/o cheese or mayonnaise. At the local vegetarian restaurant (which is really quite tasty) I am looking at $8-$10 for a take out meal. This is a very healthy option but 4x more expensive than my brown bagged lunch. Last but not least I can go to a sit down restaurant, likely using lots of fats and butter, and expect to pay about $15 for lunch, after tip and beverage.
I always like to look at the impact our personal finance decisions do or could cost us over the course of a year.
Here is the data assuming 5 days a week for 52 weeks eating the same type of lunch daily:
- Mini McD’s junk meal: $15.60 per week / $811.20 per year. Affect on health – very bad.
- Full size McD’s junk meal: $37.80 per week / $1,956.60 per year. Ditto.
- Subway: $28.25 per week / $1469 per year.
- Yummy healthy vegetarian place: $45 per week / $2,340 per year.
- Sit down lunch restaurants: $65 per week / $3,380 per year.
- “Brown bag” lunches: $11 per week and $572 annually.
The difference in lunch costs is quite evident. You can make a financially prudent decision regarding your food/dining out budget and control (knowledge is power) what you are eating all the while re-using food containers instead of purchasing food in disposable packaging.