Dollar Menu or Vacation – You Do the Math

While I could continue to talk about breakfast until, well, probably for a very long time, Big Sis and I thought it might be more helpful to take a more rounded approach, and thusly we’ve moved on to lunch.  I admit that as a work at home parent, my perspective on lunch is probably a bit warped, but I did, in my former life (and by that I mean before children, don’t get weirded out), work in the outside world.  My feelings about lunch are probably most influenced by 1) my desire to eat something healthful and 2) my limitless capacity to be a cheapskate.

There was a time in our pre-kid two salaried life where my husband and I faced that “where does it all go?” money question.  We sat down with our bills and bank statements and it became very clear that the dinner time restaurant extravaganza we were enjoying was problematic.  We devised rules and our monthly finances eased considerably.  Not long after this exercise, we looked for the less obvious money drains in those same bills, and not so surprisingly given our predilections, it became clear that lunchtime had its own challenges to our new frugality.  The office lunch, the lunch date with a friend, the quick lunch on the corner, that awesome lunch truck that’s only in that part of town, the birthday lunch, the sad colleague lunch, the happy colleague lunch, the I hate my job lunch, the sunny day lunch….

Let’s do some quick math.  Most years have 260 work days (thanks, Google).  If you get two weeks off, that’s 250.  If you get federal holidays, that’s 240.  Let’s go with 240, even though I realize it doesn’t necessarily reflect everyone’s working reality.  How much do people spend at lunch?  There are a number of estimates out there, so let’s use some logic. I’m going to say the cheapest you can pull off is about $3, and that assumes ordering off the dollar menu at somewhere oogie, I mean at a fast food place.  I’m pretty sure a granola bar and a drink at a convenience store would get you pretty close to the same amount, so I’m going to go with $3 as the bottom.  On the other hand, if you go sit down somewhere, it seems to me you are likely to spend at least $10 (and that would be something relatively inexpensive like Pho or pizza).  So let’s slice it down the middle and call it an average of $6.50.  This is on the conservative side of the average estimates I found online.

Employing my meager but serviceable math skills, 240 x 6.50, that’s $1560 per year on lunch.  We will be taking two vacations this year for about that much money.  Do you like those lunches THAT much?  And if you do, are you closer to the $6.50 estimate here or are you straying into the $10-12 territory I saw mentioned many times.  Let’s run with $12 as well…  240 x $12, that’s $2880.  Almost three thousand dollars friends; and pardon me for saying so, but much of it is for food that is NOT doing anything for you; I’m quite confident you could benefit from a vacation at that price tag.  I’m also confident that we can give you some solid strategies and some more delicious and healthful options to get you through the gauntlet of work lunch.  Our course is charted – homemade lunches that feed our hungry cells and vacations that restore our spirits. Beach sand or bust!!

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13 responses

  1. Oh Baby, beach sand beats Burger Belly any day of the week! When I start to think about buying lunch in the cafeteria at the hospital I somehow find the energy to throw some leftovers in a container – or make a grandwich or expandwich – the night before which saves me money, heartburn and afternoon slump! So glad you’re a cheapskate as well Little Sis… love going on vacation together : )

  2. I’m not a fan of lunch ‘out’ vain though it may sound, I prefer my own cooking w/ my own ingredients. Way cheaper and healthier too. I had a lunch I had to attend recently (one of those social things we all have to suck up to) and it ended up costing me 20ish bucks for a salad w/ chicken (neither of which was organic as my home made food is) and a single Iced Tea! pfhhht! I don’t think of it as cheapskating at all :) Choosing the best ingredients and cooking it yourself is not easier by any stretch…but SO worth it.
    *anna

      • My husband used to lunch out a lot as well. We sat down with a calculator and that was that…. he REALLY likes vacations. We’ve also found that as we both become more particular about what we eat, grabbing lunch out is really not very enjoyable much of the time. I’m curious to see if you get any traction…

  3. I’m eating out far less because it’s hard to find options that are vegan at restaurants. I find myself thinking: “So I’m eating a bean burrito without cheese, but are the beans and the tortilla made with lard? or does the enchilada sauce have chicken stock in it?” The answer is probably yes :( So, basically I stick to a few places with super fresh ingredients and where I know what’s in their menu items.

    That being said, I have been invited out today by mom’s in my neighborhood for a lunch at the park/playdate for the 3rd time this week. Most everyone picks up McD on the way and takes it to the park. Gross. How much harder is it really to brown bag a peanut butter sandwich and some apple slices (or for my lunch today, leftover roasted ratatouille and slap in on some artisan bread that is begging me to take it with me)? I can guarantee there will be some jealousy and drooling going on when I pull out my own ‘fast food’ sandwich!

    Not only do I get the health benefit of having something not processed, or has 38 ingredients of which 18 are derived somehow from corn, (sorry, just finished the Omnivore’s Dilemma, can’t stop thinking about the grotesque chicken nugget) but it tastes better too. Plus I find I do have extra money for my essential oil obsession, or if I stockpile it, a great little vacation!

  4. I work with several people who have declared that they will never eat leftovers. I have leftovers for lunch every single day and I’m usually pretty excited because I make some yummy things. My co-workers are usually jealous. And if I don’t have any leftovers a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is darn good too. I love that you did all the math. We are savers and hardly ever go out to eat and I completely agree with you. Whenever I get the urge to stop at Starbuck’s on the way to work for a $4 latte, I just remind myself that I can have 20 cups at the same price with the box of tea bags I get at the store. It just makes sense.

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