What I Lose When I Bring My Lunch to Work

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Bringing my lunch to work saves money, but I also lose out on many things. Here are some of the reasons why I started to bring my lunch to work.

My budget throughout the workweek is simple – try to get through Monday-Friday and spend as little money as possible. This almost always includes bringing my lunch each day to avoid spending money on takeout and expensive restaurants.

During a rough workday, lunch breaks are actually highly anticipated in my office and I notice how some of my coworkers tend to go out for lunch every single day. If I had to guess how much employees who dine out regularly for lunch in my area spend each year, I’d bet it’s over $1,000 annually. That’s a lot of money to spend on work lunches not even counting grocery expenses and dining out outside of work.

Over a year ago I decided to do something different and start shopping for lunch food while I did my regular grocery shopping so I could pack a lunch each workday. It has required quite a bit of organization and creativity, along with some sacrifices, but overall there’s been a lot of benefits. First, the losses.

Bringing your lunch costs Quality Time Bonding with Coworkers


Going out to lunch with your coworkers is one of the best ways to learn more about the people you work with and bond over interests unrelated to your job. Dining out is often a very social experience and the interaction with other people can really help you relieve stress and feel re-energized to finish the day strong.

The last time I went to eat lunch with a coworker was well over a year ago. In the end, eating lunch with coworkers was an expense that I decided to cut. It wasn’t easy but I’ve found ways to still bond with them and align my spending behavior with my budget and financial goals.

Setting Aside Time to Prep Food


Time itself is always something I feel I don’t have enough of, and the more I add to my schedule and list of responsibilities, the less time I have to do things I value and enjoy. In order to bring my lunch to work all the time, I need to prep food constantly. I’m not the type of person to be content with packing the same type of sandwich each day for months. I love a lot of variety in my diet and get bored with certain foods easily so I’m always trying new recipes for my lunches.

I have to make sure I pick up items to eat for lunch when I’m at the grocery store and spend time either in the evening or in the morning (if I’m running late), de-thawing food, cooking batch meals for lunch, and chopping up fruits and vegetables, on top of the prep work I do for dinner. Meal planning helps me stay on top of costs while still injecting a healthy dose of variety into my meals.

While I’m sure I could definitely streamline my food prep process, it would still require some time and effort on my end either way. If you’re the same and want help preparing and planning meals, check out $5 Meal Plan for great ideas to get started.

Not Getting to Try Out New Cuisine in the Neighborhood


Sometimes I’m tempted to order food when I hear about a new restaurant opening up in the neighborhood or I get a little jealous when I smell my coworker’s Chipotle bowl just a few feet away. Their guacamole is so delicious. I’m definitely not immune to fear of missing out (FOMO).

There are tons of restaurants near my job with delicious foods and let me be the first to tell you, I tried out most of them last year and got tired of them fast. Sometimes, the food you order just doesn’t turn out all that great, then you feel like you wasted your money. I got tired of going broke for a little temporary satisfaction which is another reason why I started packing my lunch and I haven’t regretted it at all.

Now, let’s move on to the benefits. Here’s what I gain by brining my own lunch and ultimately why I choose to bring my lunch to work.

Bringing your lunch saves Money


This is an obvious benefit and the main reason why I commit to bringing lunch to work all the time. Coming to work every day with my own lunch is a great way to save money. To avoid spending any unnecessary money, I also make sure I pack a few snacks and eat breakfast from my home before I leave for work as well. With lunch in my area generally ranging anywhere between $5-$12.50, I could easily see myself spending $30-$40+per week on lunch and snacks while I’m at work.

By preparing and bringing my own food each day, I have more money in my pocket to do other things like put more money toward my student loans, save, go on outings with my family during the weekend, and so on.

Better Control Over My Diet


Quick meals at restaurants may taste good, but they are not always the best for you. I may have to spend a bit more time and effort making my own lunch and bringing it in each day, but I have more freedom over the type of food I eat and I know exactly what I’m eating since I’m preparing it.

If you want to eat healthier takeout, you have to spend more money. Restaurant salads are very pricey so it’s best to just make your own at home.

Clearer Understanding of My Values


There’s nothing wrong with dining out every now and then for lunch, but it feels empowering not to need to do it all the time, especially if you don’t value it. For me, I stopped relying on food to help me escape the work day temporarily and I decided to focus on what would make me feel better long-term, and that’s having full control over my finances and being able to do the things that make me feel happy and fulfilled. If I don’t limit my spending on unnecessary wants, it will take even longer to pay off my debt and have full control over my finances.

There are other ways to bond with coworkers or network with others regularly. Since I don’t value takeout, I can’t justify spending $100 or even $50 per month on pricey work lunches. My FOMO mood wears off quickly when I put my values into perspective.


How do you feel about work lunches? Does spending less money on extra expenses throughout the week help you obtain a clearer understanding of your goals and values?

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Choncé is a freelance writer who’s obsessed with frugality and passionate about helping others increase their savings rate, eliminate debt, and work toward financial stability. She chronicles her journey with balancing motherhood, work, and finances on her blog, MyDebt


  • jenn from much to my delight says:

    Bringing lunch to work has been imperative for our savings, but I too feel a little wistful about the time, mental energy and planning that goes into creating them each week. Still, I’ll never go back to eating out during the workday. It’s just not worth it for what you save bringing a lunch. (and luckily — sadly?– none of my coworkers go out to lunch together ever, so I’m not really missing out socially).

    • Chonce says:

      I feel the same way. I’ve been trying to get more serious with meal planning and batch cooking to make it easier. Also, if I see something I like or that sounds good at a restaurant, I try my hand at trying to make something similar at home 🙂

      • Charlotte says:

        Agreed! I’ve done the same especially with a chicken penne dish from one of my favorite restaurants. I like my version better!!

  • Matt says:

    Nice analysis of the pros and cons. I used to buy lunch every day because I liked having the break in the middle of the day. Once I started using YNAB and realized how much money was going out the door I switched to bringing lunch most days and taking a walk to get my break in the middle of the day instead.

    I currently buy lunch once a week and find that I actually enjoy it a lot more than when I was buying every day.

    • Chonce says:

      I’ve heard great things about YNAB! That’s great that you reduced how frequently you dine out for lunch. I take walks too some time and I’m sure you’ll set a positive example at your work place.

  • Rachel @ The Latte Budget says:

    I agree with this 100%. Since I do miss out on getting to know coworkers through lunch, I make it a point to stop by to chat frequently. The health benefits of bringing my own lunch are extraordinary and keep me at it.

    • Chonce says:

      I agree, it also better to bring your lunch when you are committed to improving your overall diet. I work in a small office so it’s easy to walk over and visit with others throughout the day.

  • Money Beagle says:

    There are people that go out every day. I can’t imagine the cost and the difference in their health.

    • Chonce says:

      Yeah it’s kind of crazy. There are so many other things I’d rather do with my money than buy lunch and have to scarf it down in 20 minutes, haha.

  • Amanda @ centsiblyrich says:

    When I my husband and I both worked, we went out for lunch regularly, but once we decided to live on one income, eating lunch out was one of the first things to go. Fast forward 15 years and we still pack lunches. Meal planning has been key – we typically make extra for dinner and take leftovers, but sandwiches are a back up. If I added it up, I’m certain the savings from packing lunches over the years is in the thousands of dollars.

    • Chonce says:

      That’s awesome how long you’ve been able to keep up with bringing your lunch regularly! I’m sure you’ve saved a ton too. Leftovers are our go-to for lunches the following day if we didn’t prep sometimes my husband and I find ourselves ‘fighting’ over who gets to take the leftovers for work to lunch, haha.

  • Brian Lund at Measured Money says:

    Nice analysis of a habit I’ve worked hard at committing to. Yes it has it’s advantages, but as you point out, it has it’s disadvantages too. I guess it really comes down to you values and what you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve found that letting others know why I do what I do has helped minimize some of the disadvantages.

    • Chonce says:

      You’re right, it’s all about your values and end goal. If someone goes out for lunch often but refrains from spending money in other areas of their budget they may be saving a significant amount of money as well.

  • Syed says:

    Great breakdown on the issue. Some people (actually most people) don’t give too much thought about what to eat for lunch. But it can really make a difference wealth wise and health wise.

    I used to eat out almost every day but now I’ve resolved to do it once a week. I tried the everyday thing but it can be time consuming and kind of annoying to constantly worry about what I’m going to eat. The days I bring lunch to work I try to keep it simple and healthy and the day I eat out is a treat for the week.

    • Chonce says:

      It sounds like you have a solid system in place. Bringing lunch every day does prompt you to think on your toes quite a bit.

  • Kendal says:

    I agree 100%. The majority of my office eats out every single day and I honestly don’t know how some of them afford it. I’ll join maybe once or twice per month, and then realize why I never dine out — it’s too expensive and it doesn’t taste nearly as good as what I can prepare at home. That being said, I experience lunch envy from time to time when someone is nomming on a Qdoba burrito while I’m picking through the last of this week’s salad greens. After I’m done eating, however, I’m always happy I opted to brown bag it.

    • Chonce says:

      Since I hardly dine out, I also get pretty bummed when I go to a restaurant and the food doesn’t impress. I am learning to cook more and more yummy things and I’m always open to trying new recipes so that helps.

  • Paige @ Live, Laugh, Budget says:

    This is so spot on. I changed jobs over a year ago and no one at my new job goes out, ever. So it has been much easier to resist the temptation. It is definitely a trade off, I’m not the type to plan things ahead of time or wake up early to pack my lunch so that has been an adjustment for me. I know it will be worth it in the end.

    • Chonce says:

      It sounds like peer pressure may actually be offering a benefit this time 🙂 It’s not always easy to adapt to a new routine so keep making an effort and don’t feel obligated to jump from going out to eat every day to bringing your lunch every day – I sure didn’t. You can always ease into it.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach says:

    I think the same way you do. A lot of my co-workers go out and I just know that adds up with cost and inches on my waist, but it takes me longer to bond with co-workers since I don’t have that time.

    • Chonce says:

      It is harder to bond with coworkers when they’re going out for lunch all the time and you’re not, but it’s not impossible. They may be others ways to get to know people around the office or even team building events that the company pays for. I just attended a baseball game with my coworkers and their families that my boss paid for it was so fun to get to know everyone better outside of the office, and not spend any extra money 🙂

  • Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says:

    I prefer bringing my lunch to work as first I don’t know how food is prepared in the cafeteria or canteen and love cooking my own food as it is tastier, healthier, and more delicious, aside from I save some money out of it!

  • Tom says:

    Tell me where eating out lunch at work 5 times a week cost $100 a month? With average lunch costing almost near $10 its at least $200, not counting weekends or once in a while dinners outside.

    I too switched to bringing own lunch, after getting fed up at cost and pathetic protein/carb ratio most restaurants sell in their meals.

    There were times when I had no choice but buy expensive take outs or salad bar at whole foods because I worked late, a lot hours and lived with roomates without full time access to kitchen.

    Also be warned of Whole Foods, meats are very expensive and hot bars prohibitively expensive. You may not save much if you do grocery there over take outs, the only difference is you eat healthier. In my area Safeway reigns as king of supermarkets but they are not cheapest or best.

  • Kathy says:

    Frankly, I think my mental health is worth more.
    Getting out of the building keeps me sane, and that’s worth a lot.

  • Douglas Antrim says:

    I work in a factory, and business lunches are not a part of my life. We do have a large number of factory workers that buy they lunch on the way to work. You see pizza boxes and paper bags of lunch bought at different restaurants. I often wonder how much they spend to eat. Personally I go to work to earn money not spend money. So I take my lunch and I save a small fortune, and I eat healthier then the lunch buying crowd.

  • Eva says:

    I always pack a lunch, because I take the bus, and walking or taking the bus to the local grocery store/restaurant just doesn’t give me enough time to eat in half an hour. So it forces me to pack my lunch. Most people in my office pack a lunch anyways, so it’s not a big deal. I guess taking the bus saves me more money in more ways than one. I also walk around 23 blocks every day by taking the bus, so I also save money on gym membership. :s Then I go home and make my own dinner 6 nights of the week.Sometimes I can’t believe I am fat!

    • John Schmoll says:

      Ha ha, I know how you feel Eva – I work out six days a week on a consistent basis and would love to be thinner. 🙂 That said, I love seeing multiple benefits coming out of one simple choice like taking lunch to work.

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