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Food for Thought: Ways to Curb Lunchtime Spending


Planning to have lunch out with your coworkers? Chew on this: A poll of 1,005 adults found that, on average, we eat lunch at restaurants nearly twice a week at about $10 a pop - or about $936 annually, according to Visa. (And that doesn't even include coffee-to-go and carryout.)

If you were to save that $936 per year and invest it at a 5 percent annual rate of return, over the course of 30 years you'd have an extra $69,000 to add to your retirement nest egg. Or do the math yourself by plugging your lunchtime expenditures into this savings calculator to see how much you could sock away if you packed a lunch instead.

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The Visa study also found that men outspend women by about $6 per week ($21 versus $15) on lunch at restaurants. Maybe most surprising, the survey showed that participants with annual incomes below $25,000 reported spending more on each lunch out ($11.70 on average) than those with incomes of $50,000 or more ($9.60 per lunch).

If you're still working, here are some tips for trimming your lunchtime spending.

  • Pack a lunch for the entire week. When I was a desk jockey, I always vowed that I'd pack a lunch before leaving home in the morning. But between oversleeping and the inevitable morning rush, that rarely happened. I finally got smart and started to bring an entire bag of groceries with me to the office every Monday morning - a whole loaf of bread, cold cuts, fruits, veggies, drinks, etc. Because making my lunch in the office was the easiest and fastest option - even quicker than going for fast food - I found that I rarely did otherwise. It not only saved me money, it also allowed me more time on my lunch hour to do fun things, rather than stand in line, waiting for a table.
  • Organize a weekly office potluck. In one office where I worked, we divided willing staffers into four "potluck teams," with each team responsible for cooking a potluck lunch for the entire group one Wednesday every month. The fare was usually simple and delicious. Even better, the leftovers remained in the office until Friday as communal property, so most of us who participated were pretty well set for lunch through Friday.
  • Divide and conquer. Have you noticed that a foot-long sub usually costs only a little more than a 6-inch one? Ditto for the cost of supersizing a meal. I'm not suggesting that you pig out and eat more. Instead, go big and split the grub - and the check - with a coworker. Or save half for your lunch tomorrow. Along the same lines, you can find two-for-one meal deals and other restaurant discounts at websites such as, and


Now that lunch is covered, let's start thinking about the weekend with my Cheapskate Tailgating Tips!

Photo: Inazakira/Flickr


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