Balancing act: Lunches out are fun, but are they worth the money?
Andrea Rose, PhotoCo., via Flickr.com under a Creative Commons license
Everyone loves Friday. It's the last day of the workweek for most people — the gateway to the weekend — and usually it includes fewer meetings than other days.
For me, Fridays have been even more treasured for the last decade or so. At about that point, when I was still a full-time Deseret News employee, a bunch of my buddies and I started a Friday lunch tradition.
Every Friday at about 11 a.m., one of the members of our informal group would send out the "where and when" lunch email. After a few minutes of virtual banter, we'd settle on a time and place for that day's outing
Sometimes we'd end up grabbing a quick bite at a fast-food restaurant. Other times we'd have more leisurely lunches at "sit-down" places.
Even if the food wasn't great, the company always was. We'd commiserate about the week's challenges, discuss our plans for the immediate and distant future and mostly laugh until our sides hurt as we joked and shared stories.
After several years of our weekly lunches, members of our group started leaving the News for other jobs. A couple of them departed even before I moved on two years ago, and a couple more have left since I did.
I thought at first that these departures would mean the end of our Friday lunch, but I'm happy to say that hasn't been the case. While we all sometimes miss our weekly appointment — I've been the worst offender for the last month or so while temporarily taking on new duties at work — we have kept the tradition alive.
I truly miss the chance to reconnect with my friends on the weeks when a meeting or other work responsibility prevents my attendance. These outings give me a way to tip the work-life balance scale a little to the "life" side in the middle of a workday, and I appreciate that.
Even during weeks when money is a bit tight, my wife has supported my Friday lunch excursions, too. She says she can see the benefits to my mental health.
A recent survey by Visa got me thinking of just how much those lunches with my buddies are really worth.
The August telephone survey of 1,005 adults showed that Americans go out to eat for lunch about twice a week and spend $10 per outing. According to the Visa press release about the survey, the average expenditure is about $18 per week, or $936 per year.
The survey found that men are more likely than women to go out to eat for lunch, and they outspend women by about 44 percent each week, shelling out about $21 compared to just under $15 for women.
I'm pretty much in line with these statistics. I eat out for lunch once or twice in the average week, and I usually spend $8 to $10 on each of those lunches.
The survey also showed that 1 percent of people spend more than $50 per lunch, or close to $5,000 a year, while 30 percent of respondents said they never bought lunch out.
I can't imagine spending $50 of my own money on a workday lunch. However, I have friends who have been taken to nice steakhouses for lunches with vendors, and I would guess those meals cost close to $50.
(Steak is delicious, but I'm not sure it's worth the price of listening to a vendor's sales pitch for an hour or more.)
The Visa survey showed that respondents who said they made less than $25,000 per year spent more per meal, at $11.70, than people in other income brackets. Meanwhile, respondents who earned more than $50,000 per year spent an average of $9.60 per meal.
It also appears that my Midwestern roots could make me more likely to spend less for lunch than people in other areas. (In other words, I can blame the cheapness for which I am well-known on my upbringing. I'm glad to know it's not my fault.)
According to the Visa survey, Midwesterners went out for lunch just 1.7 times a week and spent only $8.90 per meal, while Westerners went out 1.8 times a week and spent an average of $10 on each meal.
Respondents in the Northeast ate out only 1.5 times each week, but they spent an average of $11.40 per meal. And Southerners led the country in weekly lunch spending, according to the Visa survey, paying $10 each time for an average of two weekly lunches out.
This is all interesting, but as I mentioned earlier, the real question is whether eating out for lunch is worth the money.
From my perspective, my Friday lunches and other noontime meetings with friends are definitely worth the small hit to our family budget. But sometimes I have to eat out for lunch because I just didn't have the time or inclination to prepare food for myself. On those days, I often find myself wishing I wouldn't have spent money on a basic sandwich or cheeseburger.
“Simple choices have a large impact on your wallet," Nat Sillin, Visa's head of U.S. Financial Education, said in the press release about the survey. "Don’t blow your budget on burgers and fries.
"Clipping a coupon, choosing a less expensive item or brown bagging it can save you hundreds over the course of a year. Eating lunch at a restaurant isn’t a bad thing, but it has to fit within your budget. Going into debt for a tuna sandwich isn’t worth it.”
Too true. Especially because tuna is nasty.
I'd be interested in your take on this topic. How often do you eat out for lunch during the workweek? How much do you spend? And do you think those lunches out are worth the money?
Send me an email or leave a comment with your reactions, and I'll share some of your thoughts in a future column.
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