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Lunch money: Saving can still be tasty

Published: Monday, Nov. 12 2012 6:17 p.m. MST

A survey shows people spend almost $2,000 a year buying lunches during the work week. (Andrea Rose, PhotoCo., via Flickr.com under a Creative Commons license) A survey shows people spend almost $2,000 a year buying lunches during the work week. (Andrea Rose, PhotoCo., via Flickr.com under a Creative Commons license)

Kerry K. Taylor worked for 15 years as a technical writer and liked to bring her lunch from home. This would make her weird according to a recent survey by Accounting Principals, a recruitment firm for accounting and finance professionals.

The survey found that two-thirds (66 percent) of the American workforce buys lunches instead of bringing food from home — spending an average of $37 a week or almost $2,000 a year.

Younger workers, 18 to 34, spend $44.78 a week on lunch, while workers 45 years old and older spend $31.80.

But Taylor was eating better and saving money — and she was helping others at work free themselves from the lunch money trap.

Taylor is now a stay-at-home frugal living blogger at SquawkFox.com and lives on an organic farm in Kelowna, Canada, with her husband and a new baby. She says eating out erodes savings.

Whitney Lucking (left) and McKenzie Brown eat a fast food lunch in 2009. A survey shows people spend almost $2,000 a year buying lunches during the work week. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) Whitney Lucking (left) and McKenzie Brown eat a fast food lunch in 2009. A survey shows people spend almost $2,000 a year buying lunches during the work week. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

Those small lunches add up over time, even though they don't feel expensive, and can quickly turn into thousands of dollars.

If you add the average amount spent on coffee ($1,000 a year) to lunch costs, in 40 years a person would have spent $120,000, the survey says.

So why do people keep such an expensive food habit? Taylor says there are two main reasons.

"There is nothing tasty they can bring from home other than a flat sandwich," she says. "And they go out to lunch to socialize and get out of the office."

Tasty lunches

Taylor says her husband works in an office and prefers hot meals for lunch. "Sandwiches depress him," Taylor says.

Rather than go out for those hot lunches, Taylor says a little planning can make the difference.

So they always make a little bit more for dinner. "Make too much stew or roast beef and you have something nice to eat as a hot meal," Taylor says.

Offices are often equipped with kitchenettes with microwaves, refrigerators and toaster ovens. Break rooms have tables.

"I can't imagine bringing money every day for lunch," Taylor says.

Socializing

Taylor says to encourage your lunch buddies to try something other than a restaurant.

"Especially in summer," she says, "you can go for a walk in the park. That way you can get exercise and eat at a park bench. You still get to socialize."

Sara Tetreault, a blogger at gogingham.com on "stylishly frugal living," says to take it easy if you are transitioning from buying lunch every day.

"Find a new routine," she says. "Go one day a week instead of every day. Shift what day that is in a week. Bring lunch more often. If you start with small baby steps, success is more likely."

Tetreault also says it is healthier to pack your own lunches.

"The long-term health care costs are huge when it comes to eating healthier food that you've prepared as opposed to buying something at a restaurant," she says.

"They cook with a lot of oil, butter and sodium, and there is a lot of stuff in their food that you don't necessarily know about," Tetreault says. "When you cook at home you know what you are eating and can choose what goes into your meals."

Tetreault also recommends preparing your lunch the day before while making your evening meal. "After your dinner, when cleaning up the kitchen, just pull the lunch together then," she says. "Don't do it in the morning when you are scrambling to go because it will be easier to say to yourself, 'I don't have a lunch; I'll just buy one.'"

But Tetreault and Taylor don't see anything wrong with going out to lunch occasionally. Tetreault, however, recommends splitting lunch with someone.

"If you split what is considered a whole serving, you won't have that overly stuffed feeling," she says. "Serving sizes are so big, yet most people eat it all. And if you split, you save half the costs and save on how you feel afterward."

Skipping lunch

A recent poll by Right Management of 1,023 North American workers found that 39 percent of employees say they eat lunch at their desk.

At least they are eating something. The survey also found 28 percent seldom take any break at all. Only 19 percent say they almost always take a traditional lunch break.

But if people do eat lunch, Taylor says they can still enjoy it without buying it from a restaurant or food cart.

"Its really simple," she says. "Bring something delicious."

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