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Don't let lunch eat a hole in your future

Nov 07, 2023

If you were to be hit with a major economic crisis right now, would you be prepared? The vast majority of Americans admit they’d be in deep trouble. The sad truth is that most Americans are admittedly just one paycheck away from economic collapse. They have no emergency savings. Nothing in the bank. Nada. Zilch!

Why aren’t people saving? They don’t believe they make enough to keep current on their debt, pay the rent, keep food on the table, gas in the car — and come out with anything left to save.

Take buying lunch. If you go out to eat every workday and spend, on average, $10 per meal, it comes out to $2,500 a year even with two weeks off for vacation. Making your own lunch will cost half of that, at the most, and much less should you get creative.

It’s easy to start with a $10 salad once a day and end up with $30,000 in credit card debt so fast it’ll make your head spin. In fact, it’s becoming common.

The solution is not hard to figure out. Taking your lunch to work or school could easily recover $2,500 per year for savings, if we consider at least 2.5 lunch-eating people per household. And every time you are strategic with using last night’s leftovers to make today’s lunch, you’ll be saving even more. (Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?)

The biggest hurdle for many of us may well be more psychological than practical. No one wants to look like a nerd at the office. And not everyone is intuitively creative with loading up a brown bag with something that will be close to appealing come lunchtime. It does require a bit of planning and then a solid commitment to the plan.

The secret is to make it a rigid behavior long enough until it becomes a habit — a habit that will increase your bottom line.


Need more proof that taking your lunch to work will pay off big? The Brown Bag Lunch Money Savings Calculator will do just that. Check it out. (It’s free.)1


While the traditional brown bag will hold the average sized lunch, it’s not protective, it’s not insulated and it’s a single-use proposition. To affirm your commitment to packing your lunch for the office or school, I recommend you invest a few bucks in a functional and also attractive lunchbox or bag.

I’ve had a black-and-white polka dot lunch bag for a while now, and I love it. It’s just the perfect size, made of neoprene (a great insulator), has a zipper top and cleans up like a dream. I wash it in the sink like I’d wash any food container and set it upside down on the counter to dry. This bag would make a great gift for any working gal or student. Seriously cute, too. Do an online search and I’ll bet you’ll find something equally practical.

Of all the lunch transports for my male readers and their sons, I would recommend the Hango insulated lunchbox cooler set in the black option. And it’s really great in pink, too. This set of two lunchboxes (one large and one a bit smaller) fold up for easy storage.

You can eat your lunch, fold up the bag and put it in your handbag, book bag or briefcase. Hand washable, too.


If you could use some motivation, instructions and fabulous ideas for making really great lunches for kids, students and adults, too, check out these resources:

“What Are You Doing for Lunch?” by Mona Meighan (Book Publishers Network, 2012; $12). This helpful book approaches the subject of from a nutritional viewpoint and is packed with ideas and specific instructions for packing healthy lunches that will appeal to all ages and specific tastes. Included with great nutritional information are cost comparisons and potential savings.

“Beating the Lunchbox Blues: Fresh Ideas for Lunches on the Go,” by J.M. Hirsch (Rachael Ray Books, 2013; $12). You’ll find some recipes in this book, but mostly you’re going to find fun ideas that can be combined in endless ways (depending on what you have on hand) to make a delicious lunch.

Presents tons of ideas for kids’ food and grown-up lunches, too. One section of the book has recipes for family dinners that can become the foundation for packed lunches the next day. What a great idea!

This was an update of a column originally published in 2015. Mary invites you to visit her at Every, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”

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