By Marianne Hayes
This post originally appeared on LearnVest as “Guess How Much Buying Lunch Costs You in a Year.”
How often do you grab lunch on the go?
Most of us make two midday restaurant runs during the workweek that average $11 per pop, according to a 2015 Visa lunch-spending survey. That’s about $22 every week. On lunch.
Depending on what your meal planning and spending habits are like, that amount may seem like a lot or a little. But regardless of where you stand on the weekly lunch spending scale, here's one thing to keep in mind: Brown-bagging it more often could be a simple way to help supercharge your savings — or at least free up pocket money for things that are more important (or fun) for you.
Not sure what we mean? Below are examples of how much you could save by scaling back on pricey lunches out, and what you could be doing with that money instead — just in time for National Pack Your Lunch Day.
If You Cut 1 Take-Out Lunch a Week ...
Using the $11 average lunch price, cutting out one restaurant lunch a week could save you $572 a year. That's a decent chunk of change that could go toward any number of basic financial goals.
For example, do you have less than a month of take-home pay in your emergency fund? Are you on the hook for any high-interest debt? Have you been putting off retirement savings? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then putting almost $600 toward any of the three just by packing one DIY lunch per week seems like a pretty good trade-off.
If you're happy with your progress on the above goals, then think of the $572 this way: Broken down, that's almost $50 a month, which could translate to three (or more!) nights at the movies, one relaxing mani-pedi or two hot yoga classes a month. Namaste.
If You Cut 2 Take-Out Lunches a Week ...
A little discipline can go a long way. If you cut eating out twice a week, that could free up $1,144 per year.
If your financial priorities are already locked and loaded, that thousand bucks-plus could take your travel fund to the next level: If you act fast, you could get a one-week, roundtrip April flight from New York to São Paulo, Cape Town or Seoul all under the $1,000 mark.* Last-minute spring vacay, anyone?
If You Cut 3 Take-Out Lunches a Week ...
Folks who dash out for corner sushi or artisanal pizza three or more times a week are spending above the average on their lunchtime fixes. The silver lining? They also have a bigger opportunity to save. Say you alternate cutting out two lunches one week and just one the next. After one year, you’ll have saved $858 — not too shabby, and enough for a souped up new smartphone.
But say you’re serious about supercharging your savings and cut three lunchtime excursions every week — you'd then save a whopping $1,716 per year. That breaks down to $143 per month.
Of course, that money could still be used on all the fun stuff we mentioned above, and then some. But if you redirected that cash every month from the lunch counter to a retirement or brokerage account that returns a hypothetical 6% per year (compounded annually), you’d have close to $10,000 after five years; more than $23,000 after 10 and more than $65,000 after 20.
Who knew a little brown bag could seriously pad your savings?
RELATED: The Beauty of the $20 Happy Splurge
*Travel prices are accurate as of March 2017 and come from Google Flights.
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