I saved over $1,500 this year brown-bagging my lunch, but the benefits go beyond money

Courtesy of PhotoGuyThe author’s husband packs her lunch full of fresh produce.
  • Kate Powers (not her real name) works at a manufacturing company in Connecticut and blogs as “Salty Old Lady.”
  • Throughout 2018, she brought her lunch to work four days a week to limit the stress of deciding last minute.
  • She ended up saving $US1,500 this year, but she still buys lunch on Fridays so she can socialise with coworkers.
  • She doesn’t see brown-bagging as “giving up” lunches out anymore – it’s freed up her lunch hour and strengthened her relationship with her husband.

I’m 44 years old and I live in Connecticut with my significant other, PhotoGuy. Connecticut is a fairly high-cost state, and we both have large families nearby, so we’re here for the long haul.

I work for a manufacturing company and he is an independent business owner. My salary is in the $US60,000+ range, so I’m not a super high earner. The household expenses are fairly evenly divided and we keep our finances separate, which may not work for everyone, but it suits us perfectly.

I realised during 2017 that I was naturally inclined to bring my lunch more days than not, and it was becoming stressful to make the last-minute decision every morning. So I decided to make it official and bring my lunch everyday. It quickly became an automatic routine, so no more stress. Fridays were the exception to the rule – I make the engineers socialise with me.

In the first half of 2018, I was managing to save approximately 27% to 34% of my take home pay per month.

Unfortunately, during the summer, both our dogs developed different health conditions that require expensive food, tons of medication, and relatively frequent visits to the vet. Those recurring expenses wiped out a lot of my savings momentum, but I’m still managing to put away 8% to 13% each month. One of the dogs is 14, and the other is 12, and obviously I hope to have them as long as they are comfortable and happy. But when they are no longer with us, those savings will skyrocket again.

How the Brown Bag Challenge saved me over $US1,500 in 2018

My savings calculations are based on the following:

  • Average lunch in my town costs $US7.25 per day.
  • Assumption of 4 days per week, and 50 weeks for the year. (Because vacation, right?)
  • Average distance from office is 1.5 miles each way, so 3 miles total.
  • IRS mileage rate for 2018 is $US0.545.
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Let’s not forget Bonus Mileage Friday! My coworkers LOVE to drive their cars (by the way, they all have car payments, probably because they’re eating out every day), so I usually manage to catch a free ride. I only drove two Fridays in all of 2018, despite occasionally volunteering.

So:

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Now that big number is really exciting, but I still needed to eat lunch Monday thru Thursday. PhotoGuy deserves all the credit here. He does all the cooking at home, and he is AMAZING. He can make a gourmet meal out of thin air.

Luckily we eat more than air. He gets fresh food and produce from a local market, so we know we are eating quality ingredients and healthy food. He plans ahead and makes extra because leftovers are one of my favourite things for lunch. Especially sandwiches made from leftovers! It doesn’t get any better than that. He also does all the food shopping, so I have todefer=”defer”to him to estimate the cost of each lunch meal.

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The bags – yes, they are actual brown paper bags – are free. My mum gets these great bags with handles from somewhere. They are very sturdy and she knows I like them, so she hoards them until we get together.

True savings: $US1,685.48 – $US330 = $US1,525.48(that’s a healthy mortgage payment!!)

I still eat out for lunch on Fridays

Why do I still eat out on Fridays? Sometimes its about more than the money. I’m naturally introverted, so having a routine really helps me get out into the world when I’d rather not.

There’s also a myriad of differences between myself and the guys at work. I’m female in a predominantly male industry. I’m not an engineer, and I sit in a different area. We don’t share many common interests like sports. So I recognised a long time ago that just being in the office with them every day would never be enough, I’d always be an “outsider.”

So the Friday lunches became my way of belonging to the group. It makes such a difference to exist in the workweek when you have a comfort level with your colleagues somewhat above “awkward.”

The benefits of brown-bagging go beyond saving money

I have some aggressive savings goals, although I consider myself to be far from hardcore frugal. I don’t wash and reuse tinfoil 8-10 times like my dad, but I am pretty disciplined. I invest in my IRA regularly, and I’ll be hitting the maximum contribution for the first time in 2019. My company does not offer a 401(k), but they do offer a nice incentive plan, so I use that for personal investing and my FML emergency stash. I also have a separate bank account where I keep about four months of living expenses.

Now that the year is wrapping up, I’ve been paying closer attention to the benefits of brown-bagging other than money:

  • Reclaimed time. Bringing lunch to the office four days per week means I don’t have to race out to “beat the rush” and hurry back to eat it. I can leisurely toast my leftovers-sandwich in the kitchen while the guys are out getting their food. This is usually when I check in on the stock market or the news before they return and the noisy chatter begins again.
  • Less waste. By the time the engineers return with their take-out, they have only half the lunch hour left, and they have tons of packaging to throw away. No thank you.
  • Relationship. PhotoGuy actually puts my lunch together for me each morning. It’s sitting there waiting every day as I rush out the door. Later at work, I feel like I have a little oasis from home when I dig in and enjoy it. I feel closer to him in the middle of a busy day, and I try to take a moment for gratitude that he thought of me too.

I am absolutely going to continue the brown bag habit forward into 2019. I don’t look at this exercise as “giving up” lunches out anymore. Now I appreciate it more as a composite of all the other benefits gained from completing this challenge. Sometimes it’s about more than the money.

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