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Want $2,500 to Boost Your IRA? Save Money on Lunch

I’m a huge advocate for brown bagging. By bringing my own food to the office each day, I definitely spend less money, I feel better, and I find that it’s more convenient.

Articles by Betterment Editors

By the Editorial Staff
Betterment Resource Center  |  Published: January 31, 2013

If you spend $3.50 on brown bag lunches instead of $13 on a store-bought lunch everyday, that’s an extra $2,470 to invest in your IRA every year.

The exact figure will differ depending on what you eat and where you live, but Time MoneyLand estimates you can save approximately $2,500 a year – just by bringing your own lunch to work. It makes maxing out your IRA seem a little more achievable.

Home made lunch definitely has its downsides – most people give up after the first soggy tomato sandwich or leather handbag full of salad dressing saga – but it’s actually pretty simple. I’m such a fan; I created a tumblr dedicated to my desk lunches called Dining At My Desk.

For me, the main motivation is in knowing exactly what’s in the food I eat (read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and you’ll probably lose your appetite for convenience food); and of course the extra dollars I have at the end of the week.

Pumpkin mash and roast vegetables

Reasons To Buy Lunch Everyday – Debunked!

You’ve probably considered bringing your own lunch at some point, but relegated it to the too-hard basket. What was your reason?

  • It’s more convenient to buy each day: What’s convenient about crowded stores, long lines, and having to make a trip out of the office right when you’re in the middle of something important? If you do the necessary preparation (see below), it’s actually easier in the long run.
  • You don’t actually save money: If you buy a week’s worth of ingredients, let them rot in the fridge and don’t use up everything you bought; you won’t be able to appreciate the cost benefits. You will probably front up some additional cash at the start when you make (thoughtful) purchases, then it’s all about being creative in using up every single ingredient you have. Mona Meighan, author of What Are You Doing for Lunch, estimates that brown bagging cuts costs by 80% for the average person.
  • You’re too busy: Or too lazy? At some point in a week, you should have a moment to pop to the shops – if you are buying lunch you are going somewhere to buy food everyday so use that time more productively. It takes 5 minutes to make a quick list and no more than 30 minutes (if that) to buy what you need.
  • You can get healthy options elsewhere: True. There are some healthy fast food options available, but when it comes the roaring hunger of 1pm, chances are you’ll make the wrong choice. A famous study shows that people tend to plan a healthy snack for consumption in a week’s time, but they choose an unhealthy one to eat now (much like our decisions related to money). Bringing your lunch everyday is what behaviorists would call a “forcing mechanism”. It keeps you on track to the healthy, low cost plan your “better” self came up with.

How to Dine At Your Desk

Do your preparation: There are staples you will use in the majority of meals. For me it’s olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon, honey, and soy sauce. I buy fresh produce and dairy items (cheese, yogurt) one to three days ahead of time and I keep a loaf of bread (real breadsee why here) in the freezer most of the time. I come up with ideas that make use of the ingredients I already have – like using red peppers on a toasted bagel then in a salad the next day.

Make sure you have a sharp knife, a cutting board or plate, and a storage container – that’s it!

Zero effort

If I know I have a busy week ahead and won’t have time to cook at home or spend much time on my lunch in the office, I keep it simple. Avocado on toast (with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon) is a favorite. So is a bowl of vegetables in the microwave with a lemon, honey dressing.

Avocado on Toast
Edamame, peppers, and mushrooms with tomatoes, scallions, and nuts
Sesame bagel with melted mozzarella, red peppers, and parsley

Some effort

These dishes look and taste great, but the only effort required is chopping your fresh produce and combining everything on a plate or in a bowl. There is some prep required, like hard-boiling eggs for a salad, baking a potato, or cooking a cup of rice the night before. But the rest you can assemble just before you eat it.

Brown rice with vegetables, cheese, lemon, and crème fraiche
Ham salad with lemon dressing
Salad of egg and peppers

When you have more time:

Or more correctly, when you are home the night before to cook dinner. This is really as simple as making a little extra. Dishes like lasagna and frittata are great options because they are easily transported and still taste great the next day.

Frittata & Salad
Pumpkin lasagne
Curried vegetable soup and sandwich

Make The Most of Your Moulah

Based on this calculator, if you live in New York, spend $3.50 on brown bag lunches instead of $13 on a store-bought lunch everyday, that’s an extra $2,470 to invest in your IRA every year. If you continue investing at 8% return for 10 years, you’ll end up with a neat $37,656.39 ($24,700 invested, $12,956 earned).

Are you a fan of bringing your own lunch?

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