If You Want to Retire, STOP Spending Money on Fancy Lunches and Invest

This is a follow-up to My Dad Spends $8,000 Per Year At Work. The majority of my coworkers go out and purchase “fancy lunches” every day. Sometimes they’ll spend a few bucks, maybe $6 for a sandwich. Most of the time, they’ll spend closer to $10 or $15 for an entree and soda. Rarely, they get super fancy and will go to a sit down restaurant and spend $30. They do this 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. These same coworkers will complain that they never have enough money. Their student loan payments are too high, the rent is expensive, and car payments are the worst. “It’s expensive to live. You work for years, and what do you have to show for it at the end?” Don’t make their mistakes

Fancy Lunches Add Up

For my regular readers, you know that the little things add up. All of those small expenses: a soda here, a candy bar there, become a very large amount of money. Worse, its easy to forget that you even spent money on this. Food is no different. I asked one of my coworkers how much he spends on food a month. He said not much, maybe $300 a month. $300 a month, are you serious? He easily spends $10 a day, 20 days a week. His lunches, or 1/3 of all his food, costs more than $200, there’s no way he only spends $300 a month total. My guess for him is closer to $600.

The other problem with these expenses, is they don’t always give us much happiness. Sure, food tastes good. Its really nice when somebody else cooks it for you too. Bonus points for if somebody hand delivers it to your table. But it seriously impacts your budget to the tune of hundreds of dollars a month. However, these costs are really amplified when you track them over the course of your career.

The True Cost of Fancy Lunches

Lets say that I buy a fancy lunch for $15 a day, every day that I work. This is what many of my coworkers do. I also work 260 days a year. Every year, I will spend $3,900 per year. Over the course of a 40-year career, I will spend $156,000. But what if I invested this amount? If I invest this in a Roth IRA for 40 years, receiving a 5% real return, I will have amassed $470,000. If I instead got a 7% real return (the average return of the stock market over the past century), I will have amassed about $780,000. And, if I get an 8% return (do-able if you invest heavily in the Russell 2000 index, and have nerves of steel), then you will have amassed more than $1 million.

That is seriously a lot of money. For some people, that’s enough money to retire. Its more than the majority of the people in the US have saved in general. If you receive any type of social security, those distributions plus withdrawing from your new, shiny retirement account will lead to an extremely comfortable retirement. Your retirement budget would be $5,000+ a month which is very cushy.

This isn’t just a problem with fancy lunches. Lets say that you go out to the bars every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. When closing time comes around, you open up your Uber app and get a ride home. Each ride costs you $20 for a grand total of $60 per week. Its not that much, right? Its better to have a sober driver get you home safely. However, can you take the metro, or can you carpool? Any segment of your budget that does not provide you with happiness should be evaluated. If you can trim your budget by about $400 a month, you can now comfortably retire as long as you invest.

Decide Whats Most Important

So why doesn’t everyone stop buying fancy lunches and invest in their Roth IRA? Many people don’t know the math behind it. How many people have actually done the calculation to determine the end value of an investment based on increased savings from tightening their budgets?  In addition, I bet a lot of people don’t actually realize how much money they are spending on their lunches. They just swipe their card and forget about the cost. Instead, they enjoy their fried chicken sandwich with french fries and a coke.

The thing is, if you really care about eating out for lunch, that’s perfectly fine. If you truly get enjoyment out of eating fancy lunches, or it helps your mental state, or you just need a break from your job, then go for it. I’m not advocating that you need to stop eating out immediately. Rather, if you want to save more for retirement, and you are looking for ways to trim your budget, eliminating your workday lunches is a spectacular way to do it.

You only live once. You deserve to enjoy the moment and your youth. But what if you could enjoy the moment and save for your future? Is limiting yourself to eating out once a week really that terrible? If it is, then keep eating out. If it isn’t, then consider bringing your own lunch and investing everything that you’ll save. You’ll be sitting on a beach enjoying a Margarita while everyone who wanted their fried chicken sandwiches are still working at 70. Sometimes, delaying gratification is the right way to go.

How much $$ do you spend on lunch, or other expenses that you don’t care about? Would you consider trying to trim them and redirect them to investments? Let me know in the comments!

Good Hunting,

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19 Responses

  1. Troubadour says:

    I’ve always packed my own lunch. Like you said, you save a ton of money. Plus, I’m on a low carb healthy eating diet, so I usually pack a salad. When you eat out the food either has too much salt, sugar, or carbs. Definitely not good for your body in the long run.

    • David says:

      Its neither good for your body nor your wallet. A lot of people “feel good” when they go out to eat, for whatever reason. It could be the variety, escaping the office, or simply being waited on. Whatever the reason, if you can stay as happy while bringing in your own food, your wallet (and future) will thank you.

  2. Yes! I take a granola bar or homemade smoothie for breakfast in the car, and either pack leftovers or one of those (fancy to me) bagged chopped salads that include dressing and toppings for lunch. The best weeks though are when we have a meal catered in and I can eat from those leftovers for a few days… last week it was Mexican from a retirement party – yum!!

  3. I’m impressed that you’ve taken the time to explore how much going out to lunch every day can add up. Most people, particularly at your age, wouldn’t consider the overall impact of this expense. After all, going out to eat and drink with your friends is fun.

    I fluctuate between being good and ok in regards to lunch. Some weeks I’m really good and may only go out once. However, we have a cafeteria at work and sometimes I’ll take the easy way out and buy lunch in the cafeteria. That said, it’s not as bad as going out – typically $5 to $6 instead of around $9 when I go out. And getting a soda is way overpriced, not to mention not good for you.

    Keep up the good work.

    • David says:


      Most people at any age have trouble understanding the long-term effects of their behavior. Honestly, the most important thing is to find balance. If you really enjoy eating out, then do it, just know there’s a trade-off. Even $5 a day isn’t that bad compared to what it could be: $10-20 depending where you go.

  4. I made a similar calculation a few months ago about coffee at work. I was getting two coffees a day (poor quality ones too-my work coffee is terrible). That’s about $4 per day, or $20 per week. Almost $100 a month on coffee! On BAD coffee! So I picked up a French press for $20 at Target, brought a coffee cup to work, and now freshly grind my Costco/BJ’s coffee beans before heading into work. I figured that in five years I’ll have saved enough from just this one thing to take my family on a fabulous vacation. I’d much rather have that than bad coffee.

    • David says:

      Finding those small optimizations really pays off! You figured out how to save about $1,200 per year AND drink better coffee, where your investment’s payoff is a very nice family vacation. I say that’s 3 victories. Very well done!

  5. Very good points David! I usually eat lunch at home as I live 5 min from my office, but your analogy with the $15 a day lunch leading to such an amount if invested makes it clear about why making good choices should be a top priority!

    • David says:

      Thanks! I’m transitioning to a WFH position, so hopefully I can eat lunch from home 2-3 days a week! If you can eliminate daily spending that doesn’t provide much, you can save quite a bit for more important things. Doesn’t even have to be for retirement. You can save $15 a day in lunch for 2 years and buy a Miata for the weekends

  6. David,

    We have been talking about this for a while on our website! This is one of the easiest ways to incresae your savings rate. Pack a lunch at $3-$4 versus buying a lunch daily for $9. It just makes economic sense to me and lets be honest, it is probably much healthier. What’s hard is that we work in public accounting, so our co-workers know the numbers and the impact it has and what could be. But they choose to ignore it in favor of that sandwich haha Man you struck a chord with me in this article!


    • David says:

      I”m glad that this resonated with you!

      I always knew that small amounts invested everyday would be worth a lot given enough time, but seriously, $1 million for about $17-18 a day for 40 years just isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things. My co-workers know the math too; however, they really enjoy getting out of the office for an hour and eating something tasty. Personally, I enjoy eating cheap, tasty food that I cook, and then leaving work an hour early because I work through my lunch break. To each their own.

  7. Friendly Russian says:

    I remember the time when my wife and I sat and did a simple calculation for how much money we spend on lunches.

    $25 per day for both of us * 24 working days * 12 months = $7,200

    SAY WHAT?!!!! More than a fully loaded Roth IRA and almost a half loaded second one. I don’t care about socializing at work, I can take my food and be social, especially when we talk about almost $10K a year.

    It’s like getting a raise

    • David says:

      $25 per day adds up very quickly! $7,200 per year is about $1.6 million over 42 years. Finding this extra money in your budget and saving it will have a massive impact on your retirement income

  8. Financial Muse says:

    I have noticed this expense creeper myself when I really went though my expenses with a fine tooth comb last year. My lunches at work ended up adding up to $2k and I’ve vowed to put a stop to it in 2017. The small expenses truly sneak up on you and if you’re not careful, can easily be missed!

    • David says:

      Same, my old coworkers used to spend $15-20 per day, every day for lunch. For some people it is absolutely worth the satisfaction. Plus most of them don’t want to retire early. However, if you do want to retire early AND identify an area where you can save a few thousand a year, it’s a no brainer.

      I’m not saying don’t eat our cherished avocado toast! Just don’t eat $15 avocado toast every day for decades. It costs a lot of money, and is fairly fattening.

  9. Miss Balance says:

    I agree that eating out can become costly and is usually not the healthiest option, however here it is very common to have work lunches and you can find out a lot of insider info at an informal lunch then you would in the office or in a formal meeting. For this reason I build $10-$15 per week into my budget for these ‘networking/relationship building’ lunches.

    I’m ok with this expense as it has a purpose and has led to promotions that are worth much more than the $ spent.

    Mindless and lazy spending due to being ill prepared is something different altogether and not something I advocate 🙂

    • David says:

      Hey Miss Balance,

      I definitely agree with you! I’ve gained a significant amount of insight and respect from going out to lunch with my coworkers. In my situation, I am forced to eat out for lunch every day. Lunch costs an average of $12 per day. Parking is an additional $10 per day. By working 22 days per month, I’m spending an extra $440 per month for the privilege of going to work. That represents 33% of my allocated spending per month, which is unacceptable. Luckily I’m transitioning to 100% WFH in September!

  1. June 12, 2017

    […] in taxes, and contribute the rest to his Roth IRA. He continues doing this for a few decades until he has $1 million. When Jim retires, he is able to withdraw all of this money tax […]

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