Why It Pays to Be Healthy: The Cost of a $5 Lunch

This year, my husband and I vowed to make eating well a priority. To us, this meant eating more whole foods, fruits, vegetables, meats…pretty much anything that came in its natural form and not from a box with ingredients we couldn’t pronounce.

On any given week, I would say about 90% of my meals are homemade. It’s not that I’m some wonder woman with nothing to do; I work full-time, have side jobs, and am in graduate school full-time. But I made eating well—and affordably—a priority of mine.

I usually only cook a few times a week and make enough to last me several meals—an example of this being Paleo Spaghetti. I make a batch of spaghetti sauce, using organic ground beef, onions, mushrooms, carrots, garlic, and tomatoes, and then heat up some spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles, and top with some freshly grated parmesan cheese. This recipe took me about 20 minutes of actual prep time and lasted me seven meals, and I took it for lunch to work four days in a row (it’s that good!).  The total cost to make the recipe was about $20, or about $3 a meal.

The reason I bring this up is because I am the only one in my office who brings in my lunch pretty much every day. I can usually count on one hand, two at most, how many times I go out to lunch at work in a year. I am just not a big fan of going out to lunch. I know that what I cook at home is often more healthy for me, and a lot less expensive as well.

If I’m going to go out to eat, I want it to be more for an entertainment experience with friends or my husband rather than simply to get nourishment. So for the most part, we save our dining out experiences for the weekend.

I have a co-worker who goes out to lunch every day. I’ve never seen her bring in a meal. I’ll be optimistic and say that a work lunch at a quick spot will run about $5. At five days a week, this will cost $25. At 50 weeks a year (I’m subtracting two weeks from the year for vacation purposes), my co-worker spends $1250 on going out to lunch. And this is an optimistic estimate.

What could you do with an extra $1250 a year? Could you perhaps pay off the last of your debt? Could you save up for a house down payment? Could you afford a really fancy weekend getaway? Or could you finally max out your retirement accounts?

We often like to focus on the big picture payments that will lead us to financial freedom and we often think that if we just had a little more money, we would finally feel financially secure. Perhaps it’s not always about the big picture and maybe we really need to think about how much we’re spending on the small stuff instead.