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Just Brown Bag It

Why bringing, not buying, your lunch is the best money-saving move

We all like a little break -- especially in the morning as we’re rushing around the house trying to get ready for work and pushing kids out the door for school.

And while there might be ways to streamline the morning routine (like making sure the kids’ bags are packed before the school bus rolls down the street), leaving the bagged lunch at home shouldn’t be one of them.

Cutting back on gourmet sandwiches -- or even a burger and fries at a fast food joint -- can save you a lot of money over the course of a year.

A survey by Visa found that Americans go out to eat for lunch about twice a week, spending $10 per outing and totaling nearly $950 a year. What’s more, the survey found that people making less than $25,000 per year spent more than respondents with higher incomes -- $11.70 compared to the average $10.

Meanwhile, restaurant prices are on the rise. The Nation’s Restaurant News reported that restaurants have increased their menu prices by nearly 3 percent on average. Just consider Subway’s former $5 footlong campaign. Those same sandwiches are now $6. McDonald’s 2 for $2 deal has been replaced with McPick menus where items range from 2 for $2.50 to even 2 for $5.

And, if you need another reason to brown bag it, as it has become more expensive to eat out, the price for food eaten at home has actually dropped by .05 percent, according to the restaurant trade publication.

There’s nothing wrong with eating out, of course, but if you’re on a tight budget or are saving money to pay back debt or fund a dream trip, it’s time to start making your own turkey wraps.

Just how much are you spending on eating out? CESI’s Brown Bag Savings Calculator can help you land on the total amount.

If more lunches from home are in your future, here are four tips to get your started:

1. Pack leftovers: As you clear away the dinner dishes, pack up leftovers so they are ready to just pop in the lunchbox the next morning. You’ll be saving money by not going out and not throwing away leftovers that might have gotten pushed to the back of the refrigerator.

2. Plan lunches: Just like you should be planning your nightly dinners, keep lunches in mind as you go about your weekly grocery shopping. Make sure your pantry is stocked with staples such as bread, peanut butter, canned soup and tuna, so you always have something on hand.

3. Make produce ready to pack: Chop up carrots, celery and peppers and pre-wash fruits and other vegetables, so they are ready to pack into the lunchbox each morning. More preparation the night before or on weekends means less work during busy mornings.

4. Take a walk: If you’re missing the camaraderie of eating out with colleagues, offer to walk them to the sandwich shop so they can pick up their own lunch. Then,  eat together at a local park or in the break room.

Better yet, encourage them to pack their own lunch, too. Fewer restaurant meals are good for everybody’s budget -- and waistline.

The team at CESI is committed to helping you make wise financial decisions and to helping you understand how to get out, and stay out of debt.  For a free debt analysis, contact us and find out how we can help.

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