Financial Feud: Bagged lunch vs. Lunch out

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In Dispute:

$800 a year

The Argument:

Matthew

I eat lunch out every day, but my wife says it's a waste of money. She doesn’t understand why I can’t just bring lunch to work. I say the $7 I spend eating out isn't much more than the $3 it costs her to put together a bagged lunch -- it amounts to about $800 more a year. Plus, I generally eat out with coworkers and a lot of important decisions get made over lunch. AM I RIGHT?

Expert Opinion:

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Matthew

The Argument:

Frankly, I like eating lunch out every day. It's relaxing, and, as I said before, I usually eat with co-workers. A lot of important discussions take place during that period. If I didn't go out to lunch with these people, I'd likely have to meet with them more often during the day for the same effect. So bagging a lunch would effectively rob me of five boring meetings worth of time per week.

Besides, I pay an average of $7 a day. I estimate her bag lunches (yogurt, apple and a sandwich or salad) cost around $3 and take her at least 10 minutes to prepare. This works out to about $800 more and 40 hours of less prep per year invested in my lunch versus hers.

She says regardless of what I pay for them, eating out every day is wasteful. Plus, she says my co-workers and I have "too many meetings" anyway.

You both have good points.  Your wife is right that eating out is a much more expensive way to (merely) eat lunch than to bring a bagged lunch from home.  But you are right in pointing out that you view eating lunch out as more than a way to “eat.” You use it as a form of social networking with your colleagues, and I suspect the quality of that interaction is at least slightly different from the kind you have over official meetings at the office.

So, I would suggest a compromise. Consider the extra cost of eating out over bringing your lunch as part of your “extracurricular” expenses and reduce the rest of your “fun” budget accordingly.  For example, if you’re spending $7 extra a day on lunch out, you should probably not do happy hour every day with your colleagues (or at least do one fewer drink than otherwise!). Or, you should take the $35 extra per work week and take it out of your (personal) recreational expenses for the weekend.  But don’t take it out on your wife by effectively taking it out of your shared “fun” money.

About the author

Diane Lim is a DC-area economist dedicated to wise, fiscally-responsible and socially-valuable public policies, and a mom dedicated to four great kids.

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