Devil's Advocate 

Don’t Bring In Your Lunch

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

Brown Bag Lunch BoxThis Devil’s Advocate post attacks one of the of the hallmark money saving ideas for the working professional: bring in your own lunch. The money you save by not buying a $5 – $10 lunch every day amounts to over a thousand dollars a year in savings ($5 x 48 weeks x 5 days = $1200). It’s hardly bad advice and practically unassailable from a financial standpoint, but there are many reasons why you shouldn’t bring in your lunch every day and eat it at your desk.

Socialize & Network

Lunch is one of the best ways to efficiently spend time socializing with your co-workers without sacrificing any productivity. While you can certainly chat over your morning coffee or tea, nothing beats a solid half hour (or hour or more!) of spirited discussion over some sandwiches. Also, while you’re off-site eating lunch, you and your co-workers can drop your guard a little as there’s a smaller chance one of the big wigs is going to wander on by as you discuss the latest presidential debate or the recent bailout bill failure.

Socializing with your co-workers is crucial in today’s working environment. Your demeanor and how well you get along with other people is just as important as the skills you bring to the table. A really qualified worker isn’t going to get the job if he’s difficult to work with and get along with. By networking with your coworkers, you may find yourself being asked to join teams you otherwise wouldn’t have even heard of.

Get Up & Move Around

Sitting at your computer all day isn’t great for you. Have you ever heard of thrombophlebitis?

Thrombo means “clot.” Phlebitis is inflammation of a vein. Thrombophlebitis (throm-bo-fluh-BI-tis) occurs when a blood clot causes inflammation in one or more of your veins, typically in your legs. On rare occasions, thrombophlebitis (often shortened to phlebitis) can affect veins in your arms.

The affected vein may be near the surface of your skin (superficial thrombophlebitis) or deep within a muscle (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT). A clot in a deep vein increases your risk of serious health problems, including a dislodged clot traveling to your lungs and blocking an artery (pulmonary embolism)

In other words, it’s a blood clot in one of your veins that, when dislodged, could go to your heart and give you a heart attack. It happens when you have a prolonged period of inactivity, such as when you’re sitting on a long airplane flight, and experts advise that you take little walks on the plane so that you don’t develop these things in your legs.

You probably don’t sit on a plane much differently than you do at your desk, huh?

You Need A Break

One of the great lessons I learned at college was that it didn’t matter how much time you spent on a project, it was whether or not you could complete it by the deadline. In learning that lesson, I learned the corollary which was you shouldn’t put long continuous hours on a project because you had diminishing returns. The fifth straight hour you spend on a project is never going to be better than your first and your fifteenth hour is going to be far worse than your fifth. After a certain point, you get better returns by simply taking a break (or a nap) and restarting the clock.

Work is the same exact way. You will be far more effective if you take a mid-day break to chat with your friends than if you work straight through. Heck, you don’t even need to go out to lunch, just take a walk around the office (literally around the building, if you can, not just through the hallways) and mull over the problem in your head. Studies have shown that light physical activity stimulates the mind!

There you have it, three entirely legitimate reasons why bringing in your lunch is a horrible horrible idea. Plus, think of the economy, it needs your lunch money more than you do.

(Photo wwny)

{ 13 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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13 Responses to “Don’t Bring In Your Lunch”

  1. Your post should actually be entitled “Don’t Eat at Your Desk”, because that’s what each of your points focuses on. Not one gives a reason why you shouldn’t bring your lunch, just why you shouldn’t be a social hermit chained to your desk :).

    You can still bring your lunch and eat with a group- every office I’ve ever worked in has had a cafeteria or lunch room of some sort. Get your group together and go there to chat. Or, take your sandwich, go for a walk and find a park bench somewhere- voila! You’ve saved money and avoided thrombophlebitis!

    I try to bring my lunch most days, but will go out for lucnh about once a week simply because I enjoy it. That’s the best reason of all.

  2. JimmyDaGeek says:

    No one says that you can’t bring your lunch with you if your pals are going to a fast-food joint. And if you buy a small drink occasionally, the joint surely won’t mind.

  3. “Saving money” certainly can have paradoxical consequences. I’ve found that, if we look at our actions (monetary or not) as investments, decisions about our actions may be viewed in the perspective of “price versus value.”

    The economic term, “opportunity cost,” comes to mind here. By “saving” a few dollars, what opportunities do you forego? Do we stop to think that our time is also something that is to be “invested?”

    For example, if we “save” five dollars by eating a bag lunch sitting at our desk, what kind of opportunities do we forego by spending time alone?

    Quiet time has its own intrinsic value but “doing nothing” may also be viewed as a poor “investment” of our time…

    “Money often costs too much.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

  4. MoneyLint says:

    $5 x 48 weeks x 5 days = $1200

    Is the author of this devil’s advocate post employed in Mexico? Do they eat soup every day? I can’t remember the last time I ate lunch for $5…ok, maybe subway but whatever..

    Let’s try my average lunch costs:

    $8 x 48 weeks x 5 days = $1920
    $9 x 48 weeks x 5 days = $2160
    $10 x 48 weeks x 5 days = $2400

    I eat leftovers like a champ.

  5. Kim McGrigg says:

    This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal. My budget and my waistline can’t really handle eating out five days a week, but a day or two a week seems to fit the bill.

  6. Jim says:

    I have to disagree with this one. You can get up and move around during your lunch hour and bag a lunch. I bag my lunch and I spend a few minutes eating and then spend 20-30 minutes taking a walk.

    I’m sure there is value to socializing in the office, but I don’t think it can usually equate to the $1000 to $2000 you save by not buying lunch daily. You can also make an effort to socialize at worth other ways than going out to lunch.


  7. FrugalNYC says:

    Tying to to the comments above — you can bring your lunch and do the above. Working in midtown I wish there were more places to go out and sit — I’m a bit too far from Central Park for it to be feasible and the nearest between buildings tables are usually full – because I don’t enjoy sitting in our cramped kitchen to eat and chat. I feel more productive at my desk — but that’s a sign of today’s times. Also, getting home at 8:45 pm too tired to make dinner or tomorrow’s lunch

  8. Patrick says:

    I love bringing my lunch to work everyday. I usually just pack leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. The savings are huge for me as several of my coworkers go out to lunch everyday and it really adds up. Not being able to even make dinner or pack lunches is a really sad sign of today’s world. Work has become our entire life and sitting down and enjoying meals with our family’s has been left behind.

  9. Dinosaur says:

    MoneyLint (and everyone else) has done only half of a Cost/Benefit analysis… namely, the Benefit piece. The money that you save (say, $8 per day) is the benefit, but there is still a cost to packing your lunch, even if it’s just leftovers — after all, those are leftovers that you won’t be able to eat for dinner. Let’s assume the leftovers cost you $4 per day.

    Thus your actual net savings is only $4 per day, not $8… amounting to about $1000 per year.

  10. MoneyLint says:

    @Dinosaur – True. Everyone only pointed out half of the cost/benefit analysis but in the end it is still a net benefit to bring your lunch instead of eating out.

    Learning to cook easy simple meals that you can take to work for lunch is easy to do and can be done one day of the week and prepackaged for the rest of the week.

    I will venture to say that it will nearly always be cheaper to buy food from the grocery, cook it and take it to work instead of buying out every day…barring any expensive $12 frozen fillet mignons you may buy on a regular basis.

  11. Jim says:

    Dinosaur is right, that you shouldn’t overlook the cost of bagging a lunch.

    I bag a lunch with a sandwich, piece of fruit and bag of chips. It costs me about $2 or $2.5 per day and I use some more expensive ingredients.

    If I were to go for the cheaper options in our work cafe then I might be able to get a lunch at work for almost as cheap. For example a bowl of soup costs $1.5 at work.


  12. Kathy says:

    Is it really cheaper?

    No one ever counts total costs, they only count the price paid for groceries, usually for packing a sorry, unhealthy, bologna-and-chips type lunch.

    If I buy the Chinese buffet with hot tea for $6.35, could I REALLY duplicate that from home for less?

    Not only I would have to buy all those ingredients at the grocery store, I would have to take my time to fix all those dishes.
    I would have to pay the utility bills to cook the food.
    If I’m tired and forget to bring it (happens a lot), I’ll ending up going somewhere and buying a lunch anyway. In the meantime, the lunch I packed (and forgot) goes bad and gets wasted. The excess food that I can’t really eat (unless I eat the same thing over and over) gets thrown in the trash.
    Unless the price of you lunch goes over $10, maybe it’s not such a bad idea.
    Takes a lot of the stress out of your day.
    Put your cooking skills to work on the dinner meal, that way you’ll get a better variety of things to eat.

  13. cfiz says:

    I disagree with this article, because there is one MAJOR cost which it left out – and that is the cost to your health. How many food places are there around your workplace which sell healthy food? I’m guessing most sell unhealthy food. Eating an unhealthy lunch every weekday will cost you big time later in life in the form of a shorter life expectancy, a weak, frail, and incapable body which won’t let you do what you want to do, and higher medical bills.

    Now there may be some relatively healthy food places to eat out at like Subways, a local salad bar, etc. but in my experience the food at such places is very bland, and the number of such food places and variety of food available there is limited. Also, if your coworkers don’t agree with your decision to eat at a healthy place, the socializing idea goes out the window. If you eat the same bland food every day, you’re missing out on one of the greatest experiences in life, which is eating tasty, delicious food. Also, it takes a great amount of discipline to eat food you don’t like every day. Can you actually keep it up?

    It’s so much better to prepare food you like, because you can tailor it to your own tastes and use spices to add flavor which health food places almost never use (what do people have against spices? they’re amazing!). And you can also change things around if you get bored. You don’t have to make complicated dishes, it can can be something quick. Not restricting yourself to just American food definitely adds a lot of variety.

    It’s like getting your exercise by hiking with friends or learning a fun form of dance instead of going to the gym and hitting the treadmill. It’s effortless cause it’s actually pleasant rather than boring. And you’re much less likely to quit because of that.

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