There Is No Free Lunch

I recently started doing one of the most basic things anyone can do to cut expenses: bringing my lunch to the office. It seems really simple, but for some reason I resisted this for a long time before finally realizing the impact that eating out every day was having on my financial health.

My first “real” job was as an engineering intern. Most of the engineers in the office would go out every day for lunch as a way to escape the office, and I started developing this sentiment about lunch as well. Most of us didn’t become engineers so we could sit in cubicles all day, so when 11:30 rolled around, it was time to hit the road and unwind a little. And spend money on food. It wasn’t exactly “the dream” but it was at least a little escape.

I didn’t think much of the money issue at the time, either. It was nice to be able to afford food that wasn’t in a can, as I was getting paid pretty well (for a college student). And I didn’t like being in the office any more than any of the other engineers so I didn’t have a second thought about it.

My first job out of college was in the middle of nowhere, and I brought my lunch to the office because there was literally nowhere else to eat. The nearest restaurant was a Taco Bell 20 minutes away, and my lunch was only 30 minutes long so this wasn’t exactly feasible from a math perspective. Unfortunately, I didn’t put together how much money I was saving by bringing my lunch to work every day.

Fast forward to now: I work in a more developed area, and it’s possible for me to eat out for lunch every day. And for a few years, I did. Let’s crunch some numbers:

$10/day for four years adds up to around $8,000. I’ve been spending about $8/week in lunch since I decided to bring it in to the office instead, which should save me around $7,000 over the same time frame.

I think another reason it’s so tempting to spend money every day on lunch is that it’s not a lot of money all at once. If it were, I would have thought twice about my habit a little earlier. Luckily I’m still in my 20s, with some time left to make up for past mistakes.

Even so, I still treat lunch as a “sacred” time where work doesn’t get done (or even get talked about, for the most part). But I realize now that I don’t have to spend money in order to take a break from the hustle and bustle of office life.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

Saturday Links! July 11, 2015

I’m rich Baby! (And follow your Heart) by Mr. 1500, 1500days.com. How much money do you really need to be happy? What makes people rich? It’s certainly not a $700,000 kitchen remodel. At least, not in my experience. More stuff doesn’t necessarily equal more happiness.

The Health Benefits Of Early Retirement Are Priceless by Financial Samurai. I linked to a few articles last week about how great and non-boring it would be to retire early, and also it might be easy to just let yourself do nothing but watch TV all day if you retire early without anything to do. But consider that your job actually might be the thing that kills you, not the fact that you got out of it early.

A New Financial Reality at pewtrusts.org. A new study finds that “three-quarters of Gen Xers … have higher family incomes than their parents did at the same ages, but only a third have higher wealth.” Common explanations for this is the disproportionate increase in property values and education expenses, but I bet that spending habits play a huge part of this too.

BONUS! What I’m listening to this week:

I haven’t stopped listening to this album since it came out last year. Fantastic!

Photo: Last week, I showed you a picture of the pineapple I grew in my yard. Did I mention that I also have a grove of banana trees that make these cute little bananas? The only downside is that once the tree produces fruit, the tree dies and you have to cut it down. But these trees grow like weeds to it’s really not too bad!

Saturday Links! July 4, 2015

Mortgage as a Forced Savings Account to Build Wealth by Financial Samurai. An interesting way to think about your mortgage is as a savings account that you absolutely have to put money into. An upside to buying a house is that your asset will probably appreciate as you’re saving, but the downside is that your savings account probably isn’t very liquid.

What Would Happen If We All Stopped Paying Our Student Loans, Together? by Jennifer Schaffer, Vice. An interesting take on the student debt problem wich involves forming what looks like a “debt union”. Really, it’s about using a “debt strike” as a tool to promote social change, because there is definitely a problem that no one seems willing to address on their own.

Yo ho, yo ho, an FI life for me! by Mr. 1500, 1500days.com. “FI” stands for “Financially Independent” in case you were wondering; Mr. 1500 is on a 1500-day mission to build a portfolio large enough to retire on. He touches on one of my pet peeves about retiring early: people asking you if you’ll just be bored once you don’t have to work anymore. ABSOLUTELY NOT. There’s so much to do! I think people that are afraid of this are more likely to have this happen to them.

BONUS! What I’m listening to this week:

The late-90s Britpop resurgence had some gems in it, and not all of them were Oasis.

Photo: I grew this pineapple in my back yard. It’s huge! It’s almost like I’m living in Hawaii!

New Free Time

An inevitable, but sometimes saddening, fact of life is that any time we free up a resource in our lives, we often fill that void with something else. If we save some cash, we start looking for ways to spend that cash. If we free up some time, we start looking for something else to do.

Would it be so bad if we saved our newfound money and time? If we saved that dollar for a house or for retirement? If we saved that hour to bike to the beach or lay in a hammock?

We don’t have to stress ourselves about always being busy, or always spending money. We can choose to relax and de-stress, rather than fret over what should be considered newfound freedom.

Remember to take time for yourself. More isn’t necessarily better.

Photo: Lake Jocassee in South Carolina. One of my favorite places in the world to go for a breath of fresh air.