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! September 5, 2015

Welcome to the next great month! It might be fall for you, but it is still very hot here in South Florida. It’s great how technology can span the distances so well, and allow me to provide you with this great reading material.

Your job vs. your work: Retirement police, listen up! by Steve, A great piece about why people want to retire early, and it often involves much less golfing than you would imagine. If it were me, my hobby-turned-profession would be working on classic cars, or writing, or surfing, or any number of other cubicle-less activities.

5 Ways to Make Minimalism Work for Your Budget by Sam Lustgarten, A gentle reminder that minimalism and living inexpensively don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. You can let anything get out of control. Be aware of everything you do, even if you’re doing less of it.

Shadow Work and the Rise of Middle-Class Serfdom by Brett and Kate McKay, I’ve certainly noticed this in my daily life, I just never realized there was a name for it. One thing I have noticed, however, is that when conveniences are added to our lives, we rarely use them as opportunities to slow down. Rather, we use them as opportunities to cram more into our lives.

BONUS! What I’m listening to this week:

The latest from my favorite West Palm Beach band, Raggy Monster.

Photo: Spring 2010, surfing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I took a week long surf trip on the road with my truck and one of my friends from high school, covering every surf break from Virginia Beach to Jacksonville. 


There’s always something to do first. Something that needs to get done before I can get to the meat of what I really want to do. Should I find the perfect album to put on the stereo before I start painting the walls in my house? Should I buy a house so I have a comfortable place to write? I can’t write until I have that done. Maybe I should go get some lunch, and when I do that I’ll start that book I was planning on reading.

This has always been a big hurdle for me. Usually my daydreams aren’t about wild success or traveling to interesting places. They’re about finding a perfect grassy field, hanging my hammock from a tree, and laying down to read a book. I think that’s really what I want: a comfortable existence with no stress. Just time to lay around, maybe write, or go surf some, or sit in a bar and generally be lazy.

Laziness has its merits, too. I’m an engineer by trade, but I’m convinced that most good engineers, the ones who are really talented and can see the world for how it should be, are some of the laziest people ever. Engineering gives them an outlet through which a machine, process, or program can do work FOR them, instead of having to do it themselves. “If only I could get something to do this piece of work for me,” they say, “then I won’t have to do it myself.” The time they free up allows them to lay around in a grassy field or work on a more complicated project (or write!). (For this reason, if I’m ever a manager and a prospective employee tells me that one of their strengths is laziness they’ll be hired on the spot.)

What I’ve noticed, though, and probably shouldn’t be shocked by, is that I spend more time thinking about doing something, and what I can do to put off doing something, than it would take to simply do that thing. So I’m going to work on doing it, whatever it happens to be.

Or building a machine that can do it for me. But either way, I’m doing something. Whatever you want to do, just make sure you’re actually DOING that, and not just thinking about it.

Photo: From a drive across Florida last summer, from West Palm Beach to Tampa. Florida has wonderfully minimailstic terrain.