Brown Bagging It

by Deborah Ng

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There is no shame in brown bagging it. Trust me, I know. I, too, used to buy my lunch everyday, but all that changed when I married. My husband and I both knew we wanted a house and a family right away, and so we decided to cut out all those extras we could do without in order to save money. The first thing to go was the practice of purchasing our meals five days a week.

I'll be the first to admit it. I like to eat, and New York City has some mighty fine restaurants. I looked forward to my noon-time dining experiences and loved trying out new places with friends from the office. To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to what I felt would be my new, boring routine. It would be worth it though, I assured myself, once we moved into our new house. I'm here to tell you I was pleasantly surprised.

My new husband is an amazing gourmet cook. When making dinner each night, he'd make a little extra so we could each take some to work the next day to microwave for lunch. No boring baloney and cheese sandwiches for us. I would bring in lasagna, barbecued chicken or pork-fried rice to eat for my midday meal. The same people who had teased me for eating out of Tupperware had envy on their faces and rumblings in their tummies as they smelled my wonderful repast coming from the employee microwave. People would hover around and ask for "just a little taste," but I wasn't sharing. Best of all, I wasn't spending either.

I used to spend anywhere from $25 to $50 each week purchasing my lunch. I never realized how much this can add up. Cutting this expense out of our lives saved us on average $200 to $400 each month. Who knew what a major expense buying lunch could be? In fact, this was probably our biggest money saver! Sure, we were spending more at the grocery store each week since we were making four portions at dinner instead of just two, but buying in bulk at the supermarket is many times cheaper than buying a sandwich at the corner store. In fact, a package of chicken costs much less than a corned beef sandwich at one of Manhattan's finer delicatessens. For those salad eaters out there, would you rather buy your fresh vegetables by the pound at your local green grocer or spend $3.50 per pound to buy limp lettuce and runny tomatoes at the salad bar down the street from your office?

Sure, there are some things you'll miss out on. For instance, the camaraderie you shared with your lunch buddies as you dined at the local restaurant or the pleasure of finding a new favorite restaurant, but there are some pleasures to be gained. The time spent waiting in line at the deli or to be served at the bistro can be better spent at the park reading a book or even getting some exercise as you go for a walk each afternoon. Personal shopping can be done at this time, freeing your nights and weekends for your loved ones and relaxing at home.

When planning your household budget, don't overlook this cost. Yes, buying lunch everyday certainly is convenient, and with the kids and a new house, it may even be the only socializing you get to do. But the costs add up. Try it for one week. You too may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

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