The budget that lets you buy lunch every day


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One of the most common pieces of personal finance advice is to save money by bringing lunch to work, rather than buying it.

The math is pretty straightforward: If you spend $10 on lunch every day, that’s $50 each week, $200 each month and a whopping $2,400 each year. Bringing last night’s leftovers, or buying the ingredients to make your own lunch for the week, will save you a big chunk of cash over time.

Yet millions of Americans still buy lunch every day, and it’s not necessarily a waste of money. Here’s when buying lunch is worth it, and how it can fit into a responsible budget.

Buying lunch is also buying time

In many cases, when you buy lunch, you’re also buying time, often in the form of a breather during a busy day.

“I’ve tried in the past to bring a sandwich from home instead of buying lunch,” says Sam Ross, a New York-based writer and educator. “But I usually ended up buying lunch anyway, just as an excuse to get out of the office.

If spending money on lunch saves you time at home or gives you a chance to get out of the office for a meal you enjoy, think of it as similar to spending money on a cleaning service to tidy your apartment or a TaskRabbit to organize your closet. As it turns out, these types of time-saving expenses may boost your mood more than you think.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to buy or order lunch to be happy. Anthony Reynolds, a video editor who works in New York, enjoys the process of making lunches to bring to work.

“When I cook at home, I get to experiment with new recipes,” he says.

Learn how to start a home cooking habit.

But if you’re the type who shudders at the thought of meal prep, go ahead and keep buying lunch, provided you’re also following these two rules:

Rule 1: Make sure you’re on track to hit your savings goals

Most financial experts recommend saving around 20% of your income. The easiest way to do that is to pay yourself first by automating a portion of every paycheck to go into savings.

Once you’re putting that money away, most other expenses are fair game. Whether you’re using the 50/30/20 rule, a budgeting spreadsheet, or an expense-tracking app, your money is yours to spend in whatever way you’d like. That includes lunch.

Rule 2: Don’t feel guilty

If you’re a frequent lunch buyer, chances are you’ve felt a little guilty at some point about not brown-bagging. But if you know you’re hitting your savings goals, don’t cancel out the psychological benefits of your time-saving purchase by feeling bad about that spending. Enjoy your lunchtime burrito and get the extra guac. 

This article originally appeared in Policygenius and was syndicated by 

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