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Why people won't brown-bag their lunch

Most people opt to eat out, rather than saving hundreds of dollars (and calories) by packing a sack lunch for work.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 8, 2014 2:16PM

This post comes from Krystal Steinmetz at partner site Money Talks News.

Sitting at your desk with leftover spaghetti and a salad may not sound like the most exciting way to spend your lunch break. Although it's cheaper and typically healthier than going out and buying lunch, it's still not a popular choice for most Americans.

Office worker © Digital Vision, Getty ImagesFilling your belly and saving money seems like a no-brainer, right? Brown-bagging lunch is common personal finance advice for how to save. So why doesn't everyone do it?

Huffington Post contributor Jillian Berman, who saves about $1,550 a year by regularly packing her lunch, wanted to find the answer to that question. She talked to Cornell University behavioral economist David Just, who studies why people choose to eat what they do.

Just told Berman that packing a lunch for work is a more rational choice.

Though it may be less logical, less healthy and more expensive, buying a lunch is the popular choice for most Americans.

Just said there are three reasons for that:

  • It's easy. Packing a lunch requires some forethought and time. You have to plan the meals, purchase the items and pack them. Buying a lunch is a quick and easy alternative.
  • It's social. The lunch hour is a great time to catch up with friends or co-workers outside of the office. Berman said it can be awkward when people ask her if she wants to go out to lunch. "Usually I respond by pretending to think it’s lame that I brought my own lunch, just so they don’t feel like I don’t like them. Sometimes I propose just walking with the person wherever they’re going, an offer that is typically declined," she said.
  • It's freedom. Potentially the most powerful motivating factor to eat out is a sense of freedom. You can eat wherever you want, and order whatever you like. That freedom can also contribute to unhealthy food choices. If you pack your lunch, you're locked into your healthy choices, Just said.
When I worked outside the home, I usually bought my lunch. It was easy, and I used the time to meet up with friends, something I didn't often get an opportunity to do in the evenings. Now that I work at home, I rarely eat lunch out, and my bank account is bigger as a result.

What about you? Do you eat out or pack your lunch for work?

More on Money Talks News:
Apr 8, 2014 6:09PM
There are ten of us (both men and women) that work together. 3 or 4 used to go out to eat every day. The rest of us refused to join them and finally convinced most of them to try bringing their own food once in a while... usually Wednesdays. It caught on but we all shunned the idea of making our own food 5 days a week so we came up with a nifty plan. Each person makes enough food for all ten and we only have to cook once every 2 weeks now. It could be Mac & cheese, wraps, stew ... you name it. And there are no "requests". The only rule is that you can't cook the same thing twice in a row when it's your turn. We have use of the company fridge, stove and microwave. We save a ton of money and it's exciting! A lot of recipes are shared between us.
Apr 8, 2014 5:02PM
i bring my lunch to work everyday. cheaper and more convient for me.i'm all about saving a few bucks and i have an easier time controling my weight by bringing healthier foods
Apr 8, 2014 5:58PM
Apr 8, 2014 11:16PM
Brown bag experience. After retiring at 65 a lot of us get bored playing golf, playing cards, hanging out and so forth. I, along with other seniors look for part time work for 2-3 days a week. Believe it or not banks hire part time tellers. Went to work for a national bank and worked with other senior tellers. The bank, as a company benefit provided coffee, tea, cocoa and real milk. Funny thing ALL the seniors 'brown bagged' and the youngsters always complained they were broke. The youngsters arrived with Starbucks latte's and pastry in the morning, went out to lunch in the afternoon and were meeting spouses or friends for dinner. Amazing how we older folks always have money and the youngsters are always broke.
Apr 8, 2014 5:25PM
I can buy lettuce, tomato, dressing, croutons , bacon bits and crackers and eat a whole week for less than what I'd spend for 1 Wendy's salad, not to mention brewing my own  pitcher of tea, another 10.00 a week
Apr 8, 2014 6:02PM
I eat out every day.  Otherwise I would be sitting in my chair at the computer for 10hrs a day (instead of 9).  Going out to eat gives me a mental and physical break.
Apr 8, 2014 5:49PM
I disagree with the "it's easier" excuse. To eat out for lunch you have to walk to your car (or someone else's), drive somewhere, wait in line for your food meaning you have to eat more quickly than if you brought your lunch (which is also unhealthy and leads to weight gain) and then drive back to work before you get yelled at by your boss for being late. 

Apr 8, 2014 5:48PM
I bring my lunch to work every day because fast food tastes like crap and isn't very healthy for you.  There is a park just down the street so if it's a nice day I eat lunch there.  If not, the lunchroom is just fine.  
In my kitchen I know that the food has been well prepared, no salt, and cooked just the way I like it.  After dinner is the perfect time to put together the next days lunch.  Plus, eating lunch out ranges from $5.00 to $10.00 per meal.  I save that money, plus the gas to get to the restaurant and am eating better and healthier than those that eat out every day.

Just saying.... 
Apr 8, 2014 5:15PM
Unless someone else is buying my lunch I brown bag it every day and save the money.  No one really cares what I eat:)
Apr 8, 2014 3:11PM

Ate out once a week and kept a stash of food in the company's commercial fridge for the other 4 days. Had 2 or 3 folks that I chatted with, several I ignored and a few that were lucky I didn't go "Dexter" on their *ss.

Retired now and life is good (and quiet).

Apr 8, 2014 5:26PM
i bring my lunch as long as i have time to pack.  it's actually a pretty popular option in my workplace.  i'd say it's 50-50.  i don't always eat with others whether i bring my lunch or not, though - i like to keep my personal and work lives separate.
Apr 9, 2014 7:33AM
I have an igloo cooler that sits in my car until break or lunch, I pack sandwiches and fruit or left overs, and bring my own drinks too. I spend break and lunch alone, because I use this time to rest, text my wife, and just relax for awhile. the people I work with think I don't fit in, but ask me if I care! I'm there to make money, not friends, not networking, not anything but a living!  I keep dry ice in the cooler for whatever needs to be cold, if it needs to be warm, I place it on the floor or dash in the sun at break, by lunch, its ready to eat, no micro wave, no stuff getting stolen from breakroom! and yes, I save quite a bit of money, and so does the wife, she carries her lunch&snacks too! I understand the going out to lunch though, I mean lets be honest here, the younger crowd thinks its cool to look like they making the big bux in front of their associates, so out to chilis or hooters we go!!! trust me, you grow out of it,and then the old igloo becomes your bff..with a whole lot less drama I might add!!!
Apr 8, 2014 5:21PM
I live close enough to work that I can go home on my lunch break. Been doing that since 1986 and I save money on food and gas that way. I rarely ever eat out at lunch unless I'm meeting a friend for lunch. 
Apr 9, 2014 8:51AM
If you are unwilling to do everything you can to save money, don't complain when you don't have any.
When you get married and have children and are looking at EVERY penny you pack your lunch. I did it for about 28 years in a row.
Apr 8, 2014 5:44PM
I rarely eat out at lunch. By the time you drive to a restaurant, order, take more than ten minutes to eat, and then drive back, it's been more than an hour. Besides, we have cable TV in our breakroom. I would much rather nuke a Hot Pocket and watch TV for an hour than fight traffic.
Apr 8, 2014 5:28PM
I brown bag my lunch almost all the time. My co-workers think I'm stuck up because I won't go out to eat lunch with them. The social issue is a large factor in why people eat out for lunch. Lunchig toghether is a good way to network.
Apr 8, 2014 6:03PM
Also it is nice to get away from the office.  The ringing phones, clients calling....   A restaurant is a break from the stress of the office.  Of you work 12 plus hours you need a change. But you pay for it in many ways.
Apr 8, 2014 5:27PM

My Guy takes most of the left over's (I have caught him a few times going to lunch with co-workers). I work in a small office if I take lunch no one can go with me because the other person has to watch the shop. I tend to run errands at lunch and play my lotto numbers and or prep dinner so it is easy to cook when I get off. I grab a piece of fruit or cheese and crackers from home ALWAYS, never waste money on eating out.

Apr 9, 2014 9:50AM
I had a muslim boss in the U.S. who wouldn't allow any pork products in the office (in the U.S.). A colleague had his sandwich thrown in the garbage by the boss' brother, who was also everyone's other boss. When we all went out to lunch, I had to send a salad with bacon bits back to the kitchen or get fired. I believe that 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do,' but these folks believe in imposing their culture on others in America, even on their lunch break! I didn't bring pork to Afghanistan, respecting their ways over there, and they shouldn't be allowed to impose their religious beliefs on their employees  in the U.S., during their lunch hour! Yeah, and what good is suing if everybody else is afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs (hard to prove then)? Tolerance only works one way for muslims...they see it as our weakness and use it against us.
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