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Devil's advocate: Don't brown-bag your lunch

Socializing with co-workers worth more than what you'd save.

By Karen Datko Oct 10, 2009 10:49PM

This devil's advocate post comes from Jim Wang at partner blog Bargaineering.

This devil's advocate post attacks one of the hallmark money-saving ideas for the working professional: Bring in your own lunch. The money you save by not buying a $5 to $10 lunch every day amounts to more than $1,000 a year in savings ($5 x 48 weeks x five days = $1,200).

It's hardly bad advice and practically unassailable from a financial standpoint. But there are many reasons why you shouldn't bring in your lunch every day and eat it at your desk.

Socialize and network. Lunch is one of the best ways to efficiently spend time socializing with your co-workers without sacrificing productivity. While you can certainly chat over your morning coffee or tea, nothing beats a solid half hour (or hour or more) of spirited discussion over some sandwiches. Also, while you're off-site eating lunch, you and your co-workers can drop your guard a little as there's a smaller chance one of the bigwigs is going to wander on by as you discuss the latest bailout bill.

Socializing with co-workers is crucial in today's working environment. Your demeanor and how well you get along with other people are just as important as the skills you bring to the table. A really qualified worker isn't going to get the job if he's difficult to work with and get along with. By networking with co-workers, you may find yourself being asked to join teams you otherwise wouldn't have even heard of.

Get up and move around. Sitting at your computer all day isn't great for you. Have you ever heard of thrombophlebitis? It's a blood clot in one of your veins that, when dislodged, could go to your heart and give you a heart attack.

It happens when you have a prolonged period of inactivity, such as when you're sitting on a long airplane flight. Experts advise that you take little walks on the plane so that you don't develop these things in your legs.

You probably don't sit on a plane much differently than you do at your desk, huh?

You need a break. One of the great lessons I learned in college is that it doesn't matter how much time you spend on a project, it's whether or not you can complete it by the deadline. In learning that lesson, I learned the corollary, which is that you shouldn't put long continuous hours on a project because you get diminishing returns. The fifth straight hour you spend on a project is not going to be better than your first, and your 15th hour is going to be far worse than your fifth. After a certain point, you get better returns by simply taking a break (or a nap) and restarting the clock.

Work is the same way. You will be far more effective if you take a midday break to chat with your friends than if you work straight through. Heck, you don't even need to go out to lunch. Just take a walk around the office (literally around the building, if you can, not just through the hallways) and mull over the problem in your head. Studies have shown that light physical activity stimulates the mind.

There you have it: three entirely legitimate reasons why bringing in your lunch is a horrible idea. Plus, think of the economy. It needs your lunch money more than you do.

Related reading at Bargaineering:

Published Feb. 24, 2009


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