Want to save more for retirement? Pack a lunch

November 14, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


When I graduated from law school and finally got a job, I decided that I would never pack a lunch again. My reward for scrimping for so many years would be tasty, varied lunches prepared by somebody else instead of a squishy sandwich and a tired apple.

But it didn’t take long for me to realize that when I was working I often didn’t have time to eat out or even pick up a salad. And when I did, I was overpaying for excessively large portions of average or inferior food. By the time my children started school, we got back into the routine of making lunches for all of us most of the time.

Yet 60% of Canadians surveyed by VISA Canada last year reported that they bought their lunch out at least once a week. The majority of those who bought lunch spent between $7 and $13, while just under 10% shelled out between $14 and $25 for each midday meal. Young Canadians age 18-34 ate out between two and three times a week.

These appear to be small amounts, but they really add up. If you buy lunch for $10 a day even twice a week you are spending $1,000 each year. Throw in a $4 fancy coffee on 240 working days, and you’ve spent another $960. If both you and your partner do the same, your total outlay is close to $4,000. For a small fraction of the cost you can lunch on leftovers and for around $100, even invest in a single serving pod coffee maker for your office.

Just think of all the things you could do with an extra $4,000 like pay down your mortgage, top up your retirement account, save for your children’s education or go on a vacation.

Another bonus when you bring your own lunch is that you know what you are eating and can eat less of it. Commercially prepared food is often super-sized and high in both calories and salt. I found that one of the easiest ways to manage my weight was to impose portion control by always making my lunch in the same square plastic container.

There is no doubt that one of the pluses of going out for lunch is the opportunity to get away from your desk and spend some down time alone or with friends. But many offices have a lunchroom with a fridge and a microwave.

One place where I worked, a group of three or four co-workers didn’t just pack pre-made lunches. They brought various fresh ingredients and made lunch for the group. There was always bread in the freezer, sliced meat and salad vegetables in the refrigerator. Multi-ethnic leftovers were particularly yummy.

These days I work from home so going out for lunch is only an occasional treat. But there is no doubt that I have way more money in my pocket at the end of the week than when I worked in downtown Toronto.

Now if I could only resist the leftover piece of pie or the ice cream in the freezer and get to the gym a couple of more times a week, maybe I could get into one of the tailored suits I used to wear when I have to go out to an occasional business meeting.

Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) has teamed up with Federated Co-operatives and, beginning in November while supplies last, new members will receive a $10 Co-op gift card as a “Thank you” for joining SPP. If you join the Plan during this promotion, you could use your card to buy lunch or purchase lunch ingredients.

Do you have any money-saving hints for readers who need to free up cash to save more for retirement? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

21-Nov Money management How to choose a financial planner
28-Nov Avoiding fraudulent scams Latest scams to avoid
06-Dec Holiday decorations A real tree or an artificial one?
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