Americans Spend a Lot on Lunch. Here's How to Spend Less

Two businesswomen having lunch
Getty Images

There are some people who spend $5,000 each year going out to lunch. And then there are some who spend nothing. But according to a new Visa (V) survey, on average, Americans spend $936 a year -- or $10 per outing -- on restaurant-made lunches.

That kind of money could easily help fund a winter trip to the beach, but it's going to stale chips, soda, and six-inch subs instead. Or, if you're among the 1 percent who spend more than $50 a lunch -- nearly $5,000 a year -- you'd have that beach trip completely covered.

Here's a closer look at how the rest of us spend our lunch breaks:

  • Men spend more. They spend 44 percent more, specifically: $21 weekly compared to $15 on average for women.

  • So do the poor. Those who makes $25,000 or less spent more per meal, $11.70, than any other income bracket.

  • Chitown = cheaptown. Midwesterners spent the least on eating out, just $8.90 per meal. Northeasterners ate out the least often -- just 1.5 times per week -- while Southerners spent an average of $10 each time on two weekly visits to the lunch counter.

Resisting the temptation to get takeout for lunch can really pay off. "Simple choices have a large impact on your wallet," says Nat Sillin, Visa's head of U.S. Financial Education."Clipping a coupon, choosing a less expensive item, or brown-bagging it can save you hundreds over the course of a year."
But Sillin isn't condemning eating lunch out. Rather, it's about being aware of how much you're spending and whether you can afford to spend that amount. "Going into debt for a tuna sandwich isn't worth it."

Fair point. But what if you don't know where to start? Here are four tips for reducing your lunch tab without going hungry:

1. Bring leftovers. This should be obvious, but for many it isn't. Cook enough over the weekend for multiple weekday meals and then store the remainder in portable containers you can bring to work. Reheat, serve, and bask in the savings as you watch YouTube at your desk.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%2. Buy frozen. Take a trip to a big-box retailer such as Walmart (WMT) or Costco (COST) to load up on frozen lunch inventory. Burritos, pizza rolls, and the like can be had by the pound for cheap. Stick a few in a padded sack and reheat at lunchtime.

3. Lunch at the grocery store. Your local grocer has more fresh options than you might think. Stop in for a small tub of soup and add a baguette or apple and you've got a healthy lunch that's bound to cost a fraction of what your peers are spending.

4. Use apps and loyalty cards. There are times when only a burger joint will do. Prepare ahead of time by using apps such as Google's Offers to stock up on coupons. Also, sign up for your favorite joint's loyalty program. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, for example, often advertises two-for-one specials in emails to its members.

Do you buy or bring lunch? What are your strategies for saving? We'd love for you to weigh in: Tell us your story in the comments box below.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Google at the time of publication. Find him on Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. The Motley Fool recommends Costco Wholesale, Google, and Visa. The Motley Fool owns shares of Costco Wholesale, Google, and Visa.

Originally published