Why People Won’t Brown-Bag Lunch, Even Though It Makes Great Sense

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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.

Filling 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.

How much can you really save? Money Talks News money expert Stacy Johnson explains in this video.

What about you? Do you eat out or pack your lunch for work? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Jason

    I eat out for the social aspect. My work does not have a break room so if you brown bag lunch you eat at your desk. Most people surf the web while they eat and then go back to work early. I also work in a building made of concrete block with no windows. Lunch is the only time to get outside and see the sun.

  • ManoaHi

    I eat out because rather spend the time sleeping instead of preparing for lunch. For times that I wake up early, I prepare lunch, so I am on the “it’s easy” side. Also, where I work now (same company different office), there are a myriad of choices to eat out, I also get to take a walk after lunch, thus, I am also on the “it’s freedom” side. Oddly enough, if I bring a lunch, the social side is better (many people are hourly wage people, they don’t like to waste time going somewhere and ordering, whereas I am salaried and the company doesn’t care if I take a bit longer at lunch since I come in an hour early and leave about an hour late). The real social time is after work.

    As far as dietary, I don’t pay much attention as I am slender, active (hiking, camping, soccer), and hereditary disposed to not be overweight. Also, due to my genes, I don’t have high blood pressure nor any cholesterol issues. BMI is on the low side of average. So, I could still pack an unhealthy lunch so no matter which way, I don’t think eating out necessarily is less healthy than bringing your own lunch.

  • I.Popoff

    Some people are grasshoppers and some people are ants. When I was a mail carrier I bought a house on my route and ate lunch at home everyday for nine years before I retired. Before that I always packed a lunch, often soup or something hot in a wide-mouth thermos. I also always took a thermos of coffee. No Starbucks for me!