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

We’ll tell you why most people opt to eat out, rather than saving hundreds of dollars (and calories) by packing a sack lunch for work.


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.

Stacy Johnson

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