Can a Month Buying Lunch Help Me Save Money?

In April, MealPass launched in New York and is gearing up to change the way people buy lunch. But what about those of us that try and not buy lunch? I'm an avid lunch-bringer (and home chef) because I know what I make at home is cheaper, and healthier than most things I can buy during the busy lunch rush, but I still end up craving something else. Despite all my time and money it takes to create delicious food at home, I still want to eat out (and end up spending more).

So, here we are.

Since I spend the majority of my time at work, I focus on exciting lunches, and then eat the leftovers for dinner.  In any given week, I spend 50-100 on groceries, depending on what I am making for my meals. I have self-diagnosed food ADD, so can't eat the same thing every day. I draw inspiration from my many cookbooks, or search through recipes online. I shoot for mostly healthy lunches, and especially love loaded salads, asian noodle dishes, and one-pot meals. Once I've picked a recipe, I source ingredients, schlep them home, prep, cook, and pack everything. Over the course of a weekend, I probably spend 8-10 hours preparing food for the week.

I base my week off 4 lunches (work caters lunch on Tuesdays), and, if I am going to be home, a lunch or two at home on the weekends. My interest in my lunch is high on Mondays and Wednesdays, but by the time I get to Thursday, I am feeling a bit bored. Which then makes it easier and more tempting to grab lunch with my team on Fridays.

I've come to a point where I spend a lot of money and time on preparing lunches for the week, and many times I don't even want any of it, and end up buying food out.

Enter Mealpass; A new startup where for $90/month ($107 with tax to be exact), I can grab lunch during the work week from any of dozens of local restaurants. If you get lunch every work day in a month, that comes out to just over $5/meal. Meal Pass just happened to present itself at moment when I was trying to deal with the time-money-good food balance, so I decided to try it out. Even on my best, most thought out meals, I don't get as low as $5, especially when I factor in time and energy.

Above: Actual meals I've had for lunch!

For the month of April, I decided to conduct a social experiment. Can eating lunch out every day help me save some money (and get back some much needed time)?

For this to work, I set up a few guidelines:

  • I have to get my MealPass meal every day, even on team lunch days. 
  • I'd focus on adding more salads into the rotation (something I'd recently abandoned)
  • This was also not a time to start skipping the gym

Once April started, I was really excited to pick my lunch each day. There are tons of options, and you can get nearly every type of cuisine. There are also a lot of options very close to my office, and some good options that are a bit of a hike, so I had to factor in my desire to travel far from my desk. I could easily eat Mexican or Thai everyday, but I wanted to round out my choices. Over the course of the month, I had a lot of noodle dishes and Mexican, but also American, Japanese, and Greek. I got lunch every day except for two, when I was out of town.

Once I finished up the month, I felt like I was in a good place, "wallet-wise." I felt like I didn't feel the constant desire to eat out, and I was going to the gym frequently, and eating a lot more salads for dinner. But did the numbers add up? I started this experiment to see if I saved money, but the only way to prove that is with a little bit of data.

Here's a breakdown of my grocery and restaurant spending in 2016 so far:

  • January: 397.86 (restaurants) / 345 (groceries)
  • February: 522.19 / 445.05
  • March: 225.5 / 268.34
  • April: 229.4 / 263, plus the cost of Meal Pass 108
  • May: Excluded. I was out of town for 2 weeks.

At first glance, yikes! I spend so much on food. But I already knew that. At second glance, what on earth was I buying in February? The restaurant portion is partially high because I was in Denver for a week skiing and hanging out with my brother, but what groceries was I buying?

A last glance, I definitely did not save money in April buy using Meal Pass. My spending was virtually the same as March, but then I added the cost of Meal Pass in, bringing my total closer to January.

But what the data doesn't show is all the time I got back. I wasn't scrambling to run to the farmers' market or Trader Joe's. I didn't spend hours cooking and cleaning up after myself. And I didn't have to drag all that cooked food into my office. So on the getting my life back front, I'd say this experiment was a success.

But, I actually missed cooking meals and going to the market and sourcing food. I do find the process of cooking pleasurable, and I realized that cutting it out of my routine completely was not the answer, either. 

So now as we're going into June, I'm trying to figure out a way to balance it all. Meal Pass has an option to get 12 meals a month, so I've opted to go down to that and see if that helps me balance things a little better. I've also mapped out the first week in June to include what meals I need to cook, what meals I should get from Meal Pass, and when I have room to buy food out. 

This social experiment didn't help me save money like I had hoped, but it has helped me realize that I need to find balance in my food consumption, and here's hoping I figure that out.


Brianna is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Hook & Blade Mag. She is based out of New York City where she enjoys exploring the city, trying new foods, and people watching. She works as an Email Marketing Manager at General Assembly, and tries to travel as much as she can.