I've referred in passing to brown-bagging lunches.
In downtown Berkeley, the cheaper weekday lunch choices average about $7. The ingredients of our brown-bagged lunches are probably somewhere between $1 and $2; I'll say $2 to keep the math easy. I have about 240 work days in a year. If I were to brown-bag every day, I'd save $1200.
As I've discussed before, savings are pre-tax -- a penny saved is more than a penny earned. At a 30% tax rate, I'd need a $1700 raise to be able to spend that $1200 with the same net result.
I don't know about you, but in my current job situation, I'm not expecting a $1700 raise anytime soon.
Naturally, preparing the lunches takes time. It takes planning to have the ingredients. Luckily for us, Jen loves cooking. And it's only a little more time-consuming to plan to have leftovers.
Occasionally, "preparing lunch" is a matter of scooping some rice into a container, and dumping a can of Trader Joe's vegetarian chili on top. That's more expensive than most of our lunches, of course, but even this easy approach costs under $2. It's still a substantial savings.
Eating out may seem like a convenience, but, as ever, I suggest examining if it's really convenient. You have to get to a lunch place, order, wait for the food, get back. If you have some place at or near work where you can sit and eat, all of that is time reclaimed.
A meal is more than just food, of course. If eating lunch out is an important social activity, or you take pleasure in the experience that's worth the surcharge, that's great. Like I said in my very first entry here, whether something is worth it is all about your values. I would just remind you to pay attention to the real value and cost, and that there are alternatives.