The $1 Million Turkey Sandwich


I know, I know – you’ve heard it before: If you’d just quit buying lunch out every day, you’d save a ton of money. And although you know it’s true, giving up your favorite deli sandwich or salad over a few dollars in savings here and there just doesn’t seem to be motivating you to stop. You like the convenience too much, and if you spend a few hundred dollars a year on it, so be it. You’ll find ways cut elsewhere.

We’ve done the math on what you’re actually spending, however, and have some surprising news for you: If you spend just $10 a day at lunch, over the course of a 35-year working career that amounts to $947,000. Yep, assuming average stock market returns, you could’ve had a cool million instead of that turkey sandwich.

Of course, we all have to eat lunch, so it’s not as if we could’ve saved all of those $10 per day — we would’ve had to pay something for lunch, somehow. Here’s how a few options stack up:

  • Buying a turkey sandwich and a drink at the likes of Jason’s Deli, Panera or Starbucks averages about $9-$10, including taxes. This is our standard assumption, which after 35 years would cost you about $1M.
  • Buying a turkey sandwich and a drink at a local grocery store (Publix, Whole Foods and Kroger offer them for about $2-$4 per sandwich) would average approximately half that – $5. This option earns you $500,000 over a career.
  • If you were to bring lunch from home every day (averaging a daily cost of about $2), you’d earn an extra approximately $750,000 over your career.

Of course, few of us have the discipline to stick to a regimented plan day in, day out over our entire working lives. It’s perhaps more realistic to think of subtle changes, such as choosing a cheaper option a few times per week. As an example, you could:

Pack a lunch from home a couple of days per week ( $2/day), eat at a lower-cost place twice per week ($5/day), and a higher-cost deli once ($10/day).

This would total $24/week, for a savings of $492,000. Half a million dollars. Repeat after me: “Half a million dollars.” Just for switching up your daily lunch a bit. Why haven’t we all done this yet?

Have you found easy ways to trim your daily lunch costs? If so, we’d love to hear them! Post them in the comments section below.