Spending on Lunch – A Personal Experiment

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Does spending give us satisfaction? Does the item or service we receive from spending give us satisfaction? Does too much or too little or it result correlate to the same level of satisfaction? I decided to do a little experiment using lunch as the subject and find out for myself!


Lunch Methodology

Usually, I bring lunch from home and eat out about once a week. So for one week, I did the opposite, or more than the opposite, I spent my money every day for a week and bought lunch from outside. What did I gain and what did I lose: I gained a few extra minutes at night by not having to pack my lunch, but still packed breakfast and snack(s).


I probably gained extra calories because I usually pack a smaller lunch portion size and something that’s healthier like a salad or peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat or leftover baked chicken. When I went out to eat, there are so many options, and I’m NOT looking at the salad as one of them, lol. What did I lose? I lost some time at the gym because I usually eat lunch at my desk and go to the gym during my lunch break so it will take perhaps double the time and effort to gain that momentum back. I lost some pocket money.


It cost about an average of $7 to $10 per day for lunch, so right around the middle is $8.50 so a little over $40 for that week of eating lunch out. Just for giggles, IF I did decide to buy lunch every day it would be ($40 a week, X 50 weeks in a year – not counting 2 weeks of vacation) = $2,000 spent on lunch per year…. Wow! But guess what? This is still lower than the survey from Accounting Principles who found Americans spend an average of $3,000 on lunch and coffee per year (I RARELY buy coffee): Accounting Principals Survey. I’m a little bit surprised by this at myself because the majority of spending was coming from professionals in the 18-34 age group, which I too fall under.


Results of the Experiment

Now did I receive more satisfaction? The answer to this main question is No. the analysis of my feelings is that after Tuesday or Wednesday, it just became routine for me to go out and buy lunch. So there was no excitement, no anticipation, and no pleasure after the act of this spending. In the past when I bought lunch once per week, there was this level of anticipation, that ok this week, I will try something at Sbarros or this new pasta at Corner Bakery.


But when this became my regular routine, I wasn’t just spending without the thought process being invoked much. As you can tell, I will go back to my previous routine :-).


Alternate Spending

According to Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University says you will be happier spending on experiences like outdoor activities, traveling, learning a new skill – see co.exist article Cornell Professor. As it compares to my examples, I believe if I spent the $40ish on taking my family out to dinner instead, it would have changed from an item or thing to an experience; therefore, I would have enjoyed it more.


Now if my wife is reading this, I guess I owe her a lunch….or dinner! I realize that many people buy lunch out of convenience because they may not have time to pack at home because they are doing a million things, trust me I get that.


But if I could suggest multi-tasking a bit, that really helps and once you get into the routing, you’ll be good at it. For example, if you’re feeding your child dinner, multitask by giving him/her bite to eat and while they are chewing you can open the bread, next bite – you can spread peanut butter on the bread, next bite – spread jelly, next bite – wrap your sandwich up, next bite – grab some chips or juice or an apple and pack that too. Guess what…now you’re done packing your lunch while you were feeding your child! And you’ve got yourself a bit of exercise by moving from the dining table back to the kitchen a few times…..based on a true story.