I’ll take a Number One with grilled onions and no tomatoes please.
That was my go-to order at In-N-Out.
I ate out religiously with my coworkers during my first few years of employment. It was easy and convenient, I had disposable income for the first time in my life, and it was fun.
One problem though.
How come I always had less than I expected when I checked my bank account balance?
Lunch was bankrupting me.
Well, not me at that point exactly but me in thirty years.
Here is how I found out.
After I noticed the inconsistency between my expectations of my bank account and my actual bank account balance, I needed to find out why. I had not yet fully grasped the FIRE lifestyle at that time, but I had inklings of it and was beginning to take charge of my finances one step at a time.
I started a spreadsheet to log every single expense of mine to find the culprit!
After logging for a few months, my budget spreadsheet had enough information to show me what my biggest expenditure was. Food. More specifically, food when I was eating out.
Not only was it the expense that was easiest to control, it was also the most unnecessary.
I had realized that every time I went out for a meal, my financial trajectory took a hit.
Let’s dig into the data.
According to a Visa Survey taken in 2015, Americans spent $11.14 twice a week on lunch per year eating out, totaling to $1,158.56. In 2018 dollars, that is $11.85 per meal, $1,232.40 per year.
You might be thinking, “Meh, that’s not bad. A grand a year to eat super convenient, delicious food while networking is worth it.”
In some cases, it is! In some cases, you are absolutely right!
Per year that might not seem like much.
Let’s say you work a modest 40 years in your life. Adding that up would give you $49,296.00.
You would have spent almost $50,000 on going out to lunch twice a week! Imagine what else you could have done with that sort of money!! And that is assuming zero inflation and no other factors!
So let me present a hypothetical alternative:
Oatmeal is not sexy. It has never been.
But it has always been cheap as hell.
We will experiment here and make a lunch concoction based on oatmeal being the staple.
|Food||Price||Plus Plus Tax||Package Amount Description||Cost Per Serving in LA||Cost Per Serving Nationally|
|Milk||$6.59||$7.25||2 gallons – 32 servings total||$0.23||$0.20|
|Protein||$52.99||$58.29||5.64 pounds – 80 servings total||$0.73||$0.65|
|Raisins||$10.49||$11.54||4.5 pounds – 100 servings total||$0.12||$0.11|
|Oatmeal||$9.49||$10.44||10 pounds – 113 servings total||$0.09||$0.08|
This comes out to $1.17 per meal using Los Angeles prices.
The prices in the column second from left are from Costco stores in Los Angeles. With LA grocery prices being 12% higher than the national average, the rightmost column gives us per-serving prices we can all work with.
As a refresher, that Visa survey gave us $11.85 per lunch when eating totaling to $1,232.40 per year in 2018 dollars.
Our oatMEAL comes out to $1.04 per meal totalling to $108.16 per year.
The savings difference is $1124.24 PER YEAR!!
ON LUNCH ALONE!!
You might again be thinking, “C’mon, that’s nothing crazy. I will go nuts eating oatmeal twice a week and it is simply not worth it.”
Hear me out and let me walk you through some insane hypotheticals.
Let us say that you work for 40 years, and twice a week every week, you would make oatMEAL instead of going out to lunch. You would then drop everything you have saved over the course of these 40 years into a giant piggy bank.
Here would be your savings visualized:
Nice. A grand total of $44,969.60 at the point of retirement. Not bad.
But what if you invested these savings year after year?
Instead of dropping your savings into a giant piggy bank, you dropped it onto the market. With the S&P 500 index having a handsome average annualized total return over the past 90 years being 9.8%, here is how your lunch savings would hold year over 40 years:
NOT. BAD. At retirement, you are left with a FAT $471,282.92!
But guess what?
We are forgetting this little thing that makes everything a bit pricier year after year. Called inflation. With lunches getting more expensive year after year, you would be saving more year after year, meaning you get to drop more into your investment account year after year.
Here is a chart detailing this, with the long term inflation rate from 1913-2013 being 3.22%.
There goes a chorus of jaws hitting the floor.
You just made yourself a sweet sum of $658,296.64 by retirement, simply by choosing to make yourself a bowl of oatmeal instead of going out for lunch, only twice a week.
That is life-changing money.
Here are some things you can get with $658,296.64:
-A plane or two
Here are all the graphs combined to give you an idea of the differences between them:
At the end of the day, eating oatmeal for so many meals a week would be unrealistic. It simply is not sustainable mentally, and would make one prone to burnout. It could derail many of those on their path towards financial independence (or other goals like losing weight or trimming body fat percentage!).
There are tons of healthy, cheap alternatives out there. OatMEAL is just a tool for me to illustrate the possibilities and the sheer strength of small decisions made consistently, and the awesome power of compound interest.
You have to sit down, analyze your lifestyle and seek out changes you can make to cut down on cost. Quitting cigarettes. Nescafé instead of Starbucks. Tap water instead of energy drinks or soda. Cord cutting. Paying off your high-interest cards instead of carrying a balance. The list is endless!
It is up to you to look at your own numbers, to target what is hurting your long term gains, and to cut them out of your life. You also have to know what changes you can bear long term, because that is what will bear the real fruit. Look inside and be honest with yourself. Ask yourself what you are capable of.
You Can Do It
The good news is that you have momentum and time on your side!
Look for what small changes you can make can ultimately change your life!
I would love to hear what you have found and done.
Comment below so we can all learn and change together!