An insurance company has recently been running a television commercial in which it notes that saving money is now a very popular topic of conversation. One incidental character in the commercial tells a friend that since he stopped buying lunch each day and started bringing lunch from home, he is putting fifty dollars each week in his pocket. I very much doubt that to be the case unless the fellow in the commercial was spending more than ten dollars each day on his lunch.
There is a big difference between eliminating a cost and shifting a cost. Usually we find ways to minimize our expenses, but we do not eliminate a lot of line items completely. Certainly, the fellow in the commercial is not likely to have eliminated lunch from his daily routine because he is still spending money on the foods that he purchases at the grocery store in order to make a lunch that he will bring to work.
The food that he purchases will cost him money. The utensils that he uses to prepare his lunch each day will still need to be cleaned and that will cost some small amount in terms of water and electricity if he uses a dish washer. If he cooks his lunch, there will be another added cost, however slight, for the energy used to power his stove or oven. He will need a container in which to package his lunch and perhaps an icepack. All of this will cost some amount of money and depending on what he makes for lunch, his ten dollar daily savings will be proportionally reduced.
I wonder how many of us actually consider how much we really save when we take the time to pack a lunch. A lot will depend on what we purchase at the grocery store and whether we can buy our ingredients on sale. Nevertheless, if our restaurant or lunch cart purchases are not extravagant, I suspect that weekly savings may not always be as great we as we might hope.
For example, if I am out of the house and need to purchase lunch, I often go to a local deli and order egg and cheese on a bagel. That costs me $2.29. If I were to purchase the ingredients at my local grocery store so that I could make the very same sandwich, I would spend approximately $1.15 or roughly half the price of the sandwich. My savings of about a dollar when I make the sandwich mean that it is costing me only an additional dollar for the sandwich at the deli. I also enjoy the added convenience of not having to prepare my lunch or clean the dishes, and I can enjoy a hot sandwich instead of a cold sandwich. If I do that every day of the week, my lunch really only costs me about $5.00 more than I would have spent had I eaten at home — savings that are not sufficient to make me worry all that much about the cost.
Of course, there are plenty of scenarios in which buying meals out does get excessive. My point, however, is that unless you consider the math associated with your dining habits, you may be avoiding restaurant purchases that you do not need to avoid. It is not enough to consider the menu prices, the coupons and the deals. You also need to consider what you will be spending at home if you do not choose to eat out. If the numbers work for you, you can enjoy eating out and feel good about being financially responsible in doing so.
What do you think? Where does elimination of one cost result in the creation of other costs that might give you pause? What costs can you eliminate entirely? What costs are always going to appear in your budget, no matter how much you want to eliminate them?