Matthew Thompson
September 10, 2012

I used to be able to convince myself that the money I spent eating out was reasonable, but then my wife and I started tracking our expenses. The results were eye-opening: I spend this much in restaurants? Clearly, a change needed to happen. It came in the form of a $2 piece of plastic-the Tupperware container I use to start bringing my own lunch. And though the savings is only a little bit each day, I started noticing the extra money in my pocket pretty quickly.

The fact is, bringing food from home instead of buying it while you're out can result in colossal improvements to your bottom line. We decided to put this idea to the test at EatingWell. Using the menus from national lunch chains and the prices from national online grocers, we calculated just how much you could save per year making a few alterations to your lunch-buying habits. I've got to say, the results surprised even me.

It should be noted here that we didn't try to skew the results by picking the priciest items on the menu. We based our calculations on a 5-day workweek. As an added bonus, we figured out a few fun ideas for things you can buy with the money you save.

Item: Coffee-Shop Coffee
Price: $2.19
Cost to Bring Your Own: $0.30
Yearly Savings: $491
Spend It On: Die-Cast Automatic Pump Espresso Maker, $499

Item: Bottled Water
Price: $1.55
Cost to Bring Your Own: $0
Yearly Savings: $403
Spend It On: Weekend Spa Package, $375

Item: Bowl of Deli Black Bean Soup
Price: $4.59
Cost to Make Your Own: $1.22
Yearly Savings: $876
Spend It On: 2 Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Ovens, $815

Item: Hummus & Carrots Prepack
Price: $2.00
Cost to Make Your Own: $1.00
Item: Chicken Caesar Salad
Price: $7.79
Cost to Make Your Own: $2.55
Combined Yearly Savings: $1,622
Spend It On: Large Share in a Year-Long CSA, $1,560