BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
If you want to uncover new ways to save money, start by thinking about what you spend on lunch every day.
A new Visa survey shows that American consumers are spending nearly $3,000 on midday meals each year. But don’t lose your appetite – this is actually a great opportunity to budget and save.
Visa’s 2015 survey, intended to call consumers’ attention to opportunities to save and budget in their discretionary spending, reports that the average American consumer spends roughly $53 a week or $2,746 per year on lunch. For meals out, that’s an average of $20 per week or $1,043 per year. Additionally, Americans eat lunch out an average of nearly twice a week and spend more than $11 per outing compared with only $6.30 a day preparing their own.
Who are the biggest spenders on average in the lunch-out crowd? The survey shows that men outspend women by a whopping 60 percent. Men pay an average of $24.93 each week on meals out, while women dole out $15.56 by comparison. As for the biggest spenders, the survey found that 1 percent of diners spend $50 or more lunching out for an average of more than $9,000 spent a year. Meanwhile, 32 percent of respondents reported they don’t buy lunch out at all.
Additionally, students eat out most often and spend the most with a weekly average of $27.47; retirees spend the least at $13.92. One worrisome number is that unemployed Americans purchase lunch out more than once a week on average, spending over $15 weekly.
The most popular spot to eat lunch in America is at home, according to the Visa survey. Forty-two percent of American consumers report that they typically eat lunch at home. The second most popular location to eat lunch? Work. While 53 percent of office workers report they eat lunch at work, 26 percent say they do so right at their desks.
As for regional preference, Southerners lead the nation in frequency of lunches out and overall amount spent on lunch. The average southern resident spends $1,240 a year on lunches out and an overall $2,953 between lunches out and those made at home. Northeasterners came in second with highest amount spent on lunching out – $1,001. Midwesterners followed at $896 and Americans in the western states at $866 spend on meals out.
To help Americans monitor their spending on the midday meal, Visa Inc. has developed a new free Lunch Tracker iOS app (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lunch-tracker-1.0/id1049899081?mt=8) that calculates monthly and annual spend and helps you adjust your spending habits to save money. Users can take the 30-Day Challenge to start saving, learn cost-cutting tips and share photos of meals with family and friends.
Paying attention to lunchtime spending habits – whether making lunch at home or eating out – can greatly impact your annual finances. Though lunch is a healthy expense, at least some of the close to $3,000 could be reallocated for other money-smart funds. For example, it could be a great start for an emergency fund, (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/emergencyfund) rent or mortgage, education funds or maybe an affordable holiday.
Bottom line: Small choices can have a big impact on your wallet. Adjusting and tracking your lunch spending habits can be a surprisingly large source of savings.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.