I am 26 years old, have a master’s degree and Roth IRA, and I still eat a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich almost every day for lunch.
To most, this sandwich is probably a relic of the past. Something you ate between the ages of 6 and 12. Something your mom would lovingly make and pack in a brown paper bag before school each morning. Most people stop eating these sandwiches when bringing your lunch stops being cool. Usually around high school. Or maybe it morphed from a delicious and cheap lunch, to something you’d make around midnight after smoking a joint.
Either way, the PB&J fab usually dies for in your teen years, or after college. Then, you start earning “real money” and can afford more luxurious lunches — aka Subway and Chipotle. The lines at nearly everywhere fast casual eatery are never-ending between the hours of 12 and 2 pm on weekdays. White collared professionals line up to spend $15+ on a bowl of leafy greens. But that’s just what people do. Because they can afford to. Or so they think.
Spending $10–15 per lunch during the week quickly adds up. My math suggests it’s over $50 a week on lunch alone — and that’s with the cheap lunches. That’s $2500 a year (calculating 50 work weeks per year). Yikes. Frugal people know what a trap this truly is. Bringing your own lunch is a financial, and often a healthy win for your wallet and your body. This isn’t new advice though. Many financial blogs and sites have touted bringing your lunch as a simple way to save money for years and years.
Yet, many of those same blogs advocate for weekly meal prep, elaborate curries, and pastas that one has to spend hours on the weekend making. I hate that idea. As my boyfriend always says, “The weekend is for everything but cooking.” And I couldn’t agree more.
And that’s why I’ve stuck with PB&J for my go-to lunch for years. I have worked in hospitality, government, and entertainment, but the lunch is always the same. Two slices of pre-sliced wheat bread, crunchy peanut butter, and strawberry jelly. Simple, easy, and cheap. It comes to less than one dollar a sandwich. I’ll usually throw in an apple and some crackers, for a grand total of about $1.75 per lunch. And the best part? It takes me five minutes to make and I don’t have to waste any time on the weekends.
Do I get strange questions about it from co-workers? Occasionally.
Do I care? Nah.
It’s not much, I’ll admit. But I’m never very hungry during the day and I would prefer to eat more extravagantly during dinner anyway. Eating out will almost always have more calories and fat which isn’t great for my health or fitness goals anyway. And it saves me nearly $50 (in a good week) that I can use toward debt repayment, or even to make more money through investing. At the end of the year, if you put all $2500 of that money saved in an index fund, and don’t contribute more or touch it, at the end of 10 years it will have grown to nearly $6000. Without doing anything. I can guarantee the taste of compounding interest is better than nearly anything else you can buy for lunch.
So if you’re serious about learning to live frugally and set yourself up for your future, start with a sandwich. It’s a simple, money saving way to change your financial habits. Small habits lead to bigger habits, so start with a sandwich and watch that $50 savings a week grow into more and more savings. You’ll hopefully feel inspired to cut back in other ways as well (making coffee at home, staying in on the weekends, etc).
Whatever your financial goals are, saving money, even in small ways, can add up. So next time you’re at the store, buy a jar of peanut butter, some bread, and jelly and make your money saving sandwich.