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Save on Your Sandwich

Math hurts sometimes. Yesterday, I came across a "sandwich calculator" that revealed a painful truth: I could be saving hundreds of dollars a year if I brought homemade sandwiches for lunch, instead of eating out at delis and cafes.A blogger at Cockeyed.com did the per-sandwich math for various ing...

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Math hurts sometimes. Yesterday, I came across a "sandwich calculator" that revealed a painful truth: I could be saving hundreds of dollars a year if I brought homemade sandwiches for lunch, instead of eating out at delis and cafes.

Sad sandwich, courtesy Flickr user Sakukaro Kitsa

A blogger at Cockeyed.com did the per-sandwich math for various ingredients available at the grocery store: Bread, mayonnaise, mustard, tomatoes, lettuce, lunch meat, cheese, avocados and sprouts. The cheapest option is grilled cheese (though it's obviously a bit difficult to prepare that one at work), ringing up at just under 50 cents. Peanut butter and jelly costs 64 cents a sandwich, while a processed turkey sandwich with condiments is 93 cents.

But I don't eat processed lunch meats, I reasoned. I prefer fresh-baked, whole grain breads to the loaves of squishy stuff they sell in supermarkets; I don't think Kraft singles should actually count as cheese, and there's virtually no nutritional value in iceberg lettuce. Surely what I would consider a good homemade sandwich wouldn't be that much cheaper than eating out, would it?

Well, yeah. It would. Let me show you an example. Yesterday I purchased a fresh veggie wrap from a local deli. For $6.00, I got a spinach tortilla wrap filled with a handful of shaved carrots, three leaves of romaine lettuce, two slices of pale tomato, two deli-thin slices of Swiss cheese, and probably about one-quarter of a cucumber, flavored with a sugary honey mustard dressing. Six bucks doesn't sound like such a bad deal, but if I had purchased similar ingredients at the store—using organic vegetables, and homemade hummus—I could make a week's worth of lunches at half the cost per wrap, and I bet it would be much tastier and healthier than what the deli offers.

And if I settled for peanut butter and jelly sometimes, I'd save even more. Let's say I use multigrain bread from my local bakery, where a $4 loaf will yield about six sandwiches, and fresh-ground peanut butter from Whole Foods at $2.59 a pound. I still have some homemade fig jam in the fridge, or I could buy something similar for about $5 and get at least a dozen servings out of it. That still breaks down to barely $1.30 per sandwich!

I do admit, I like the convenience of letting someone else prepare my food sometimes, so I probably won't give up deli lunches entirely. But I'm going to institute a new rule: Bring lunch from home at least three times a week, and make one of those PB&J. If I can keep that up for a year, I'll save over $500—enough to enjoy some seriously nice dinners out with my husband, which definitely beats a parade of mediocre lunches alone!
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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