This is the true story of my former coworker, John. John is a car guy. I also love cars so we talk about them all the time. John also recently reached mortgage free life (yay!!) at age 57 and will be beefing up his retirement savings for the next 8 years or so since he and his wife hadn’t saved “as much as they should have” even though, according to him they’ve saved the average Joe amount, meaning 10-20%.  It’s just not enough.  Here is just one small piece of the reason why:

Almost every day at work John gets a salad, pack of biscuits/cookies and drink from the cafeteria. I go with him to the cafeteria just for the nice walk away from my desk and to chat since I really like John. He’s a good guy. Also, every day, I would ask John how he liked his lunch. Same answer, every time: “It was crappy.”

One particular day as we walked to the cafeteria, he mentioned that he didn’t want a salad, but would get one anyway. I took the opportunity:

“You know, if you brought food from home it would probably taste better and you’d save a ton.”

“It’s a pain to make lunch and I don’t think it would save that much anyway.” Lisa, his wife, buys her lunch at work too.

“Oh, I’m sure you would have; especially if you had put that $ into an index fund for all of your working years. You probably could have bought an Aston Martin by now.” (We had been talking about James Bond and of course, his cars.)

He merely scoffed in response.

Challenge accepted John. Let’s do the math.


So here is what John buys (almost) every day and the average costs:

  • Crappy salad: $8
  • Pack of 2 Fig Newtons or a similar cookie: $1.50
  • Honest-Tea Green tea drink: $2.50
  • Total average cost: $12

Before we get to the numbers, let’s cover my assumptions:

  • John brings lunch from home 1 day per week. It’s more like 2x per month, but I’m being conservative.
  • Bringing lunch from home would cost him ~$3 per meal. This is especially achievable if he were to bring leftovers.
  • He takes 3 weeks of vacation and we get the week of Christmas off as opposed to other holidays throughout the year. So, he eats in the cafeteria 48 weeks out of the year.
  • He has worked for 35 years and this savings would start from then.
  • If he were to save this money, he would put it in a S&P 500 Index fund, which historically returned 11% over the past 35 years.
  • I will subtract 3.1% from the rate of return to account for the average historical inflation over that same time period.

Now, to the numbers:

John spends $12 lunch from work-$3 if he brought it from home = $9/day

$9 x 4 days/wk = $36/wk

$36 x 4 wks/month = $144/month

If he had instead deposited $144/month into an S&P 500 index fund with Vanguard for the past 420 months (35 years), then he would have…. *Drumroll*

$324,445!!! What the what!?!

I had previously told John that he could have purchased an Aston Martin if he hadn’t bought those crappy salads. What I didn’t know was that he could have bought a brand new 2018 Aston Martin Vanquish S.

Ooo shiny.  If you’re interested, take a look at the specs!

OR a new 2020 Tesla Roadster with money left over! Okay, so John never said he wanted a Tesla Roadster… That was just me, but look at it!

This one also has great specs AND it’s far better for the environment.  Anyway, enough gushing about cars.

Save for it and then don’t buy it!

Of course, the point of saving this much money isn’t to buy an Aston Martin in 35 years. John could have done that if he wanted, but once that amount of money is sitting in an account, the odds are very good that they wouldn’t be used on a car. Instead, he’d be looking at a healthy retirement fund; especially when we consider that he mentioned that his wife also buys her lunch at work every day.

If I were to make the same assumptions for Lisa that I did for John, they would have double that amount saved or $648,890! That sounds like an impressive number, but what does $649K really mean?

Well, if they were able to keep their expenses around $2,160/month (a value that is very doable considering that they are mortgage free), they could RETIRE ON THEIR LUNCH MONEY!!!

Just think about it.  If John and Lisa had invested the money they would have otherwise spent on work lunches, they could be in a position to retire right now, especially taking into account that they would be able to collect social security within a few years.  That’s 8 years earlier than they planned without changing any other spending habits.  Now, grabbing lunch from work every once in a while is not such a big deal.  I probably buy lunch from work a handful of times per year.  What makes this expense an issue is that since it happens almost every day, it’s become a recurring expense.

However, what makes this worse is that it becomes a mindless expense.  Even when I suggested that John could bring lunch from home, he instantly made up excuses not to do so because this had become his daily habit.  Habits shape our daily lives in ways we don’t even realize.  So, forming bad habits such as spending $12 every work day can seem like the only option without us even noticing that there’s another way.  On the other hand, forming good habits can make the difference between a crappy salad and an Aston Martin.

So John… “How’s your salad?”


Do you have any coworker or friend stories like this? How about any bad spending habits you never realized that you had?  Share them in the comments below!