Your $15 Lunch Habit Could Be Costing You $400K of Retirement Savings

The average 60-something today has ~$195K in their 401(k) retirement account. What if you could make one lifestyle change, which would cost you about 2 hours of meal prep every 40 days (~18 hours per year), and would in turn bring your $15/lunch* habit into < $2 per meal? If you invested the savings each year for 32 years (assuming you’re 35 like me, and retirement age is 67) at an average return of 5% compounding each year, you’d have ~$400,000 in additional retirement money at the end of that time.

See the math in this spreadsheet

I realize this isn’t the only reason to do meal prep, but it’s a pretty strong argument for making incremental changes to any habit of convenience. You can do similar calculations for other categories of discretionary spending, like ordering a $5 latte at coffee shops versus making coffee at home, using ride-sharing versus public transportation and walking, and many more habits which are ultimately optional choices we each make about how to spend. For me, looking at these analyses (even when I splurge and choose the more expensive option) really drives home the power of habits to shape outcomes. On such a long timeline it can be difficult to keep what matters most in focus.

Even if you don’t put the money into investments, with the benefit of compounding returns to get you to the full $400K, this is still $160K of direct savings that can be re-allocated to other things you value you more in life than what you ate for lunch today.

This kind of frugal thinking is a cornerstone of the book “Your Money or Your Life”, and whether you’re interested in financial independence or just stuck at home with some time on your hands, these burritos are delicious.

Making Delicious < $2 Steak Burritos

For this recipe, I’ll propose one meal plan so you know exactly what the ingredients are, what the nutrition facts are, and how to put it all together. From here, you can adjust the flavors and macros using vegetables, spices, or a different/more protein for a variety of options, while still staying below the $2 mark.

View the shopping list as a spreadsheet in Google Sheets

I’ve also done a bit of research to break down the nutrition facts of the underlying ingredients in this recipe, to give you a sense of how this performs on macros (fat, carbs, protein) as part of a balanced diet:

Bringing It All Together

Saturday night before bed: Coat the steak in salt, pepper and spices (paprika, cumin and oregano is good mix) and place in a slow cooker on low for 10 hours (or sous vide at 135 degrees Fahrenheit) overnight.

Sunday morning after breakfast: Remove the steak from the slow cooker or sous vide and shred with two forks or dice into small pieces and set aside to cool. Dice the white onions. Get out the other ingredients and set up an assembly line of on the kitchen table, starting with your pop-up foil.

Place two sheets of foil on the table side-by-side overlapping a couple inches. Lay a tortilla on the foil and apply a thin coat of olive oil (so it won’t stick to the foil when reheated later) and flip over, oil side down on the foil.

Put your driest ingredients in first, to avoid sogginess. The green chili salsa should be the last thing you put in.

Roll it up, and freeze it right away!

Reheating the Burritos

We’ve wrapped them in foil, so the microwave isn’t an option unless you completely unwrap. For the best flavor, remove a burrito from the freezer and put it into the fridge the night before to thaw or remove it from the freezer in the morning and put it out on the counter to thaw. Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit, and bake for ~1 hour.

The spices and salsa should make the burrito flavorful and moist enough on its own (the raw onions and black beans will steam in the oven), but if you want to make the meal feel a bit fancier garnish with hot sauce, sour cream, limes, salsa, diced jalapeños or even an egg over-easy. Enjoy!

P.S. Going Beyond Burritos

Am I seriously suggesting you eat a burrito for lunch every day for the next 32 years? Well, yes… but also no. One of the biggest challenges to saving money is that frugality is often boring and low status. You might get made fun of for brining a bag lunch to work, but the odds that you will be hanging out with the people you work with in retirement (or even 2 years from now) is low. How much do you actually care?

There are lots of lunch meals you can enjoy for $2 or less that will give you the macros you need. One of my favorites is good old PB&J.

Check out my previous spreadsheet trying to construct < $10 day meal plan that felt yummy and not restrictive here for more ideas.

Not everyone spends $15 on lunch, but I am basing this off of my own spending while living and working in downtown San Francisco. Some example lunch menus include SOMA Eats, Uno Dos Tacos, and Deli Board.

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