How much is your free time worth?

Gary Adams's picture

Every morning on the way to work I buy a coffee.

Not the kind with syrups and fruity flavours and bits hanging out of it that makes it look more like a cocktail - the coffee for people who don’t like the taste of coffee - but a simple black filter coffee, which costs £1. I do this because drinking instant coffee makes me want to die.

Other people in the office will spend what, to me, is far too much money: £2.50 - £3, every single day, on a nice cappuccino or latte. But most people just make do with the instant coffee that is so generously supplied for free in our office.

When I was in my twenties I made next day’s lunch every evening. The feeling of superiority I got when I pulled out my floppy sandwiches or reheated chicken while everybody else in the office gorged on freshly made baguettes or crisp salads helped me to power through my unsatisfying grub.

About this time I started a relationship with a woman who lived alone. She hired a cleaner to visit once a week, which I thought was incredibly wasteful - I spent many of my Sunday evenings ironing the coming week’s shirts myself.

Fast-forward a few years and a few things have changed. Namely my tolerance for making do in order to save a few quid has evaporated entirely. My relationship with money has loosened somewhat - it comes, it goes, and I’ve learned that no matter the numbers involved, any effect on my mood is short-term.

Additionally, my free time has become a lot more valuable - especially in the evenings. When did I start getting so tired by half nine at night? I think it was around the same time that my metabolism hoisted the white flag.

So now, to my mother’s horror, I buy my lunch out every day. I also get my shirts dry-cleaned.

Here are some other reasons for not packing a lunch:

  • The amount of food wasted by throwing away lunch items that go off quicker than you can eat them, such as cheese or bread (as a singleton this is a regular occurrence for me)
  • The lost opportunities spent wasting time going shopping
  • The lost time spent preparing food
  • The effort and hassle of bringing food into the office
  • Time spent washing stinky plastic lunchboxes up
  • The lack of variety of food

The counter argument

Although this is a blog post, I don’t want it to be entirely self-involved and my points of view in this matter are often ridiculed. My colleague Helen Knapman particularly disagrees. Here is her argument:

“I’m a money saver at heart, and part of that philosophy includes saving my hard earned cash for a house deposit, meals out with friends, and the occasional big holiday.

It’s true, there are things I’d rather be doing in the evening than making my lunch for the next day. But I calculated that I spend between 85p to £1 a day on my packed lunch – depending on if I have a sandwich or a salad – which is a daily saving of about £4 compared to the £5ish you’d likely pay in most shops. Over a year (assuming you have 28 days holiday, including bank holidays) this is an expenditure of £233 and a saving of £932 compared to £1,165 if you spent an average of £5 a day on eating out.

Plus, I’m not sure the food you get out is all it’s cracked up to be anyway. Once in a blue moon I dip my toes into the realms of popular coffee shops when I haven’t had time to make my lunch the night before, and more often than not I’m left disappointed by the taste of the food and feel like I’ve wasted my cash.

At least if I make my lunch at home I know I’m going to like it – particularly pertinent as a non-mayonnaise fan given the vast majority of takeaway outlets slather their bread in the white stuff. Plus, if I know exactly what’s going in my lunch I can control how healthy – or unhealthy – it is; something you don’t do with a shop bought meal – the closest you can get here is going from sandwich to sandwich analysing the small print and totting up calories in your head.”

Looking at the results of our recent poll, which revealed that seven out of ten Moneywise readers pack a lunch for work rather than eat out, it seems that when it comes to our readers, I’m on the losing side. But this is a battle I have no intention of giving up yet.


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