Whether it’s 30 minutes or one hour, your lunch break is your opportunity to regroup, take a break and enjoy some good food. But if you’re not careful, you might unknowingly hurt your finances on your lunch break.
See also: 18 Ways to Run Your Personal Finances
Here’s a look at five bad habits that can cost you big time.
#1 Voluntarily Working Through Your Lunch
Understandably, there’ll be days when you might have to eat lunch at your desk while still working, but don’t make this a habit. If you do, you’re actually hurting yourself financially. If you work from 8 AM to 5 PM, chances are your employer isn’t paying you during your lunch hour. Therefore, if you get into a routine of working through your lunch break, you’ll end up shortchanging yourself and giving your employer free hours. If you earn $20 an hour, and you work through your lunch three times a week, that’s $60 you’re leaving on the table. The same way your boss takes his or her full lunch break to regroup and enjoy a meal without interruptions, you deserve the same break.
#2 Sitting or Napping in Your Car
Getting out of the office for a bit can clear your mind. You might even sit in your car and take a little 15 or 20-minute power nap. But if you sit with your car idling for 30 minutes to an hour, you can drain your pocket without realizing it. According to the California Energy Commission, "idling your car for 10 seconds uses as much gas as restarting the car. And if you allow your car to idle for two minutes, you’ll use as much gas as driving a mile." Sitting in your car while it’s running may seem minor, but you’ll waste gas and make more trips to the pump.
#3 Window Shopping
About 10 years ago I worked in an office located next to a mall, and at least two or three times a week, a few coworkers and I walked around the mall on our lunch break to kill time. Unfortunately, we also killed our bank accounts. Even when we didn’t have plans to spend money, we would stumble upon amazing sales or clearances that were too good to pass up. After a few months, I came to the realization that our weekly mall trips were doing more harm than good. I wanted to get out of the office for a change of scenery but ended up breaking my budget. Likewise, if you want to get out the office, rather than hit a retail store where you might be tempted to spend impulsively, take a walk around the block or go to a nearby park.
#4 Browsing the Internet
This can be just as dangerous as walking around the mall on your lunch break. Surfing the Internet can provide a way to unwind during your lunch break, but not if you spend money. Step away from your computer, smartphone or tablet if you’re tempted to shop while sitting at your desk. Or instead of checking out retail sales, distract yourself by reading personal finance blogs, news blogs or play a few games - just make sure you don’t make any in-app purchases.
#5 Fast Food Runs
Not packing a lunch is by far one of the biggest money wasters for people who work outside the home. Understandably, you might hate the idea of eating a sandwich or a frozen meal every day for lunch, and it might be more appealing to go to lunch with coworkers. But even if you spend five dollars a day, that’s $25 a week or $100 a month on lunch. There are better uses for this money, such as increasing your emergency fund or starting a retirement account. Yes, you have to eat at some point during the workday, but you don’t have to break the bank. When you prepare dinner, make a little extra so you’ll have leftovers for lunch. Pack everything the night before, and leave a Post-it on your front door reminding you to grab your lunch from the fridge before leaving for work.
If you’re looking to improve your personal finances, you need to understand ways you’re potentially wasting money. So, let go of bad financial habits and adopt habits that can improve your financial situation instead.