How to Make a Million Dollars While Eating Lunch

In response to my last post, Would You Ditch A Car For $1,000,000?, a reader made the comment: “As a grad student in an urban area, I don’t have a car (nor could I afford one) and I use public transit. … I wish there was a “big ticket” item like that that I could easily cut out of my life, but there just isn’t. Instead I try to cut back on small things and aggressively invest for cashflow.”

While savings do accumulate faster when you cut back on the biggest budget-buster categories (housing, transportation, insurance and taxes), the little things do add up. Take for instance:

My Million Dollar Lunch Recipe

  1. Replace your $9.50 restaurant lunches (sandwich, fries, soft drink, sales tax, tip and mileage) with a nutritious $3.00 lunch brought from home.
  2. Deposit your $143 monthly savings ($6.50 daily, 22 working days a month) into a Roth IRA retirement account.
  3. Invest in equities (stocks, mutual funds) at a 10%* annual long-term average rate of return.
  4. Let your account simmer for 41 years.

Recipe Yield = $1,000,837

Serve: During retirement with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Total deposits = $70,356
Total interest earned = $930,481
Total taxes paid = $0
Total Saved= $1,000,837

Optional Garnishes:

  • Combine with a 20 minute walk to the park for lunch.

    Yield: 1,277,232 calories— enough to keep off (or lose) 365 pounds! (Calculated for a person weighing 140 pounds walking 4mph for 20 minutes (1.33 miles) 5 days a week for 41 years.)

  • Pack a lunch for your spouse.

    Yield: An additional $1,000,837

  • Add a group of supportive friends for lunch to work on the Baby Steps to Financial Freedom together. Yield: Financial freedom – with friends who will have the resources to enjoy it with you!

Isn’t it amazing how much money you can amass by investing small amounts over long periods of time?

Once you think in terms of investing instead of spending, look for ways to duplicate this process in other ways. Consider the following actions:

  • buy staples in bulk and invest your savings

  • invest your employee bonuses

  • invest unexpected financial gifts and inheritances

  • invest your tax refunds

  • buy a term life insurance policy instead of a whole life one and invest your monthly premium savings

  • buy a used car instead of new and invest the difference in price

  • borrow books, movies and music from your local public library and invest your savings

  • save and invest your pocket change

Imagine this: Starting with $0 and depositing $5,000 annually in a Roth IRA account over 41 years (at a 10%* annual rate of return compounded monthly), you will have $3,081,554.

Total deposits = $210,000
Total interest earned = $2,871,554
Total taxes paid = $0
Total Saved= $3,081,554

Choose affordable and cost-effective options and rather than feel deprived, feel excited that you get to invest the difference in yourself and your future.

~ Bon Appetit!


*The actual rate of return is largely dependent on the type of investments you select. From January 1970 to December 2008, the average annual compounded rate of return for the S&P 500, including reinvestment of dividends, was approximately 9.7% (source:

Total savings are calculated in actual dollars (not inflation-adjusted). A common measure of inflation in the U.S. is the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which has a long-term average of 3.1% annually, from 1925 through 2008.

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Millionaire Mommy Next Door

A self-made millionaire shares her recipe for success, happiness and financial freedom.

31 thoughts on “How to Make a Million Dollars While Eating Lunch”

  1. Great way to put it, thanks! I should write this out and keep it with me. I need to try to find a more convenient way to “brown bag” my gourmet vegetarian eating habits. You’re right that the little things are what adds up…. over the next six months I really want to frugalize my budget since I really want to get rid of my credit card debt once and for all.

  2. Occasionally they tease me at work about bringing my lunch. I keep telling them how much I’m saving plus I’m eating good quality healthy food. They keep eating junk food they buy at the cafeteria and I keep laughing all the way to the bank.

  3. With the 20 minute walk translating into weight loss, you’ll actually lose more than the 365 pounds you calculated, because the constant activity will change your metabolic rate. (Great article – I delicious’d it)

  4. A very different and delicious :) way of preseting very common saving tactics and its long term impact…thoroughly enjoyed this post!

  5. I am very good in general at nickel and diming…however, since my household is just barely exempt from qualifying for a Roth IRA, I was wondering your thoughts on the next best alternative when saving for retirement?

  6. Man! You are SOOOOOOO creative! I LOVE these calculations. I still can’t believe how many people responded to the $1 million for a car. We, too, are frugal and inventive, very creative shoppers, and very creative people (I’m an artist — see my website!), and have gone so far as to “sell” two of my paintings in exchange for dividend-paying stock! I just have one small problem with your computations: HOW DO I LET THESE SAVINGS COOK FOR 29-41 YEARS WHEN I’M ALREADY 60?

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  8. Interesting article. But this won’t work if I want to have a million dollars by the end of 2010. I am not interested in having it all after some 30 years, I would like to enjoy my life today. :)

    So I am after some other methods.

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  10. @Yael: You can use the money you save today — put your restaurant meal allowance towards retirement living expenses instead. No, you won’t see your savings compound, but you will free up $143 every month to spend on more important things.

    @ Armands: My point is that you don’t need to sacrifice life enjoyment today to save for tomorrow. I find picnics in the park with my friends and family very enjoyable — even more so than sitting in most restaurants. I am curious, how do you plan to amass a million dollars in one year? Do you have a plan yet?

    @ Saagar: If you eat healthily, you probably won’t suffer from diabetes later. Take care of your health and finances today and you will be rewarded for a lifetime.

    @Trent and Cynthia Morris: Thanks for referring my post to your readers!

  11. The big question is, lets say you have a million dollars after 40 years when you have diabetes and cant eat desserts and some other illness that prevents you from eating any delicious foods at that time, arent you better off enjoying it now. That said, you should do it it moderation though, like once a week or so…

  12. Hm, in 41 years I’ll be 69 years old. Do I really care about being a millionaire in my seventies? Well, it would be nice, sure! Though I think I’d rather spend the money while I’m young.

    I rarely eat out, though. Maybe 1 lunch, 1 sit-down dinner, and 1 take-out dinner a week. On a rare occasion I’ll grab a muffin or bagel for breakfast. So really, I guess I’m already saving the money from eating out every day.

    I just read your car post as well. I think, had I a family, I would definitely have only one car. However, as a single guy, I STILL have one car. I could, technically, do without it – bike, walk, public transport, carpool, etc. However, I have done that in the past and I found it very restricting (what if I want to visit my brother or parents, who live outside the city?) At least I got a fuel-efficient, reliable, USED car :)

  13. This is a great post, I love the recipe. Do you recommend a current bank for a Roth IRA? Interest rates are really low now and I was wondering if you had any suggestions.
    Little House

  14. What a hoot! This one-car thing has gotten so much mileage!!!! (pun intended). Cannot believe how many responses came out of this. Intriguing and wonderful. I once gave a speech about this: how much better our entire society would be without cars. Just think: Less pollution; less rubber waste in the air; fewer dump areas for metal refuse; more natural resources staying in the ground; fewer greedy car salesmen — we could go on and on with this — and don’t forget: WE’D ALL BE THINNER AND FAR HEALTHIER. I, for one, would relish riding my bike or taking the bus (a real, clean bus, not a “chicken” bus), and hiring a taxi for special outings. That’s what we did in Israel when I was a child. Every Saturday morning, a group of neighbors would congregate on the main street, children with colorful pales, towels, sandwiches, and several of us would pile into one taxicab and away to the beach we’d go! If we needed something at the store, we’d walk. I always walked to school, and did throughout high school. I took the train for college. I don’t remember feeling deprived! It was great. I was slimmer, and I did lots of reading on the public transport. But we have become very spoiled as our technology and society have evolved.

  15. I think I can confess my latest frugal frolic in this area cause I fear the ‘real ‘ world isn’t ready for this yet. But first off I need you to know two things : 1. I need a large breakfast otherwise you can ‘scrape’ me of the floor at around 10 o’ clock in the morning 2. I’m a photo nut. .

    I went to Paris for a week last month (no I don’t live in the U.S.) but I had no intention off paying through the nose for a tiny breakfast and I wanted something new for my camera and no I wasn’t going to pay the usual price for that either. To cut a boring story short I brought along my own breakfast and drink and with the money I saved in this way I bought the same winder for my camera I was aiming at through a website in Hong-Kong (after some research ) it even came with a free battery adaptor which I would normally have had to pay extra for. All in all the normal price was three times as much even without the adaptor . No applause please and no pat on the back , just give me another challenge !

  16. You sure are right! People today just spend, they don’t save, they waste and waste and sit on the couch, wasting their bodies as well. You are a good writer, and I’ll read a lot more of your stuff. Thanks You.

  17. 10% returns compounded over 41 years..where are these being offered? What happens when you have a huge mkt selloff, like the one we just experienced? Better slice your bologna much thinner! And how pastoral and bucolic it sounds to steal away to the local park to nosh with friends every lunchtime. The vast majority do not have that privilege, nor work year round in favorable climates.

  18. Oh, now we’re cookin’. “Pastoral”? “Bucolic”? I can almost hear strains of Beethoven’s Sixth playing in the background. This is lovely. MMND, you sure got a lot of mileage out of this one!

    Well, under some circumstances, it is possible to get 10% – A MONTH no less. If anyone is interested, please read my blog, THE FLYING MARKET, on Facebook/HubPages, etc. Problem is, I didn’t keep my winnings (my bad!).

    But Stag, the bigger problem is not the making of the 10%, annually or monthly, it is the waiting 41 years!

  19. Hi Jen,

    I currently invest 20% of every paycheck into my 401 K (I am 27 years old). Would you still advise opening a ROTH IRA? Can you recommend a book that would help me better understand this?


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  21. 41 years is a long time to wait, but then saving only $143 is very little. I think there is a great message here about making the sacrafice and the bigger you make one, the larger your reward.

    To those who argue, that they would rather spend now because you dont want wait 10, 20 or 41 years for your reward, I say, you are today the sum total of all the decisions you have made over the past 10, 20 or 41 years. So as long as you are going to be around in the future, you could make some adjustments to your current lifestyle.

  22. Well, I can’t take public transportation to work. I’ve looked into ride sharing and carpooling and the like and no go. I don’t buy coffee outside of what I brew at home. I don’t eat out, ever (ok, maybe once a year). My lunch at work is $1. I barely make enough to pay the bills, buy groceries (generics or whatever is on sale or I have coupons for) and gas for work. So, how does someone like me make a million dollars? I could probably squeeze $10 to $15 dollars out of my budget a week but what would I do with it? I can’t just walk up to a bank and say, “I have $15, how do I invest to get a 10% return?”.

    What kind of advice do you have for someone who has VERY little money to put toward retirement, has no idea what stocks and bonds even are and who really wants to try?

  23. @won’t work for me: You asked, “What kind of advice do you have for someone who has VERY little money to put toward retirement, has no idea what stocks and bonds even are and who really wants to try?”

    If your budget is already squeaky tight, focus on the other half of the wealth equation — make more money! Financial freedom doesn’t require earning a million dollars — just more than it sounds like you’re earning right now.

    If you really want to know what stocks and bonds are, invest time in learning. There is an entire WWW out there to start with. Wikipedia might be a good place to start for definitions. And don’t forget your local library — fabulous FREE resource for investing books, periodicals, and other materials. This is where I started!

  24. This is very easy to say but is hardly done. People won’t cut out coffee or some of the other things the so called experts say to do. You need to have it taken out of your account or paycheck systematically so you are forced to save it. We also need to stop looking at the stock market as earning 10 percent a year. It just is not the way anymore. A roth combined with some other investments are the way to go.

  25. Fact….Women are the most underserved market when it comes to Insurance and Financial Planning.

    Fact….Most women will be widowed for 10 or more years…how much insurance your husband have? It will become what you will live off of for the 10-20 years after he is gone.

    Fact…If a women lives to life expectancy (which is 87) then there is a %50 chance she will live past 90 years of age. If a women makes it to 90 years of age then there is a %25 chance she will live to age 100!.

    The question becomes, are you prepared? Will you have enough money to live off of if you are one of these women. If you think (most of you know that you wont) that you will not be financially healthy then you need to speak to a Financial Person as soon as possible. You can’t afford to wait.

    Nick C.

  26. Eating Lunch is a great metaphor for making money. Actually, making a million is very similar to losing weight. To lose weight, all you have to do is eat less calories than you burn. To make money, all you have to do is spend less than you earn.

    So if you eat or drink less and apply the money to the millions, you’re on your way!

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