I have been shaken to the core by this new revelation. Making your own bento (or at least the way I do it) does not save you money. When I lived in New York, bringing my lunch to work saved me at least $10 a day. New York delis are making a killing on pay by the pound salads. When I got into the habit of packing bentos, not only did I save $50 a week, I also had a lot of fun and was eating much healthier.
Fast forward to today. I always just assumed that packing a bento for work saved me money. I never really thought about it, but it just made sense. But then last week, I got a little lazy with cooking dinner which then meant no bento. My laziness is what lead me to discover that buying lunch in Japan is SUPER affordable and most of the times much cheaper than packing a bento.
Here's a little bit of Five Footer Eater math:
I bought a Hainan Chicken Bento that came with more rice than I would ever pack in my lunch, hot chicken curry, pickles and soup. This cost me 700 yen. (About $9...or something.)
A six-inch turkey breast sandwich with sliced cheese (you have to pay extra for cheese in Japan - WHAT?) costs 420 yen.
These two items are both more than enough food for me for lunch and probably double the amount of food I pack in my bentos. The portions are more than generous.
My bentos on the other hand cost me on average 3,000 yen for groceries. Now, that does also include my dinner for the night, but sometimes I don't even have leftovers from dinner because a certain Squidward is very hungry and it is really hard to make American standard sized meals in Japan. There's no buying bulk and it seems as if everything is sold in a 1 serving size package. For example, chicken wings/drumsticks cost about 400 yen...but you get 4 pieces. FOUR DRUMSTICKS? That's not even enough for a dinner for one, let alone me plus a Squidward. And don't even get me started on asparagus. 3 measly sticks for 350 yen. Unacceptable. The point is, I gotta buy a lot of food and it adds up quick and don't last long.
All this, in my head, somehow adds up to much more expensive than a fresh bento from a local restaurant. Add in all the adorable cute bento boxes and accessories I HAVE TO buy and it ain't even a competition. It's true, it's not as fun buying my lunch and my Google Reader time has been cut in half because I have to go out to grab my meal, but still. It just never occurred to me that my bentos may not be the most economic hobby. At least in Japan.