For the third year in a row, the completely unappetizing daily lunch offered at our local high school is $3. For a family with two kids, that amounts to $1080 during the course of a 180-day school year.
Oh, sure; three bucks for lunch may sound like a great deal, but the truth is, despite those ever-rising grocery bills, people who choose to brown-bag a sandwich, piece of fruit, and carrot sticks or a serving of chips, are always going to spend less than the folks who buy their lunch at a restaurant, school cafeteria or fast-food joint.
On the other hand, not all sandwiches are created equally, as celebrity chef Martin Blunos demonstrated a few years ago with his decadent $184 cheese sarnie.
The good news is, the results of my 11th annual brown bag sandwich price survey show that most folks will spend far less than that in 2019.
How the Survey Was Conducted
As usual, I visited my local grocery store and recorded the per-serving costs of various ingredients for ten of the most common brown bag sandwiches: peanut butter & jelly (PB&J); bologna; tuna; ham & Swiss; roast beef & cheddar; egg salad; salami; American cheese; turkey; and bacon, lettuce & tomato (BLT).
For consistency, I only selected items with the cheapest per unit costs, regardless of brand. And to keep it simple, I also assumed all sandwiches would be made with wheat bread.
Here are the results of this year’s price survey, which was conducted on August 1, 2019. The first graphic shows the sandwich serving sizes and per-serving costs for each ingredient. It also includes the percentage increase or decrease in the per-serving price of each item from last year’s survey:
With that data in hand, and using my handy spreadsheet, it’s no effort at all to determine the most economical sandwiches.
Here are the official Len Penzo dot Com rankings of the ten most common brown bag sandwiches in 2019. Rankings are based upon total ingredient unit costs, from least to most expensive.
As you can see, PB&J fell from the top spot it shared last year with bologna; but other than that there were no changes in the sandwich rankings. As a result, at just 34 cents, the tried-and-true bologna sandwich is the lone holder of this year’s annual award for the most economical sandwich. By the way, it’s the seventh consecutive year that bologna has won or shared that honor!
The next chart is an annual comparison of each sandwich since my inaugural survey in 2009. This year, five of the ten sandwiches in the survey declined in price, while four now cost more than they did last year. And after hitting and all-time survey low last year, the Roast Beef & Cheddar had the biggest price increase (24%) of the sandwiches in the survey — although at a $1.60, it’s still a relative bargain compared to your typical fast food burger.
In 2009, the average price of all ten sandwiches in my survey was 82 cents. This year, the average cost of the survey’s sandwiches is $1.00 — that’s about 7% higher than last year. That also ends a four-year run of price declines as you can see here:
Tips and Observations
- Six sandwiches in this year’s survey cost less than $1; that’s down from seven last year.
- After falling for six consecutive years, the price of bread climbed 30% in 2019, and is now at it’s highest level since 2016.
- Besides bread, five other ingredients saw significant price increases this year: bacon, roast beef, lettuce, peanut butter, and tomatoes.
- Despite an 18% increase in the price of peanut butter, the cost of a PB&J sandwich only climbed a penny this year, thanks to a 32% drop in the price of strawberry jam.
- Thanks to a big drop in the prices of its star ingredient, the Turkey & Swiss sandwich costs just 51 cents; the price has steadily fallen 65% from its all-time high of $1.44 in 2015.
- After climbing sharply in 2018, the price of salami remained relatively steady this year; even so, at $1.00, the cost of its namesake sandwich was up 3%, due to the higher price of bread.
- If you’re the type who is hooked on tuna, you’ll be happy to know that the cost of a tuna salad sandwich has plunged 56% since 2016.
- At just 65 cents a sandwich, egg salad is still one of the most economical brown bag options.
- After climbing sharply two years ago, the price of mustard has fallen 17% this year.
- For the tenth time in 11 years, the BLT is the most expensive sandwich in the survey. However, at $3.17, the BLT is still 82 cents cheaper than a Big Mac. And it’s healthier too.
- Cooking your own ham and turkey and slicing it yourself is a great way to reduce your grocery bill. It’s also cheaper to buy block cheese and slice it at home.
- If you’re like me and love to put tomatoes on a sandwich, grow your own— you’ll save a bundle. Best of all, they taste much better than anything you can buy from your grocer.
- You can save upwards of 40% by purchasing store-brand products. As my popular blind taste tests have proven, their quality is often just as good — if not better.
Photo Credit: neil russo