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My 10th Annual Cost Survey of 10 Popular Brown Bag Sandwiches

For the second 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 tenth annual brown bag sandwich price survey show that most folks will spend far less than that in 2018.

How the Survey Was Conducted

It’s hard to believe I have been doing this for ten years!

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.

Survey Results

Here are the results of my price survey, which was conducted on August 3, 2018. 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 2018. Rankings are based upon total ingredient unit costs, from least to most expensive. As you can see, at just 36 cents, bologna and PB&J sandwiches are the co-winners of my annual “Most Economical Sandwich” award; for those keeping track at home, that is the sixth 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; back then, the average cost of all 10 sandwiches was 82 cents. The average steadily increased every year until 2014, when it peaked at an all-time survey high of $1.19. Since then, however, the price of the average sandwich has been steadily declining. This year, the average cost of a sandwich is 94 cents — that’s 7% cheaper than last year. It’s also the first time the average price of a sandwich has been under a buck since 2010.

click to enlarge

Tips and Observations

  • For the second year in a row, seven sandwiches in the survey cost less than $1; that’s the most sandwiches under a buck since 2009 and 2010, when eight sarnies made the list.
  • Thanks to a big drop in the prices of its two star ingredients, the cost of a roast beef & cheddar sandwich is at an all-time survey low of $1.29.
  • The price of salami increased sharply this year. As a result, a salami sandwich is now 97 cents; the last time it was more expensive was back in 2013, when it cost $1.04.
  • The good news for those who love to gobble turkey never seems to end: After falling 42% in 2016 and 37% last year, the price of a turkey & Swiss cheese sandwich fell another 3% this year to an all-time low of just 60 cents. It’s hard to believe that the same sandwich cost a whopping $1.44 as recently as 2015.
  • 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.
  • The price of an egg salad sandwich is 69% higher than it was two years ago; but at just 68 cents a sandwich, it’s still one of the most economical brown bag options.
  • Last year, mustard’s cost climbed sharply. This year, however, it was mayo’s turn, as the price rose 12% from the year before.
  • For the ninth time in ten years, the BLT is the most expensive sandwich in the survey. However, at $2.69, the BLT is still $1.30 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

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