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Visa counting your lunch money

By , CardRatings contributor
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Credit card companies love to tell us how we spend our money. From how much cash we drop on Valentine's Day to how many of us went online for back-to-school shopping, card issuers can't seem to help themselves from slicing and dicing the numbers.

Now, Visa has issued a report that may make you think twice before heading out to lunch with your friends from the office. According to a recent survey, Americans who go out to lunch find themselves with an average of $936 less in their pocket by the end of the year.

Are the 1% eating filet mignon?

The survey of more than 1,000 adults found those who eat out for lunch tend to do so twice a week and spend just shy of $10 each time.

Men outspend women by 44 percent, paying an average of $21 per week for their lunches. Women average less than $15 a week for their noontime meals.

Regionally, Southerners spend the most, paying an average of $20 per week. At the other end of the spectrum, Midwesterners live up to their reputation as being a practical bunch, spending an average of $15.13 per week when going out for lunch.

However, the real story may be the 1 percent who spend more than $50 per lunch. That works out to nearly $5,000 per year. Those us who lunch at Jimmy John's can only wonder what someone orders to reach that $50 mark -- filet mignon? Gold-dusted cupcakes? Whatever it is, we can only hope their budget can handle the weekly expense.

Make the most of those meals

No matter what you order, it may be wise to step back and consider how much money is leaking from your wallet for your lunches.

If you have it budgeted, there is certainly nothing wrong with spending $10-$20 a week on lunch. However, with so many great rewards credit cards available, don't be content to simply spend your money and get nothing in return.

Instead, use a cash back credit card for those purchases. At the standard 1 percent cash back, it would be the equivalent of getting one free lunch a year. But some cards can offer as much as 5 percent back or more which means, at the average rate of two lunches out per week, your credit card could be picking up the tab for nearly three weeks' worth of salads and sandwiches each year.

Cash-back credit cards aren't your only option. Some rewards cards offer extra rewards points for specific categories such as restaurants. If you dine out on a regular basis, it pays to find the best credit cards for dining.

Of course, it goes without saying you should always pay off your card balance each month. Paying interest is a surefire way to negate any rewards you might earn.

And if you don't think you can swing an extra $1,000 out of your budget for lunches this year, don't forget your old friends -- the brown bag and a PB&J sandwich.

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