The days of dining out willy-nilly are pretty much over for a large percentage of the workforce. Millions of people -- many of whom once ate out or brought in take-out every day at work -- now pack a lunch at home and carry it to the office (or the school or the shoe store). Break rooms are overflowing with people trying to save some cash during the lunch hour, and some blog-based "Brown Bag Challenges" in the past few years have drawn even more people into the trend.

Is it worth the time and effort? How much money are we talking about here?

It depends on a couple of factors. First, how much do you usually spend to buy lunch on a work day? And second, what kind of things will you be putting in your lunch bag?

Buying lunch can run anywhere from $4 for, say, a cup of soup and a roll, to $15 (or more) for a restaurant lunch or some take-out sushi. Let's just call the average daily lunch about $10, which gets you a fancy sandwich with some chips and a soda.

Make that same fancy sandwich at home, and you're spending remarkably less. Using ingredients you buy at a grocery store, a sandwich that a deli charges $6 for would probably cost you less than $2 to make at home. Add in a buck for a bag of chips and a buck for a drink, and we're at $4, less than half the cost of typical weekday lunch out.

If you're a bulk shopper, and if you bag your own chips and fill a reusable bottle with water for refreshment, you could probably get the cost down to less than $2.

And that's not even the cheapest way to go. You could make a pasta lunch for less. But we'll go with an average brown-bag cost of $4, for some wiggle room. At $4 for lunch, that's a 60 percent savings over eating out. If you save $6 a day, five days a week, that's $30 a week, $120 a month, and almost $1,500 a year.

So is it cheaper? Very much so. Whether the money you're saving is worth the extra effort of making your own lunch -- that's something only you can answer. But $1,500 can cover a year's electricity bill.

Add in the fact that the lunch you make at home will almost always be healthier than the lunch you buy out, and you might end up saving some money on medical costs, too.

For more information on cutting costs, making lunch and related topics, look over the links on the next page.