Why Work Lunches Don’t Have to Be Boring (or Expensive)

by Guest Contributor · 5 comments

lunch on a budget

We eat lunch every day. If you are the type of person who buys lunch daily, you are kissing $1,000 or more good-bye every year. (For some of us, it’s more like $2,000, $3,000, or even $4,000 a year!)

What a fantastic waste of money. This isn’t to say that you can’t eat out periodically, but as we constantly talk about here: Frugal is the new in.

Pack Leftovers

There is nothing revolutionary about the idea of packing your lunch. In fact, until the last 20 years or so, that is what everyone did if they didn’t have an office cafeteria at their disposal. This, folks, is what leftovers are for.

I always make more food for dinner than I expect we will eat. The rest is immediately portioned into plastic containers. If I am not in the mood to eat it the next day, into the freezer it goes.

Come morning, I grab what I want for lunch that day, add some fruit, fill my water bottle, and I am set in a matter of moments.

work lunchesAnticipate It

Sit down and look at the supermarket circulars when they arrive. Which meats and cheeses are on sale this week? Determine how many slices of each you need for the week and buy just that. Those supplies are specifically for lunch. When you have a plan in place you are much more likely to follow through on making lunches.

Preparing the lunches in the evening is another way to improve reliability. It is much easier to find five minutes to assembly line all the lunches before bed than it is to find the same five minutes in the morning, unless you are much better organized than I am. There is something about mornings that seems to get my children’s brains working and then I am signing papers, finding money for field trips, and arguing about the need for a coat when it is below freezing.

Eating Out

Okay, let’s face it; sooner or later, even if you usually pack your lunch, you are going to end up eating out. So what options exist that will allow you to stick to a budget?

The Dollar Menu – There is nothing wrong with ordering off the dollar menu. A sandwich, soda, and fries come out to $3 plus tax.

Coupons – Go out with a coworker, use a BOGO coupon, or one that offers 50% off a second entrée. Drink water and share an appetizer if you must.

Eat Small – Restaurants serve way more than a standard-sized meal these days, so a full-sized entrée is more than you should be eating anyway. Order an appetizer and a drink instead. You save money, enjoy eating out, and get enough to fill you up without requiring a nap after lunch.

Split a Meal – If you are either very close to your lunch companion or have someplace to put leftovers, you can split an entrée. If you are on your own, put half the meal into a take out box at the start, so you can leave it at work for the next day. If you are with a coworker, plan on sharing the same meal. Ask for the restaurant to split it in the kitchen and even if you pay the extra couple of dollars for the plate fee, you will still come out way ahead.

Work lunches shouldn’t be a large part of any family’s budget. Planning is the key to enjoying your lunch and saving money at the same time.

This is part of the How to Save Money on Everything ebook. Check out your own free copy by signing up for the free frugal newsletter.

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  • CreditShout says:

    I love packing my lunch. I include lots of fruits and veggies as well as eggs for protein. I also try to pack everything I can the night before so I’m not rushed in the morning. In addition, I have a cute knapsack that I use to put my lunch in. It’s fun and reusable. It makes packing my lunch stylish and savvy.

  • Niccii says:

    Love this post. Lunch is not boring around here. Do to daughters allergy’s everything has to be planned…so we Bento….it is still very frugal and everyone thinks she is the cool kid at school…no boring peanut butter sands here.great website about subject is Justbento.com.

  • jimmy37 says:

    Unfortunately, to a majority of people, being frugal is being cheap. Not going out with co-workers also limits socializing. Some people mistake that as being standoffish.

    Regardless, I enjoy bringing my lunch because it has what I like to eat. On weekends, we make a lot of stuff so there will be leftovers for lunches and quick dinners.

  • Janet says:

    I splurge on a delicious deli sandwiches sometimes for lunch. It’s a pricey $9 lunch from a gourmet shop. But the portions are so huge, that I can stick it in the fridge at work and have it for lunch for the following couple of days. So, it’s really just 3 bucks per lunch, and it’s probably better than dollar menu stuff. 🙂

  • marci357 says:

    I don’t know where this “frugal is the new in” stuff comes from….
    I believe it has always been with some of us.
    Packing lunches for me began in 9th grade when my high school had no cafeteria – good practice – and I’ve been packing sack lunches ever since… hmmm, about 40 some years now.

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