Save money, pack your lunch

by Erika Torres

Do you pack or buy your lunch?

Since I began working, I’ve almost always packed my lunch. The only time I buy is when I have lunch plans with a co-worker or friend. Not only does it save me a bunch of money, but my lunches are healthier than anything I can buy. I can easily make a 350-calorie lunch at home that only costs me a few bucks, whereas buying a salad (although let’s be honest, I do not do salad) would run me at least $8. Even if I only spent $5 a day on lunch, that’s $25 a week, or $100 a month. And I don’t know about you, but I would have trouble finding a lunch for only $5 unless I was eating fast food every day.

$100 a month? That’s almost a third of our total food budget. Today, I spent $58 and stocked up our entire fridge. I bought chicken breasts, ground turkey, tilapia, two bags full of fresh produce, and a bunch of other stuff as well. And since I’m trying to stick to $75 a week for our food budget, I’m so happy I still have $17 in this week’s budget! (and yes, I totally just used a calculator to subtract 58 from 75. #EnglishMajor)

I also created–for the very first time!– a meal plan for the week. I took inventory of what we had in our fridge and came up with meals we could do. So the whole “what’s for dinner?” dilemma is solved and we can look on the menu and decide what we want.

I just added “Chicken Veggie Shish Kebobs” to the list. Is that how you spell shish kebabs?

(and you may think “I thought she just said she doesn’t do salad?” well, I don’t do salad as just my meal. If it’s with other stuff, I’m ok…sometimes)

Whenever we cook dinner, we always make extra for lunch the next day. SO that solves the lunch problem. And if we eat out during the week, then I always try and keep some frozen meals on hand just in case. The point is, when you’re on a tight budget, eating out for lunch is the very first thing that needs to go.

Almost all of the co-workers in my department buy lunch every day. Even the co-worker who says she needs overtime because she needs the money because her spouse isn’t working–and in my head I want to say “do you know how much money you could save by bringing lunch?”

This doesn’t mean I’m anti-social though. If someone invites me to lunch, I’ll go. I have no guilt in spending $10-15 on lunch when I only do it once or twice a month. And that’s really pushing it. I can count on two hands–and I don’t even need all 10 fingers– the number of times I’ve bought lunch since I started this job in December, 8 months ago.

SO are you a brown bagger or a buy your lunch kinda person?


britt@knewlywifed August 16, 2011 - 1:09 pm

Totally brown bag. It saves so much money. It’s funny, but I just posted about grocery budgets on my blog, too!

Tiffany August 13, 2011 - 10:50 am

Yup, I brown bag about 80-90% of the time. Saves so much money!!

Michelle August 10, 2011 - 9:25 am

I try to pack my lunch nearly everyday of the week. I have saved tons of money doing this and I feel like the food I make is much better than anything I can get.

I just started a blog, please check it out 🙂

Andrea August 9, 2011 - 10:10 pm

I suck at this. I mean, I WANT to bring my lunch and sometimes I’m really good about it, but sometimes I’m not. It’s a habit that I really need to build because it definitely saves a noticeable amount of money.

Krys August 9, 2011 - 7:12 pm

I WANT to bring my lunch more often, but I struggle with it. A lot of times, even though I’ve brought a lunch, I’m very easily enticed to go out for something way more yummy. I generally just cook for one and don’t make very large/elaborate meals, so I rarely have leftovers to bring. That means my options are frozen Lean Cuisine-type meals or cold sandwiches or something… and I just can’t get that excited about any of those things. I need some more creative ideas or something!

Babybluewater August 9, 2011 - 2:07 pm

Good for you getting your groceries down so low! And for making a menu for the week. That’s great progress 🙂

Niki August 9, 2011 - 9:59 am

Congratulations on making a menu plan. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but they have been a real time and money saver.

My kids and husband all pack their lunch. Occasionally, my husband will dine out, but that is what allowances are for, right?

Namine August 8, 2011 - 7:12 pm

I prefer packing a lunch, then finding some shade and reading a book. Otherwise I am trying to figure out where I want to eat, what I want to eat, dealing with crowds and children then paying all in 1 hour. Sometimes it’s pushing it. Summer though does make it hard because my co-workers eat out all the time and invite me to go. It’s much easier in the winter

Grace August 8, 2011 - 5:39 pm

Now that I am in school and living on loans I pack a lunch. I am actually finding it to be nice. I used to HATE packing a lunch and would gladly shell out the cash. I have a feeling that now that I have the hang of it I’ll pack a lunch even when I get a job.

Kellie August 8, 2011 - 12:02 pm

I usually always bring my lunch… there is a delicious salad across the street on Thursdays so sometimes I will get that but I try to recreate it myself… they have the best salad dressing though!

Nikki August 8, 2011 - 11:23 am

I typically bring my lunch to work at least 4 times a week. It saves so much money and really is a lot healthier than the options in the office cafeteria. It is nice that a lot of my co-workers bring their lunch as well so we all sit together in the cafeteria and eat our lunch. I also try to bring left overs from the night before for lunch to mix things up so I don’t have to have a sandwich each day.

prettylittlereckless August 8, 2011 - 9:26 am

I work nights and my work location’s cafeteria closes before I even get to work, so I *have* to bring lunch to work. However, I did work days for awhile and still brought my lunch. On occasion, the cafeteria would have a lunch combo for around $5 and I would sometimes get that (usually their taco salad because you got a lot for $5). But now, if I don’t bring my lunch, I’ll go home on my break. I live 5mins away from work and can go home and whip up something. When i’m super lazy though- I’ll bring a Lean Cuisine and that’s $2 or less.

A Super Girl August 8, 2011 - 9:25 am

I consider myself a brown-bagger, though today I’m chowing down on some Jimmy John’s.

Maybe once or twice a week, I’ll buy lunch, mainly if I was out late the night before or am just low on groceries. I’m like you that I try to just cook enough dinner to have leftovers for lunch, but I also keep small things around like Laughing Cow cheese, hummus, carrots, and hard boiled eggs for the days when there aren’t leftovers. On those days, my lunch can get pretty random!

Jennifer August 8, 2011 - 9:23 am

Brown bagger here!! I love having food to munch on at my desk. Plus, it keeps me from eating all the fried food at the cafeteria. lol

Elyse August 8, 2011 - 9:21 am

I usually bring my own lunch to work just because buyung food everyday can get so expensive!!! I work at a bank inside a grocery store though so if i dont have time to pack a lunch i can go get a frozen burrito for .33 cents. So if i forget it atleast it isn’t a budget breaker 🙂 i always preach to my boyfriend about bringing his lunch but he doesnt listen.

Mary August 8, 2011 - 9:00 am

I am trying to convert to brown bagging, but it’s not hard to find someone to go out with in my office, so I don’t always do as well as I’d like. Now that you pin some numbers to it though…added motivation!

Erini August 8, 2011 - 7:43 am

I tried bringing food to school… it just got hard. I’m there, sometimes for 12-15+ hours a day… that means bringing two meals. Which means a lot of space taken up in my already heavy bag.

It doesn’t feel like I carry much but: a laptop, large notebook, small sketchbook, stenopad, laptop adaptor, binder, and misc pens, pencils and markers add up quickly. And I’ve found that just a sandwich and small bag of pretzels/almonds/carrots/chips does not fill me up. I dislike bringing in leftover type things because then I still have to carry the containers back home.

I have found healthy food near me, Protein Bar Chicago. All meals are with a quina base, about 350 calories-ish and under $7. Fills me up and taste great. But those add up too. Trying to get back into bringing food… it’s been hard since there’s not much food in the house to bring. (*My* grocery budget? I’ve been trying to keep it about $35 a month. Tending to fail, so it’s more like $50 a month. Granted, I’m living on unemployment and am trying to get on food stamps to help.)

The Coach's Wife August 8, 2011 - 7:06 am

I’m a brown bagger all the way! I pack breakfast and snacks too, since I eat all throughout the day. We have a cafeteria on my work campus, which makes it nice on those days that I have absolutely nothing due to being lazy about going grocery shopping, and it’s pretty cheap, but still runs about $7 for a lunch. We have a weekly food budget of $60, so we try and do leftovers a lot for lunches too. I love your meal plan, everything sounds so good!

Teacher Girl August 8, 2011 - 6:54 am

I pack my lunch, both for monetary and practical reasons. As a teacher, I have to eat when the kids eat, and we only get 35 minutes. That is barely enough time to pee and eat and inevitably deal with some child who needs me during lunch. If I didn’t bring my lunch I would have no time to eat and be relegated to eating the school cafeteria food which makes me want to hurl. I am a lunch-box girl for sure.

Jackie August 8, 2011 - 4:28 am

I am with you – I usually buy my lunch only when I’m meeting a friend or coworker for lunch. The other day though – I decided to just bring my lunch to the cafeteria where she bought her lunch. I guess it may be different bc I work in a university…it would be weird if I brought my lunch to Applebees. 😉 My husband loathes taking his lunch though – he says what I make him either doesn’t fill him up or makes him feel like a 5th grader. I don’t know if that is a battle I will ever win.

Melissa August 7, 2011 - 10:40 pm

I ALWAYS bring my own lunch. I’ve actually started just storing days and days worth of food at the office, like jars of soup and snacks and veggies and stuff, so I don’t have to actually pack a lunch every day, because I’m also kind of lazy.

But I am constantly blown away by the people that complain of having no money, but buy lunch EVERY day! Like, I work with a woman who bemoans the fact that her iPod shuffle (shuffle!) is broken and she can’t afford a new one, and she is kind of snotty to me because I have an iPhone and other similar gadgets. I really just want to shake her and remind her that she buys lunch and smokes a pack of cigarettes every day!! She very likely spends more on just lunch and cigarettes in a week than I do in a month! THAT is why I can afford an iPhone and she can’t!


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