Saving

The No Excuses Take Your Lunch To Work Guide

Taking a lunch to work does take a little time, but the savings are astronomical over time. For people trying to cut costs, save money for a larger goal, or reduce debt, packing a lunch is an easy way to cut costs and improve your bottom line. But I’ve heard a good number of people claim that this was something they just couldn’t do, for a variety of reasons.

Here are some of the common things I hear when people say that they can’t possibly pack a lunch:

Excuse: I don’t have time in the mornings!

Neither do I. I would never pack a lunch if I had to do it in the morning. I pack my lunch in the evenings, when we’re cleaning up after dinner. Since my husband and I almost always pack dinner leftovers for our lunch the following day, we simply prepare individual servings as we’re cleaning up the kitchen. I keep around quick-to-grab stuff (bought on super sale, of course!). We often take fruit snacks, dried fruit, crackers, yogurt, cheese sticks, real fruit, and cut up veggies as sides. For drinks, we settle for water from the office cooler. But if instead you prefer soda or juice, then pick it up from the store where it’s cheaper to get than from the office vending machine.

Excuse: My workplace does not have a microwave or fridge.

You can always take wonderful meals to work! Sandwiches are quick and easy. If you hate soggy sandwiches, then pack each individual ingredient separately and assemble your meal at lunch time. Not only are salads healthy but they are also convenient and do not require microwaving. Cold soups also make for refreshing lunchtime treats. My favorite quiche tastes wonderful at room temperature.

What about those cold packs you stick in the freezer to cool your lunch? Well, you don’t even need those. A reusable water bottle filled most of the way up and kept frozen makes a good ice pack, and as a bonus, turns into cold water to drink with your lunch. I’ve heard of people doing this with juice boxes as well.

Excuse: My job requires me to drive and I’d rather not eat in the car.

I’ve been there. I once had a job as a maid for a cleaning service. We cleaned several homes during the day, and our company policy did not include a “lunch break” in the traditional sense. My employers considered the time we spent driving between houses as our break, so I had to pack something that would survive in a hot car that I could eat while driving. We weren’t even permitted to get a drink of water while at a client’s house, so I would leave my house every day with the following: several large bottles of water, most of which were still frozen from the freezer; an igloo cooler type lunch box, and assorted food items cut into bite sized pieces. The frozen water would preserve my lunch and would quench my thirst throughout the day. I would make and cut PBJ sandwiches into four triangles, cut apples into bite sized pieces, cut up cubes of cheese – these were all easy to eat while driving and were easy to snack off throughout the day. Most of my coworkers did not bring lunch so we’d pop in at a drive through, or stop briefly at a gas station. My lunch was much cheaper and healthier than theirs, for sure!

In grad school, I had a microwave but often had a schedule that did not allow for a leisurely lunch. One semester I had to eat while walking between classes — not fun! Again, the solution was to opt for food in bite-sized pieces and ready-to-sip cups of soup.

Excuse: I have to eat lunch out everyday because I need to network and get ahead with my career!

I had a roommate who did this and was slowly going broke, so as a solution, he’s decided only to lunch out on Wednesdays. He and several of his work friends call it the Wednesday Lunch Club and take turns trying to find an interesting hole in the wall restaurant to dine at. This was an interesting compromise! I’d also suggest bringing in some healthy snacks to eat throughout the day, so that when it’s time to go out and network, you can settle for a more affordable and lighter lunch, such as a soup or salad.

Excuse: I just don’t like packing lunches.

There are days when I don’t like to pack a lunch either. When this happens, I pull out a trusty frozen meal, like Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice frozen meals. This was something I didn’t do in the past because the meals were expensive and I try to avoid processed food. However, I came to realize that this was a much easier, cheaper, and healthier option than ordering a Value Meal at a fast food joint. If you watch out for coupons and sales, you can get these frozen meals for about a dollar each.

Packing a lunch does not have to be inconvenient or costly. It may take a bit of preparation at first, but you’ll soon get the hang of it! And the savings will almost certainly be worth it!

We decided to run some numbers to quantify these potential savings…and we came up with a big number: $1,000 to $1,500 per year. Surprised? What do you save by brown bagging it? What other tips would you like to share on how to save in the workplace?

Catherine fromĀ Frugal Homemaker Plus is a homemaker and freelance writer with a mortgage and a few student loans she’d like to retire by 2012. This post describes how she practices frugality, and exemplifies one of our core philosophies here atĀ Mint.com: spend less than you earn.