In this, at least, I have a good track record: I take my lunch to the office most days. This is a habit I got into three jobs (and quite a few years) ago, when I worked out how much sandwiches, and noodles and pub lunches were costing me.
Taking your lunch is always one of the top tips I see in finance blogs and even though I’m already on board, I’ve never actually worked out if it does save me money.
So, I kept track and I’ve done the sums on lunches for a few weeks now.
This week, I am eating Jamie Oliver’s baked beans. This recipe made 6-8 lunch-sized serves and even with the addition of some speck (come on, I’m a carnivore), it worked out to less than $3 per lunch (at 6 serves). I admit, I guessed some of the numbers as the impetus for making it was to use up some of the canned items in my pantry.
The week before, I had baked, stuffed squash. The squash was from a friend’s garden and made four serves, which again worked out at less than $3 a meal.
Another favourite is spaghetti bolognese. This always makes quite a few meals and I usually end up having it on toast for dinner at some point as well. I make a big batch and there’s usually eight servings for lunches and dinners, which works out about $2.50 per serve.
So, there we are – tasty, hearty lunches (I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of salad) for between $2.50 and $2.80 per serve. This means lunches at work cost at most $15-20 for the work week, not including my daily piece of fruit (chosen for what’s in season and therefore reasonably priced) and/or nuts for snacks. And not a packet of dried noodles or can of soup in sight.
(Side note on soup, I have some in my drawer at work. They’re a long-lived, handy backup plan for when lunch didn’t make it to the office with me.)
Compare that with what happens when there’s a pub lunch or a “I didn’t make enough to have leftovers” situation. Even if your pub does a $10 lunch special, that’s still expensive compared to making a decent batch of something on Sunday. Even having two sushi rolls will set you back about $7. $10 times five or $7 times five is still a lot more than $3 x five, especially over a whole year.
How much potential saving is there?
$3×5=$15 (that’s a five-day work week, adjust as you need)
$15×48=$720 (48 is 52 weeks a year, minus four weeks of holidays. Adjust as necessary if you’re in a profession with longer breaks, or holidays aren’t a reality for you.)
$10*5=$50 (That’s a nice round number, based on a pub special. Again, adjust as necessary for your lunch purchase of choice.)
Hard to argue with potentially cutting your lunch costs by two-thirds. Just remember to put that money into your high interest savings account, toward paying off your debts, buying shares or whatever your current goal is as you strive for your big goals.
I can’t remember to take lunch every day
Sure you can. If you are not one of nature’s morning people (and they are freaks, how do they do that? It’s not natural at all), it’s best to prep your lunch the night before. Then, to make sure you remember to take it with you, hang a carry bag on the exit door to jog your memory on your way out to the bus or your car.
But I’ll get bored
No, you really won’t. If that’s your fear (or reality), make sure you aren’t having the same dish for lunch and dinner. Or perhaps make up two or more lunch options and freeze in portions, so you can pick up something different each day.
Or be a devil and get ham and cook a roast to give yourself sandwich variety, have potato salad one day and a green salad the next. Sure there’s a bit more planning but if it helps you reach your savings goals, it’s worth it.
My office is full of food thieves
This one is a bit trickier and I have to admit, not something I’ve had to deal with. I have, however, had colleagues over the years who have dealt with such scenarios. Their solutions ranged from having a little lunch esky that stayed under their desk, to bringing soup in a thermos so that it would still be warm at lunch time. In a pinch, my little insulated lunch container (good for keeping food warm for four hours apparently) could live in my bottom drawer until lunch time, I guess.
Lunch is the only time I see sunshine!
If buying lunch is the only time you get some natural sunlight and away from the glare of your monitor or the phone, take your lunch on the road. Pick up your sandwich or salad (it’s a bit trickier with hot food) and find a park bench or a handy wall outside. Don’t give up your brain break for your money-saving, combine the two and maybe get a little incidental exercise as well.
At my age I should be able to afford lunch
Yes, you should and yes you can. It’s just that, like me, you’ve got some other financial goals that are more important that buying lunch every day. So until you’ve met those goals, guess what? The lunch you can afford is the one you bring from home.
I wanna eat with my friends
Me too. Which is why I don’t make lunch every day, just most days.