Frugal, healthy lunches from now on

By Stew

fast food

I changed jobs over a year and a half ago and I still have not developed a frugal lunch routine. There are certain characteristics of my job that force me to eat out more than I like. At my last job, I always bagged my lunch or ran home for lunch every day. My former workplace was more structured and the people that I worked with had a high level of frugality. Much of that rubbed off on me. Since our move, I have not yet developed the discipline to make sure that I pack a lunch everyday.

Several changes have contributed to my “falling off the wagon” when it comes to lunch:

  • When I first arrived, I was the new guy and everyone was always inviting me out to lunch with them and buying said lunch. Since then the “buying” has fallen off, but the “going” continued.
  • I have found that lunch at my new job is an extension of work. Policy and procedures are discussed and formal work decisions are made. I think this is bad business, but I am not in a position to change this fact.
  • My schedule at my new job is very haphazard. I seldom eat at the same time every day and I never quite know what is happening around lunch time.
  • When we were struggling to sell our house, I quit keeping track of our budget, the news was too painful. Not knowing exactly where the money was going made it easier for me to just throw another five bucks on the pile.
  • I am on the road more often at my new job and that Wendy’s Spicy Chicken sandwich is soooo good and quick and easy . . .
  • The bottom line is that I broke my frugal habit and never reformed that habit in a new venue.

On Monday, I wrote about how often I waste one and two and three dollars on junk food and fast food. This is a habit that I am going to break. Over the past year, I started to purchase lunch three or even four times a week. I probably spent $80 to $100 on lunch every month. One day a week is pretty much a mandatory office event ($12), the other three ($5 apiece) are the result of sheer laziness and the fact that I love fast food. Not proud of that, but there you have it.

I rationalized this several ways. The primary being that I spend far less than my office coworkers on lunch during the week. They typically go to lunch four or five times a week and spend at least $10 per day. I don’t spend nearly that much and I make basically the same money . . . so I should be ahead, right? Not really. As I consider those that I work with, most are two income families and I am certain that most are carrying high levels of consumer debt.

I know better.

Over the past few months, I have slowly moved away from going out to lunch simply because I cannot afford the $10 lunches As a result, my coworkers no longer pressure me to go to lunch with them. I have successfully set the precedent that “Stew does not go to lunch” without offending. However, I still go out to lunch on my own and because I’m just a little cheaper – McDonalds instead of Chili’s, Wendy’s instead of Atlanta Bread, etc. But I’m still spending $5 per day.

I decided that I have worked here long enough that if my boss needs me at lunch, he can ask me specifically. In which case, I will ask “If this is a job requirement, who is buying?” So far no one has asked – they probably like making decisions without me. I know that I miss some things, but not enough to spend $10 to $12 of my own money every day.

Here are my lunch resolutions for the rest of the year:

  • I can go out to eat once a week with a budget of $12. I have learned that I have to go out to eat on Tuesdays or risk significant ill will.
  • I have a refrigerator in my office, I need to make sure it is always stocked with good food.
  • Other than Tuesdays, I need to bring a bag lunch.
  • For half of the money that I am currently spending, I can purchase the fixings for a really good sack lunch
  • The money I save will be used for debt reduction.
  • My health should see a significant improvement.

Part of the reason that I am posting these resolutions here is so Mrs. Stew can read them and help keep me accountable. Furthermore, I need to buckle down and practice frugality in every part of my life again. I have done it in the past, but I need to continue that habit.

I should also mention that everyone of my coworkers were over budget in their respective departments last year. I was able to successfully balance the part of the company budget for which I am responsible. If I start bringing a sack lunch, maybe I can start to exert some positive peer pressure on those around me . . . while saving money . . . and losing a little weight.

Photo byVirtualErn


19 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Frugal, healthy lunches from now on”

  1. Carrie Says:

    Good luck, Stew. This is also an issue where I work. We usually go out on Fridays for a group lunch and every other day I bring food.

  2. Kristen Says:

    I end up buying lunch out too often. For the most part, it’s sheer laziness on my part. If I got up 5 minutes earlier or put stuff together the night before, I could seriously trim my budget.

    I do love Wendy’s Spicy Chicken sandwiches. They are by far my favorite of all of the fast food choices. Throw in a chocolate Frosty, and I’m a happy girl! :)

  3. Catarina Says:

    Leftovers are are a great way not over spend on lunch every day. I usually cook more so I could bring my leftovers at work the next morning.

    Having healthy and nutritive snacks at work too (instead of snack machine). Apples or bananas, dried fruit, nuts, carrot and celery sticks and whole-grain crackers can fit the bill.

    Drinking water instead of soft drinks (bottle of water you can refill). Bringing your own coffee (if not free at work) can save you lot of money too.

    Good luck!

  4. Dan Says:

    Well analyzed and well said. I very much like your last point, and you can indeed sell your eating in every day as an example of frugal living to your co-workers or employees. You might be very suprised how many decide to follow your suit in this. I have had a similar experience in my work, and not only have I saved thousands over the past few years in eating out money, but I know for a fact of at least a couple of co-workers who took my example and have done the same, improving their lives as well. What a great feeling this gave me!

  5. Stephen Says:

    I think you may being a little short-sighted. Eating lunch out a few days a week is a cheap way to maintain healthy, outside-of-work relationships with your coworkers and bosses, who are the people that direct and help your most important asset — your career.

  6. Dramon Says:

    As you said, a lot of this is governed by the culture of the workplace. You do need to evaluate if the long term benefits of going to lunch with the team out weight the costs. Short term there is no question about it. But you have to look at your career and the support of your co – workers. Often the best investments I have made is in buying someone lunch or providing for their candy fix (I keep a candy jar by my desk). Short term costs, long term benefits which are well worth it!

  7. Roshawn @ Watson Inc Says:

    For some reason this has never really been a problem for me because I hate wasting the money. Still, you offer some great tips. One thing that I do is to make sure that I brown bag things that I really enjoy. You can by prepackaged meals (not TV dinners) with really nice food from Costco/Sam Clubs that work great for this purpose. I also do salad a lot too.

  8. sarah Says:

    I agree with your post and others on the long-term value of the occasional going out with the co-workers. I think your once a week plan is a great solution. I’ve had to reconcile the fact that for my husband’s job, the same is true and that’s a valid piece of our budget.

    On the lunches at work, leftovers and sandwiches have been my best bet. But there are still those lazy days. I have compensated (mostly) for those by keeping my desk stocked with easy things like canned soup, ramen and dried fruit and nuts. This way, even on the laziest of days, I have something cheap and semi-healthy (even the ramen is no worse that fast food!) Granted, this does assume you have access to a microwave.

  9. Kim Says:

    Wait your missing out on a key point. You can eat your sack lunch THEN go out to lunch with you co workers. You just had food so you don’t have to order any but you can enjoy a nice glass of tea or even just water while continuing to be appart of the office get togethers.

  10. fern Says:

    I have recently transformed my own workday lunch routine. Years ago, i worked at a high paid but high stress job with long commute that left me with little time or energy to make my own lunches. So i ate out 95% of the time and probably averaged $8 each day on a sandwich and soda or Chinese. Of course, this was 10 years ago.

    At my current job, i try to make my own lunches, especially on a Sunday when i have time mto cook something up, b ut i don’t usually have enough homemade stuff to last the week, so i bring in a frozen dinner. I started with Lean Cuisnes, then realized i could get them cheaper by waiting for the sale price of $2.50 each. when they weren’t on sale, I’d alternate with Healthy Choice, which cost the same.

    Just recently, I discovered Banquet frozen meals which sell for $1 each at Shop Rite!! It’s not gourmet dining, but when i’m work, i just want something that will keep me full. I usually supplement with fruit or a granola bar. Anyway, if you’re into saving $$ on workday lunches, this is a good way to go. I’ve reduced from about $8 daily ($160 a month) to $1 daily ($20 a month). Not bad!

  11. Craig Says:

    You really feel great about yourself when you eat healthy during the day. It allows you to get more done at work and be more active for after work. I always make my own lunch and can prepare what I want to eat and how much so I always pack simple healthy lunches.

  12. Gypsie Says:

    My coworkers understand that I bring my lunch and I restrict myself to eating out once a week, usually a Friday. In fact, a good portion of my coworkers now bring their lunch as well. It has become a regular occurrence to eat our bag lunches at the conference table as a group.

  13. Mike Says:

    Kim,
    I actually have one of my friend doing this. It actually works out fine and he is part of every informal meeting.

    Stew,
    The picture makes me dizzy. Cook bigger diner and bring the leftovers at work. I do this every day so I can eat a good meal for cheap!

  14. DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad.com Says:

    Lunch is always a challenge, not just from a frugality point of view, but also from a healthy eating point of view.

  15. Ashley Says:

    I’m currently having the exact same dilemma Stew. May the force be with you! Sadly, eating multiple lunches out during the week usually leads to an empty wallet and a larger waistline. Something that has helped me is having everything in individual ready to grab portions. I cook a few meals on Sunday just for future lunches, separate them into individual portions and put them in tupperware then stick them in the freezer. That way I never have an excuse of not having anything on hand to take for lunch. Same goes for snacks! Sticking to taking your lunch is all about making it convenient.

  16. Mneiae Says:

    I applaud your efforts, Stew! Way to save money on something simple!

  17. T. Bryant- Acai Force Max Says:

    I’ll be sure to check this post out again Dont stop writin

  18. Victoria Says:

    This is a great post and I hope you are successful – eating out is one of my biggest wastes of money.

  19. CA IPCC Result May 2014 Declared Says:

    thanx 4 the article

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