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At my last job, going out to lunch was a daily ritual. Working from 8:30 to 6— and oftentimes, 7—made me crave a breath of fresh air, plus socializing outside the office helped the day go faster.Around 11 a.m., like clockwork, I’d be craving a salad from Pret a Manger or a steamy cup of chilli from Hale & Hearty.
But eating out all the time had its downsides. To my horror, I realised my $10-a-day lunch outing was costing me roughly $200 per month. That was a huge chunk of change that I would never see again, so I decided to change my habits.
Though I still battle the worker bee reflex to seek refuge in a tasty, little “splurge” outside the office, I’ve found some creative ways to scale back the costs of indulging too much at lunch.
Here’s how I did it:
Take it outside. Carve out 20 minutes and grab some friends to have lunch at a nearby park. You’ll feel refreshed and enjoy the break in your day, which in turn will help you stay balanced.
Pack things you’ll actually want to eat. Obviously, if the thought of eating another bland salad makes you want to duck for cover at Burger King, you should pack a tastier lunch. Think last night’s bbq leftovers or your spouse’s excellent slow-cooked chilli.
Get a crockpot. Speaking of chilli, crockpots are an efficient, low-cost way to cook up some tasty meals. Check out LearnVest’s crockpot and slow cooker rules to get started.
Designate which days to buy lunch. Every day shouldn’t be a brown bag day, and variety does an appetite (and diet!) good. Planning in advance will keep your budget afloat and possibly give you something to look forward to if the brown bag routine has you bored. Note: Only do this if you can afford it. I’ve scaled back to two days a week.
Buy groceries on the cheap. Whether that means choosing generic over brand-name cookies or going shopping towards the end of the month (when manufacturers tend to slash prices, reports the Journal), having more to spend will give you more to choose from.
Store what you need at the office. To quit eating breakfast on-the-go, Your Money reporter Mandi Woodruff recommends storing everything you need at work, from bowls to cereal to bananas and milk. “It just helps having everything prepared for you when you get there,” she says. This way, you’ll have no excuse to splurge.
Do you brown bag your lunch? Why or why not?