After two days in the budgeting trenches, today’s topic is a little lighter. We’re going to talk about food again, but about lunch this time. If you have a habit of eating out for lunch, grabbing something to eat on the go, or sending your kids with lunch money, then you have lots of money-saving potential in packing your lunch.
If you have mastered the art of packing your lunch (and eating it), then we’d love hearing your experience and tips in the comments. I know there are lots of helpful ideas out there!
What’s Stopping You?
If you aren’t already packing your lunch, what’s holding you back? Before we talk about practical tips and ideas, we first need to address whatever it is that’s keeping you from bringing a sack lunch to work or sending one with your spouse and kids. Are the mornings too rushed? Do you not have anything to put in lunches? Do PBJs make you cringe? Are you worried about what your co-workers will think?
Have you thought of the obstacle or concern that is preventing you from bringing your lunch or “forcing” you to eat out? Is it a bigger deal than your goal? Unless your boss subsidizes all of your lunches out, I’m pretty certain that bringing your lunch will bring you closer to achieving your goal than the alternative. And hey, if it turns out to be terrible, you can go back to buying lunch after you reach your goal.
One of the best parts of having my kids home for Christmas break is that I didn’t have to get up early and pack their lunches (and everything else involved in getting them out the door bright and early). When I’m on top of my game, I have lunches packed for my husband and two school-aged kids the night before. Unfortunately I’m not always that organized. I still send lunches with them every day (I can’t stomach paying $2.75 for a school lunch), it just means mornings are rushed if I don’t plan ahead.
Just like cooking at home, planning ahead is the key to success in packing lunches. When you’re in a hurry to rush out the door in the morning is not the time to plan. Here are some tips to help with planning lunches:
- Make sandwiches ahead of time and freeze them! By lunch time they’ll be thawed and ready to eat. Don’t freeze lettuce or other greens, but PBJs, meat, and cheese freeze well.
- Make a list of possible lunch foods and incorporate them into your grocery list.
- Have fresh fruit on hand like bananas, apples, grapes, and oranges (or Cuties). They’re so easy to toss into a lunch and are good for you too!
- Plan to make enough dinner to have leftovers to put in lunches. We made pizza for dinner last night. Each person got to make their own and eat right off their pan at dinner (the kids love this). Everyone gets their leftover pizza for lunch for the next two days.
- Last week someone mentioned mason jar salads, which got me thinking. My husband would love a salad in his lunch, but I’m too lazy to make one every day. Mason jar salads can be made for the whole week. Just put a jar in each day’s lunch and you can dump it in a bowl at lunchtime. And they’re so pretty too (search “mason jar salad” on Google or Pinterest if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
- Divvy up a week’s worth of lunch snacks at a time (see first bullet of next section). This is especially helpful if you’re making lunch for several people.
By packing just about anything, you’ll be saving money over going out to eat, but there are ways to save even more money on your sack lunch. Here are some tips:
- Instead of buying individually packaged items that are marketed for lunches, buy a normal sized package and divvy them up into individual packages yourself. Think pretzels, carrots, cookies, mini muffins, etc.
- Reuse sandwich bags. My husband and kids bring home their sandwich bags if they aren’t dirty and I use them again. Each bag only costs a penny, but when there are 4-5 in each lunch, it adds up. It’s also less waste and one more thing I don’t have to remember to buy as frequently.
- Use reusable containers instead of sandwich bags. You may have seen cute Bento box ideas on Pinterest. You don’t have to be all cutesy, but you can still use those great containers. We have some similar to these that work great (though they’re not leakproof at all).
- Yogurt is one of the most marked up prices in the grocery store. We make our own yogurt, which saves so much money. These containers work perfect for yogurt (or anything else that might leak, even soup)!
- Stores with closeouts and clearances like Grocery Outlet often have great deals on granola bars and other lunch snacks that are near the “sell by” date, but are usually just fine. Just the other day I found boxes of 12 Quaker granola bars for $.47. I stocked up!
- Individual string cheese can be expensive per ounce (unless I find it at Grocery Outlet), but sometimes I’ll cut cheese sticks from a block of cheese instead.
- Instead of juice boxes or buying a ridiculously priced 1/2 pint of milk, pack a water bottle. I send my kids with water in a reusable water bottle every day. My husband keeps a water bottle at his desk and in his car. Drinking water not only saves money, it’s better for you than pretty much anything else you’re drinking and most of us don’t drink enough of it!
Now Eat It!
Reading the comments in some other Frugal Fresh Start posts, I learned that even when you bring your lunch with you, there is still a temptation to go out to eat instead of eating the lunch you packed. Your co-workers, who haven’t committed to being more frugal to achieve their goals, want company when they take their lunch break. I loved that Samantha shared that her husband will go out with his co-workers, but will bring and eat his own packed lunch. I thought that was a great example of someone who sticks to his guns and enjoys the best of both worlds.
You can be open with your co-workers about making changes so you can reach your financial goals. You could even challenge them to bring their own lunch. Maybe they’ve never thought about how much money bringing their lunch would save them. If you’ve been in the habit of eating out, you could cut back to once or twice a month. Let your friends know that you’ll take a raincheck for a lunch date until then.
Whatever you decide, remember that attitude is everything. This is a choice you are making, not a restriction being imposed on you. It’s not that you can’t afford to eat out, it’s that you are choosing to spend your money in a different way. You’re not a victim; you’re being proactive by making a choice and sticking to it.
Day # 8 Challenge
Start packing your lunch! Challenge yourself with a personal goal for how often you will brown bag it, whether it’s for you, your spouse, or your children.
- In the comments, I’d love to hear your tips for making lunches work for you!
Additional Reading:disclosure policy.
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