has done away with $5 foot-longs. There goes my last lunch indulgence, something I could justify once in a while. After all, it was only five bucks, right? I could get two lunches out of it, or my husband and I could split one.
Now all that’s left is the restaurant lunch averaging between $7-10. Multiply that by 20 workdays per month and you’re looking at $150-200. Just think what you could do if you saved that money instead!
Thinking long term, take one year’s worth of eating out for lunch and you’re well into the four figures. Save that $7 daily lunch tab for 35 years and you could have upwards of $30,000, not including the interest you would accrue along the way.
For most of us, meals eat up (pun intended) most of our discretionary income. It’s also the area of the budget where we have the most control, especially when it comes to lunch. No, there’s no such thing as a free one, but we can come pretty close, certainly less than $200 per month.
Try these ideas for a month and see how much you save – in dollars, and maybe a few pounds.
Leftover and over
. I may be one of those people who think leftovers taste better the next day, but this is the closest thing to a free lunch you can find. Whatever you make for dinner, double the recipe and you’ll cover lunch the next day, if not several. Pinterest is full of great ideas, such as making fried knishes out of leftover mashed potatoes. Getting creative can make leftovers not seem like leftovers, and save your bottom line and your waist line. Okay, maybe not with the fried potato example, but you get the idea.
Salad in a jar
. So easy, so inexpensive, and it eliminates the soggy salad we all know and dread. Get five 1-quart Mason jars, prepare your salad ingredients, and then fill each jar starting with the dressing first, followed by layers of each ingredient in order of absorbency. Helpful hint: The lettuce always goes last. When you are ready for lunch, dump your contents in a bowl and you instantly have a healthy and satisfying lunch.
Make munchables. Have you seen what they’ve done with Lunchables
lately? There are now pizzas, subs -- you name it! Gone are the days of just cheese and crackers. With this upgrade has come a serious price increase, now with a hefty $5 price tag. Why do that when you can build your own – complete with compartmentalized Tupperware – for a fraction of the price? All you need is sliced turkey, cheese (Hint: slicing blocks actually save you money instead of buying the pre-sliced or squared cheese), crackers, celery or baby carrots.
Can do. Not all soups can qualify as a meal, but some definitely do. I watch for specials on the thicker, heartier soups like Progresso
and Campbell’s Chunky, which I’ve found on sale for $1.50 per can or less. A few times a year I’ll make my own and get several lunches out of it. Homemade soups also typically freeze well and, if portioned out in Tupperware, make great grab-and-go lunch options.
I can hear you now. “I don’t have time to make my lunch every day,” or “I need that break from work,” and “I wouldn’t want to miss my lunch crowd.” With the ideas above, you don’t have to.
All you have to do is phase out the sub or fast-food fix from your daily routine. Brown-bagging it is habit-forming, so find other savvy savers to dine with. Yes, it’s actually possible to crave the same-old sandwich, salad or last night’s leftovers. Keep track of the money you save. Set up a savings account and put that month’s savings into it. Watching it build week after week will more than make up for whatever empty calories you’re missing.
Kat's Money Corner is posted on Dollars Sense every Tuesday. Kat Hnatyshyn, when not blogging or caring for her little one, is a manager with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. For more financial chatter, click http://twitter.com/savinmavens.