Photo: Matt Seppings
The following is a guest post by Bryan Maltier. Bryan is a blogger specializing in personal finance, investments and insurance. He has worked for an internet company in their M&A department as well as a private equity firm. To learn more, visit Gajizmo.com for your personal finance needs, or BryanMaltier.com for a focus on insurance.
If you work outside of the home, you have to supply your own lunch. Unless the executive dining room is at your disposal for free, you’re on your own when hunger strikes at lunchtime. Eating lunch in expensive restaurants every day can be fun, but most working individuals have neither the time nor the money to indulge in that habit. Therefore, planning your own lunches and taking them to work with you is the best way to save money, be healthy, and avoid that food coma.
When it comes to preparing food, I’ll be honest, I’m lazy. Preparing a meal requires grocery shopping, preparation, cooking, cleaning, and only after all that can you finally enjoy your meal. At least that’s what I used to think until I had to start doing it for work. Getting each day’s lunch together is simpler than most people would think. As much as I don’t enjoy waking up 30 minutes earlier than I have to or staying up extra to make my own lunch, it does not take a lot of time to purchase weekly lunch items and pack your little brown bag each morning. In fact, lunches can be made the night before so that morning tasks are not as rushed, especially since I have a tendency to be late to work with the ridiculous traffic in Los Angeles. Each night, a fresh sandwich can be made and put together with fruit, chips, and a dessert, whatever you wish. Leftovers from the night before even make a great lunch if they are able to be eaten cold or you have access to a microwave. Eating leftovers may not be a gourmet meal, but when it can save you close to $200 to $250 per month in lunch expenses, I think its well worth the sacrifice.
When you eat in restaurants, portion control is extremely difficult. Packing your own lunch allows you to not only use coupons to purchase weekly food items, but controlling grease and fat content is quite simple. Sandwiches on whole grains, raw vegetables for snacking, fruit instead of chips, and water bottles in place of sugary sodas can all add up to excellent nutrition and saving money. A healthy soup can be placed in a thermos first thing in the morning and will still be hot at lunchtime.
The biggest benefit of this for me personally is the dreaded food coma. I used to eat lunch around 12:00 p.m., come back to the office around 12:45 p.m., and have a very hard time staying awake at my desk around 2:15 p.m. Now, I’ll be honest, I work out a lot, have a high metabolism, and I really like to eat, especially meat. The problem with all that is meat sits heavy in the stomach and requires a lot of work for your body to digest, not to mention the fact that I sit at my desk for most of the day after I’ve eaten. All these factors combined, I was not doing myself any favors eating out so when I started to bring my lunch to work and limited my intake, I felt better, more energetic, and didn’t have to work as hard at the gym to keep from putting on the pounds.
If you are restricted to a certain allotted timeframe for lunch each day, eating in restaurants or driving to and from your place of work to pick up lunch can take more time than it’s worth, sometimes resulting in only 10 minutes to eat. When you pack your own lunch, you can immediately grab your bag, or heat up your leftovers, and begin eating. You may even choose to walk to the local park and enjoy some time outdoors while enjoying that tuna sandwich. Enjoy some quiet time and clear your mind before returning back to the workplace. Eat lunch during the first part of your lunch hour and then get some exercise by strolling along in meditation or walking with a group of co-workers. Fitness and lunch can indeed go hand in hand.
I personally used to eat lunch and then take a 15-20 minute nap in the car. I had a very stressful job (analyst at a private equity group) and was usually short on sleep to begin with. Despite not being much time, I actually felt great afterwards and it helped me to unwind and de-stress before stepping back into the office.
Eating out every day or buying lunch, even when using discount codes or coupon codes at a local deli or restaurant can add up to a lot of money. Taking just a few minutes per week while doing regular grocery shopping to pick out appetizing lunch choices is not difficult and can add up to considerable savings over time. So that boredom doesn’t set in, try a variety of items each week and switch them around. Crackers, yogurt, dried fruits, cheese chunks, or cooking a little extra at dinner the night before are excellent ways to have interesting lunches every day and save money at the same time. You can even buy a cookbook and experiment each night for dinner and keep leftovers for later in the week.
In the end, we can all come up with excuses to let deli sandwiches entice us or restaurants serve us, but packing your lunch each day is an excellent habit. If there is no refrigerator at work (doesn’t every office have one these days? If not, maybe you should look for a new company to work for), take a cooler. If you have to drive all day, make time to stop for a few minutes and enjoy your meal. If stopping is not possible, make bite-size items for your lunch bag and keep your eyes on the road. Where there is a will to use food coupons and save money with lunch, there is a way.
Do you regularly take your own lunch to work or school? Or are you guilty of regularly eating lunches from restaurants?