Living Well For Less: How to Save on Lunches

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Each week there are going to be articles from me or guests – these posts will focus on little tips and tricks that will save YOU money without giving up style or quality – who wants to save money if you cannot look fab doing it!

How to Save on Lunches

I work in an office building, and I can tell you that about 98% of the people I work with spend about $8-$12 a day on lunch.  For a five day work week, that turns into $40-$60 a week, $160 – $240 a month, just for lunch!  Heck, I try to keep my entire food budget to $50-$60 a week.

The first step to saving money is obviously bringing your lunch.  And I can be the first to say that a sandwich with a slice of meat and a slice of cheese can get old fast!

Here are some tips on what you can bring for lunch, that’s easy, and more than a sandwich.

1.    Leftover dinner.  Whenever I make myself dinner I always make at least twice as a much as I need.  If you’re already cooking dinner, it takes very little effort to double the recipe, add some extra pasta, cook up some extra meat, etc.  Even if you’re cooking something like a burger, just plop another patty on the griddle and save it for lunch the next day.

2.    Casseroles can be your best friends.  I am always looking for casserole recipes on the internet – my favorite website being  Almost every Sunday I bake a casserole (sometimes even two) to eat during the week.  And if you’re thinking to yourself that you can’t cook – casseroles are very likely something that you can.  It basically consists of throwing some rice or pasta, and meat or veggies, in a casserole dish with some extra ingredients such as milk or spices.  A casserole generally gives you about 4-6 servings and costs under $10 to make.

3.    Be creative with groceries.

a.    One of my favorite things to do is buy a carton of soup at Trader Joes (they have them for $2.79 – 4 servings of soup) and buying some fresh bread to dip in it (can run anywhere from $1-$4 for a whole loaf).
b.    Bring a banana instead of chips.  Not only are they healthier, but they cost about $0.20 each as opposed to a buck or two for chips.  If you do bring chips, however, always buy the big bag and bring single servings to work in Ziplock bags.
c.    Make your own salads instead of buying pre-made ones.  A pre-made salad can cost you about $5-$8, while the ingredients bought separately cost less and you can make more with what you have.

4.    Check the value of your groceries.  While the Lean Cuisines and Stouffers frozen lunches are easy (and cheaper than take out), they can still run you about $3-$4 a piece and don’t really fill you up all the much.  I can say from experience when I eat them, I’m usually hungry about 2-3 hours later.  Sometimes, when they go on sale, I will stock up on them, but only if they are in the $1 range.

Of course, it’s difficult to bring your lunch every day. There will come a time where you just haven’t gone grocery shopping and literally have nothing to bring.  Or you woke up late and didn’t have time to put something together.  Here are a few hints on how to continue to save, even when buying your lunch elsewhere.

1.    Skip the drink, get tap water instead.  Nearly all restaurants will give you a “cup for water” instead of a drink if you ask them for one.  The soda fountains should have a button you can press just for water.  I personally find it outrageous that they charge more for a single serving of soda than the grocery store charges for a 2-liter bottle of soda.  If you need your soda fix, I suggest keeping a 2-liter bottle of soda at work and bringing lunch back to eat with it.

2.    Always, always get the biggest portion.  If you get the biggest portion you can split it and have more than one meal with it.  Here are a few examples:

a.    Subway’s $5 footlong (or heck, even any of their footlongs).  I never get a 6 inch sub at Subway, unless there is no way I can get the second half to a fridge within 2 hours.  Get the footlong, save the other half for another time.  That’s $2.50 for 6 inches of sub!  Then pair it with a serving from that big bag of chips you bought for the week.  (Don’t buy the little bags of chips there – they are like $1 each…)
b.    McDonald’s 20 piece nuggets.  I wanted to try to avoid fast food as much as possible, but the deal on McDonald’s 20 piece nuggets is unbeatable.  They sell them for $4.99 each.  They are great to split with a friend!  Then 10 nuggets become $2.50 each, plus you can each get small French fries on the dollar menu.  So 10 nuggets and a small fry – $3.50.
c.    Pizza!  Depending on where you go, buying a whole pizza can be a great value.  For example, Little Caesar’s Pizza offers large pizzas for $5 each.  Depending on how much you eat, you can get anywhere from 2-4 meals out it. Where I live in Los Angeles, several local pizza places have “Carry-out Specials” in which a large pizza can range anywhere from $5-$7.  Make sure to check out your area for these types of specials.  Even if you buy a large pizza for $10, and say get 3 meals out of it, that’s still just over $3 per meal.

3.    Be on the lookout for coupons.  While you may get tons and tons of junk mail, make sure to look through it for valuable coupons.  I know I get a lot for Subway, KFC, El Pollo Loco, and other chain places.  Even if I don’t plan on using the coupons right away I still make sure to stash the flyer in my work desk in case I may ever need it.

Following my tips, if you buy take-out for lunch regularly, you can probably save at least $100 a month, maybe more.  Then, you can put that money toward something you really want!

About me:  My name is Amy and I currently live in the Los Angeles area, but am originally from Boston.  I have been frugal all my life (my mom and I used to clip coupons together) though my frugality increased in 2009 when I was out of work for most of that year and had to get by on very little.  Now I’m working on getting my saving account back to where it used to be and planning a wedding at the same time.

If you are interested in more ways to save money check out these articles:

Living Well For Less: Frugal tips for Fab Makeup and Beauty Shopping

Living Well For Less: Taking Care of You Car