A couple months ago I realized that one of my best financial strengths was becoming a huge thorn in my side, and wallet! I have historically been very good about NOT spending money on meals out, especially lunch, but suddenly I was dropping $30+ on lunch each week.
As I complained to friends about this new bad habit, I was surprised to learn that this is exactly what most people were doing. I complained a few times about paying $7-8 for a lunch, and some friends even laughed about how “cheap” I was being. I thought to myself–Is this really normal? Thirty dollars per week is $1,560 per year. Obviously, we are talking about a LOT of money that could be saved for retirement, or any other “need” that lasts longer than a ten-minute meal.
So luckily over the last few months I have figured out a great system for myself to spend $0 on lunches out during the week. And even when I account for the costs of groceries, I’m spending about $1 per lunch. I’ll list a few tips below that have helped me, and I hope that you will join me on this challenge: Spend $0 on lunches out in April.
I realize this is nothing revolutionary. But when I started to slip in this area of my budget, it helped me to make a system to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. For me, spending money on lunch was an extension of being disorganized and not having a strict routine. This has actually been a very fun “project” for my family, as it’s gotten us to talk more about saving and our financial goals in general, makes us more conscious of what we’re eating, and gives us more time to spend together for planning, meal prepping, etc.
Pack all lunches in advance.
This is the best and most obvious change we have made. Every Sunday afternoon my wife and I spend about an hour packing every single lunch we will eat during the workweek, including lunches for our toddler. The beauty of this system is that once we’re done, neither of us has to think about lunch at all for the rest of the week. There is a pretty significant peace of mind that comes with doing this. And this directly addressed the problem that caused me to spend money on lunch: I was always putting off packing it until the last minute.
I wrote a post about the method a while back, including the specific meal prep containers we use (and love).
Optimize your grocery list.
This plan to save money on lunch has been part of a bigger plan to reduce our grocery budget significantly. I don’t remember where we started exactly, but we were spending around $500 per month for our family of three. We’ve gotten that down to between $75 and $95 per week, which I’m pretty happy with. The expensive weeks are when we indulge (usually fresh salmon is the culprit). This has been a “sweetspot” grocery budget for us where we aren’t pinching every penny but also aren’t eating like kings. As we are starting to make every meal during the week more routine (ie using a meal calendar, etc.) lowering the budget at the margins is becoming even easier.
We’re paying for time-saving conveniences, too. For example, we’ve started using Kroger’s “Click list” (where they package the groceries and bring them to our car), and we’ve started to buy pre-cut/washed vegetables. Long story short, we’ve found some fairly affordable time savers that we’ve been happy with!
Prepare to say no.
Lunch is a social hour…and so it can be difficult to always pack your own lunch when friends or co-workers are going out…especially when you’re trying to beat the Richmond Savers frugal challenge!!! The best thing to do here is simply to say no and stick to your guns. Offer a coffee meeting instead (before work or even at the office where the coffee is free), and consider using this as a time to talk to your coworkers about your personal finance philosophy. Oh, and depending on where they are going for lunch, it might be possible to tag along and eat your packed lunch on the way or at the restaurant.
This is simple enough right? Can you complete the challenge?
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