Dear New Frugal You,
lunches at work are getting more and more expensive. Between us, my wife and I
are spending close to $15 every day. And that's just lunch. Breaks can easily
add another $5 to our joint tab. I'm sure that taking our lunches to work is
the right answer. But we've tried and can't seem to make that work for us. Can
you help? -- Sonny
right to be concerned about lunchtime spending. For most families, what they
spend on food and groceries can make or break their budget.
reason is simple. First, it's a major expense, typically ranking third-highest
behind housing and transportation. Figures from the Census Bureau's 2012 U.S. Statistical Abstract show that as of 2009, 13
percent of family expenditures were for food. A little over 40 percent of that
was food prepared outside of the home, amounting to over $2,600 per family.
as you've already pointed out, you make decisions about what food to buy just
about every day -- so you have lots of opportunities to affect how much you're
that in mind, let's see if we can't help make "lunches from home" an
easier task for you.
begin by seeing what you have available and what you'll need to purchase. Be
willing to invest in the containers you'll need to store and bring your lunch
to work. Have enough containers so the lack of them won't foil your frugal
efforts. It's money well spent. Trying to get by with old butter dishes and plastic
grocery bags could doom you to failure. This is one case where spending for the
proper tools will pay off.
you don't have a kitchen with a refrigerator and microwave at your workplace or
if you have a long commute, transporting and storing your lunch becomes even
more important. You'll need a plastic cooler or insulated lunch box. They come
in various styles and sizes. Pick the one that will work best for you.
buying a wide-mouth thermos bottle or two. You'll find a variety of shapes and
sizes available where you buy camping goods. They're not just for drinks and
soups. They can be used to keep foods such as rice or meatballs hot for your
lunch, or to keep potato salad or other sandwich spreads (such as shrimp or
crab salads) cold.
spend much on ice packs. Used plastic soda or water bottles make an excellent
ice pack when filled with water and frozen. Keep a variety of sizes in your
freezer. Use the one that best fits your lunchbox that day.
bottles can also be used to keep your lunch warm. Heat water on the stove top
or in the microwave. Use a funnel to fill your bottle so you don't risk burning
access to a microwave and refrigerator makes variety much easier. If your
workplace doesn't have either, you might want to see if they'd be willing to buy
them to help all employees reduce expenses.
let's spend some time on your menu options. Sandwiches are easy to make and to
bring to the workplace, but they can become boring. Try variations on the
sandwich. Tortillas and wraps are still convenient, but provide some variety.
They also allow for fillings that wouldn't work with bread or a bun and invite
you to include different sauces and spices.
sandwiches, your best source for cheap food are your leftovers. The big secret
to leftovers is to disguise them so you'll forget that today's lunch started as
last night's dinner.
begins with planning for leftovers. For instance, you're planning on a
spaghetti dinner. It's easy to make extra sauce and meatballs. Using your
thermos and a hoagie roll and you'll have the ingredients to make a meatball sub at
your desk or workstation.
you save your leftovers will also make a difference. Consider packing them as
individual meals or as individual servings of the remaining meat, potatoes and
vegetable. The individual servings allow you to choose what combination you
want to take for lunch.
the Web for lunchtime ideas. You're sure to find some that will work for your
diet and taste buds.
forget to think beyond the normal solutions. Consider forming a lunch club.
Three to six people are best, but even two will work. Take turns bringing in
lunch for the entire group. Or take a potluck approach where each person brings
something to share with the group.
admit that occasionally you'll want to go out or you won't be prepared to bring
your lunch. Plan for those occasions. Save coupons for local restaurants.
the good news is that you don't need any special training to make this plan
work -- just the desire that you already have. Soon you'll be deciding what to
do with the money that you've been saving with your new frugal lunch plan!
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