August 11, 2011

Tip of the day—Take a minute to pack a lunch

A lot of people are getting geared up for the start of school, but I’m not really talking about school lunches in this post.  I’m talking about a bagged lunch for grownups.  Yesterday I told you all that daughter and I made a loop all over town.  We had the usual hustle and bustle to get out the door, and for just a moment I considered grabbing lunch out.   A glimpse into my self talk as we were at the front door:

“Oh, I forgot to get lunches ready!  UGH, I’ll just grab something out.  I have those Chick-fil-a coupons in my purse, and we can use those to make lunch cheap.”

“Do I really want our daughter to eat fast food more than one time a week?  We’re going to go there this weekend when she has a friend over.  Do I really need those extra calories?”

“Well, I’ll just order a salad.  I’ll opt for fruit for her instead of fries.”

“Yeah, right!  I should just make some sandwiches.  We have everything.”

“But Chick-fil-a sounds soooo good.”

“Yeah, but it will cost money that I’d rather spend at a nicer restaurant with the whole family.  Make the lunches, Gabrielle!”

Ever argue with yourself like that?  Well, I came to the conclusion that packing our lunch and snacks would be a good use of my time, and I decided I’d swing by to get a free tea as a little treat.  (Don’t worry, daughter had an organic granola bar as her treat—I didn’t leave her out). 

For grownups, packing lunches, drinks, and snacks when running errands or going to work can be a great way to save money and calories.  Let’s estimate the cost of dining out costing at least $5/day—probably about the average for a relatively inexpensive meal at a fast food joint.  If we then consider that you’ll do that for most, if not all, of the work week, then you could spend at least $25 per week.  In contrast, if I bring food from home, I will spend at least half that money in OOP expense.  Below are a few tips on ways to reduce costs for grownup lunches, many of which I learned from my friend Jennifer.  She packs her lunch daily and makes scrumptious gourmet sandwiches and special meals for herself.

  • The first tip I learned from Jennifer is to make it special.  If your meal is ho-hum, you might ditch it to opt for a better offer at a diner or fast food joint.  She grows her own sprouts so that she has an endless supply of veg for her sandwiches.  I try to buy special snacks, breads, fresh veggies and such for my Hubby who packs his lunch daily.
  • Invest in some good reusable lunch equipment.  I adore my thermal bag from Thirty-One (they will be at the Ladies Night Out event at our church on Sept 15th if you want to check them out!).  Hubby likes his small cooler.  We have BPA free bags, drink cups, and containers we’ve picked up over the years.  I like the small Pyrex dishes for anything that I’ll reheat in the microwave later.  By opting for reusable, you’ll save a ton of money  over the course of a year.  Not to mention, you’ll also reduce waste.  Even if you plan to recycle those plastic baggies, there is still an environmental impact that went into producing them and will go into recycling them. 
  • If you have the space at your office, bring extras.  When I was working full time, I brought some nice dishes and coffee cups to work.  I kept them there so that whenever I had the time, I could set up a real meal instead of just engulfing a sandwich.  Likewise, storing extra granola bars, drinks, peanut butter and crackers at work will help out when you are running late and don’t have time to pack a full meal. 
  • Plan ahead.  Just like for the kiddos, if you plan ahead and make your meals the night before, prep veggies for the week, or pack leftovers into smaller containers, your morning routine will go much smoother.
  • Share your extras.  Whenever I have an abundance of a meal, I try to bring extras to share with friends.  Sometimes girlfriends and I will get together for playdates and make a little potluck lunch with bits and pieces of leftovers.  Other times I’ll bring extra zucchini bread into the office for co-workers to share with their family.  Not only does this help me make use of leftovers before they go bad, but by swapping out food with others, it keeps meals interesting.
  • Plan for dining out.  There is a big psychological difference, at least for me, in planning to dine out vs going out because of necessity (I forgot to pack a lunch, for example).  It feels so much more special to plan a trip for lunch with a girlfriend or family member.  Look at your budget and decide how much money you can afford to spend dining out.  Then plan for those trips.  If you are anything like me, they’ll feel so much more fulfilling.
  • Don’t forget the drinks.  At a soft drink machine, you can spend anywhere from 75cts to $1.50.  At Starbucks, you’ll not leave there without spending at least a few dollars.  By bringing your own drinks, you’ll save a lot of money.  For coffee, pick up some yummy gourmet coffee at World Market on Wednesday with the Explorer perks.  Use coupons to score creamer for super cheap.  Instead of sodas, brew a pot of tea and experiment with fancy flavorings.  I like to use 4-6 bags of Lipton Decaf tea with 2 bags of Stash Orange Spice tea for a yummy punch of flavor.  And for the least expensive of all drinks, opt for water.  Invest in a water filter pitcher (with a coupon of course!) and keep it in the office fridge.  Let everyone know that they can enjoy it, too. 

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