Updated on 08.16.11

Saving Pennies or Dollars? Brown-Bagging Lunch

Trent Hamm

saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Diane said, “While I’m on board with the idea that bringing your own lunch, rather than buying, I think the savings are less than a lot of financial articles purport, and the time involved in prepping the lunch, cleaning the kitchen, packing the bag, rinsing and throwing the tupperware in the dishwasher, etc., is more than the extra 5-10 mins some articles throw out as the amount of extra time. I think those who tout the savings tend to overestimate how much was spent on eating lunch out and underestimate the cost of making your own.”

I would separate the idea of brown-bagging into two separate groups.

Brown-Bagging Leftovers
In my eyes, this is the way to make brown-bagging into a winning proposition. You simply take the meal you had for dinner the night before, perhaps repackaging it a bit by turning something into a sandwich or the like, and take it to work the next day.

Often, Sarah and I will do this while putting away the evening meal. We’ll simply prep our lunch for the following day as part of the process, putting the meal into the refrigerator so it can easily be grabbed the next morning.

Because we’re using leftovers, the cost is usually really low. Because of the size of our family and the variable eating habits of our children, we usually tend to prepare plenty, thus ensuring that we have an adequate amount left over for brown bagging, often enough for both of us to make a meal.

Brown-Bagging from Scratch
Diane, however, seems to be mostly focused on the idea of brown-bagging from scratch without using leftovers.

The variables here are very difficult to calculate.

For example, time can vary widely. If you’re preparing a simple sandwich, a baggie of vegetables, a baggie of fruit, and a drink for your sack lunch, you can easily prepare it in ten minutes. If you prepare stuffed mushrooms, a side salad, a from-scratch wrap, and some fresh cookies for dessert, you’re going to be working for hours.

Also, cost can vary widely. Comparing the two meals above, the first meal can be made with a dollar or two in ingredients. The second meal requires quite a bit more to prepare.

On the flip side, the time and cost of the meals you’re comparing them to can vary widely. Are you comparing a lunch eaten out at an elegant (and expensive) restaurant in town? Or are you comparing a double cheeseburger and a small drink snagged at McDonalds for $2?

One tactic that one of my friends uses is to pre-pack many of her lunches for the week. She makes her first three or four lunches for the week at home on Sunday and puts some effort into them, coming up with meals that often have overlapping basic ingredients but are good enough to go beyond what you might call “simple fare” for lunch. Because of this, she’s able to reduce the time invested per meal significantly but still have meals that meet her lunch standards.

To put it simply, the idea that you can save money and time by preparing your lunch at home relies heavily on what your expectations for lunch are. If you are pleased with simple fare, you’ll probably find yourself getting more value and nutrition and convenience out of making your own meal. If you expect a gourmet meal, you’re probably better off going out for lunch.

Let’s make it simple. If you’re happy with leftovers or with a very simple lunch, brown-bagging it to work will probably save you dollars. It can also save you time, depending on specifics. A fast food value meal might compete on price, but at most workplaces it requires you to leave for a while. A sack lunch is much more convenient and flexible to your time needs during your work day.

On the other hand, if you expect a unique and carefully-prepared lunch, you’re probably better off eating out. The time investment in creating such a meal can be rather high, as can the financial investment. Obviously, eating out in this way can really be expensive and it can be a big time sink as well, but when eating with coworkers, some of that can be mitigated through workplace discussions and planning over lunch.

In short, it really comes down to what you expect from your lunch. The simpler you expect it to be, the more you can save by simply bringing your own.

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  1. Brian Carr says:

    I have saved TONS of money by doing this. I used to spend, on average, $12 per day on lunch, which is a lot of money over the course of a year.

    About a year ago, I decided to start brown-bagging and calculated the cost of my new lunches, which usually consisted of a piece of fruit (whatever was on sale that week), a sandwich, and a small salad. Because I had switched to water, which I got for free at work, I had taken the cost of my lunches down to $3.50.

    Assuming 250 work days in a year, I ended up saving over $2,000 in a year.

    That’s definitely dollars, not cents!

  2. Deborah says:

    I grew up taking lunch to school every day instead of eating cafeteria food, since my mom could pack a cheaper lunch. All through high school, college and grad school, I worked in restaurants and got a lot of free or heavily discounted meals. Once I got a “real” job, I started taking my lunch from day 1, which about half of the people in my organization do. It’s a special treat to go out to lunch – and sometimes I even feel guilty for spending money when I do (which I shouldn’t, because it’s pretty rare and I’m in pretty good financial shape). I’ve actually set a goal to go out with coworkers once a month to try and get over that mental “don’t spend money” hurdle.

    All that being said: brown-bagging it is one of the biggest ways I keep my food budget in check. I would have to seriously rework my budget if I ate out 5 lunches per week.

  3. Katie says:

    Yeah, okay, I spent a lot of time writing out lunch options and my comment got stuck in moderation. There were no links or bad words, so I’m kind of baffled as to why.

  4. rebecca says:

    I almost always took my own lunch because when you only have 40 or 45 min to eat, and it takes 5 to 10 min to get to a place, then another 10 to order and get your food, plus the return trip, your lunch is already over.

    Pre packing my lunch the night before is about as much work as getting the coffee maker set up, and then I can eat lunch at work and enjoy the rest of my break.

    it is pretty easy to plan interesting lunches if you think about it. Cook up some extra dinner ingredients with the intent to turn them into something else for lunches. Extra chicken can be made into a wrap, leftover salmon and rice can be sushi rolls, or use that crockpot on the weekend and make a big batch of soup or stew to intentionally prepackage in the freezer for grab and go lunches. Cheaper and way better than canned soup, less sodium and more filling too.

  5. Jules says:

    I don’t know, I’ve seen some pretty fancy bento boxes! They look quite stunning, although I don’t think they’re very difficult to make (sushi rice, edamame, fruit pieces, maybe some cold omelette). Time-wise, it depends on how many people are brown-bagging (or, in our case, plastic-boxing) the lunch. It takes me about 15 minutes, from start to clean-up, to make a lunch, but making two lunches adds maybe another minute or two to the process. And since I typically make lunches when I’m making meals, there’s no additional cleaning up.

  6. lurker carl says:

    If you’re not within walking distance of restaurants, an expensive part of eating out is transportation.

  7. Tanya says:

    Packing lunch while you’re cleaning up dinner makes the process super fast. My best friend takes dinner leftovers and puts them immediately into plastic sandwich boxes. They’re stacked in a certain spot in the refrigerator and everyone knows those are the pre-packaged single-serve lunch items, ready to grab and go.

  8. Adam P says:

    Living alone and in a place where groceries are MUCH more expensive than Iowa (Toronto…groceries are nuts, especially dairy), somehow I can get sandwiches from lunch places at work for $5 and less. I only drink water which I use the water cooler at work.

    I eat leftovers a few days a week for lunch, but making a meal for myself from scratch is typically $12-$15 worth of ingredients (sometimes more) and may get me 2-3 meals worth (I do eat a lot when I cook for myself to prevent spoilage). Even with leftovers, the $4 sandwich purchased out wins. But it’s pretty close. If I can eat lunch and/or dinner and come in at $5-10, I’m happy with that. Being single reduces the economies of scale.

  9. Riki says:

    I make BIG batches of freezable meals on the weekend and put them in the freezer in one-portion sizes. Lasagna, chilli, various soups/stews all work well. I also have individual portions of mashed potatoes frozen for use during the week because I get home late and generally don’t want to cook. (As an example, this weekend I made a lasagna and low-fat mac-and-cheese for a total of 30 lunch portions in the freezer).

    Doing this prep work is enjoyable for me and it saves a LOT of money during the week. I haven’t calulated the individual costs of my homemade meals, but even a fast food lunch is $6-8 and that adds up over the course of a week. I also really prefer a hot lunch.

    I have to say, though, my primary goal in this prep work is to have healthy lunchs. Saving money is appreciated but even if it cost me more in the long run I would still do things this way. I can stack tons of veggies into everything I make and it really helps me stay on a healthy eating plan. Besides, there is something incredibly satisfying about looking in the freezer to see neat rows of lunches all ready to go. I does, however, require a lot of tupperware to make it work.

  10. Telephus44 says:

    This is an area I struggle with. My basic requirement for a work lunch is HOT. I don’t want a sandwich or a salad. I don’t care if it’s leftovers, a can of soup, or a Lean Cuisine, but I want my lunch to be hot.

    A lot of times I get by on leftovers. Easy and cheap. However, I also buy soup and frozen meals for days when we don’t have leftovers. Even on sale, a can of soup will run me about $1 and a frozen dinner about $2. I eat one of each. So that’s $3. I can get lunch out for $5 or $6, and sometimes it is worth the extra $$$ to me not have to eat the same thing over and over again.

    I should probably invest the time on Sunday nights and make my own frozen lunches for the week.

  11. Another Katie says:

    I don’t see why wanting a unique or carefully-prepared lunch requires eating out. The dinners I make are unique and carefully-prepared, so the the leftovers I take for lunch the next day are as well.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I can get a healthy salad or veggie wrap from the cafeteria downstairs for $5. To me, the constant variety and lack of produce in my fridge gone to waste is worth the extra couple bucks. I also find it difficult to bag as healthy of an interesting lunch as I can find at a salad bar.

    My real problem is resisting throwing in a snack or Diet Coke, which puts lunch in the $8-9 range, which I think is just too much for a single meal every day.

  13. Gretchen says:

    Again, you aren’t saving money on leftovers for lunch unless the other option is throwing out the food.

    I tend to make one thing then eat it for 4 days and have leftovers the fifth. Some weeks it’s “unique and carefully-prepared” sometimes not. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

  14. Marta says:

    This is very true! Your summary was right on!

    I always do leftovers, even for us at home, I make enough food for supper to each for lunch the next day. That way I only have to cook one meal per day.

    Right now my husband has to drive to his next office during lunch, so buy him granola bars, fruit leather, and package up nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit & veggies.

    There is a big time commitment to doing this, but its healthy stuff he can snack on. I buy lots of fresh fruit and veggies once a week. The day I do that, I have a vegetable butchering shop in the kitchen. I wash and chop and store all the produce so its easy to just grab and go later on. It takes a few hours once a week, but I know what I have and its easy for the rest of the week.

    Bottom line, leftovers is the way to go! :)

  15. Pam says:

    The reality is, even though we have great intentions, many leftovers just get tossed. Using them for lunch the next day (or two) makes for very easy and inexpensive lunches. I keep a couple of frozen entrees, single serving frozen vegetables and salad fixings on hand that I can easily grab and add to my lunch bag if the leftovers won’t make a whole meal. Like Comment #10, I prefer hot lunches, so for an extra touch, I took a nice plate to the office that I use for serving my lunch. It helps to make “eating lunch” a more relaxing and enjoyable experience. This one small extra effort makes me more likely to take a real break for lunch rather than to just keep working as a pull the items out of a lunch bag. With packing lunches, practice can make perfect; some people pack some really good and creative lunches.

  16. Des says:

    Who has time to eat lunch out every day? Money aside, by the time you walk or drive to a place, order, wait for your food to be ready, then eat and drive back you’ve lost, what, an hour of your day? Who has an extra hour every day to spend on lunch?

    I work through my lunch and leave earlier. If I wasn’t able to do that, I would try to get as much personal stuff done then as I could to free up my evening time with the fam (errands, bills, budgeting, or even facebooking – whatever I could get out of the way that I would have otherwise done in the evening). I would much rather eat while working (or even skip eating lunch) than waste that hour. Time is a valuable resource.

  17. Katie says:

    Des, some of us work in dense urban areas. It takes me no more time to walk across the street or downstairs to grab something than it does to microwave something. Situations differ.

  18. Kathy F says:

    I generally prep the main part of my lunch, say sanwiches or leftover casserole, for the whole week on Sundays. That is, I will make five sandwiches (lunchmeat and cheese or tuna salad)and wrap them up and put them in the refrigerator. Or if I made a huge batch of something, I will put up leftovers in 5 plastic containers with lids to take for lunch. Or take the containers out of the freezer that I had saved from some other weekend cooking.

    Then I always take baby carrots, an apple and a granola bar (bought in bulk at Costco). Those are staples I keep on hand. Sometimes I even make my own bread for the sandwiches. If I don’t have all the food bought and prepped Sunday night, it just does not happen. Boring lunch but it works for me.

    Likewise, dinners at home are leftovers from usually something I had prepared that weekend or can of soup or a big salad. It helps me save money and gives me better control over what I eat- no chips, candy bars. But work colleagues are always bringing some kind of treats and snacks to share, but at least those don’t cost me. I occassionally bring a baked good in to share.

    I even gave up Diet Coke at work from the vending machine on a regular basis ($0.90 per can). I drink cold water from our “Water Club” filtered water dispenser, although it costs about $4 a month to be in the club.

  19. jackie says:

    I stock up on cans of soup, frozen meals, cans of nuts, granola bars.. when they’re on sale. I keep them at work. Every day I just grab one or two pieces of fresh fruit from home and eat something from my stockpile for lunch and snacks.

  20. Allie says:

    And Des, some of us have mandated one-hour lunch breaks from our employers. Taking a shorter lunch is not necessarily an option. I’m with Katie – by the time I wait in line to microwave something to eat at my desk, I could go downstairs to the snack bar or outside the building to a restaurant, and with those I’d get the added bonus of a change of scenery.

    @Katie at #2 – I wrote a long comment to the post about less-than-monthly recurring expenses, and it got eaten by moderation too, so I feel your pain.

  21. Sara says:

    I always take my lunch to work. Sometimes I need to pack a lunch and dinner because I have class after work. Don’t even think twice about it. Most food I can buy out is unhealthy as well as expensive. I get a 1/2 hour for lunch. I usually go to an empty office where I can close the door and first I do some yoga stretches and then eat my lunch. I really relish that point of peace in my day. I wonder why everybody doesn’t do it.

  22. Larabara says:

    At my work, if you skip lunch, the company has to pay a fine to a government agency (I think it’s OSHA, but I could be wrong). Therefore, the company is very strict about the lunch rule–you must take a lunch (and a morning and afternoon break) if you work for 5 hours or more in a day.

  23. Mister E says:

    The vast majority of the time my wife and I just make 4 portions of dinner and pack two of them for lunch. Almost every day.

    The per serving cost is rarely more than a couple of dollars or so unless we’re splurging and even a street meat hotdog without a drink is more than that.

    I work in a dense urban area and have virtually unlimited options within a 5 minute walk but home made food is going to be cheaper than even the most wallet friendly restaurant. Better tasting too.

  24. Other Jonathan says:

    My wife’s delicious dinners nearly always yield 2 or 3 lunch-sized leftover portions which we package in tupperware and I take to work. My coworkers are generally jealous of the great smells coming from the kitchen. I not only save $8-10 on buying lunch, but my total ‘lunch break’ only takes 20 minutes (vs. double that time if I went just across the street and triple if walking anywhere beyond). Plus my office provides free soda.

  25. kristine says:

    Why are people so proud that they work through lunch? If you get paid X either way, then you are choosing to donate personal time to the company. That’s fine, if you dig it, but if you work hard all day, then a break is both deserved, and healthy. Finish eating in 20 min? Then walk around the building to move the body a little in an 8/9 hour stretch. Call home, run an errand, write poetry, make a friend. If you work through lunch so you do not have to stay late, then perhaps the workload is more than is reasonable, or efficiency needs to be addressed, or you have workaholic tendencies. (I certainly did- I worked 12-14h days in book advertising). But if enough people work through lunch, then it becomes expected, and a civilized lunch break is seen as slacking. We are not hamsters. We are civilized people being paid for our time. It is fear that drives relentless droning, so everyone does it, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  26. kristine says:

    PS – I am condemning my self as much as others- I tend to work through lunch. But I think it is a misguided barometer of performance and enthusiasm. Any, I always bring my lunch. Saves oodles.

  27. jackie says:

    Kristine, I work through my lunch, or work while I’m eating, because I have a billablity goal. Sure, I get paid the same no matter what, but I need an average of 7.5 billable hours per day to quality for promotions and raises. Some days it takes 8 hours on the job to reach that, some days it takes 10. If I work while I eat, I get closer to my target earlier in the day and am less likely to have to stay late.

  28. Snowy Heron says:

    People need to figure out what works best for them. I almost always bring my lunch, mostly for the $ savings, but also I tend to eat too much when I have a lot of tempting options sitting in front of me, so I can keep my calorie intake to a reasonable level this way. I have a coworker who would never bring her lunch. Just not a habit she has ever developed, but she is financially very careful and savvy. I probably spend a bit more on clothes since I’m not spending so much on lunches, but she buys her lunch and is fine with less stylish clothes.

  29. Other Jonathan says:

    Kristine, the way I see it, in CA employers are required to provide a 30 minute unpaid lunch break and 2 10-minute paid breaks throughout the day (at least, that’s what it is for part-timers working a shift). I’m salaried, but also work on billable hours, and a 9/80 system where I work 9 hour days. I figure if I take 20 minutes for lunch, and forego a true unpaid “lunch break” then I leave after 9 hours. I have no interest in working 7-5 with an hour of leisure if 7-4 is an option. Especially given evening rush hour traffic.

  30. valleycat1 says:

    #30 Other Jonathan – The lunch & break requirements also specify that the lunch break is to be in the middle of the day, and the 2 paid breaks are supposed to be midmorning & mid afternoon, not ‘banked’ to the end of the day. As #23 said, it’s an OSHA requirement and companies can be fined if employees are not taking their breaks at the required times. It isn’t just HR or your boss being mean & not letting you leave early.

  31. George says:

    Working in downtown Portland, OR, we have the food cart culture, so it’s relatively easy to find $4-6 lunches. On the other hand, brownbag lunches from home are only $1-2… difference of $500-1000/yr goes into transportation costs resulting from move beyond the urban growth boundary.

  32. jackie says:

    OSHA does not regulate meal times on the whole. They may regulate them in specific industries.

    The Department of Labor and each state’s labor departments have some regulations. But the specifics mentioned here are not widespread.

    It sounds like the rules Kristine is talking about are for hourly employees who are not paid for meal times.

    All I had to do was look at the big L&I poster in my break room to see that Washington’s laws are not as comments here describe.

    “Workers must be paid during their meal break when: # They are required or allowed to remain on duty. # They are required to be on-call at the business premises or designated worksite to be available to return to duty even if they are not in fact called back to duty. # They are called back to duty during their meal period even though they normally are not on call during the meal period.
    Workers may give up their meal period if they prefer to work through it and if the employer agrees.”

    That certainly indicates that they are not required to be off-duty. I’d link to the L&I page, but then my comment would get lost in moderation. Google makes it easy to find.

  33. Priswell says:

    Bringing lunch to work is almost always the cheapest, calorie budgeting way to eat. But you have to plan for it, and be prepared, planning for extra lunch food from dinner and/or buying with packed lunches specifically in mind.

    It really helps when you have the proper containers for it, too. For years, we used various kinds of ways to pack a lunch, everything got easier with Bento-type containers.

    While you can literally use plastic wrap and a brown bag, Bento containers are excellent for this because they’re shaped exactly for a packed lunch and can better keep food at safe and proper temperatures. Some are thermos types and can keep food hot or cold, too. The Japanese were pretty smart about lunch packing ideas.

  34. Sara says:

    I always bring my lunch to work — usually just a sandwich and a drink. It costs less than $2/day, with negligible prep time and cleanup. I don’t feel the need to have something special and unique for lunch every day; it’s just something quick to get me through the day. I get my variety from dinners.

    I think going out to lunch is one of those things that should be a treat, but if you do it every day, you just get used to it. You end up spending $10 every day for something that doesn’t even feel like a treat, and it adds up.

  35. Maya says:

    Like many people here my lunch almost always consists of leftovers, which saves time and money and is generally healthier for me. I have one mediocre sandwich place near my office, and was spending $$$ on frozen lunches in the past. Having a hot lunch is a desire of mine as a couple of people have also posted, and it’s pretty easy to do even when we don’t have real leftovers. My husband and I usually make a large batch of rice each week, and it can take seconds to a minute or so to dish out rice, add some onion or artichoke hearts, or black beans, or whatever and stick it in the fridge.

  36. Jen says:

    I have calculated making my own lunches to the point where I make my own hummus and it’s way cheaper than the bought stuff. I agree with Trent’s post; the key issue is what you expect your lunch to be. I’d say I’m easily pleased in that respect as I prefer salads and generally cold food like carrot and celery sticks. I have made it part of my evening ritual to either assemble or prepare my next day’s lunch but would be tempted to agree that it’s probably easier because it normally involves very little cooking.

  37. tentaculistic says:

    I work somewhere with two close lunch places, and for both of them the typical unhealthy meal (fattening sandwich, fries, soda) would be about $9, and a healthy meal (salad and drink; hot/cold buffet and drink, etc) starts at $13. When I was not on a diet (either food or financial), I was dropping SO MUCH money at these places, between the lunch, mid-morning soda, mid-afternoon snack, sometimes even breakfast or dinner. WOW I was spending money, and packing on pounds!! It was so easy and close that I didn’t realize, until I switched jobs and suddenly there was all kinds of breathing room in my budget. I’m back at that job now, but I’m on a diet, so I pack my own food. I’ve lost 30 pounds and am doing so much better financially.

    We never have leftovers (hubby’s quirk: no leftovers, so I have had to learn to pre-portion meat so I can cook only one meal’s worth at a time), but I am perfectly happy with pretty much the same thing every day. I slice and cook 2 giant family-size packs of chicken breasts, portion them into snack-sized ziplocks (perfectly sized for 4 oz of chicken slices), and freeze. I have an insulated lunch bag, so every morning I drop in a baggie of frozen chicken, a serving of soup (Tabatchnik frozen soup pouches, or a dried cup of soup), this week’s fruit or veggies from our CSA box, a small portion of nuts, and Greek yogurt with frozen cherries. Works great for me.

    Someone mentioned the bento boxes — I am totally obsessed with bento, and I love especially the laptop lunch bento (especially when people color-code the inside containers to the kind of food, to help them portion control different kinds of food). My only complaint is that bento are generally plastic, not glass or aluminum, and I try to avoid microwaving cancer-causing plastic with my food. So instead I have a bunch of small Pyrex or aluminum containers with lids.

  38. tentaculistic says:

    Oh, I would estimate (on the low side, unfortunately) that I was spending $20/day on food at work, so for 5 work days per week * 52 weeks that comes out to $5,200 a year. I now spend about $5/day, at $1,300. So I’m saving $3,900 per year.

  39. Paula says:

    I pack a lunch for work almost every day for two reasons. First, we are on a budget with hubby being in school and working part time. And second, I do not get a lunch hour at work (we chose to work through lunch so my coworkers and I could get out a little early each day…its not really working well but that’s a whole other story!).

    So, what I usually do is make sandwiches like PB&J, ham and cheese, or salads. Things that I can eat quickly. In the cooler months, I make soups, stews, lasagna, casseroles, chicken and rice dishes–stuff that can be reheated within a few minutes. I don’t like a lot of frozen meals because they just don’t fill me up or they have lots of sodium, which I am trying to avoid.

  40. Jon says:

    I would like to see an article on brown bag vs cafeteria if your workplace has one. I work at a larger company with a subsidized cafeteria and can get lunch for under 5 bucks every day. It makes making lunch in the morning a lot harder. I think it would be interesting to see how much the average brown bag lunch really costs a day.
    Also, there is a factor of the time buying the extra groceries for packing lunches that should be factored in.

  41. NewReader says:

    Like George #31, I work in downtown Portland. The $5-6 food cart lunches are tasty, but for the most part high in calories and sodium, and many are bigger portions than one serving — the Thai and Indian lunches especially! — which could mean getting two lunches out of one order, but usually means overeating instead! I bring lunch from home (leftovers usually) mainly for health reasons, but it also saves money. I’m in the habit of putting dinner leftovers into single-serving containers and grabbing them for lunch, along with some snacks like fruit, nuts, or baby carrots. I haven’t calculated the savings but I know I’m not spending $5-6 on my homemade lunches.

  42. karishma says:

    I brown-bag because eating the cafeteria food would require as much planning ahead for me. I work 7pm to 7am, and the cafeteria closes at 8, so I’d have to get my food before my shift starts.

    But a year ago, the cafeteria closed at midnight, and I was pregnant and eating a lot more and I did regularly eat their food (plus my brown-bag). It was ridiculously unhealthy (fries, chicken tenders, etc), because I didn’t want to eat a cold salad at 3am, but it was cheap. With the employee discount, I never spent more than $4, and that included my giant Diet Mountain Dew.

    Now that I no longer have my pregnancy metabolism which lets me eat whatever I want, my work lunches are a lot healthier, but I don’t think they’re much cheaper. Leftovers from dinner, plus yogurt, cheese, etc that are easy to eat on the run if I don’t have time to take an actual lunch break.

  43. Sarah says:

    My cheap “go-to” lunch when I don’t pack one is kind of pathetic, but cheap: I get a 12 inch subway sandwich and eat 1/2 one day, 1/2 the next. Most are $5 footlongs, but sometimes I get a $6 one. usually that is not quite enough, but I might have a piece of fruit from home, or I buy (junk) snack food for .50 from our snack room. Still, that is anywhere from $2.50 – $4 per a lunch. The time cost is also negligible as it is a very very short walk, and no line if I go just before 12 or just after 1.

    The trouble is, that gets boring fast, and I am tempted to go into the $10 range for something more varied and delicious.

    If my dinner has leftovers, I like to bring them. That is clearly the best value. I pretty much never create ‘real’ lunch meals at home. it is either leftovers or sandwhiches/salads with veggies and such on the side.

  44. Jennifer says:

    I am single and almost always have a homemade lunch. I cook two meals on the weekend and freeze the portions. I also pre-make salads. This week my snack/lunches/dinners consist of salad, (quesadilla with corn, black beans, and whole wheat tortilla) or (whole wheat pasta with ground turkey and marinara), homemade popcorn, and two pieces of fruit. My meals are generally less than $1.

  45. Carol Cripps says:

    AT one place where I worked, a colleague told me that bringing my lunch was making *her* gain weight! The reason? The leftovers, soups, chilis, and whatever was left from supper smelled so good that she had to go out to the coffee truck to buy lunch, instead of eating the meagre thing she’d brought. I told her that it really wasn’t a big deal to bring lunch – she just had to cook good meals at home, and, once a week, peel and cut up vegetables and put them in baggies. We had tea and coffee in the kitchen, and didn’t have to pay for that, so a drink was free. She told me that with a husband and two children it was “too much work”. I had two ill parents at home to look after, and did it. I’d sometimes make a big batch of something on the weekend, and freeze lunches in plastic containers – even margarine containers would work. I’d toss one, frozen, into my bag in the morning. It would be thawed by lunchtime, and a couple of minutes in the microwave would warm it through. I’d also tuck a roll into the bag – they, too, would get cut and buttered, then frozen – and a baggie of vegetables. Tea and coffee were provided by the company, so I didn’t have to worry about that. I would seldom have the same lunch twice in a week, because I would sometimes take sandwiches, or there would be leftovers from dinner. I couldn’t justify spending money on the coffee truck when I had better food, cheaper, that I brought from home.

  46. MARY S says:

    For years I’ve brought my lunch (and dinner,too!) since I worked 12 hr days in a chain pharmacy-no lunch hr or dinner hr-just eat when you are not busy (whenever someone isn’t staring at you waiting for their prescriptions to be filled). Otherwise, it’s count on the kindness of your technicians to go out to get you fast food or eat junk food from the front of the store! Glad I don’t have to do that anymore.

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