Saving Money by Slowing the Work Lunch Cash Drain

August 3, 2008 by  
Filed under Budgeting, Spending

This post is about money that is lost (and that can be saved) just by being more disciplined in deciding what and how you are going to eat lunch in the workplace.

Earlier this year I put myself on a 1500 calorie/day diet so that I could lose a bunch of weight that had slowly accumulated over my middle age years.  To accomplish this, I had to put an end to lunching with co-workers at local eateries because the low calorie options were few or non-existent.  Instead, I began bringing cans of soup and tuna to the office and eating in.  I lost the weight (52 pounds actually) but more than that, I noticed how much money I had saved in the process.  There are many places to eat near my office but it is almost impossible to eat a meal with a drink for less than $5.00.  Most of my colleagues spend substantially more than that on a regular basis.  The soup and tuna I purchased at the grocery cost me about $1.50/meal.  That cost difference adds up quickly, as much as $7000-$15,000 invested over five years.  Here is an online calculator you can use to calculate the savings benefit of bringing your own lunch to work. For me, there is more to the story.

My assistant is a single woman who is close to my age, an age where retirement planning is elevated in importance.  Occasionally she mentions how hard it is to save for retirement and how hopeless it appears to be for her.  My assistant dresses very nicely.  I don’t know how much she spends on clothes but I do not recall ever seeing her in the same outfit twice.  (I’m sure it happens but not often enough for me to notice.)  I am also quite certain that she spends a lot more money on clothing than do I.  That’s her choice.  Other observers would probably say that I dress blandly.  If so, that’s my choice.

Another choice she makes is to eat out every work day or at least purchase her lunch at restaurant as a take-out.  This past Friday I saw my assistant eating a bowl of soup in our office lounge/kitchen.  When she saw me she said that her soup was not very good.  I had to agree that it did not look very appetizing.  There also was not much of it.   I asked her where the soup came from.  She said that she had bought it at the cafe on the first floor of our building – for $5.00 plus tax.  I showed her that I was about to heat up my large can of Campbell’s Healthy Request Beef Barley soup, at a total cost of $1.50.  I was also sure that my soup was more filling and better tasting than the watery mess I saw in her bowl.  I asked her if she was going to eat soup in the office for lunch, why didn’t she just bring a can from home and at least save some money?  Her answer was a mystifying “I don’t like to bring food from home.”  Whoa – talk about a major logic deficit.  Her hopeless feeling about her retirement future had not yet spurred her into even minimal action.

Now many readers are thinking how important their lunch hours are to them as an office break and as a social occasion.  No question that is true for many.  But if your budget is tight and your savings limited or non-existent, aren’t costly repetitive work lunches an ideal target?   Analyze what you spend each week to eat out at work.  Then administer some tough love to your work lunch cash drain.   You will free some cash flow for more important uses (such as retirement savings).  You also may lose a few pounds in the process.  

In case you are wondering, I am no longer on a 1500 calorie daily diet.  But, I am still bringing my soup and tuna to work.  I have now become addicted to the money savings.   Work lunches represent another example of small expenditures that can collectively bust your budget.

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