Way back when Mer and I were ultra money wasters we never and I mean never brown bagged lunches. We sucked at organizing ourselves food wise and so it only made sense to pass by the food court or drive through to get something to eat at lunch hour. We seemed to never be prepared, never have enough food, never have enough energy and never be organized enough to actually pack anything to take for lunch. Apparently we never ran out of excuses too! The worst part? There were ALWAYS leftovers sitting in our fridge begging to be eaten. Worse even is that those leftovers often got thrown straight into the garbage because we’d forget about them and let them spoil. We were so incredibly lazy and really had no idea how much our bad habit was costing us so we kept spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars each month in addition to our pricey weekly grocery bill to buy lunches while at work and school.
Not only did this cost us an absolute fortune but it was super unhealthy. I wish I could tell you that we’d at least make healthy choices and use our money on healthy food but that would be a bold face lie. Instead, we’d often turn to pricey convenience foods that were not only heavily processed but full of unnecessary calories, sodium and fat.
Our turning point came when we found ourselves drowning in consumer debt. That debt snowballed because we were over spending and wasting money on things that we could have done ourselves which constantly resulted in living pay check to pay check. When we made the radical decision to live a frugal lifestyle to finally take control of our financial situation we immediately cut out bought lunches and vowed to brown bag it exclusively moving forward.
Best decision ever folks. Now, let me tell you why:
First, we saved a ton of money *duh*
Second, we got healthier and by healthier I don’t mean we became marathon runners or super athletic cross fitters. Nope. Instead, our relationship with food changed and we became far more conscious of what we were putting in our mouths. Now, we struggle with eating out because we’ve become so accustomed to preparing our own food and knowing EXACTLY what goes into it. Added bonus we both lost a little weight along the way..
In the process of becoming dedicated lunch packers, we’ve become pretty savvy at making sure we’ve always got good quality and easy lunch meal options that we can put together at the very last minute to avoid spending any cash on purchased foods while we’re out. Keep on reading and I’ll tell you EXACTLY how we pull it off.
Frugal living isn’t about depriving yourself ya know? So please don’t think that I’m sending my husband off to work with a can of tinned beans or moldy left overs. Quite the opposite folks! Mer regularly enjoys delicious, healthy and satisfying meals because we’ve implemented a system where we reduce food waste by reusing our food to feed ourselves lunch.
But, before we get into the nitty gritty of how to commit to brown bagging let’s talk about numbers because you folks know how much I love my numbers!
Did you know that in one year you could be spending approximately $2500 by not brown bagging your lunch?
Statistically speaking the average food court or drive through meal costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 – $13. (source) which averages out to about 10 bucks per meal depending on what food choices you make. (That article was published in 2012 and according to what Mer has told me about the goings on at his company the average meal his peers are purchasing are up to around $17. But, for the sake of simplicity we’ll stick to an average of $10)
If a working professional eats out 5 days a week for an entire calendar year with a modest 2 week vacation removed we’re looking at roughly 250 bought lunches or an investment of $2500 per year.
If you work for 10 years and continue with the above pattern you’ve spent a whopping $25 000 on lunches that you could have brown bagged and brought to the job with you!
If your partner does the exact same thing the cost inflates to a cool $50 000 over a 10 year period.
That’s right folks, the cost of your food court and drive through meals could potentially be used to pay off 50k in debt or student loans, a hefty down payment on a house or condo or invested in mutual funds.
See what I’m getting at here?
If we take it one step further – the average person works for approximately 40 years which, at roughly $2500 per year in lunch expenses that accrues to a terrifying $100 000 over the span of ones career. A couple would have then shelled out approximately $200 000 on lunches in their lifetime. That general tao chicken, burger, chic a fila or whole foods buffet you’re eating on a daily basis folks cost you the equivalent of a very comfortable home in many areas of the country.
Laying out the numbers is scary as hell am I right? But, sometimes it’s the only real way to call attention to the magnitude of our poor spending choices and how wasteful they have the potential to be. It always seems that in the moment the small amount we’re spending is insignificant but when it becomes a routine part of your lifestyle it’s critical to examine the long term effects of that choice ya know?
So, how do we do it? Let’s get right to it.
5 tips for always brown bagging your lunch
Cook with the intention of always having leftovers. When I cook a meal for our family of 3 I always make enough to produce at least 3 extra portions. Why? Leftovers are your absolute best friend when it comes to brown bagging a lunch. If you do this consistently throughout the week you’ll have a variety of leftovers to pick from so you’re not stuck eating the same food you had for dinner at lunch the next day. Variety makes brown bagging easy because it gives you plenty of choices to choose from in your fridge. Generally, I cook 6 portion sized meals on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. This makes lunches for the rest of the week an absolute breeze!
Freeze extra food you wont get a chance to eat. To keep our food waste at zero and to prevent against unforeseen circumstances I always freeze at least one portion of each of our leftovers immediately after making it. Why? Stuff happens and things come up and sometimes there isn’t anything available to brown bag. Well, that’s not an excuse in our house because we’ve got a good assortment of frozen leftovers waiting to be eaten. Pop out a frozen meal in the morning and it’s adequately thawed and ready to be reheated by lunch.
Stock your pantry and freezer with easy lunch solutions. If cooking large meals doesn’t fit with your lifestyle you can easily brown bag by making wise shopping choices and loading up your freezer and pantry with essentials that make packing a lunch easy. I’ve always got tins of canned fish, beans, chick peas and lentils in our pantry and our freezer is stocked with frozen breads and tortillas. Salads topped with tuna or salmon or a delicious combination of chick peas, lentils and capers make for a super healthy and easy lunch option. As long as you’ve got some go-to staples laying around you’ve got everything you need to pack up a delicious and cost effective brown bagged lunch.
Have appropriate brown bagging gear. Transporting lunches safely in good quality and spillproof containers is a must. Years ago we invested in the Lock and Lock by Starfrit pictured below. After doing a price comparison after seeing them at a local thrift shop it was actually cheaper to buy the new via Amazon so we invested in this good quality set of these reusable glass containers. I cannot tell you how much I love these! They are super convenient, BPA free, easy to clean , do well in the dishwasher and most importantly completely spill proof. I highly recommend these to anyone who is going to adopt a brown bag lifestyle. They guarantee that your food will survive the trip with you and not leave you with frustrating leaky messes!
Be Commited! Making a radical change to your lifestyle is never easy. At first, brown bagging might seem like an enormous amount of work but once you find a system that works for you it just becomes a natural part of your daily routine. In our house, while Mer loads the dishwasher I pack lunches for the next day, freeze an extra portion for a rainy day and portion out the rest to keep in the fridge. It’s become such a normalized part of our day to day life that we don’t even realize we do it and we can get the process done in less than 10 minutes flat. Be consistent, I promise you’ll love love love all the money you’ll save!
Even more frugal living posts for your enjoyment
- How to build a stockpile and save thousands in the process
- Why buying used isn’t gross
- 5 grocery shopping tips that will save you money
- 20 frugal and delicious recipe ideas
- Reducing food waste in This Tiny Blue House
Now tell me, how many times did you buy your lunch last week and how much did it cost you?