Post-Present Blues: Save for Travel in 2012 at Lunch

27 Dec

This week, we created a series of posts to help you save money in 2012 to make your travel dreams a reality. Today’s is about saving money at lunch.

The first time we worked really hard to save money, our goal was buying a condo.  The second time we worked really hard to save money…well, you know all about that by now.  Each time we took a hard look at our expenses and cut back wherever and as much as possible.  One easy way to do this is to look at your midday expenses and…

Cut back at lunch.

Initially I was very opposed to this strategy.  Lunch was my reprieve, my own hour to do whatever I wanted — even if that typically involved working while eating at my desk.  I wanted to enjoy something tasty and I wasn’t too concerned about the cost.

Most of the time, people tell you to save money on lunch by bringing your lunch.  I didn’t want to bring my lunch.  I’d get on a kick every now and then, but it always faded after a week or so.  I hated taking the time to make lunch the night before, I don’t like most things as leftovers, and I needed the excuse to get up from my desk and out of the building during the day.  With lunch in the fridge down the hall, I never even left my floor.  You’re never going to stick with something you hate, so be honest with yourself and find a compromise that works.

You can still buy lunch every day and save money — just do your homework and stick to a budget.  Before adjusting, I spent about $10/day, which adds up to $200/month.  My goal on the budget was to spend $5 or less/day, with the occasional splurge, thereby saving $100/month on lunch alone, $1,200 a year.  Here are a few of the strategies I used:

1. Never buy a drink.  Especially bottled sodas and juices.  And don’t even think about buying bottled water!!  Ask for a glass of water.  This saves dollars and, bonus, empty calories.

2. Saving on lunch doesn’t mean going with the dollar menu (though if that’s your thing, that works too).  You can still manage to have a healthy lunch on the cheap.  For example, skip the expensive prepackaged salad and hit the salad bar.  Just skimp on the heavy (in terms of weight) items in favor of proteins.  You want to be sure to get a filling enough salad so you’re not struck by the mid-afternoon crash and its associated impulse cookie purchase.

3. Go veggie.  Get your meat at dinner, when you can better control the c0st (and the quality).  Stick with the veg for lunch — it’s always the cheaper option.

4. Chipotle craving driving you wild?  Look at the fine print — get two tacos instead of three.  They sell them individually, and they’re $2.25 each.  A lot of places have a la carte options that aren’t readily advertised.  Find out about these options and take advantage of them.

5. Is there a really cheap option available to you?  Take advantage of it!  My former company had a subsidized cafeteria — it wasn’t fancy, but it was affordable.  If you don’t have a company-provided option, look for daily specials and combo deals at local restaurants.

6. It’s going to be a challenge to stick with the cheap when you eat out with co-workers…and they want to split the bill equally.  Take those occasions to splurge — just like a diet, you need to gorge every once in awhile to keep the cravings at bay.  Just try to keep it to one or two times a month…or insist on split checks.

Of course, saving money on lunch is much easier when you work in a big city, like Chicago, with lots of eating options.  If you’re in the burbs or a small town, you’re going to have to work much harder, and (gasp) you may be forced to bring your lunch more often.  But it’s worth it — every dollar saved gets you a dollar closer to your goal.

Creative Commons License photo credit: angela n. | Kitty likes free lunch too.