Save $988 A Year By Packing Your Lunch

Lifehacker points us to Clever Dude, where example menus have been given (by a registered dietitian) and numbers have been crunched. The result? Pack your lunch, save $988 a year. The bad news? Includes peanut butter sandwiches twice a week, and we personally hate peanut butter with a passion. In fact, we don’t really care for cold sandwiches at all. That being said, if you do like sandwiches, this can be an excellent way for you to save a little money and avoid the dreaded pit of fast food…or the Whole Foods hot bar. It calls to you…resist.—MEGHANN MARCO

Frugal Lunch by Clever Dudette [Clever Dude via Lifehacker]


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  1. AcidReign says:

    …..If it costs me (in lost time) more to wash off my apple, oranges, grapes, etc. than it would to eat out, I’m making WAY too much money! Fruit, a big cup of ice water, and a box of club crackers is about all you need for an excellent lunch!

  2. MasonMacabre says:

    I take my lunch to work everyday because I hate fast food. I cook dinner almost every night and I will make extra and take the leftovers to work the next day. Most break rooms have microwaves and refrigerators, so you don’t have to be stuck with cold sandwiches.

  3. We do sort-of what Mason does; we try to make something big in a pot on Sunday (chili or pilakhi or a hearty soup), which is usually a recipe for 8 anyway. We eat two servings and freeze or refridgerate the other 6 for reheating at work the rest of the week.

    I don’t really like sandwiches either. :) This is much nicer, especially in the winter.

    Lots of things reheat really easily; make an extra two servings of stir fry, or make too much pasta, and save the extra for lunch tomorrow. With rice and pasta in particular you can refridgerate the “extra” portion plain and then have a different meal for lunch the next day — spaghetti served with spring veggies for dinner becomes spaghetti with red sauce for reheated lunch.

    You can also get those salad tupperware-type containers with a spot for the dressing at any bed bath & beyond type of store, which makes salads really easy to pack for lunch.

  4. NoctisEqui says:

    I’m with MasonMacabre. I started making lunches for myself when I first moved to NY after college and had to figure out how to live on a $150/week budget. I’m constantly amazed at how many people my age complain about being broke, but then at lunchtime go and spend $8 on a salad and $3 on some super-power-chai-blackberry-green tea-smoothie-whatever drink. And not only does packing your own lunch save you $$$, it’s better for the environment. Think about how much garbage you’ll save if you’re not tossing out one of those stupid plastic salad containers every day!

    I would have to disagree with the Clever Dudette plan, however. You don’t need to eat like you’ve packed a lunch for a 3rd grader. And it’s generally always a huge waste of money and never a good idea nutritionally to buy packaged/pre-processed food. (Seriously- canned fruit in sugar syrup? Oreos? Two of the worst things you can put in your body. I am surprised this is a dietitian’s advice.)

    Example in point: last week I went to the market and spent $9.50 for a ton of veggies, a piece of cheddar cheese, and some quinoa (yummy and awesome-for-you grain), and I went home and cooked up a pot of stew. This took me approximately one hour and fed me for three lunches.

  5. I find this recurring disdain for peanut butter deeply unsettling, particularly as it issues from the gaping maw of an editorial we.

    If peanut butter cannot be counted among Meghann’s predilections, I am troubled to think what substances make the cut.

  6. formergr says:

    I finally started packing lunches again once I moved into a place with a dishwasher (I know, how lazy am I that I didn’t want to wash tupperware before), and as a surprise bonus to saving money, I lost 5 pounds in a month.

    Goes to show that even though I’d been pretty health and calorie-conscious when buying my lunch out, the extra calories were definitely adding up.

  7. acambras says:

    Yeah, I think it’s best to pack a lunch that you’re going to enjoy — whatever that may happen to be. If you’ve packed something you’re not very excited about, it’s easy to abandon it in favor of something else at lunchtime

  8. SexCpotatoes says:

    12 pack of microwave popcorn bags. $3.00, or 25 cents each. Pop, roughly 2 1/2 minutes in company microwave, eat half on first 15 min. break, then final half on second 15 minute break. Assuming 6 day work weeks (a mandatory May thru Sept. in a factory bakery) works out to $78 for a year of lunches, I WIN! Hahahahahahahahaha.

    Oh, and it’s actually even less costly than that since I get 3 long, glorious weeks of vacation each year, along with 3 extra nice personal days as well.

    Actually, I’ve been taking Lean Gourmet Meals (by michellina or whatever) 98 cents per at the evil wally world. And enjoying a whole bag of popcorn, no extra salt, on the second break. Mix in fruit, pb&js, as well as lunchmeat sammiches, and you get a pretty well rounded options list.

  9. VeryFancyBunny says:

    I’ve been an avid brown-bagger for all my working life (and my school life before that), but it’s getting a bit tiresome at my current job. We don’t have a break room, so “lunch break” generally involves me sitting at my desk, eating my reheated pasta or stir-fry, reading blogs, and watching the world go by outside my window. My oh-so-desky desk job involves very little human interaction, so not getting out for lunch means I’m basically absent from the world of, you know, PEOPLE for the entire day.

    Currently, I require myself to go out for lunch once a week, but I think I may up that to twice a week.

    Lunch suggestions from a brown-bagging veteran: Amy’s Organic frozen burritos (my favorite! Filling, and generally pretty healthy), salads topped with corn, beans, and nuts (way better than just lettuce and tomato), stew + pita bread triangles for dipping, “overflowing” sandwiches on really hearty wholegrain bread.

    I agree with the others who said that you should pack something you’ll look forward to!

  10. tz says:

    The problem I have is most things spoil or otherwise go bad. I can’t buy lettuce or most vegetables. Bread is a problem. Even eggs or milk.

    Could I pack cheaper than eating at the cafeteria? Only if I didn’t throw away half the food I buy.

    First, as an example, the least expensive item is 2 eggs for $0.99. I have four eggs. I also have coffee because a refill is 1/2 price and I don’t want to muck around with the pot, making more than I can drink, then throwing it away, same problem with cream or milk…

    Lunch I either have a light salad (both meanings of light as it is sold by weight), or some inexpensive entree. Sometimes they have premade pasta or other salad for just over $1 which is filling and usually has an array of vegetables. Basically what the Michelina or the small frozen meals have.

    I NEVER EVER BUY SODA POP, OR PACKAGED BOTTLE OR CANNED DRINKS. They cost a trivial amount but are charged a high price – $1.50 for 24 o.z. of sugar-water? and have no nutritional value. OK, I lied slightly – I buy a loss leader at the supermarket or there is this dollar store nearby that has some brand of something at 60% off the price of the equivalent cafeteria thing when I really want it, usually a tea or energy drink.

    I also have a box of tea-bags (since coffee isn’t free at the worksite).

    In a different thread, I posted how I hack the 1/2 off appetizer happy hour when “appetizer” is a large slab of chicken, or hamburgers or something else where I can eat cheaper than the fast food joints.

    My refrigerator stays mostly empty and unopened, I don’t have to waste much energy cooking and cleaning (or disposing of spoiled food), and my food bills aren’t that much higher. But all that would be a lot of work, and I’m not that good of a cook (actually I am, but to make proper food, it would require more work and cost).

  11. Designersheets says:

    My husband works evenings doing repair work in an automobile plant, and there is really no place nearby that he can go for dinner. So i pack frozen dinners for him, I try to get them on sale @ 5 for $10.oo and load up the freezer. I buy the larger lean cuisine and Marie callender’s, a bit more expensive then the banquet meals, but much healthier and tastes better too. Since there is a lot of variety, he won’t get bored with them. I use coupons too, so all in all my hubby’s average dinner costs around $3.50 total, not too bad.

  12. The Unicorn says:

    Another good option is to buy a bunch of healthy (lowfat, low-sodium, etc.) canned soups you like & just leave them in your desk drawer. One of my drawers is like a freaking convenience mart, but it’s a nice way to ensure I never “have” to go out to eat during the day. Plus, it ensures you’re eating something that’s a) warm, b) filling, & c) somewhat time-consuming to eat (as opposed to just wolfing down a sandwich in three bites & then foraging for more).

  13. Starfury says:

    I do most of the cooking and tend to make extra for my lunches. I also take sandwiches. I’ve tried the frozen el cheapo lunches and they don’t taste good. I tend to go out out once a week for some sort of junk food, just to get out of the office.

    I figure I’m saving a fair amount of money by not going out 3-4 days a week.

  14. NoctisEqui says:


    Just watch out for the sodium content in those things…. it’s off the charts! Regardless of fat, trans-fat or calorie content, most packaged frozen dinners contain about 30-50% of your recommended daily sodium intake. I don’t know about your hubby, but it’s something I personally have to watch out for as someone with a family history of heart problems.

  15. Youthier says:

    My husband and I are buying our first house and we are saving a ton by just eliminating buying lunch 4 days a week. We still leave a day a week to eat out with your coworkers or to satisfy a craving on a crappy day.

    If you just pack your lunch as part of your dinner prep or cleanup, it really isn’t much additional work.

  16. Frank Grimes says:

    My company (we have 500 employees at the location where I work) subsidizes our cafe to the tune of almost $10K a month. There are a lot of healthy choices, you can make an enormous salad for about $3.00 but since I have limited will power I bring my lunch which costs about $3.00-$4.00 a day. What kills me is we also subsidized a pretty nice health club that is free to use on site. So in effect we are paying our employees to eat crap (burgers on the menu every day) and then try to work it off. The cafe and health club cost about $250K in subsidies per year and we just had to pull back the hours of the club to cut some costs, but god help us is we took grilled cheese with ham and bacon away.

  17. alicetheowl says:

    I keep waiting for the advice for people who’ve already read that MSN Money article. *sigh*

    Guess it’s time to live out of the car.

  18. @Starfury: “I figure I’m saving a fair amount of money by not going out 3-4 days a week.”

    And that’s totally fair because there’s definitely a quality of life tradeoff involved — it’s absolutely acceptable to say “eating out one day a week to schmooze with my coworkers/have a killer burger/get out of my ugly building is worth the $200 a year (or whatever) it costs me.”

    I think the real difference is between people who THOUGHTLESSLY eat out and hemmorhage money, and people who make an active decision to eat out.

    On another note, now I think we should totally have a Consumerist Cookbook because people suggested such tasty things!

  19. Maulleigh says:

    I hAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTEEEEEEEEE cooking and packing a lunch is in that category for me. Although this morning I did slap some cheese slices between some bread slices and brought it to work. It did warm up well. But if I broke it down by price, it probably was about the same price as a candy bar.

  20. fairywench says:

    Life is too short to eat bad food. Either bad tasting OR bad for you.

    Life is too short to think that Oreos are good cookies…if you’re going to eat a cookie, make it a homemade chocolate chip cookie.

    Life is too short to eat baked chips. Baked chips are still totally unhealthy, plus they taste nasty, so if you’re going to eat chips, you might as well make them the full-fledged ones, and only eat them once or twice a year.

    And life is certainly too short to eat microwave popcorn. That stuff will kill you in about 2 years, and it tastes evil. Get yourself an air popper and save money and save your life.

    The less processing done to your food, the more economical it is, and the healthier it is for you.

    By the way, saving money by eating cheap processed carbs (pasta, white rice) isn’t really saving money, because you’re just propelling yourself towards diabetes. And health care is far more expensive than healthy food.

    Oh, and TV dinners…check the salt content. Generally it’s off the charts.

    Stepping down off soap box now…

  21. brilliantmistake says:

    I’m with Meghann, PB is gross.

    I’ve been brown bagging ever since I moved to an area with an exhorbitant cost of living. I don’t like to cook, so I make a simple sandwich for lunch, and have a bag of cocovia chocolate covered almonds and an apple for an afternoon snack. I’ve saved $$ and lost weight, since it’s a lot easier to track calories when you prepare your own food.

  22. synergy says:


    Well said! You took the words out of my mouth…fingers?