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8 Ways to Save Money at Lunchtime

Shutterstock_517810591Lunch prices are getting out of control. For instance, working in midtown Manhattan, it is a challenge to find lunch for $10 or less. That amounts to spending approximately $50 a week or $2,600 a year. Consider how these funds could instead be used to help you reach your intermediate or long-term goals— such as buying a home or saving for retirement.

According to a recent study by research firm NDP Group, the average lunch costs $8.36 nationwide. Because of this, Americans are starting to change their lunchtime habits. In fact, the same study reported that traffic at eateries during lunchtime is down 7% since last year. Below are some tips to help you stick to a lunchtime budget regardless of whether you choose to make lunch, buy it already prepared or join the (shorter) line at the sandwich, salad, and soup place near your office.

Shop smart and be flexible. Be an educated consumer. If you are going to make your lunch at home and bring it to work, it is important to know how much items typically cost at the supermarket. If you are familiar with prices you are more likely to know a good deal when you see one. Oftentimes, purchasing the store-brand instead of the name-brand will cost less. Also, keep an eye on circulars for deals on items you use regularly and stock up when they’re on sale. Your budget will thank you.

Bring leftovers. If you are cooking dinner, consider making a little extra to bring for lunch the next day, or for the next few days. Many meals such as soups, stews and pasta dishes reheat beautifully.

Pack a sandwich or salad. If the idea of bringing leftovers for lunch isn’t appealing, you might instead buy cold cuts and rolls and make sandwiches for the week or buy salad greens, grilled chicken and vegetables and make salads. These options will cost less than buying them already assembled near the office. 

Being loyal often pays off. If bringing lunch isn’t for you, investigate whether any lunch places in your area reward you for your frequent business, such as giving you a free salad after you buy ten. If you are going to purchase lunch, why not be rewarded for doing so?

Consider a lunch subscription service. Relatively new to the market, these programs allow users to pick up lunch from a large number of restaurants all for much less than the listed price. Services like these currently operate in metropolitan areas including New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Miami, San Francisco and Chicago, and are likely to expand to other markets in the coming months.

Coupons are your friend. Food delivery services such as Yelp Eat24 and UberEats are popping up left and right. Many of these websites and apps regularly offer coupons, making them an attractive option if you want to order in for lunch.

Plan for the 3 p.m. snack attack. If you like to snack, stock a desk drawer with healthy, nonperishable snacks such as granola bars, dark chocolate, dried fruit, mixed nuts or jerky, or bring fresh fruit and cut up vegetables that you can store in the office fridge each week.

Stay motivated to save. For some people, bringing a turkey sandwich from home every day is a no-brainer. For others, the thought of limiting options can send them into a panic. If you aren’t so excited about finding ways to save, but really want to spend less on lunch, set small goals for yourself. For example, when you’ve saved a certain amount by changing how you approach lunch, treat yourself to something—a manicure, or a new scarf. Or, commit to bringing your lunch Monday through Thursday and treat yourself to buying lunch on a Friday. Check out this lunch savings calculator from Feed the Pig to see how a little lunch savings can go a long way. The key is to know what motivates you and implement a solution that will keep you saving.

We would love to hear from you. How do you save money at lunchtime during the workweek? 

Alexis Rothberg, Communications Manager, American Institute of CPAs.

Packed lunch image courtesy of Shutterstock

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