Thursday, 04 August 2016 12:04

The $3400 Lunch Run

ultra cheap lunches

Sure we all love eating out during our rediculously short lunchtime at work, but how much is that actually costing you?

Eating out is fun and convenient but if you're trying to save money, it's a shot in the foot.

Consider that most lunches that are purchased out in a city (Chicago, LA, NYC, etc...) cost an average of $9.

If you work five days a week, but lets say you buy lunch on the run four of those five days, you've just spent $36 on lunches alone. That doesn't include that Starbucks coffee you got in the morning (ave. $4 each) and snacks around 3 or 4 in the afternoon (ave. $3).

In a single day, you may be spending upwards of $16 on food items. That's $71 for every week you're at work (assuming that you still got the coffee and snacks on that 5th day).

In a month, you'll have spent $285, and in a year, $3408!

What if I told you that you could eat delicious lunches every work day and never exceed $2 a day? That's only $480 a year. 

What could you do with an extra $2900 this year?

This is really simple to do, but does take planning. Good thing we're all about planning right? 

In my book, Every $2 meal has to include some kind of meat. Also, It has to actually be filling. There's a method to the madness so read on!

Every lunch has to have four parts:

  • A foundation - The foundation is the centerpiece of the lunch. It usually is Ramen, Lipton's "Cup-O-Noodles" or another cheap, dry food. On quite a few occasions, I also make white rice as the foundation because that's even cheaper than ramen! You already are getting the idea of what I do, right? Ramen can be purchased for at most, $0.25 per pack. I get the box of 24 for $3 (12.5¢/each). Liptons noodles come in a three pack for $1, or 33¢ each. a 5lb bag of "Botan Calrose" rice is $6 (equates out to about 4¢ per lunch, you could hog the microwave at work to cook rice, but I do it the night before)!
  • A Meat - I use canned meats exclusively for three reasons. 1) Per lunch, they're cheap. 2) Easy to carry. 3) No messes in your lunch bag. Tuna cans cost around 30¢, Chicken and beef are around 38¢. I divide each can between two lunches.
  • Veggies - I use either frozen or canned. Frozen is cheaper if you divide and pre-bag it using ziplock bags. Doing that, it usually comes to about 35¢ per lunch (depending on how many portions you divide the bag up in to. A can of mixed veggies usually costs around 70¢
  • Water from the Water Cooler and a flavor squirt (MIO drink additive) Water: free. Mio 18¢ per water bottle.

That's basically it. Even at it's most expensive, I'm at $1.59 per lunch. 

Most often, what I do is cook about three cups of rice. After being cooked, I will end up with about six cups of fully cooked rice. I portion each cup of rice out into a ziplock bag and freeze. The next morning, all I have to do is toss the frozen rice into my lunch bag. It helps to keep everything else cool during the morning, and only needs a minute to reheat in the microwave. This is the 4¢ meal foundation that really drops the cost per lunch.

The whole idea was inspired by those Military MRE's (meals ready to eat). Those small packages give you a full meal in a very small pack, but are hellishly expensive ($7-12 per meal). I decided to take that approach to making lunches. Have everything ready to go, and just assemble it at work during lunch.

I collect condiment packets from fast food joints

That's right. I have a box filled with salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, relish, olive oil, vinagar, hot sauce, salsa and many more condiment packets that I pick up from fast food joints such as McDonalds, Subway, KFC and similar. I will toss a few packets of whatever I need in the lunch bag as needed, and it doesn't add to the cost of the lunch at all. Often, I'll take soy sauce packets when I have a rice-based lunch. I might take mustard and ketchup when I do have sandwiches...

A Last Note About Ultra Cheap Lunches

I don't do this every day. I have one day I allow myself to eat out up to $10, and often, I take leftovers from the evening dinner before. I don't by any means, live a truly spartan life, but I am very penny savvy and know and understand how to make a little cash go a long way.