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How to Pack Your Lunch and Save $165 a Month!

Updated on December 23, 2015
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Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Pack Your Lunch and Save Lots of Money!
Pack Your Lunch and Save Lots of Money! | Source

Packing Your Lunch Is Worth the Trouble!

One morning I was packing my lunch as usual and wondered, "Is this worth the trouble?" It takes me about 5 minutes to make lunch every day, sometimes a bit longer if I pick and wash fresh items from the garden.

Making lunch and packing it up is another chore that I add to my list of things I need to do before I can leave the house for work each morning. Usually this is not a problem, but on this day I felt like I would perhaps be better off with one less chore to do.

The items I pack in my lunch are not free (except for the garden items), so am I actually saving money by packing my own lunch? Short answer: yes.

How Much Can You Save by Packing Your Lunch?

First, let's consider how much it costs for food during the day if you don't pack your lunch

  • Typical fast food combo meal: $7
  • Typical vending machine snack item: $1.50, assume 2 snacks per day
  • Typical coffee or beverage out: $2

The total daily lunch and snack bill: $12 per day. This adds up to $360 per month! That is a lot of money.

Now, let's check the cost of packed lunch

  • Lunch items $3 for leftovers/sandwiches
  • Snacks $2 for two snacks
  • Coffee or water from home $0.50

The typical daily cost for food if pack it yourself and bring it from home: $5.50 per day or $195 per month. Your savings for bringing packed lunch is about $165 per month per person. So if a couple brings packed lunch rather than buying food each day, the monthly savings is around $330 per month.

Pack a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat for a complete protein
Pack a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat for a complete protein | Source

What to Take in a Packed Lunch

When you pack a lunch, you want to make sure to pack food with enough calories to get you through the day. Depending on your size, you likely need between 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day total. You will probably want to pack about half this amount for your lunch and snacks throughout the day. One of the great things about packing lunch is that you can plan your calories for most of the day all at once. If you keep a rough count of the calories that you back in you lunchbox and if you only eat things from your lunchbox, then it is easy to keep track of calories during the day.

Protein is an important factor in addition to packing enough calories. If you pack 1,500 calories of mostly starch and sugar, you'll probably still be hungry and want to go out for a hamburger in the afternoon. If you pack some high protein items, you'll have more energy and feel less hungry.

Some great items to bring in a packed lunch:

  • Sandwiches: cold cuts or peanut butter
  • Leftovers: Pizza, spaghetti, whatever you had for dinner
  • Fresh fruit: Throw in a couple apples or bananas
  • Yogurt: I like Greek yogurt and it is high in protein
  • Cereal: A small container of Cheerios or other healthy cereal can help get you through the day

You'll need a drink as well. At most workplaces, you can fill a water container for free during the day. You can use a thermos or water bottle to pack a drink from home if you like.

Consider "packing" your morning coffee in addition to packing your lunch. A coffee out costs about $2. You can make your own great cup of coffee at home for 60 cents including the cost of the coffee maker and electricity.

Make it Easy to Pack Your Lunch Every Day

Packing a lunch is much easier if you have the right gear and get in the routine of doing it quickly. One key is to have a large insulated lunchbox. I started with a 6-pack cooler that I got almost free at a hardware store with a $5 off any item coupon, but it is simply too small to carry all of the food and ice packs that I need to get through the day.

A large lunchbox also makes it really easy to pack leftovers- you don't need to repackage the food since a large lunchbox can handle the food in whatever it is already packed in. How large of a lunchbox am I talking about? Mine measures 10 inches high, 7 inches deep, and 10 inches wide. It has a shoulder strap to carry it easily.

Another necessary item for packing lunch is ice packs. Just put the ice packs in the freezer at night and good ones stay cold for many hours in your insulated lunchbox.

A variety of Tupperware containers makes it easy to pack your lunch items. You can get Tupperware containers that hold sandwiches so you don't need to use a plastic sandwich bag every day. They also work great for packing cereal and leftovers.

Fresh Fruit is an Easy Lunch Item to Pack
Fresh Fruit is an Easy Lunch Item to Pack | Source

Best Foods to Pack in Your Lunch

With some planning, you can keep basic lunch supplies on hand so you can always pack a lunch even if there are no leftovers. Recommended lunch supplies:

  • Loaf of bread
  • Jar of peanut butter
  • Bottle of honey
  • Jar of jelly
  • Fresh fruit
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Deli Meat
  • Cheese

I like to take apples or bananas every day. Apples only cost about 75 cents each and bananas are a real bargain at about 25 cents each. I also try to have some deli-style meat in the refrigerator so I can make meat sandwiches if the leftovers are not impressive on a given day. Greek yogurt is good to keep on hand in the refrigerator to add a quick boost of protein and fruit to your lunch.

Adding some fresh vegetables to a meat sandwich can make it much more satisfying. Try to add some lettuce and tomatoes to give your sandwich a boost to seem more like a meal than a snack.

Back-up Plan: What if Packed Lunch Doesn't Work Out?

A few times I have had a packed lunch that just didn't work out. The leftovers turned out to be too old, or I simply didn't pack enough to make it through the day. My backup plan is to get a $5 footlong at Subway. Lately, I like the breakfast sub with eggs, ham, and provolone on wheat bread with lots of veggies. I think this is a great deal once in a while, even if a Subway footlong sub is not really a foot long...

Another curveball situation: What if people you know are going out for lunch? You don't need to miss out on time with your friends, and you don't need to pay a lot for lunch, either. Just bring your lunch along. I brought my giant lunchbox right into Hardees and ate there with others and that worked well. Note that Hardees is a fast food restaurant- bringing your lunch to a table service restaurant may be frowned upon. In that case, you could just order a drink and spend time with your friends if you don't want to spend a lot of money on lunch. Here are some other tips on saving money eating out.

How often to you bring lunch from home?

See results

© 2013 Dr Penny Pincher


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