How to Save Money on Work Lunches – Skint Style

Without wanting to sound scrooge-like I’ve become increasingly resistant recently to paying more than I need to be at work. By that I mean shelling out for parking, posh lunches and all the other things that I wouldn’t be doing if I weren’t at the office. Things came to a head a few months ago when I got a parking ticket for £75 right outside myworkplace. Having parked there cos I didn’t want to be late , it was a lesson in how being conscientious doesn’t always pay off. (Oh, and a lesson to be on time in future too!) Anyway, that bill prompted me to start looking at my other work-related expenses, and it didn’t take long to see that a massive money eater for me was lunches and coffees.

Though I’m only in the office three days, my canteen bills were steep. So I seized the chance to get all nerd-like, logging what I spent at the café over the course of three days and the damage read like this:

Wed – coffee £1.80; soup £2; yohgurt 80p

Thurs – coffee £1.80; banana 60p; baked potato with tuna £3

Fri – Tea £1; soup £2; chocolate 60p

Total = So, £13.60 for three days. On Mondays and Tuesdays when I’m at home I also go out for lunch to get a break, and probably spend about another £8 a week on that. Let’s round it right down to £20 a week (to make me feel better); that’s still £80 a month, and I’m not hugely enjoying any of these snacks or lunches. I could easily boil up some pasta in the evening for lunch the next day and I’d be happier taking in my own coffee actually, making it stronger and less milky than the work stuff. Or I’d rather make my own food four days a week and go out for a proper restaurant lunch with colleagues once a week – I still reckon that would come in cheaper than £80 a month.

retro lunchbox

And by taking your own lunch you get to dangle this from your arm every morning too!

After doing these sums I screwed on my sensible head and got to work coming up with ways to slash my weekly spend on work-related costs. After all, we’re meant to be at work to make money, not spend it, right? On some of those big lunch and parking ticket days I was coming home with less than I’d set out with that morning. Not smart.

When I thought about why I was wasting money on something that I could so easily do at home, the answer came down, as it so often does, to time. At 7am it’s hard enough hauling myself out of bed, never mind thinking ahead to lunch. But with just a teensy bit of planning I could easily be saving money on work lunches; enough to buy something fabulous every month or, even better, putting the cash saved straight into my holiday fund.

The thing is, as well as taking time to organise, packed lunches can be a tad uninspiring, can’t they? I can still clearly picture lunchtime tomato sandwiches at school, how I’d lift them out of the Tupperware box and be confronted with a sodden mess of wet red bread. So I’ve turned to a couple of sites to help me out with some more creative lunch ideas and thought I share them. Firstly the magnificent lovefoodhatewaste, is a site worth checking out not just for its lunchtime ideas, but also its thoughts on how to cut down on the food waste that currently costs UK householders £12bn a year (£5.5 bn of that is lunch, my friends).

The BBC Good Food site is full of interesting lunchbox ideas too, so now instead of boring sandwiches I’m stocking up on pittas, wraps, oatcakes and ricecakes. And with fillings like hummus, guacamole and feta now stashed in my fridge I’m ditching Coronation chicken for good.

Skint in the City

Or this one! I might just splash some of my savings on a couple.

I’m trying to get into the habit of cooking extra pasta the night before too, then mixing it with whatever’s to hand: cherry tomatoes, sliced red peppers, pesto or tuna. And whilst I used to throw out leftover main meals I now box them and take them for lunch. Aside from the cost and health benefits I’ve found another unexpected bonus to taking my own food. By avoiding the queue for the sandwich shop I’ve discovered that my entire lunchtime is now my own to read a book, take a walk or go window shopping. And the difference to my bank balance at the end of the month is really noticeable.

How do you keep on top of your office lunchtime spending habits? Or don’t you? Are you happy to spend £100 a month on lunches? I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips – go on, share your smarts by leaving a comment below.

Skint Tip: If you’re a real rushbaby and already know you’ll never have time to make morning sandwiches, prepare sandwiches at the weekend and freeze them in clingfilm, then just take what you need out of the freezer before leaving the house each morning. By lunchtime they’ll be ready to eat.

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12 thoughts on “How to Save Money on Work Lunches – Skint Style

  1. I work at night in a Emergency Room so I’m always lokiong for ideas. Here are some of mine. I love salad and baked chicken. So I take salad mix, add some vegetables, slice some chicken ****** and chicken salad. I might take some taco meat, lettuce, shredded cheeses, and tomatoes, and taco shells, chicken strips, and sometimes I get the microave soup in a can( that’s good for when you are on the go. And for snacks I get fruit cups, health bars, and I like to make fruit salads.

    • Great ideas Ajay – I’ve never seen microwave soup in a can! Baked chicken is a great lunch or dinner snack as a change from sandwiches and brilliant for picnics too.

  2. Love this article! I’m guilty of buying M&S lunches every day which must be catastrophic for my bank balance! (haven’t dared tot it up in my head yet) But every time I do make my own sandwich I always feel suicidal as I unwrap it at lunchtime…will definitely be checking out those sites for inspiration

    • admin

      Thanks Catherine. Yeah, homemade sarnies can be dull dull dull, but at least I feel I know what I’m getting! The worst letdowns for me are when I shell out four quid on a ‘pasta box’ or something from a rubbish deli and am confornted with slimy, soggy pasta and chemical tasting tuna smothered in cheap mayo. That’s what really gets me mad! Don’t mind shelling out for nice M & S stuff!

      • Salads faux sushi rolls (trim the crusts off bread and roll flat with a rolnilg pin, spread with cream cheese, sliced turkey or ham, and some cheese, roll up and cut into rounds) Wrap your lunch meat / sandwich alternative/ lettuce, tomato, etc, in a tortilla Stuff a pita bread pocket (ideas are endless, PB J, pepperoni cheese for pizza, etc) Stuffed Muffins use corn muffin mix as a base, mix according to the package, then add in diced turkey veggies or diced ham shredded cheese, etc, bake according to the package directions* can use cream cheese mixed with jelly for a sandwich filling

    • Soup, Lean Cuisines, different salad viaoatrins, just make sure you have some kind of protein. I know you mentioned you don’t want sandwiches, but maybe you could be creative with wraps. Maybe chicken breast, with some hummus, a few cucumber slices, etc. Veggie burgers are really great too. Check out Yahoo recipes or any other site that can give you more ideas.

  3. […] lunches – As I outlined here, this was a big money eater (literally) for me, but it’s one I’ve gone some way to […]

  4. […] How to Save Money on Work Lunches – Skint Style ( […]

  5. I am the queen of the “packed lunch” – years spent working in theatres followed by caring for school going boys means I have moved from PB&J thru sushi to soups and hot pasta over the years.

    So in a family – just imaging the cumulative effect of packing lunches for all members over the year ………………. enough for an extra mortgage payment (or three) in my case.

    Better quality, more variety and much, much cheaper – its a win all round

    • Totally agree Elaine. The more people live in the house, the more necessary the packed lunch becomes! Can you imagine the cost of buying lunch for each family member every day – ouch!

      • How about tuna or chicken sladas in PITAS or croissants. Change up the breads / wraps (that is what I do for my hubby I make his boring lunch every day and he loves it)Beef / Chicken fajita pita with meat, lettuce, salsa, cheddar, tomatoes, etc.Make a pasta salad with chicken. Make quesadillas they are great!! Even toasting the bread makes a difference!I also get him lunch able (little crackers and meat and cheese for a snack)~~This is what I pack him everyday~~One breakfast item could be donuts or a sausage biscuit or a breakfast burrito.2 sandwiches.2 small bags of chips (usually Pringles or whatever he picks out for the week)4 cookies and a snack cake.Sometimes I will throw in some fruit and nuts too.He most of the time eat the sandwiches so they don’t go to waste and most of the time he brings home 1/2 the junk food in which I pack in his next days lunch.Be creative!!!

    • My husband loves levrofets, so I love him all the more for that! When I clean up at dinner, I pack his lunch and voila he is ready to go.Since we just moved and we are about 2 miles from his office he tries to come home once a week to enjoy a meal with the children and for that meal he will eat whatever the rest of us are eating. He also comes home at least once a week to eat lunch with me after the littles have gone down and the oldest is busy with school work. For that I usually try to do something simple still, but at least a bit nicer for a date. []

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