This week I realised that since starting my new job in March, I’ve purchased lunch/ordered Deliveroo a total of 6 times. One Guzman Y Gomez, my first (and probably last) Bahn Mi, 3 visits to an insane burger place that does a truffle arancini burger, and one toastie from the distinctly average café below our old office.
That averages out to about once a month, which I think deserves a self-five and a bit of a victory dance.
I know a lot of people who get stuck in the habit cycle of buying lunch multiple times a week, or even just get sucked into the vortex of Friday burgers or some other weekly ritual. Both are absolutely fine if you’re consciously enjoying every single meal you buy and actively want to be spending your hard earned money on lunches at work. But I’ll bet some people who do this would probably rather their lunch spend wasn’t quite so high.
Let’s look at that Friday burgers example. Say you’re pretty restrained and only go out on Fridays for a $20 burger and drink deal. That’s $80 a month, or $960 a year – just for one lunch a week. Yes, I accounted for four weeks annual leave in that calculation. Spend $15 three times a week, and you’re looking at $2160 a year… that’s a pretty decent holiday fund right there.
If you’re cringing at these numbers and think you might prefer your $2000 to put you on a beach with an Aperol spritz in your hand, here’s some ways you can get out of the habit of buying lunch at work all the damn time.
1. Don’t go all-in on day 1
The habit cycle of buying lunch at work is exactly that – a habit. So don’t go cold turkey right away. Gradually start cutting back the number of days you eat out, and try taking leftovers from your dinner the night before instead. It’s low energy (no meal prep required), and you’ll still get a half hit of your favourite lunchtime indulgences. If we reverse engineer those numbers, if you cut back two $15 lunches a week, you’re already saving $1440. Sounds pretty good to me!
2. Still have ‘treat’ lunches even if you bring them from home
Bringing lunch from home is often associated with the act of being healthy or dieting, and spending your lunch break staring miserably into an abyss of leaves and raw carrot sticks. If you’re trying to break years of lunch-buying habits, don’t worry too much about being mega healthy to start with. Switching up your daily noodle lunch for a rabbit food salad won’t help you make the transition. Try bringing things you enjoy to get into the habit of bringing food in, or keep your indulgent eat-out day, but bring something from home instead. Maybe bring pizza on Fridays, or cook up your favourite schnitzels at home and bring those in.
3. Bring all your lunches in on Monday
One of the biggest downfalls of trying not to buy lunch at work is when you forget your food on your way in. Sometimes you’ve done everything right. You’ve prepped, boxed up lunches and stacked them in the fridge – but if they don’t make it to the office, you’re stuck having to buy lunch again. If you’re prepping lunches for the week, try bringing all 5 days worth in on Monday, so you only have to remember once.
4. Stock up your desk drawer with emergency foods
Even with the best bring-it-on-Mondays intentions, you can still get caught without food if something get thrown out by mistake or goes mouldy earlier than you thought. Go to your local supermarket or do an online order to your office and stock up on non-perishable lunches you can keep in your desk drawer for emergencies. Get some snacks, too, in case you get hangry right before a meeting. Good ideas are soups, rice pots, tins of tuna/salmon, crackers, bread if you have a freezer, or cereal if you have access to milk. Having these staples on hand will mean you’re never stuck needing to buy lunch out.
5. Make simple lunches in bulk
I know, I know, meal prep – what an original tip. But meal prepping your lunches for work doesn’t have to be all containers, boiled broccoli and mess. Making 5 sandwiches takes less than 10 minutes, and they’re filling, balanced and easy to carry to work. You can even squeeze it in before you leave on Monday morning!
6. Rally the troops
Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking. ‘I’ll be the social outcast if I don’t join in with Friday burgers.’ I hear ya. Buying lunch at work is a social thing, and often it’s a way to be part of the squad. But try enlisting a couple of your work besties to jump on the treat-lunch-from-home train and get a crew together to all bring pizza on Fridays or have ‘jaffle’ day and get creative with your fillings. You could even take it in turns to bring the ingredients, so you’re only paying once every few weeks. Pesto cheese jaffles for 5 people would need 1 loaf of fancy bread ($4), a jar of pesto ($4) a circle of brie ($4) and maybe some chutney or chilli jam ($4) – that’s $16 for all of you, and you can take it in turns to bring different toppings. Then, take your toasties to a park or somewhere else away from the office and it’s like your own Friday picnic, for a fifth of the cost!
Go forth and become a lunch-from-home champ and save that DOLLA for more fun things than a disappointing baguette with nowhere near enough brie.