Bring back the Brown Bag

brown bag with photo of Learn from Liz

Today is National Brown-Bag It Day so I thought we would talk about how to save on lunch the old fashioned way! Now, National Brown-Bag It Day is different from the Brown Bag Special at Sonic Drive Thru! I remember getting those when I was a kid at my aunt and uncles house in Stamford, Tx. There were so many of us that we definitely saved money by ordering the brown bag special but for this blog post we are talking about taking your own lunch to work opposed to eating out. And just because some restaurants pack your to-go order in a brown bag does not mean you are brown-bagging it!

So move over, breakfast! Lunch is the new ruler: Recent studies show that employees who take a lunch break are more likely to be productive in the afternoon and avoid long-term burnout.

But lunch’s sudden popularity has negative effects, specifically the enormous amounts Americans spend each week on dining out for lunch. Looking for an alternative to sushi five times a week? The best answer is the simplest: Brown-bag it.

Studies show that eating out for lunch can cost between $1,500 and $2,500 per year.

However, with some planning, you can spend as little as $5 per brown-bag lunch. Five meals a week, times $5 per meal, times 48 working weeks, equals only $1,200, adding $1,300 to your year. Interested? Here are three tips to jump-start your new lunch habit!

1. Save while you shop

There are several ways to trick yourself into saving money while grocery shopping. First, bring your headphones! Listening to upbeat music makes you shop faster and buy less of what you don’t need. Also, if you are like me, I am sure everyone in the store enjoys the concert I put on while singing along! They may or may not know what song I am singing since they can only hear what’s coming out of my mouth and not my headphones but I’m sure it is still helpful for their shopping experience 😁!

Second, do a pre-checkout audit of your cart. Grocery stores design their checkout lanes to discourage people from returning items to the shelves. Don’t be afraid to pass off any items you realize you don’t need to a nearby employee.

2. Think DIY

In the land of lunch, sandwiches rule. One thing that can change, though, is pre-sliced deli meats, which can get very expensive. There are a few alternatives.

First, you can order large cuts from the butcher counter and slice them yourself. With some practice, you’ll get sandwich-sized cuts of deli meats for a fraction of the cost.

Second, think barbecue. Most proteins cooked in barbecue sauce are delicious; a slow cooker makes it easy. Drop your cuts of meat in the pot, cover with sauce, and cook on low for a few hours. You can shred them with a fork for delicious barbecue sandwiches all week long.

3. Plan ahead

When you’ve finished your economical shopping, you’ve still got to make and eat your lunches. After your first few bagged lunches, you may start missing your old going-out-to-eat lifestyle, but stay with it. Luckily, there are some strategies to help you adjust to the change:

Pack ahead. Prepare the pieces for all your lunches at the beginning of the week and store them in the refrigerator for easy grabbing at a moment’s notice.
Be prepared to turn down co-workers who invite you to eat out with them by thinking of a response in advance. Or go with them to pick up their food and then eat together in the breakroom. If you are comfortable with it, you could even take your lunch to eat at the restaurant your co-worker is going to. No judgement here!

Brown-bagging your lunch doesn’t mean being chained to your desk. Weather permitting, you can eat in a nearby park, or sit in your car. I sit in my car at lunch just to get out of my office and rest in the peace and quiet. Watch Netflix on your phone and enjoy some solitude! If we are being honest (and I am) I even sit in my car inside my garage when I get home from work some days just to soak in the last bit of calm and quiet before entering my house and having to tend to all the responsibilities in there. Still getting a “break” with your lunch will make the transition easier.

You can easily save $1,300 a year by brown-bagging your lunches. If you use leftovers from dinners you cook, you could definitely save more than $1,300. Try it today!

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