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April 16, 2016
packng a lunch at home
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This is the Day 13 & 14 challenge in the #Money30, a month-long bootcamp for personal finance novices. You can read more about the challenge here, and follow along with us on Twitter, Instagram, or email us at feedback@moneymail.com.

TIME BUDGET: 2 Hours


People who buy lunch every work day burn through about $2,500 a year, according to What Are You Doing for Lunch, by Mona Meighan. Even a more typical three-day-a-week habit eats up around $1,500 a year. But pack your lunch four days a week instead of dining out, and you can easily save $800 to $1,000 a year—more if you shop on a budget (here are 29 easy ways to save hundreds on groceries) and prepare inexpensive meals.

This weekend, we want to help you to get into the habit of brown-bagging your lunch, and that’s easiest with a little weekend meal planning.

Step 1: Decide what you want to eat for lunch next week. Declining invitations to eat out will be easier if you prepare food you’ll enjoy, rather than relying on a PB&J or plain turkey sandwich, so pick a favorite recipe, or take the opportunity to experiment a new one you’ve wanted to try. We recommend a dish that’s easy to make in bulk and reheats well in the office microwave, like pasta, quinoa or rice bowls, salads, or soups. (For inspiration, check out these lunch ideas from Real Simple and Cooking Light.)

Step 2: Go to the grocery store on the weekend, with the sole focus on buying ingredients for next week’s lunches.

Step 3: Spend an hour cooking or assembling on Sunday afternoon, and then divide your dish into individual containers to bring into work. Doing all the work in one sitting means you’re less likely to skip making tomorrow’s lunch after getting home late tonight, but be realistic: If you know you’re not going to want to eat the same thing four days in a row, plan and prep accordingly.

Step 4: If you’re prone to forgetting things in the morning, pack all the containers in one bag and bring them in Monday to keep in the office fridge. Or set a daily reminder on your phone that alerts you a few minutes before you leave the house.

Step 5: If—okay, when—you get food envy after smelling your co-workers’ french fries from the food court downstairs, focus on the fun you’ll be able to afford outside of work thanks to your newfound lunchtime frugality. According to calculations done by Money columnist Dan Kadlec, if you skip the $15 daily lunch in favor of brown-bagging a meal that cost you $3 to make, you’ll save $31,000 over the next 10 years.

—Kaitlin Mulhere

Have a question, comment, or suggestion? Email us at feedback@moneymail.com.