Taking lunch to work – revisited

February 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm (bringing lunch)

It’s been probably, oh, a  year now since I decided I would try and bring my lunch to work on a consistent basis. How’ve I been doing? Amazing!!!! It’s such a habit that I can’t imagine NOT bringing my lunch. Going out or getting take out to bring back to my desk is such a foreign concept. At most I have to buy lunch about once a month (I kid you not)!

If  you don’t already bring YOUR lunch to work, why not? What’s stopping you? You can’t use the not enough time excuse – it takes less time to prepare lunch than it does to drive somewhere, order, purchase, and return to work than prepping ever does! And so what, you’ll save so much money, it will be worth it. And you can always prep the evening before, before going to bed. If I’m uber prepared, that’s what I do. More often, however, I make lunch for 20 minutes every morning. Even I, the most degenerate sleeper-inner that there is, gets up early enough to prepare lunch. Almost every single day.

If variety is your problem, well, that is a good one, but I doubt you’re eating a different take out meal every day for a month. There are lots of options. I often shake it up week by week, but I’m actually ok eating the same thing for a few days.

So what do I typically eat? Here’s a sample:
Coffee – I fill my 16 oz. insulated mug and off I go.
1 apple, cut up into thin slices. It’s the perfect snack size. Pour some lemon juice on it (those little plastic squeeze bottles are perfect and they make it taste better too. I guess I’ve been eating an apple a day for a full year now!
A secondary snack: a cup of  yogurt, some carrots sliced into carrot sticks, maybe a little container of hard cheese and an ounce of nuts, almonds, pecans, or walnuts. The cheese/nuts combo also goes great with the apple.

For the main course, I’ll have one of the following:
leftovers from dinner the night before. If you are a family of 2, buy the value packs at the market, and make leftovers for you both. Instead of one head of broccoli to steam, make two! Making baked potatoes, add an extra one in the oven. Pasta? Super easy to make enough for leftovers.
Sometimes I’ll make stew, which will last as lunch for like 2-3 days beyond the first dinner. This week I made chuck stew with beer, onions, leeks, carrots, and lentils. Mmmmm. That $12 will make 4-5 meals. Freshen it up with a hunk of baguette and butter, or put it over some egg noodles or rice if it gets tired after a few times.
My tried and true standby is a sandwich. A good sliced bread, deli meat, lettuce, and maybe a thin slice of cheese. Add mayo or avocado as a healthy replacement fat. Mmm, perfect! I have gotten a little bored with this one, so lately I’m doing leftovers more often than not.

If the main course isn’t enough, and I forgot to eat breakfast, and a bunch of fresh fruit doesn’t do the trick, I’ll supplment with tea, packages of apple cider, hot chocolate, or those paper packages of cup o’ soup.



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Budget/spending ramblings

January 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm (bringing lunch, budget)

I’m sticking extremely well to my austerity budget. I’ve managed to bring lunch every day now, and the rest of the week continues to look good. I ran out of sandwich meat today, and didn’t have enough time to finish cooking my big pot o’ soup last night (it’s been a while since I cooked chick peas from scratch), so had to pick up some deli meat this morning, but it was the only thing that I bought! I may  have to go buy a loaf of bread later this week, but I think we’re set, food-wise, until the weekend.

We do have a trip to Costco to plan, and those are always budget busters, but I may manage to get out of there with only $40 in spending, I hope. We’re pretty well stocked up on stuff right now.

I’ve paid the first half of the month’s bills (mostly the mini-funds and rent), and it appears I have a little extra available, so I’m going to make an early payment of $200 towards the BECU credit card. Then I’ll be really tight on spending until next payday on the 20th.

I had a great overtime opportunity this morning. I had to go in to work at 4 am, so while I am quite exhausted right now, I was able to log an additional 4 hours of doubletime in addition to my normal day. Good thing too! The next paycheck will be pretty skimpy – only 10 days, and a lot of those are shortened days, since I was sick for several of them with a nasty cold (#2 if you’re counting!!! Grrrr), and then left early/came in late often since there’s not a ton to do at work! I’m extrapolating that this coming paycheck will be at least $100-$200 less than usual, even with the doubletime!!

Still haven’t eaten out yet this month, but I may break down and get something on Thursdays. While I would normally go to this really cool French café, I don’t know that I want to spend $20 on a meal by myself (and I typically do this every Thursday as I need to eat something before working at my volunteer job from 5:30 to 10). I don’t know that I can prepare 2 meals to bring to work that day, and not get totally sick of the same sandwich/apple slices/bag of nuts/kasha bar combination. And then it struck me – there’s a Subway a block away. I can both get something healthy, AND budget-friendly. Way to go diet/debtmaven! See, it all comes down to planning.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

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Debtmaven’s austerity measures

January 5, 2011 at 7:02 pm (Being Frugal, bringing lunch)

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I am trying to recover from a $1200 financial setback and have decided to follow my own austerity measures. What I’ve decided to do/not do:

No alcohol purchases. So far so good. J has bought 2 bottles of wine so far this year and I have declined both times to pay for it, and to drink it (I’m also trying to lose weight. alcohol = empty calories). I still want my irish whisky (NOT Bailey’s – they are hideously expensive) in coffee, so I will still buy that, but nothing else. I may try and give that up in my coffee, but I’m not quite ready for that. This is my biggest indulgence and my most difficult high-calorie item to give up.

No luxury coffee. Check! Haven’t been to Starbucks once. I still have $15 or so on a coffee card for a local place a block from work and only went there once last week. I’ll probably use this up, but it should still last a while.

No lunches out. 2 weeks in and still going strong! Have been making my lunches every day, even going so far as making a sandwich complete except for the filling part, and getting enough deli meat for it (and nothing else) at Safeway on the way to work  yesterday – $1.32! I’m trying really hard to prep in the morning, and I’m doing pretty well. I will probably start making a batch of soup every week sometime soon, to help supplement the routine menu I’ve been eating so far (1 apple, handful of nuts, hunk of cheese, baguette with avocado, lettuce, and sandwich meat and a bar for an afternoon snack). Last week was lentil soup 4 out of 5 days.

Minimizing eating out. It’s been over a week since eating out anything at all! Well, I did get a cheap Subway sandwich for $4 after snowshoeing on New Year’s day, but that was both  healthy and economical. And I drank water with it! We almost had lunch out on Sunday, but both J and I stayed hungry and waited until we were home. We’ve been planning our healthful dinners in advance. Hope we can maintain it – planning and cooking takes a lot of time and effort, especially adding in a few hours at the gym for us both (and with me working!) each day.

Buying more frugally at the grocery store. Spent a bunch of money at Costco, but avoided the big packages of red meat (yeah!). Went to the asian market for lots of asian style food (rice vermicelli for fresh summer rolls and bun  – that’s vietnamese vermicelli bowls (dinner tonight!!!). At metropolitan, the more expensive market that we shop for their high quality meats, we bought the basics. I spent a lot on expensive apples ($8 for 4 apples!!), but they are lovely and huge and one of the few I don’t mind eating (apples are not my favorite food). I didn’t get any big chunks of expensive cheese, we didn’t get much expensive dairy (no more half and half!). I haven’t bought any bad snack food items or desserts, you know, the $4 cupcakes, the $6 tin of amazing 2-bite brownies? Doing ok so far. I hope it continues.

Avoiding big purchases. I need some new winter clothes for snowshoeing. I could use a winterized, waterproof pair of pants, ones you can fall in the snow and they won’t get wet, but all I have is my summer pants that convert to shorts that I wear over long johns. I think it will have to stay that way for a little while. I think I need a new pair of sun glasses. The pair I have now fog up as soon as I breathe, so they are probably designed poorly. Not sure what I’ll do about this… I just spent $12 on the new pair and they suck. I have a ton of workout clothes and my sneakers are relatively new, so no new gym equipment needed for a while. I have debated about getting the personal training, but I think I should wait and keep at it on my own. I can probably look and find advice for some of the deficient areas I could use help on (pre-workout stretching routines, flexibility training, and a weight lifting regiment) without paying the $149 for 3 sessions.

Also, the idea of a flat screen tv keeps beckoning every so often, such as last week. I decided screw it, no tv, don’t spend the money, I don’t need to watch more tv. Whew! Clothes: I may have to go buy a few necessary items this week (the only 2 comfortable daily bras that I have both broke! The wire snapped in half, and let me tell  you, a sharp edged bit of metal digging into your tender parts is pure agony! and they both broke 2 weeks apart!! That’ll be $40-$50!!!). I don’t need any clothes, shoes, or anything so I won’t even shop for it, even if it’s on sale and cheap.

Vehicle. I still need 2 new tires, but to be honest, I think I can wait a month or two. Provided I don’t drive up to the mountains for snowshoeing/hiking, and just commute the 12 miles to work, I should be ok for a little while. I may need to get new tires in Feb. or March however. I’ll wait until I’ve saved up enough in my vehicle fund though first, and by February I’ll have $200 in it.

So how am I doing, 1-2 weeks into my austerity measure decision? Pretty darn good!!! I hope to continue to be tight fisted for at least through February. I’d gotten a little too lose and free with spending in the last half of 2010.

I’m hoping this year I can break the $10,000 mark paid towards debt.


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$18 for the next week

October 29, 2009 at 10:54 am (bringing lunch, monthly budget) (, , )

I have $18 in my checking account to last me until Nov. 5. Even with a pretty solid budget, here’s how it came to pass: Flu season has already started where I work. I maxed it out and rather than eat into my vacation, I elected to have unpaid days off in my timecard, resulting in a smaller paycheck than usual (by about $200). I’ve been aggressive with my debt and bill paying this month, probably more than I should have been, but I was making up for the last 2 months of no extra debt payments. I think I was also behind on my car insurance and ended up overpaying a month (rather than deduct what I had sent in after their bill made it into the mail).

So last night, I looked at my checking account balance to find only $18! Ugh! And I don’t get paid until next Thursday, 11/5. I did transfer some cash over from my savings account, which I fully plan on replacing when I get paid, in full. However, I also plan on NOT SPENDING MONEY as much as physically possible between now and then.

I’m out of gas, I have some food in the fridge, but no big protein sources (ie, chicken, pork, beef or tofu). I ran out of frozen food entrees in the freezer at work. What’s a gal to do? Well, enter the week of living frugally (much more than I have ever done in the past). It will be even more challenging with my bf being in the same boat (his financial reasons for being broke involve bad spending, no planning, and not debt repayment like me, but the results are the same).

Today I had leftovers. I ate oatmeal that I had kicking around in my desk drawer for breakfast. I plan on bringing more in through the duration. For lunch I had leftover chicken pho soup (Vietnamese chicken soup) and rice and fried tofu from Uwajimaya that I bought yesterday (enough for 3 meals). I have apple, bread and peanut butter. That will last me through the afternoon munchies.

I will be creative and more vegetarian at home for meals. There are a bunch of eggs, I can scramble, make a quiche (we have leeks in the garden p-patch that we haven’t used yet and there’s a rasher of bacon in the fridge that is probably still good inside its paper wrapping). I have a can of chickpeas that I can turn into a pasta dish with cream, onions, and bacon. I will probably have to go buy some carrots to make some split pea soup, and I’ll buy a tub of lettuce from Costco (all should be less than $10). I can make cookies for snacks, got the butter, flour, chocolate chip or preserves (for choc chip or thumbprints). I have lots of bulk grains and legumes. I don’t have a ton of fresh veggies though. I think I can scramble a can of tuna for lunch tomorrow, or maybe I’ll do baked potatoes, which are always filling and warming on these cold days. I think I still have ramen left over from a case bought at Costco.

I put $15 of gas in my truck and will not allow myself to buy a coffee, go out to lunch or dinner, drive anywhere unnecessary that might use my precious ½ tank of gas, or use my credit card at all. I may have to dip into my partial savings, but as I mentioned above, my next month’s bills will be lower by about $90 due to my overpayment.

ARGH, bad timing, but the lessons are good ones to take to heart.

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Lunches for the week (1/16)

January 16, 2009 at 7:37 pm (bringing lunch) (, , , )

Well, I did amazing last week (took lunch to work all 5 days). This week I had the best of intentions. I already knew that Wednesday I would eat out – I spent the day away from the office with crew on a job, so I sortof had to eat out.

I brought leftovers from dinner one day, and for 2 days I suffered with peanut butter on toast with banana or apple slices on it, a piece of fruit, that kind of thing. I’m starting to get tired of it unfortunately. I worked super late on 3 days (~12 hours or so, including going home in between hours on 2 of those days), so was super tired this week. I think making mega-overtime makes up for being thrifty on dinner, so I am ok with getting thai take-0ut Friday. I needed easy, as well as comfort food. Pad Kee Mao, yum.

I do realize that I probably need to keep a few extra snacks around the office though. I got tired of the sugary aspect of the peanut butter. If I get some cup o’ soups (the packages from Lipton) or some cups of ramen, that might help. I should probably make sure I take cheese and nuts as snacks too. So lesson learned. I have to make sure I have some snacks ready in the fridge on Sunday so the rest of the week it’s easy to prep some snakes for the skimpy/scrounging days when I didn’t have time or energy to cook a big dinner.

We did make a big huge pot of french onion soup. I wanted to take it to work, but realized that I didn’t really have anything to transport soup in. I have a metal stacking pail, but I wouldn’t trust liquid in it. I got rid of tupperware style containers a long time ago (don’t want plastic seeping into my food). So the soup is still at home, and has been dinner a few nights this week. It might be dinner whenI get home tonight.

I also need to stock up on a few cheap frozen meals – I tried a few Budget Gourmet meals. They are pretty tasteless. If I have some parm to sprinkle on top that should help. I’ll keep an eye out for big sales on frozen meals. Normally they are totally not worth it – they are $3.30 or more for something that is only half a meal or just a snack.

This coming week I may buy some cold cuts from the grocery store on Monday to have sandwiches a few times during the week. That should give me a break from pnut butter (maybe I’ll leave that for the carrot sticks).

Whew, looking soooooo much forward to sleeping in tomorrow! Get some sleep all!

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Lunch ideas to take to work (to save money)

January 9, 2009 at 6:04 pm (bringing lunch) (, , )

It’s not a surprise that eating out costs more than cooking at home. I’ve been cooking more in order to save money. To take that one step further, I’ve decided that I shouldn’t be paying for lunch out while at work. It’s expensive, with tip and tax included. If I go to the grocery store and get something from the hot or salad bar, it’s still $5-8, and that’s not including a drink or snack. I tried occasionally bringing food to work, but haven’t been all that successful at it.

If I go to the grocery store, I count lunch towards my grocery budget, and if I go to a restaurant, or get takeout (almost always thai or vietnamese), that goes under restaurant category. After being way over both my food and restaurant budgets last month, I’ve set a goal to bring my lunch to work at least 4 out of every 5 days in the work week, 5 if I can manage. This should give me a lot of savings over the course of a year.

Bringing food every day takes careful consideration. You have to actively think what to bring, shop for those items at the store, in advance, and then prepare lunch before leaving for work. If I plan well, I can prepare twice as much for dinner, then all I have to do is package up the leftovers after dinner is over. If I have to make something fresh, then I try to get up earlier in the morning. This can be a big sacrifice – I simply adore sleeping in. Getting up early for *any* reason is a major chore.

My office has a fridge, microwave, toaster oven, toaster, coffee pot, and filtered water. I have everything I need to prepare or reheat any food that I bring. I recently bought a 2-tiered metal lunch pail (I don’t want to be using so much plastic to wrap or store my food). It has plenty of room for leftovers and/or a salad.

I have some staple ideas for large snack plates: an apple, raw nuts (pecans, walnuts, or almonds are my favorite), and slices of cheese (such as Jarlsburg, chedder, gruyere, p’tit basque, you name it). I try and bring stronger-tasting, firm cheese. The combination of all 3 is a classic!

Salad and dressing – I usually buy the 1 lb. clamshell from Costco (at 3.99), which lasts for a week. I make my own dressing with olive oil, balsalmic vinegar/old red wine/mirin (in very small doses)/cider vinegar, lime juice for the citrus, soy sauce for the salt. I make up a big batch and either bring in a jar for the week, or fill up a squeeze bottle (the local co-op sells them in their bulk isle). You can suplement this with some smoked salmon, other types of nuts, or cubed pieces of cheese or other meats if you don’t eat salmon. On the side I eat corn thins with cheese slices. Canned tuna would also work in place of the salmon. The salad and dressing are in larger quantities, so I usually use it throughout the week.

Deli meat, such as turkey or roasted chicken on sandwich bread, with lettuce, mayo, and maybe a slice of deli cheese. Add a piece of fruit, and either a handful of pretzels or nuts. Or maybe have some more salad.

Lately Im also finding that I have been craving drinks. I may break down and buy a case of Coke from Costco (I generally avoid buying soda as a general rule). I may limit myself to 1 or 2 a week. I should try bringing in a 2 liter bottle of sparkling water (my drink of choice), to cover my carbonation urge. Every day around 1:30 or 2 I start craving a carbonated beverage, and this urge usually lasts until the end of the day.

I generally stock instant oatmeals for the times I am too tired to eat breakfast at home (which is about 90% of the time), and would rather sleep in ’til the last minute.

I used to bring baggies of cut up apples (with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown, which oddly enough, enhanced their flavor quite well). This also works with carrots – try cutting up large organic carrots – they are far superior to carrot sticks (which I generally find to be bland and bitter). Some other options are to bring yogurt and fruit – the 32. oz. or 64 oz. tubs of yogurt will last quite a while and can be stored in the fridge as you use them – this is much more economical than buying the individual cups at $1 each. If you can’t store the tubs at work, portion it out before you go to work. An alternative is cottage cheese, cut up fruit, and a little dollop of honey to sweeten. Canned fruits can be a good substitute in the winter months, with the added bonus of the sugar in the syrup already there to sweeten it. My favorite fruits to eat with it are a ripe peach, a really tart and firm plum or pluot. Kiwi and apricots would also work.

I generally try and keep a bag of bulk nuts, peanut butter, crackers or corn thins, and some raman noodles in a copy at my desk in times of hunger, for a snack, or when I need to round-out my lunch. Sometimes I lend them to co-workers that need some extra food.

I’m going to try posting my lunches for the week for a while. This will help me keep accountable, and give all you PF blog readers some ideas. Feel free to give some of your own suggestions!

January 5-9

Monday (leftovers): Chicken breast from a roast chicken, peas with wasabi and butter, 3 small red potatoes with butter and sour cream.

Tuesday: peanut butter + banana on toast, 1 small aple, and 2 carrots (cut up in sticks). 1 pop tart.

Wednesday (leftovers): A bowl of tuna noodle casserole, leftovers from the night before.

Thursday: Repeat of Tuesday. Brought a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast.

Friday (leftovers): Hodge-podge of shredded chicken, peas, onions, spinach in a canned tomato/mustard/sherry/cream sauce, served over quinoa (my favorite grain). Split a bagel and cream cheese with a coworker for breakfast.

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