Saving Money At Work: 5 Useful Tips to Help Reduce Spending During the Work Week

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Most nights, before going to bed, I prepare my lunch for the next day. If I'm ever running late, I don't want to use being in a hurry as an excuse to buy lunch, because I save a significant amount of money bringing my own lunch to work every day. If you buy lunch every day, you might be spending about $30-40 per week. (I'm guessing an average meal runs around $6-$8.) Sure, $8 might not seem like a lot when ordering your food, but $40 certainly sounds like a lot more. Maybe you also stop and pick up a coffee ever day. That could be roughly another 10-15 dollars each week, depending on what type of drink you buy and where you go. I went into Starbucks the other day and spent close to $4 on a medium drink. If I did that 5 days a week, I would be spending close to $20 on coffee!

If you do spend more money than you would like to during the week and are looking to cut back, I hope that you'll find some of these tips useful. Or maybe you've never even thought about how much money you spend during the work week. If you haven't, take a few minutes to tally it up. If you didn't eat out, how much would you save each week, each month, or even each year? Check out csgnetwork.com's "pack your lunch calculator" for a simple lunch time savings calculation, or take a look at YourGFM.com's "eating out versus bringing your lunch calculator." This site even calculates the interest that would have been earned on the money you would have saved.

  • Plan Your Meals & Stick to It: At the start of the week, usually Sunday, I make my weekly trip to the grocery store and stock up on everything I'll need for lunch in the coming week. I have my morning snack: yogurt and granola. To save money, I buy a large container of plain yogurt and purchase my granola in bulk. This comes to about $6; if I were to buy a snack every morning, it might be a lot more money or a lot unhealthier. For lunch I usually have an egg salad sandwich, so I need bread and eggs. Again, that's about $6. I get five sandwiches for $6. That's what one sandwich would probably cost me if  I ate out! Finally, I have my afternoon snack: a piece of fruit. Lately, I've been buying a bag of oranges that lasts throughout the week, but you can always mix it up. But, I wouldn't really spend more than $5 on afternoon snacks for the week.
  • Make Use of Dinner Leftovers: Having last night's leftovers for lunch the next day is always a great idea, especially because it usually doesn't cost that much more to make a slightly larger batch of food. When I know that I'm in the mood for something different for lunch, I try to plan dinner around a meal that is also excellent the next day. Vegetable and rice dishes are by far my favorite.
  • Be Smart About Packing Your Lunch : Sometimes, the most expensive thing about bringing a lunch is how you bring it. For starters, it's good to have one reusable bag that you use every day to keep your lunch in. If you already take a large bag or backpack to work with you, just use that. Secondly, invest in a reusable water bottle or reuse an old jar you have lying around the house for water; I also leave a mug at work for hot beverages. Keeping a plate, bowl, and silverware handy is another good idea -- it's better for the environment (and as a bonus a lot more cost efficient) than using disposable plates and utensils ever day. For snacks, it's a good idea to save different plastic containers and glass jars that you might otherwise recycle. I use a smaller jar for my yogurt and keep other containers on hand for different snacks. It's also a great idea to see how long you can reuse plastic sandwich bags and tinfoil. Unless you made a really messy sandwich, sandwich bags and tinfoil can be reused for quite some time. Substituting a reusable container for tinfoil and sandwich bags is another great way to save money and cut back on waste. Check out "In a Vegetarian Kitchen with Nava Atlas" for some great ideas about making healthy, waste free lunches.
  • Cut Back on Buying Bottled & Canned Beverages: Take a minute and think about how much money you spend a week on individual bottles of water, juice, soda, etc. If you purchase one drink a day for about a dollar and some change, you're probably spending around $7 a week. What if you buy 2 drinks a day, or even 3! All that money adds up. I'm fine drinking water all day, and because I always try to bring a reusable bottle with me, I rarely pay for water. But water can get boring, and I think that's when running to the vending machine or the store around the corner becomes more appealing. To save money, try making a big batch of juice or iced tea at home and bring a bottle of it with you each day. If you were making lemonade all you need are some fresh lemons, water, and maybe a little bit of sugar. A batch of lemonade that can last a week costs about $2 or $3 dollars, which is often the price of one bottle of juice.
  • Limit Your Weekly Trips to the Coffee Shop: Don't worry, I'm not asking you to quit drinking coffee. I am saying that you should look for more economically advantageous coffee solutions. For starters, make a cup of coffee to go. And if you're not a morning person and find yourself rushing around without an extra few minutes to brew a fresh pot, consider investing in a coffee maker that has a timer. That way, you won't have to worry about not having enough time in the morning, and you'll also wake up to the wonderful smell of coffee wafting into your bedroom. That's a perk you just can't get at a coffee shop! Even if you consider yourself to be a bit of a coffee snob, there are tons of great coffees out there for sale that will no doubt save you money in the long run. All you need to do is figure out how many cups of coffee you'll get from a bag and divide it by the price in order to calculate your savings. You can even try reusing coffee grinds at least once to stretch your dollar further. If your not sure what coffee to buy, check out Dean's Beans. They have a wide selection of delicious fair trade and organic coffees, and they're local to Massachusetts.

If you do eat out every day and want to cut back, start out by deciding how many days a week you are going to bring your own lunch. Maybe for the first week, it's just three days. After that, you'll realize how easy and cost effective it is that you decide to try for four days. Or maybe you want to start out with a bang and go the whole week bringing your own lunch. Whatever you do, the most important thing is to keep track of your spending. And you want to be sure that you first have an accurate estimate of your typical spending habits. Generation X Finance has a great post about one couple's decision to eat out less. It might just be the inspiration you need. Good luck and happy saving!

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