5 Ways to Buy a Cheaper Lunch

published Mar 20, 2017
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(Image credit: William Brinson)

In a perfect world, we’d all pack healthy, filling, satisfying meals for the office every day. But that’s easier said than done. Maybe you spent the weekend taking care of chores and didn’t have any time for meal planning. Or maybe (hopefully!) you had way too much fun this weekend and didn’t do any chores, let alone think about what you were going to eat for lunch.

The good news is that on the days when you have to buy your lunch, you don’t have to break the bank. Just follow these smart tips for fueling up on the cheap.

1. Just say no to extras.

That guacamole at Chipotle is extra and you know what? You don’t really need it. You’ll probably love your Chipotle just as much without it, thanks to all that free cheese, sour cream, and pico de gallo. This same line of thinking goes for your local salad shop that offers five free toppings — once you add more than that, you’ll be paying a premium for each item, and that adds up quickly. You’re already shelling out extra money on your lunch, so there is no need to splurge even more with unnecessary additions.

2. Be loyal.

Many lunch spots will offer punch cards for a free salad once you buy nine, or a half-priced sandwich when you buy five, so make sure you take part. Some more high-tech places even have apps instead of loyalty cards, so look to see what you can download while you’re at your desk.

It’s also worth following your favorite spots on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and signing up for their emails. Usually that’s where you’ll find their discounts, coupons, and other deals.

3. Order enough for two.

That giant sandwich that you know you just can’t finish? Get it anyway! Just save your leftovers in the office fridge and you can eat them tomorrow for lunch. This way, that $12 splurge is really only a $6 lunch. Totally reasonable! (Just make sure you put your name on the bag so that Sarah in Accounts Payable doesn’t feel tempted to help herself. Back off, Sarah!)

4. Look for lunch specials.

Many restaurants offer lunch specials that include full meals for a fraction of what they’d cost for dinner. We’re talking three rolls, miso soup, and edamame for $10. And again, if you can’t eat it all, save some for dinner or tomorrow’s lunch.

5. Keep a well-stocked desk.

Adding nuts to a salad almost always adds more money to your total. A single-serving bag of pretzels tends to cost more than a serving poured from a bigger bag. And a can of LaCroix from the deli probably has a giant markup. If you know you’re gonna want these things, try to keep a stock at your desk. Even if you didn’t have time to go to the grocery store that week, you’ll have some shelf-stable items waiting for you, which you can use to supplement your #notsaddesklunch.

Get Better at Packing Your Lunch

What are some ways you save money on lunch when you just have to buy?