We often eat breakfast and dinner at home but spend up to $10 a day for lunch at a restaurant around the corner or the corporate cafeteria. It might not seem like much, but that's $50 a week, or $2,600 a year. Doesn't seem like chump change anymore, right?
You still need to eat, but there are several easy steps that can take the sting out of your midday meal.
Brown Bag It: Yes, we all know you aren't in kindergarten anymore but that doesn't stop you from making a sandwich and bringing it into the office. That's why you have a refrigerator at work in the first place. For the cost of lunch out one day, you can buy a loaf of bread and enough lunch meat to make it at least three days, maybe more.
And experts say that we eat healthier portions and better foods when we make it ourselves.
Ditch the Soda: If you are already paying $6 or $7 for that sandwich, why add another $1.50 for a soda to that check? If you are out for lunch, ask for water instead. If you are at your desk, take a trip to the water cooler.
If you must have that noontime carbonated fix, consider buying a case of your favorite cola at the supermarket and bringing it in to work. If you spend $4 on a 12-pack of name-brand soda, you will make up that cost in two or three days. Total savings: about $7 a week. If you buy a generic brand, you could save even more.
Leftovers Deborah Hamilton, a work-at-home mom who runs a blog on packed lunches called lunchinabox.net, suggests making a larger dinner and bringing in the leftovers.
It's a step up from that cold sandwich and doesn't take you any time in the morning because you already cooked the meal the night before.
"At night, when packing up your leftovers, pack them into container to take to take to work," she suggests.
"Don't hesitate to pack food left over from dinner," she adds. "Leftovers can be your weapons against boring lunches, maximize payout for the time you already put into dinner by making a little extra food."
Bring in Snacks: Skip the trip to the vending machine. Keep some chips, some cereal or a box of granola bars in your desk drawer. Snacking will force you to order small portions at lunch and the price of your snacks is significantly cheaper at the store than the vending machine. If you want to be healthy, think about fruits and vegetables. Just beware of so-called convenience sizes. They might be easier to bring to work, but they aren't necessarily cheaper.
Share a Meal: Subway, the nation's second-largest quick serve chain after McDonald's, is offering its foot-long subs for $5. That is large enough to split with a friend. If Subway isn't to your liking, think about sharing take out from your local Chinese restaurant. Or maybe share a large pizza with three of your co-workers. It's probably better than anything from your cafeteria and will be cheaper.
Frozen Dinners and Soups: It's a variation on the brown bag lunch, but a lot less time and thought goes into it. The range and quality of frozen meals has improved in the last few years and if you are a smart shopper, you can buy large quantities of them when they go on sale.
Soup has come a long from way since the days of living in a can or coming in a powdery mix. Today, you can buy individual servings that come in a microwavable container that you can eat out of. Can it be simpler than that?
Find the Free Lunch: Stop ignoring all those invites to training sessions, seminars and panel discussions. They often come with free food. Yes, companies are cutting back in this recession, but it is worth finding out about the free meal possibilities. Plus the event might be a good networking or career advancement opportunity. If you get a promotion or a job with a higher salary, then you can afford to eat lunch out every day.