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Saving money when you buy lunch

By Paula Pant ·
Monday, March 24, 2014
Posted: 5 pm ET

If you are in a frugal state of mind, you know that it's cost-efficient to pack a brown-bag lunch before you leave for work. Making food at home -- especially if you're packing last night's leftovers -- is cheaper than buying a quick meal from a restaurant.

But sometimes you don't have time to grab anything. Maybe you ate every crumb of last night's dinner, and there aren't any leftovers. Or you meant to prepare a week's worth of lunches on Sunday, but didn't have time.

Whatever the reason, you didn't carry lunch to work. Now you're hungry and wondering how to protect your savings account by buying lunch as cheaply as possible. Here are a few tips.

Go to the grocery store

Grocery stores sell prepackaged and prepared lunch foods, which are often cheaper -- and sometimes healthier -- than lunch from a street vendor, food truck or quick-casual restaurant. If you need to buy a fast lunch, grab one of these meals. Popular options include salads, sandwiches, sushi rolls and low-carb wraps.

If you don't like such prepackaged meals, choose an alternative. While you're at the grocery store, grab a handful of "ingredients" that you can eat without any preparation, such as fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, string cheese, crackers and granola bars.

If your office has a microwave, your options expand dramatically. You can pick up a frozen entree, canned soup or even root vegetables. Grab a sweet potato, chop it into small pieces and microwave it for a few minutes.

Stop by a smoothie shop

Can't make it to a grocery store? If you're in the mood for a light lunch, try a fruit smoothie. The cost is reasonable at around $3 to $5, depending on the size. So it won't ruin your retirement savings dreams.

Smoothies can be healthy and filling, especially when they're made with whole fruits and ice, with no added sugar. Ask for a scoop of protein powder or extra fiber to add some heft.

Look for restaurant deals

If no grocer or smoothie shop is conveniently located near work, a restaurant may be your only alternative.  Check daily deal apps like Scoutmob, Amazon Local, Groupon and LivingSocial, which often showcase half-off deals for restaurants. Many of these feature deals for quick, lunchtime eateries -- perfect for your meal on the go.

Paula Pant helps people ditch the cubicle and live on their own terms. She's traveled to 30 countries, owns six rental property units and hasn't had an employer since 2008. Her blog, "Afford Anything," is the gathering point for a tribe that refuses to say "I can't afford it." Follow Paula on Twitter: @AffordAnything.

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Larry Hume
April 08, 2014 at 5:04 pm

I completely agree. Anything to save helps and i will take all the help i can get. I would accept any giftcards or coupons. Address is 1818 whitney way apt 200, winter park FL 32792

April 08, 2014 at 9:07 am

I agree there has been times no lunch and no money i just skipped lunch makes for a long day l can use the gift thank you

April 06, 2014 at 3:52 am

I agree i need yo learn more ways to save money

Kelly Dresen
April 05, 2014 at 2:30 pm

I can use all the savings I can get. Money never seems to go far enough.

Harriet Wolf
April 03, 2014 at 5:14 pm

My husband always looks to me to find a way to save on everything we can on most of our trips. I use coupons daily and want all I can get. Send me all you can and Gift Cards are the best.

Eva Moore
April 03, 2014 at 3:26 pm

I agree im spending to much cash send to me

April 01, 2014 at 8:54 pm

I agree...send me the bonus.

William Harrison
April 01, 2014 at 5:50 pm

I want to receive this the most expensive do to me-0 harrison love

Nanette Tron
April 01, 2014 at 7:11 am

I want to receive a stimulus check if I am due one.
My address is 2800 Hirschfield Rd. Apt. 181, Spring, Texas 77373.
No phone. Write me. thanks and have a great day!

March 25, 2014 at 10:39 pm

Being a traveler for work, I learned that staying a reasonable priced suite hotels were a better bargain than many other hotel chains. You can have a mini kitchen, and cook your own meals. Stop at the local chain grocery, get a good price on foods, and have leftovers for lunch the next day. I would spend considerably less than eating out every night, and also could satisfy my special dietary needs quite easily. Also felt a lot better for it. Besides, working a 10 to 12 hour day, did not leave much time for getting cleaned up to go to a restaurant, to overeat, and have to get up early the next morning.