Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Brown Bagging it on the No Spending Challenge

So we all know that one of the ways to save money is to pack a lunch for work, right? I used to think this was one of those completely obvious tips until I noticed how many of my coworkers eat out almost every day. Considering that our bonuses and raises have been slashed, I'm not sure how they are still affording it!

Way back in the days of big bonuses and extra cash, I did go out to eat on a fairly regular basis myself (though even then it wasn't every day.) I enjoyed getting out of my office for a bit. I don't eat fast food, so those lunches weren't exactly cheap, but that was okay at the time. Since I began my $900 a month journey, I have been rarely eating out alone. I still do lunch with friends occasionally, but that is down to a few times a month. Fortunately, I enjoy my own cooking! Usually I'll make dinner for 4 (which is how most recipes are designed) and have one dinner that night and 3 portions to have as dinner or lunches. It works out pretty well.

However, yesterday morning as I came back into town from staying at a friend's I realized I had no lunch. The town where I was staying was a little over 2 hours away and since I work at 10:00 a.m., it made sense for me to leave there Monday morning, rather than Sunday night. (That way I can be on the road around 7:00 a.m. and drive during daylight.) As I got closer to the office, I started thinking about the lunch dilemma. I had just started my No Spending Challenge and one of things I definitely wasn't going to do during the challenge was eat out alone. So, what were my options?

  1. I could eat out and just chalk it up to a "beginning of challenge" slip.
  2. I could cheat and quick call a friend.
  3. I could swing by my house and pick up something to eat.
The problem with #1 and #2 was that both of those solutions felt like they were against the principles of the No Spending Challenge. The problem with #3 was that in order to go to my house before work, I would have to drive past where I work and drive 12 extra miles to get something. I had the time, but did that really make sense?

In a word - yes.

At the time I just decided to do it because it felt like the "right choice" to make. It wasn't until later that it occurred to me to do the math. According to FuelClinic.com, my car gets between 26 mpg (city) and 29 mpg (highway). I was on the highway, but would have to do city driving to get home, so let's just call it 26 mpg. I had just bought gas that very morning for $1.89 a gallon. That means that each mile costs me roughly $0.07. Now, I would have to drive home and back to work which was about 12 miles round trip (6 miles each way.) So, my drive home cost me about $.84. It also cost me time - but since while I was home I checked the mail, watered the plants and put some of my travel items away and still made it to work on time, I say that time was well spent. The meal that I grabbed - chili - was leftovers from a big pot of chili a friend had made me. I ate a fair amount of it and froze the rest in lunch containers. So it was free. Total cost = $.84.

Had I gone out for lunch, the cheapest place I regularly eat is a lovely little Chinese place that has great lunches for $5.00. But with tip and beverage, I don't usually get out of there for under $7.00.

In the past I would have never considered driving right past my office and going home to pick up lunch rather than going out. Will $6.16 make or break my goal for this month? Probably not, although, each month that I work on getting $900, it usually earned by small amounts like this - in dollar amounts under $10 that add up, rather than big $100 lump sums. Plus, the homemade chili was far healthier than the restaurant Chinese food so I not only saved on my pocketbook, but also my waistline. And as it turned out, I ended up having to use my lunch hour for an emergency errand, something that would have been tough to do if I also had to get food at that time.

The most important thing though, is that by going home I stuck to my rules, which I think is really important when you are trying something new like this whether it be a diet, a budget, an exercise routine or whatever. Once you set rules you have to stick with them, especially at first when you are trying to form habits.

And hey, the chili was delicious.

Photo by: keuynish


Catie said...

I think it's often the little victories that make us feel successful. Congratulations!!!

K-money said...

Keep up the good work!

Dawn said...

Catie - I agree. Thanks!

K-Money - Will do! Than you!

Kristy @ Master Your Card said...

Good for you Dawn! I'm so bad about this. If I don't make my lunch at night and am running late the next morning, I just think to myself that I can pick something up. I've been doing this a lot more frequently lately because my schedule as been all out of whack.

In your case, I would have definitely just grabbed the lunch out and chalked it up to a learning curve mistake. But, you made a very wise decision that worked out in your favor all the way around. Good for you!

Dawn said...

Thanks Kristy! Truthfully, I am a far better fan than of my own cooking than most restaurant food (though I love going to ethnic places that serve things I haven't discovered how to make yet) but I really like just getting out of the office for a bit. I am glad it is getting warmer here - that means I can at least take my box lunch to a park or something. In the winter we get a bit closed in.