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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Financial Baby Steps: Step 2 Pack your Lunch & BAG some savings!

The financial baby steps series on Talented Generation is a way for young professionals to get their finances in order, one step at a time. We all want to get to a land of financial freedom but it is a long and, often frustrating, process. As a newly minted graduate, I want to get my finances in order, get out of debt (don't be pretentious and act like you don't have any) and achieve financial freedom. These are things I have promised myself I will achieve. My biggest hurdle is to adjust from living on lump sums of financial aid and grants to biweekly pay checks. 

In case you missed step 1, you can check it out here

Before I begin discussing step 2, I want all of you to understand that consistently packing your lunch for work is a challenge. It will be a test of your commitment to experiencing financial freedom. There will be days where you will prefer to skip packing in favor of the ease of purchasing a quick lunch. On the days you bring your lunch, you must resist all urges and outside forces that entice you to forgo your packed lunch. You will be tempted by your co-workers or your friends who would prefer to have you accompany them to an over-priced restaurant. There are about 10 options within walking distance of my work and about 10 more who could deliver to me. Thats only 20 options and even if I tried out every one of them they will eventually get old. I have a little secret for you: If you learn to make delicious food in your own kitchen, not many restaurants will compare. Trust me on this one.  

First is the lunch packing checklist: 
1) An understanding of your eating habits 
2) The ability to make your own food  
3) Tupperware 
4) Dedication 

If are missing any one of the above things on the checklist, I STRONGLY suggest you change that ASAP. And by asap I meant right now.

First off, you must understand your eating habits. Are you a snacker? Do you eat breakfast every morning? How large are your meal servings? Understanding these things will help you because you will know exactly what you need to pack everyday. In my case, I am a snacker. I eat a nice breakfast every morning but I usually crave a snack before and after lunch so I pack pretzels, pistachios, sour patch kids (DJM!) and fresh fruit to get me through the day. This saves me from spending money at the vending machines or nearby food carts. Additionally, on days when my appetite is a bit healthier than normal I pack a little more food just in case. There is no sense in packing your lunch and then spending the money you save. 

Next, you need to learn how to make your own food. IF you are one of those people who does not know how to cook, its time you change that. You can start off with a basic one pot meal like spaghetti or shrimp pasta and expand your menu from there. Here's another thought: Buy a cookbook. Just because you're packing your lunch doesn't mean you have to settle for cold sandwiches and grilled cheese.  I searched for cookbooks at Target but ended up finding similar cookbooks for 1/2 the price at Marshalls and TJ Maxx. You could also visit sites like and learn something new. YouTube Rachel Ray's 30 minute meals or check out her Food Network page for info on quick and delicious meals. Remember lean proteins and carbs give you lasting energy. 

Third, you will need tupperware to pack your lunch. Duh! What else are you going to put your food in? I know my country folks will pack their lunch with a bowl and some aluminum foil. Buy some quality tupperware! Remember what I said in step 1! Don't skimp on quality just because its cheaper. Moving on...

Finally, you will need DEDICATION. Taking time to pack something for lunch can be consuming and draining. If you're anything like me, sometimes I have a "taste" for something different. I have learned to resist the urge to visit Nando's or Vapiano's so that I can enjoy the lunch I packed for the day.  How are you supposed to know what you're going to want to eat for lunch the next day? I can't help you with that. All I can tell you is to make the foods you love so you end up craving what you packed for the day. 

Make packing your lunch part of your routine. Don't be intimidated by the amount of time it takes. You find yourself discouraged if you're hungry after lunch and all of your snacks are gone. When I first started, I made my food at night but I waited to pack my lunch until the morning.  This presented a challenged because if I was running late, packing my lunch was one of the things I sacrificed. I work in an area where the cheapest lunch you can get is $10 (aside from the Mickey D's dollar menu, but we all know eating McD every day is NOT healthy) so I know if I dont pack my lunch that day it will cost me at least $10 and that does not include the tip if I sit down with my co-workers. Now I know you're probably saying $10 is not a lot of money but remember it will add up. If you eat a $10 lunch 5 days a week, that adds up to over $2500 per year. Even if you only eat out 2 days a week that still adds up to more than $1000/year. 

Packing your lunch for work has other benefits as well. It can  help you live a healthier lifestyle since you have control over what ingredients you use and how it is prepared. You may elect to sauté with olive oil or peanut oil as opposed to Wesson vegetable oil (the DEVIL!). Also, if you choose to bake instead of fry you can cut even more calories from your diet. Even if you only pack your lunch a few days a week, you can still make a difference. You can also avoid the lunch lines and take a relaxing walk during your break. Packing your lunch will also allow you to treat yourself to the things you may not find at a restaurant. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Leave your smelly foods at home. This includes that 5 day old fish that you thought should be reheated for 5 1/2 minutes. No one will say anything, but the ENTIRE office is offended that you funked up the office with your lunch. 

Packing your lunch will save you money on a daily basis. You may spend money on the front end buying groceries, but you will save money on the back end. Put the money you save to the side and use it to fluff your bank account or pay extra on your debt. 

Happy Packing! 

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