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Tip #1: Pack lunches for the rest of the week

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This is Tip #1 of the 30 Day Challenge to save $1,000.

The first tip is to go to the grocery store today and pack lunches for yourself all week. Sounds obvious, but below I’ll include some specific tips and social-psychological techniques to make this actually work.

This tip reminds me of something I heard in college from a professor of mine, who made the point that lots of people look down on fields like communication and psychology because they seem self-evident. “Communication is measured by the usefulness of the theory, not the difficulty,” she told me. It’s easy to look down on tips like “pack your lunch” because it’s so obvious, but it actually works.

How much you’re currently spending
Let’s look how much NOT packing a lunch is costing you. I’ll assume you eat out 3 times per week for lunch.

Current lunch spending: (Eat out 3x/week) * (4 weeks in a month) * ($12 each lunch net with tax) = $144 per month on eating out

New spending to eat out: (Eat out 2x/week) * (4 weeks) * ($8 net with tax) = $64.

New spending to pack lunches: (Pack lunch once/week) * (4 weeks) * ($5 cost per packed lunch) = $20.

So $144 – $64 – $20 = $60 in savings.

Because you can break down the variables above (# of times you eat out vs. amount you spend on each lunch vs. cost of packing your own lunch), you can tweak each of them. For example, maybe you want to eat out 4 times per week but it will only cost you $2 each time. In that case, enjoy the week-old rotten vegetables you’re buying. But if you tend to eat out at expensive restaurants with co-workers, maybe you limit it to once per week. Up to you.

Note that I didn’t suggest going cold-turkey on eating out for lunch…because that will last about a week, then you’ll give up. This is the key point I made in Set smaller goals: impress friends, get girls, lose weight. You can get better sustainable change if you slowly optimize, rather than quitting cold turkey.

Here’s the concrete tip for today:

1. Decide how many lunches you’re going to pack each week. More = save more money.
2. Go to the grocery store today.
3. Buy food for your lunches this week. If you want to shop for other stuff, that’s fine, but the purpose of this trip is to get food for your lunches. If you accomplish just that, you accomplished your goal.
4. Let’s say you decided to pack 3 lunches each week. Put 3 bags on your table and fill it with 3 bananas, 3 bags of chips, 3 whatever. This takes advantage of our laziness to pack lunch each day. Instead, by doing it this way, you batch the unpleasantness of preparing lunch. Now, each morning, just open up the fridge, take your bag, and you’re done. (Bonus tip: To psychologically commit yourself to actually taking the bag, write “Monday,” “Wednesday,” and “Thursday” on the bag.)
5. For the days you decided to go to lunch, GO! This month, I want you to be strategic about eating out, so it’s not just something you do because you forgot your lunch, shrugged your shoulders, and go drop $10 for your lack of planning. If you decide you’re eating out on Tuesday and Friday, enjoy it — you planned for it.
6. If a co-worker invites you to lunch, be prepared to say no. Try this: Thanks, I’d love to go, but I’m taking this 30-day challenge to save $1,000, so I’m not eating out as much. (This is related to inoculation theory in psychology.)
7. Be sure to read to the end of this post (“Last things to do”). Leave a comment describing how much you’re saving with this tip.

* * *
Bonus reading about food and money

Last thing to do
Leave a comment on this post describing how much you’re saving with this tip. Each day, I’ll ask you to post how much you’ve saved cumulatively. Use this as a way to track your own progress (it will also encourage others to join)

If you liked this tip, check out my Premium tips — one long, tactical tip per week. Save money or get a 100% refund.


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  1. I have packed lunches for years and will continue to do so. Mostly I take left overs from dinner the night before so nothing is wasted.

  2. Here’s my problem with suggestions like this – while they are useful and extremely effective if you follow through, *I’m already doing them*. I pack my lunch almost every single day of the year and I almost always cook meals at home instead of ordering out. Sure, I could save some extra cash by not eating out the 1 day every 6 weeks or so that I currently do, but then life would be pretty sad, right?

    One of the first tips in weight loss programs has similar problems – the first thing you heard is “stop drinking calories. Cut out all soda or switch to diet.” I haven’t drunk soda in years! I barely drink anything except water.

    What am I supposed to do when all the advice out there is stuff that I’m already doing?

    • I have experienced this problem a lot over the years. What I recommend people to keep in mind is that there is a right and a wrong way to do everything. Simply pre-packing your lunches and not eating out will not always save you money. It helps, but you still have to be smart about how much your spending on each of your meals while keeping them nutritious.

      As for weight loss, I lost 60 pounds in 5 months, by eating consistently and preventing myself from snacking.

      Every weekday I would drink 1cup(250ml) of pure fruit juice and then eat a banana on the way to work. At work, I would eat one apple 1 or 2 hours before lunch. Lunch would be 2 homemade salad wraps with no sauces and only 1 serving size of cheese(if any). They were delicious. I would also bring some carrots and grapes to munch on. When I got home, then only meal I’d was dinner. and only one plate with no seconds(sometimes you need to shrink your stomach because you are used to stuffing yourself too much). Try to do serving sizes, but sticking to one plate helps too. After dinner If I needed to snack, I would limit it to celery and after 2-3 weeks it was easy to stick to. I looked forward to the juice in the morning and appreciated each meal. it taught me to view food as nourishment.

  3. This tip will save me $15.92 by reducing my runs to Panera.

  4. Chris, thanks for the comment. Sit tight. You’re already ahead of a lot of people, so some of the tips won’t apply to you. But some will, and that’s how you can save even more.

    Btw, if you have tips, please submit them here!

  5. Chris, if you have already cut down your spending as much as you can, then the next thing you need to focus on is making more money.

  6. Your life ‘would be pretty sad’ if you perceive it that way.
    Many people don’t eat out at all and don’t feel that their life is sad.

  7. Obviously you need to take extra home-cooked food to work and sell it for a profit 🙂

    It is good advice of course. This should be an interesting series but if I cut $1000/month from my spending I’ll be living in my car.

  8. Great tip! Since I already do this I am one step ahead. I actually keep some bagels and peanut butter in the office fridge to keep the hunger cravings down and don’t have to visit the deli if I get hungry before lunch. Saving more money.

    A side effect of this tip for workaholics like me is that you can get a lot of work done during the lunch hour since a lot of people eat out and it is very quiet in the office.

    Can’t wait till tomorrow.

  9. I’m with Chris on this one. I telecommute meaning that I never eat out for lunch (or breakfast or dinner for that matter). I’m able to feed a family of five on $100 – $125/week, so no savings for me on today’s tip. Maybe tomorrow will bring a tip I haven’t already implemented.

  10. i already do this one… i only eat lunch out twice a month right now. i suppose i could eat cheaper lunches… somehow.