Rewards for packing our own lunches?
June 1, 2011 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Help us think of incentives that will entice us to pack lunch instead of buying it.

My husband and I need to stop spending money buying lunches at work. There's really no reason why we can't pack our lunches, except that we are so busy with the kids and the household while at home that we just don't do it. What we have in mind is to come up with an incentive for ourselves, a "gold star for the day" if you will. Can you help us? Here are our requirements:

1. While it would be nice to pocket the cash (minus grocery money) for the days we packed instead of purchased, the overall goal is to spend less money, not to transfer the cash to another frivolous purchase.

2. We don't want to compete with each other, since as things currently stand, I would win. I don't want my husband to give up.

3. Getting out of doing housework is off-limits.

posted by Knowyournuts to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: - Pack lunch for *each other*. You'll be a lot more motivated to do it.

PS - make extra dinner and pack lunch immediately afterwards with the leftovers as part of cleaning up after the meal. It's a complete no brainer at that point.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:31 PM on June 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

Best answer: What if each of you made lunches for each other as kind of a de-stressing bonding activity either early in the morning or late at night, and each lunch was gently themed in some way? Getting into Bento boxed lunches really helped me making packed lunches more often because it was so satisfying to create this yummy work of art and then devour it bit by bit. Lunch became this delicious stress reliever every day, both when I was making it and then eating it. Working together as a couple to make your lunches each day if your schedules coincide could be really fun.
posted by patronuscharms at 2:32 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I feel like having awesome lunch food is the best incentive.

* Make some awesome chili/curry/casserole and freeze it in those cheap ziplock/glad tupperwares over the weekend. Then you can grab an entree from the freezer when you're too busy to pack anything.

* Buy an amazing selection of salad fixings, foreman-grill some chicken breasts and chop them at the start of the week, and get some fancy expensive dressing, since it's still cheaper than going out to eat. You can throw together amazing salads each evening to take the next morning. Maybe buy some crusty, fancy bread from a local baker.

* Do something similar with sandwiches: if you go to the deli counter at your grocery, you can get 1 or 2 sandwiches worth of a bunch of different meats and cheeses. Get good veggies and spreads and fancy chips to go along with them.

* Bring a Dove square or a pudding cup or something to treat yourself each day.
posted by vytae at 2:32 PM on June 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Can you put some percentage of the saved money in a checking account? 50%? 25%? To be used for some fun joint activity? Dinner out + baby sitter? Not sure if that's enough of an incentive, it depends how much money you are saving.
posted by teragram at 2:35 PM on June 1, 2011

Ditto the suggestion to just get in the habit of making extra dinner. If you cook the right kind of stuff, going from 4 servings to 6 is no problem, and many foods reheat beautifully. My wife and I do this and while I sometimes envy my coworkers' lovingly made sandwiches and salads, most of the time I really like having some of last night's dinner to eat as my lunch.
posted by rossination at 2:36 PM on June 1, 2011

Best answer: Pocket a percentage of the savings (say 25%). You still save money and you get the pleasure of rewarding yourself with indulgent spending.

Optionally, you could agree that the person who does best gets an extra $20 (or similar). That way there is an extra incentive to beat each other without breaking the bank and the loser still get's their own original percentage and therefore won't get discouraged.
posted by oddman at 2:37 PM on June 1, 2011

Is there a special treat you love? I pack chocolate covered cherries in my lunches, and I don't allow myself to get one any other way than from an (otherwise healthy) packed lunch.

You can also think of it in terms of reducing disincentives. Disincentives can be created by a false belief that it needs to be a huge pain in the ass. Lunch need not be even half as exciting as dinner! In my view, packing a lunch should take a maximum of 30 seconds or it won't get done (at least, not by me!) I have accepted that the result will not be overly complex, but it is often quite good!

When I've been doing this regularly, I find it easiest to bring the same meal 5 times in a row. Usually i pack 5 baggies at some point during the weekend and then it's just grab and go. The key is I spend no more than 15 minutes "making" the week's baggies. My lunch is just raw fruits and veggies (grapes, berries, bell pepper strips, carrots etc) along with cheese and bread with maybe some deli turkey or hard boiled egg.
posted by powerbumpkin at 2:42 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

My wife and I did the math one day and realized that if we both stopped buying coffee and lunches we could pay off a significant chunk of credit card debt. So every month we put to the side our lunch/coffee money. At the end of the month we applied that extra money to our credit card bills. After a year we had paid off half our credit card debt and become accumstomed to making out lunches. Now we have extra pocket money not just from taking our lunches, but from eliminating a couple of credit card bills.
posted by phelixshu at 2:43 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Stash meals that can be kept and used in an emergency. Go shopping for work each weekend. Leave your credit card at home. Have a baby. Invest in some nice glass-lock tupperware. Invest in some spices & condiments to keep at work. Rather than being too ridged about it allow one meal a week out with co-workers. Find something fun to do over lunch that necessitates eating fast. My co-workers and I eat fast and run to the park to play frisbee or to play basketball. Eat more cheese with your lunches. Attach a shock collar wired to a GPS device. Mock him and call him a jerkface when he eats out. (TWSS) Each month you both get a fixed "free fund" budget that lets you spend a certain amount of cash on whatever you want. When my wife and I did this I stopped going out for lunch so I could save cash for other interests (LIKE GOLF WHICH IS AWESOME). Start a swear jar. Write no more swearing on the outside. Use it only for spitting chewing tobacco. Realize that "financial experts" that say you can save $1 BAZILLION over your lifetime if you skipped the morning cafe latte are jerkfaces. Start a clean up the neighborhood club (over lunch). Join toastmasters. (over lunch). Start a MBA book club (over lunch). Kiss his eyelids when he doesn't go out (under lunch).
posted by rdurbin at 2:45 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

1. Make it easy. Cook up/prepare your delicious soup or beans or lasagne or sandwiches on the weekend. Also pick up a week's supply of fabulous portable fruit. And lay in a supply of something tasty to snack on at work like string cheese, almonds, dates, raisins.

2. Invest in a couple of lunch boxes or portable sacks if you don't already have a bag to cart your lunches. And some lunch bots (I use my pico and rounds almost daily) Throw in a couple of utensils.

3. Just toss your lunch into your containers every AM right after breakfast. Take the empties home and wash with dinner dishes.

Yay! Delicious and tasty lunch at work! And you paid for #2 in savings in just the first couple of weeks!
posted by bearwife at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2011

A disincentive worked well for me. I made a deal with myself that, if I ABSOLUTELY HAD to buy my lunch, I would have to walk to the restaurant or grocery store. For me this meant I had to walk an hour round-trip, and there's my lunch-break gone. This specific example may not work for you or your husband, but maybe it will give you a starting point.
posted by lekvar at 2:55 PM on June 1, 2011

Get cute bento boxes! They're so fun to pack it makes me want to pack a lunch. I like "Wrap n Mats" too, which wrap a sandwich (instead of using a baggie) and wash for reuse, but also unfold into a placemat. IOW, a big motivation is making the home-carried food NICER than the fast food takeout.

Reward yourself with stickers on a calendar. People are surprisingly motivated by stickers. I like penguins.

Maybe if you get 30 stickers in a month (out of 40 workdays -- 20 for each of you), you go on a romantic picnic the last weekend of the month. Which you also pack yourselves. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:58 PM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Not an incentive, but to make it easier to bring your lunches: leftovers! Make extra portions when you make supper, and then put a lunch-size serving into a Tupperware (or similar) container at the same time you're serving supper. Almost everyone I know who finds it a "hassle" to make their own lunches has never considered the idea of using leftovers (or making leftovers on purpose).
posted by Kurichina at 3:02 PM on June 1, 2011

When I made lunch for my wife this year I would make the entire week's worth of things on Sunday and just be done with it. All we had to do during the week was physically put the stuff into her lunch box. Granted it was a lot of weeks where she'd have the same thing every day. But that's really not so bad.
posted by theichibun at 3:05 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

How realistic or feasible would it be to just not bring cash or credit/debit cards to work?

Set up a account with your husband's credit card and work address (but do not let him know the password) and every time your husband forgets to pack himself a lunch, he has to call you and ask you to order him lunch. I know you asked for incentives, but disincentives can be powerful as well.

Or if you don't want to be the bad cop, have him get one of his friends to do it and tell the friend he has free reign to give him as much shit as he wants every time he has to order lunch for your husband.
posted by AceRock at 3:07 PM on June 1, 2011

Response by poster: Wow! These are great ideas! I knew I could count on you all. Let me just jump in on the oft-mentioned "leftovers" deal for a minute and say that my husband has no refrigerator or microwave at work, so that leaves out leftovers as a main strategy. Although making extra portions of room-temp foods is something I will definitely do (hello tabbouleh!). Please tell me more. I'll be back later. I'm going to browse Amazon for bento boxes.
posted by Knowyournuts at 3:09 PM on June 1, 2011

I usually head to the Safeway deli and get a lumberjack sandwich though - $9.99 - it's about a 2' sandwich and cut it into quarters or fifths. You can't go too wrong with $2.50 a sandwich!
posted by Calzephyr at 3:09 PM on June 1, 2011

Add the money to a clear jar at home or in your office, and watch it pile up. It's much more of an incentive than abstract figures in a bank account, and in the bank account it would get swallowed up in the bigger amounts of salaries and other expenses. But if you are adding $5-10 per person per day to a jar, you will start to see it fill pretty fast.

When it's full, transfer it to your savings account and start again. By then you'll probably be in the haabit of bringing lunch, though, and won't need the incentive so much.
posted by lollusc at 3:18 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

no refrigerator or microwave at work, so that leaves out leftovers as a main strategy

You can get one of those small reusable ice packs to put into his lunch bag to help keep things cool.
posted by rhapsodie at 3:19 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

my husband has no refrigerator or microwave at work,

No worries, sandwiches -- and you can make those ahead on weekends, easy peasy -- or room temperature salads or pasta, or using ice packs in an insulated lunch container, or the kind of bento box that keeps things cold/hot -- will all work for him.

And it might eventually make sense for him to team up with some coworkers on a microwave or mini fridge. These are not expensive, especially as a group purchase from a wholesale store like Costco.
posted by bearwife at 3:27 PM on June 1, 2011

Best answer: One of my strategies is to place certain things - my favorite microwave meals, candy bars, pudding cups, tunafish, peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars etc. - in the "only for lunch at work" category. So whenever I have a hankering for [thing,] I pack it for lunch the next day. I also make a point of trying to create better versions of the stuff available near my workplace at home for dinner - so I'm less tempted by the pizza and grilled chicken salads and such, because I had something just like it only tastier (and cheaper) two nights ago.

I also second the stickers.
posted by SMPA at 3:28 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

For my husband we generally put left over dinner into a glass pyrex dish with lid. We have 5 or 7 of these so that some can be frozen. That way he doesn't have to worry about using the work fridge and doesn't have to eat last nights dinner the next day, unless he wants to. Some meals yield 2 or more left over lunches that we dish up right at dinner time and pop into the freezer for later. If we have a day or two without leftover dinners I go to the grocery store and get Kaiser rolls and several types of sandwich meats in 75g amounts from the deli. Meals with no effort. Into a brown bag goes a roll, a baggie of meat, a banana and lunch is done. This can be beefed up by adding kid lunch staples as raisins, cookies, granola etc.
posted by saradarlin at 3:55 PM on June 1, 2011

1. While it would be nice to pocket the cash (minus grocery money) for the days we packed instead of purchased, the overall goal is to spend less money, not to transfer the cash to another frivolous purchase.

Figure out based on average of past weeks' spending how much lunch out costs you in the aggregate. Subtract the cost of groceries. Whatever is left each week from your "food budget", save in envelope that you're not able to spend unless it's an emergency. At the end ofsome pre determined time, use it to do something. Whether an extra gift, or something you need. It's extra money you didn't plan to have since it was already "used" in your budget. Or put it in a savings vehicle that you won't touch and consider that amount a gift to yourself.

Or... as a friend did. She gave hersel (early 30s) an allowance each week. I believe it was $20. Whatever she didn't spend of it was put in an envelope for Christmas. When it came time for her to do her shopping she had almost $700. Net result, she barely had to spend any of her budgeted Christmas money.
posted by TravellingCari at 5:23 PM on June 1, 2011

We subscribed to a CSA. We get local produce and dairy delivered every week which makes us feel good about supporting local farmers, and it's organic, and we get a variety of things, so all that adds up to making it fun to cook. Then we have leftovers for lunches or we make things just for lunch, plus we have fruit to pack alongside the entrees.

Also it's really easy to make up a big bowl of assorted veggies to take for lunch. I try to mix a grain (quinoa, rice, or couscous), a protein or two (usually beans), and a few fruit/veggies (broccoli, green peppers, onions, apples--most everything works together). Then you can just dress it with some lemon juice and oil or vinegar.
posted by davextreme at 6:06 PM on June 1, 2011

Best answer: Lunch It, Punch It!
posted by celilo at 8:27 PM on June 1, 2011

Someone made a great point about making your home-cooked lunch better than the takeout option you'd buy if you didn't cook. For example, I could have eaten fast food yesterday to avoid washing dishes, but fast-food Tex-Mex just isn't appetizing when you can have pasta with goat cheese sauce and pine nuts instead.
posted by cp311 at 8:46 AM on June 2, 2011

Response by poster: Pack lunch for *each other*. You'll be a lot more motivated to do it. (peachfuzz)

This is mercenary. I love it. I assume that if one forgets to pack lunch for one's spouse, said spouse can go enjoy a guilt-free restaurant lunch while the offender eats the bagged lunch prepared by their more organized partner.

What if each of you made lunches for each other as kind of a de-stressing bonding activity (patronuscharms)

Okay, that's a nicer reason.

Can you put some percentage of the saved money in a checking account? 50%? 25%? (teragram)

Yes, and maybe take the whole family out for weekend brunch.

Pocket a percentage of the savings (say 25%)... Optionally, you could agree that the person who does best gets an extra $20 (or similar). (oddman)

Good idea! So everyone wins, but one of us wins a little bit more.

One of my strategies is to place certain things - my favorite microwave meals, candy bars, pudding cups, tunafish, peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars etc. - in the "only for lunch at work" category. (SMPA)

I never thought of that, but it's worth a try.

Lunch It, Punch It! (celilo)

I like this because it basically gives us a "day off" from packing lunch.

Bento boxes and LunchBots (lots of responses)

Yes, this will make it fun!

Thanks to everyone, including the Back to First Principles folks who gave suggestions for how to make better lunches. That in itself should be incentive enough, but it's nice to have the rewards, too.

Also, Honorable Mention to rdurbin for the stream of consciousness. We already have a baby, but that's a great incentive!
posted by Knowyournuts at 5:00 PM on June 2, 2011

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