How to save $200,000 on lunch

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The $200,000 Lunch

Before I started working from home, I worked for a mortgage company in an office right next to a Starbucks. Every weekday for a year, I bought a Grande Caramel Macchiato for $4.55 and a boxed lunch from a deli for $6.95. I thought that was a bargain. But at the end of the year, I added up my lunch money and discovered I had spent — drumroll — $1,288.50 on coffee and $1,876.50 on sandwiches.

Spending $3,165 a year while at the place where you're supposed to be making money is ridiculous, but I wasn't alone. A survey by the placement firm Accounting Principals shows American workers spend, on average, more than $1,000 on coffee a year and nearly $2,000 on lunch.

Here's what that means in the long term:

If you spend $3,000 yearly on coffee, lunch or other workplace treats, that's $250 per month. If you invest $250 monthly and earn just a 5 percent return on it, after a 30-year career you would have saved $208,065. Manage to earn 10 percent on it over the same period of time, and you'll end up with $565,122. Wouldn't that make a nice addition to your retirement savings?

After realizing how much money I was wasting at work, I did what I could to cut my costs — whether I was dining out or eating at my desk. Here are the things I did that can work for you, too:

1. Stock up on gift certificates

The best way to save on lunch is the most obvious — make your own lunch. More on that in a minute, but if you're going to eat out, you can save a ton by buying discounted gift certificates ahead of time on websites like Restaurant.com. Buy the gift certificates online, and then print them out at home. Or, simply display them on your mobile device.

Discount websites like Groupon and LivingSocial sell similar dining deals.

Money Talks News writer and master frugalista, Karla Bowsher writes:

Here is an extra tip: Make any purchases from Restaurants.com or sites like Groupon and LivingSocial via a cash-back portal. They pay you to shop online by giving you a percentage of your purchase cost back — for example, via a check or PayPal deposit.

Find out more about savings on dining out in her full article, "12 Ways to Slice Your Restaurant Bill in Half"

RELATED: Sly hacks to save money at Chipotle

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How to save $200,000 on lunch
1. Ask for ‘half and half’ meat

You can get more for your money if you request that the server split your serving of meat into two varieties.

“When you ask for ‘half and half,’ the server tends to be generous on measuring a half serving,” said Kyle James, founder of coupon site Rather-Be-Shopping.com and a regular Chipotle customer. The end result is a bigger, more delicious burrito.

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2. Ask for both types of rice and beans

If you really want to super-size your burrito, ask for both white and brown rice, as well as black and pinto beans.

Dylan Grosz, an intern for the website ApartmentList.com, conducted an experiment to see which strategies would net more burrito at no extra cost and wrote about his findings. After ordering five burritos a day for several days, he found that Chipotle customers could get double the rice and beans, simply by asking for both types of each. Best of all, there’s no extra charge for these added ingredients.

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3. Get extra fillings for free

It costs extra — $1.95, according to Chipotle’s online menu — to add guacamole to your burrito. However, there are other fillings you can get for free, if you know enough to ask. Grosz found that servers rarely ask customers if they want to add fajita veggies or chili-corn salsa, but these extras are free and can round out a meat-heavy meal. They also increase the overall amount of food you get at no extra cost.

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4. Opt for the burrito bowl

Rather than ordering your burrito wrapped in a tortilla, get it in a bowl to net more food, James said. Ask for “half and half” meat and then, as the server fills the bowl with your favorite toppings, politely ask for a little bit more of each.

“Before you know it, your bowl will be huge and can often feed two average adults for under $9,” said James, who eats at Chipotle at least five times a month.

You can even ask for a tortilla on the side. Create the burrito experience on your own, with an even bigger burrito than you’d get by ordering one.

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5. Order the kid’s meal for yourself

To avoid overeating and overspending, order a kid’s meal, said Ashley Eneriz, a contributor to the personal finance blog MoneyNing.com. The portions are generous and include two tortillas, three sides (such as meat, cheese and rice), a drink and fruit or chips. If the server says you can’t order the this meal because you’re not a kid, just request something else.

“As long as you are nice about it, then there won’t ever be any issues,” Eneriz said.

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6. Look for gift card promotions

Chipotle occasionally offers special promotions on gift cards — especially around the holidays, James said. For example, one of the more common offers is a free burrito with the purchase of a gift card worth $25 or more. So, if you frequently eat at Chipotle, you can use the gift card yourself.

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7. Keep your eye open for freebies

Sometimes, Chipotle hands out free food to its customers. For example, on April 16, the chain offered youth soccer players under the age of 14 a “buy-one-get-one-free” deal on burritos, bowls, salads or tacos. All they had to do was show up in their team uniforms.

The restaurant also offered free burritos to people in the wake of closing its stores for a day to train employees on the new safety measures. Follow Chipotle on Facebook or Twitter to learn about its latest promotions.

Via GoBankingRates

Photo: Getty

8. Wear a costume

You can score burritos at a discount if you’re willing to dress up — not in a coat and tie but a costume. James said that, every Halloween, Chipotle offers a burrito for only $3 if you come in wearing a costume.

Typically, Chipotle has a theme that customers must adhere to in order to get the discounted “boorito.” So, be sure to check the fast-food giant’s website or social media pages to find out what the theme is before creating your look.

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Photo: Getty

9. Be friendly to the staff

If you regularly eat at Chipotle, go out of your way to be nice to the servers.

“Being friendly to the staff is a really great way to score some savings,” Eneriz said. “You’ll get a bigger portion most of the time, and you’ll not only make the server’s life more pleasant but yours, too.”

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2. Organize potlucks

Lunch with co-workers is about more than food — it's fun. To keep the social experience and save money, my co-workers and I organized weekly potlucks. One day a week, everyone brought in one dish, and we all ate lunch together. The dishes I made cost less than my Starbucks sandwich, and there was always enough left over for everyone to take a plate home — so I got two meals for the cost of one dish.

3. Bring your lunch

On the other four days, I saved money by bringing my lunch to work. Use Bankrate's Lunch Savings Calculator to see how much you could save over time. Packing a lunch may seem like a hassle, but you can save time and money with these tips:

  1. Make extra: When cooking dinner the night before, I made enough for an extra meal. All I had to do was toss the leftovers into some Tupperware.
  2. Make your own salads: Salad mixes at my grocery store cost $3.50 apiece and make about two decent-size salads, so each is $1.75. I buy fresh ingredients and make my own to save money. For example, I spend $4.50 to make at least six large salads, which breaks down to 75 cents each.
    • 1 head of lettuce: $1.50
    • 1 cucumber: 50 cents
    • 1 bag of carrots: $2.50
  3. Plan ahead: Now that you're brown-bagging it, you'll need to buy more groceries. But if you plan ahead and shop the sales, you'll save time and money. WebMD has a sample grocery list for a week's worth of lunches under $5.
  4. Turn a desk drawer into a pantry: Sometimes I just didn't have time to make my lunch the night before. So I stocked up on food in my office — things that wouldn't go bad right away, like canned soup, nuts and dried fruit.

4. DIY coffee

Mostly, I bought my coffee elsewhere because I didn't like the taste of the free coffee in the break room. But when that got too expensive, I bought a large container of Coffee Mate French Vanilla Creamer to use in my coffee. I figure that by drinking the free coffee instead of buying that Caramel Macchiato, and spending about 5 cents a day on creamer, I saved about $4.50 a day, or $22.50 per workweek.

Another thing I could have tried was brewing gourmet coffee at home and bringing it in a thermos.

5. Don't forget to save your savings

Just as it's easy to forget how little amounts add up, it's also easy to forget to put those savings to work.

If you manage to use the techniques above or others to save money, don't fritter it away. If you save $200 a month by bringing coffee and lunch from home, have that much automatically transferred from your checking to your savings or investment account.

For ideas on how to build on those savings, check out "How to Get Stated Investing If You Don't Have Much Money."

How much do you spend on coffee and dining out for lunch? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

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