6 ways to save money during work mealtimes

Personal finance writer Kerry Taylor and CBC's Dianne Buckner crunch the numbers around your afternoon meal — and give tips that even shift workers can use.

A bit of creativity goes a long way in cutting spending

Buying lunch every day at work can add up to thousands of dollars a year. There are ways to cut the costs by bringing food from home without it creating a burden. (CBC)

Do you buy your lunch at work? Do you do it every day? If so, you might be surprised how the costs add up.

In a recent Facebook LiveSquawkfox finance writer Kerry Taylor chatted with CBC's Dianne Buckner as they took viewer questions about how to save money on your midday meal.

Although the conversation focused on lunch, given this 24/7 world, many of their tips are relevant no matter when you're planning your meals during work hours.

About 60 per cent of Canadians who work in an office buy lunch at least once a week, and the majority do that two to three times a week, says Taylor.

The daily cost may not seem like much, but can add up to thousands of dollars, she says.

For instance, Buckner says, buying five lunches a week at $10 each can translate into $2,500 for a year, while a $15 meal purchased five times a week works out to around $3,700 annually, in after-tax dollars.

Taylor also gives these tips:

1) Bring the leftovers. Taylor says she cooks on Sunday night using her InstantPot, and then brings leftovers to work.

2) Find a lunch group: If the culture at your workplace is to go out to buy lunch, find colleagues who also bring their own lunch from home, and leave the office.  Establish a "lunch bunch" to make it fun. Alternatively, you could propose a pot-luck lunch.

3) Look into pre-made meals: If you bring store-bought, pre-made meals from home, learn how to "de-engineer" them by checking the ingredients and then making your own, home-made versions.

4) Help for those who are culinarily challenged: "If you're not sure how to buy individual ingredients and assemble them in a meal, it's a really good idea to get $5-a-meal cookbook," says Taylor. "Those sorts of ideas can really spur your creativity and open your mind to what is possible."

5) Budget for purchases: Taylor likes to buy coffee once a day, but factors those beverages into her spending plan. "If I'm out and about, I have absolutely no problem with buying my $2 coffee. I know what I'm into. It's part of my budget."

6) Reward yourself sometimes: Bring your lunch most of the time, but buy it occasionally if you want. "Life is short, have a little bit of fun."