When I first started out as a nurse, finances were tight! I was making about $21/hour as a Registered Nurse on an in-patient acute med/surg floor in Salt Lake City, Utah. To top it off, my husband was in school full time so my nursing salary was all we had to live on for a while. As we worked to balance our budget from paying off school loans to paying a monthly rent of $1,000/month for a 1-bedroom apartment, we had to cut corners somewhere in our budget! It didn’t take long for me to figure out that one way I could save money at work was through the food budget!
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Below, I detail how planning ahead and bringing my own food and beverages from home saved me over $350/month! (My cost estimates come from personal experience and from surveying other coworkers.) Sure, getting in the routine of bringing my own food and beverages was hard, but the reward of saving an extra $350/month freed up my finances so I could get ahead in savings, school loans, or put that money towards another area that needed attention. Check out the five ways I saved $350/month by bringing food and beverages from home!
Bring Your Own Coffee or Beverage
I am guilty! There’s nothing more convenient than a quick stop at Starbucks (especially the two located in my hospital!) or venturing off the nursing floor for much needed relief. Plus, it’s a social thing when all your friends are making a quick Starbucks run. But let me walk you through why I am am bringing my own beverages from home.
Considering the current prices at Starbucks, a stop at starbucks will probably cost you between $3-5. (Not bad, right?!) With that said, the cost could vary depending on the size of beverage and what you order. Averaging at least two Starbucks runs each day I worked (dependent on how stressful that day is), it costed between $6-10 per day on just coffee. As a nurse, I work three 12-hour shifts per week, which adds the coffee runs up to $18-30/week or $72-120/month! For anyone interested, that’s roughly $864-1440/year!
By decreasing my coffee runs and bringing my own coffee from home, I can really save! For two cups of coffee (at a generous $0.70/cup), the average cost of home brewed coffee is $4.20/week or $16.80/month. With that said, I occasionally make a quick Starbucks stop, but it certainly isn’t a part of my daily work routine anymore!
Average Monthly Savings: $79
Drink More Water
Going along with the cost of a Starbucks run, one of the easiest things I’ve found is that drinking more water is not only healthier but cuts the cost of beverages significantly. Invest in a reusable water bottle to avoid the cost of pre-bottled water. Bottled water is just glorified water; it’s just water. I currently have a nalgene water bottle, but I’ve been eyeing my coworker’s hydroflasks. My coworkers that use the hydroflask water bottle keep ice water in it and the ice doesn’t melt for that full 12-hour day! I hear it also works well for hot beverages too!
In short, drink more water! Drinking more water will keep you better hydrated, improve your health, fill you up so you do not overeat, and save you from other tempting beverages!
Average Monthly Savings: I don’t have a specific amount “saved” as this section is a difficult area to conclusively and accurately estimate since the calculations are dependent on many variables!
Bring a Homemade Lunch
Bringing my own homemade lunch is one of the biggest ways I save money each month. At my hospital cafeteria (which I rarely eat at), I would be spending an average of $6-10/meal. Working three days a week as a nurse, that adds up to $18-30/week or $72-120/month on lunch.
Now, let’s talk about store bought ready-made meals. Frozen dinners cost between $2-5/meal at my local grocery. Sure, I occasionally will buy into these convenience meals too, but they’re not as cost efficient as making your own meal. Plus, they might not be as healthy since many are loaded with salt and other preservatives! Also, a lot of these frozen dinners have small portions. (If you’re like me, you would need 2-3 to fill you up!) Therefore, if you estimate for three lunches per work week, you would be spending $6-15/week on just one convenience meal or $24-60/month.
What I do at home is meal prep. Now, that sounds intimidating, but it’s easier than it sounds. For instance, I cook extra of dinner the night before I work. Once we are done eating, I pack up the leftover for my lunch tomorrow. (Fortunately, I don’t mind leftovers!) Sometimes if I have more time on my hands, I will meal prep and freeze my own ready-made meals. It’s a great way to manage not only my health, but also save a few in your bank. After my own research and analyzing my grocery bill, I found that my average generously portioned homemade meal was less than $2/person. Assuming my average homemade lunch was $2, I was saving $48-96/month by bringing my homemade lunch compared to the hospital cafeteria. Likewise, I was saving $0-36/month compared to one frozen convenience meals.
Average Monthly Savings: $72 (homemade lunch compared to cafeteria) and $18 (homemade lunch compared to one frozen convenience meal)
Eat Less Meat
I’ve gotten a lot of flak for being vegetarian, and I could write a book as to why I chose to be vegetarian (I’ll leave that for another post!) But one of the reasons I am vegetarian is that it doesn’t take quite as big of hit on my wallet! Let’s be honest, meat can be expensive!
For the amount of nutritional value found in meat, it is rather expensive. In many cases, a combination of foods with high quality protein such as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and vegetables give more nutritional value for your dollar. Add in more fruits and vegetables, and you have a highly nutritious meal!
During my last stroll through the grocery store, I compared a few different prices: Canned beans (pinto, black or kidney beans, your pick!) were about $0.80/lb. Dried pinto beans were about $0.75/lb. Chicken breast costs about $3/lb. and ground beef costs about $5/lb. As a VERY simple calculation, assuming that a person consumes 1 lb. of meat per meal and that person consumes meat twice a day, they would be eating meat 14 times per week. Consuming meat that frequently at the range of costs above would add up to $168-280 per month or $2,016-3,360 per year! If we were to substitute the meat for beans (or some other legume, whole grain, or vegetable) for the plant based diet, the cost would be significantly less at $42-45 per month or $504-538 per year! Switching strictly to vegetarianism would save you roughly $1,512-2,822 per year. However, even substituting beans, legumes, vegetables, or whole grain for meat for five of those meals would save you $45-84 per month or $540-1008 per year!
I’m not saying you need to convert to vegetarianism (unless you feel compelled to). I do, however, suggest eating less meat. See how it positively impacts not only your health but also your finances.
Average Monthly Savings: $180 (on a strictly vegetarian diet)
Bring Your Own Snacks
It’s so tempting to get a quick boost from the vending machine, but even the $0.75-2.00 snack can add up! For example, a bag of chips from a vending machine costs $0.75-1.50. At the grocery store, the same bag of chips cost $0.35 when bought in bulk. In addition, a 20 fl oz bottle of Gatorade from the vending machine is about $1.50-2.00 whereas the same bottle costs around $0.70 when bought in bulk. In this next example, let’s assume I work 3 12-hour days a week and want the same or similar priced snack each day at work. When buying a bag of chips and Gatorade from the vending machine, it is about $27-42 per month compared to $12.60 per month when bringing the same snacks from home. Using these examples, bringing my own snacks from home (a bag of chips and a bottle of gatorade each day at work) saves me $14.40-29.40 each month or $172.80-352.80 per year!
If you really need that snack at work, consider buying it in bulk and bringing it from home. Or better yet, try bringing your own healthier snack from home such as carrots, nuts, granola bar, or dried fruit! Bringing snacks from home is more cost efficient and helps protect you from those impulse snack buys that could affect your wallet and health.
Average Monthly Savings: $22
Some of these food budget cuts can be challenging to implement at first because habits can be hard to break! But if you work at it and get into a routine, you get more comfortable and work towards increasing your savings. I challenge you to see where you can cut corners on your food budget, and we want to hear how it went for you! Also, what ways do you save money on your food budget? Leave a comment below!
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