Trying to Save Money in New York City by Not Buying Prepared Food

Once upon a time, I worked in a very corporate company environment as a marketing executive for a handful of fashion brands. I grew up in this company and made many friends throughout the years. We were a bunch of comrades trying to make it in the rough and tumble world of fashion retail. In between meetings, conference calls and video conferences, we always came together because of one common goal:  we were hungry, and we wanted something to eat. This would happen at any time of the day: for breakfast, mid-breakfast snack, lunch, afternoon snack and of course the 3:00pm coffee break.

After college, when I started working I was not making any money.  I would eat breakfast at home, buy a small cup of coffee (perhaps splurge on a large cup for $1.10), bring my lunch (because I simply couldn’t afford a $7.00 meal) and chose to forego the afternoon coffee break. At one point the company I worked for had a self-serve free coffee/cappuccino machine. I took advantage of that. A lot.

As the years went by I started to make more money and my habits changed. I never brought food to work. I was too busy (lazy?) to prepare it the night before. So, I bought breakfast – a full breakfast and coffee, and sometimes a juice and a bottled water. An $8.00 lunch morphed through the years into a $12 lunch with a soup, salad and something “fun” to drink (read = a $3.00 gourmet drink.) An afternoon designer cup of coffee would cost $5.00. Dinner would be take-out for me and The Hubby because we didn’t have time to cook for ourselves. Luckily, the girls’ caregiver would cook dinner for them so at least someone in the family was getting a home-cooked meal.

Fast forward to last April 2011 when my position at said company was eliminated. Since then – actually after my contract position at a social media agency ended late last year – I have been extremely cognizant of how much money I spend on prepared food – food that I buy when I already have food in my fridge or pantry. I estimated that I must have spent at least $35 a day on food when I was working full-time!

Now that I’m not working full-time, I simply cannot in my right mind spend that much money on prepared food. For breakfast, I’ve learned to make my own warm apple cider with chai tea (a savings of $4.75) by buying a liter of Red Jacket Orchard apple cider ($3.50) and a box of Yogi Black Chai Tea ($4.99 for a box of 2o tea bags.) For breakfast, I eat cereal or oatmeal with fruit prepared at home. Talk about a huge savings. Lunch is usually a sandwich made with some lunch meat and cheese that I already had bought for the girl’s school lunch. My mid-afternoon designer coffee has been replaced by a can of Illy Issimo ready-to-drink cappuccino (4-pack for $7.99). For snacks, I bring a tupperware of fruit such as grapes, sliced apples or a Cutie Clementine; or I bring a granola bar. My favorite is Cascadian Farms Organic Sweet & Salty mixed nut granola bars (box of 6 for about $4.29). Dinner is – surprise! – a homecooked meal by yours truly.

It makes me feel good that I am not spending money that I don’t need to be spending. I feel good about eating what I bought at the grocery store and not wasting money and food. I also feel better knowing exactly what I put in my body as well as my family’s.

When I do get a job outside of the home, I hope that I keep some of what I’ve learned. I have to be realistic and perhaps I won’t be bringing my lunch every day, but I can certainly bring my own cider chai tea, some snacks and my can of Illy coffee.

What have you done to stay on a budget and to save money? I’d love to know!