03 december 2016

Upgrading the lunchbox

I became an avid fan of the home made boxed meal after many caffeinated hours reading Mr Money Mustache, Frugalwoods and Early Retirement Extreme. I was living off student loans (approx. 9 500 SEK/month, 10 months/year at the time). Spreadsheets and outrageously optimistic (yet realistic) financial projections have a way of appealing to the logical and highly rational part of my brain, with the resulting financial security and lack of worry appealing to the emotional side in equal measure. I set a target and dove right in, managing to save 50% of my “income”* by making better decisions in general and grocery shopping with my middle finger in particular. I cut my grocery spending in half while transitioning to an all organic, no processed foods, vegetarian diet.

My income has dramatically increased since then, but my target of at least a 50% savings rate remains. Allowing myself a LOT of wiggle room instead of instantly ramping that up to 70% took some getting used to, but that’s a story for another time about how to identify your awesome enough level without slipping back into the role of a Sukka Consumer. I no longer need to eat lots of lentil soup, root veggies, beans, eggs and bananas to make the cut, but I’d still rather spend 70-90% less on each meal compared to the average restaurant lunch.

Even though it feels like a nuisance at times, those savings add up to significant amounts of money that I’d rather spend on something that adds even more value to my life.

I’ve been slipping up for a long time, once again falling for the social norm of eating out. That’s okay. It feels convenient and efficient until you take a long hard look at what else you could do with that money, not to mention what you could do with the time you’re spending just waiting in line. Most of the time I have no doubt that I can create an even more enjoyable meal in my own kitchen for a fraction of the cost - I just need to figure out how. I love to cook and I love to learn new things, so do I really want to do less of those things?

It may take a long time to realize that you have slipped back into an old habit you know isn’t contributing to your long term happiness. That’s okay. In the process I have identified some habits that do - developing my relationships and social skills, and taking a distinct break from work. Lunch time away from the office certainly contributes to those, so after some appropriate course correction my new target is 2-3 lunch boxes per week.

I find that the biggest challenge is to figure out what to cook. Cooking for yourself isn’t nearly as fun as having company, but that doesn’t mean you have to live off meh food. As so often is the case, what it comes down to is awareness and knowledge: 1. What do I want? 2. How do I make that happen? 3. Make it happen!
Off the top of my head:
  • Halloumi burger with fries
  • Roasted root veggies with bean salad
  • Wrap with veggies (lots of mashed avocados!)
  • Adzuki lasagna with spinage
  • Carrot soup with ginger, kidney beans and mozzarella
  • Pad thai
  • Rice and roasted veggies with peanut sauce
  • Vanilla quark with rolled oats, banana and raspberries
  • Carbonara with portobello mushroom
  • Saffron veggie stew with rice
  • Blueberry pancakes
Just writing that made me hungry - a sure sign I’m onto something better than lentil soup. With the exception of the root veggies and pancakes, none of these meals are particularly cheap (unless you compare them to a meat-with-add-ons diet), but they sure make the cut for “cheaper, tastier and healthier than the average restaurant lunch”. I also get to cook a lot and spend less time waiting, all of which contributes to feeling even better. Hmm… I know what I’m doing with my 10% off everything coupon at the local grocery store this weekend!

It’s time to renew my food commitment to myself - vegetarian, organic, very few processed foods. Other than that, let’s go nuts in the kitchen! I am a Sukka for challenges of all kinds!
What are some of your best ideas for awesome meals?

* With an interest rate of 1.2% I never considered not taking that loan. It’s been down to 0.6% for a long time, and has been lowered to 0.34% for 2017. It’s basically free money that allowed me to get ahead and find my financial footing even before I got my first full time job. Thanks very much indeed.

Additional inspiration

Killing your 1000$ Grocery Bill (MMM)
Frugalize Your Groceries (Frugalwoods)
What Does A Frugal Person Eat? (Frugalwoods)

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