Getting Lunch with Co-Workers

Do you go out to lunch with your co-workers, but need to stick to a budget? I understand the benefits of going out to eat lunch with co-workers: networking, keeping up with people you used to work with, and yes, keeping up with gossip (“industry news” ☺) It’s completely valuable.

getting lunch with coworkers

But (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming!) sometimes it feels like a little too much. Knowing how important having connections is at work, I try to schedule lunch out with someone once a week (preferably a group, if possible!). Sometimes this works, but lately, people have had to reschedule a lot which, in the past, wasn’t a problem.

However, it all came to a head last month when I had a dishwasher emergency and spent $300 replacing the dishwasher and the various parts associated with it. Right after I paid that bill, I discovered I had three lunches scheduled in one week, and I just could not afford to spend ~$30 that week on lunch. I need to create a ‘getting lunch while on a budget’ plan!

But $30 a week isn’t that much!

Sure, $30 a week isn’t that much… if that $30 a week is going into your savings account! However, while I was trying to reschedule some of that week’s lunches, I had a coworker approach me and ask to get lunch with her that day. I had to tell her I just couldn’t afford it, because my lunch budget wouldn’t allow it.

She did not understand this concept at all. This coworker and I are really good friends, so I felt comfortable breaking down my budget (generally, not in its entirety), recent emergency expense, and my lunch-scheduling budget strategy.

Still she didn’t get it. When I thought about it, it turns out that a lot of people in my department go out for lunch daily, including this coworker. The places around us to eat are also not cheap – for some reason, there are only 2 fast food places near work, a McDonald’s and a pizza shop. It’s pretty likely that even if my coworkers aren’t eating at a sit-down place, they are buying an $8 sandwich to go. This works out to roughly $50 a week, just for lunch!

Setting a Budget and Sticking To It

This post isn’t designed to criticize my coworkers or those out there who eat lunch out, even if they do it daily. People have their reasons for doing what they do, and I’m not going to look down on someone else’s choices.

However, if you’re a millennial just starting out in your career, like I am, or even if you’ve been in your career for a while but want to rein in expenses, you have got to make a lunch budget or a plan for eating out. Confession: before I started this blog, I spent so much money eating out at lunch, and I had no idea where my money was going. B helped me start a budget (I know, ironic, since I work in budgeting…) and once I realized how much I spent eating out just for lunch, I knew I had to cut back. Since I’ve been aware of this, I’ve drastically cut back my lunch budget into something much more manageable that still keeps me out there networking.

Try it for yourself: monitor what you spend on lunches out for one month. Keep your lunch receipts and tally it all up. If you’re anything like how I used to be (and occasionally still am, I admit), you’ll be shocked by how much eating out with your coworkers costs.

Once you’ve determined how much you spend on lunches out monthly, then determine how much you want or should be spending. If you spend $200 a month on lunches but can really only afford $75 a month on lunches, you’re going to have to be ruthless in what you cut out. For me, I used to spend almost $200 a month on lunches, but I only wanted to spend $50 a month on lunches. That works out to roughly one lunch a week ($40 total) with a cushion of $10 if I’m treating someone or if a coworker picks a pricier place. You’ll need to be honest with what lunches in your city cost: if the lunches you typically get cost $10, you’ll be lying to yourself if you want to have a $75 budget and still go out twice a week ($10 lunch x 2 days a week = $20 a week x 4 weeks = $80. Close, but you don’t have any cushion and you’ve already gone over your budget by $5).

Handling Coworkers

The tricky part comes when you have to manage your lunches with coworkers. Luckily, I’ve been able to mostly manage my schedule so that I don’t end up going over my weekly/monthly budget. Sometimes it’s been hard to manage reschedules for a group, so those I try not to reschedule as much as possible. That means some weeks I have 3 lunches, but then have no lunches scheduled for the following 2 weeks.

If you have coworkers you feel comfortable around, you can mention, if they ask, that you’re on a lunch budget and need to pay attention to cost. Personally, I don’t have many people who understand that concept at work, so I just try to carefully manage my schedule as much as possible.

Photo credit: Flickr with my own edits.

Did you have a ‘lunch budget’ for work and, if so, what’s your breakdown? How do you handle scheduling coworkers, and have you ever had to tell a coworker you couldn’t get together because of your finances?


  1. A few months ago I decided to challenge myself on not eating out for lunch for a whole month. I didn’t think I did it that often but WOW did I end up saving money!

    • I like that challenge!! I think I may try that in November or December… those are pretty expensive months for me in terms of gifts, so a no lunch out challenge would be super beneficial. I bet you cut down on lunches after that month, even if just for a little! I definitely prefer extra cash… :)

  2. This is a tough one! Perhaps a cheaper alternative is a coffee break or happy hours drinks right after work? Very rarely am I able to spend less than $10 on lunch, but coffee or a drinks can be ~$5. Honestly, I like drinks after work because it gives us a little more time to catch up. Less than an hour doesn’t always feel like enough quality time.
    Addison @ Cashville Skyline recently posted…Maintaining Your Network is More Important Than Saving MoneyMy Profile

    • I definitely like the idea of a coffee break! We actually have very good coffee shops around us, beyond the usual Starbucks, so that actually is a great option. My coworkers surprisingly aren’t big on drinks after work – most of them have families and kids that they have to go pick up, so I’m only able to use happy hour with… like, 4 coworkers. Max. But thanks for that reminder – I can do happy hour with those 4! :)

  3. These days I’m a stay at home mom, so my “co-workers” are my 2 young sons. Our lunch dates are very cheep, just a little peanut butter and Nutella makes everyone happy! :o)

    When I worked outside of the home I would go out to eat with the people I worked with at least twice a week. At that time I never worried about my budget. If I had the money in the bank then I spent it, with in reason of course.
    Tennille F. recently posted…Apps That Pay – Stop Throwing Away Your Receipts!My Profile

    • Oh, I would much prefer your lunches! Nutella with your favorite little guys sounds fun! I think twice a week is a pretty good number for lunches out with friends, I’m just like.. $20 a week! It adds up!

  4. I never had a lunch budget for work, but that’s mainly because the few places I worked for had 15 or less employees. We all knew each other and could “network” in-house. No use in spending money for a lunch date. My coworkers never understood my reasoning for refusing to order with them, either. They were huge on one deli, and sandwiches + tip easily cost $10. Not to mention they would also go to the gas station across the street and buy snacks. I liked my food-filled tote bag, thanks!
    E.M. recently posted…Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of GoodMy Profile

    • That’s kind of a good reason to be a vegetarian – whenever people want to order deli sandwiches and have the whole office pitch in, I’m always like, sorry, I don’t eat meat! The real reason is, I hate deli sandwiches! Maybe it’s just the place our office orders from, but they are so gross! That’s probably just me, haha. :) I like bringing my own snacks too – they’re definitely healthier, and I think they taste better! Hummus is yummus :)

  5. We actually had conversations at work about this recently! A few admitted to wanting to cut back on buying lunch and coffees. I try to keep it to one lunch and maybe one hot chocolate a week (I actually would never buy hot drinks at all but it’s a bonding thing with them)
    NZ Muse recently posted…Five material things that (would) make me happyMy Profile

    • I really like the idea of cutting back on lunch and getting coffee. I think that’s a possibility for some people I work with, but most people actually really love getting lunch. I think it’s the whole ‘hour of freedom’ thing. Luckily, there are 1 or 2 who I think would be up for coffee instead :)

  6. This makes me grateful that I don’t have an office job and feel this kind of pressure! I have been there in the past though, and usually just tried to choose options that weren’t wildly expensive. Another trick for me is always asking for a cup of water rather than soda or whatever other beverage options there are. Saves money and is healthier!
    Traci recently posted…When it Rains, It PoursMy Profile

    • I definitely agree about ordering water! It saves in calories and is usually free (although I do notice some places charge $1 for water :-/) Yeah, I try not to feel bad saying no, but there’s always pressure to go out and network ‘harder’. I’m an introvert, too, so spending extra money + networking is like the absolute last thing I want to do sometimes!

  7. It blows my mind how many people simply don’t get it!
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted…What Gives Worth vs. What Gives JoyMy Profile

    • I know, and it’s pretty disappointing too. It’s like, we all work in finance, and I can’t be the only one who likes to save, right?? But maybe my coworkers make a LOT more than me and I don’t know it… or they have rich spouses? Who knows!

  8. Coffee can be a great alternative as suggested above. What about a picnic? Some of the folks in my office will take their homemade lunch to nearby bench or picnic table and eat together.
    May recently posted…Am I a Personal Finance Blogger?My Profile

    • I LOVE the idea of a picnic! I totally forgot about that until you mentioned it. Right now, it is way too hot to eat outside, but that’s actually a really good idea for the wintertime. Thank you for sharing!


  1. […] For most people, this might not be a big deal, but as you know, I scrupulously plan out my work events with coworkers. With all my careful budgeting, why did I let myself go to happy hour when I knew it would put me […]

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