Bringing your own lunch may be good for your budget, but it can be poison for your career.
Whether you just entered the workforce or just welcomed a new addition to the family, we all eventually come to the same staggering realization: It costs a jaw-dropping amount of money just to live.
Then the panic sets in.
Next, you start hunting for ways to slash your expenses and find yourself facing a decision. To bring or not to bring your lunch — that is the question.
At first glance, you might think bringing your own lunch is just a small inconvenience to save almost $10 per day. When you think about how quickly the tab adds up, you’d have to be a fool not to consider it. And if you’re feeling ambitious, you might even think bringing your own lunch means you can get a little more work done by eating at your desk.
Not so fast.
By dining solo, you forfeit a daily opportunity to build deeper, more well-rounded relationships with your colleagues and managers. (Click here to tweet this quote.) This should send you into crisis-prevention mode for two reasons. First, take a gander at the people rocketing up the ranks in your company and think about the relationships they have. How can you develop the same if you never poke your head out of your cubicle to see what’s going on in the world?
Second, while I don’t believe in stomping on anyone to get ahead, only so many promotions can be had. And I have news for you — those jobs are won more on relationships than they are on skills.
Instead of isolating yourself from the rest of humanity, try these five tips instead:
1. Cut your morning (and afternoon) coffee
I can only imagine how many of you are “I can’t start my day without my Starbucks” people. I know a few people who go for an afternoon pick-me-up, too. Dial the coffee chugging down a notch and there’s your $10 per day savings. Plus, you haven’t jeopardized your ability to scale the corporate ladder as quickly as possible.
2. Tag along with your homemade lunch
If you work in a company where the team eats together but generally use the company cafeteria, this is a no-brainer. Bring your lunch to the cafeteria and eat it there. It’s a win-win. You’ll feel good about getting away from your desk for a few minutes, and you’ll still save money in the process.
Oh, and your team won’t think of you as a corporate droid programmed to do nothing more than to punch in and punch out at work.
3. Dine out with your team once per week
For those of you working at places where folks typically dine off-site for lunch, taking part in the lunch ritual once every week can help you maintain your social standing. To make sure you keep your cash flow under control, suggest one of your favorite budget-friendly establishments on the days you want to join in on the fun.
4. Take money out of your drink budget
Yes, those drinks. At the very least, consider inviting colleagues out to join you while you throw back a few cold ones to get the most bang for your buck. For many, alcohol represents a substantial chunk of their monthly expenses, and a minor tweak in your social (or solo) drinking habits can pay huge dividends on the career.
And if that’s not enough your liver will thank you, too.
5. Play for the long-run payday
Just ride it out. Give yourself two years of minimal savings and see if you can land that next promotion to take the edge off you needing to stick to a tight budget. Watching your savings account flat-line will never get easy, but if you execute your plan correctly, it’ll quickly become a distant memory.
That being said, if you see your savings account retreating in the wrong direction, you may want to shake things up and give numbers 1 through 4 a shot.
So much for breakfast being the most important meal of the day.
Eric Butts is a Management Consultant, MBA and CPA. By day he solves complex business problems for some of the world’s most well-known brands, and by night he teach others how to carve out successful careers in the business world. Follow him @EButtsCPA.