Lunches in the middle of the work day are a sordid affair. Office workers wield tissue packets like weapons to “chope” seats at hawker centres, bringing their competitive, every-man-for-himself attitude from the boardroom into the real world.
Not only is lunchtime full of ruthless competition for restaurant tables and hawker centre seats, it can also suck a non-insigificant sum out of your wallet each month if you’re not careful. Even if you spend only $10 on each working lunch, over a month that adds up to over $200–$200 spent on rushed affairs with the cloud of having to return to the office hanging over your head. Ouch.
We’ve talked at length about ways to save money during lunch, and it all boils down to either bringing your own food from home or choosing cheap hawker options. But who wants to eat another plate of economy rice when your colleagues are cajoling you to join them at some hip new cafe that you know is going to set you back at least $15? Here are a couple of ways to continue fighting the good fight.
1. Get your colleagues involved
Being the only budget luncher at the office can be a lonely journey, as you’ll have to drop out of many an overpriced restaurant session. But when colleagues decide where to lunch, people tend to take a herd mentality, don’t-rock-the-boat approach. Even if some of your fellow colleagues prefer to eat somewhere cheaper, if the group isn’t used to dining at cheap places members will tend to suggest mid-range, socially acceptable options. And then everyone just goes along with it. Meh.
But be upfront and tell everyone you’re on a budget and you might be surprised to discover that a few of your coworkers will actually pipe up and follow suit. At my last two jobs, before I started packing lunch I used to give myself a $5 budget, and guess what? I always managed to find a couple of colleagues who volunteered to follow the budget, too.
If you pack your lunch every day, your colleagues can join in the fun. Take turns making lunch, organise a lunchtime pot luck session or just have your own packed lunch party in the office.
2. Don’t eat the same crap every day
If the food you eat during lunch is truly disgusting, unless you have the staying power of a python digesting a cow, trying to keep to your cheap lunch plans is going to be a real slog.
Just because you’re eating at the same few hawker centres every day, that doesn’t mean you need to always eat at the exact same economy rice or nasi padang stall. Aim to introduce variety into your diet by experimenting with different types of food, or hiking out to a hawker centre that’s a bit further from your office than you usually go.
When I used to work in the Raffles Place/Tanjong Pagar area everyone would flock to Lau Pa Sat for lunch, but then I discovered the awesome Chinatown Complex Food Centre (sit in the windy area with a picturesque view of temple roofs) and Maxwell Food Centre.
If you make your own lunch, experiment with new recipes. Bring salad in a mason jar if you usually eat rice (can be prepared faster, too).
3. Find something fun to do during lunch
Believe it or not, the 1 hour lunch break employees typically get in Singapore is actually relatively long. Many workers in the US and the UK get only half an hour at lunch (although they may be granted shorter breaks during the day). You can get quite a lot done in an hour. The typical office worker in the CBD spends half an hour deciding what to eat and queuing for food, 20 minutes actually eating and then 10 minutes shuffling back to the office.
Unfortunately, if the hottest topic of conversation amongst your colleagues each day is where to go for lunch, you’re in danger of overspending. There’s a higher chance that someone will step in and wreck your plans by suggesting somewhere expensive, and also the danger that on the way to your lunch destination you’ll make a detour into a promising looking new and expensive eatery.
On the other hand, if you schedule another activity during lunch, it will be much easier to just eat your packed lunch without complaints, or make a beeline to the hawker centre, since you’ll be more focused on what you have to do afterwards.
Whether you’ll be reading a book on a park bench, running errands, visiting a museum in the CBD (try the Singapore City Gallery, Fuk Tak Chi Museum or Asian Civilisations Museum) or going to the gym, having other plans helps you to automate your meal without fretting over wanting to eat at a fancier place.
How do you motivate yourself to stick to your lunch budget? Let us know in the comments!