Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

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During Frugal Bento Month, I have a simple challenge for you. That is to keep track of how much you save by making and bringing your own lunch instead of buying lunch.

Note that if you’re already making bentos almost daily and you have a good grip on your spending, you may not see the benefits. But if you’re just thinking about making bentos or just starting out, or if you have no idea how much you might be saving, it’s somewhere to start. Or perhaps you can use it to convince your spouse/boy/girlfriend or family about the benefits of bentos.

How to track your savings

If you tend to buy lunch with cash, the easiest way to track your savings is to use a good old piggy bank or piggy bank substitute. (I’m going to be using a little used small bento box!) This is most suited to the Simple method of tracking described below.

If you prefer to track things more formally, or you tend to use electronic payment methods like credit or debit cards, try one of the spreadsheets that are listed below. However, it’s important to convert your on-spreadsheet savings into real money. At the end of each week or the month, see how much you have actually saved and transfer that amount into a different account (say a savings account), or even into a real piggy bank. In a few months you’ll see how much you’re accumulating!

Tracking method: Simple

The simplest method of tracking this is to just figure out how much you, your significant other, or your kids spend on a single storebought lunch. For example, let’s say that’s $6. Every time you (or members of your family) bring a home made bento or other lunch, put that $6 in a real or virtual piggy bank.

I’ve created a very simple Google spreadsheet for this Simple tracking method. Here’s a usage example (which uses $6 as the average bought-lunch cost. This amount is probably a bit low, but it’s just an example.)

Download the .xls files, which you can import into Google Spreadsheets, Excel or other spreadsheet program that can handle .xls files, via the links below:

Tracking method: Less Simple

The Simple method doesn’t account for things you buy specifically for making bentos, so the Less Simple version has a facility for tracking your spending on these things. This version is especially useful for people who tend to buy a lot of bento accessories or food that they wouldn’t otherwise consume for other meals. Here is a usage example (which again uses $6 as the average bought-lunch cost).

Download the .xls files, which you can import into Google Spreadsheets, Excel or other spreadsheet program that can handle .xls files, via the links below:

I think that these two approaches should cover the needs of most people. You can keep using the spreadsheets for following months just by changing the dates (just change the top date, and the rest will auto-convert).

Let us know how much you’ve saved!

It might be fun if we shared how much we’ve saved. If you’d like to share, please let us know about it in this forum topic, either weekly or just at the end of the month. At the end of April I’ll add it all up and announce the total!

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

13 comments

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Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

Sadly, I loose money by packing my lunches daily. I'm given a meal card at the hospital where I work. But I have Type 1 diabetes and need to know exactly how much carbohydrate I'm eating, so instead of eating the free food at work, I pack my own lunches. I figure I gain in peace of mind what I loose in money.

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

Well, you could also think of it this way - you are saving real money on your health care bills by making your own lunch! And peace of mind is priceless :)

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

Here's my problem..I don't know how to figure out how much I'm spending on Bento lunches. Hubby eats the ones I make 5 days a week so that's $30 a week (w/ your avg. $6 store bought lunch) but since I use a lot of leftovers to make my Bentos in addition to things just bought for Bentos how can I really figure out how much I'm saving? Help!!!

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

That is probably a common problem for many of us. What I would do is to input the amounts spent on groceries and eating out (take it a step further and include dinners too). I think that's the most accurate way to see the savings, though I would eventually calc the average at the end of the year/season. Because some months I spend more on groceries to stock up during the sales.

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

Aimee, I would say don't get too caught up in the details. Just figure that every time you make a bento or bag lunch instead of buying lunch, you are saving the amount you'd have spent on buying lunch. If there are specific things you are buying for bentos, then figure that in. The 'Less Simple' spreadsheet may fit you best - check out the example linked to in the article.

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

Hey there,

Your site is one of my favorites, and I use some of your tips to pack my lunches to take to work every day. My coworkers always ooh and aah over my pretty and healthy lunches. :)

Anyway, I saw this entry and wanted to point you to a neat site I use a lot where you could track your bento savings really easily: http://www.zealog.com It's cool stuff - you can track pretty much anything. (I'm not a spammer, I just like their site a lot!)

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

I know I save about $40 a week bringing lunch, mostly because I know that the lunch things I can get around here go for between 7 and 8 bucks a pop. More, if we go to an actual restaurant, as opposed to Wendy's or the local sub shop. Plus my lunches are generally healthier! :D

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

I am fortunate, as I & my hubby make enough, I could afford to go to lunch everyday. But because I want to control my calories, nutritional content (even more important!) and the fact that I try consume no more that 45g of carbs per meal has led me to bring a bento at least 3 (and more often four) days a week. I started a "game" some time ago to further encourage myself in this healthy pursuit. I figured with tip and sundries, that I spend about $7.00 a day for lunch. Getting paid every two weeks, I withdrawal $80 a paycheck, thus giving myself a dollar a day leeway for the two weeks worth of lunches . If I have any money left over by the next paycheck, I deposit it into my secondary savings. That is being saved for my trip back home to Flagstaff, AZ. I can travel and buy souvenirs guilt free with the logic that that money would have been spent on lunches anyway. An additional benefit of bringing my lunch is the 20 minutes total savings in travel time... all the more time to spend on my favourite lunchtime addiction... reading! All in all, for me bento is a win/win/win/win situation. ^_^ Aloha! Laurel

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

I decided to give up eating out for Lent. Before I started, I wrote down what I'd normally eat out in an average week. I made it 40 days and came up with £333 (£300 is $475 USD). Yes, £333 every 40 days. :(

I've now wrote down what I'd like to eat each week (based on cravings and location) and I'm close to my estimate of £333.

I now spend about £15 - £20 for the whole week (instead of about £55 - £60) and this would be cheaper if I could make any of the meals on your site, but I'm living with someone and can't right now. :(

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

I agree with Laurel above... Bento is a win/win/win/win situation. Plus, she didn't mention the environmental benefits of packing bento! When you pack a waste-free lunch and you save running your car and gas to get to and from a restaurant, you make a huge environmental impact over the course of a year! So, you should also add up your environmental "savings"!

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

I always pack my lunch, for many of the reasons above; after having gastric bypass 2 years ago, I also have to watch my carbs, and I have just figured out that bento boxes are the perfect size for my portions. Since I mainly bring leftovers, I am not figuring in food costs, but I did place a few (LOL) orders from Ichibankan.com this month, so I am counting the "startup" costs for the bento gear against my savings. I'm almost at a break-even point already!

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

I sat down and calculated it. For my usual bento (2 onigiri, ~3 oz chicken or the equivilent in other protein, then fill in the rest with veggies and rather expensive berries), I'm still looking at abotu $1.50 for a lovely lunch.

I really was going to try to argue that the way most people do it, a bento isn't all that frugal, but once you own the box, and take into account the fact you're reusing that same box, it's pretty darn frugal even if you're buying some specialty ingredients like nori or berries you wouldn't otherwise buy. You're probably using leftovers from dinner at least some, and you're not buying much in the way of any disposable packaging.

Re: Keep track of your bento lunch savings in April

I don't bento for myself since I work in food industry and get free meals at work. I pack for my boyfriend--he works in construction--and that has been our biggest saving. I figured most of his homemade bento cost less than $5 to make, particularly since most of it are last night's leftover + something else + a fruit, assembled.

We realized how much we saved when I was sick recently and he had to buy his own lunch. His lunch cost him $21! For two sausage rolls, 5 pieces of steamed dim sum extra sauce on it and a can of soft drink. It was a far cry from his usually healthy bento too.

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