Going Back to the Office? Don’t Fall Victim to Lunchflation


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It’s a trap worth avoiding for sure.


Key points

  • After several years of remote work, many people are finally returning to offices.
  • That could prove problematic at a time when living costs are on the rise.

A friend of mine recently began reporting to his New York City office two days a week after spending most of 2020, all of 2021, and almost half of 2022 working remotely. To say that it’s been a tough transition would be accurate. After all, this friend went from having no commute to spending roughly 90 minutes on the road each way to get to work.

But it’s not just the long commute that’s been getting to him. He’s also been getting slammed by the cost of reporting to an office.

A tough time to take on new expenses

There are certain expenses that are par for the course when you work in an office — think commuting, maintaining a professional wardrobe (though not every company requires that, thankfully), and the cost of buying lunch.

Granted, the latter may be avoidable. You can always go the brown bag route and bring in lunch from home. But when you’re in a social environment, the temptation to break for lunch with your colleagues can be strong. And that could, in turn, lead you to purchase lunch most days you’re in the office instead of bringing it from home.

That, however, could wreak havoc on your budget. With just about every expense under the sun being up these days due to inflation, you may find that the $8 sandwich you used to buy every day is now being sold for $11. Welcome to lunchflation.

Such has been my friend’s experience. Prior to the pandemic, he used to work in an office every day and purchase lunch twice a week. Back then, he remembers spending about $12 per meal. Now, he says, his average meal costs more like $16.

That’s not surprising. A lot of restaurants and cafes in business districts have seen their revenues take a massive hit in the wake of remote work. Between that and the higher cost of procuring ingredients, many have had no choice but to raise prices to stay afloat. But still, it’s putting workers who are back in the office in a tough financial position.

Commuting costs are also a burden. These days, gas prices are through the roof, so those who drive to their offices are spending more to get to work. And over the past few years, some public transit costs have risen, so those who take a bus or train may now be spending more on their tickets.

My friend happens to drive to work because his company offers him a daily parking stipend (otherwise, paying for a spot in a lot would be prohibitive in a city like New York). But his credit card bills have been higher since he started reporting back to work, and he blames the increasing cost of gas coupled with his two weekly meals.

How to keep your costs managed when returning to in-person work

If your company wants you back at the office, there may not be much you can do about that. But there are steps you can take to minimize your costs.

First, try to carpool, especially if you drive a long distance. That may mean having to adjust your schedule, but it could result in a lot of savings.

Next, limit the extent to which you buy lunch. Ask your colleagues to make a brown-bagging pact, prepare your respective meals at home, and find a park or public place to eat them together if your office doesn’t have a break room (or a non-depressing one).

Now that society is learning to coexist with COVID-19, full-time remote work may soon be a thing of the past for a lot of people. And so the more strategic you are in keeping your office-related costs down, the better you’re apt to fare.

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