Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Frugal Friday: Leftovers are the way to go.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the staff room, chatting with the people sitting in  ‘The Danger Zone.’ That’s the nickname we have for our little section of 8 desks – in a staff of over 150 it’s handy to have your section easily identifiable if you need someone to get something from your desk in a hurry. Three of us are in our 40’s and 50’s, while the rest are girls in their 20’s. They’re all in relationships and are in the stage of life of buying a house/getting engaged/getting married to their significant others.

It was after school and a few more teachers in the cool, hip and happening group from other staffrooms had pulled up chairs and were chatting. The subject of lunches came up. In the last couple of years, the canteen at school has really lifted its game, offering all sorts of things along with the usual items of chips, potato cakes, sandwiches and wraps. They even offer breakfasts as well. I copied this week’s notice for your reading pleasure from our newsfeed:

“My boyfriend refuses to eat leftovers,” said one. “I have to be really careful not to cook too much because it all just gets thrown out. He won’t touch it, so we cook something different and then, of course, I end up eating that with him and so nothing gets used up.”
“We won’t eat leftovers,” said a newlywed girl who was also, 5 minutes before, whinging about the high cost of property in Melbourne and how nobody can get ahead these days. “We have a certain lifestyle (YES! This is an exact quote! I couldn’t believe it either!!) and I can’t bring myself to eat warmed-up food from yesterday. It’s gross!” and she laughed. Some laughed and nodded with her, others looked slightly uncomfortable at the thought of their meals being thought of as ‘gross’.
I couldn’t help myself.
“Are you crazy? I absolutely LOVE leftovers,” I said. They turned and looked at me, the older woman who clearly knows nothing. Undeterred, I ploughed on. ” I always make sure we have leftovers; they usually taste better the next day because the flavours have a chance to meld together better after they’ve had time to sit. Plus I love not having to pay for lunches. It’s like getting free food! I’m saving $35 a week if I don’t go to the canteen. Imagine how much money that is over the year?”
Another girl agreed with me, a couple of others pulled faces and disagreed, then the conversation moved on to something else. When they got up 5 minutes later and went to the gym to do a workout,  Hazel, a woman of my (clearly elderly and insane) generation, came out from behind the row of desks she was working behind.
“I can’t believe they turn up their noses at leftovers,” she said. “I deliberately make enough for dinners so that there’s be leftovers for Rodney and I the next day.”
I laughed and agreed. “I’ll bet once interest rates rise they’ll suddenly discover a new-found love for the Tupperware lunch!”
And this is the thing. With people paying well over a million dollars for houses in Melbourne, and units and townhouses going for $500K+, these teachers are borrowing a LOT of money when interest rates are at historic lows. I know that brown-bagging a lunch isn’t initially going to save a lot of money – say $7 if you get the special of the day from the school canteen. But taken over time?
Another woman in my staff room has worked at the school since 1985. That’s 33 years of lunches. She joined in the conversation that Hazel and I were having, saying that she has never bought her lunch.
“I can’t see the point in buying it,” she said. “The stuff you make yourself is always tastier and better for you anyway.”
33 years X 40 weeks X 5 days = 6,600 lunches. Assuming someone bought a $7 lunch at the canteen each day, that is $46, 200.
That’s an insane amount of money to spend, just to avoid eating tasty, tasty leftovers. It’s scary how these little sums of money add up over time.


  1. Snoskred

    Oh, you’re going to make me do maths again, aren’t you. 🙂 I probably need to figure out how much the cottage pie costs me to make and how much each serve costs and then work out how much The Other Half would spend if he were buying lunch truck lunches at some point anyway, just so I know, right? 😉

    Your danger zone chatters would be horrified if they knew how long we keep leftovers in our house, because I batch cook lunches for The Other Half usually on Sunday or Monday, and then he has lunches for the whole week. And sometimes a couple extra which get eaten on the weekend or even the following Monday.

    He does have a whole shelf in the fridge devoted to him and it is kept at the correct temperature, which does help stuff keep longer.

    I just spent 3 nights eating Chicken Cacciatore that I cooked on Monday and I have probably another 2-3 nights worth in the fridge. I might freeze a couple of those serves, though. I would leftover for lunch but that is my protein shake time and you can pry those from my cold dead hands. 🙂

  2. Mrs. ETT

    My leftovers are more from a laziness point of view. Being only 2 of us, with judicious leftover planning, we can get away with only cooking 3 times a week! I’ve got way better things I want to be doing with my time after work than cooking.

  3. Liz Pentland

    So these are the things I miss when I saunter off at 3.30! Classic!
    I’m in the loving leftovers for laziness reasons – oh, how I love not having to cook! I’m a massive fan of batch cooking – BEST!
    My lunch this year has been protein shake based for most of the week – it’s saved me quite a lot of money and is super easy (and I’ve gone with an Aussie company that are making an apparently extremely healthy one – so that’s two additional positives).
    Works out at about $3.30 per lunch.
    Though, because I’m nowhere near as stellar as Ms Burning Desire For Fire, I’m allowing a Friday canteen lunch treat when the mood takes me. They have definitely lifted their game considerably in the last twelve months!

    • Frogdancer

      Yes, you’re going for the falafel balls and sweet potato fries. Noice.


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