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Tom Schmidt's Guide to Eating for Free at Work
by Tom Schmidt

The idea of writing a short guide on how to save money on food at work came from a lunch time conversation that I had with “Brian” one day. Brian is a 22 year old employee at my company, fresh from college. Like many young people, Brian is struggling with balancing a budget on modest pay. College loans, apartment rent and entertainment costs have left Brian living from paycheck to paycheck and saving very little along the way. He confessed that he buys breakfast at our work cafeteria and then also has his dinner in the company cafeteria at noon so that he doesn’t have to cook a big meal at home. But in doing this, he typically ends up spending $12 to $15 daily at work. This means that he spends $3000 to $3500 annually on meals just at work.

So I gave him the following advice. 

“You know Brian, if you saved that money instead of spending it on food, you could use it as a contribution to a 401K retirement plan for yourself. Doing that over a 40 year career would allow you to accumulate around $500,000 by age 62 (assuming a 6% annual return). Sweet money buddy.”

Brian’s reply came quickly.

“Yeah, but that’s impossible to do. I mean, like I have to eat.”

And that is where this guide comes into play. As you will see, there are ways that anyone can eat for free at work if he or she uses some smart planning during their work day. So what follows is the “Tom Schmidt Guide to Eating for Free at Work”…..

Item #1:  There is always free food available at work.
I work in a 3 story building in upstate New York.  In my work place, I know of 14 different areas of our building where free food can often be found. Seriously. 14 different areas. Some of these areas are break rooms where left over “celebration” foods get placed (food left over from various company team celebrations). Other areas are personal offices where people have snacks available on a regular basis. So it’s important to know where these food sources are and when the food often becomes available. Making a map of your building is a good idea for how to keep these areas in mind as you search for free food.

Item #2:  Learn to use “scouts” in order to stay aware of when free food is put out.
My building is 517 feet long and has 3 floors. So watching all 14 food areas for free food is impossible to do alone. This is where “scouts” come in. Partner with people working in the various areas of your building so that they can notify you whenever free food becomes available. Calls to your cell phone or instant messages sent to your laptop computer are great ways to get notified of free food occurrences. Just one warning. If you use your laptop computer to give project presentations to management, disable the instant messenger system whenever giving your presentations or you could be embarrassed when a message like “Dude, cupcakes in the 1st floor break room” comes up during your presentation…..

Item #3:  Adjust your thinking about the 5 major food groups.
Yes, American education teaches us that the 5 major food groups are fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy products. But be creative. There is no reason why your 5 food groups can’t be pretzels, peanuts, chocolate, Twizzlers and cupcakes. 

Item #4:  Make friends with all the women in your company.
It doesn’t matter if you are a gay man. Make friends with the women. This isn’t about trying to score a date with “Cindy”. It’s about getting access to free food. And women are notorious for being the ones to bring in free food for birthdays or other social events. Being friends with the women gives you increased access to the food. So learn how to discuss make-up, fashion, chick flicks, and those obnoxious reality TV shows. It will help with access to free food.

Item #5:  Whenever possible, take on projects being led by someone who is food supplier.
This one is simple. Doing work for someone who regularly has food in his or her office is another no brainer. “Lisa” in my company supervises a group that creates software math for our products. So taking on a project to update some of the software was an instant success for me. “Gee, you work so hard Tom.  Want some Twizzlers?” Damn straight I want those Twizzlers. Now if I could only figure out how to get entire bag instead of just a handful. Still working on that.

Item #6:  Take advantage of team celebrations, even if you are not a member of the team.
Another no brainer. Team celebrations can be a gold mine for free food and drink. Don’t pass these up. If possible, find a way to justify crashing the event. Tell them “I did the early feasibility work on SNP neuroplasticity that corrected the insular data analysis problems with the project.” They will have no idea what the hell you just said and will probably be too embarrassed to ask you about it. Techno-babble is a great way to get access to free food.

Item #7:   And last of all, don’t pass up off site company events.
Social events at the local bar, pub or tavern are another way to get free food and even free drinks. To do this, show up fashionably late and put on a look of distress. Tell the people there that you had the proverbial “week from hell” and are all “stressed out”. Because people are sympathetic, they will offer you some of the chicken wings the group bought and may even buy you a sympathy beer. Trust me, sympathy beers taste better than the ones you buy yourself. So don’t go home and drink milk. Instead “milk” things as best you can at these company events.

So as you can see, there are many ways to score free food while at work or work functions. Take the money you save using these techniques and contribute the savings to your 401K retirement plan. And watch that all that saved money grow and grow….