I am a young manager with five direct-reports. Due to heavy-duty student loans and some large medical bills, I am forced to maintain a very strict budget. I don't have the funds to go out for lunch on a weekly basis. This means that I'm always avoiding making lunch dates, even though I know they would be good for me. Even worse, I'm embarrassed about my money situation, so that when I'm invited out to lunch I make up an excuse.

Does anyone have suggestions for how to get the benefits of a weekly network building lunch without actually going out for lunch?

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

Don't be embarrassed by your money situation. Life happens. It sound like some of it happened to you. :)

Does the company give you an expense budget? You might be able to take people out to lunch on your budget.

If not, ask yourself if you can make some lemonade. Can you invite someone to your home for a homemade dinner? How about a nice picnic lunch in the park?

This is your "opportunity" to stand out. Even though you don't have money to buy someone lunch, you found a way to do what you knew needed to be done.

(When I was in college I remember looking all through the apartment for $0.42 to run down to the corner grocery and refill my soda cup. I still have that cup. It means a lot to me.)

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

Oh, here's a good one too. Brown-bag seminars. Those would be perfect for you. Everyone brings their own brown-bag lunch and listens to someone give a free seminar.

jhack's picture

Do something that doesn't cost money - get coffee (from your company's coffee machine) and go hang out somewhere else outside or at the cafeteria.


bmwNathan's picture

I'm assuming at least one of these people inviting you to lunch is important to you with regards to your goals or career path. This being the case, I would say it would be a good idea to work the necessary amount for that one lunch into your budget. You also mentioned being invited to the lunches which makes me think that you wouldn't be paying for the other people attending. If that is true, most restaurants these days have a value menu you could order off of and the cost of the meal can be further cut back by drinking water as opposed to a soda or iced tea. But you wouldn't be drinking the iced tea anyway since you listen to MT. Meeting someone at a outdoor cafe is another idea because you could get away with bringing your own lunch. The company lunch room is acceptable especially if you can bring some home cooking to share. I'm in the same position with student loans as you are but it does pay to network. Hope this helps.

MattJBeckwith's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Great ideas from John and Will.

I'll add another one. If you ever find yourself at a work sponsored event like a holiday luncheon, potluck or the like, pick who you want to eat with. You don't always have to sit with the same people. Pick the person from another department, or that finance guy that only the accounting people sit with.

Kudos to you for looking for ways to make it work rather than just discounting it and walking away.

arc1's picture

Go for a network coffee instead.

Coffees are a heck of a lot cheaper than lunches, you don't always end up buying, and people are really receptive to them. It's low-obligation, quick, convenient, and conducive to good conversation.

Also, very few people will say no to a coffee - I'm not 100% sure that's true of lunches, given the bigger hole they put in people's schedules.

It also makes a non-embarrassing counter to a lunch invite - "I'd love to have lunch, but things are a little crazy right now - have you got time for a coffee instead?". Now time is to blame, not finances... there's no shame in being busy!

Cheers, Chris

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Save your money.

Spend the lunch eating an apple and having a cup of coffee, and send 20-30 emails to folks in your network, or call them.

That's networking too.

The purpose of the "lunch" is not to eat, it's to strengthen your network.


jamcoo's picture

Thank you all for the great suggestions!