39 comments

Get Rich With: The Secret Food ‘Stash

Yesterday I ran into a friend while perusing the Yogurt section of the local grocery store. It was around noon on a Thursday, and my friend explained to me that he had just come from his office job to grab a few necessities for lunch because he had forgotten to bring anything to work that day.

I was glad to see my friend, and also impressed that he had decided to hit the grocery store instead of a fast food joint. A Fairly Mustachian Move, compared to most people, who go out to lunch almost every work day, spending about $12 including food, drink, tax, tip, and car expenses. Plus an hour of otherwise productive time that could be used either to get ahead in their careers or go home earlier that night.

But I have a secret for you that is a thousand times more powerful than even a trip to the grocery store: The Secret Mustachian Under-Desk Food ‘Stash.

You see, I have an unusually high need for food. As a tall man without the food-conserving advantages of Car Transportation or Television Leisure, I burn through a good number of calories each day.. which means during my career as an office worker, I had to become quite an expert at Delicious In-Office Eating.  Each day I had to plan for a good Second Breakfast, Mid-Morning Snack, Lunch, Afternoon Snack, and Pre-biking-home Snack.

The solution I found was keeping a permanently stocked fridge hidden under my desk.

So here is how it works: You get a nice little bar fridge from your own basement, from a friend, or from Craigslist.

Stock the fridge with a loaf of whole wheat bread, natural peanut butter, a jar of good jam, some bananas, apples, carrots, cucumbers and any other snacking vegetables, almonds, hot sauce, cheddar cheese, nice yogurt, and even some Beer for when you work late with the coworkers. Also bring your own plate, cup, and cutlery.

Each Monday when you begin the workweek, bring in groceries to re-stock it as needed. If you ever forget this step, there are enough long-lasting items in there to allow you to improvise a lunch to get you through until restocking.

And Pow! You are suddenly on the career fast-track! You are always in a good mood at work because your mind and body are constantly kept in perfect running order with the utmost in nutrition.

You have freed an hour of each day to work smarter, and the $12 of savings per day will compound to about $45,000 over your ten year career. It would be more over an even longer career, but YOU will get to retire and move on to eating from your real fridge at home as I do.

I donated my own office worker fridge to a friend in need and I hope it is now contributing to someone else’s early retirement.

What will YOU keep in your own secret food ‘Stash?

  • No Debt MBA June 17, 2011, 9:05 am

    I keep a stash of dates and tea at work and sometimes will have fresh fruit in my desk. The rest I bring in with me every day. I keep a fork and knife in one of my drawers since I habit of forgetting to pack them. I also have a mug from home.

    I’m not sure how well a fridge, especially with beer, under my desk would go over here. But I definitely agree that there’s a huge advantage to having good food on hand and avoiding going out to lunch both in time and in money.

    What do you do with the fridge when you quit your job? Gift it to the poor sap who’s left behind and inherits your cube?

    Reply
    • MMM June 17, 2011, 9:46 am

      Haha.. indeed – there were various controversies regarding my fridge over the years. I used them as a gauge to determine whether the company was worth working for. A smart company values its employees and encourages them to customize their workspace and express creativity.

      At one point, the building owner that my company leased from got all stupid about fridges in cubicles because of “fire hazards” (because everyone knows that UL-approved refrigerators built in the early 2000s shoot fire out the back of them as soon as nobody is looking). So I disguised it as a small rack of test equipment with a hinged front and lots of dangling wires – that trick got me through the rest of my career with no further complaints.

      Reply
  • Heidi June 17, 2011, 9:23 am

    Your fridge under the desk ROCKS! Fantastic. Its especially nice to hear from someone who needs a lot of food and doesn’t rely on packaged goods. I’d also suggest a homemade granola bar or nut cookie stash. My family’s diet includes all those meals and snacks you mentioned–it keeps us running.

    Reply
  • Liz Tee June 17, 2011, 9:45 am

    Excellent food-management tips! This is a stupid nit-picky point, but refrigerating bread makes it stale faster, and no, I’m not just making that up. Better to keep it in the freezer and pull out a slice or two as needed. Toaster or 10 secs in the wave wrapped in a paper towel will do it. If no freezer in the secret fridge, keep the loaf in the home freezer, throw the day’s needs in a baggie and take it with you. It’ll thaw before you need it.

    Reply
  • Madison June 17, 2011, 9:49 am

    I love this idea, wish I could do something similar! I’m a transient worker – meaning every few weeks I’m at a different office, so I couldn’t do something like that.

    I get frustrated trying to bring my own food sometimes – because some of these places don’t have a working fridge in the break room, or my lunch gets stolen between when I put it in there in the morning and when I go to eat.

    My solution was to get a nice insulated lunch bag from the thrift store, and a cold pack, and then just bring my cold food in each morning and keep it at whatever desk I’m working at so it can’t get stolen.

    I also bike to work, so that is another limitation (most of the time I’m in places where there is no grocery store within biking distance).

    Reply
  • eva June 17, 2011, 10:09 am

    If I had my own office, I would:

    Put in a mini-fridge like this
    Replace my chair with an excersize ball, and keep free weights or resistance bands in a drawer
    Listen to music while I work
    Keep a pillow on hand just in case of naptime

    But every job I’ve worked at, none of the lower-ranking staff get offices. At least at this one I have my own desk and don’t have to share with a temp. But I can’t do any of those things…I do keep an extra change of clothes and many snacks in the desk but that’s about all I can get away with. Next job, maybe.

    Reply
    • MMM June 17, 2011, 10:57 am

      Oh yeah – I didn’t mean to sound like Mr. Fancy Executive by implying I had a real office. Just a cubicle. It was private enough to have a fridge and lots of customized decor, but it still required headphones rather than speakers for music listening.

      Reply
  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple June 17, 2011, 12:09 pm

    Very good post. I work at a company that has grown from 20 to 90 rather quickly. I am the self-appointed “fridge police”. It got to the point that people would use the one fridge as their home fridge (store several jars of food), some people would put going-out leftovers in there and forget them, and others would put entire small coolers in there. When I came in to work at 7:30 am on a Monday morning and there was no room for my lunch, it was the last straw.

    That was the day I went on craigslist and found an actual bar fridge (had been used for booze by college students). It fits perfectly under my desk and is black. So unless I am getting something out while someone is outside my cube, they don’t know it is there.

    It is generally stocked with: salad dressing (homemade or bought) because I bring salad to work for lunch often. Now, I am not so lucky to be able to eat a lot – I’m a 40+ year old woman – so stocking it with a lot of other yummy foods like peanut butter would be a disaster. I do stock with fruit though.

    It’s also the backup storage for hot sauce. This office goes through a lot of sriracha and tapatio. I buy about half of it. I store it in my cube for when the main bottles run out. “Emergency stash.”

    I also store half and half for coffee, and occasional juice box if my kid is going to visit.

    I definitely use it as an opportunity to get 8.5 hours worth of work done in 9 hours at the office (I often take a 30 min walk at lunch). It’s both getting ahead and going home early.

    Reply
  • Steve June 17, 2011, 12:10 pm

    I take a diet Mt Dew, a bowl of leftovers, a few chips, 2 bite size candy bars to work every day. I don’t bike to work, so my metabolism isn’t high, even though my appetite is. So, I need to keep a limited amount of stash so I don’t have to go out and buy new larger clothes.

    Reply
    • MMM June 17, 2011, 12:40 pm

      Chips! Candy Bars! Diet soda!! Hmm, Steve, I don’t know.. health equals wealth, health equals wealth … ;-)

      Reply
      • Steve June 17, 2011, 1:06 pm

        The diet Mt. Dew makes life worth living. However, I should cut out the candy bars…just a lousy habit I’ve gotten into.

        Reply
        • Pachipres June 17, 2011, 5:51 pm

          Diet pop can lead to symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. Better to have real pop. Not that this is healthy for you, but the diet stuff is so full of chemicals.

          Reply
          • Steve June 20, 2011, 7:21 am

            I have been drinking diet soda for 20 years with no ill effect. In my family we have some that don’t like the taste of diet soda and some that do. The only difference I’ve noticed between the two camps is about 10 pounds of body weight.

            If you have PKU, you shouldn’t be consuming meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, cheese, legumes, milk..and you sure as hell shouldn’t consume Nutrasweet products, but PKU only affect 1 in 15,000 births here in the US and all infants are tested for it.

            Reply
            • GregK June 4, 2012, 9:06 am

              The 10lbs of body weight are certainly not attributable to the difference in diet and non-diet sodas. Unfortunately your pancreas doesn’t know the difference between sugar and Nutrasweet, so it releases insulin when you drink diet soda. This completely screws up your insulin levels, since there isn’t as much sugar in your system as your pancreas thought. Elevated insulin levels leads to increased appetite; those who drink diet soda tend to consume more calories in a day than those who drink regular including the calories from the regular soda.

              Screwed-up insulin levels can also lead to type-2 diabetes… I’d get my blood sugar levels checked if I were you…

              Reply
          • Ian Turner May 25, 2013, 10:17 pm

            Real pop leads to diabetes and obesity (not just symptoms). Best to avoid it also.

            Reply
  • Kevin M June 17, 2011, 2:07 pm

    If only people had those types of food in their ACTUAL HOME refrigerator, maybe America would be in better shape. No office fridge here, just some almonds in my desk and sometimes a bag of apples in the office fridge.

    Reply
  • Pachipres June 17, 2011, 5:53 pm

    Good article. My dh has taken his lunch to his corporate office for 22 years and now self employed, is still taking his lunch. Good thing since our expenses are still too high to retire but your blog is totally inspiring me to get back to my goals of dh retiring sooner.

    Reply
  • rosarugosa June 17, 2011, 7:17 pm

    You know, I could never get away with a fridge under my desk at the large corp where I work, but I do have the pleasure of a good cafeteria with a great salad bar. Today I had arugula with strawberries and blueberries and chicken and goat cheese with watermelon and tomato salad for less than $3.00. Now that was one sexy salad and I enjoyed every bite! So I do bring lunch once or twice a week, and I always pack my own snacks, but I have no guilt when I buy lunch.
    I would also prefer to build a wine cellar under my desk because I’m not a beer drinker, but to each his own.
    I do think that the folks who go out and spend significant bucks on lunch each day are kind of crazy. If I spend $10 on lunch, I decrease my profit for working that day by $10. But when I can toss in some berries and goat cheese for less than three bucks, well then my world becomes an even more beautiful place:)

    Reply
  • Dee June 19, 2011, 12:46 pm

    I’m doing a lot better at keeping snacks at the office lately. I like a lot of things at room temperature that most people prefer refrigerated so I just keep stuff in a cupboard. My snacks include apples, bananas, almonds, whole wheat crackers, fruit cups, fruit sauce cups, and various snack bars, including a really neat cracker and strawberry spread selection I found in the ethnic food aisle — only $1.29 for a 6-pack.

    While this obviously does save money over buying lunch while at work, it should also be pointed out that, depending on work location, buying lunch can be done for a lot less that $12. When I buy lunch, I am usually able to keep it under $7, and often closer to $5. One trick to that is to never buy beverages (I just drink water from the fountain on cooler). Subway in my region has a few $5 footlong sandwiches, for example.

    Reply
  • Mike Hathaway July 4, 2011, 10:02 am

    If all you do is keep your drinks in there, Drinks add $2,00 to most lunches. I keep a 2 quart restaraun grade drink carafe that I can brew ice tea in. A great way to avoid all the chemistry even in our favorite diet soft drinks. I also load up at the beginning of the week with those sliced apple packs and cut up a celery stalk or two for the week, then I only have to remember the sandwich. Saves a fortune. And go high end with your sandwiches you are saving money. You can buy a loaf of your favorite at panera bread and have it thick sliced, spread on the fresh avocados and buy some sprouts to add that zing.

    Reply
  • Brendan Flynn July 4, 2011, 7:02 pm

    I have been thinking about getting a fridge for a long time. After reading this I was motivated and finally broke down and purchased one. Now, time to stock it and break the habit of eating out every day. Love your site, just discovered it!

    Reply
  • Mike September 8, 2011, 12:52 pm

    Am I the only one who noticed that MMM is a big Shiner Bock fan?

    Reply
    • MMM September 8, 2011, 1:23 pm

      Of Course!! Ever since my first trip to Austin, Shiner Bock has been one of my top beers, because of its refreshing richness (i.e. not a watery pilsener like the bud/coors/millers of the world). But now that I brew my own beer, I haven’t had a shiner in months.

      Reply
  • Nathan October 23, 2011, 6:01 am

    Is that 45,000 taking into account the amount you were spending to stalk your fridge? How much per month did it cost to stock your fridge.

    Reply
    • Gerard July 27, 2012, 7:39 am

      If it costs $10 a week to stock the fridge, the savings drop down all the way to $37,600.

      Reply
  • Danielle May 20, 2012, 5:23 pm

    Love this! I no longer feel bad about constantly eating at work! Commuting by bike will do that to you….

    Although, I like to get up from my desk and move around every once in a while, so I think I’ll continue to use the community fridge in the break room.

    Reply
  • Melissa August 23, 2012, 7:40 am

    If your office kitchen has a microwave, it opens up a cheap, healthy option for breakfast. I keep a canister of plain oatmeal (the minute kind works best, but you can also use old-fashioned oats for a more al dente texture) in my desk along with a box of raisins, craisins, or other dried fruit, and a shaker of cinnamon. The fruit is so sweet, you don’t really need sugar, but that keeps well in a desk drawer too, if you want a treat. A big canister and big box of raisins will last almost 3-4 weeks, all for around $10!

    Reply
    • TomTX October 12, 2012, 5:07 pm

      I highly recommend adding some walnuts or slivered almonds to that oatmeal for some protein – and it’s just darn tasty!

      Reply
  • Frank July 23, 2013, 1:08 pm

    As I have to drive 80 miles one way to work (yeah I know.. but I am very frugal in other areas) and our workplace has fridges and microwaves, my solution is Turky sandwiches and brussel sprouts that I steam in the microwave)

    The car does 35mpg and I rebuilt it myself from a $350 car with a blown engine..:)

    Reply
  • Karl August 19, 2013, 1:21 am

    I always have a packet of fresh popcorn, fruit and tea in my desk. We have fridges and a kitchen space at my work so I just bring in some sliced roast meat each week, buy some quality bread and sauces, and make my own tasty, nutritious lunch each day. Go out to a cheap and tasty Asian lunch once a week on Friday ($7-9). Simply, cheap, tasty and healthy.

    Reply
  • Chris September 23, 2013, 3:53 pm

    Weird. I read this and looked down under my desk to find my black mini-fridge there. And the cheap stuff is exactly what I keep there – sandwich materials, inexpensive fruits, and a few bagels from time to time. I’ve virtually eliminated all going out for lunches. Best park – picked it up on craigslist for $35 from a guy that had it in his garage and never used it. Like new.

    Reply
  • John December 29, 2013, 1:04 pm

    MMM is right on target again. I did almost this exact thing. The only difference was I worked at a test lab and one of the many things we tested was mini fridges. The one that ended up under my desk was put onto “extended test status”. I had to find my own microwave though. My last day of work was in 2005 at 42 years old. (should have gotten serious earlier on like MMM did).

    Reply
  • Red January 1, 2014, 9:29 pm

    Hello, suuuuper late response to this. Can you recommend a mini-fridge size and brand? There’s a mind boggling variety of them out there!!

    Reply
  • Angela M February 10, 2014, 9:09 am

    Great idea, MMM! And a great blog.

    Not being allowed to have individual fridges at work (or having the guts to go against this), I’ve survived with a food bin under my desk.You can keep a lot of food safely at room temp! My bin has:

    Fruit: pre-packaged individual serving cups of mandarin oranges, pineapples, pears, low-sugar applesauce, pickles (guess these are veggies)

    Whole Grains: high-fiber crackers, oatmeal, granola bars

    Drinks: teabags, cocoa mix, apple cider mix

    Forgot-my-lunch backup: two cans of Healthy Soup

    Other: almonds, walnuts

    This bin is supplemented by fresh fruit (1-2 items daily, bought cheap weekly at Aldis) and reusable water bottles dishwashed twice/week. Also dependent on a real-silverware knife, spoon, fork, stoneware plate & bowl.

    This is in addition to the meals I bring daily for lunch. It’s a system not usually shared because it seems a bit crazy to those who might not have thought deeply about the rational behind it. But I feel safe sharing it on the MMM blog!

    Reply
  • Nigel February 25, 2014, 9:25 am

    You were perusing the yogurt section of the local grocery store??? A small container of yogurt costs 60 cents in my store, which works out to about $15 for a gallon. Milk costs about $2.79 per gallon at the same store. Yogurt and milk are the same dang thing! Here’s what you do:

    1: Buy a ridiculously expensive single-serving yogurt, any flavor.
    2: Heat some milk up to hot but not boiling (putting a smaller pot into a bigger pot with boiling water works best – ie. a double-boiler.)
    3: Wait 15 minutes
    4: Plop the pot of hot milk into some cold water in your sink to cool it until it is lukewarm, about body temp.
    5: Stir in a spoonful of the ridiculously expensive yogurt, then pour everything into a convenient container(s).
    6: Put the container in a cooler along with a pot full of hot water. Congratulations, you are are now a microbiologist: you have inoculated a liquid growth medium and placed it in an incubator in order to grow a bacterial culture.
    7: Come back in about 8 hours. Before you put your delicious yogurt in the fridge to cool, set aside a spoonful in a small sealable container. Keep this in the fridge to inoculate your next batch. You only have to buy the ridiculously expensive yogurt once.
    8: Add jam or fresh fruit, enjoy a snack, and put the money you just saved into your stash.

    I find that yogurt usually lasts at least a month in the fridge before it starts to get nasty, so you can make a big batch if you eat a lot of yogurt.

    Reply
    • Oh Yonghao April 15, 2014, 3:48 pm

      I actually have written an article on this very thing. It worked out to about $0.12 per normal size yogurt. I did that for a couple months then stopped for a long time. After moving much closer to work I now have more time to spend on things like this and I make yogurt about once a week to use in smoothies.

      I did it with a yogurt incubator though, it is pretty cheap, and at a gallon a month usage it pays for itself after 3 months. If you use more then it will pay for itself even faster.

      Myself I have found no need to boil the milk first, I am going on three months of using the same starter yogurt and it is turning out fantastic every time. I do boil the glass jars I use for incubation though, and generally incubate between 8 and 12 hours. I also boil anything that will be coming in contact with the yogurt, including the spoon I use for dishing out the yogurt from the last container.

      The specific article can be found here:
      http://ohyonghao.com/blog/homemade-yogurt/

      I do use the lids now during incubation, I have found it doesn’t seem to make a difference and allows me to easily mark which jar is my starter jar for this batch. That jar gets used first, then a random jar is my new starter when I get down to one jar.

      Another recommendation is to buy the plain yogurt, for some reason this only comes in pints, greek yogurt will work too. Take the pint and divide it into small containers which can be stored in the freezer. If your yogurt ever starts to not taste like yogurt then you can throw it out and grab a new starter from the freezer, thaw it out in the fridge for a day or so and restart your batch. This can make a single investment of $2.50 for a starter end up lasting 4 or 5 batches. I find that at first before I became more stringent on sanitizing equipment before use that I might make it about 5 batches before needing to restart. As I indicated above I have now made it three months averaging one batch a week, or around 12 batches on a single starter.

      If you use the above method please make sure you have sanitized your containers, especially if you want to use one for your next batches starter. Your milk has already been pasteurized and shouldn’t need to be pasteurized again unless you drink from the container, or in some way contaminate the milk. I don’t use it for breakfast, and have no children, so your mileage may vary on this. If you are sure your equipment and containers are sanitized and still cannot make yogurt past a few batches then try boiling the milk.

      Currently I use Nancy’s Yogurt which I find at Winco. If there are any questions on what sanitizing means please ask a homebrewer, or read the cleaning and sanitizing section of John Palmer’s freely available How to Brew found here:
      http://www.howtobrew.com/section1/chapter2-1.html

      Reply
  • Eurteb April 6, 2014, 6:07 pm

    Awesome yogurt tip, thanks :-)
    & nice original post

    Reply
  • Loretta June 4, 2014, 4:54 pm

    Ah hh, one of the pleasures of being at home: I can make myself delicious, healthy lunches every day! I haven’t worked in an office for 14 years, but when I did I always kept a stash of snacks like crackers, nuts, cans of tuna and fruit in my desk drawer, as well as bringing leftovers for lunch. The guys from IT would be hovering around my desk at 3pm every day, asking what I had for them to eat. If I was feeling generous I’d share:-) My female boss thought I had an eating disorder because I was constantly eating but not putting on weight, while she’d be going out for expensive, calorie-laden lunches! I also get teased unmercifully for bringing a coffee plunger (French press?) and my own coffee, rather than drinking the execrable International Roast instant coffee work supplied. Back then there wasn’t the all-pervasive Melbourne coffee culture there is now. I now have friends who spend $8 on takeaway coffees every day. Not that I felt deprived at all, I would plan the occasional cafe lunch for special occasions, or sit in a cafe and sip a coffee, so it was a treat, and I did agonise over the money I spent being a natural tight-arse.

    Reply
  • Erik August 16, 2014, 5:09 pm

    One of the things that has always blown my mind is the amount of money spent on lunch break. It is a very rare occasion that I don’t bring a home cooked meal and snacks. A) because home cooked is far better than anything bought on the go and B) it pains me every time I need to spend the $ on it. I see my coworkers buying breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks in between. I can’t imagine how much they lose because of this habit, but it makes me feel better every day I keep the wallet in my pocket and stick to the plan.

    Reply

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