DEAR HARRIETTE: I bring a packed lunch from home every day to work. Usually, the entire office goes out to eat at a swanky place where lunch and a beverage will cost $20. They ask me to join them, but I have a perfectly good lunch already made for a fraction of the cost. Should I start going out with them? I feel like my lunch makes me seem antisocial in the office. -- From Home, Westchester, New York
DEAR FROM HOME: Your question is really about office politics, not just your budget. While your plan to bring your lunch is sensible and cost-effective, it likely is distancing you from your co-workers. There is something to be said for factoring professional networking into your budget, including networking at lunchtime. Consider agreeing to go to lunch with your co-workers once or twice a week to show an interest in hanging out with them. This may require you to reapportion funds in a different way, but it could end up providing leverage for next steps in your career.
Also, I wonder: Since the entire office goes out to lunch together, does the company ever foot the bill? It’s a little odd that everyone -- except you -- is there daily. You can’t be the only one who thinks it’s a bit pricey. It never hurts to ask.