Lunch is the best. We look forward to it whether we’re in grade school or grinding through another workday. Maybe that explains why we spend so much money on it. Enough to fund a good chunk of college, a nice retirement nest egg, or whatever bills need to be paid this month.
According to an Accounting Principles survey reported on by ABC News http://gma.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/how-much-does-the-average-american-spend-each-week-on-lunch.html, the average employed American spends $37 per week on lunch. And if you have one child buying a school lunch, let’s say it’s $10 a week. We can do all sorts of math to show how much you can save by bringing a lunch to work/school. Here are a couple examples that hit home for me.
Take just the $37 average and calculate what it could do in an investment account earning a modest 4 percent annually. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/money101/lesson13/index5.htm. Start one when your child hits kindergarten and by high school graduation you’ve got nearly $32,000, or almost two years of tuition, room and board at a four-year university. Or, if you start saving that $37 per week at age 30, by the time you turn 65 you’ll have more than $140,000 for retirement.
Of course, it’s not like the contents of your lunch box are free. But they can be significantly less than $37 per week, especially if you plan ahead and hit up grocery store sales. Not to mention the intangible benefits of eating generally healthier food. Here are some easy budget- and waistline-friendly ideas for you.
• Make “lunchables. ” These kid favorites can be made at home for a fraction of the cost (and the calories and preservatives!) of the store-bought variety. Instead of salami or Canadian bacon, get some sliced turkey, a block of cheese and some blue corn tortillas. http://easylunchboxes.smugmug.com/The-Best-Lunchbox-System/lunch-box-easy-lunch-boxes/10136835_SnmBV2/1447733052_sRjCN5w#!i=1447733052&k=sRjCN5w
• Make some dough. Everybody loves pizza. For about $5, you can get two to four lunch servings of pizza that tastes as good as it is healthy. I’ve found fresh, premade whole-wheat pizza dough at Trader Joe’s http://www.traderjoes.com/ and Whole Foods http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/ for as low as $1.50. Load it up with a little pepperoni and a lot of veggies and you’re in business.
• Make it a wrap. Get some tortillas, spread one with peanut butter, sprinkle with raisins or Craisins, drizzle with some honey and roll it up. Your kids will be asking for more, and your co-workers may be asking to trade lunches.
• Make a ton. Few things are as economical as leftover pasta. Make a huge pot of spaghetti and you and/or your children can be covered for days.
• Make it a habit. Brown-bagging it is habit-forming. Yes, it’s actually possible to crave the same-old sandwich, salad or last night’s leftovers. All you have to do is phase out the sub or fast-food fix from your daily routine. Get into the routine of making lunches, or make it part of your kids’ morning. http://www.nickjr.com/kids-health/eating-healthy/advice/10_brown_bag_lunch_ideas_ap.html
Keep track of that $6 or $7 or more you save every day. Set up a separate savings or investment account and put that month’s savings into it. Seeing it build week after week will more than make up for whatever empty calories you’re missing. Everything tastes better when there’s more money in your account and wallet.
Kat's Money Corner is posted on Dollars & Sense every Tuesday. Kat Hnatyshyn, when not blogging or caring for her little one, is a manager with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. For more financial chatter, click http://twitter.com/savinmavens.