Thursday, July 10, 2008

Buy it or Bag it

Is it really worth the cost to make your own lunch, or is it just as cost effective to buy lunch? For adults, there is no question that bagging it is less expensive and healthier. You could buy an inexpensive burger and fries for about the same cost as making your lunch, but there may be negative long term consequences for your health. Another option is to take leftovers for lunch. You can make your food stretch further, as well as saving the time making your lunch the next morning. For kids with school lunch, there are so many variables that the choice of how to provide lunch for your kids depends on what is important to you. Here are ideas to help you decide which is better for you.

Having kids eat cafeteria lunches is more convenient. It costs about $1.50 per day per child to eat school lunch if they are in elementary school and about $1.75 per day if they are in junior high and high school. Teenagers are more likely to spend more money than that since most don’t seem to like cafeteria lunches and may choose to eat elsewhere. It is important to ask yourself if your child will even eat the lunches at school. Some of our kids would rather skip lunch than have a cafeteria lunch. It is a waste of your money if they aren’t eating it. Are the lunches healthy enough for your standards? Do they get the nutrition they need or are there too many high-fat, fried foods? Let’s say you have 4 kids. Two are in elementary school and two are in junior high school. The weekly cost would be about $32.50. How much would it cost to make lunches? There are many variables to be considered. I did an analysis of prices in the most expensive grocery store in town. I used regular prices, not sale prices for the analysis. I could have saved $5 or more on the items I priced if I had used the store’s sale prices. If you buy individually wrapped items, the cost would likely be more than the cost of the cafeteria. On the other hand, you could save money if you make homemade bread and cookies or buy things on sale or at the least expensive store in town. It is also important to remember that younger children usually eat smaller portions. By sending half as much as is sent for older kids, your money will stretch further. And, if your kids like peanut butter and jelly every day of the week, then you could save even more! Kids never seem to have enough time to eat a big lunch at school, so you need to be wise in determining the amount to send.

This list includes groceries to make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, two egg salad sandwiches and one tuna sandwich per child for the week. It also includes a daily drink, fruit or vegetable and a snack. All prices are regular store prices, not sale prices.

Expensive Store-Name Brand (ESNB): These groceries are all name brand items bought at the most expensive store in town. They are not sale prices. I could have saved over $5 with the regular sale prices on these name brands the day I shopped.

Expensive Store-Store Brand (ESSB): These groceries were bought at the most expensive store in town. Some of the store brands do not taste as good as the name brands, but are priced more reasonably if you are not as picky about name brands.

Homemade (HOME): When food is homemade, it usually tastes better and has fewer preservatives. You know exactly what is in your food when you make it. You can also buy juice concentrate and put in containers or use powdered drink mix or water to save even more.

Inexpensive Store-Name Brand (ISNB): These are name brands bought at the most reasonably priced store in town.

Inexpensive Store-Store Brand (ISSB): These are store brands bought at the most reasonably priced store in town.

Cafeteria (CAFÉ): Lunch purchased at school cafeteria

2 Loaves of Bread 4.98 1.78 ~1.00 4.38 1.58
2 lbs. carrots 1.49 1.49 .79 .79 .79
1 bag apples 2.99 2.99 1.99 1.99 1.99
Eggs for egg salad 2.29 1.49 1.29 1.29 1.29
Tuna .79 .59 .49 .71 .49
Mayonnaise 2.49 1.89 1.67 2.18 1.67
Peanut Butter 2.69 2.19 1.29 2.13 1.29
Jam 2.49 1.99 1.90 2.42 1.90
Drink/Juice Boxes 6.98 5.00 ~2.00 6.06 5.20
Chips or Cookies (2) 2.99 1.79 ~2.00 2.89 1.62
Total30.1821.20 14.4224.8417.8232.50

Figure out what really matters to you. Is your time or money more important? Is the quality of the food and nutritional value more important than the best value for your dollar? Saving ten dollars per week using store brands instead of name brands adds up to $520 per year. If you send homemade lunches, shop at a less expensive store, or shop sales and are more cost conscious, you can save over a $1,000 per year. It can really add up. Think of all the things you could do with that extra money. Not only are you saving, you also gain the opportunity to earn a return on the money saved. By experimenting and finding out the appropriate balance you will be happy with your decision.

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