Save Hundreds Each Month With a Few Brown Bags

posted by Andrea | 08/26/2014
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brown bags

I know many of your children have already started school, but Dave still has a full week before he goes back  — don’t be too jealous, he stays longer in the spring!

However, since I haven’t done any back-to-school posts this year (I think I’ve just been dreading it too much) I figured today was a good day to squeeze one in. And don’t worry, if you’re confused by the title… it will all make sense in a few minutes 😉

I’m often asked about ways to save on back-to-school supplies — and although I love coupons as much as the next person, I won’t tell you to wait in line for $0.05 pencils and $.10 paper to save on your back-to-school gear. I’m a little more practical than that.

When I started thinking about the various back-to-school expenses, I knew exactly what money-saving tip I wanted to write about… especially since it could EASILY save a family of 5 over $450 a month (try doing that with your $0.10 paper deals!)

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Pack a Brown Bag Lunch.

Ahhh, now it all makes sense!

Dave packs his lunch EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Or maybe I should say “every single NIGHT”. He doesn’t particularly love doing it (boy, am I thankful he does it himself) but he knows how much time and money it saves him every week and he feels better when he packs healthier options from home.

I’m not against kids getting hot lunch or adults going out for lunch — but I think the key is to reserve it for special treats once in a while.

Just think about it… if you have 3 children and it costs $3 per child, per weekday for hot lunch (that’s a conservative estimate based on people I talked to) that’s $9 per day or at least $180 a month. Then add in 2 adults going out for lunch every weekday at roughly $7 a person — that adds another $14 a day or over $280 a month.

Would you like to have an extra $450 to add to your budget every month? Well, packing your own lunches could do that for you!! 

Even if you pack store bought snacks, a pricier Lunchable, or other convenience foods for you or your kids, you’ll still be saving a significant amount of money each week — sooo yeah, this is a big money-saver!!

Oh, and BYOB too!

I recently looked up some statistics about how much American workers spend on coffee every year — and the number might shock you too!

According to this survey from 2012, the average working American spends over $1000 per year on coffee! And that’s PER PERSON, not per family. The survey also mentioned that Americans ages 18-34 are spending significantly more than those 45 and older (which I’m not surprised about).

Now, I don’t drink coffee, but I buy it for Dave, and there is NO WAY we could spend over $1000 a year on coffee — even if we bought the most gourmet roasted beans from the store.

Dave brews a batch of coffee every morning before he leaves for school. He drinks some coffee with his breakfast and packs the rest up in a insulated coffee cup to take with him. This means he doesn’t need to waste time stopping at a gas station or drive-through coffee bar, and of course, he saves boats loads of cash too!

One more tip:

Instead of brown bags, I’d suggest taking it one step further and investing in a reusable lunch bag/box for each family member — as well as reusable water bottles or coffee mugs. It might be a little investment upfront, but I’m positive it will save you in the long run.

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If you’re used to getting coffee or going out to lunch every day, don’t feel like you need to change everything you do right away. Maybe just pick one day a week to pack lunches for the whole family; then in another month, add another day and pack lunches 2 days a week.

I don’t think it’s bad or wrong to enjoy the convenience of hot lunch, drive-through coffee, or a fun lunch out with your friends; however, if you’re looking to cut back on your monthly and yearly expenses — this is a GREAT way to do that without much extra effort on your part.

How often do you pack your own lunches?

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34 comments

  1. Megan

    08/27/2014

    My goal is to pack my lunch and snacks every day, though I’m not as consistent as I’d like. I do find that prepping ingredients in advance helps. I cook up a bunch of chicken breast on Sunday and slice it up so I can throw it on salads all week. I chop most of the veggies on Sundays, too.

    I do have this weird thing about food that’s sat for too long (even in the fridge) so I tend to assemble my lunches first thing in the morning, but that works for me since I’m a morning person anyway. But it does save me a TON of money and I eat much healthier food.

    Interesting data point for you – I drink 1 iced tea every day (no coffee here either). A bottle from our cafe is $2.51 if I forget to bring one from home. A 12-pack at full price in the grocery store is only $1.04 a bottle, and I usually stock up when I find it on sale. I got 12-packs for $6.99 last week – just $0.58 each!

    That saved me almost $70 in one month. That’s without any coupons and just a few minutes online to see which store has it on sale at any given time. Well worth the effort.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    WOW — that’s amazing how much you save on your drinks! I honestly don’t drink anything but water, milk, and the occasional lemonade or soda. I’m boring like that — but I do save a TON of money!

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  2. Ann

    08/27/2014

    For clarity, I should have said–you dump the hot water out, before adding the heated food to the thermos. 🙂

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  3. Ann

    08/27/2014

    Our children are grown now, but when they were students, I used to send a hot lunch with them.
    I would put VERY HOT water in a glass lined (Thermos brand) thermos that was about an 8 oz.
    size.(or was it 12 oz? can’t remember now!) I left the hot water in there for about 10 minutes while I made coffee & fixed their breakfast. Then I would heat leftover soup or spaghetti or other entrees in the microwave & put it in the warm thermos. When I asked them if it stayed HOT until lunch time, they would tell me, “Yes, I had to wait for it to cool before I could eat it.” This worked very well, but one warning–It does not work in an all plastic thermos–the Glass lined makes the difference. My children didn’t want sandwiches everyday, so this was a wonderful way to use up leftovers from suppertime & they LOVED it!

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  4. Julie

    08/27/2014

    I pack 4 lunches every day for all very different eaters..1 vegetarian, 1 just plain picky eater, and one who doesn’t sandwiches.. Thankfully my husband will eat anything:) I really need to find a better system. I get so frazzled in the mornings trying to feed 4 kids and get them all out the door on time. They don’t like food that sits over night..so I have to do it all in the AM. I need a nap by 8:30 in the morning. I am trying to follow your advice on a lot of things…our lives need it.

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — 4 lunches in the morning. I’d need a nap too!

    What about packing snacks, veggies, fruits, etc. in snack-size bags at the beginning of the week? then just dump a couple snack baggies in each lunch and add the “main course”.

    Also, what about having them pack their own lunches? If they are old enough and very picky, it might actually be easier for everyone (especially you!) My sisters and I always packed our own lunches from about 3rd grade on. My mom “monitored” our choices, but I don’t ever remember feeling like it was a horrible chore. I loved being able to customize my own lunch.

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  5. Gina, a book dragon

    08/26/2014

    I was able to pack lunches until the kids hit high school. Kids had basically the same thing for lunch for years! (Their choice)

    As for my husband. . . there is a nice room for him to eat in (fridge, microwave, hot water, air conditioning) but if he’s in the building there is always someone with a “quick question” so he has to leave the building to get away! Now that the kids are gone and I’m not eating out for lunch, we’ve found it isn’t worth the stress for him to pack lunch.

    I wasn’t shocked at the coffee numbers, I did wonder if it was a bit low with a StarB… in my Target making it simple to stop and pick something up after shopping.

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  6. Danielle

    08/26/2014

    I agree with Erin, sometimes it feels like your spending more when you aren’t. I just picked up huge sales at my local grocery store and stocked up for lunches. I always have problems with picking a main item for my son’s lunches.

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  7. Erin

    08/26/2014

    I found this post encouraging because it helped me to once again realize how much we are actually saving each month. We are a family of four (2 adults, 2 school age children) who pack lunches every day for school and work. We pack in washable containers and we save our plastic grocery bags from Kroger to use as our “brown bag” so we don’t spend any money on paper bags OR a reuseable lunch bag/box. We fill water bottles each morning and my husband and I brew our own coffee to take with us to work in the mornings. It has been our habit for years, but sometimes the rising cost of food at the grocery store can make us feel like we are spending “more” all the time. However, reading these statistics and numbers, I see once again that we are still paying so much less just by keeping our frugal habits going!

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  8. Lisa

    08/26/2014

    “Brown bagging it” has always been the name of the game in our house. Now that the kids are in high school, lunches run around $7 each! All three of my kids bring their lunch and the hubby does, too! This is the perfect time of year to get a new lunch thermal. I sell Thirty-One and we have some styles for as little as $10 each. Even the most expensive thermals pay for themselves with less than a week’s worth of lunches. Happy to offer free direct shipping to any Andrea fans out there!

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  9. Brigid

    08/26/2014

    We pack every day for school and do packed at home picnic lunches most often on summer outings. Both save a ton of money and we definitely eat better. I do have our girls look at the school lunch menu for the month and occasionally pick a day to buy, turns out to be about 1-3 x during the school year. School menus are not very healthy!
    It’ s sometimes tough to get started with packing lunches, but with so many blogs with easy ideas it keeps it interesting and always the healthier and less expensive option.

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  10. Janice

    08/26/2014

    This has given me a good idea. I retired 5 years ago and have gained a lot of weight eating here at home. I was a high school teacher at a Christian school where the teachers were allowed free lunches daily as a benefit. There were great choices and I usually ate from the soup and salad bar. I took my own after school snack which was usually an apple since I stayed later to catch up on school work. Well, now I think I’m going to pack my lunch and snacks to eat here at home so I will stop the grazing and overheating. Am I crazy? That’s ok. I like to play mind games with myself sometimes to meet some of my goals. Whatever works as long as it’s not sinful! 🙂

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  11. Jen

    08/26/2014

    My husband and I pack our lunches everyday. Since it’s just the two of us, we often take leftovers from dinner the night before so it’s not really much of an added expense. We eat breakfast at home, brew our own coffee/tea, and fill our reusable water bottles each day. All of these things allow us to spend just $50 on groceries a week. We don’t have any kiddos yet, but I love the ideas stated above that include allowing kids to help pack their lunches, having a crockpot in the classroom, and two short breaks instead of one long lunch!

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  12. Kim

    08/26/2014

    I don’t have school age children yet but my hubby brings his lunch everyday. He loves to bring dinner leftovers and he uses a nifty mini crockpot to heat them at work. http://www.amazon.com/Crock-Pot-SCCPLC200-R-20-Ounce-Lunch-Warmer/dp/B006H5V8US/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1409068219&sr=8-3&keywords=mini+crock+pot These things are great! Totally a good investment if you or your hubby don’t care for a sandwich everyday.

    [Reply]

    Brigid Reply:

    Wow! That is a neat little item! Thanks for sharing, I may purchase one for my hubby.

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  13. Julie

    08/26/2014

    My 8 year old doesn’t like getting school lunches because then he doesn’t have as much time to eat after he waits in line for his food. He will still get lunch on certain days (i.e. breakfast for lunch day), but that usually only ends up being 2 or 3 times a month, which is a nice treat for him once in a while. And break for me when it’s one less lunch to pack. 🙂

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  14. Irina

    08/26/2014

    I pack my husband’s breakfast and snacks for the day (we don’t eat breakfast at home as we leave the house very early in the morning). He does buy a small sub at lunch to complement the snacks, but it’s way cheaper than buying breakfast AND a full lunch. He also makes his coffee at home “to-go”, and I wait till I get to the office to have my coffee on the house:)

    I usually pack breakfast, snacks and lunch for myself as well unless it’s a “treat” day when I go out to buy lunch.

    I like packing the snacks for eating throughout the day for myself and my hubby because that way I can make sure he eats his fruit! He does get sweet treats like granola bars and pudding cups as well, so I feel like it’s a good balance.

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  15. Marie

    08/26/2014

    While this works well when kids are smaller like elementary and starting middle school, it is harder to do when especially when they reach high school. Once our kids reached that age we gave them a set amount of money for their school lunches each week. They learned to pick and choose what they wanted based on how much money they had and if they had leftover money they could keep it for the next week. It also helped to teach them how to manage money and the consequences if you overspend. Luckily that didn’t happen often.

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    Jen Reply:

    Not sure I understand why it’s harder to pack lunches in high school??? That’s been easier for me–kids know what they want and ask and they pack their own lunches! If buying works within your budget, that’s great but packing lunches has always worked for my high schoolers (I’ve had 4 of them!) too!

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    Louise Reply:

    Worked for my three too. If they wanted extras or to eat off site they used their own money!

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  16. Shambray

    08/26/2014

    It is crazy how much money you save by packing your own lunch. I need to start helping my husband do it again… We don’t have school aged children yet.

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  17. brenda

    08/26/2014

    My kids never really liked the school lunch (bad food and lost half your time waiting in line) so we brought our own almost all the time. My problem is what to put in them that doesn’t get too repetitive and boring but that they will still eat. It seems like I am asking them everyday do you like this? Are you eating this or throwing it away? I keep telling them that if they don’t like something to tell me, but I don’t know if they really do!

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    Louise Reply:

    My children never liked school lunch for these reasons too. None of them were picky, the food was just horrible! When a Teaching Assistant I knew told me that my youngest wasn’t eating much I put them all on packed lunches.

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    Jennifer Reply:

    I hear a lot of moms worry about the repetitiveness of packed lunches, but schools are very repetitive with lunches, at least they are at the school I just resigned from (to stay home with my 2 1/2 yr old). They have certain foods on certain days, like hamburgers on Th, pizza on Fr, etc…, and one day each week they do a manager’s special that is usually one of about five different meals she rotates as well.

    One tip I found when I was making lunches for my toddler when he was in daycare was to make several sandwiches (some pb&j, some turkey and cheese) at once (for myself as well), and package mini servings of veggies, fruit, crackers, etc. all at one time. Each morning I only had to load up our reusable lunch totes with pre-packaged items from the fridge or cupboard and picked different things each day. On Sunday night I had us ready for 3/4 lunches and filled in with leftovers throughout the week.

    Even though I stay home now, when I make us lunch, I double up on the sandwiches or whatever to make another day easier.

    The hubby isn’t so good about eating leftovers and sandwiches and buys a lot of tacos near work. I need to make a bunch of burritos and soft tacos for him.

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  18. Susan M

    08/26/2014

    I have three kids, and lunch is $2 daily for a basic tray, and they can opt for add-ons that cost more. But even with the basic cost, it’s more economical to pack lunches, and we can control what goes in them. Like Kristina, I give my kids the option of buying a tray once per week if there’s a favorite food being served, but most weeks, they pass on that.

    When the kids were younger, I packed lunches until cold weather hit, then let them eat a hot lunch every day until it warmed up again. Now that they’re older and can actually operate a thermos (and bring it home — well, almost always…) we don’t have to do all that.

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  19. Carrie

    08/26/2014

    I can’t believe some school lunches cost that much. We pay a $1.50 for a lunch here in PA. I have 2 kids that buy and 3 that pack. I would much rather they all buy and it would save me money because I spend more than $1.50 on a packed lunch.

    I pack my lunch most every day though.

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    ShellyL Reply:

    Our school district (TN) is doing something new this year. No student has to pay for a basic breakfast or lunch, regardless of income. It’s great and will save me quite a bit of money with two school-aged children. Even before that, though, their lunch was only $1.50 so I rarely packed theirs. Once a week, a packed lunch was a treat for them because they could choose their own lunch. I could hardly pack it that cheaply, so most of the time I chose not to.

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  20. Jen

    08/26/2014

    I am AMAZED at the money that people spend on buying lunch. Since my kids were little, every night after dinner before doing ANYTHING else, lunches were packed and set on the counter ready to go in the morning. They do groan and complain at times (They are 22, 19, 17, and 14 now.) but, miraculously, they have ALL survived! 🙂

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  21. Starla

    08/26/2014

    I have 4 boys in school and they all pack their own lunches. Since they go to a private school, they don’t have a cafeteria as an option. But one really neat thing our school does is have a crock-pot or two in each classroom. The students can take jars with leftovers, sandwiches or pizza or hot-pockets, etc. wrapped in foil, place them in the crock-pot, and have a hot lunch!

    We mothers take turns serving a full lunch once a month thru the school year, and those days are special for the students. No one has to pack a lunch!

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  22. Christine

    08/26/2014

    I live in Ontario and most schools in this area don’t offer hot lunches at schools, so I have to pack a lunch every day for the kids. Our school does do pizza day once per week and we do that as it’s a nice change for the kids and break for me, once a week. Our schools use the ‘balanced day’ approach to lunches/snacks so we have 2 shorter lunch breaks- one at 11 and one at 1:20, and that started 2 years ago. It was an adjustment to figure out what the kids wanted to eat at each break. Hubby and I both pack and bring our own lunches to work.

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    Brenda Reply:

    This is an awesome idea!! I wish they did that in Michigan. My younger son (K-2nd grade) has a snack time where the teacher gives then crackers or pretzels and then they have their regular lunch. Quite often the lunch is either really early (10:50) or late (1:30) due to spacing out all the grades into 1 lunch room and the poor boy seems like he is always hungry. Then after 2nd or 3rd grade they loose their snack time and just have to tough it out till lunch or home.

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    Andrea Reply:

    This is such a cool idea — I would have LOVED to have 2 lunches every day. Even now, Dave and I joke about how I often have “first lunch” and “second lunch” because a snack just doesn’t fill me up 🙂

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  23. Kristina

    08/26/2014

    I pack lunch for my kids. They get to pick out one hot lunch a week that they want to buy. Lunch here is $2.15. It’s much cheaper for me to pack their lunch, the girls like to buy lunch so it is a great compromise for us.

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  24. Kim

    08/26/2014

    I pack my lunch pretty much every day. Now that I have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it is that much more important for me to have healthy snacks and meals on hand at all times. If I don’t have anything to pack because we are running out of food before grocery day or we just didn’t have any leftovers from dinner, I have the nice option of going to my work’s cafeteria and getting the salad bar. It’s not horribly expensive but I still try to avoid it as it is still more expensive than packing my own salad.

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