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52 Different Ways to Save $100 Per Year: Don’t Pay For Pre-Made Baby Food {Week 46}

Baby-Food-600x400

Homemade Ginger shows you how to make your own wholegrain baby food.

Each week for 52 weeks, I’m sharing a different way you can save $100 this year. If you do all of these things, you’ll be able to save over $5,000 this year alone! Many of these things will likely be things you’re already doing, but hopefully all of you will pick up at least a few new ideas or some inspiration from this series.

Store-bought baby food can be very expensive. Knowing this, I decided from the get-go when I had my first child that this was an area that I’d wanted to try to really save money on.

Three children later, we’ve survived without basically ever paying for pre-made baby food — and have saved hundreds of dollars in the process! Here are some things that worked for us (Remember: each child and family is different so please do what works best for your family!):

1. Start Slowly

I was blessed to be able to nurse all three of my babies almost exclusively until six months old. (I know some women would love to be able to nurse and have been unable to do so, so I don’t take it for granted that I never had difficulty with nursing.)

At around six months old, I would slowly start introducing solid foods — normally just giving the child a couple of tastes of banana or vegetables a few times per week. I would usually mash up something that we’re already eating and offer a few bites.

We stuck with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains first and then gradually added in other foods. We’d just offer the child whatever fruit or veggies we’re eating at a meal plus some homemade bread or other wholegrain finger foods. As our children caught on to eating more, I’d gradually reduce nursing and replace it more and more by table food. (I weaned all my children around 18-19 months.)

sweet-potato-puree-in-ice-c_zpsb3ddff4d

2. Make & Freeze Homemade Baby Food

I did this some — and it worked well. Erin wrote a guest post a few years back on how she does this efficiently:

A great way to save money when you’ve got a little one crawling under foot is to make your own baby food. The average price at my grocery store for a 1-serving jar of baby food, stage 1, is $0.51. From my rough calculations, you can save an average of 75% by spending a few minutes in the kitchen to make your own food — especially if you buy in season and get the best prices on that fresh produce.

While I prefer cooking in the kitchen each night for our “big people” meals, I’ve found it works really well for me to have a Freezer Cooking Day once a month preparing homemade baby food.

Read Erin’s post here on How to Make Homemade Baby Food for the Freezer.

Helpful Resources: If you are interested in making your own baby food, you might check out this post here or see if you can check out Feed Me I’m Yours or check out some of the books listed here from your local library.

3. Use a Baby Food Grinder

If you’re wanting to make your own baby food, but the thought of making big batches for the freezer does not appeal to you, I highly recommend that you invest in a simple baby food grinder. I like the Kidco Baby Food Mill. It runs about $15 and is really compact so you can just mash up whatever fruits and/or veggies (or even the main dish!) you’re eating at the meal.

If it’s something that can’t just be easily mashed with a fork, stick a small bit in the grinder when you sit down at the table, grind it up, and you’re good to go! It makes very little mess and requires almost zero forethought!

reusable-baby-food-pouches
Like the Baby Food Pouch idea but don’t want to spend money on Baby Food Pouches? Check out How to Make Your Own Reusable Baby Food Pouches.

What are your best tips and ideas for saving on baby food?

52 Different Ways to Save $100 Per Year: Get a Bang for Your Buck on Travel Expenses {Week 45}

How to Find Great Deals on Travel

My husband and I love to travel. However, we’ve found some creative ways to do so, while still sticking with our budget. How? Here are some simple ways we save:

Purchase Online

We’ve done a lot of comparing and have found that you can almost always beat the prices you’d get over the phone or through a travel agency if you purchase airfare, hotel rooms, or car rental online. Some of our favorite sites to use are: Hotwire.com, Orbitz.com, and Travelocity.com.

If you’re willing to be adventuresome, you can purchase your hotel, flights, and rental car “blind” through Hotwire or Expedia and get a great deal. You’ll save at least $15 or $20 — often more! — if you’re willing to purchase the hotel room without knowing what hotel you are staying at. You can search by lowest price and star rating to see what prices are for the area you’ll be traveling to. We are typically able to find a three-star hotel for around $50-$60 per night this way.

Each site is a bit different and will offer you different rates and options. When we are making travel arrangements, we always check multiple sites to compare prices and options.

Note that some travel sites add the tax already into the final price shown and others don’t add this in until you checkout. Make sure that you know if there are any extra fees which will be added in when you’re comparing prices.

Need a Laugh? Check out Frugal Failure posts on How We Spent $145 Trying to Save $40 and How a Split Second Mistake Cost Me $500.

Unless you don’t mind staying in rather questionable hotels, I wouldn’t suggest getting anything less than a three-star hotel as we’ve learned the hard way that two-star hotels can be hit and miss and one-star hotels should be avoided altogether. (Ask me to tell you the story of the roaches and the guy trying to break into our room in San Antonio at the one-star hotel we stayed at there if you need further proof. Yikes!)

If you want to get to pick your hotel before you purchase or be able to get a refund if your travel plans change, I’d recommend going through Orbitz. They have great deals, they show you the price including fees, and they do not charge you if you cancel your reservation. Usually, their prices are a little higher, but it might be worth it to pay a little to know what hotel you’re reserving ahead of time, and to not be charged if you cancel your reservation.

Four Tips to Save on Online Travel Deals

1. Choose a Package Deal

You will usually save a substantial amount of money by purchasing airfare, hotel rooms, and car rental as a package deal. In fact, it’s usually a savings of 50% or more off the retail price to go this route. And sometimes, it’s even greater savings than that!

Even if you don’t really need to rent a car, but it would be nice to have, it’s worth checking into. Many times, you’ll actually save money by renting a car—as opposed to just getting a hotel and flight package.

2. Be Flexible with Dates and Times

The more flexible you are, the more possibilities there are for you to score a great discount. When you’re searching online for deals, I recommend inputting different dates and times to see if there is a significant price difference. Oftentimes, just being willing to go 12-24 hours sooner or later, you’ll be able to save $300 or more per person on a package deal.

3. Use a Coupon Code

When you’ve chosen which package deal you’re interested in, do a quick search for a coupon code. You can find these codes listed on sites like RetailMeNot.com. You can’t always find a coupon code for the travel site you’re booking through, but it’s worth checking on if it will save you $50—as the coupon codes often do!

4. Shop Through a Cashback Site

After you’ve compared prices, found the best package deal, and applied a coupon code, the final way to save is to shop through a cashback site. Do not overlook this important savings tip! Considering that most travel packages are around $300 or more per person and Ebates offers at least 1-3% cashback on orders through Orbitz.com, Travelocity.com, and Hotwire.com, your cashback earnings on travel purchases can quickly add up to a nice little bonus savings!

How to Save Money on Travel

Call and Haggle for Your Hotel Price

Jesse loves to do this when we’re booking hotels. He’ll pick out a few hotels he’s interested in having us stay at and then he’ll call them and ask them for the best rate they can give us. We usually can’t get as great of rates as we can reserving the hotel online, but we almost always are able to get at least a 15-20% discount off the price they initially quote us.

Be sure to ask for any applicable discount that might apply to you (AAA membership, AARP, Military, etc.) and call knowing exactly what you’re willing to pay. If they aren’t willing to do it, call the next hotel on your list.

As always, though, be polite and courteous. There’s no need to get irritated at them if they aren’t willing to go down on the price. Many hotels have specific pricing policies and can’t go lower than a certain price point.

Sign Up For Groupon Deals

I love this idea that Kelli wrote about in her post on Using Groupon to Boost Your Vacation Budget:

As a reader of MoneySavingMom.com, there is a good chance you already enjoy the benefits of using Groupon. But have you considered using it to save money while on vacation?

Our family was recently planning a vacation and my cousin happened to send me a link to a mini-golf Groupon for one of the cities we’d be staying in. That triggered my mind, What if I signed up for the Groupon emails for those cities just until our vacation was over? I am so glad we did!

We love to eat out while we are on vacation and it is usually our main expense besides lodging. We like to try local places, and not stick with the chains. Groupon is great for that! For our vacation we not only bought vouchers for some local restaurants, but we also found a Groupon for a small local grocery store, where we were able to get ingredients for a few meals.

In addition, we found a Groupon for admission to a state park that saved us around $20. We also purchased a Groupon for an Imagination Movers show. With the four tickets we bought, we saved $84 from the at-the-door cost! Best of all, the kids loved it.

Read the full post for more tips.

Walk In and Ask For a Bargain

We’ve done this before and it does have some advantages, namely that you’re able to scope out the hotels and area ahead of time, instead of just relying upon pictures or information on the internet. You usually won’t get quite as low of a price as you could have by purchasing through Hotwire, this works well if you need some flexibility in your travel plans or plan something at the last minute.

I recommend that you decide on a price you are willing to pay per night and then pick out a few hotels in the area to go into and ask for a deal. This approach works especially well if you’re traveling in the middle of the week or off-season when hotels are quite empty and are often more than willing to work with you to give you a discounted price. If you were going somewhere during a busy season, this approach likely won’t be as successful.

organized-packing

Planning a roadtrip? Check out my series on How to Have a Successful Roadtrip With Young Children. Also, check out Jenifer’s post on How to Save on Meals While on Vacation.

If you’re more adventuresome than our family and love to camp, read Jackie’s post on How to Plan a Frugal Camping Trip.

Three Steps to Paying Cash for a Vacation

1. Set A Goal and Break It Down Into Bite-Sized Pieces

A lot of people want to go on paid-for vacations, but few actually sit down and make a plan to make it happen without debt. Do you want to go on a three-day road trip in six months from now or a week-long cruise in three years from now?

Either way, you need to sit down and figure out how much it is approximately going to cost (I recommend rounding up the amount you think it will cost in order to give you some wiggle room in case it ends up costing more than you’ve planned on.). Once you have a set figure for how much you plan to spend on your vacation, break that down into monthly and weekly savings goals.

Let’s say you want to go on a three-day road trip as a family in December. If you calculate that it will cost you $500 ($250 for hotel, $100 for gas, $150 for food + attractions) and you have around six months to save, than you’ll need to come up with an extra $84 each month or $21 each week.

2. Make a Plan of Action

Once you’ve figured out where you want to go, how much it is going to cost and how much you need to save each week, you can devise a plan of action. What specific actions are you going to take to save the money for your vacation?

If you don’t have extra money in your budget to divert to a special vacation savings, think of things you could cut from your budget to free up the necessary money. To take our previous example, if you have a goal to save $21 each week for your three-day December road trip, that could mean giving up dinner out each week or shaving that money off your grocery budget by using coupons or playing the Drugstore Game.

3. Put On Your Thinking Cap

If you feel like there’s no way you can squeeze any extra out of your budget or lower an of your expenses, there are still ways to save money for a vacation, if it’s something that’s really important to you. You could have a garage sale, sell some items you no longer need on Craigslist or eBay, mow lawns, babysit, take on a small cleaning job, start a side freelance business, teach classes… the possibilities are endless. Think about things you are good at or love to do and consider how you could earn extra income by investing a few hours each week into them.

When you set a goal, work hard, and finally reach it, it’s very rewarding and fulfilling. And you can enjoy your vacation without having to feel guilty or worry about how you are going to afford to pay for it later!

How does your family save money on travel?

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52 Different Ways to Save $100 Per Year: Limit Eating Out {Week 44}

Freezer Cooking

Every week, I’m sharing a different way you can save $100 this year. If you do all of these things, you’ll be able to save over $5,000 this year alone! Many of these things will likely be things you’re already doing, but hopefully all of you will pick up at least a few new ideas or some inspiration from this series.

This is one of those ideas that pretty much everyone knows: when you eat at home instead of eating out, you’re going to save money. However, it can be easier said than done — especially when you have busy schedules.

Here are some suggestions to make it easier to eat at home instead of falling back onto restaurant meals:

1. Calculate the Savings

Take a little time to review your budget and see how much you’ve spent on eating out over the last few months. Often, just reviewing these numbers will be enough to encourage you to consider cutting back — because the savings could help you pay down your debt more quickly or to put extra toward your current savings goals.

Freezer Cooking

Crystal from Serving Joyfully wrote a post on how they made the decision to stop eating out. Here’s what she says:

My husband and I live on a meager budget and are trying to get out of debt. We can’t afford all the meals out (we were spending our entire “spending money” budget, plus “borrowing” from other areas to fund it!)

So this year for Lent, we did something drastic — we stopped eating out.

While there are ways to save money when eating out, a meal out for a family of four will typically cost at least $10 for fast food, and $30 for most sit down restaurants. If you are like us, or like the typical American family, just cutting one meal out per week can save you $520-$1560 per year!

Read her full post for details on how they are saving $2600 per year by not eating out.

Freezer Cooking

2. Plan Ahead

Taking a little time on the weekends or at the beginning of the week to plan a menu can make a major difference in your success in eating at home more. Because when you have a plan, it’s a whole lot easier to actually work the plan. 🙂

When you have a plan and you have the groceries to carry out that plan, it’s a lot harder to justify ordering pizza at the last minute. I’m pretty sure most of us agree with this in theory, but we have to have more than good intentions if we want to follow through.

So find a set time every week to plan your menu and buy the groceries for it. Put it on your calendar and commit to sticking with it. Find an accountability partner or sign up for a menu plan service like eMeals, if need be.

And then plan ahead at the beginning of the day for what you’re going to make for dinner that evening. Set out the meat to thaw, do any early prep work you can do, dump the ingredients in the crockpot… think about what’s for dinner at breakfast time and you’ll be glad you did when it’s 5 p.m.

Freezer Cooking

3. Keep it Simple

One of the biggest pitfalls to being successful with eating at home is often planning meals that are too time and labor intensive. If you typically don’t have a lot of time and energy at the end of the day, don’t set yourself up for failure by choosing recipes that require a lot of effort.

I’m all about keeping it simple, as you can tell from our weekly menu plans. Why? Because I know that many evenings I’m pretty tired by the time dinner prep time rolls around. So the simpler I can make dinner prep, the better. If I have more time and energy, I can always make an additional recipe.

A few of my favorite really simple recipes are: Homemade Pizza, Italian Chicken, and Southwest Roll-Ups.

Freezer-Friendly Burritos

4. Use Your Freezer

I don’t know about you, but there are some days at our home when life whizzes by so quickly and all of a sudden, it’s 5 p.m. and dinner isn’t even a figment of my imagination. Before I started regularly cooking ahead and freezing meals, I’d be tempted to call my husband and ask him to bring something home for dinner.

Freezer cooking has solved the 5 p.m. “What’s-For-Dinner” panic. If I forget to pull something out earlier in the day, I’ll just pick a meal from my freezer stash that defrosts quickly — such as meatballs. I pair this with some frozen veggies, rice, and maybe a fruit salad. No one even has to know I forgot about dinner until 30 minutes before it was supposed to happen!

Freezer Cooking

I’ve found that doing mini half-hour or one-hour freezer cooking sessions works really well for this season of our life. And while I might not be making 20 or 30 meals at a time, by consistently cooking ahead once or twice a week, we always have some meals in the freezer for those busy days when I don’t have time or energy for cooking.

Instead of having to make meatloaf three times in six weeks, I just triple the recipe and make meatloaf once and stick the extra two dinners’ worth of meatloaf in the freezer. If I’m going to be making one meatloaf, I might as well double or triple the recipe saving me the effort and mess later on in the month. After all, it really doesn’t take but a few more minutes to make two extra batches of meatloaf — and the clean up time is pretty much the same!

Freezer Cooking

Freezer Cooking Links to Check Out:

5. Use Your Crockpot

It’s hard to say whether I love my crockpot or my bread machine more. Both of them are invaluable tools in my kitchen that I use again and again and again.

I love that I can stick the ingredients in the crock pot and then basically forget about it! Plus, there’s something so wonderful about smelling dinner simmering in the crockpot all day long!

Freezer Cooking

One great way to use your crock pot to make dinner preparations easy-peasy is to whip up some Crockpot Freezer Cooking meals:

6. Give Yourself Grace

One of the most important things I want to stress, though, is that you need to give yourself grace. If you have the wiggle room in your budget to eat out and it’s something that your family enjoys, I encourage you to budget it in. It can be a fun change of pace and it can be a nice break for mom, too.

Plus, when you budget it in, there is no guilt with enjoying eating out. Maybe that means you budget to go out to eat twice a week, once every other week, every six months, or not at all. Figure out what works for you and your family and then do it!

Freezer Cooking

Carmen from Life Blessons shares ways to save on eating out:

Eat out for lunch instead of dinner. Eating out for lunch can cost considerably less than when you eat out later in the evening. Plus, you’re usually not quite as hungry, so you eat less. That right there will cut down on your spending!

Instead of going out for entire meals, go out for treats.
One thing we’ve done to trim our spending is to go out for things like ice-cream or coffee, rather than full-fledged meals. Sure, you can have coffee or ice-cream at home, but when it scratches the eating-out itch at a fraction of the price, it can be well worth the splurge!

Read Carmen’s full post on how to spend less money eating out.

What advice and tips do you have for a family who wants to cut down on eating out?

52 Different Ways to Save $100 Per Year: Use a Programmable Thermostat {Week 43}

Each week for 52 weeks, I’m sharing a different way you can save $100 this year. If you do all of these things, you’ll be able to save over $5,000 this year alone! Many of these things will likely be things you’re already doing, but hopefully all of you will pick up at least a few new ideas or some inspiration from this series.

One great way to save a significant amount of money is to use a programmable thermostat. Here’s what Melody emailed in and said:

We save quite a bit of money by using my programmable thermostat wisely!

They say you can save about 10% off your heating bill by lowering the temp 3-4 degrees (this applies to your cooling bill in the summer, too). Of course, we keep our programmable thermostat cooler at night and during times we are out of the house, but I also have another trick I use for all day when I’m home. I keep the thermostat set for 62 degrees and then give myself permission to bump it up if I’m too cold.

I find about half the time I don’t even notice that it’s set so low, and if I do, it’s often in the afternoon so it’s only set higher for an hour or two. By starting at 62 degrees instead of 68 degrees I estimate that in our cold climate we save well over $100 a year! -Melody

Want to lower your house temperatures, but don’t want to feel freezing all the time? Here are some simple suggestions:

1. Stay Active

Clean your house, chase your kiddos around, do some jumping jacks, or walk up and down the stairs a few times. Get your heartrate pumping and you’ll forget that you turned the thermostat down!

Door Sixteen shows you how to make a homemade door stop to keep the draft out.

2. Drink Hot Tea

I love a cup of hot tea with a splash of milk and honey! And it’s a great way to warm your insides up on a cold day.

3. Bake Something

Spend some time baking something yummy in your kitchen and you’ll warm yourself — and your house! — up in the process. Plus, you’ll have some delicious, fresh-from-the-oven food to eat, too! 🙂

4. Wear Socks

Anytime we’re cold, my first suggestion is to put some socks on. If your feet are warm, it usually helps the rest of your body to stay warm.

5. Put on Extra Layers

Instead of turning the thermostat up, put another layer on. We all have hoodies that we wear in the winter — often over another two layers — and it’s amazing how warm these keep you!

I loved this idea from Jody who blogs at Because I’m Me:

For a long time, I’ve been on my kids to turn the lights off, unplug things we’re not using, close the doors, take shorter showers, etc. They were tired of hearing it and weren’t listening.

One day a light bulb went on in the brain and I presented my children with the following offer: Each month the electric bill was below $190 they’d get the dollar amount the bill was below $190 (i.e.: if the bill were $180 they’d get $10). That money would go towards a party, be it candy, ice cream, cake, pizza, chips, whatever they could buy with that money. I never buy food like that, so it would be a real treat for them.

The first month the bill was still up there around $200, an encouraging improvement but not what they needed.

By the second month, the bill was only $162. Yup, almost $65 less than usual! Not too shabby. And it gave them $28 to blow on junk food. I never expected them to get it as low as that!

In addition to a lower electric bill, my children were able to learn valuable lessons. For example, how to budget that $28 to get the best bang for their buck while pleasing all six kids.

They opted to purchase store brand soda, inexpensive ice cream, lots of buy one, get one free items, use coupons, and to pass on some items that were just too expensive. When all was said and done they managed to have enough junk food for one fine party and many days of treats afterward, and they contributed $10 to a dinner of Chinese take-out!

Last week one of my sons said he wished we’d get an electric bill every day so he could keep track of the amount of the bill throughout the month. I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity for a “teachable moment”, so out came the electric bill, an explanation of how to read the meter and a brief “field trip” to the side of the house where the meter is. Now he can check every day, do the multiplication and addition and see if we’re staying on track.

We are now four months into this deal and the interest has not waned!Jody

Related: 7 Tips to Reduce Your Heating Bill

How do you keep your heating bills lower? What are your best tricks for staying warm without turning up the heat?

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52 Different Ways to Save $100 Per Year: Make Your Own Snacks {Week 42}

Homemade Energy BitesHomemade Energy Bites

Each week for 52 weeks, I’m sharing a different way you can save $100 this year. If you do all of these things, you’ll be able to save over $5,000 this year alone! Many of these things will likely be things you’re already doing, but hopefully all of you will pick up at least a few new ideas or some inspiration from this series.

One way to save a lot of money is to make your own snacks. Not only are they often much more delicious than pre-packaged snacks, but they are usually much healthier for you!

8 Quick & Easy Homemade Snack Ideas

  1. Hard-Boiled Eggs
  2. Veggies
  3. Fruit
  4. Homemade Yogurt in the Crockpot
  5. Homemade Instant Oatmeal Packets
  6. Popcorn
  7. Homemade Crockpot Pear or Applesauce Sauce
  8. Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothies

Southwest Roll-Ups

8 Freezer-Friendly Snack Ideas

When you have a free day or a laid-back weekend, use some of that time to make meals and parts of meals to stick in your freezer. Things like homemade popsicles, homemade gogurts, homemade cookie dough, homemade muffins, and homemade smoothie kits are great to have on hand.

  1. Freezer-Friendly Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches
  2. Freezer-Friendly Banana Bread
  3. Easy Morning Glory Muffins
  4. Homemade Energy Bites
  5. Brown Bag Burritos
  6. Homemade Pizza Pockets
  7. Southwest Roll-ups
  8. Best Ever Chocolate Oatmeal Bars

Check out my list of 5 Freezer-Friendly Snacks + a Printable Grocery List

Bag Your Own Snacks

Bag Your Own Snacks

Tip submitted by Heather from Creative Family Moments

Food goes fast at my house, especially handy to-go snacks. A bag of chips? Forget about it. It’ll be gone before I can sneak a handful.

A baked pan of brownies? The smell lingers but I think I only got a taste test.

Pistachios? The bag is left for me, full of shells.

Part of the problem is that we decided long ago that we wanted our house to be a welcoming place for the kids’ friends. We made that decision when they were preschoolers. It was a no-brainer then.

Now that they are teen, tween, and elementary, these kids and their friends can eat! Afternoons, weekends, and summer means I see many pairs of hopeful eyes looking up at me before they ask, “Is there something I can have for a snack?”

Homemade Fabric Snack Bag

Want to reduce your plastic bag usage? Lucy from Fly Away Home shows you how to make a fabric snack bag.

It was worth it though, for the relationships. Yet, packing cold lunches was my breaking point. Sending three kiddos and one husband off to school and work with a cold lunch meant I needed some handy to-go foods that would actually stick around long enough to make it into the thermal bags!

Snack bags came to the rescue! On sale (and/or with coupon!) I can get a pack of 100 snack bags for under two dollars. So when I bake brownies, I instantly cut them up, set aside a few for dessert, and store them in snack bags (Hide them immediately for later use!).

Find pistachios on sale? Sweet! I split up the serving portions and store them. Any special treat that goes on sale with a handy coupon (like the free Skittles I got awhile ago), I’ve learned to split up immediately so they’ll last.

I have happy kids, and a happy husband, because they have treats and good snacks that are already in serving size bags and inhibit mindless eating. It helps food last much longer and thereby saves me money and sanity!

Create a Snack Bin

If you have a snack time every day, take a little time on the weekends to put together a snack bin. This will save you having to even think about what to serve for snack. In fact, you can just tell your kids to go pick out something from the snack bin!

Make Your Own SnacksBest Ever Chocolate Oatmeal Bars

Looking for more snack ideas? Check out this post on Quick & Inexpensive Snack Ideas.

What are some of your family’s favorite homemade snacks?

52 Different Ways to Save $100 Per Year: Brown Bag It {Week 41}

52 Different Ways to Save $100 per Year

At the beginning of every week in 2013, I’ll be sharing a different way you can save $100 this year. If you do all of these things, you’ll be able to save over $5,000 this year alone! Many of these things will likely be things you’re already doing, but hopefully all of you will pick up at least a few new ideas or some inspiration from this series.

Since we’ve been married, we’ve saved thousands of dollars alone just by packing sack lunches. While Jesse was in law school and we were living on a beans-and-rice budget, brown-bagging it was a must as there was no way we could afford even eating off the dollar menu on a regular occurrence.

But even though we brown-bagged it out of necessity, we found lots of ways to make it easy and yummy — so it really didn’t feel like a sacrifice. Plus, the money we saved made it every bit worth it!

How Much Can You Save?

If you’re willing to put in a little time to plan ahead so you have the necessary food on hand and then to take a few minutes every evening or morning to put together a sack lunch, the return on this small investment of time can be quite remarkable.

In fact, I figured out that most of the lunches I’ve packed for my husband cost anywhere between $0.75 to $1.50 each (remember, that’s mostly because I’ve shop the sales, used coupons, and stocked up on items when they are at their lowest prices!). A lunch at a fast food restaurant is likely going to cost at least $4-$5 at a minimum.

Based upon these calculations, it is very safe to say that packing a lunch has saved us at least $3 per day. Over the course of the year, that’s $750 saved!

And that’s a low figure. If someone is eating out at nicer restaurants most days and spending $7-$12 per lunch, the savings are significantly higher!

In addition to the savings, there’s also the added benefit of homemade lunches also often being much more healthful for you as well–especially when compared with fast food meals.

Amber emailed in and shared how they were saving $200+ per year by packing lunches:

We save $200+ a year by packing my son’s lunch for school. The daily lunch at our school costs $2.15, so for the 180-day school year, the cost of buying lunch is $387.00!

I have found that I am easily able to pack my son’s lunch including a healthy entree, salty side, fruit and “treat” for no more than $1 a day. I’m blessed that he prefers his filled water bottle to a more expensive drink, however, even adding a drink would still have significant savings over the purchase price.

This year we will save about $200 (I’m figuring there will probably be 10 lunches that will end up being purchased over the course of the year). Yahoo! Given the potential savings, I decided I would purchase a thermal entree container to send his favorite leftovers. It will be a $3.99 well spent.

Brown Bag It & Save!

And Illysa wrote and said she figured they were saving $225 per year by packing lunches:

My children’s school charges $2.75 a day for lunch. That works out to be about $495 each school year (per child).

Since I’ve never been pleased with the school lunch options (a typical week at my child’s school looks like this: tacos, pizza, spaghetti, grilled cheese, nachos… ugh!), I decided to make sure my kids had a healthy, delicious lunch packed for them each day. It takes a little extra time each evening, but it’s worth it!

Entrees:

– Homemade pizza. An entire cheese pizza can be made for about $5. A slice in the lunchbox would cost about $0.60.
– Quiche Cup: (Can be made in a cupcake tin) A dozen eggs and a brick of cheese can make 12 quiche cups. The cost per cup is about $0.30.
– PB&J Sandwich: Costs about $0.35 to make at home.

Sides:

Organic baby carrots go on sale at my grocery store for $0.49 a bag. They run this sale about once a month. I always stock up, because one bag lasts me a week. That’s only $0.10 a day! It’s a perfect side item in the lunchbox!

Crackers can be found for about $2 a box (without coupons). One box should last about 2 weeks. That’s only $0.20 a day. Cheese bricks often go on sale for $2. You could slice it up and add it to the crackers. One 8 oz brick lasts me about one week. Only $0.40
a day.

Yogurt easily found on sale for $0.50 each.

You can easily put together a combination of these items for $1.50. And you can search through your stockpile to find items that might be even cheaper. At $1.50 a day, you’ll save $225 over the course of the school year. -Illyssa

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Download a free lunch box planner printable from A Little Delightful.

Sanity-Saving Sack Lunch Ideas:

One thing that has helped me in packing lunches is to divvy up serving-size portions of muffins and cookies in baggies and stick them in the freezer. Then, when I’m packing lunches, I can just pull a few of these baggies out to add to the lunch and round things out.

Baggies of muffins and cookies are also great to have on hand for when we’ll be out and about running errands. Being prepared with our own food means we divert the urge to make a quick stop through the drive thru!

I’ve also found that doing sack lunch prep the night before makes it so much easier. For some reason, I’m much more motivated and creative at nighttime than I am most mornings. Take a few minutes after dinner to figure out what you’ll be packing the next morning and even get as much as possible ready. You’ll never regret this in the morning!

If you’d like to pack lunches for your kids, but just don’t have the time to do it on busy school mornings, here’s a great idea from KJ:

I have four children, including a newborn. I drive my older two children to school so all of us need to be ready to go in the morning.

In order to make the mornings go smoother, I wanted to have my two school-aged children pack their own lunches. I also wanted a variety in their lunches and not all cheese sticks :-)

So I posted this on the fridge:

  • (1) sandwich/granola bar/bread or muffin
  • (1) fruit/veggie/yogurt/cheese
  • (1) drink
  • (1) cracker
  • (1) dessert
  • Have your lunch packed by 7:45
  • Pray before you eat
  • Have a great day!

On the weekends, I will bag the desserts and crackers. I then put the baggies in a large bag labeled desserts or crackers in the pantry. I make the PB&J sandwiches (put in freezer), and bag the fruit or veggies. I will also make the granola bars or homemade muffins. There is also a shelf in the fridge that is “their shelf”. That is where we keep the drinks, fruit, homemade applesauce, etc… for their lunches.

I timed it once and that whole process from start to finish took me 20 minutes! Much quicker than trying to put everything together in the mornings.

I like it because it is one less thing I have to do in the mornings. They like it because they can choose what they put in their lunch that day. It works well for us!

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One quick & easy way we’ve sped up sack lunch preparations is by making up a bunch of Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches for the freezer. Looking for more make-ahead sack lunch ideas? Check out my Lunchbox Freezer Cooking series.

Need some more budget-friendly sack lunch ideas? Check out the comments on this post.

Do you pack lunches? Why or why not?

photo credit; photo credit