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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!


– 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.


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


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!


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

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  • Jennifer says:

    My husband has packed a lunch for years. He is a creature of habit and I can pack him the same lunch for a year or more! Right now it is salad with chicken/cranberries/walnuts, greek yogurt with granola and 2 Nature Valley protein bars. He drinks water from a reusable bottle. Even if none of the above are “on sale” it is still under $18 a week versus $35 it would take buying fast food daily! That is a savings of $884 a year. Wow, it is crazy when you acutally do the math. I won’t complain about the “expensive” granola bars anymore:) My children are homeschooled so we just eat whatever there is on hand.

  • Meredith says:

    Well, for my husband, I pack his lunch everyday unless there is a company provided lunch or he needs to take out an associate (which is rare). For my daughter, she is in Kindergarten and two times a month, we look at the school menu and she can pick the two days to eat in the cafeteria. I think it’s important at times not to worry about a few cents to give our kids independence in choosing their own food. She gets to feel all grown up when she does this. Our school is $1.75 a meal and we have won an award for excellence in food service. Today she had a 100% ground beef burger on a whole wheat bun with cheddar, peas, watermelon, mango, and 1% milk (FYI, yes, this is public school). I couldn’t have made that and she got a treat. However, I do agree that brown bagging it is better budget-wise.

  • Chris says:

    What type of carpet cleaner do you have?

  • Ericka Lewis says:

    I don’t like the school options that much either, although they have gotten much better since my son started first grade 6 years ago. I like to pack a hot lunch most of the time so I bought a thermos (old style or character ones are cheaper at Amazon) and pack leftovers from dinner most of the time. If I don’t happen to have any leftovers I usually pack a sandwich. I let the kids pick once a week to eat at school, but figure I do save a lot of money that way. My motivation is more nutrition though rather than savings.

  • Maureen says:

    Do people actually eat the lunches that they make their kids pack? Because frankly, the suggested lunches don’t look all that appetizing. I’m not going to make my kid eat something that I wouldn’t also eat for the sake of saving $2 per week in her school lunches. On the other hand, I’m a big believer in brown baggin’ it for adults, because there isn’t a $2.40 lunch option for us.

    • Ann says:

      You can base what you pack on what your child likes; it’s even better if *they* help shop and pack. One of my kids eats the same thing every day; the other likes more variety. 100 Days of Real Food posts her children’s lunches daily if you want some more ideas; she regularly sends soup, homemade lunchables, apple sandwiches (apple slices instead of bread), left overs, etc.

    • Amy says:

      Yes, I usually eat lunch that is a hodge podge of snacky items.
      I love a lunch of cheese/crackers, fruit, yogurt, etc. My kids do, too.

    • Ashley P says:

      I not only ate those things as a kid, I ate it all through high school, and still eat it now. 🙂

  • This is true. Eating out during lunch is convenient but it definitely comes with a price. When you pack your lunch and snacks, you can have more servings of your favorite food without spending more than your budget. If you have a whole family that packs food to work or school, you can buy ingredients and items for your menu in bulk and you would be able to save more.

    • DorianA says:

      What a great article. I’ve been packing lunch for a while now. The key for me is getting a diversity of products and changing the menu here and there. It’s also better compared to the options you have to purchase lunch, not only the price but also the quality.
      A home made lunch is always much healthier.

  • Ashley P says:

    Hubby and I have ALWAYS packed out lunches. The cafeteria here charges outrageous prices, and their offerings are pretty…bleh.

    I usually take 2-3 sandwiches (I’m still breastfeeding so I need extra calories) each day. Today I have chicken breast and cheese. I also have a cup and a half of trail mix that I nosh on throughout the day. A chocolate peanut butter bar is my only indulgence. I get them pretty cheap at Aldi’s. I refill my water bottle at the fountain several times a day. I usually have some kind of fruit (apple slices or bananas, mostly. I buy fruit for my son’s baby food and eat whatever’s left over after I make a week’s worth of jars.) I’ve also taken yogurt, pudding, fruit cups when I can get them on sale. depends on my mood.

    I’m not afraid to take leftovers from last night’s dinner, either. A Tupperware of taco salad or chicken casserole will fill me up for a couple of hours so I don’t need to snack as often. 🙂

  • Tammy says:

    My husband has always taken his own lunch to work. What I do is ensure that there are enough leftovers from dinner for him to take to work the next day. He prefers leftovers over sandwiches so this is an easy option for us.

    • Sherri says:

      We do the same thing. Sometimes I have to snag his lunch first, before my kids dig into dinner, or there wouldn’t be anything left!

      My kids pack their own lunches- sandwich, granola bar, yogurt if we have it, fruit (if mom makes them), or whatever else we have on hand. Their lunches are similar from day to day, but they always eat all of it. School lunches are not appealing to them.

      • Andrea says:

        My 7 year old daughter came to me a couple weeks asking me if she could bring her own lunch to school. I started thinking of all the hustle of having to make her lunch every day but after reading this post and because its very true that homemade lunch is much more healtier and cheaper.

    • Becky says:

      I do the same thing for myself. I’m single, but enjoy cooking, so I have lots of leftovers. We have a refrigerator and microwave at work, so it is easy to store and reheat most foods. Not only does it cost less, but I actually prefer eating my leftovers to running out to grab something. A few weeks ago, I forgot my lunch and was grumbling that I “had” to run out and pick something up! 🙂

  • Ashlee says:

    We pack my husbands lunch three times a week at least. We are lucky he has a company run cafeteria which provides healthy inexpensive options on the days we don’t manage to pack. My son’s school isn’t much more though to buy. $260 for the year for healthy lunches (whole wheat, new veggies each month). Where we live groceries are very expensive. A loaf of bread is at least $3 for the cheap kind.

  • Sarah in Alaska says:

    Great suggestions and ideas all around. My husband and I take dinner leftovers for our lunches, and for those mornings when everything goes wrong, we have canned soup waiting for us at work.

  • Marybeth says:

    This may seem ridiculous to ask, but do kids eat these lunchable pizzas cold?? I’ve checked the recipes and reviews and nobody mentions heating it up. Not sure my almost 6 yr old son wd enjoy cold fixin’s on a thawed pizza crust…

  • Katie says:

    We pack my husband’s lunch every night, but we struggle with what to bring b/c he likes variety. He gets really sick of pb&j, turkey sandwiches, or hard boiled eggs, but he is out and about all day and does not have access to a microwave to heat up leftovers. Some of you mentioned thermoses, but do those actually keep the food hot enough for the 5 or so hours before he would eat it? Is there any particular kind that works best?

    • Pamela says:


      For a thermos to be effectively for the amount of hours that you are talking about, you have to preheat it. Boil water in a kettle on the stove while you are heating up his food. Pour the boiling water into the thermos and let it sit in the thermos for a full minute. Once the thermos is preheated, use the water for something else or pour it down the sink. Immediately put the hot food/soup/liquid into the thermos, and it is ready to go.

  • Jenny in UT says:

    Here is a list of sack lunches. One can never have too many ideas — though I am really, really happy with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day. 🙂

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