Making Lunch Can Save You $1,800 per Year

Q: We started the fall with plans to spend less on convenience items, but now we're so busy we've gone back to our old habits. Our budget is going to burst if we keep this up -- what can you suggest?

A: Many families start September with sweeping changes. But once the reality of everyone's busy schedules sinks in, many households go back to old habits and abandon new plans.

Unfortunately, convenience often costs a lot more than planning ahead. Convenience expenses that can burst a budget include entertainment, transportation, utility bundles -- such as communication packages -- and eating out.

Spending $8 each weekday on lunch and a bottle of water adds up to more than $1,800 a year. If you're also giving kids $10 a day for food at school, your family's annual lunch expenses have just doubled to an amazing $3,600.

Finding time to make lunches for everyone in your household is a key budget-booster. Start by planning your dinner meals so you have enough for leftovers. Freeze them for grab-and-go lunches or as homemade TV dinners. You'll save money by buying in bulk, eating at home and using up the groceries that you buy. Chances are your food choices will also be healthier than when you eat on the go. Bring you own bottle of water and you'll be even farther ahead.

Healthy food and finance choices mean less stress and more energy to spend on what's important. What could you do with an extra $3,000 a year? Pay off debt, go on vacation, save toward a long-term goal? Balancing some eating out with planning ahead will not only help keep your budget from bursting, it's also a less drastic change that's easier to stick to in the long run.

Make small changes that everyone can participate in, and you'll successfully break your bad budget habits.