School Lunches

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IMG_8372I often hear parents lamenting the cost of school lunches and feeling that they must fund a daily school-purchased lunch for their child. We have an approach to school lunches that has worked well for us. We started this when our kids were in elementary school and it still applies today as teenagers. Our school district has lunch accounts for each student. At the beginning of each school year, we fund each account with enough money to give the student one “hot lunch” per week. We always have food available at home for making lunches, so our kids have the option of packing a lunch or buying it at school. This has been an interesting study in finances. At the beginning of the school year, the kid may look at all the money in the account and choose to treat everyone in the lunchroom to pizza for a week. Or they may ration the money out so it spreads evenly throughout the year. Or some combination of the two. At the end of the school year, if there is money left over in the account, the student gets that money. We have one son who, for the past few years, has blown through the money in the first month or so, and then had to fund the account himself for the remainder of the school year. For him, buying lunch in the school cafeteria is important enough that he will do extra chores around the house in order to fund that habit. Another son has learned that bringing in leftovers for lunch is well worth the effort. We let the kids have total autonomy on this. We don’t ever pack their lunches for them, and we keep to the initial budget and do not add more funding throughout the year. We feel this system offers a nice long-term budgeting exercise with a direct impact on the student. The frugal side of me also loves that the kids learn that dining out (even if it’s just school cafeteria food!) is really a privilege, and not something to be taken for granted.

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