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Snack Happy? Cut Back!

As I continue my rant on grocery spending, I thought I would devote an entire article to snack foods.  When I went over my grocery budget with a fine-toothed comb, I found that I was spending a large portion of my monthly budget on snacks.  I like to think that I was being conscientious about the snacks I was buying, of course, but they still ran the bill up very quickly.  Even if we only bought snack items for the kids’ lunches, a box of granola bars that I might have found on sale for $2 a box only has 6 bars in it.  With three kids, that’s only two days worth of granola bars for their lunches.  To get through a month, if I wanted to have a granola bar in their lunch box every day, I would have to buy ten boxes.  Even on sale for $2 a box, that’s $20 just on granola bars.  

Let’s take a look at another one of their favorite snacks, cheesy fish crackers…or bunnies or whatever they fancied at the time.  If the typical box of cheese crackers contains 7 ounces and I am able to parcel out a little over an ounce to each child, that is once again only two days worth of cheese crackers.  When I found these on sale, they usually ran about $3.50 per box, so using the same numbers as above, I would have to purchase roughly ten boxes to get us through a month of lunches which equates to $35 on snack crackers!

Another favorite among American kids these days is fruit snacks.  A box of fruit snacks can probably be found on sale for about $1-$2 per box, but there are only about 5-6 pouches in each box.  If I err on the high side and assume they run $2 per box of six, I’m back up to $20 for the month for these fruit snacks.  

Between granola bars, cheese crackers and fruit snacks, I have just spent $75 on snacks for the month.  Of course, that is also assuming that I found them on a good sale and they are only going into the kids’ lunch boxes, not being eaten as snacks after school or on weekends.

If I were to buy these items at their regular retail price, I might spend closer to $85-$90 per month and realistically, they will probably raid the pantry after school which means I will need to compensate for that, too.  

I’m thinking this would drive the cost up to about $100 per month for granola bars, cheese crackers, fruit snacks.  And, I have only scratched the surface when it comes to all the snacks that we like to pack into our kids’ lunch boxes or have available to them outside of school.  I didn’t even include chips, fruit cups, mini veggie trays with dip, the cute little boxes of raisins, fruit leather, juice boxes, yogurt, trail mix, etc.  You can see how a grocery budget would get out of hand very quickly with these shopping habits.

We have to eat, of course, but we don’t have to buy these items in pre-packaged portions either.  For some reason, we will spend more for items that are already packaged and ready to toss into the lunch box when it just takes a few extra minutes to package these things up ourselves.  Not only do we have more control over the portions when we package them ourselves, but we reduce our cost significantly, too.  

Rather than relying on the manufacturing companies to package our snacks for us and then charge us an arm and a leg to do it, run over to the dollar store and pick up a box of snack-size zipper bags.  While you are there, you can also pick up small containers with snap-on lids for things like applesauce, yogurt, or dip.  Now, rather than buying the smaller prepared cups of yogurt and applesauce buy a large container of it and dispense it into the smaller containers yourself.  If you have a kitchen scale and you are so inclined, weigh out the portions you would like your kids to have.  You can use the serving size on the bag or box as a guide.  For instance, if a serving size is one ounce and that equates to 12 pretzels, count out 12 pretzels.

Eventually, I scaled back the snack items further by eliminating the crackers, pretzels, and cookies.  Even if you do buy them in larger packages and pare them down yourself, they don’t have much essential nutrient content so I decided to stop buying them altogether.  Now my kids’ snacks consist of fruits, vegetables, dried fruit (raisins or craisins), nuts or sunflower seeds, and granola that I make from scratch.  There are two snack items I will buy that I cannot prepare myself and those are tortilla chips and popcorn (in kernel form, of course).  

I also rarely buy juice or juice boxes, although you could buy juice in the larger jugs and pour it into portable water bottles.  I couldn’t justify the cost because they guzzled it down so fast and here in Arizona, the kids really need to be drinking water, plain and simple.  I have recently started to purchase a sports drink in powdered form for days when they are participating in sports or playing outside in the excessive heat.  Our pediatrician highly recommended having this on hand due to our brutal climate and the dangers associated with not being well hydrated while participating in outdoor activities.

I have to admit that snacks were one of the more difficult areas of our grocery budget to cut back, but we did eventually settle into more budget-friendly habits and, I would venture, healthier ones as well.  

As you can see, curtailing spending requires leaving no stone unturned.  If you are really serious about bringing your grocery spending down, keep trying.  Most likely there is money hidden in there somewhere that is putting a strain on your finances.  Don’t give up until you find it.  It is my hope that these tips will help you do that or inspire you to come up with some of your own money saving ideas based on your unique circumstances.  If you have ideas you would like to share, email me at mailto:Info@compasscatholic.org

Cutting back on something kids love is not easy, but it is worth the effort: “Moreover, that all can eat and drink and enjoy the good of all their toil—this is a gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 3:13 (NABRE)

…The Simple Steward

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