Finances & Money

I’m Putting My High School Student On A Lunch Budget!

lunch budget, school lunch, teens and budgeting

In just a few days my son will be starting his junior year of high school. He’s about to embark upon the journey of a new school year where he’ll be taking new classes, making new friends, and making new memories. There’s something else new that he’ll be dealing with this school year.

My son will be on a lunch budget.

When I was in high school, we didn’t have the choices that he has. There was simply lunch. That’s it. My son’s high school cafeteria looks more like a restaurant. They have the base hot lunch, but they also have several other options to choose from. Sometimes my son eats the base lunch, sometimes he chooses one of the options. Sometimes he eats the base lunch plus gets some ice cream, or an extra drink to take with him for the afternoon.

His first two years in high school I took the approach that I wanted him to be able to get whatever he needs to satisfy the hunger of a growing teenage boy. But throughout his sophomore year I started seeing days where he would buy upwards of $8 to $10 worth of food (I can see how much he spends, and what he buys through an online tool). I’m all for him getting his fill, but I also have to be mindful of my own budget. So, this year there’s going to be a limit regarding how much I’m willing to fund his lunch account.

Every two weeks I will electronically deposit $35 into his lunch account. The standard hot lunch cost is $2.35. Ten school days will eat (pun intended) $23.50 of his lunch money leaving him with $11.50 worth of extra money to use as he pleases.  Looking at it another way, he can spend an average of $3.50 a day.

If he uses up all of his $35 of lunch money before the two weeks is up, he must buy his own lunch using his own funds. My suggestion is that he digs his wallet out of his pocket to pay anything over $3.50 in any given day.

He will have to watch the balance of his lunch account, and make choices accordingly. I told him that my responsibility is to put $35 into his account every two weeks, he has to take it from there. This will give him a different perspective, and a better understanding as to how much food costs. By making him use his own money for any overages, he will be forced to really think about each purchase, ensuring that they are the best use of the funds he has available.

What do you think, clever friends, would you put your school aged kids on a lunch budget?

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About the author

Brock Kernin

12 Comments

  • I think even $35 every two weeks is pretty generous for school lunches! When I was growing up I brought my lunch every day because it was both healthier and substantially less expensive than eating at school. Maybe bringing lunch on occasion would work for you son?

  • Our junior and senior high students each have $40 every two weeks to eat on. If they go above that then there is lunch meat and bread they can take for the rest. We often had the problem of she/he deciding pizza, pop, and a cookie was the daily grind.

    That’s all well and good until they realize the outrageous prices for the *good* food they wanted rather than the balanced standard meal. Bringing in your own sandwich isn’t cool and they learned to budget very quickly.

  • We started doing this for the kids in elementary school. Apparently we had a “progressive” school in that they could buy a la carte items AFTER they’d bought the standard lunch. As a lunch aide, I was seeing full trays of food being thrown out just because they had to be purchased in order to buy the junk. We actually set up their food budget so they couldn’t buy lunch every day so that they had to decide which days to pack lunch from home. Once they realized they could use this lunch money for other things, like popcorn at the movies or a treat at Target, they never bought lunch again!

  • We put our son on a budget when he started 8th grade and his school had open campus for lunch. He got $80 a month for lunch – I didn’t care if he spent it all on steak for his friends in one day or went to the supermarket and bought bread, peanut butter & jelly and pocketed the rest of the money. But no matter what choices he made, there was no more money until the 1st of the month. We never had a problem. He learned how to budget and I didn’t have to worry about having $2, $3 or $4 in cash to give him each day for lunch.

  • Our plan is to have the primary method for lunches be that our kids bring them more often than they buy. I think it creates healthier options and also sets a good lesson for frugality in terms of spending on food.

  • @Ali- He certainly could bring his own lunch….but he likes the food at school. I figure it’s a good way for him to have a meal outside the “regular home rotation” as well. As the first week of the school year is now over, it appears that he is actually not eating at school every day. As a Junior, he can leave campus with his friend and go somewhere to eat. At that point he has to spend his own money anyway….but that’s his choice!

  • @Dan – Sounds like a lesson my son would learn pretty quickly too….although he’d probably just go out to eat with his friends – if he had money that is….

  • @MoneyBeagle – I don’t disagree – my son used to bring cold lunch every now and then – but he got super bored with the same stuff all the time. Now, if the school would supply microwaves for kids to heat things up that would help!

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