Four frugal alternatives to your kids’ school beverages

There are plenty of healthy and cheap options to keep your kids hydrated at school.

If your student will have access to free and reduced price meals this school year, he or she will have access to fresh milk. This will help save on the budget and provide a healthy alternative to high sugar drinks. However, under the Michigan Department of Education’s food guidelines, it is still permissible to bring food and pop or another soft drink to school. Doing a random search through the local grocery store weekly flyer you may often discover pop, energy drinks or bottled water on sale. In fact in a recent search of a major Michigan grocer’s flyer one could by a 24 pack of 12 oz. cans of cola and other flavors for as little as 35₵ a can (which includes a 10₵ per can deposit). However, there can be as much as 11 teaspoons of added sugar (approximately 25 grams) in a 12 oz. soda – nearly twice the recommended daily amount and equal to an orange, 16 strawberries and 2 plums according to sugarscience.org. A 20 oz. energy drink has nearly as much. However, most energy drinks tout a 20 oz. bottle as 2 servings. What child drinks only half the bottle?

Leaving the health concerns aside, how do the numbers add up? If we use the conservative sales prices to do our calculations:

  • 35₵ X 180 days of instruction X two children in school = $126 (Dollars) a school year. If your children bring soda to school through K-12, assuming no price increases and only using sale prices you could spend over $1,600 (Dollars) just on soda!
  • 50₵ X 180 X two children = $180 (Dollars) a school year for a 20 oz. energy drink bought at today’s sale prices. This is the equivalent of over $2,300 (Dollars) for your two children’s school career.
  • 15₵ X 180 X two children = $54 (Dollars) per school year for a 16.9 oz. bottle of water at frequent sales prices, or $702 over their school career.

Even change adds up and if you do not buy at the sales price, it really adds up. If you were to pay $1.29 per 20 oz. can of soda (not an uncommon price) plus the 10₵ can deposit and you drank 5 sodas per week, you would end up spending over $360 (Dollars) per year. What frugal alternatives do you have?

  • First, plan your purchases ahead of time. If your child needs or wants to bring a beverage to school, take a look at the school calendar and determine how much you will need each week. Look for sales and purchase in pre-packaged quantities and resist making single purchases at the local convenient store or gas station. You could be spending more than 3 times as much per can or bottle.
  • Second, consider your child’s sugar consumption. Buy these drinks only when they are on sale. Read the labels and determine how many grams of sugar are added to your child’s beverage of choice and consider splitting the drink into two portions using an approved container. Read the article Obesity is a Money Problem for more information on the link to nutrition and increased health costs.
  • Third, consider bottled water over soda. Using the calculations above, even bottle water is less expensive than soda or energy drinks. An even less expensive choice is to purchase water by the gallon and fill your child’s water bottle every day.
  • Finally, think free! Water is still free at school. However, like some municipal water from your taps, the taste may not be up to your child’s standards or you may worry about water sources. Check the prices for milk at your child’s school. If they cannot get it for free, they may be able to purchase it at a reasonable price.

Planning ahead can save money, especially in regard to your children’s beverages. However, making financial changes and saving money is difficult. Sometimes it helps to have help from a professional. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu.

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