Pack a Lunch, Save a Wallet (not to mention your health)

Christmas has come and gone, but the holiday traveling season is still going strong. Today I’m visiting my brother—a day’s drive away—and soon I’m headed to see some extended family—another full day of driving. Typically, this would mean a couple trips through the drive-thrus of those artery-clogging, oft-hated (yet oft-eaten-at) fast-food joints. Occasionally, we’d stop in a café or diner (also artery-clogging), though it wouldn’t be long before my lead-foot boyfriend was itching to get back on the road to make good time.

But on this road trip, inspired by our enormous supply of Christmas leftovers and our quest for speed, we packed our own food. And for the first time I can remember, we actually stuck to our plan and ate it.

Maybe it’s the economy that finally knocked some sense into us. Sure, Mickey D’s has a dollar menu, but fast-food adds up when you eat it three times a day. Between the two of us, a fast-food breakfast, lunch and dinner would be at least $30. Still cheap compared to sit-down restaurants—which could set you back about that much per meal, not per day—but it’s $30 you don’t have to spend.

We packed bread, peanut butter and jelly, cheese and crackers, nuts, granola, apples that didn’t make it into pies, fruit baskets we got as gifts and, for dessert, tons of Christmas cookies (thanks, Mom!). We also brought our morning coffee in mugs to thwart the siren call of Starbucks.

This killed two (actually, three) birds with one stone. First, we saved money. It probably cost about $2 a day to eat our supplies. Second, we saved time. We didn’t have to wait in line, or for the waiter to bring the check. Yeah, we stopped for gas and to stretch our legs, but it was on our own time. Lastly, we saved our health (not counting the cookies—but everyone needs a treat in moderation, right?). I never feel good about packing away the fried food while I’m on vacation, but I eat it for convenience (that’s my excuse, anyway). This time, that excuse wasn’t an option.

I don’t want to sound preachy, because it’s not like I’ll never eat fast-food again. I’m not gonna lie—sometimes I crave a salty, mass-produced burger and fries. But I’d like to cut back. And while my health and my wallet might not be strong enough incentives alone, together they make a pretty good motivator.

What you eat is up to you (fortunately, there are no diet police—otherwise I’d have been in jail a long time ago). But if you get in the habit of packing simple supplies when you hit the road—or an easy but fairly healthy lunch when you head out to the office or send your kids to school—knowing you already brought food will give you and your family the strength to ignore the calls of the vending machines and Burger Kings. You don’t want to waste what you packed, you know it’s better for you, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper (hey, it might save you even more money in the future, when you don’t have that heart attack).

But keep in mind it’s not only physical health that affects the quality of life. Financial health is important, too, because a sickly pocketbook can take a major toll on emotional well-being. If your money situation is making you queasy, why not have an expert take a look at it? The financial doctors here at DebtStoppers will give you an introductory check-up for free. With just a click of the mouse, you can sign up for our one-on-one debt analysis. And if you’re near Chicago or Atlanta, why not sign up for one of our free community workshops in January? You’ll be able to chat with experts about finances, foreclosure, bankruptcy and more. We’ll even feed you a hot meal—on the house!

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