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Family and Life

The best meal plan services don’t have to be expensive. Here are the best and cheapest meal plan delivery services.

best meal plan services

We’re all busy these days. And that sometimes translates into too much eating out. Or maybe for you it means meal-planning burnout. In an effort to save mental energy, you just make the save handful of meals week in and week out.

Trust me, I’ve been there.

Luckily, the internet abounds with meal planning options. I’m not talking about the actual delivery services here. These are services that give you a menu each week and the grocery list you need to complete that menu.

These services are a good balance for busy people who still want to live on a budget. Even the cheapest meal delivery services average around $10 per person per meal. In my book, that’s actually a lot to spend on dinner!

Using a meal planning service, instead, you can save by shopping for the groceries yourself. But you can get away from the same old dinner routine, as well.

With all that said, here are the four cheapest meal plan services I’ve found. In this list, I looked at both the cost of the actual service, as well as the cost of the planned meals.

$5 Meal Plan

Created by the blogger who started the blog Five Dollar Dinners, this meal plan sends you super-cheap menus each week. Each meal plan comes with the recipes for five dinner entrees with sides, plus one lunch and one breakfast idea. There’s also a random goodie each week. This could include a dessert, a beverage, or a snack.

Each meal is marked with one or more icons. These stand for 20-minute meal, freezer-friendly, slow cooker meal, one-dish dinner, chop ahead, or make ahead. The symbols make it easy for you to rearrange your dinners according to what you have going on during the week. Every menu includes at least one slow cooker meal, one 20-minute meal, and one freezer-friendly meal.

Another option with your membership is to use the drag-and-drop meal planner. This planner features cheap recipes from the blog, but lets you customize your own meal plan. As with the pre-made meal plan, the meal planner will build your shopping list for you, too.

  • Cost: $5/month
  • Cost of Meals: $2/serving or less
  • Best Parts: The best part of this meal plan is just how cheap it is! You can potentially serve your entire family a meal that costs less than $5.
  • Drawbacks: Unlike some of the other plans featured here, this one doesn’t allow for a lot of customization. They now offer limited specialized meal plans, including paleo and vegetarian. But these are six-week meal plans and aren’t guaranteed to be as cheap as the standard meal plan.

eMeals

This service is similar to $5 Meal Plan, with a few key differences. For one thing, it offers a much larger variety of plan options, but most aren’t focused solely on being cheap. It’s also a more expensive option. But on the other hand, it has two meal size options. The smaller one serves two to three adults, and the larger one serves four to six adults.

eMeals has a number of great meal plan options, including Clean Eating, Paleo, Quick and Healthy, Low Carb, Low Calorie, Portion Control, Slow Cooker, Classic, Budget Friendly, Gluten Free, and Diabetic. If you’re on a specific type of diet, this is probably the meal-planning service for you. You can only access one meal plan at a time, but you can switch between plans whenever you’d like.

My family has been using the two to three person Paleo meal plan while my husband and I do a Whole30. It’s enough to serve the two of us and our 6-year-old and 1-year-old. Sometimes we have leftovers if the side is super filling. We aren’t saving a ton of money on groceries, but we also haven’t significantly increased our frugal-ish $150 per week, even while on the Whole30. Since the Whole30 is notorious for busting grocery budgets, I’m going to call that a win.

  • Cost: $29.99/three months or $59.99/year
  • Cost of Meals: Varies with meal plan, but budget options are available
  • Best Parts: The huge variety of meal plans makes this one a winner in my book. You can also add in additional meal plans if certain family members have specific needs or preferences.
  • Drawbacks: It’s slightly more expensive unless you pay annually, and it provides seven meals per week. For my family, this means actually weeding out items on the provided grocery list, since we don’t cook full meals at home every single night of the week.

Relish

This site is unique in that it lets you build your own weekly menu out of categories of meals that revolve each Thursday. When you log in on a Thursday, you can choose recipes from several categories, including Simple Gourmet, Quick, Kid-Friendly, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free. You can customize individual recipes to suit 2, 4, 6, or 8 eaters, and choose your sides separately. Once you set your menu, Relish will generate your shopping list.

I can see this level of customization being really helpful if, for instance, your kids aren’t with you every night of the week. Choose kid-friendly meals for four when they’re with you, and gourmet meals for two when they aren’t.

It could also be helpful for those who host frequently. We typically have friends over for dinner at least once a week. That’s been one of my frustrations with eMeals. It’s hard to automatically scale up our amounts for just those nights when we’re hosting.

  • Cost: $8/month, $21.70/3 months, $78/year (there is also a free plan with fewer features)
  • Cost of Meals: Depends on plan, but puts you largely in control each week
  • Best Parts: I love how customizable this one is. That’ll make it worth the extra few bucks a month if the group around your dining room table is constantly changing!
  • Drawbacks: This is a slightly more expensive option, too, and it doesn’t seem to have a menu on hand that’s specifically low-budget.

Plan to Eat

What if you already have a decent bank of recipes your family likes, but you just hate pulling them together into a weekly menu? Then Plan to Eat may be the best option for you. It lets you create a virtual recipe book of recipes from anywhere on the web. Each week or month, you can drag and drop the recipes onto your calendar-based planner. Then, Plan to Eat will make your grocery list for you.

I love this idea because it means you can use the recipes you already know that you like. You can also see your grocery list on your phone, which would be helpful for my family’s grocery shopping routine. The calendar-based planning is helpful, too, so that you can easily plan around certain events or rhythms.

  • Cost: $4.95/month
  • Cost of Meals: Depends on what meals you use
  • Best Parts: If you have picky eaters or already know what meals your family loves, this is a great app to try. It’ll help you build in some variety without veering away from the food you know your family will eat. It’s also the cheapest option in our roundup.
  • Drawbacks: This service isn’t automated enough for me. Plus, it looks like you’ll be stuck with the serving sizes of the meals in your menu, which could be limiting.

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A flavorful life doesn’t have to cost a fortune. People who enjoy cooking and baking can often feel overwhelmed by the cost of groceries. Millennials get a lot of flak for their love of pricey avocado toast and other expensive culinary habits. However, the reality is that even just buying groceries for simple meals can add up quickly if you don’t pay attention to what you’re grabbing in the store aisles.

How to Save Money on Groceries

The good news is that there are some very simple tips you can follow to bring down the cost of groceries. Thinking outside the box can help you to put more food in your grocery bag without going broke. Take a look at four unconventional and creative ways to cut your grocery budget without skimping when it comes to flavor or quality.

Install a Calculator App on Your Phone

Do you hate being surprised by your grocery bill once you get to the register? You can add up your spending as you go if you download a simple calculator app to your phone and start tallying your bill while you shop. This will give you a good idea of how much is left in your budget to splurge on some extras while you’re shopping.

It will also give you the opportunity to put things back or shop for bargains while you’re at the store if you discover that you’re filling up your cart beyond your budget. This may help you to get creative with putting items in your cart that can make some tasty, satisfying meals that don’t cost a small fortune per plate.

Coupons Still Have their Place

Couponing is still in, and some shoppers can pay almost nothing for a cart full of groceries. If you buy the Sunday paper, you can clip your way to hundreds of dollars of savings. But remember, you should only clip coupons based off your shopping list, and don’t buy items just because you found a coupon. If you don’t want to buy the Sunday paper and clip coupons all day, you now have a high-tech option. There are plenty of coupon apps available for iPhone and Android users.

With coupon apps, you will never forget your coupons at home, and you can organize them with ease. One such app available with Android and iPhone devices is Coupon Sherpa. Available for Android devices, Grocery Smarts Coupon Shopper allows you to cross-reference all available coupons with current circulars, which allows you to get the best deal.

One popular app for Android, Shop Calc, allows you to create a pre-set budget and generate a realistic shopping list. iPhone owners should check out the Our Groceries Shopping List. The app allows shoppers to easily share shopping lists with others in the household, and organize items by category.

Avoid the Middle Section of the Grocery Store

The path you take through the aisles of your grocery store can actually determine how much you spend and how much you eat. The perimeter of a grocery store is where you’ll find fruits, vegetables, dairy products and freshly baked goods. These are the areas you’ll want to focus on if you need to purchase foods that will give you the biggest benefits for your bucks.

The middle of the store tends to contain more processed foods. It’s also where you’re likely to stock up on some sweets and impulse purchases that might not contribute to your plan to eat well on a budget. Only dip into the middle section if you need specific dry goods.

Knowing how to navigate your way through the interior aisles of a grocery store once you do step foot in them can also help you to save money. For instance, spices are often less expensive if you grab them from the ethnic food aisle of a grocery store instead of from the actual spice aisle.

Shop for Batch Cooking

Focusing on buying ingredients for making just two or three really good meals per week could help you save money. Batch cooking involves making big batches of meals you like and enjoying them throughout the week. You will typically make all of your meals at the start of the week and slip them into the freezer to be available throughout the week.

For instance, you could purchase ingredients to make lasagna that will stretch for two or three days. This often ends up costing much less than trying to invent a new meal for everyday of the week. What’s more, you’ll save so much time because you’ll be cooking all your meals at once.

How long one meal will last will depend on how many people you need to feed in your household. You can expect to save money whether you’re cooking for one or feeding a large family when you shop for batch cooking.

Go to the Store Less Frequently

You can’t be tempted by impulse purchases at the grocery store if you’re not at the grocery store every day. While the idea of stopping at the store every day to pick up fresh ingredients for meals sounds good, the reality is that it can easily lead to overspending.

It might be a good idea to change your habits if you’re the type of person who always pops into the grocery store after work to pick up ingredients for dinner. It’s hard to actually get a grasp of what your total weekly or monthly grocery budget is if you’re constantly making small purchases here and there.

Try to get in the habit of setting aside one day per week for grocery shopping for a little while to see if it becomes easier to manage your food spending. You can even make a habit of stockpiling specific ingredients when they go on sale to ensure that you always have what you need to make meals.

Use the Right Credit Card

Using the right cash back credit card can also help you save. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, pays up to 6% cash back on groceries. If you shop at Costco or Sam’s Club, they both offer cards with excellent cash back on purchases at their stores. You can find a complete list of the best cash back cards here.

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Trading in your car at the dealer is guaranteed to lose you money. Yet many opt for this route because it’s easy. The better approach, however, is to sell your car yourself. You’ll get more money, and it’s easier than many think. Here’s how to sell your car fast and for top dollar.

Sell Your Car

In this guide, we’ll walk through the benefits of selling your car on your own. Then we’ll give you some practical tips on how to do it.

Why You Should Always Try to Sell Your Car Yourself First

Trading your car into a dealer when you purchase a new vehicle is quick and easy. That’s why so many people opt for this approaching to disposing of their car. Unfortunately, the dealer won’t give you the best price.

It also complicates the negotiations. With a trade-in, your must negotiate both the price of your new car and the value of your old car. Car dealers are experts at this process. You and I are not. By removing the trade-in negotiations, you greatly simplify the process.

By selling your car yourself, you can maximize the cash that you will receive. As an example, we valued a 2016 Volvo XC90. Using Kelley Blue Book, we compared the money we’d receive from a private party sale versus a deal trade in. The difference was almost $3,000.

Get the Estimated Value of Your Car

Since most of us aren’t car experts, you should get this information from a trusted third-party source. You can get an estimate from a dealer, but they may give you a lowball number under the assumption that you be trading the car in. What you actually want is what you can likely sell your car for.

Fortunately, there are online sources where you can get this information. Two of the best sources are Kelly Blue Book (which we used above) and Edmunds.com. You should also check used car buying sites such as AutoTrader and Craigslist.

In order to get the most accurate value of your vehicle on those sites, you need to be accurate in describing the details of the car. This will be particularly important in regard to the car’s overall condition since it can result in wide variations in value.

They will typically give you three values:

  • Trade-in
  • Dealer retail
  • Private party

Dealer retail will be the highest. It is unlikely, however, you will be able to get that price. You aren’t a dealer and don’t have a dealer’s marketing power. Trade-in will be the lowest, but it’s not what you’re going for. A private party sale will be the most relevant number, as it is the price that you will most likely get for your car on direct sale.

Once you have this number, you should price your vehicle accordingly. Too high and you may not even get anyone to look at the car. But price it too low, and you’ll be losing money.

Get the Loan Information if You Still Owe Money on Your Car

There are two important pieces of information that you will need if you have a loan on your car:

  1. The payoff balance on your loan, and
  2. How to get the title to your car in the shortest timeframe possible.

The payoff balance will let you know how much cash you can expect to clear on the sale. Alternatively, it may show that you are under water and might have to write a check in order to close out the loan after the sale. You need to know this information to decide if selling your car is even the right option.

The title information is just as important. If you have a loan on your car, then the title to the vehicle is in the possession of the lender. The sale of the vehicle has to happen first so that you will have the cash to pay off the loan. But in order to complete the sale of the car, you’ll have to be able to deliver the title to the new owner.There will be a delay in this

There will be a delay in this process after the sale is completed. But you want to get information from the lender so as to keep that timeframe as short as possible.

Find out what the payoff process is, and what the best way to retrieve the title will be. That will likely require getting specific names and addresses, to make sure that all correspondence goes to the right party. You’ll also have to check and see what type documentation the lender will require for the payoff, in addition to the payment itself.

Where to Advertise Your Vehicle for Sale

There are plenty of ways to sell your car online. This can include Craigslist and AutoTrader.com, but you could also try eBay and even Facebook. Also, do email blasts to everyone on your email list who lives in your local area. Even if a direct recipient has no interest, they may forward the email on to someone they know whose looking for a car.

But you don’t have to rely just on online sources. Some of the more traditional advertising methods can work as well. Create a flyer that includes important information about the car, as well as two or three color photos of the vehicle. Post them on the bulletin board at work, at your house of worship, and in any public places that will allow it.

Accepting Payment Proceeds from the Buyer of Your Car

Payment is a specific issue when selling your car yourself, so you will have to take several precautions.

Never accept a personal check. In a worst-case scenario, the buyer can make off with your car, and you’re stuck with a bad check – and the bank fees that you will be charged for it. In that situation, legal action will be your only resort. And that may not work if the personal check you accepted turns out to be fraudulent. It happens in the real world, and not infrequently.

At a minimum, insist that the buyer pay by either certified check or a bank check. Keep in mind that cashier’s checks can be forged. As Teresa Dixon from the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently noted,

It used to be that getting a cashier’s check was a sure-fire way to avoid fraud. Not anymore. The fraudulent cashier’s checks out there fool the banks sometimes. I’ve dealt with cases in the last few years where even PNC and Huntington tellers accepted cashier’s checks that later ended up no good. Sometimes even the police can’t tell.

Better yet, hold the closing of the sale at the buyer’s bank – the same one that the check is drawn on. That should enable you to verify that the funds are available in the buyer’s account.

If the buyer is using a loan to purchase your vehicle, hold the closing at the lending bank. That will enable you to get a bank employee involved in the process. If the new lender is not a local bank, hold the closing at your bank, and ask your bank to verify the authenticity of the check from the buyer’s lender.

None of this guarantees that you won’t get stiffed on the payment, but it does lower the chances considerably.

Selling Your Car Yourself – Keeping it Legal

There will be several steps on the legal side of the sale.

Bill of sale.You will need to prepare a bill of sale in order to complete the sales transaction. Google “automotive bill of sale” for your state in order to get an acceptable form, then complete it with all of the relevant information. The bill of sale will be important if there is an existing loan on your car, and you will not be able to produce the car title immediately.

Temporary operating permit. The buyer can use the bill of sale to obtain this permit from the state department of motor vehicles (DMV). This will allow the buyer to operate the vehicle until the title can be delivered. Receipt of the title can take anywhere from a few days to two or three weeks, so this is an important step for the buyer.

Release of liability. This is a document that is available on your state DMV website. It will confirm the sale of the vehicle. Don’t skip this step! Completing and filing this form with the DMV will release you of liability on the vehicle. File it immediately after the sale to avoid potential problems. The form will likely require the odometer reading at the time of sale. Contact your state DMV to get specific information about this form.

Pay required transfer fees. You can find out what these are from the DMV. This can include sales tax if your state charges it on auto sales. You will want to pay them immediately after the sale since that is when you will have the cash to do so. But in addition, the payment of fees will represent additional confirmation of the transfer of the vehicle, and therefore the release of your liability.

Don’t forget to remove the license plates! The license plates run with the owner, not with the car itself. As well, you could probably transfer the plates to your next vehicle. The buyer will have to work out the license plate situation immediately after the sale.

Though the process of selling your car yourself seems complicated, remember that it can result in your getting thousands more than what you will get by trading it into the dealer. In the end, it will almost certainly be worth the extra effort on your part.

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In the past, I’ve discussed whether couples should sign a prenuptial agreement before marriage. While sometimes controversial, a good prenup can protect both individuals were the marriage to result in irreconcilable differences.

Signing a legal document of this type could be helpful if the couple owns substantial assets or if the couple has a wide disparity in income or wealth. If either or both of the individuals own businesses, a prenup could protect those assets — not to mention the lives of any employees relying on those businesses.

With a growing number of adults moving in together before marriage, more people are looking for the protections of a prenuptial agreement without the benefits of getting married. A 2014 Pew Research poll found that 23 percent of adult men and 17 percent of adult women had never been married. However, about a quarter of the “never-married” crowd were currently cohabitating. This means that a good number of unmarried adults are living together without any sort of legal protection.

The Legal Risks of Cohabitation

Cohabitating may seem like a way to get some of the relational benefits of marriage without the legal risks. But, actually, it too can cause legal issues if the relationship ends. Plus, what if you cohabitate for years in a deeply committed partnership, and want to care for your significant other? Having prior legal arrangements can protect your partner, should something happen to you unexpectedly. Beyond that, many unmarried couples also have children. A prenup-like arrangement can protect those kids in the case of a breakup or death.

Related: How Should Couples Combine Finances?

For these reasons, a growing number of unmarried couples are forming legal cohabitation arrangements. These legally-binding contracts, which are drawn up by an attorney, protect each person’s assets, address child custody and support obligations, and more. In short, they cover a lot of the same territory as prenuptial agreements… even if marriage isn’t on the horizon.

What Should Be Covered?

Of course, cohabitation agreements — like prenups — should include asset protection as needed. They should also deal with issues of splitting common assets. But that’s not all these agreements should include. You should also consider:

  • Who owns what. Even if you don’t have a business or significant assets, you’re likely bringing some items into the partnership. Your agreement should speak to who owns (and owes) what coming into the arrangement.
  • Who pays what. These agreements can act, in part, as a sort of rental contract. This piece is necessary if you’re splitting expenses in a jointly-owned property. It’s even more necessary if one partner is moving into a home that the other partner owns.
  • Deed of waiver. If your partner is moving into a home you own and plans to pay rent, consider this option. It basically says that this person has no stake in your home should you break up. You can have this document drawn up separately from your cohabitation agreement, or work this into your larger agreement.
  • How things are divided. You may not want to keep a tally of who buys every dish in the cupboard while you’re living together. Avoid this by spelling out how you’ll divide property if you should split up. You can set it up so that what you bring into the relationship goes out with you. If it is purchased jointly, you can divide it up.
  • Childcare arrangements. What happens if you should have children? Will one partner stay home to care for them while the other works? Things can get tricky in this sort of situation. So, think ahead of time about how you’ll care for any children you might bring into the relationship — even if you aren’t currently planning to have any.

Learn More: Child Care Cost Analysis — Is It Worth the Expense?

  • Child support arrangements. If you should split up, who will support the children and what might custody look like? Writing these rules into your agreement can prevent a mess later.
  • Anything else you want to cover. If you’re working with a lawyer to draw up such a contract, you can customize it. Before you prepare your contract, talk about things like:
    • What happens if one partner wants to take time off work to start a business?
    • Who handles chores and maintenance tasks?
    • Should you void parts of the contract in the case of infidelity?
    • What about pets?

To Make it Legally Binding

The cost of a lawyer’s time and expertise to create a cohabitation agreement may be high. Sure, you can get templates that cover the bare bones basics online. But it’s often better to go with the lawyer. They’ll advise you and make sure that the contract doesn’t have any holes. And, of course, you’ll need to go through any processes involved with signing or notarizing the document to make it legally binding.

Don’t Forget About Your Will

Even with a cohabitation agreement, you should both have a will, as well. Cohabitation doesn’t offer the same protections for the surviving partner as marriage. Even if you want all of your assets to go to your partner, that gets tricky without a legal document saying so. Consider writing or revising your wills at the same time that you’re creating your cohabitation agreement. This will help ensure that your assets are disbursed how you want.

Learn More: 3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents

Prenuptial agreements are important. But cohabitation agreements may be even more so. Without a legal marriage bond, you may be opening yourself up to more complicated legal situations.

Do you believe these cohabitation agreements are necessary? Would you sign one?

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Financially Supporting Your Parents: 7 Steps to Take

by Luke Landes

It’s a fact: multigenerational households are becoming more common in the United States. In the ’50s, it wasn’t unusual for older adults to live with their grown children and possibly grandchildren. That living arrangement trended downward for several decades, but saw a big upswing between 2000 and 2014. In fact, in 2014, 19 percent of Americans […]

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The Obamacare Mandate is Dead — Will There Be a Trumpcare Mandate?

by Michael Pruser

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Can You Afford to Stay Home With Your Kids?

by Mike Collins

This is a guest article by Mike Collins, creator of Wealthyturtle.com. He shares with us how he and his wife decided to become a single-income family, and he offers some useful advice for those struggling with the same decision. Most new parents will at least consider the idea of living on a single income so […]

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Trump’s Childcare Plan: How the DCSA Will Affect You

by Stephanie Colestock

Whether you’re taking care of multiple children, a disabled spouse, or elderly parents, you’ve likely experienced the high cost of dependent care firsthand. With expenses from babysitters to after school programs, it can be difficult to stay ahead of all your other financial obligations while spending on dependent care. To help make dependent care more […]

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