One of my personal goals this year is to learn how to cook. However, since my progress has been slow, a friend of mine suggested looking into Blue Apron and their meal-in-a-box concept because it takes the “guesswork out of cooking.” It all sounded great except for one dilemma: Will meal services wreck my budget or are they worth it?
Pros of Using a Meal Delivery Service
Before we get into the numbers, let’s look at some of the reasons why you might consider using a meal delivery service:
- You’ll save time if you have a busy work schedule (my friend is a nurse who works 12-hour shifts).
- Recipes are easy-to-follow for novices like myself.
- Fresh ingredients are delivered to your door. For example, Blue Apron markets, “farm-fresh, seasonal produce; meat with no added hormones and sustainably-sourced seafood.”
- It’s cheaper than going to a restaurant.
- It’s healthier than ordering pizza.
- There are many options to choose from such as Sun Basket, Plated, PeachDish, Chef’D, Purple Carrot and HelloFresh.
Know the Cost per Meal
Going back to Blue Apron’s offering for the sake of consistency, their cheapest option works out to $9.99 per serving. Based on my zip code, the total minimum order would be $59.94 since they offered me free shipping. Right off the bat, that’s 15% of my total $400 grocery budget per month for just six meals. Not looking good.
However, I decided to take a look at how much my most expensive home-cooked meal costs: steak. I realized that I actually spend slightly more than $59 on steak each month (not including side dishes). So, in that regard, Blue Apron might be something worth looking into. But, I certainly can’t justify a weekly delivery as the rest of my meals cost a heck of lot less than steak.
Are Meal Delivery Services Worth it For You?
Meal delivery services may or may not fit into your budget depending on your personal circumstances. However, asking this question may lead you to take another look at the way you spend your food dollars in order to get into the best (financial) shape of your life. Read on to learn about other ways to save money on your grocery bill.
How You Can Save Money and Eat Healthily
If you’ve decided to stick with cooking your own meals and shopping for the ingredients (at least most of the time), here are some tips for creating a grocery budget that won’t leave you broke or craving nutrient-rich foods:
- Keep track of how much you spend at the grocery store every week. This is a great first step to reveal habits that you might not be aware of. Use your findings as a springboard to fine-tune your food budget. If you sometimes use a meal delivery service then be sure to include this in your tracker as well.
- Remember to include eating out. According to Forbes, the average millennial spends almost $3,000 a year on eating out. When was the last time you added up your “girls’ night out” expenses?
- Limit your trips to the grocery store. Small trips to the grocery store can add up – big time. Going from two trips a week to two trips per month helped me save about $100 on my monthly food bill.
- Designate a meal prep day. Most people choose Sundays as the day to cook and portion out their meals for the week. Checking this off your to-do list before the work week starts will save you loads of time and of course, money.
- Avoid the junk food aisle. A Harvard study showed that on average it costs an extra $1.50 per day to eat healthier. However, “this price difference is very small in comparison to the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases, which would be dramatically reduced by healthy diets.” At the same time, there may be several frugal or creative options available such as backyard farming or shopping at an ethnic market for cheap produce.
- Compare your spending to the national average. USDA’s most recent food estimates place the average spending for a couple under the age of 50 at about $384 per month for the “thrifty” plan whereas the “liberal plan” totals $765 per month.
Keeping Your Food Budget in Shape
This point needs a whole section! While reviewing the national average can be a helpful tool, sometimes we get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. It’s important to remember that personal finances should be just that — your own personal game plan for building a life you can be proud of.
A great way to get a handle on just how much you should spend on food (including eating out and meal delivery services) is to take a look at how your food budget stacks up against your other expense categories. More specifically, if your number-crunching exercise reveals that you currently spend 30% of your income on food, it might be time to go on a spending diet. In short, going on a financial detox could help tighten up your finances as well.
Looking for another great way to save? Try automating your savings by setting up a Chime bank account. Chime rounds up each purchase you make to the nearest dollar and places this amount in your savings account. Small savings like these may add up to hundreds of dollars throughout the year. This can go a long way if you’re hoping to become a HelloFresh member.