There are a few posts here about our journey to get out of debt When we started that journey, our finances were a total mess. We hoped to share a lot of our journey to being debt free, but, as you can tell from those posts, we didn't always get around to writing about every experience.
The long and short of it is that we spend an entire year, from October 2011 to October 2012, living off one salary, saving, scrimping, working overtime, having side gigs, and generally just being frugal. But, we did it. We paid off over $40,000 in student loan, personal, credit card, and car loan debt. It was a humbling experience, but also a great accomplishment when we wrote the last check to the South Carolina Student Loan Corporation.
The real eye-opener came the next year, when we closed out our finances for 2013 and realized we hadn't really saved any extra money. Sure, we had doubled our charitable giving, taken some great trips, bought a second car, and more, but we didn't really have anything to show for that year. Where we had been able to save over $40,000 the year before to pay off debt, we had, basically, just spent that money the next year. What a frustrating and demotivating experience.
Since then, we've gotten much better, saving more for retirement, getting out of the habit of buying things and choosing instead to purchase experiences. But, one of our ongoing issues is eating out. You'd think that two thirtysomethings would know that dinner has to be served every night, but frequent are the days when Heather would arrive home and we'd both look at each other with a blank look on our faces... What are we having for dinner? Shocking that we couldn't plan any better.
Over the years, we tried a number of approaches. First, we dug through our cookbooks, grabbing recipes and making a meal plan for the week. That worked for a while, but even with a shelf of cookbooks and a magazine or two arriving every month with new recipes, we'd often find ourselves tired of the same old thing. Maybe it was the paradox of choice: when you have thousands of options, you can't make a decision.
Last year, we tried the meal delivery service. All of them. Literally, every one. We loved one, hated one, and dealt with the other. While the best, HelloFresh, was awesome, the cost was just too high. Compared to eating out, sure, it's a deal. But when both of us are reasonably good cooks, it's tough to spend $22 bucks a night on dinner. We were also turned off by the tremendous amount of packaging in these boxes. Even though it could, mostly, be recycled, it is still frustrating to throw away so much packing material.
Earlier this year, we re-discovered eMeals. A close friend recommended the service years ago, but we largely ignored, or forgot about it. But, desperate times call for desperate measures. So, we signed up for the free trial and have been really impressed. First, maybe I should explain eMeals.
eMeals is a menu planning service. You sign up for their service and they send you new menus every week. Each menu has 7 meals, dinners in our case, and most importantly, includes a shopping list. The list is crucial. The shopping list is the real MVP here; it makes the entire process so much easier than finding recipes, making a list, going to the store, realizing you forgot something, going back to the store, getting home, realizing you forgot something else, giving up, and finally calling in Chinese food.
The recipes are pretty good, overall. We've found a few that were less than amazing. And each batch of 7 meals only has about 4 recipes that we really are interested in. That works well for us though, as we generally have plans a few nights a week. The best part, other than the shopping list, is the variety of menu options. There's a paleo plan, a clean eating plan, a gourmet plan, low-fat, low-calorie, low-carb, and more. There's even a Paula Deen option, if you want to go for full fat, artery clogging goodness. We've tried a few different plans (you can switch at any time) and have been most happy with the Clean Eating option. That's not to say that every recipe, even the ones we though we'd like, were awesome. There are some duds. There are some that are just...boring. But, honestly, we've been really impressed and pleased with the service overall. You also have options for breakfast and lunch, and some special occasion menus too, all available as add-ons to your basic plan.
While we both love the simple, clean, healthy meal options, the real kicker for us is the simplicity of the whole process. The menus arrive in my email, I print them, we check off the things we won't use from recipes we don't like, and take the list to the store. Simple. More importantly, since we've started using the eMeals service, we've rarely decided to go out to dinner at the last minute. The service costs about $60 per year, but we've saved so much more than that because we don't just skip out to a restaurant a few times a week, generally a $50 trip each time.
So, my recommendation is to give eMeals a try. There's a free trial option, but even if you go all out and buy a year, I guarantee that you'll save so much more time and money than you spend, it'll be well worth it. If you want to try eMeals, and are feeling generous, you can sign up though this link. I'll get a free month, I think, of the service for referring you. If you don't like affiliate links, here's a clean link. As with anything I recommend, I do so believing in the product, not shilling for a company. But, if the idea of me benefiting from my recommendation makes you feel skeevy, then by all means, navigate over there any way you like and give it a try. I know you'll enjoy a few meals from every plan and save a ton of money.