Meal plans and delivery programs -- costly or cost-effective?

The three biggest items in most people's budgets are usually housing, transportation, and food. That's because they are needs; but like most needs, costs can range from the inexpensive, no-frills version to the outrageously expensively extravagances seen on some reality TV shows. For example, you could live in a studio apartment or a mansion, take shanks' mare or drive a luxury car, slap a PB & J together at home or eat out at a five-star restaurant.

What you choose depends on your means (what you can afford) and your priorities (what's important to you). Maybe you are willing to make all your meals at home so you can drive your dream car. Or maybe you're willing to bike or take the bus … to your favorite restaurants on a weekly basis. If you are debt-free, stashing some cash in a high-yield savings account, saving for retirement, and meeting all your other financial goals, more power to you.

I am willing to bet, though, that most people are seeking a happy medium in all categories. Nothing too expensive, but a home and car that are safe and comfortable, and food that's tasty and convenient. When it comes to food, even if you are eating at home, there are more options today than ever before: Having your groceries, or even fully-cooked meals, delivered are all possibilities to meal-plan and save some cash. But not every option is equally cost-effective. Here are a few options, with some pros and cons.

Grocery delivery

Earlier this year Lisa Aberle wrote about grocery delivery, so that's already been discussed a bit. The cost for this service probably varies quite a bit by area. The chain that delivers in my town charges $12.95 for orders under $150 and $9.95 for orders of $150 or above. The minimum you need to spend to qualify for delivery is $50. There may also be bag fees and a fuel surcharge. Someone over 18 must be present at delivery.

Your first order is free and certain delivery windows qualify for free or reduced delivery charges. I'd imagine the farther away the grocery store is from your house, the more expensive delivery would be (if it was even available). It goes both ways, after all: The bigger of a pain in the neck it is for you to get to the grocery store, the bigger pain in the neck it is for someone to get from the grocery store to your house.