Tag: savings

Four Personal Finance Rules We Ignored (And Maybe You Should Too)

This is the first in a series about how we’ve disregarded the advice of popular personal finance personalities to forge our own path to debt freedom and financial independence. 

Personal finance is just that:  Personal.  Your interests, values and dreams may be different than mine, and that’s how it should be.  In How Our Home Is Helping Us Achieve Financial Success, I talk about how we’ve chosen to “live little” in order to prioritize spending on things more important to us, like travel and sampling every bottomless Bloody Mary brunch in the greater metropolitan area.  But if you prefer mimosas at home in your McMansion, there is nothing wrong with that!  So when it comes to charting your course for financial success, it’s important you customize a plan that aligns with your individual goals and timelines, as well as how you personally manage money.

Here are just a few ways we tailored (or ignored completely!) the advice administered by today’s most well known personal finance experts, and took a road less traveled:

1.  Plastic is fantastic

There are popular personal finance personalities who will tell you to cancel your credit cards and only carry cash.  This is fabulous advice if you struggle with charging things you can’t afford.  But, that’s. not. everyone.  Since our written budget is what holds us accountable, we use credit cards as a tool, utilizing the consumer protection that comes with using plastic and leveraging them for free travel (right now we’re working toward the coveted Companion Pass thanks to our Southwest-branded Chase card).  We pay off any balance weekly to hold ourselves accountable and avoid paying interest.

2.  We’re all special snowflakes

The most popular strategy for paying off debt is the snowball method.  This philosophy recommends you pay off your debts in the order of the amount owed.  Continue to make the minimum payments, except on the debt with the lowest balance.  Once you’ve paid off that first debt, you move to the next debt with the lowest balance.  This method assumes you’ll find it easier to stay motivated when you’re rewarded more quickly with the elimination of individual debts.

In lieu of snowballing our debts, we choose the avalanche method, saving us time and money.  Instead of listing debts by amount owed, this philosophy had us prioritizing debts by interest rate, starting from highest to lowest.  You will end up paying less interest and eliminating your debt-load more quickly by tackling your debts by interest rate, so long as you can remain committed without the psychological boost the snowball method offers.

3.  Not all debt is equal

The same personal finance gurus often recommend stopping any retirement savings while you’re getting out of debt.  Sure, if you’re buried in high-interest credit card debt, stopping your contributions may be a smart idea.  But, if you receive a tax benefit from your interest payments (including interest paid on a qualifying student loan or mortgage), or your debts are no-interest or low-interest (like your Prius payment or the mid-century modern living room set you just bought on a store charge card), you may come out ahead in the long run to keep contributing while still paying off debt.

4.  Capitalize on compound interest

Compound interest is when an original deposit or investment earns interest which is then added to the principal amount and reinvested, earning more and more each period as the account balance grows larger from interest earned.  Compound interest means the balance of an account will continue to grow because of interest earned, even if the account owner doesn’t make another deposit.

Even though we were committed to becoming debt free, instead of stopping our retirement contributions while aggressively paying off our $85,000 in student loans, we kept saving.  We understood that the greatest financial advantage we have at this point in our lives is time.  Traditional retirement age is more than thirty years away, meaning anything we contribute now has decades to double.  We also knew most accounts have a minimum annual contribution limit, so in the future we wouldn’t be able to contribute more than the max to make-up for lost years.

Before we dedicated every spare dime in our budget to settle-up with Sallie Mae, we contributed the minimum to get the match in our respective employer-sponsored retirement accounts.  In addition to taking advantage of free money from our employers, we also made sure to fully fund our individual ROTH IRAs.  The distinction of a ROTH is that it maximizes the principle of compound interest by offering tax free growth, meaning that since income tax has already been paid on those dollars before they’re deposited, at the time of withdrawal, those monies will be tax free.

There are hundreds of television and radio shows, books and blogs that dictate a detailed plan for getting out of debt.  It’s great to learn from a variety of sources and smart perspectives, but it’s important for you to discern which parts and pieces will help you achieve YOUR definition of financial success.

Next in the Series:  Our Shocking (Yet Successful) Investment Strategy… Individual Stocks!

Which Meal Subscription Service is the Best?

This is the conclusion of a series offering reviews of the top meal delivery services, plus tips and tricks on how to get these subscriptions shipped straight to your kitchen for a fraction of the advertised price.  Posts include A Low Price for PlatedHow to Hack Hello Fresh, Home Chef Coupons and Cash Back, and Save Big on Blue Apron.  Here’s how these competitors compared:

Best value:  The pre-discounted advertised price for Blue Apron’s two person, three meal per week plan is $59.94.  Through Ebates I was able to redeem a $30 off coupon and a $7.50 cash back rebate, for an adjusted total cost of $22.44 or $3.74 per meal.

Honorable mentions:  The pre-discounted advertised price for Home Chef’s two person, three meal per week plan is $59.70.  But after redeeming a generous 20% cash back rebate from MrRebates.com, plus an automatic $30 credit for first time customers, my adjusted cost was $23.76 or $3.96 per meal.

The pre-discounted advertised price for Hello Fresh’s two person, three meal per week plan is $59.94.  I scored $25 off through MrRebates.com by using the coupon code FRESHNEW50HF, which is advertised as $50 off your first two orders but still worked for this single purchase.  After my coupon redemption and a $5.94 cash back rebate, my adjusted total cost was $29 or less than $4.84 per meal.

Worst value:  The pre-discounted advertised price for Plated’s two person, three meal per week plan was the highest at $72.  I was unable to find a cash back rebate through Ebates or MrRebates.com, or points and miles for purchasing through any other shopping portal. I used Google to find a $30 off coupon code, which is better than their advertised offer of your first night free, valued at $24. After coupon redemption, my total cost was $42 or $7 per meal.


Most family size and number of meal per week options:  Home Chef offers plans for two, four or six people.  Any of those family sizes can pick between two and six meals delivered per week.

Honorable mention: Plated offers two, three or four meal per week plans for families of two, three or four.

Least family size and number of meal per week options:   Blue Apron’s only two-person plan includes three meals per week.  For a family of four, you have the choice of receiving two or four meals per week.

For two people, Hello Fresh offers plans that include three, four or five meals per week. But, families of four only have the option of three meals per week.  And if you choose their vegetarian plan, regardless of whether you’re ordering for two or four people, you are limited to three meals per week.


Best menu options:  With Plated, each week you can pick between eleven different meals, seven unique to that week, as well as four “Encore Recipes,” top-rated customer picks available all month.

Home Chef offers ten different recipe choices per week, and you are able to select meals by dietary preference (low-calorie and low-carb) as well as choose to avoid foods that may contain common allergens or aren’t permissible for consumption by certain faiths (soy, nuts, gluten, dairy, mushrooms, red meat, pork and shellfish).

Honorable mention:  There are six Hello Fresh meal options from which to choose every week and you are given complete freedom when it comes to choosing your menu.

Worst menu options:   With Blue Apron, you have six options, but aren’t given complete freedom when it comes to choosing your menu.  Based on your initial selection some second and third choice options may be blocked, which I assume is to keep the customer from choosing the three meals with the costliest ingredients.


Most delivery dates available:  Hello Fresh delivers on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Honorable mentions:  You can choose Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday (residential only) delivery options for Blue Apron.

Home Chef can arrive on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

Fewest delivery dates available:  Plated only delivers on Wednesday and Saturday.

When you looking strictly at the cost, Blue Apron was the clear winner.  But they didn’t offer the flexibility of Hello Fresh, Home Chef and Plated, when it came to menu selection, delivery dates or family size.  If  you’re thinking about committing beyond the introductory period, those benefits may be just as important.  Bon appétit!

All opinions are exclusively my own.  Prices and available discounts in these posts are current as of their publication date.  I personally paid for all meal delivery service shipments referenced, and all opinions are unbiased and completely my own.  I may receive a commission if you sign-up for these services, as well as Ebates or MrRebates.com using my embedded referral links.  (Please and thank you!)

Home Chef Coupons and Cash Back

This is part of a series offering reviews of the top meal delivery services, plus tips and tricks on how to get these subscriptions shipped straight to your kitchen for a fraction of the advertised price.   Other posts include A Low Price for PlatedHow to Hack Hello Fresh, and Save Big on Blue Apron.

Home Chef

Cost:  Regularly advertised price for the three meals per week plan for two people is $59.70.  But after redeeming a generous 20% cash back rebate from MrRebates.com, plus an automatic $30 credit for first time Home Chef customers, my adjusted cost was $23.76 or $3.96 per meal.

Delivery dates available:  Wednesday, Thursday or Friday

Meal choices:  Home Chef offers plans for two, four or six people.  Any family size can pick between two and six meals delivered per week.  They offer ten different recipe choices per week, and you are able to select meals by dietary preference (low-calorie and low-carb) as well as choose to avoid foods that may contain common allergens or aren’t permissible for consumption by certain faiths (soy, nuts, gluten, dairy, mushrooms, red meat, pork and shellfish).

Home Chef offered a range of options, from traditional to adventurous.  Selections the week I ordered included steak and potatoes, burger and fries, mushroom flatbread, quinoa and arugula salad, and parsley and pistachio fettuccine.  The three meals I opted for were “calorie conscious” choices (ranging from 402-538 calories per serving) but you never would have known, as they were all filling and far from lacking in flavor.

Packaging and ingredients:  My Home Chef box and its contents, insulated with a thick padded liner, were still cold when I arrived home from work.  While I couldn’t think of a reason to store and way to re-purpose it, this paper-based insulation was easy to recycle.  Produce, spices, starches and other ingredients were divided by meal and situated at the top of the box, with the proteins at the bottom.  Also included in the box were my three recipe cards, a booklet with information on food safety, cooking tips and kitchen tool basics, and a plastic binder were these and future recipes could be kept.

Home Chef box contents, insulation and recipe binder

Recipes and instructions:  Our menu for the week included blue cheese, smoked almond and chive-crusted pork chops with honey-roasted carrots, steelhead trout niçoise with warm potato and spinach salad, and mojito lime chicken with roasted cauliflower and blistered tomato-jalapeño relish.

The recipe cards include a suggested cook by date on them.  The fish was recommended to be cooked within three days, so the trout niçoise was the first meal I made.  I’ve always been wary of warm potatoes and string beans on a salad of leafy greens, but I gave it a go.  And while I don’t think it’ll become a diet mainstay, I did enjoy trying it.

Although the trout was among the best fish we had from any of the meal delivery services, the chicken was another story.  When I opened the package for the mojito lime chicken, one of the filets seemed a little off, both in color and texture.  As much as I hate waste, I maintain an “if in doubt, throw it out” philosophy when it comes to meat, so I discarded both and instead defrosted two chicken breasts that were in my freezer.

The pork chops were the last meal I made.  Like the trout, the pork chops were fresh, juicy and delicious.

Level of difficulty:  Two of the meals did start on the cook-top and then required transfer to the oven, which meant more dishes to do than usual, but otherwise, all three of the recipes were quick to prepare and easy to make.

Ease of cancellation:  I was able to cancel future orders online the same day my box arrived without issue.  Customer support and subscription information were included in the booklet that came inside the box, indicating that “You can make change to your weekly menus anytime before Friday at noon CST.  You are always able to skip weeks in advance, pause your account or cancel our service if necessary.”

Overall impression:  My biggest, and only, disappointment was the questionable meat.  I was very pleased with Home Chef’s introductory cost, the menu variety ranging from home-style to hipster, the option of up to six meals per week (!!!) and the transparency and ease of cancellation.

I’m also impressed with Home Chef’s cause marketing efforts, partnering most recently with Heifer International, an international economic development charity.  During the month of February, if customers select the one meal each week marked with the Heifer logo, Home Chef will make a donation to help Heifer International fight world hunger.

Stayed tuned for one last post in this series – a final analysis and comparison of the cost, quality and convenience of Plated, Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Home Chef.

A Low Price for Plated

This is part of a series offering reviews of the top meal delivery services, plus tips and tricks on how to get these subscriptions shipped straight to your kitchen for a fraction of the advertised price.  Other posts include How to Hack Hello Fresh, Save Big on Blue Apron, and Home Chef Coupons and Cash Back.

Plated

Cost:  Regular list price for the three meal per week plan for two people is $72.  I was unable to find a cash back rebate through Ebates or MrRebates.com, or points and miles for purchasing through any other shopping portal.  I used Google to find a $30 off coupon code, which is better than their currently advertised offer of your first night free, valued at $24.  After coupon redemption, my total cost was $42 or $7 per meal.

Delivery dates available:  Wednesday and Saturday.  Plated also required more lead time than the other meal delivery companies I reviewed.  The earliest weekday I could receive an order placed on Thursday, January 5 was Wednesday, January 18.

Meal choices:  Plated offers two, three or four meal per week plans for families of two, three or four.  They also offer a great deal of flexibility when it comes to choosing your menu.  Each week you can pick between eleven different meals, seven unique to that week, as well as four “Encore Recipes,” top-rated customer picks available all month.

Packaging and ingredients:  Produce, spices, starches and other ingredients were divided by meal and situated at the top of the box, with the proteins at the bottom.

In addition to several large ice packs to help keep the contents cold, Plated lines their boxes with strips of plastic covered polyurethane fiber insulation.  While this worked well for its intended purpose, I wasn’t a fan of the waste.  Other boxes have been lined with bags that could be reused for grocery trips during hot summer months or to transport warm pot-luck dishes during the holidays.  But I didn’t foresee a way to re-purpose these strips of plastic and polyurethane fiber, so while it pained me, into the trash they went.

On their website, Plated says you can recycle these liners at polyurethane facilities.  But the recycling facility locator they suggest, Earth911.com, didn’t find one near me.

Box contents and insulation

Recipes and instructions:  The choices I made for the week were Chicken Shawarma with Tomato, Cucumber and Tahini, Creamy Garlic Spaghetti Squash with Kale and Parmesan, and Garlic Butter Salmon with Spinach Rice Pilaf and Roasted Lemon.

The week before my box arrived, I received an email from customer service telling me one of the recipes was missing a step and providing several options to view the amended instructions.  A few days later, I received a second communication from customer service letting me know that on the day my box was to arrive I would receive an email with tracking information.  That email also provided other key information, including a reminder that I wouldn’t need to rush home from work because the contents of my box was guaranteed fresh until midnight the day of delivery and a recommendation to cook any seafood dishes first.

Level of difficulty:  My three meals were easy to prepare and I really appreciated that they were also reasonably low calorie at 590-660 calories per serving.

They were all delicious, but I think my favorite was the Chicken Shawarma.  The naan was fluffy and filling, the cucumber and tomato salad fresh, and I could have licked the tahini from its bowel .  Were it not so tasty, we likely could have shared one portion and saved the second for sacked lunches.

Chicken Shawarma ingredients
Presentation could use some work, but delicious nonetheless!
Garlic Butter Salmon with Spinach Rise Pilaf and Roasted Lemon before
Garlic Butter Salmon with Spinach Rise Pilaf and Roasted Lemon after (don’t mind the steam!)

Ease of cancelation:  I cancelled my subscription the day my box was received.

In the frequently asked question section of their website, Plated offers the following information about cancellations:  Subscription can be canceled at any time and at no cost. Simply visit the “Subscription” tab of your account page to manage your preferences.  At the time Subscription is canceled, any boxes with an “Open” status will be canceled. Any box marked “Confirmed” or “On its way” will still be delivered and charged as your final box. To confirm your final box status, see your account.

This seems intentionally vague and annoyingly confusing.  A separate FAQ answer indicates you have up to noon six days prior to its delivery date to modify your box.  Since their answer about deactivating your account was so unclear, I assume this is the also the cut-off to cancel before you’re locked into your next delivery.

Overall impression:  Compared to the other meal delivery services I tried during this experiment, Plated offers the most freedom and variety of recipes from which to choose, as well as more flexibility on the number of nights per week and diners per order.  However, the delivery days are limited, it took nearly two weeks to get my first order, and the company lacked transparency about their cancellation policy.  Most importantly, (this is a series about getting the most for your money, after all!) their first time and subsequent orders are significantly more expensive than other subscriptions.

How To Hack Hello Fresh

This is part of a series offering reviews of the top meal delivery services, plus tips and tricks on how to get these subscriptions shipped straight to your kitchen for a fraction of the advertised price.  Other posts include A Low Price for PlatedSave Big on Blue Apron, and Home Chef Coupons and Cash Back.

Hello Fresh

Cost:  Regular list price for the three meal per week plan is $59.94.  I scored $25 off through MrRebates.com by using the coupon code FRESHNEW50HF, which is advertised as $50 off your first two orders but still worked for this single purchase.  After my coupon redemption and a $5.94 cash back rebate, my adjusted total cost was $29 or less than $4.84 per meal.

Delivery dates available:  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Meal choices:  For two people, Hello Fresh offers plans that include three, four or five meals per week.  (Families of four only have the option of three meals per week.)  There are six meal options from which to choose every week and you are given complete freedom when it comes to choosing your menu.

Hello Fresh menu options

Packaging and ingredients:  An insulated liner and several large ice packs helped keep the Hello Fresh box contents cold.  The proteins were located at the bottom of the box.  Separated from the meat by an ice pack, the produce, spices, starches and other ingredients were divided by meal into separate boxes.  I appreciated this help to keep my fridge tidy (ha!), as well as not needing to hunt for each night’s ingredients.

Organized!

Recipes and instructions:  The choices I made for the week were Crispy Shrimp Tacos, Cherry-Drizzled Pork Chops and Quick Sausage Bolognese.   In addition to the recipe cards for the three meals selected, Hello Fresh provides a booklet that includes all six of the week’s recipes with ingredient lists and step-by-step instructions with photos.

Another added value was the portion size.  While we polished off all the shrimp, I had enough tangy red cabbage and carrot slaw, tortillas and sour cream for lunch the next day.  And the same was said for the Bolognese.  Bonus points to Hello Fresh for enough leftovers for two extra meals!

Level of difficulty:  All three of the meals were relatively easy (thanks in large part to the chopping attachment that came with my Cuisinart Smart Stick, which is pretty much the best kitchen tool in my arsenal), and delicious.  I’d never in a million years considered making my own pasta sauce, but after being introduced to Bolognese (a great way to sneak veggies into my carnivore of a husband’s diet), I could easily replicate it.  And the slaw for the tacos… better than any restaurant.

Again, the only negative was my lack of non-stick cookware.  My stainless-steel skillet left most of the crispy from the shrimp stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Nonetheless, they were still devour-able.

Bolognese before
Bolognese after

Ease of cancelation:  You can modify, pause or cancel your delivery before midnight five business days before your next delivery.  I appreciated this information being clearly stated in my order confirmation, and had no problem logging-in to my online account and stopping any additional shipments.   Shortly after deactivating my account, I received a confirmation indicating my subscription had been cancelled.  Five days later, I received an email offering me a $5 incentive to give Hello Fresh another go.

Overall impression:  Compared to several of the other meal delivery services I tried during this experiment, I seemed to get a little more with Hello Fresh.  They provided more upfront options, extra delivery days, better packaging, additional recipes, and two brown bag lunches.  Hopefully, they’ll send me a coupon for more than $5, so I can justify a second order!  If they do, I’ll let you know.