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Dinner-in-a-Box is Not at All What I Thought!

Over the past year or so I’ve been hearing a lot about a new way to get dinner on the table. Every month or so another one of these meal kit delivery services would contact me to give it a try.

Seriously? Who in their right mind would trust seafood, meat and produce from some unknown assembly plant, piled onto a loading dock then moved into the back of an unrefrigerated FedEx truck for who knows how long and until some delivery guy leaves on the porch?

The whole idea sounded ridiculously expensive, if not just plain gross. I didn’t need to test the obvious so I did what comes all too naturally for me: I jumped to conclusions. Turns out I was way off base and so wrong. Today I’m here to come clean and set the record straight.

Several weeks ago I casually mentioned the meal kit option for super busy households. I had just started testing one of these meal kit services. I determined that Home Chef is the least expensive and invited two other families to help me test. I was determined to get a true, unbiased picture of how this works and what it’s all about. I needed honest, real-life feedback.

One of my testers was a young bachelor in California—a very picky eater with very limited cooking skills. The other, a local family of four with two children ages 7 and 2.

We have been preparing and eating Home Chef dinners now for about six weeks—each of us receiving the minimum order of two dinners (2-servings each) delivered once weekly. None of us came into this with any  meal kit experience. We had no idea what to expect.

By the way, Home Chef is not aware that we’ve been testing. I set up our accounts and have covered the cost of all the meals and delivery during the testing period.

I could write chapters about every detail of our Home Chef experiences, but in the interest of time and space, I’ll cut to the chase: Home Chef has greatly improved our lives—as varied as our lifestyles and situations are. It is an amazing service. Nothing about it is gross (I’m so sorry I even thought of that as a possibility). In fact, the food arrives fresher than meat, fish, seafood and produce at my local supermarket. It is high quality and did I say fresh?

Home Chef uses some kind of space age gel packs that are still frozen hard upon arrival. Even if that box sits on the porch all day, those packs remain frozen, but the food is never frozen arriving at exactly the right temperature to maintain flavor and safety.

Home Chef does a terrific job of delivering amazingly fresh ingredients and offering a variety of dishes with easy-to-read recipes. All of us have loved the meals—even the picky bachelor and equally picky 7-year old.

Each meal requires about 30 minutes of preparation. We can change our delivery day, adjust our meals, skip a week or pause our accounts whenever we need to. And there are no contracts involved, which means  we can cancel anytime. The food is amazingly delicious, too. In six weeks, not one regret was reported.

Here’s how it works: You join (cancel anytime if you want). You sign up for the number of meals you want in the week and the number of servings. Then you choose your meals from 13 different options (they change weekly). You can tailor meals to your dietary needs including low-calorie and low-carb and more.

The cost for Home Chef is $9.95 per serving. Shipping is free for orders over $45; $10 for orders less than $45. I have done my best to compare Home Chef costs against the cost to buy the exact same ingredients at my local supermarket. While it’s not easy to quantify the cost of say one tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar (at least with Home Chef I don’t have to buy the entire bottle to get the bit I need), I’m surprised that Home Chef does not cost more than what I would spend for the same exact ingredients locally. This investigation comes to a very similar conclusion.

Based on what our test group experienced collectively, here is what you can expect from Home Chef:

  • You will most certainly improve your culinary skills and repertoire. The food is amazing.
  • It is SO much fun, and never gets old opening the box to see what’s for dinner.
  • You will surprise yourself as you prepare recipes you might otherwise skip over in a magazine or cookbook.
  • Your kids and other family members will surprise you when they are willing to try new things and then end up enjoying food items they’ve never tried before or were certain they hated!
  • The ingredients are, for the most part, fresher, higher-quality and generally better than you might find at your average chain grocery store. The meals are amazingly delicious.
  • You will notice your refrigerator has more room because it’s not a repository for leftovers (that sit there until they turn green).
  • Home Chef serving sizes are surprisingly generous (2-servings were adequate for the testing family with two kids who are light eaters).
  • Your children will get engaged with the process. Because every ingredient is perfectly portioned, labeled and ready to go, older kids and teens can get involved in making dinner. The instructions are super easy to follow.

All of us are impressed with Home Chef, so much so that none of us will be cancelling the service anytime soon. Home Chef has changed our lives in different ways, and all without increasing our food costs. In fact, Harold and I have spent less for food since joining Home Chef.

You can check it out HERE. And when you get to that page, you’ll see that I’ve arranged for you to get a $30 coupon should you wish to give Home Chef a test run. I can’t wait to hear about your experiences!

8 Wedding Gift Hacks

Wedding season is in full bloom and while tying the knot is getting more expensive for the bride and groom, attending a wedding is becoming costlier, too. In fact, a survey from American Express reveals that it now costs on average $539 to attend a single celebration.

Gifts take a big bite out of every guest’s budget with average spending ranging from $75 to $175 per person, according to The Knot Registry Survey. Relieve the financial pressure by saving on the gift with these eight tips.

Compare prices on registry items. It’s wise to reference a registry to see what the couple wants, but it’s even smarter to compare prices among stores. Online retailers like Amazon and Overstock sell popular registry brands for less than most high-end stores.

Use discount gift cards. If you’re planning to give a gift card or you’re buying an item off a couple’s registry, save money by purchasing discount gift cards from GiftCardGranny.com. The site offers gift cards for less than face value, like a $100 Macy’s gift card for less than $80.

The True Value of Simple Time- and Money-Saving Tips

For more years than I like to admit, I’ve been collecting and disseminating timesaving and money-saving tips. Readers e-mail them to me, hand them to me on little scraps of paper and even send them in the mail. Some are hilarious, others downright weird. And the very best ones show up in this column.

I will admit that not all of my favorite tips could single-handedly turn a person’s financial situation from red to black. Or free up hours every day. Take the tip for sharpening scissors, which is right now in my personal top 10: Tear off a length of aluminum foil. Fold it in half three or four times to create multiple layers. Now cut several times through all those layers with your dull scissors. They’ll be sharp as a razor in no time at all.

My common sense told me such a tactic would make slightly dull scissors totally worthless. But I was wrong. This tip really works, and it works so well I offered up my good dressmaker’s shears to its power.

Prepare Today for What You Might Need Tomorrow

Face it. People are simply living longer than ever before and health care costs are climbing higher every year. Which brings me to the subject of long-term care. You might assume that’s just about nursing homes, but it refers to more than that. Long-term care means getting the assistance you need at home as well.

You could live to 100 and never need long-term care. You could end up needing assistance in daily living long before retirement, or you could fit somewhere in between. Maybe your knees go. Or your eyes. Or you become a little too forgetful. No one likes to think about it, but the human body is not built to live forever. You need to be informed and prepared.

Long-term care insurance usually covers the costs for care that aren’t picked up by regular health insurance or Medicare. If you need assistance to properly feed, clothe or bathe yourself, long-term care insurance could pay the bill, depending on the type and amount of coverage you buy. But because it’s expensive, long-term care insurance isn’t typically a product lower-income individuals are able to afford.

Five Ways to Get Out of the Supermarket Without Overspending

Grocery shopping is tricky anytime, but especially challenging when you’re on budget. On one hand, having everything you need in one place is convenient. But on the other hand, having so many options can sabotage every intention you have of sticking to your budget. Supermarkets are filled with everything you need and everything you don’t need, too.

Don’t expect a supermarket to help you avoid overspending. The place is specifically designed, decorated and arranged to encourage and increase impulse spending. They want you to spend more and they know how to persuade you to do it. With that in mind, consider these five ways to beat them at their own game:

Don’t go in hungry. You believe that you dash in to pick up the infamous few things. But if you’re starving, you’re a dead aim for a couple of steaks and a load of snacks. You know what I’m talking about. This is because of the first rule of grocery stores: Anything can happen when you are hungry.

Don’t try to remember. Without a list of the exact items you’ve come to purchase who knows what could happen? It’s normal for our brains to slip into neutral in the face of fabulous food. A written list is the crutch you need desperately to make sure you do not slip and fall, so to speak.

Let’s Take a Few More Questions from the Audience

I don’t mention it as often as I should, but the truth is that I’d be lost without you, my loyal, encouraging and responsive audience. Thank you for being there every day and for filling my email inbox to overflowing with your comments, questions and outpourings of love and gratitude. Please don’t stop. Ever.

Speaking of questions, let’s take a few from the audience …

Q: I am having a problem with slow-cooker cooking. I got a new cooker and now everything—even pot roast—is turning out dry! Any ideas on what I’m doing wrong?

A: Slow cookers cook at a much higher temperature now than they did say 20 years ago. It is due to food safety concerns, but in reality and in my opinion, that has taken the advantage of the slow cooker away—the advantage for working families to start meals before work and come home to tasty, properly cooked food even if it’s been cooking for 8 hours or longer. All too often results are mushy, dry and flavorless.

How Long to Keep Important Papers?

Every year about this time my mailbox tells me it’s time to review the general guidelines on how long to keep statements, paid bills and other important paperwork.

Today’s quick review should help you get your paper work in order just in time to file your Tax Year 2016 return.

Here are the general rules for how long to keep important household papers:

ONE YEAR. Keep pay stubs for at least one year so you reconcile them against both your W-2 Wage and Tax Statement (this is the form from your employer that shows how your annual earnings were allocated that you attach to your tax return) and the Social Security Earnings Statement you receive once each year in the mail (you can request a copy any time from www.ssa.gov). If your records do not match the entries on these forms you’ll be happy to have your pay stubs to prove your earnings and withholding.

Great Dates for Couples on a Tight Budget

Wallet a little thin this Valentine season? That shouldn’t mean you cancel all dates until things begin to look up in the finance department. The solution is to get creative, to find reasonable and fun alternatives that require only pocket change and the right attitude—or with any luck, some that are absolutely free.

Here are nine ideas to get your creativity going:

VOLUNTEER TOGETHER. Find a local charity that meets the needs of some area of life you are passionate about, such as a soup kitchen or pet shelter. Volunteer for the day—together!

FREE DAY. Most art galleries and museums have a free day or hours each month or have gone to a “pay as you wish” policy. Here’s an example: Los Angeles County Museum of Art is free after 3pm Monday-Friday for L.A. County residents; also free on the second Tuesday of each month. Also in Los Angeles, The Getty Center is always free. Check those in your area.

KARAOKE. Just hear me out. Karaoke is guaranteed to be a fun night, even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Let your hair down, spring for a few drinks and have a ball.

STAR GAZE. When is the last time you lay down on a blanket and stared at the stars? Grab some hot chocolate, warm blankets and your best gal or guy, then try to find your favorite constellations. If you need some guidance, you can download apps like Star Tracker (Google/Apple).