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I Tried These 4 Meal Kit Services So You Don’t Have To

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Grocery shopping has always been a struggle.

I’ve planned out my shopping list in advance. I’ve meal prepped. I’ve avoided shopping while hungry. But since our household consists of just me and my boyfriend (and our dog, who, frankly, eats better than we do), it’s hard to gauge how much food we need for the week. We inevitably end up throwing some of it out.

Americans waste about 40 percent of food produced in the United States, which costs households, businesses and farms about $218 billion each year. I hate knowing that we’re contributing to that statistic. Being in Los Angeles, we just order takeout. That doesn’t do any favors for our wallets or waistlines.

The Mission

Then one day, I was served an ad for a meal kit delivery service on Facebook. The service promised creative meals I could cook in less than an hour, with precise ingredients so nothing would go to waste. In fact, once I clicked on that ad, my feed was inundated with coupons for new customers of every meal kit service under the sun.

I thought, what if I subscribed to a different service every week and used their discount codes?

And so I embarked on a mission to find the best service for weeknight meals that were fast, healthy and wouldn’t go to waste, all while saving money in the process.

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  • Plan: Two-person, two recipes per week
  • Original cost: $43.96/box, $7.99 shipping
  • Discount: $50 off first two boxes
  • Average cost per serving (post-discount): $6.74

Blue Apron was the first service I tried when I received an offer for $50 off my first two boxes. That essentially cut the cost of a box in half, so I decided to give it a shot.

Blue Apron offers a couple of different plans. There’s the two-person plan, which lets you choose either two or three recipes per week. There’s also a family plan, which feeds four and comes with two, three or four recipes per week.

Every plan except the two-person, two-recipe plan offers free shipping. But fearing we wouldn’t squeeze three home-cooked meals into one week, I opted for the 2×2.

Right off the bat, I was intrigued by the recipe options, since they were ingredient and flavor combinations I’d never think to cook on my own. I chose the spicy pork and Korean rice cakes with baby bok choy, as well as the chicken and orange kale salad with spicy tahini dressing.

When it came time to actually cooking the food, things went fairly smoothly. All I needed was salt, pepper, olive oil and basic kitchen utensils. However, though the instructions were easy to follow, the estimated cooking time for both recipes was pretty optimistic. It took more time for me, most likely, because I wasn’t familiar with all the techniques. Both dishes took me about an hour to prepare from start to finish.

I also wasn’t thrilled that the spicy pork rang in at over 750 calories per serving and featured a slew of empty carbs. But damn, it was good. The flavors were bold and the chewy rice cakes provided a surprisingly satisfying texture.

The salad, which was part of Blue Apron’s Whole30 menu, was also remarkably tasty. I even learned how to make kale taste like actual food (marinate it!). At 650 calories, I didn’t feel as guilty about serving this meal, especially because it was made up of mostly protein and veggies.

Final verdict: I thought the recipes were creative and helped me get outside my culinary comfort zone. And though they were delicious, I do wish there were more low-calorie and low-carb options on the menu.

2. HelloFresh (Grade: B-)

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  • Plan: Two-person, two meals per week
  • Original cost: $39.96/box, $7.99 shipping + $10.00 for premium recipe
  • Discount: $25
  • Average cost per serving (post-discount): $8.24

The next plan I tried was HelloFresh, using a $25 off coupon for my first box. This service offers three plans: Classic, veggie and family. The classic plan feeds two or four people, with the option to receive two, three or four meals per week. The vegetarian plan feeds two or four people, with three recipes per week as the only option. Finally, the family plan feeds four, with either two or three recipes per week. Again, I opted for the two people, two recipes plan.

I’m a sucker for a good steak, so the first meal I made was the hoisin marinated ribeye steak with bok choy, scallion pesto and mashed potatoes. What I didn’t realize, however, was that the “premium” tag on this particular recipe I saw when I selected it meant I’d be billed an extra $10, bringing up the average cost per serving considerably.

I wouldn’t have minded the extra cost, but the quality of the ribeye was poor. I was skeptical of the cooking time, as I prefer steaks medium rare, so I pulled it off the pan early. Still, the meat was stringy and tough. The sides were decent (bok choy is really growing on me), but at a whopping 1,180 calories per serving, I didn’t feel this meal was worth the indulgence.

The second meal I prepared was the pineapple pork chop with sugar snap peas and jasmine rice. This recipe was much more reasonable at 510 calories. Even so, I felt like I had to make up for the rib eye debacle, so I swapped out the jasmine rice for some riced cauliflower from Trader Joe’s. The cooking time on this one also seemed high, so I pulled the pork out of the oven a few minutes early and let it rest to 145 degrees. If I hadn’t, it definitely would have been overcooked.

Final verdict: HelloFresh offers a bit more variety to accommodate dietary restrictions, such as an entire plan dedicated to meat-free meals. Stacy Gordon, the chief product officer at HelloFresh, told me the company’s recent acquisition of the delivery service Green Chef has allowed them to offer more specialty and allergen-related plans. Personally, the plan I chose didn’t quite meet my needs ― it ended up being more expensive and I would have liked more creative recipes with higher quality proteins.

3. Martha & Marley Spoon (Grade: C)

Martha & Marley Spoon

  • Plan: Two-person, two meals per week
  • Original cost: $48.00
  • Discount: $30 off first box
  • Average cost per serving (post-discount): $4.50

Marley Spoon teamed up with Martha Stewart in 2016 to launch Martha & Marley Spoon, which features Stewart’s award-winning recipes and cooking techniques. There is a two-person plan, as well as a plan that feeds three to four. Both plans allow you to choose two, three or four recipes per week.

Hoping some of Martha’s kitchen magic would rub off on me, and scoring a generous $30 off my first box, I decided to give this service a shot next.

My first recipe was the Cajun-spiced chicken with red beans and grits, which was 819 calories per serving. New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, so maybe a longing to be back sipping Sazeracs and listening to jazz led me to choose this one. In the end, however, I didn’t exactly feel like I was dining on Bourbon Street. The meal was tasty enough, but it wasn’t particularly creative.

The second recipe I chose was the Bloody Mary steak salad with caramelized tomatoes, which was 664 calories per serving. I thought my previous experience with steak might have been a fluke, so I decided to give Martha & Marley Spoon’s version a shot. That was a mistake. The steak was a lower-quality cut that ended up tough despite cooking it medium rare. The rest of the salad consisted of romaine lettuce and warm tomatoes. I wasn’t impressed, though I blame myself for choosing this questionable recipe.

On the positive side, both meals were very easy to prepare and required the most basic ingredients and utensils from my own kitchen. Jennifer Aaronson, the culinary director of Martha & Marley Spoon, told me the company strives “to get the most flavor out of the fewest ingredients (less prep, less clean up!) in the shortest amount of time.” In that respect, this company delivered on their promise.

Final verdict: Though the food was decent, Martha & Marley Spoon was my least favorite of all the meal kits I tried. The results fell flat compared to my expectations; maybe they were set too high by the prospect of cooking recipes designed by the Queen of the Kitchen herself. However, given the opportunity to try more recipes, I might have found options that were more in line with my needs.

Home Chef

  • Plan: Two-person, three recipes per week
  • Original cost: $59.70
  • Discount: $30 off first box
  • Average cost per serving (post-discount): $4.95

When signing up for Home Chef, I was prompted to fill out a “taste profile” and select certain dietary preferences. Unlike other services that simply allow you to exclude foods from your meal options, such as dairy or shellfish, Home Chef goes a step further to craft weekly menus according to more specialized diet requirements. For instance, I selected low-calorie and low-carb as my preferences.

Home Chef offers the most recipe options out of all the services I tried. You can choose between two and six recipes per week, with two, four or six servings per meal. Each serving is priced at $9.95, but there is also an option to add on breakfasts and quick lunches for a small additional charge per meal. Orders under $45 cost $10 for shipping, otherwise it’s free.

I opted for the two-person, three-recipe plan because I was able to use a discount code for $30 off my first box with this option.

The first recipe I made was the pork chop with garlic-butter mushrooms and mashed carrots. At 623 calories, I enjoyed the hearty comfort-food feel without the unnecessary carbs. The mashed carrots provided a fresh alternative to the conventional potato side.

Next up was the parmesan-crusted chicken with arugula and balsamic vinaigrette at 548 calories. I particularly loved this recipe ― the parmesan crust really jazzed up an otherwise boring protein option. The addition of shallots to the arugula salad added another dimension of flavor without the harsh bite you usually get from onions.

Finally, I prepared the Acapulco fajita beef skillet with pico de gallo. This could have been nothing more than fancy hamburger helper. However, the recipe was elevated by ingredients such as fresh poblano pepper and Chihuahua cheese. And at 564 calories per serving, I indulged in my love of tacos without regretting it the next day.

The final verdict: Home Chef was definitely my favorite of all the meal kit services I tried. I was not only impressed with how the meals tasted, but also the diversity of recipes in each week’s menu. “We differentiate ourselves from other meal kit brands by offering more variety and customization to our customers,” Home Chef’s chief revenue officer, Rich DeNardis, told me in an email. And I agree. I never felt like I had to compromise on health in order to receive a satisfying meal.

Are Meal Kits Worth It?

In the end, these meal kits did save me money. After my first month of subscribing to meal kits, my grocery spending dropped by about $300 without increasing my total food budget:

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The terrifying reality of my monthly grocery budget.

Granted, there were fewer days in February. I also relied on heavily discounted boxes for first-time customers. If I had subscribed to regularly priced meal kits, the savings would have been smaller.

There are ways to earn additional discounts, such as getting new customers to join using a personal link. A couple of services even sent me more coupons in the mail after I canceled my plans. However, I don’t think all that hustling for additional discounts would be worth the effort. I liked Home Chef enough to continue the plan at full price ― and I plan to.

The truth is, if you spend the time to strategically plan out your recipes for the week, shop for low-cost ingredients and cook meals in larger quantities, you’ll probably save more money than you will relying on a meal kit. But the savvy cook is not the intended customer of these services.

Another downside to meal kits: Although these services address the problem of food waste, they create a great deal of packaging waste. Sure, the box itself and insulation are recyclable, but those plastic containers and tiny jars of mayo aren’t. Plus, those special weekly deliveries contribute to a larger carbon footprint.

Clearly, meal kits are about convenience. And as a single, busy professional, that’s exactly what I need. Despite a small savings up front, my hope is that a healthier diet and less food waste today will pay off in the long run.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story listed an incorrect price for HelloFresh’s two-person, two-meal plan. It is $39.96/box, plus $7.99 shipping.

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4 things kids need to know about money

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(NC) Responsible spending includes knowing the difference between wants and needs. Back-to-school season, with added expenses and expectations around spending, is the perfect time to not only build your own budget for the year ahead, but also to introduce your own children to the concept of budgeting.

The experts at Capital One break down four basic things that every child should know about money, along with tips for bringing real-life examples into the conversation.

What money is. There’s no need for a full economic lesson,but knowing that money can be exchanged for goods and services, and that the government backs its value, is a great start.
How to earn money. Once your child understands what money is, use this foundational knowledge to connect the concepts of money and work. Start with the simple concept that people go to work in exchange for an income, and explain how it may take time (and work) to save for that new pair of sneakers or backpack. This can help kids develop patience and alleviate the pressure to purchase new items right away that might not be in your budget.
The many ways to pay. While there is a myriad of methods to pay for something in today’s digital age, you can start by explaining the difference between cash, debit and credit. When teaching your kids about credit, real examples help. For instance, if your child insists on a grocery store treat, offer to buy it for them as long as they pay you back from their allowance in a timely manner. If you need a refresher, tools like Capital One’s Credit Keeper can help you better understand your own credit score and the importance of that score to overall financial health.
How to build and follow a budget. This is where earning, spending, saving and sharing all come together. Build a budget that is realistic based on your income and spending needs and take advantage of banking apps to keep tabs on your spending in real-time. Have your kids think about how they might split their allowance into saving, spending and giving back to help them better understand money management.

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20 Percent Of Americans In Relationships Are Committing Financial Infidelity

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Nearly 30 million Americans are hiding a checking, savings, or credit card account from their spouse or live in partner, according to a new survey from CreditCards.com. That’s roughly 1 in 5 that currently have a live in partner or a spouse.

Around 5 million people — or 3 percent — used to commit “financial infidelity,” but no longer do.

Of all the respondents, millennials were more likely than other age groups to hide financial information from their partner. While 15 percent of older generations hid accounts from their partner, 28 percent of millennials were financially dishonest.

Regionally, Americans living in the South and the West were more likely to financially “cheat” than those living in the Northeast and Midwest.

Insecurity about earning and spending could drive some of this infidelity, according to CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman.

When it comes to millennials, witnessing divorce could have caused those aged 18-37 to try and squirrel away from Rossman calls a “freedom fund”.

“They’ve got this safety net,” Rossman said. They’re asking: “What if this relationship doesn’t work out?”

As bad as physical infidelity

More than half (55 percent) of those surveyed believed that financial infidelity was just as bad as physically cheating. That’s including some 20 percent who believed that financially cheating was worse.

But despite this, most didn’t find this to be a deal breaker.

Over 80 percent surveyed said they would be upset, but wouldn’t end the relationship. Only 2 percent of those asked would end the relationship if they discovered their spouse or partner was hiding $5,000 or more in credit card debt. That number however is highest among those lower middle class households ($30,000-$49,999 income bracket): Nearly 10 percent would break things off as a result.

Roughly 15 percent said they wouldn’t care at all. Studies do show however that money troubles is the leading cause of stress in a relationship.

That’s why, Rossman says, it’s important to share that information with your partner.

“Talking about money with your spouse isn’t always easy, but it has to be done,” he said. “You can still maintain some privacy over your finances, and even keep separate accounts if you and your spouse agree, but you need to get on the same page regarding your general direction, otherwise your financial union is doomed to fail.”

With credit card rates hovering at an average of 19.24 percent APR, hiding financial information from a partner could be financially devastating.

But, Rossman adds, it’s not just about the economic impact but also the erosion of trust.

“More than the dollars and cents is that trust factor,” he said. “I think losing that trust is so hard to regain. That could be a long lasting wedge.”

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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7 Examples Of Terrible Financial Advice We’ve Heard

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Between television, radio, the internet and well-meaning but presumptuous friends and family, we’re inundated with unsolicited advice on a daily basis. And when it comes to money, there’s a ton of terrible advice out there. Even so-called experts can lead us astray sometimes.

Have you been duped? Here are a few examples of the worst money advice advisers, bloggers and other personal finance pros have heard.

1. Carry a balance to increase your credit score.

Ben Luthi, a money and travel writer, said that a friend once told him that his mortgage loan officer advised him to carry a balance on his credit card in order to improve his credit score. In fact, the loan officer recommended keeping the balance at around 50 percent of his credit limit.

“This is the absolute worst financial advice I’ve ever heard for several reasons,” Luthi said. For one, carrying a credit card balance doesn’t have any effect on your credit at all. “What it does do is ensure that you pay a high interest rate on your balance every month, neutralizing any other benefits you might get from the card,” Luthi explained. “Also, keeping a 50 percent credit utilization is a surefire way to hurt your credit score, not help it.”

Some credit experts recommend keeping your balance below 30 percent of the card limit, but even that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Keeping your balance as low as possible and paying the bill on time each month is how you improve your score.

2. Avoid credit cards ― period.

Credit cards can be a slippery slope for some people; overspending can lead to a cycle of debt that’s tough to escape.

But avoiding credit cards on principle, something personal finance gurus like Dave Ramsey push hard, robs you of all their potential benefits.

“Credit cards are a good tool for building credit and earning rewards,” explained personal finance writer Kim Porter. “Plus, there are lots of ways to avoid debt, like using the card only for monthly bills, paying off the card every month and tracking your spending.”

If you struggle with debt, a credit card is probably not for you. At least not right now. But if you are on top of your finances and want to leverage debt in a strategic way, a credit card can help you do just that.

3. The mortgage you’re approved for is what you can afford.

“The worst financial advice I hear is to buy as much house as you can afford,” said R.J. Weiss, a certified financial planner who founded the blog The Ways to Wealth. He explained that most lenders use the 28/36 rule to determine how much you can afford to borrow: Up to 28 percent of your monthly gross income can go toward your home, as long as the payments don’t exceed 36 percent of your total monthly debt payments. For example, if you had a credit card, student loan and car loan payment that together totaled $640 a month, your mortgage payment should be no more than $360 (36 percent of $1,000 in total debt payments).

“What homeowners don’t realize is this rule was invented by banks to maximize their bottom line ― not the homeowner’s financial well-being,” Weiss said. “Banks have figured out that this is the largest amount of debt one can take on with a reasonable chance of paying it back, even if that means you have to forego saving for retirement, college or short-term goals.”

4. An expensive house is worth it because of the tax write-off.

Scott Vance, owner of taxvanta.com, said a real estate agent told him when he was younger that it made sense to buy a more expensive house because he had the advantage of writing off the mortgage interest on his taxes.

But let’s stop and think about that for a moment. A deduction simply decreases your taxable income ― it’s not a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax bill. So committing to a larger mortgage payment to take a bigger tax deduction still means paying more in the long run. And if that high mortgage payment compromises your ability to keep up on other bills or save money, it’s definitely not worth it.

“Now, as a financial planner focusing on taxes, I see the folly in such advice,” he said, noting that he always advises his client to consider the source of advice before following it. ”Taking tax advice from a Realtor is … like taking medical procedure advice from your hairdresser.”

5. You need a six-month emergency fund.

One thing is true: You need an emergency fund. But when it comes to how much you should save in that fund, it’s different for each person. There’s no cookie-cutter answer that applies to everyone. And yet many experts claim that six months’ worth of expenses is exactly how much you should have socked away in a savings account.

“I work with a lot of Hollywood actors, and six months won’t cut it for these folks,” said Eric D. Matthews, CEO and wealth adviser at EDM Capital. “I also work with executives in the same industry where six months is overkill. You need to strike a balance for your work, industry and craft.”

If you have too little saved, a major financial blow can leave you in debt regardless. And if you set aside too much, you lose returns by leaving the money in a liquid, low-interest savings account. “The generic six months is a nice catch-all, but nowhere near the specific need of the individual’s unique situation… and aren’t we all unique?”

6. You should accept your entire student loan package.

Aside from a house, a college education is often one of the biggest purchases people make in their lifetimes. Often loans are needed to bridge the gap between college savings and that final tuition bill. But just because you’re offered a certain amount doesn’t mean you need to take it all.

“The worst financial advice I received was that I had to accept my entire student loan package and that I had no other options,” said Gina Zakaria, founder of The Frugal Convert. “It cost me a lot in student loan debt. Now I tell everyone that you never have to accept any part of a college financial package that you don’t want to accept.” There are always other options, she said.

7. Only invest in what you know.

Even the great Warren Buffett, considered by many to be the best investor of all time, gets it wrong sometimes. One of his most famous pieces of advice is to only invest in what you know, but that might not be the right guidance for the average investor.

In theory, it makes sense. After all, you don’t want to tie up your money in overly complicated investments you don’t understand. The problem is, most of us are not business experts, and it’s nearly impossible to have deep knowledge of hundreds of securities. “Diversification is key to a good portfolio, and investing in what you know leads to a very un-diversified portfolio,” said Britton Gregory, a certified financial planner and principal of Seaborn Financial. “Instead, invest in a well-diversified portfolio that includes many companies, even ones you’ve never heard of.”

That might mean enlisting the help of a professional, so make sure it’s one who has your best interests at heart.

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