Food Budgets

Are All the Food Delivery and Subscription Services Worth It?

We’re living in an age of convenience. Groceries can be delivered, clothes can be picked out for you and just about every TV show and movie ever made can be beamed straight into your living room. If I had the money, I could get pretty much everything I need without ever leaving my house.

But unfortunately, I don’t have the money. Do you?

As our society has collectively fallen in love with subscription services, many of us have let them take over our budget. Because these are recurring expenses, it’s all too easy to sign up and forget about your card being charged every month.

It’s time to finally ask yourself -are all of these subscription services worth the money?

Are You Spending Too Much on Subscription Services?

Before you can decide if meal subscription and delivery services are eating up too much of your budget, you have to figure out how much you’re spending on them. This is a very subjective and personal question that depends on your income, total spending and other goals.

Look at your monthly subscription and food delivery spending in Mint, checking to see if the numbers align with your budget. Take the time to sort and categorize the transactions if you haven’t done so in a while. It may help to look through several month’s worth of expenses, because some subscription services like FabFitFun only ship once a quarter.

Spending may also vary based on the seasons or other external factors. You may spend more on food delivery services during final exams because you’re too busy to meal plan. If the seasons change and you don’t have any clothes, you may spend more on personal styling services.

Once you have an accurate account of how much you spend, compare it to your income and other expenses. Spending $50 a week on a meal kit service doesn’t mean anything without context. You need to know how that compares to your other expenses.

How to Cut Down on Subscription Services

If you found that you’re overspending on subscription services, it doesn’t mean that you need to cut them out entirely. Think about how much value each service provides to your life, and prioritize where your money is going.

Make a list of all the subscription services you currently have and how much you spend on them each month. Then rank the subscription and delivery services from most important to least.

Write down how often you actually use the products or services. Be honest with yourself. The goal is to keep the boxes and services that you actually use, love and enjoy on a regular basis. This can help you identify which services don’t fit into your lifestyle – or budget.

Try to be as objective and ruthless as possible here. Yes, you may love getting the monthly Stitch Fix box in the mail, but do you actually keep the clothes they send? Learning to cook with Blue Apron may be a worthy goal, but do you actually like the meals they send?

Once you have a list of essential subscriptions, look at your budget again and determine how much money is left for those services. If the available amount is greater than the total cost, you’re in the clear.

However, if the amount is more than you can afford, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. If you absolutely can’t bear the thought of parting with your subscriptions, you’ll have to look at cuts you can make in other spending categories.

How to Save on Subscription Services

Chances are, you’re paying more for some of your subscription services than is absolutely necessary. Most video streaming services let you watch multiple screens at once so you can split it with friends or family. Some even have student deals if you have a university email address. Your school may even have its own special agreements with certain providers.

If there are a lot of subscription services you want to keep, consider alternating which ones you use throughout the year. Most subscription and delivery services make it easy to cancel and resubscribe later.

For example, if you have a beauty box subscription and a bathroom full of toiletries, quit the service until you’ve used most of the products. Many of these products expire, so you’ll be saving money and cutting down on waste.

If you subscribe services but only use them during a particular season, like a streaming service tied to a seasonal sport, get rid of them and reactivate when you’re ready. You can also do this with streaming services that only have a few shows you’re interested in. Once you’re done watching Stranger Things, for example, you can deactivate your Netflix membership for no penalty.

Seek Alternative Ways to Save

Looking for cheaper versions of your favorite services can also help you avoid overspending. Some grocery stores now have meal kits similar to Blue Apron or HelloFresh. It’s not as convenient, but it’s a much more affordable alternative.

Many companies give customers referral codes they can send out to friends and family. When people use your referral codes, you’ll earn free credit or cash. For example, Barkbox provides a free month if someone signs up for a six or 12-month membership through your referral link.

Sometimes companies will have a special coupon for new customers that use referral codes, like Stitch Fix who provide a $25 bonus for both the new customer and the one who referred them.

You can share these links on social media, by text or through email. Some programs have a limit on how much you can earn with referral codes, but it never hurts to try. If you end up exceeding that amount, you can apply for their official affiliate program to earn cash instead of credit.

If you do cancel a program, check your bank account to make sure you’re no longer paying for it. Some services are guilty of occasionally charging former subscribers even after they’ve quit.

Which subscription service are you going to cut back on this year? Let us know in the comments!

The post Are All the Food Delivery and Subscription Services Worth It? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Work from Home While Schooling Your Kids

Parents all over the United States have had to make lofty and quick adjustments due to the pandemic erupting the daily routines many of us haven’t had to change in quite a while. Feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and sheer confusion have consumed many; leaving the evergreen thoughts about how to best accommodate our children while simultaneously completing remote work effectively. If you have been struggling with finding a balance or could use some extra pointers to smooth out this process; see the tips below and breathe a little easier knowing there’s additional help available. 

Wake up at least an hour earlier 

I know, this is probably the last thing you wanted to hear fresh out of the gate. However, take this into consideration – you can use this uninterrupted time to knock out some tasks, enjoy your cup of coffee or breakfast before the day truly begins. Rushing (especially in the mornings) tends to set a precedence for the day, causing your mind and body to believe that a pace of hurriedness is expected; generating feelings of burnout very easily. Crankiness, low engagement, and minimal productivity doesn’t serve you, your work, or your children well. Use this solo time to still your thoughts so you are able to be fully present for all things the day holds. While this may take some time to get used to initially, you’ll thank yourself when you have the energy to handle any and everything! 

Set and abide by a clear routine 

Comparing your child’s school schedule in conjunction with your personal work obligations very clearly can showcase what needs to get done and when. Reviewing this every evening beforehand or once a week with your children creates new, positive habits that become easier to follow over time. Not only does this mimic physical in-school setting, but it also generates responsibility and a sense of accomplishment for your little ones. If necessary, communicate with your manager if there are time periods you need to be more present to assist your children with any assignments. 

Designate ‘do not disturb’ time periods 

Depending on your work demands, there are conference calls and online meetings that may have to happen while the kids are completing their individual assignments or classroom time. To make sure everyone fulfills their tasks with minimal interruptions, create time periods that are dedicated to completing the more complex tasks that require a more intense level of focus. To avoid any hiccups, give some leeway before the blocked time to address any questions or concerns. While this doesn’t guarantee that nothing else arises, it establishes peace of mind so that your thoughts can be directed to the tasks that lie ahead.    

Plan out all meals for the week

If meal prepping wasn’t your thing before, it definitely should be now. Having lunch and/or dinner already prepared not only saves you time (which is a necessity) but also helps to normalize the growing grocery bill that seems never-ending. Planning not only avoids confusion and lengthy food conversations, but it also sets a routine the entire family can abide by. Easy food items such as tacos, burrito bowls, sandwiches, and an assortment of fruit provide a healthy balance – while avoiding ordering fast food or takeout multiple times a week.  

Establish a ‘lessons learned’ list 

Similar to an end of year job evaluation, you and your family can take a personal inventory of the things that have worked effectively – while taking note of the things that didn’t. At the end of every week have a very candid conversation with your children. Ask them what worked for their schooling and also self-assess the positives during your remote work. Remember to keep an open mind! Instead of automatically responding with frustration, consider how much of an adjustment this is for kids. They’re accustomed to a multitude of settings and environments, which develops their reasoning and comprehension skills. If they identify something was less than satisfactory, ask what can be done (within reason) to improve their new learning environment. These notes can take place on sticky notes, a large whiteboard, or a simple notepad. This doesn’t have to be a serious sit-down conversation; it can almost be presented as a game. Keeping track of these items will help you all make tweaks as necessary while finding a solid sweet spot.  

Give yourself (and your children) grace 

Life as we knew it switched in the blink of an eye. The busyness of going into the office, dropping the kids off at school, and shuffling them to extracurricular activities stopped more abruptly than any of us could have imagined. As we all know but don’t like to admit, every day isn’t a good day. There are many nuances that happen throughout the course of time that can derail our plans, leaving us to feel defeated. But before going off to the deep end, remember this – every day serves as a chance to start over. If the food wasn’t prepared ahead of time it’s okay. If the workday didn’t go as smoothly as expected, it’s quite alright. Take a deep breath and remember we are all doing the best we can with what we currently have. Learning to navigate new waters such as this is only achieved through trial and error.   

Celebrate the small wins 

Let’s face it – this is new for all of us! While online learning and remote work have been in place for more than a few months, we have to grant ourselves grace. So, if you haven’t already – give yourself and your children a pat on the back! Plan safe outings you and your family can enjoy such as picnics, movie nights, or any outdoor activities. Getting some fresh air for at least 30 minutes during the day can help boost productivity and the moods of you and your children! Each week may not be easy, but it is rewarding to know that the effort you’ve put forth as a parent is a positive contribution to your family.   

One question that we all need to ask ourselves is-will we ever gain this amount of time with our families again? Let’s embrace this moment with learning and lasting memories.  

The post How to Work from Home While Schooling Your Kids appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Best Tips for Shopping at the Grocery Store on a Budget

It’s no secret that you can be healthy on a budget, but the real secret lies in how you can stay healthy and on budget.  Just like adapting to a new diet, staying on budget is all about behavior change.  In my previous article, I shared tips on eating healthy on a budget, and this time around, I’m digging a little deeper into how to stay on budget on a shopping trip.  Since I get groceries at least once per week, both for work projects and for my personal family shopping, I consider myself an expert in saving money at the grocery store.  Here are my top 10 tips for shopping at the grocery store on a budget, and don’t be surprised- some of these tips start even BEFORE you hit the store!

1. Check mail for coupons and ads

Cutting coupons may seem like a blast from the past, but if cutting out little pieces of paper can save $5 for my future, then I’ll be clipping away!  Each week, your mail includes ads from local grocery stores and coupons from major brands, so tossing that mail out is like throwing away money. Instead, look through that mail to find deals on your frequently used items, and anything special coming up.  Shopping ads especially help me to plan food for holidays, like for this budget-friendly spread for Fourth of July.

2. Make a grocery list.

I suggest planning out weekly meals and making a grocery list for it. This not only saves a lot of money, but will also save time in the grocery store and help reduce food waste (which is basically wasted money).  Going into the store with a list makes me feel more prepared and in control of what I spend. It’s pretty easy to say no to those extra treats in the cart if they’re not on my list.

3. Shop where you bag your own groceries.

If you have a grocery store in town where you bag your own groceries, chances are that store has the best prices since the savings on staff can be reflected on your receipt.  Plus, I like to bag my own groceries, as it gives me a final run-through of my purchase to make sure I didn’t forget anything, and I get to bag them exactly how I want.

4. Eat before to avoid impulse and unhealthy buys.

The biggest mistake in overspending at the grocery store is going shopping when your stomach’s growling.  That extra bag of chips gets half-way eaten before check-out at the register, and guess what?!?! It wasn’t on your grocery list, in your budget, OR on your meal plan.  Prevent that mistake by eating before a trip to the grocery store and it will be easier to stick to your plan.

5. Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables.

There are so many reasons why eating seasonally is better- less impact on the environment, more nutrients, and better taste- but buying produce in season is actually a great way to save money and eat healthy.  You don’t have to spend extra on foods that are imported from different regions when it’s growing in season in your area.  When produce is in season, it’s in abundance so farmers are able to give a better deal.

6. Buy frozen veggies.

While I stress that fresh is best, there are some times when it just makes sense to buy frozen veggies.  One reason would be because of cost. If there is a good sale on organic frozen peas, I’ll go ahead and purchase some ahead of time since I can store it in my freezer.  Another reason to buy frozen is because of seasonality. There is plenty of fresh and juicy corn available in the summer, but when it comes to winter months, I like to pull corn straight from my freezer.

7. Buy deli meat and cheese at the deli.

There is so much emphasis on how pre-packaged foods are more convenient, but these foods are not convenient on my wallet or my diet. When you buy foods that are already packaged, you’re paying for that extra packaging and all the costs that go along with that (from advertising, to transportation, to even stocking it on the shelves).  On top of that, buying food already packaged up can mean you end up wasting some of that food if you don’t use it.

That being said, I am all for soliciting the various departments of the grocery store and getting exactly how much I need, which means I pay for only that.  I get my sandwich meat and cheese from the deli and what I love is that I can tell them how much to slice, how many slices, and even how thick to make my slices.  Gone are the days of moldy cheese because I ran out of bread- now I know to shop for exactly what I need.

8. Buy bread and baked goods in the bakery. 

Speaking of bread, I also buy baked goods at the bakery.  Not only are these items usually made fresh in stores, they also skip all the fancy packaging and trickle all those savings to you.  If you’re seriously on a budget, some bakeries even sell day-old goods for a fraction of the cost.

9. Buy meat in bulk, cut and freeze.

While you’re visiting the different departments of the grocery store, don’t forget to make a stop to the butcher.  I like to buy meat in bulk and cut it to freeze for later. It’s so much cheaper to buy meat like this, and I love the convenience of having options to use in my freezer.  My biggest tip is if you’re going to make chicken, get the whole chicken because that’s considerably cheaper than one that’s cut. Aside from using just the meat, you can also make a delicious chicken broth with the carcass, which is a great way to use the whole animal and also save money even more!

10. Buy Bulk Bin items.

You know those bulk bins at the grocery store?  That section is like gold to me since every time I visit it, I’m saving money!  Since I’m usually developing recipes, it’s just easier to purchase the exact quantity of something, that way I know exactly how much something costs.  What’s even better is that I only have the amount needed for the recipe, and that leaves me with less food to waste each month. I absolutely dread throwing away food, because it’s like throwing away money, so by buying some ingredients in bulk, I know I’m using up what I need.

Using ingredients from bulk bins, I’m going to make aebleskiver, or Danish Pancakes.  Ever since I got a special pan, I’ve been obsessed with making these fun-size pancakes.  I usually don’t purchase separate pans for specialty foods, but I really got my money’s worth for this pan since I use it a few times each month.  Yes, I could buy these ingredients packaged up ahead of time, but it’s happened where I think I have enough flour for a recipe (usually after I already mixed up the other ingredients), but I don’t have enough so I have to waste my time with an emergency trip to the store.  But ever since I started using bulk bins, I know I have enough for my recipes every time, and when it comes to eating healthy on a budget, everything adds up!

 

The post Best Tips for Shopping at the Grocery Store on a Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Choose the Best Healthcare Plan for Your Budget

Healthcare expenses can take a huge chunk out of any family’s budget so I want to break down how a family can weigh the pros and cons of a traditional health plan vs a high deductible one.

Health Insurance Getting Too Expensive

If I asked you what’s are your biggest expenses each month, what would you say? If you’re like most families, you’d probably mention rent (or mortgage), food, or transportation. And yes, those are huge expenses for the typical family.

However, one of the largest can be healthcare. The crazy thing is how much it can drain from your budget even if you’re a relatively healthy family.

We found out firsthand a few years ago when my husband’s employer had open enrollment. Each year we review the health insurance options and it seemed to us that the costs kept rising. After having kids, we went with the ‘basic’ family plan and the monthly premiums still rose pretty fast. Finally, we hit our limit.

With the latest update, our monthly premiums would pretty much be the same as our mortgage. Considering we only visit the doctors for the girls’ annual well visits, we knew we needed to change things up. We know we’re not the only family dealing with this.

Right now for a family of four, the average monthly premium paid is $833 or  $9,996 annually. Add in the costs of the average deductible and you can see what a huge chunk of money health insurance can be.

However, this year when you get ready to review your options during open-enrollment, you may want to look into whether a high deductible health plan is a practical and affordable solution for your family.

How High Deductible Health Plans Work

As the name suggests, a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) comes with a larger deductible than a typical health insurance plan. The appeal for employers and insurance companies to offer this is that you’re taking on more financial responsibility for your health care costs.

The upside for you is that you should see a drop in the monthly premiums. For us, we saw a difference of a few hundred dollars for each month for premiums. Using a $300/month in savings, that’s like an extra $3,600/year that can be used for other financial goals that you may have.

Huge Tax Wins with a Health Savings Accounts

Another reason why a high deductible plan may be appealing for families is the ability to have a Health Savings Account (HSA).  It’s an extremely tax-advantaged account that you can use to pay for medical expenses.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve heard of or used a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). That’s what’s typically offered with the ‘more standard’ health plans. Basically you put money in there before taxes.

We used an FSA for years and it helped us to pay for regular expenses like my glasses and contacts. The problem was making sure we calculated enough to go into the account because if we didn’t use it by the end of the year, we’d lose it.

With a Health Savings Account, however, whatever you don’t use you keep. It can then grow in the account over the years. After saving enough to cover things like the deductible, you may decide to invest a portion to improve growth over the long term.

Making it even better is the fact that your HSA contributions are tax-deductible. Depending on your employer, they may also offer contributions to your HSA. That’s a fantastic bonus!

What really sweetens the deal is that families can contribute up to $6,900 each year, that money grows tax-free, and if we use the money for qualified medical expenses, what we pull out is tax-free.

Sounds amazing, right?

It’s enough to make you want to jump in and switch right now, but a high deductible and HSA may not be the best solution for your family.

The Pros and Cons of High Deductible Health Plans

A high deductible plan sounds great, but there are some costs to consider. With the higher deductible, you need to be aware of what your typical annual expenses would be to make sure you’re coming out ahead.

For example, if you have chronic health issues that require regular visits and perhaps medication, then you’d be paying a lot of money upfront before you hit your deductible and have your insurance cover their portion.

One way you can review your expenses is by using Mint to pull the numbers quickly. You can then easily see how much you’ve paid out of pocket.

When we looked at a few years of expenses, it confirmed that our visits were pretty much limited to annual well-visits (which are covered by HDHP plans), meaning we can save a significant amount of money.

When I spoke to a certified financial planner about what families need to consider, he pointed out families should also be aware of their out of pocket maximums with the plan they are looking into.

You want to have enough stashed away (either with your general savings or with your HSA) to cover those expenses.

A relative of mine recently had a procedure done. Even with insurance, her portion came out to be $3,000!

Thankfully she has some savings she can tap into, but still, that’s quite a bit of money.

So please run the numbers to make sure you could absorb a medical problem, especially during that first year of switching plans.

Choose the Best Plan for Your Family

So after weighing the costs and benefits, took the leap and switched over to a high deductible health plan and opened an HSA. Years later, we feel it was the best decision for our situation.

I hope you now have a better understanding of your options when it comes to health insurance. Having that knowledge can assist you in making the best decision for your family and finances.

I’d love to hear from you – what plan are using now? Do you have any plans on switching?

 

The post How to Choose the Best Healthcare Plan for Your Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com