This post is unsponsored. There have been a ton of posts in the blog world about Blue Apron, but I don’t think it is a coincidence that they haven’t bothered with a sponsored campaign in the personal finance blogger world. We are not their target audience.
Despite not being in their target audience in the blog world, I’m in their target demo in the real world. I tried Blue Apron for two weeks. The first week was with a hefty discount that anyone can get, the second week was partly because I didn’t cancel soon enough and partly so T would have some good food while I was out of town. I was traveling for part of the second week, so I tried five out of the six meals.
Things that I really loved:
No meal planning! I generally enjoy meal planning, but my stress had reached a peak and I just wasn’t able to do it.
New recipes I really liked: I liked all of the five meals that I tried, and really liked several. Some I will make again, others I would make again but they had some unusual ingredients that I’m unlikely to buy. I don’t cook a lot of meat and fish at home, and when I do, its the same few dishes/cuts. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever cooked salmon or roasted pork. This is mostly because when I’m looking for new recipes, I don’t think that I’d like a salmon dish or a pork dish as much as some other dish that I’m more comfortable with. Blue Apron helped me branch into a few new areas. I also really liked some of the different flavor profiles. I’m a huge fan of trying new dishes, and Blue Apron made it super easy.
They also give you the recipes when you skip a week.
I like cooking and eating home cooked food: If you don’t really care for cooking, this option doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Yes, just get your takeout. For me, this setup is much more appealing than it would be to spend the exact same amount of money on takeout.
Less grocery shopping: It only covered us for 3 nights, which doesn’t eliminate the need to go to the store. Still, it allowed me to plan something very simple for a few nights, and have something yummy the other nights. Since we’ve been doing such a poor job of meal planning lately, we’ve sometimes ended up at the store more than once a week. This is a problem that I know how to solve, I just hadn’t had time/energy to solve it. Blue Apron was nice in this pinch. The second week, I came home from traveling late Thursday, and we still had 2 meals left for Friday and Saturday. It was such a relief to not have to worry about shopping until I’d had time to decompress, yet we still got a good home cooked meal.
Things that I didn’t like:
Price is high: This is the big deal breaker. Without a discount, the pricing is about $10 per a plate. That is a lot for home cooked food! I did find the portion sizes a little bigger than what I’d serve myself (one dinner actually was designed for 3 portions), but still. It is just not reasonable for anyone who has frugal values.
That said, it isn’t completely insane. Some people say they could just get takeout for this price. For us, getting takeout actually takes more time than cooking, unless we pay a premium for Seamless/delivery. Where I live, I can’t get cooked food for two delivered to our door for $20, and it is at least a 45 minute errand to pick it up (and still a bit over $20). I can’t remember the last time we went out to eat at a proper restaurant for <$20. We don’t really do much “fast food”, and even Chipotle is closer to $20 than to $10. Restaurants are really expensive here, even more than they were in LA/Santa Monica.
No leftovers: With the exception noted above, I found it annoying to do all of the cooking work and not have leftovers for the next night or for lunches.
Unfriendly packaging: Their website does tell you how to recycle everything, but there is a lot of packaging.
Quality Control: The first week was perfect, but the second week was missing an ingredient (!) and had one of the wrong recipe cards sent. The recipes are available online, and we just made the recipe without the missing carrot – but we’re paying a price for the convenience, which makes this completely unacceptable. We’ll be contacting them with a complaint, and I’ll report back on what they say. I haven’t seen anyone else complain about mistakes, so maybe we just had bad luck.
The price is just too high for me. Honestly, I liked it so much that I might add it in occasionally (once per a month or less) to change things up, despite the cost. The next month is slated to be busy at work. If weekly menu sounds really appealing, I’ll probably do it. I’ll likely eventually cancel all together, because this just isn’t a good financial deal. I can see why people love it, but I can’t imagine doing this on a regular basis as a primary source of our food. The only possible way it will save you money is if you are already eating lots of dinners out at places that are >$10 per a serving. And if you are doing that, you are probably not that concerned about cutting your food budget.
I was traveling for work last week, and someone from another (not crazy cheap, but cheaper than here!) area asked me this week if my job paid me enough to live where I live. I was caught off guard, but answered glibly about higher paying jobs if I commuted longer, and how it was expensive, but we do OK.
The real answer is simply yes, but we could certainly be even more comfortable somewhere else. Nationally, and locally (Bay Area) we are in the top ~5% of household incomes in the US. That last 5% has a huge ramp up in income, but if we can’t afford to live here, who can? If we dropped to one salary, we’d still be in the top 25% or so. To be clear, the person asking the question likely makes a similar salary as I do, although I don’t know his family situation. (He’s more senior, but the area is cheaper.)
We make choices that save us money and fit our lifestyle. We are a one car family since we both work close to home. We would love a housekeeper and gardener, but we just do it ourselves (and accept that it is not done as well as a pro). We didn’t spend a lot of time and money “decorating” our new house – we had furniture, most of it worked. We still travel and take vacations, but I use points as much as possible. I honestly get as much pleasure out of a week hiking in the California mountains. We delay having kids. This isn’t totally a financial choice, but it plays into my overall concern about it.
And it isn’t like we are just scraping by. We are saving money for retirement, we’re pre-paying our mortgage in large chunks, we don’t have a tight budget and basically buy the things we want and need without too much thought.
I’m simply not one to whine about how I make $$$ and can’t afford to live in this exceptionally expensive place. Could we have a better life somewhere cheaper? Probably, yes. Our salaries may fall, but not proportional to housing costs. Life could be a little easier elsewhere, but we live here. I love California, I love the Bay Area, I love our small (compared to Midwestern standards) house, I love our neighborhood, and we both love our jobs. It
might not be isn’t the most financially optimal place to live, but it is home.
*Disclaimer: We don’t live in SF proper, despite the photo choice. Income inequality and housing are huge issues in the area, and this post does not claim that they aren’t – just that we personally can make it. You shouldn’t have to be in the top 5-15% to do so.
- I downloaded our spending log, which I hadn’t analyzed since about April. Things seem on track for my annual goal to spend under $100k.
- Traveling a fair amount for work is good for the budget, although not sure if it is worth it.
- Biggest purchase of late: Bose QuietComfort headphones. I tried them earlier this week on a flight, T will try them next week, and we’ll decide if they are worth it. I’ve been flying a lot this year, and it is nice to cut out a bit of the noise.
- We got our rebate for the earthquake retrofitting project. Our total out-of-pocket cost for us was less than $600, which was amazing. T is congratulating himself for procrastinating on this for an extra year year, as that saved us an extra $3000 due to an extra rebate.
- We need to do some transfers and make our final mortgage pre-payments for the year.
- My 401k is maxed out!
I need to learn to keep my mouth shut. “I could help!” was something I really didn’t need to say, unprompted when I was really just trying to get someone else to do their work, which mine depends on. Now I have to deliver on that offer, in addition to my other stuff.
I’m feeling pulled in a lot of directions and a little unfocused and frazzled/overwhelmed. But – I’m certainly not bored! I’m really happy with almost everything on my plate, but I just have to figure out how to get it all done.
It’s proposal writing season. I’m hesitant to get too involved in them. They are a lot of work and mostly nights & weekends “on your own time.” Yet they are really pretty fun, and they are also necessary. They’re also the best way to get involved in new projects. I’m helping in a small way with one that already has most of the legwork done, and revamping the one we did last year. This one isn’t completely on my own time (yay!), which helps a little.
In the next few months, I need to talk to my lead on my primary project (mostly based in Colorado) about how it is going and what our plans are in the long run. The work is super great, but the travel is a bit grating. It is hard to be part of the team, yet separate. I want it both ways, as usual. I want the role as long as I need it, but I want an exit strategy if something more fitting to my life comes. It’s an odd conversation to have, especially given that we work for different places and any mutual loyalty is based only on a working relationship. I’m targeting November to discuss, although there isn’t a rush. I could just wait until something actually does come along – but I want to be honest about my intentions.
We are surviving doggy adolescence! We did a fun class last month where he learned to hunt for the scent of birch. We might do a Rally Obedience class next month (basically walking at a heel around cones). These classes serve mostly to keep us on top of working with him, and they are super affordable through the humane society (approximately $80 – $100 for 6 classes).
I got to see my family in the Midwest again! It is always so much fun, especially hanging out with my niece and nephew. My parents are both in need of surgeries in the next year, but my fingers are crossed my mom can delay hers a bit longer. It would be her 3rd surgery in 3 years (fixing heart defect that wasn’t discovered until a few years ago, then a lumpectomy for breast cancer, now potential back surgery stemming from a career that includes lifting).
Birthdays are coming up. We should plan a weekend getaway! I’m thinking driving north with the dog and staying near the coast for a couple nights.
We are still thinking about having kids “soon”. We haven’t really moved from that position or made progress. I’m still a bit scared of the prospect, but I also know that I want to try, and I know that means it is best to start soon.
In the two years we’ve been in our house, here are the projects and repairs that we’ve done:
- New furnace and vents (and removed asbestos). This was something like $10k, and we did it upon moving in.
- Installed fans in bathrooms (DIY, a couple hundred dollars)
- Redid drainage to eliminate moisture in crawl space during rainy season. The crawl space is unused, just a concern about mold. This was something like $10k for a french drain, which we anticipated when moved in.
- Added gutters to the deck, patched up some other gutters. This was about $500.
- Repaired a few leaks on the roof. This was DYI, about $100 for materials. (We got quotes for fixing it on the order of $700, but the things they said they would do were kind of basic.)
- Put UV film on most of the windows, $220.
- Got our first round of blinds for the bedrooms, the only ones that really needed blinds for privacy reasons, $700.
- Put up gates on the back patio in preparation for the pup. About $300 in supplies, DIY.
- Earthquake retrofitting. Finally done! Final out-of-pocket cost will be <$1000.
- We’re in the middle of regrading our patio since it floods in the winter. I assume the previous owners installed it themselves, and they didn’t put in proper drainage (see a theme here?). We’re digging it out, then will put in the appropriate drain materials, then relay the flagstone. So far we’ve only bought buckets (yep, I’m hauling the dirt by the bucket), but the final cost is TBD. We’ll have to pay for gravel, lumber, etc.
We didn’t fully furnish everything and we already had a lot of stuff, but we did get a quite a few things:
- Chair and side table, $2k. Expensive because it is a modern designer, not outrageous because it was used.
- Sleeper sofa from Craigslist for spare room ($500)
- Big table to use in the office as a desk and an office chair, from university surplus store ($100)
- Several rugs for the hardwood floors (~$400 for two 5×8 rugs and 1 used 8×10)
- Patio furniture (yay!) ($1500)
- 8 new dinning room chairs (used)… but no table to go with them yet! $800
- New lighting fixtures for the dining room, $340. No more crazy swirl track lights that I hated!
- Bar stools, $60 for two. Eventually I’d like to get some nicer ones, but these are working fine.
- We’ve also slowly been replacing our recessed lighting with LED bulbs.
This list covers most of the major projects identified when we moved in, as well as the most critical furniture needs. Some things that are still on my wishlist are:
- New dining table (likely used) that seats more than 4 people and isn’t a high top
- Blinds on a few more windows
- More/better rugs. The one in our living room is pretty blah, but it serves a purpose and it is big. We could use a hallway runner and a rug in the spare room.
- Entryway project. It is usable right now, but it is ugly and haphazard. Like, I have 3M sticky hooks instead of proper hooks and we’re using an old end table as an entryway console.
- Shading for the deck to go along with the recent patio furniture. We might just get an umbrella, but I’m also looking at sail shades. We’ll probably wait until next summer to make this happen.
Our net worth is up 3% for the month, 27% for the year. I look forward to the days when a 27% yearly increase would be unrealistic due to having such a high net worth.
My 401k is maxed for the year. I generally dollar cost average this, but I finished up early this year (no particular reason). The remaining summer money plan is to set aside property taxes for December and April, then send off a big mortgage prepayment chunk. I’m hoping to get to $25k this year, and it is looking good. The other plan is to possibly buy patio furniture at the end of the season (now).
I bought a new iPhone after mine died completely while on vacation through no fault of my own (crashed, couldn’t be restored). I was a bit annoyed by the crash, but also feel relieved that we can buy our way out of the problem. I also was happy to discover Apple has an iPhone SE, which is basically upgraded tech without the latest body/styling at a price point much lower than the latest-and-greatest. Not everyone wants to pay to be on the cutting edge.
We are owed a lot in reimbursements for work expenses right now. I’m owed about $2k for 2 different trips, and T is owed something like $4k for a computer and a work trip. Work aside, we have an additional $4k due to us for tax benefits of the earthquake retrofitting work we had done last month. That could take another 2 months to process.
We are still talking about what we’ll do for cars once Volkswagen finalizes details, but it appears we’ll have about $20k to put towards a vehicle. We have a long list of possibilities, but I honestly loved my VW Golf Diesel hatchback. I so wish it wasn’t all a scam.
Things are still going well, and I’m mostly happy.
I’m traveling about 25% of the time, which is a comfortable amount of work travel for me. I enjoy the places I go, but I miss my husband, my dog and my home life when I’m away. They miss me too. T does dog duty when I’m gone, but hasn’t had to hire the dog walker at all this summer.
There are occasional people and politics with the team in Colorado that irritate me, but my lead is super great. If I can keep my focus on what he thinks, I stay mostly happy. I trust that he has my back and will deflect politics, so I can refrain from getting too emotionally engaged with petty issues. He’s definitely got my respect, and we work well together. If I was working for anyone else there, I would have quit the project and found something else to do long ago.
My secondary role on the project is less interesting , and I worry that means I’ve not been doing a good job at it. A conversation with the lead for that project is in order to make sure we are on the same page. If I’m not adding enough value to his team, I don’t want to be in the way. I’m worried that I either need to make more time for it (hard to do), or at least manage expectations.
My other project has been slightly back-burnered (in my mind) due to funding delays, but it is finally ramping up… and it is super exciting! I think I’m going to the East Coast for this next month, which is my least favorite region – but I might try to explore it just a little bit while I’m there. We’ll see.
I had my performance review, which was silly, but went well. Maybe I’ll write more on it later, and explain why it is silly.
A Few Links:
What Hillary meant to say. “This definitely isn’t sexism. Sexism would be if we just went up to women and said ‘You can’t do that because you’re a woman.’ We know not to do that any more. It’s gauche. But that doesn’t mean there’s not ALWAYS SOMETHING SLIGHTLY THE MATTER with the way women do things.”
“I never had a dream. A dream is just a distraction for your mind, when your mind could be pondering common-sense solutions to problems. I had a goal.”
Terrance Tao on Trump (a few months old).
A thoughtful article about the individual focus on healthy living/self-care in a word with so many problems. “The harder, duller work of self-care is about the everyday, impossible effort of getting up and getting through your life in a world that would prefer you cowed and compliant. A world whose abusive logic wants you to see no structural problems, but only problems with yourself, or with those more marginalized and vulnerable than you are. Real love, the kind that soothes and lasts, is not a feeling, but a verb, an action. It’s about what you do for another person over the course of days and weeks and years, the work put in to care and cathexis. That’s the kind of love we’re terribly bad at giving ourselves, especially on the left. […] Caring for oneself and one’s friends in a world of prejudice is not an optional part of the struggle—in many ways, it is the struggle.”
I use the term “free” loosely, as obviously points have monetary value. These are our the costs for the trip. We visited Barcelona for several days, as that is where T’s meeting was held. T had been to Barcelona and wanted to go elsewhere for vacation, and we settled on Portugal. We traveled to Lisbon by plane (used miles – my original plan of using an overnight train tickets got quite expensive by the time we were ready to book), then stayed there mostly. We did a day trip to Sintra, and spent one night in Cascais, and one night in Porto.
All and all, it was a lovely trip and I’m glad we went!
- Flights: Free (work trip for T, miles for me)
- Airport transit: ~$100. We didn’t travel together for all legs, so I had to pay to get to/from the airport.
- Rail tickets: $122 for 2 high speed train tickets round trip from Lisbon to Porto
- Free for first several nights (coinciding with T’s work trip)
- Free with SPG points for 4 nights total
- Paid for 1 night at $101
- Paid for 1 night at $46, cost reduced by a hotels.com voucher (earned primarily through work travel)
- Entrance fees to sights paid by credit card (mostly the Sagrada Familia, one other): $82
- Cash spent on food/wine, port to take home, entrance fees to castles and such, metro rides, taxis, etc.: $1283 Of this, ~$300 was T’s expenses during work days and are reimbursable.
- Dog sitting for 11 nights: $495 – yup, $45/night! He’s a handful, so we are picky about who we can leave him with. So far, we’ve only left him with people have (or have had) high energy dogs and know how to manage an adolescent male puppy.
It was a bit more expensive than anticipated, but very reasonable for the duration. I was hoping the food costs would be slightly lower and was continually surprised by the cost to visit various sights – but we also didn’t try super hard to be frugal in these areas.
There is at least these small rewards from work travel. Not only do I get the miles I earn from flying, I also book everything on my personal card and get reimbursed. This gets me even more miles/points, depending on the card I use. We’re also allowed to use hotels.com and other discount sites to book, which earns us free credits over the course of the year (one free night per 10 stays).
Amazon & Ticketmaster Settlements: The initial happiness of finding out I had some Ticketmaster vouchers was quickly squashed when I realized that they are only “potentially eligible” for free tickets. I’m pretty sure I won’t use them. The Amazon settlement was a little better for me, in that I’ll actually be able to use my $17. But don’t expect any future settlements from anyone – binding arbitration is the name of the game these days.
VW Settlement: Speaking of settlements, remember how we bought a brand new car in 2011? We were super excited about the clean diesel technology, the great fuel economy, and the overall savings in fuel costs… And the hatchback! It could fit so much stuff – we transported a lot of things that you’d never expect to be able to fit into a car. I will never own a car with a trunk again! I was pretty thrilled with our choice.
Except… it was all based on lying and cheating, and we’ve actually been driving a polluting car! They finally sorted out the settlement, and T calculated they’ll do a buy-back/settlement, and we’ll get ~$20k and be carless. Our A/C has been mostly busted for some time now, but we’ve been avoiding fixing it ($$) until we knew if we were keeping the car. Due to the A/C issue (and a dent that I don’t want to talk about), we’ll likely go with the buy-back option. We haven’t decided if we’ll go with something new or used this time.
Car wish list: I want a wagon or hatchback (maaaaybe a subcompact-crossover) a with respectable fuel economy, preferably with higher clearance. It would ideally fits the dog crate without folding down the seats (our current setup requires folding down 2 of the 3 seats in the back). Or we could get a crate/setup more custom designed to fit into cars nicely. The desire for high clearance is to make some of the dirt roads we like to drive on to go backpacking passable – but we did actually rent an SUV for our last trip, and could continue to do that as needed. One thing we noted was that while the SUV we rented (Jeep Grand Cherokee) had some extra width to it, it actually didn’t seem to fit much more stuff than our Golf.
House Project: Through the CA Earthquake Brace and Bolt program, combined with a county tax rebate associated with our house purchase, we’re getting ~$7k of earthquake retrofitting work done for a cost-to-us of about $1k. It mostly consists of adding shear panels to the cripple walls. Hooray for tax subsidized home maintenance projects!