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HelloFresh: Cost Per Serving Analysis

If you listen to any podcast, by now you’ve heard of meal kit delivery services. It seems like most podcasts can’t go more than one episode without advertising one of them.

And there are many: Plated, Home Chef, Terra’s Kitchen, Chef’d, Blue Apron, Purple Carrot, Green Blender, Green Chef, Red Kitchen, Orange Chef, Turquoise Lettuce, Violet Toaster… OK, I made up the last four. There certainly are some naming conventions with meal kit deliveries.

Basically, what happens is you sign up for a plan. You pay a certain amount each week, and they send you all the food needed for a couple meals for a certain number of people. They send you exactly as much food as you need. No more, no less, so there is no need for any grocery shopping.

I like to cook, but these services never sounded very appealing. I’m one of those weirdos who likes to go to the grocery store. I like seeing the selection, checking prices, picking the freshest food on display, the whole routine of it.

But there is something appealing about getting just the amount you need for a recipe. How many times have I bought more than I needed, simply because the item doesn’t come in smaller sizes. I have rows of spice containers that only have one teaspoon taken out of them. I’ve wasted more bread than I care to admit, until I finally admitted that I need to freeze the loaf since I never eat more than a few slices in a week.

So when a stranger accidentally sent me a coupon for HelloFresh*, I jumped at the opportunity to try it out. And I needed that coupon…

Because HelloFresh is expensive, guys!

No it’s not

The cheapest plan right now is $59.99 per week, which is three meals for two people, so six meals total. That’s almost $10 a meal. They try to sell you this as, “It’s only $10 a meal! Cheaper than a restaurant!” when all I hear is “$10 per person is waaay more than I have ever paid for a meal I cooked myself!”

They probably assume their customers have no idea how much food costs in terms of meals. So using my admittedly restricted sample size of one week of Hello Fresh, I wondered how much more these meals cost than if I had bought the food at the grocery store. The extra amount paid is your convenience cost for not going to the store, and dealing with the extraneous ingredients, I guess. Continue reading

The Ridinkulous 2016 Annual Expense Report

Boston Museum of Science Van der Graaff generator

Another year has wrapped up here at Ridinkulous HQ, and despite the best laid plans of mice and men, this year looks extremely similar to last year in terms of spending. Not that that’s a bad thing. When the average savings rate in the U.S. hovers between 5-10%, hitting more than 50% year after year is a good thing.

You see, frugality is a lot like this Van de Graaff generator at the Boston Museum of Science. It’s loud and bright and it takes a guy in an oversized bird cage to operate it. And there are gigantic belts inside that generate static electricity. And it kind of looks like a butt.

Or maybe I’m just stretching for a reason to post that picture.

Total Expenses: $51,122.91
Avg Per Month: $4,260.24

Excluding Debt Payments
Total Expenses: $35,851.62
Avg Per Month: $2,987.64

Savings Rate: 52%

Summary:

2016 2015
Serious Stuff $24,396 28,847
Food $7,226 6,445
Transportation $3,433 3,339
Utilities $2,686 2,836
Fun Stuff $4,650 5,881
Pets $2,018 2,671
Miscellaneous $6,312 4,018

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The Average Day of Frugal Dude

So I was just on my way home from work and realized how much of what I was doing at that one moment, even though I was just “in transit,” was influenced by my frugal philosophy:

  1. I was riding a bus. Duh. I’ve given up driving a car to work and paying for a parking spot. The bus is much cheaper and less stressful. I can read a book or even watch tv, while someone else deals with the traffic and the ice on the roads. This particular bus ride cost $1.30.
  2. I was reading a used book. As a member of PaperbackSwap, I get free books in the mail in return for sending people books of my own. On this day I was reading a very old copy of Michael Lewis’ “Liar’s Poker.” I requested it through PaperbackSwap for $0.49.
  3. I was listening to a used iPod Touch. I love the maligned iPod Touch. It does everything a smartphone does, but without the monthly bill. I bought this on eBay for $74.
  4. I was listening to free mp3s. I like to pay for my music. I believe in supporting the things you like, because if you don’t, those things will die. But I like to listen to electronic music while I read, so I was listening to some Boards of Canada demos. Since these were never officially released, they are free online.
  5. My bag had my lunch container in it. Not only do I make my own lunch and bring it every day, but these were actually leftovers from Christmas. My mom had made it (eggplant parm). So even though bringing your lunch is always cheaper than buying, in this case the food was actually free.
  6. As to winter accessories I was wearing: My gloves? A gift. My coat? Another gift. My winter hat? Cost $1.50 at Old Navy.

 

These are all just little things, but every little thing adds up.

  • $13.50 saved on parking every pay period comes to $351 per year. If you think a car costs 59 cents per mile to operate, then by taking a bus instead of driving the 11 miles each way, I save $10.38 per day or $2,595 a year.
  • A 49 cent copy of “Liar’s Poker costs $8.50 less than a new or e-book version. My reading goal is 24 books per year, for $204 a year.
  • A $74 used 32gb iPod Touch is $176 less than a new 32gb iPod Touch.
  • Free mp3s obviously don’t cost anything, and don’t need a Spotify subscription for $9.99 a month ($120/year) or any kind of data plan if you were listening to that on a phone.
  • A typical homemade lunch costs $1 to $2 and is $5 to $8 cheaper than a bought lunch of $6 to $10. Based on 250 work days a year, that comes out to $1,250 to $2,000 per year.

It just goes to show, frugality is a set of learned habits, or something. It’s not something that you can just turn on and off, I guess. It’s a lifestyle or whatever. Huh!

What kind of healthy frugal habits to you partake in without even noticing anymore?

Financial Implications of the Election

Being that we all live in completely separate media bubbles now, I feel confident that I will find a receptive audience saying that the U.S. election results were not what I was hoping for. The night of the election and the next day, I was overcome by a kind of existential dread I haven’t felt since 9/11. Like we just crossed the brink of a much darker world.

I started thinking of officially moving to The Bubble.

As of this writing, my candidate is ahead by 2.2 million votes. That’s a full 1.6% lead. And yet, our antiquated electoral system says that she lost. Did you know that since 1988, only one Republican presidential candidate has won the popular vote? That was George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004.  And the electoral college was the only thing that put him into office in the first place. Combine this with a very gerrymandered House, and the fact that poll after poll shows that most people support a progressive agenda, not the Republican platform, and it’s no wonder people are extremely frustrated here. The minority viewpoint rules. As a person who values equality and just straight up math, it’s an unbearably dumb system.

 I’ve always been very “tuned in” with the news. I started reading the newspaper on daily basis when I was in sixth grade. (HYPERLINK ALERT: That’s why it was so hard to cancel my subscription last year!) But things got really depressing this past month. I was there in my liberal bubble, freaking out with everyone else. I considered deleting my Facebook account and replacing it with this:

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The Marie Kondo Test

I try not to be a packrat. I was raised in a pretty orderly, neat house. Everything had a place. Nothing was left on tables or countertops. My mom kept the house so that there were were enough personal affects and decorations around that you wouldn’t mistake it for a hotel, but it definitely came close. It felt lived in, but it was very tidy.

My bedroom was the only exception. There was stuff everywhere. It was organized, but there was just a lot of it. Lots of CDs, videotapes and books, notebooks, video games, and just the detritus of my interests.

mariekondo-3

Typical dining room scene

Over the years, I’ve tried to be more tidy. So I was intrigued to hear about Marie Kondo last year. The queen of tidiness, most people know her as the obsessive compulsive organizer who verbally thanks her possessions before throwing them out. Her methods involve getting rid of anything that does not “spark joy” in you. “What about the mixing bowls?” I would think. “Or the flathead screwdriver? They definitely don’t ‘spark joy’ but I use them.”

Here’s a clip of Mario Kondo helping an American tidy up on our favorite station, NHK:

Initially I wrote her off as a nutcase. But this year I came across the Danish concept of hygge. Basically it translates as “coziness.” This means valuing things like nice lighting, warm socks, reading a book, having a cup of coffee or a piece of cake. Whatever it is that makes you feel nice. And little things make a difference. (I read The Mezzanine this year, and there is an extended comparison of the different types of door knobs, because some really are nicer to grip than others!)

Hygge extends to your surroundings, like the fabrics on the furniture, and, big surprise, tidiness. Being a Scandiphile, hygge innately appeals to me. This focus on the cozy seems like a good way to live. The Danes are frequently ranked as the happiest people in the world, and they attribute this partially to the  hygge lifestyle, so maybe there is something to keeping your surroundings tidy. I’m on board now. I want to be hygge af.*

Better ask the queen how to do it.

mariekondo

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Ridinkulous Quarterly Expenses: Q3 2016

dutchess-county-fair-2016-8

Puzzling sign at the Dutchess County Fair bird barn. Don’t be like Breakfast

The calendar on the wall says it’s October. You know what that means! Time for cardigans and hot mugs of mulled apple cider. Time for leaf-peeping and apple-picking. Time for scarves and slippers.  Logs for a fireplace or wood-burning stoves? Burn ’em if you got ’em! You know how I do. I’m Mr. Muh-fuggin’ Autumn Man! Welcome To Fall!

How did we do on our expenses for three months leading up to this most auspicious season? All I can say is, what a difference timing makes! Looking at our savings rate, you’d think we had failed spectacularly since last quarter! Our savings rate has been slashed in half from 71.7% down to 34.7%!  But in reality, our discretionary spending was nearly identical to the previous quarter. How could this be? Two things caused the drop in the savings rate:

  1. We paid our property taxes. We paid our school taxes for the entire coming year ($1,965), and half of our county tax for the year ($641.26). This $2,606 alone accounts for almost the entire jump in total non-debt expenses from last quarter: $5,745 to $8,505.
  2. Last quarter contained an extra paycheck for both of us because of the way the weeks fell. That’s thousands of dollars less in income this quarter.

Crazy fluctuations are the reason why I do a quarterly expense report rather than a monthly. But even after trying to smooth out expenses, we still see crazy swings due to big expenses from quarter to quarter.

Total Expenses: $10,589.53
Avg Per Month: $3,529.84

Without Debt Payments
Total Expenses: $8,505.79
Avg Per Month: $2,835.26

Savings Rate: 34.7%

Serious Stuff :

Quarterly Total Monthly Average
Mortgage $2,083.74 $694.58
Home Insurance  N/A N/A
Property Taxes $2,606.96 N/A
Medical $116.04 $38.68
Home Maintenance – DIY $63.72 $21.24
Home Maintenance – Contractors $300.00 $100.00

All pretty much status quo here. We had some dentist co-pays under Medical. And the $300 is a down payment for a gardener to make our backyard look nicer. We don’t trust ourselves with plants.

 

felafel-scratch

Felafels from scratch

Food:

Quarterly Total Monthly Average
Groceries $1,228.24 $409.41
Wine & Beer $91.39 $30.46
Dining Out $298.48 $99.49
Takeout Food $201.45 $67.15
Total Food $1,819.56 $606.52
okonomiyaki-mac-n-cheese-1

Mystery mac and cheese

On the whole, up just slightly from last quarter. We keep our food costs down by rarely eating out, and making cheap, delicious meals at home, as outlined in the Cost Per Serving series. Those are from-scratch felafels. They’re super easy if you have a deep fryer. And only use dry beans, never canned.

I also worked out a recipe to enter in our local mac-and-cheese cooking contest which Marge has entered twice. Can I bring home the gold? Some other time, I’ll let you in on the recipe, which its un-Googleable status proves to me is completely unique. Any guesses?

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Our Rental Property – The First Year

Rental House (13)Just a quick update here on how our rental property is doing. The last time we checked in, we were basically running a $10,000 loss! This was our first seven months owning the property, and I blamed the loss on the start-up maintenance to get the house in tip-top shape, the heating bills for the winter months, and well, the lack of tenants, since the house was vacant when we bought it and it took time to find people.

I predicted that the next five months would be profitable since we had tenants, and didn’t expect too much in the way of maintenance. And mostly, that’s been the case! Our rent payments have been rolling in electronically through Cozy. And we haven’t had any major repairs. Basically, all I’ve been doing is going over to mow the lawn.

One bad thing: We were just informed by our first tenants that they will be leaving after their year lease is up! Argh! That’s just how life goes for a landlord I guess. So soon we will have to filter through the punks and rejects to find some more worthy tenants.

Here’s how the first twelve months went.

Rental Income

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Cheapskate Analysis: Should I Replace All My Light Bulbs With LEDs?

Woah, here we are at the newest, yes the second ever edition of Cheapskate Analysis. Today we will be using the power of maths, after being confronted with a series of choices, to find the one that saves us the most money!

If you’re like me, monitoring the costs of everything, you’ve noticed that LED light bulb prices have really dropped since they were first introduced. It wasn’t that long ago that you’d have to spend $50 for one bulb. Now, you can get a bulb for one-tenth of that, or less!

But are they cost effective yet?

The Answer:
Yes… and No!

First, find your electricity cost

Our utility company does not make it easy to figure out the actual cost of the electricity we use. First they divide the bill up into Supply and Delivery. Then they break those down into a dozen constituent parts. I suppose this is good for transparency, but there also is no easy, total rate to look at. I had to add up fractions of a penny to get to the actual rate:

12 cents per kilowatt hour

NatGridbill

Our easy to use electric bill!

Actually, it was 11.997534 cents per kWh, but who’s counting?

Next, find out how much electricity your bulbs are using.

All light bulbs are labeled with their wattage, the only important number. To convert the bulbs to “math-able” kilowatt hours, we just move the decimal point a little bit. I learned this conversion with our earlier entry comparing the air conditioner to the ceiling fan.

For example, a 60 watt bulb = 0.06 kilowatts. A 13 watt bulb is 0.013 kilowatts. Et cetera.

Multiply that kilowatt number by how many hours it is used in a day (or a month, or whatever), and then multiply that number by the cost of the electricity. So a 60 watt light bulb used 4 hours per day every day calculates like this…

0.06 kWh x 4 hours a day = .24 kWh per day or 87.6 kWh per year. Then 87.6 kWh per year x 12 cents per kWh = $10.51 per year.

Easy peasy! Now let’s take a tour around the house to find which bulbs should be replaced.

Light Bulbs (5)

Frequently Used Rooms

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Vacation Rewind: The Cost of My Trip to Macedonia and Vienna

Today it’s time for another vacation rewind that answers the question: How much did my trip to Vienna and Macedonia cost? These posts tend to be some my most popular ones. Uh, have you ever Googled “cost of trip to Peru?” Maybe you should, if you like seeing pictures of me. So let’s do it again!

In 2014, one of my best high school friends got married to a girl from Macedonia. When he told me where she was from, I had to look this country up on a map, because that was the first I’d ever heard of it. Albania? Knew it. Bulgaria? Of course. Kosovo? Sure,  I’ve heard of it, but do I know if that’s a, official country or some kind of region? No, I don’t. But I’d never even heard of Macedonia.

Ohrid (37)Macedonia is part of the former Yugoslavia, bordering countries like Greece and Albania, where this friend had worked for the Peace Corps. So when they got married, they had a U.S. wedding and a Macedonian wedding. And since this could be my one chance to go to Macedonia, I left Marge behind and made the trip solo! Sorry, Marge! Tell your office to increase their vacation time and you can join me on the next crazy jaunt!

The conversion to US Dollars was made back when I took the trip in August 2014 ($1 USD = 0.758 Euros or 46 Macedonian denars) and some cash expenses were rounded to the nearest dollar.

Total Cost = $1,021.83

Flights

Ljubljana Airport (5)

 Flight Retail Cost Discount My Cost
Newark to Skopje, Coach $1,090.00 60,000 United Miles $180.10

 

Ljubljana Airport (4)

Empty Ljubljana Airport

Ever the travel hacker, I looked at all of the available options for flying into Skopje, where the wedding party would be meeting. It’s not easy to get to Skopje’s “Alexander The Great” Airport. Starting from a major U.S. hub, Newark, it takes at least three flights to get there. I wanted to use miles to buy the flight, and since Skopje is a little-used airport, there are only one or two airlines aligned with a major partnership flying into it. My only option was United miles because I had to use Star Alliance partners.

I eventually found flights that worked: Newark -> Zurich -> Llubjana -> Skopje. And then returning by Skopje -> Llubjana, -> Vienna -> Newark. I flew on United for the overseas flights, and Adria for European flights.

Vienna

In my search, that word stuck in my head.  I’d been wanting to go Vienna ever since seeing The Third Man in high school. And it seemed to work as a transit destination for the return trip. I played with the United scheduler, and figured out that I could have a stopover in Vienna for three days and use no extra miles! Hence, the second part of my trip. I planned to stay in Vienna by myself!

Marge was able to put her jealousy aside and allowed me this chance to add a few more days to this extravagant, but very cheap, trip. As you can see, it cost about $180 total, which is all fees and taxes. Every airport you fly into charges you one or two fees. So since this required two stopovers in each direction, this cost was actually higher than I anticipated.

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Frugal Failure? I Bought A New Phone

It was almost a year ago when I published a breathlessly raving review of the hottest cell phone you need to own RIGHT NOW, the Nokia 2600. I received this cell phone as a hand-me-down over ten years ago. It could make and receive phone calls, send rudimentary text messages, and even had games like Bounce and Millenium Mission. And the best part was, the cost came out to only about $5 a month. I used it a handful of times each year.

Tracfone (2)Logically, I came to the conclusion that this Nokia 2600 was the only cell phone anyone ever needed. So it may surprise you to learn that, only a few months later…

Hell was freezing. Pigs were flying. And I bought a new cell phone.

Holy moley! After writing a jokey review and then an honest defense of my 11 year old cell phone, I bet the last thing you thought I’d do is upgrade. Me too. But things change. People change.

Let’s take a moment to remember the good times. Please, play this video and take a look back with me at some of the Nokia 2600’s finest moments. I can’t believe these days are over.


Anyway, the reason I had to get a new phone is that people want to text me. I’ve resisted the move to texting until now, because now we have tenants. And though my old phone was perfectly fine at receiving texts, it was crap at sending them. In fact, it couldn’t reliably send a text unless it was in reply to a message already received. So I decided for the good of my tenants and the quality of my landlording, I had to make a huge upgrade.

I spent $40 dollars to buy a new phone on eBay

This is technically the first cell phone I’ve ever bought, since my earlier one was inherited. Look, a real smartphone!

Moto E (5)

It’s a Moto E. The entire glass front is a screen and it works by using your finger to select things. Technology! Aside from making calls and sending texts, it can basically do everything a computer can do. You can get directions, look up restaurant reviews and see the score of your favorite sports team! Sports!

Want to see what I use it for? Let’s turn it on and see a portrait of an inept smartphone user:

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