Influenced: My Review of Home Chef

I am a big sucker for ads and have already made a list of 50+ things I saw online and was swayed to buy or try based on the advertisement, Instagram account, Buzzfeed article, etc. I’ll eventually share out my best of best but since I’ve been on a cooking kick, I wanted to share my review of Home Chef.

Home Chef is a meal kit delivery service, and you’ve likely seen this promoted if you follow any sort of other popular lifestyle or fashion bloggers. With this service, you receive the raw ingredients to cook a meal yourself. I am not a Home Chef partner, and in no way receive any benefits or profits by sharing this review. I signed up for an account with a promo code for something like $90 off my first four orders ($15 off per week) last fall around mid-October.

Home Chef meals start at $8.99 per serving and can go up or down depending on how many portions you order and any customizations such as type of protein. Their website currently indicates you need to order $49.95 as a weekly minimum (when I tried the service, you could go lower but had to pay for shipping under a certain threshold). I tried Home Chef over about 6 weeks, placing 3 weekly orders with each order comprising 3 different meals for 2 people (week 3 below had 1 meal cancelled due to stock items, which they notified me of promptly).

Things I actually ordered

The Good

The Food Itself: Everything we tried tasted good, and was not overly difficult to prepare. The portion sizes are plenty filling for adults. The proteins are satisfying for adult eaters (I was initially worried if it would really feed Geoff adequately), but you will not have any leftovers. They all come vacuum sealed and are stay very moist once prepared If you’ve struggled to use all of an ingredient, these will come pre-portioned with just the amount you need (e.g., one green onion, one packet of sauce, 1/2 cup of rice) to help avoid food waste or paying for more than you need. The only items you are expected to have at home are really salt, pepper, and cooking spray or oil.

Menu Variety: Home Chef offers 20+ options on their menu per week. As a “picky gourmet,” I could pretty easily select meals that sounded tasty. There is a good variety of different cuisines without anything being too crazy. Home Chef makes it easy to sort and filter based on factors like dietary preferences or difficulty level. You can change the protein for nearly every meal, but there may be a cost difference for major upgrades (e.g., chicken to steak or seafood). Home Chef has also several add-on items like bread, salad, and dessert.

Online Menu: The online menu has great pictures, and you can preview the instructions and ingredients for each meal. You can view at least 4 weeks’ worth of menus in advance, which is super helpful to plan ahead as well as potentially plan any skip deliveries.

Flexible Scheduling and Convenience: Home Chef offers very flexible scheduling. It’s as easy as advertised to skip weeks or customize your order without any hidden costs or penalties. You can select your delivery day for each order. All of this is easily accessible via the website or mobile app, and you can customize email reminders as well. You also know you’ll have everything you need (or the advance notification to make a meal sub), versus the occasional miss or replacement from normal grocery delivery.

Some of the meals I made

The Bad

Cost: Home Chef (and most meal kit services) is cheaper than eating out or ordering takeout, but for most people probably costs significantly more than doing it all yourself. If you are spending a lot eating out, just getting into cooking more, or want variety for every meal it is a fair option to try. It is more flexible to try versus other services and they run great intro deal for new customers. You will save money on certain items if you find yourself buying a lot of herbs, condiments, or spices for the first time or one-time use (for me, it’s things like an entire container of goat cheese). At the cost per serving of Home Chef, I can probably get twice as much or more food doing the prep myself and I personally love leftovers. I found the price of Home Chef pretty fair with the promo code, but a little expensive once that ended. My local grocery stores also offer their own meal kits or prepared meats that are more affordable, and I live two blocks away from a Publix.

Level of Effort: Most of the meals I ordered were not particularly complex, but a lot of them still took 30-45 minutes to prepare or require a multiple pans. As someone who is pretty familiar with the kitchen, I honestly thought some of these would be a little simpler or easier. Granted, you can select easier meals and their oven-ready meals are super simple (dump everything in a pan and bake). There were more steps involved than I had anticipated for some of the more average meals, and at the same thing, some things I would have liked to learn (e.g., demiglace steak sauce) came already prepared in a packet. If you are newer to cooking, it is a good learning experience but it might take longer to prepare depending how much prep there is for the vegetables or starches in your meal.

Plastic: By nature of being a mail-order meal kit, almost every ingredient comes individually wrapped or packaged. This is convenient to skip measuring and shopping, but feels very wasteful in the amount of trash and recylcable materials you have for one meal. Think of a salad kit in a bag or the way airplane meals are wrapped. The shipments also arrive in a well insulated box with gel ice packs that you also have to dispose of.

Overall Verdict

The food quality and convenience of Home Chef is great. It’s a good introduction to cooking and trying new meals you may not have prepared before. Two big takeaways for me were the appropriate amount of ingredients you really need for two people, and that you should definitely bake chicken breasts with some sort of cream-based sauce and a crunchy chip crumbles on top.

However, the cost can start to add up if you have prior experience budgeting and doing your own cooking. I honestly am not even the best grocery budgeter, and I think there are a lof of more cost effective alternatives, such as your grocery stores’ meal kit offerings as well as a good blog or cookbook on easy meals. I personally would rather get a better value out of my own cooking and use the savings on a really nice meal either at home or at a restaurant.

So, while I enjoyed my trial of Home Chef for a few weeks, once my promo ended I cancelled my account and haven’t reactivated it. If you want to give it your own try, be sure to search for a good promo code first and use it upon sign-up during account creation! You can also see the cost update live as you pick and choose different meals for each order to compare directly to what you spend now.

How to Peel a Mango

In all honesty, credit for this mango peeling hack goes to one of my favorite petite fashion bloggers, Jean Wang of Extra Petite. It’s too good not to share! I’ve been avoiding prepping my own fresh mango for years (basically if my mom isn’t there to do it for me). They don’t pair well with my trusty vegetable peeler and can be tricky to prep with just a paring knife. I’ve included step by step instructions and photos below, and you can also check out my video tutorial here (part 2 changes angles to match your perspective).

In the meantime I have primarly been getting mango frozen from Trader Joe’s. The bag is typically around $3.49, which is less expensive than fresh mango near me ($1+ each so about $1 per cup), but I could never get through a bulk pack from somewhere like Costco. The frozen mango is also ripe and fully prepped, versus waiting on a fresh mango to ripen or during an off season. I’ve found the TJs to be sweeter than other grocery store bags. You can throw these into smoothies, or let them defrost overnight in the fridge. I also like to let them defrost just a little bit (30 min) at room temp or zap in the microwave for 10 seconds so they are still a little bit of a slushy as a frozen treat. Anyhow, back to cutting a fresh mango.

Picking Fresh, Ripe Mango

Most stores offer two broad types of mango: conventional and honey (ataulfo) mango. I’ll be walking through this tutorial with a conventional mango. I think the honey mangos tend to be more consistently sweet and less fibrous in texture, but they are usually more expensive and slightly smaller than conventional mangos. Honey mangos are always golden yellow on the outside.

For conventional mangos, I am partial to choosing the ones that have some red or yellow coloring on the skin. Not every variety of mango is necessarily better in these colors, but there are a lot of plants in general that ripen as they change from green to yellow to red (e.g., bell peppers, tomatoes). You’ll want to find a mango that has a little softness when you check it but is not overly squishy. This is similar to picking a peach or avocado. You should be able to feel softer flesh at the surface but it shouldn’t leave any damage when you lightly squeeze the mango.

Similar to my advice on watermelons, if all the mangos are solid green and hard as rocks, leave those alone and do not buy them. Pick a different fruit or go find some frozen or jarred mangos. If there’s any doubt about the readiness of your mango(s), put it in a paper bag on the counter when you get home, fold over the top of the bag, and let it continue to ripen for 1-2 days. There is no saving a sour, unripe mango. Perhaps if you hide it in a smoothie or a puree with a ton of added sugar, but one taste and you will understand. While there are certainly uses for green mango, green papaya, green tomatoes, green bananas, etc., those are used in a completely different manner than their ripe counterparts.


You will need your mango, a cutting board, a paring knife, a cup, and the container of your choice to store your cut mango. The cup needs to be wide enough to almost fit the mango inside it, because you will be using almost the full width of the mango. I prefer this 12-ounce plastic cup because I’m clumsy so I always prefer plastic, and it has a lower center of gravity than a taller glass. Your average pint glass would also work well.

Slice and Peel the Mango!

Wash and dry your mango. Your mango will have a little bit of a teardrop or pear shape, formed around the pit in the center. Hold your mango upright on your cutting board (wider side on bottom, stem on top) so that the narrower side of the mango is facing you. The wider, tear-shape side should be perpendicular to your body.

The pit will take up about the middle inch of the mango in width, so line up your knife about half an inch from the center and begin to slice off the side of your mango. You will want the knife to reach most of the way into the mango to keep your cut cleanest. If you’ve cut too close to the pit, you’ll feel the resistance and adjust your knife out a bit. Rotate your mango and take this cut all the way around until the slice separates. If you’ve made a bit of a mangled mess, trim the flaps of mango off and sample your mango or set the little pieces aside to eat later.

Set everything down and grab your slice of mango and the cup. Use either your fingernail or tip of your knife to dig into the bottom of the slice a bit to separate the end of the mango peel from the yellow-orange flesh. I do this on the wider/bottom side so I am not working with a top-heavy slice.

Hold your piece of mango atop the edge of the cup, with the peel facing out and the mango flesh lined up over the inside of the cup. This is the best way to catch juice drippings and the actual piece of mango without dropping it.

Slowly push the piece of mango down so the cup begins to cut between the mango peel and flesh. I use both hands for this, and I push pretty firmly on the skin side to ensure I’m getting the most mango off. Carefully work that all the way down until the peel is completely separated. Check out your peel – if you’ve left too much mango on it, snack on that and push harder next time. I use my knife to retrieve the mango from the cup since it’s slippery, then cut it in a cross hatch to get small chunks of fruit. Transfer the mango to your storage container, using a spatula of some sort if you find that helpful. Repeat on the other side of the mango.

Slice and Peel the Skinny Sides!

Now you should be left with a center “slice” of the mango. Turn the mango 90 degrees from how you last cut it so you are facing the wide, exposed part. Cut into the top center, then go down one direction to slice off the skinny sides of the mango. You will be able to cut about one inch off. When you feel the knife hit harder or more fibrous sections, you’ve reached the edge of the pit. Follow the pit, then stop at the bottom and repeat on the other side or rotate the mango and take the cut all the way around.

Trim off the dark parts where the stem or center of the mango was. Use your fingernail or knife to peel back the edge of the skin on these pieces, and line it up again on the cup (peel side out). Since this piece is narrower, I grip the peel with one hand between my thumb and pointer finger, and push the mango down with the other hand. Once the peel is separated, dice up the mango flesh and repeat until you are done! Two mangos will yield about two cups of mango. I keep the prepared mango in the fridge to snack on for a few days.

If your mango pit has a lot of flesh left on, you can cut that off and add it to your container. I like to just snack on the remaining bits of mango before tossing the pit.

After you get through the process once, this is so quick and easy! I’ve been peeling and prepping mangos for the last few weeks in a row after avoiding this for many years.

Easy Ginger Hacks

I’m on a roll with kitchen hacks right now, and it wouldn’t feel right to share my garlic tricks without also giving some love to ginger.

Ginger, or ginger root (since this is the root part of the plant), is commonly used for food and some medicinal purposes. You can buy ginger in powdered form, which has great uses for seasoning savory dishes as well as desserts. I’m specifically going to talk about fresh ginger, which has a much stronger and pungent flavor. It packs a big kick in stir-fry dishes as well as directly garnishing or accompanying foods like dumplings (especially xiao long bao).

Buying Ginger

At the grocery store, you’ll find ginger in the produce section. Usually I find it on a refrigerated shelf near something like green onions, herbs, or peppers, though occasionally they might be off on their own near the garlic and onions. It might be a small bin but your average chain store should carry it.

Most grocery stores sell ginger by weight rather than per piece, and I’ve never needed more than 1-3 tablespoons in a single recipe. Don’t buy an entire piece straight off the shelf that is the size of your hand. Pick out a piece that doesn’t look dried out and is not super skinny. Find a chunk or branch that is 1-2 inches in diameter, then snap off a piece about 3 inches long. Let it snap naturally where it branches if it’s a little larger than I just described. Aim for about the size of a fun size Halloween Snickers or half a sausage/hot dog link to get 1-2 tablespoons of ginger.

Storing Ginger

Fresh ginger will dry out after a couple days, whether at room temp or in the refrigerator, so buy it within a day or two of when you plan to use it. If you’ve got too much or like to keep fresh ginger on hand, you can peel chunks of fresh ginger and then store it in a glass container submerged in a clear liquor like vodka or gin. I have just a couple pieces in a small container right now, but you could do a whole jar.

Keep this in the fridge for future use. The ginger will lose a little color but the flavor and texture will last. I’m not actually sure I’ve ever seen this go bad, so you can keep it for at least several months. I would recommend a fresh piece when using as a direct garnish, but haven’t noticed a loss in quality when you’re cooking with the preserved ginger. You can also use the ginger-infused alcohol later for cocktails if you’d like.

Peeling Ginger

Peel ginger using a spoon. Just your average spoon, either a teaspoon or tablespoon that you can manuever around the piece of ginger (ideally not a serving or cooking spoon as they are a little large to handle). Turn the spoon so it is facing down against the garlic, then drag it across your ginger (either toward or away from you) in a similar motion as a regularvegetable peeler. The edge of the spoon is sharp enough to remove the skin, and is easier to control over the curves and knots than a vegetable peeler or knife. I find the spoon method a lot easier to control and less wasteful for getting around the edges and knobs of the ginger.

I completely forgot to get ginger at the grocery store to demo this live, so here’s a ginger peeling video how-to of this on YouTube from That Clean Life. Enjoy!

Easy Garlic Hacks

Garlic and ginger are my superstar fresh ingredients. I almost always add extra fresh garlic or fresh ginger to a dish (50-100% more…). Unless these are in the actual name of the dish such as”40 garlic clove chicken” or “ginger pork,” I personally prefer more, especially for marinades, pastas, and dumplings! For anyone newer to cooking, try recipes as written first before making modifications to your specific tastes and preferences.

Here are my top hacks for prepping garlic!

Peeling Garlic

You can buy pre-peeled garlic cloves or garlic paste, but I think fresh tastes better. Plus you can store garlic bulbs at room temperature for quite awhile versus using up fridge space. I keep a couple onions and garlic bulbs in a wire basket in my pantry.

You will need a cutting board and a chef’s knife. If you’ve never used fresh garlic, first tear into the papery outer layers (just grab the stem, twist, and tear) to remove the outer layers and separate the individual cloves you need. Then trim the bottom hard end off each clove, straight through the peel. If your knife doesn’t go all the way through the peel, hold your knife in place on the cutting board and lift the clove up to separate them. It’s okay if some the peel comes off in this step.

If your cutting board moves at all, set it on a damp towel to keep it in place. Then, lay your knife blade as flat as you can over one clove while keeping the blade against the cutting board. The garlic should be around center or toward the larger end of the knife.

Hold the top of the knife handle with your non-dominant hand to keep it steady. Do not grip it – no fingers should be between the knife and cutting board. Line the palm of your opposite hand up over the garlic and the dull side of the knife. Give this a good push with the palm of your hand to crack open the garlic clove. You can give it a pretty healthy smash but don’t pulverize it unless you want crushed garlic paste. I don’t draw my hand back to build up momentum, but get most of the force from the weight of the knife and leaning some of my body weight into my palm.

Set your knife aside. Grab the garlic by the tail-like top piece of peel, give it a small wiggle, and pull. The peel should easily separate from the rest of the clove (if not, whack it again). Your garlic is ready to chop or use!

If you really hate mincing garlic, crush the cloves through a garlic press instead (and for a whole ton you can run them through a food processor or blender).

Garlic Fingers

This tip comes from my mom. To get the garlic smell off your hands, you don’t need one of those fancy metal “garlic soap bars.” You can rub your fingers on anything convenient made of stainless steel and then wash them with soap. I like to use the kitchen sink itself when possible, or you can use a utensil, cooking spoon, or pan – whatever you have out already is great. Make sure to get the skin right at and under your fingernails as well.

And that’s it! Next up I’ll share a few tips on fresh ginger.

Easy Cooking Tips: Flavoring

Moving on from seasoning, here are my starter tips for other ingredients that add flavor to your food (things that aren’t spices).

I’m going to borrow some categorization from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. In all honesty, I haven’t done a deep dive into the actual cookbook, but t’s a great simple way to remember your flavor elements. As in, maybe you have your seasoning blend down but something isn’t quite right with your dish.

Salt. Okay, so this is still a seasoning but it’s the most important one and worth mentioning a second time. Salt and taste your food as you cook! Use a light hand to start, because it’s easy to add more but near impossible to take away salt. Feel free to salt to your taste as you learn what you like. I personally salt almost everything with a light hand except for potatoes.

It’s important to layer your salt as you cook and to season different components of your dish. It takes time to meld the flavors and your food will taste the best this way. It’s kind of like origami, where careful steps along the way pay off in a better overall result at the end. This means season your raw meat. If you have a sauté of onions or a sauce base, season that too, separately from the meat. Taste it once combined and salt again if needed. Skipping those separate steps and adding salt only at the end won’t be the same.

There are other ingredients to incorporate salt into food besides just salt, such as soy sauce, feta cheese, salted butter, or prepared ingredients like canned foods or chicken broth. Recipes will usually account for salty ingredients, but keep that in mind if you’re experimenting on your own.

Fat. Honestly for a lot of foods you can get away with just salt and fat to taste pretty good. Salt and butter are a big reason why restaurant food tastes so much better. Try adding a little butter (a tablespoon) to savory dishes – to finish a sauce, or over something like rice or vegetables. You can incorporate fat into your food via ingredients (mayo, butter), cooking method, or components (cream sauce) (see infographic here from NPR).

I’m going to focus on cooking with the right kind of fat. Olive oil is a pretty good all purpose ingredient, but canola and avocado oil have higher smoke points. This means they take longer to burn. So if you are deep frying or even just browning something that needs a nice sear, you will want to use one of those over olive oil or your pan may start smoking before you have the result you want. If your food will easily absorb the fat flavor when cooking, such as eggs or shrimp, consider using a mix of oil and butter or just butter. For a buttery option at higher heat (e.g., hash browns), you can use clarified butter or ghee, which have the milk solids removed and have a higher smoke point than regular butter.

Acid. This is the secret flavor ingredient that sometimes is hard to even place exists in a dish. A dash of lemon juice or red wine vinegar is a great way to add final pizazz and depth to a savory dish. If you’ve never tried this, I would start with something like squeezing lemon juice over something that is generally “garlic and herb” flavored like chicken or risotto. A splash of red wine vinegar or wine is great to enrich the flavor of pan sauces. In a saute pan, this also doubles as a trick to deglaze or unstick any meat bits (fond) off the pan, which adds even more flavor to your meal and makes cleanup easier.

Heat. I won’t get too in depth here, but your cooking method also imparts flavor to your food. For example, roasting, grilling, smoking, or browning instead of boiling (think of oven roasted potatoes or grilled veggies instead of the boiled version of each). This too can happen in layers – are you sauteing, caramelizing, or toasting any individual ingredients before they go in the pan? A key flavor component of many braised dishes like short rib or a pot roast comes from searing (browning) the meat first before letting it simmer slowly.

Combining it all together. The risotto in the featured image at the top of the page is a great example of layering all these components together for maximum effect. Most risottos start with sauteing your aromatics (which I’ll cover later) like shallots and garlic, then adding the raw rice to let it brown or toast in the pan. The risotto gains flavor and salt through absorbing broth and other cooking liquids (e.g., I separately saute shrimp or mushrooms and pour that liquid into the pot). The risotto gets finished with salt and pepper, butter, a little parmesan or marscapone cheese, a squeeze of lemon juice, and red pepper flakes. Bon appetit!

Easy Cooking Tips: Seasoning

The simplest dinner plan in my household is protein + pasta or rice + vegetable. We cook quite a bit, and I’m always pleasantly surprised when people compliment these straightforward meals versus more elaborate ones.

A key item to making delicious food is learning to season your food. This is really tough when you first get into cooking! I have a ton of spices, but you can buy premixed seasoning blends that will do a lot of the guesswork for you. I prefer premixed seasoning blends over preseasoned or marinated meat as those tend to be too salty for my taste or have extra preservatives in them that can affect the taste.

If you have absolutely no spices in your kitchen, start with salt, black pepper, and garlic powder as your basics. Fresh ground black pepper will have a stronger flavor. I’ve now acquired multiple versions of each, and find that Kosher salt is the most user friendly for prepping proteins. Kosher salt comes in larger, wider flakes similar in size to sesame seeds or raw sugar. The texture makes it less dense in saltiness versus table salt and easier to slowly layer in salt in your food. It’s also perceived as having a better, purer flavor versus table salt since it doesn’t contain iodine or other anti-caking ingredients. Note: you can definitely use normal salt just fine! If you use a recipe that calls for Kosher salt you will need to cut down the amount of table salt you substitute in.

My next personal staples are paprika, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, and dried basil. Added with the salt, pepper, and garlic powder these make a pretty good all purpose savory seasoning. I sprinkle these over raw seafood and meat prior to cooking. You can leave out any part you don’t like – I don’t usually put the basil on potatoes, and only do one of the hot peppers most of the time. Use a light hand on the salt and peppers, but you can pretty liberally apply the rest.

There are also lots of premixed spice or seasoning blends you can buy or mix up on your own following a recipe. If you don’t use individual spices often, the blends will ultimately save you a little money since it can be a pretty big upfront investment to purchase several. The seasoning on this air fryer rotisserie chicken recipe is pretty simple and is SO good. There are also salt free mixes that let you add salt to taste. This can be great for dietary needs and I also find without salt, it is pretty hard to overseason with these. Sprinkle them liberally over your uncooked proteins and then whatever sticks on to your food naturally will taste great.

There are endless options you can get at grocery stores, specialty food stores, or online. Here are a few of my favorite seasoning blends that we order or buy special:

Penzeys Mural of Flavor – salt free, all purpose savory herb spice blend. We got this in a sampler pack gift and used it all really quickly and bought more. It’s super good for dinner food but I’ve also put it on eggs and potatoes. If you don’t have a Penzeys store nearby, you can order online but there is a minimum to get to free shipping.

Penzeys Sandwich Sprinkle – salted, similar to a cheese herb garlic salt. I like to add this one to pasta with butter, or over veggies like broccoli to oven roast.

Kosmos Q rubs and wing dust – we put these on meat that goes in the smoker, so pork and chicken. We’ve tried a few but have used up the Dirty Bird blend, which is why there’s not a real photo.

Williams Sonoma Lemon Potlach – salted, specifically the lemon version (there is a regular potlactch). WS makes a bunch of these and we’ve gotten a few as gifts that have been fun to try out. They are all pretty good but this one stands out as our favorite and has been amazing on salmon.

That wraps up my starter tips for getting into cooking and seasoning your food. Once you get a sense of what tastes good together, feel free to play around with spices, or reference recipes and Google to see what kind of mix and match works well!

Everyday Tech Shortcuts

Today I’m sharing my top favorite everyday tech shortcuts that save me time and make life a little easier.

Text Replacement / Keyboard Shortcuts

I hate filling out forms on my phone and having to type things like my email address in full (and my name isn’t even that long!). A great trick around this is to save frequently used phrases or text as a text replacement in your phone, so you can type in your own custom abbreviation and then click on the suggestion from your phone. This will work in 95% of web forms (you will occasionally have to type one out). For example:

  • Your initials (xxx) as a shortcut for your full email address ( I made one for my personal email and another for my work email
  • Something like “addr” for your address or any instructions you send to others frequently
  • Things like your airline rewards number you have to fill in (DL = 123456789)
  • Alphanumeric wifi passwords. This lets you bring it up for new devices or to provide the password to others.

In iPhones, set your text replacements under Settings>General>Keyboard>Text Replacement.

Photo Albums

I use photos on my phone as a reminder for specific things and “Favorite” them so I can find them quickly if I take a bunch of photos. Examples of this include a picture of my license plate number (I’ve moved several times), my contact lens prescription, appointment confirmation numbers, or my parking spot number at a mall or airport. Some photos stay in the album, while I will add and remove more temporary items when I need them. The photos load faster for me than pulling up an email if your cell service is spotty or if you have a large inbox to look through. You can also make a separate photo album for this if you’re already using the Favorites. This also works for QR codes, tickets, or barcodes that don’t have any sort of save to mobile wallet option.

Automatic Email Filtering

Gmail didn’t always have those separate inbox tabs for “social” and “promotions.” But it’s possible to set up automated foldering for other topics or senders however you’d like. In college, I managed three separate emails through one Gmail inbox thanks to some simple foldering and automation.

You can make an entirely separate email account for email promotions and forward them to your existing account in a specific folder(s). Mine send to my primary email, but they automatically get marked as read and put in a shopping folder – kind of like my sale perusal folder. This keeps them from clogging my inbox and I can peruse similar emails all at once. You can do this by setting up specific filter rules. You can use the automatic filters to apply labels to emails from specific people or with specific phrases, so that you can simply hit “Archive” when you are done with the email and skip manually flagging it.

Online Shopping: Loyalty Programs and Credit Cards

This is a continuation from tips for online shopping. You can view part 1 here. The advice below on loyalty programs and credit cards could also apply to shopping in store.

Loyalty Programs and Credit Cards

Consider a loyalty program or credit card for the retailers you shop at regularly. Most sites have an email marketing list, but this steps up to a loyalty program generally when they can track your purchases by that email address or phone number. In exchange for tracking your purchase trends and occasional surveys, you can accumulate points for store credit and other special offers like early sale access and discount codes.

Free Loyalty Programs

There are plenty of good loyalty programs that are completely free. Most people are familiar with these from grocery stores and pharmacies, but nearly every major retailer has their own form of this as well, such as Starbucks, Express, Ann Taylor/LOFT, Best Buy, and Sephora. These programs send you occasional discount codes or sale notifications, special access to new items or sales, birthday rewards, and rewards back for spending certain amounts.

Generally, the more you spend, the more rewards you accrue in free merchandise, points, or credits back. Several stores (e.g., Sephora) will directly offer better perks once you surpass specific spending tiers, but there are no other requirements than signing up to get the entry level perks – this is pretty similar to how airline and hotel programs work.

Paid Loyalty Programs

Only go for a paid program or subscription if you are certain you can realize the benefits of it. Don’t bank on future potential purchases, and make sure you really weigh the cost of it against your benefits. Right now my only paid loyalty-type shopping memberships are Costco and Amazon Prime, which I can share with my household. Last year I also signed up for one year of the rewards club because the discount on the patio furniture I was buying immediately saved me more than the cost of the membership. Make sure to set a reminder to cancel any free trials or subscriptions that will automatically renew.

Take advantage of any free subscriptions you receive with memberships you already hold (e.g., from your credit card, your alumni group). Through my credit cards, I get free two-day ShopRunner shipping and airport lounge access. I also get free Hulu through my paid Spotify account. Recently, I booked a rental car for an upcoming trip and the cheapest option ended up being through the Costco travel portal, after comparing several providers and alternative memberships/promos (direct, AAA, car insurance, alumni club, credit card rewards portal).

Store Credit Cards

For the stores you shop the most at, it can be worth jumping from a normal loyalty program to a credit card. Typically, in this case they will offer a higher percentage of cash back or the equivalent for that specific store. This can work great for anywhere you already spend a significant amount of money. I know several fans of the Target RedCard. Most retailers do not charge an annual fee to have the card, but be very careful in your selections as these tend to charge higher interest versus a bank card if you’re not paying it off in full.

I am in no way a financial adviser, but this strategy works best to save more money in discounts and rewards for places you are already spending money. This will impact your credit score and isn’t as light a decision as a free email sign-up. There are plenty of other bank credit cards or free loyalty programs out there that can be a better fit if this doesn’t meet your needs.

I do have a Banana Republic credit card. This covers all brands in the BR family (Old Navy, Gap, BR, Athleta). A decent portion of my clothing comes from these stores, since they offer petite sizing aka pre-tailored clothing for short people. The credit card gives me an extra discount on top of most sales, money back for future purchases, free basic alterations, access to cardmember only sales and events, and faster free shipping, among other perks. If nothing else is going on, I can also get 10% off purchases on Tuesdays for no other reason than being a cardholder. This adds up to a nice chunk of change saved in discounts for things I am buying anyway from their brand.

Those are my top tips here! Do a little searching to see what works best for you!

Getting the Best Online Shopping Deals

I spend an embarrassing amount of free time shopping. Not always buying things, but browsing in person or online, especially since websites are open at all hours. It’s a great way do to thorough research on your purchases, find deals, and for short people like me, sometimes online orders are the only way to get specific petite size ranges that aren’t carried in store. The focus on my shopping tips is for items that truly go into “shopping” on your credit card statement – so things like clothing, electronics, Amazon purchases, and not groceries or utilities.

Never Buy Full Price

The only time you should buy any retail item full price is if you absolutely need that specific item right then and now. For example, you are traveling, lost your luggage, and need new clothes. Or you need to replace a tool right away to use it the same day.

Otherwise, you should wait for a sale or seek out a way for a discount to come to you. Most retailers hold sales on major holidays. For a weekend holiday, the sale cycle is usually Thursday-Sunday, but it’s becoming more of a trend to extend these so they can better handle demand and logistics.

Get on the Email List

Most retailers also offer a discount if you sign your email up for marketing communications. You can use an email account specifically decicated for this purpose, or filter these emails so they don’t take over your inbox. All of mine automatically filter into a single folder in my email account. For any sites or stores you frequent, this is a great way to be notified of any deals or other special loyalty perks like birthday discounts. You can unsubscribe from any if you’ve utilized a sign-up discount and no longer want their emails.

On the Fence? Leave it in Your Cart

If you’ve signed up with your email and leave things in your cart without purchasing them, most retailers will email a reminder about your item. Some of them will also offer you a discount to complete the purchase. Walking away and waiting on the item can also help you decide if you really want it. There are some browser add-ins that will let you save those for later or track price change alerts as well.

Promo Codes

Always do a quick search for promo or discount codes if you have not applied any to your purchase. You can add apps like Rakuten to your browser to automatically search for these and earn other cash back on top of your credit card or retailer deals. (A note that Rakuten works best on desktop – I find it cumbersome to use it on mobile because you have to launch websites within the Rakuten app but many retailers have their own app.)

Price Matching and Adjustments

If you see something you want discounted on another site, request a price match. Large retailers will match this under their listed conditions. Some sites, like Nordstrom or Best Buy, will automatically adjust their prices online.

Likewise, if something goes on sale or is discounter further right after you buy it, check for the price adjustment policy. Most major retailers will grant a price adjustment within a couple weeks and will refund the difference.

If you’re buying from an individual seller (Ebay, Poshmark), check out that seller’s policies for bundle discounts or ask nicely if there is any wiggle room on price. You can also submit offers on prices or message the seller directly. Be reasonable with these in terms of what is a fair sale price that meets your budget needs.

Want more?

In the next post, I’ll dig into store loyalty programs and credit cards.