The Cost of Culinary Convenience

As I convalesce after a total hip replacement, I am a prime target for the convenience market. Because of my grocery shopping limitations, I decided to finally try a couple meal delivery services. Falling for the introductory deal pitches, I tried both Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. Quickly, though, Hello Fresh became more of a hassle than a convenience, as my promo code didn’t properly process and then I had to contact them for a refund. They promised a refund and gave me a credit, which subsequently led to another online chat session with customer support. Because I am off work at the moment, I was able to monitor and follow up on my account charges. If I was my normal working mom self, a huge demographic for these services, I may have not had the time or emotionally energy at the end of the day to communicate with customer service, which would have resulted in eating the extra costs along with my meal.

Financial Costs
It is not easy to see on either site/app how the promotional deal will shake out and what your weekly cost will be. There is a reason for this. Convenience is not cheap. Even with my “discount,” my second week of Hello Fresh would have been over ten dollars per serving. And this is for the “basic” offerings. More premium meals are offered at a higher cost.

Because of the costs, I quickly went down to one meal service. I dropped Hello Fresh first, as Blue Apron had the better meals and selections. At least better selections that did not come with additional charges. My Blue Apron meals were ones I would have not have likely made on my own: crispy curry chicken with mustard seed sautéed zucchini, cauliflower stromboli drizzled in hot honey, and a Beyond Burger topped with poblano peppers, Monterey cheese, and guacamole.

They were great meals to learn about cooking and new flavors. My 10-year-old son helped me make the crispy curry chicken, which was a fun family activity. Because of this, financially I could justify this as a fun occasional indulgence.

Environmental Costs
While I enjoyed putting together and eating these new dishes, I could not help but be horrified at all the packaging required to bring these meals to my door. My Beyond

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Burger meal ingredients were separated into seven packages, not counting the shipping box it came in. When I considered the travel fuel, ice packs, and packaging, ordering these meals stood out as my most wasteful environmental action for the week.

While studies point out that these meals reduce food waste, this was not the case for me. Some parts of the dishes I could not finish or eat, such as the pickled radishes. Also, it will only reduce food waste if this is an issue in your household. Ordering a meal kit could solve this, but so could better meal planning.

Final thoughts
Overall, meal kits can be great resource for the busy and homebound. They are a fun way to try new foods and expand one’s cooking repertoire. However, be aware that promotional pricing only lasts so long and may not be as cheap as you are led to believe. In addition, if possible, I would advise individuals to look for local kit providers to reduce the environmental impact of these services. Because of the convenience costs, now that  I am now four weeks post-op and able to push a cart, I’ll be returning to Pinterest and the grocery aisles to put together my meals.

The Many Virtues of Frugality

While other children grew up collecting baseball cards and stickers, I grew up collecting coupons. At the library we would sort through a virtual box of money, extracting coveted name brands and the promise of free food if we timed our purchases right. Long before I studied rhetoric as a graduate student, I was a practitioner of the ancient rhetorical concept Kairos. To employ kairos in a speech, you must be aware of the mood of your audience, the context of the situation, and any atmospheric influences. Timing is more than simply showing up and reading from an index card at an appropriate place. The same goes for shopping. In this way, frugality is a difficult concept to apply for those who like to make a grocery list and enter and exit the store as quickly as possible.

Yesterday, I spent nearly two hours scouring their aisles of Meijer and contemplating my choices. It was a moment when the discount stars were aligned in my Meijer world, total purchase mPerks and credit card discounts that could be combined, plus Mother’s Day specials. On a different day, I would not have splurged on the higher end hanging baskets. However, when all the discounts and sales combined, I felt justified in my purchase.

This lengthy foray into the world of bargain shopping would not have been possible before my winter semester of teaching ended. In work intensive times, the variable of convenience reins, which is part of the problem with American life. When we are wrapped up in the hectic life of work, children, and activities, we become less mindful at the stores. We grab our grocery carts and rush around the stores, our minds engaged on what else we have on our agenda. A few weeks later we are presented with a credit card bill for $2,000 and wonder how it is possible that we spent so much money over the course of a month.

Being raised pinching pennies, I am mindful of every dollar I spent. I can recall every item that I spent too much money on by rushing my purchase, as I have constantly rehashed it (which isn’t really healthy either, but that is a reflection for another time). Because of this, I have never had issues with my credit card, paid off my student loans six months after graduation for both of my degrees, and have a healthy savings.

This success has bled into other areas of my life as well, a phenomenon that is well explained by the Marshmallow Test. In the Marshmallow Test, Walter Mischel led a study where children were given a marshmallow. They were told if they did not eat the marshmallow before the researchers returned that they would get an additional marshmallow. One third did not eat the initial marshmallow, practicing the willpower skill of delaying gratification. This ability to delay gratification was a predictor of future success. Frugality is essentially going through the marshmallow test every time you go to the grocery store. You have a choice, you can either get an item that is not on sale and end up with less groceries for your budget, or you can wait until an item is on sale, so that you can buy more food for the same amount of money.

I write this to remember these lessons and how they shaped me, as since I have had children, I have begun to prioritize convenience over saving money. This is not always wrong, as some weeks, you need what you need when you need it. It is being mindful of when you are making a necessary purchase and when you are making one just because you are in a hurry and your willpower is depleted. It is also about creating financial literacy for my children and teaching them the value of waiting.