Category Archives: Money Management

Even During COVID-19, Amazon Fresh Saves Me Time and Money

This piece is by contributing writer Chelsea Jensen.

This sounds like it just may be worth the subscription fee to not have to go to the grocery store and have food delivered to my door.

Amazon Fresh is a grocery delivery service owned by Amazon. It works mainly with Whole Foods Market and offers free grocery delivery to Amazon Prime members in select regions on orders that meet the local free delivery threshold. To check your region’s eligibility, sign in to your Amazon account, or enter your zip code here.

You can shop Amazon Fresh online or with the Amazon shopping app as long as you are logged into your Amazon Prime account. 

How I Use Amazon Fresh Regularly

I have been using Amazon Fresh as a grocery delivery service minimum once a week for about two years. It saves me so much time and money! 

On the Amazon Fresh website (or app), I save my grocery lists so that all I have to do is add the grocery item from the list into my cart. I have a list saved as “The Basics,” or the things I order every week. 

I also have separate grocery lists saved based on my favorite recipes, which makes it easy to add the items for that recipe to my cart. My order is in by 9 PM, and it’s delivered on my front porch before 7 AM the next morning. I unpack the groceries, recycle the bags, and I’m done! Using Amazon Fresh takes me about 10-15 minutes versus spending hours at the grocery store. 

Where can you get Amazon Fresh?

Amazon Fresh is unfortunately not available everywhere. However, it is currently available to Amazon Prime members in the following cities.

  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Houston
  • Indianapolis
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Minneapolis
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Washington, D.C.

Amazon expanded its Fresh service to Germany, delivering in Berlin, Hamburg, Potsdam, and Munich in 2017.

How much does Amazon Fresh cost?

As an Amazon Prime member, the Amazon Fresh Attended Delivery and Doorstep Delivery is free to customers on orders over the local free shipping threshold before tax. Delivery addresses in eligible regions will receive free shipping on orders of $35 or more before tax. Other regions receive free shipping on orders of $50 or more before tax. If your region is eligible for the $35 local free shipping threshold, you will see it automatically apply during checkout. 

Delivery fees also may vary depending on the delivery method you choose. For example, if you select a 1-hour delivery window, you will incur an additional cost. The total fees will show when you go to place your order. 

Is Amazon Fresh worth it?

Amazon Fresh is worth it for me because it’s free with my Amazon Prime membership. My Prime membership costs me $119 a year or roughly $9.92 per month. I would have a Prime membership regardless of the Amazon Fresh delivery service as I use the Prime perks on lots of other things!

Amazon Fresh has helped my husband and I stay on track with our weekly grocery budget. Which, ultimately, has helped us stay on track with paying off a lot of our debt. What I love is that you can see what your total grocery cost will be when you start the checkout process. 

There have been so many times that I have gone back and deleted a tub of ice cream or that $8 organic snack to stick to my budget. When shopping at the grocery store, you don’t have the advantage of instantly seeing your total as you add items to your cart. I recommend looking for the sale items on the “Fresh Deals” page. The items with orange labels under them show you how much you save.

It May Not Be Worth It If

  • You think you will only use your Amazon Prime membership for Amazon Fresh. If that’s the case, it’s probably not worth the cost. Some of the other grocery delivery services have lower or no membership fee (see below). 
  • You will only use it as a filler between trips to the store. It may not be worth the extra cost. 
  • You are particular about picking out your produce items. 

And, I get it, and some of you love the experience of going to the grocery store. The end cap displays, new product offerings, and of course, the samples! If you like any of those items, Amazon Fresh probably won’t be your cup of tea. 

How to Get an Amazon Fresh Time Slot During the Pandemic

If you haven’t ever used Amazon Fresh, there is a chance that you will be put on a waitlist because of the increased demand for online grocery shopping due to COVID-19. Although, it appears that Amazon is working through that list pretty quickly— more than 80% of eligible Prime members can shop without having to request an invitation. 

Getting a delivery time slot has proven to be more difficult due to the increased demand for grocery delivery services. Before the pandemic, there was a lot more availability for 1-hour delivery time slots.

Now finding the 1-hour time slots is more difficult. For the past few weeks, I’ve had good luck with the 2- hour delivery time slots. You could also try this computer program that tells you when a delivery time slot opens up — I have not tried this yet. 

At the start of COVID-19, when many people started to panic shop, I placed an order and was lucky enough to get a time slot. It was delivered hours past the original delivery time window I selected. In recent months, I have also had items in my order that were no longer available at the time of my delivery, and I was refunded. 

Also, certain items are still tough to find. For example, toilet paper always tends to be out of stock, and hand soap usually only has one or two brand options. Amazon has been hiring people like crazy; hopefully, they are on track to keep up with the demand. Especially if we are hit with a second wave of the virus and stay-at-home orders later this year. 

Alternatives to Amazon Fresh

There are a few other grocery delivery alternatives to check out if you don’t live within the service area of Amazon Fresh or are having difficulty getting a time slot. 

Your Local Grocery Store or Co-Op

A food co-op is a grocery store owned by people in the community. The majority of co-ops have good relationships with local farmers that provide them with natural and organic produce, meat, and dairy. 

Here are some resources to help you find a co-op in your area:

Instacart

Instacart connects you with shoppers in your area to pick up local groceries for you. Instead of shopping by product (like with Amazon Fresh), you’ll choose a store in your area and shop from that store’s inventory. Retailers set the pricing. 

The amount of the additional costs can vary based on the size of your order and the designated delivery window. Instacart is available in a much wider geographical area than Amazon Fresh. Instacart only carries items from the specific store you choose from, while Amazon Fresh offers a mix of their store brands, the Whole Foods 365 brand, and others. 

Typically, the standard delivery fee is $3.99, and the service fee is 5% of your order total. You do not need to be a member to shop with Instacart. However, if you sign up for Instacart Express (starting at $99 for the year or $9.99 a month), you’ll get free delivery on orders more than $35. 

The annual cost of Instacart Express is cheaper than Amazon Fresh when you account for Prime membership fees. 

Shipt

Shipt offers same-day delivery from stores in your area. If you want to use Shipt, you’ll have to choose a membership plan. The options include an annual plan for $99 (which works out to be about $8.25 per month) or a monthly plan for $14.

Once you’ve signed up, you can shop online or with an app on your iOS or Android device. With your membership, orders over $35 are eligible for free delivery. Amazon Fresh currently services a larger geographical area than Shipt, but Shipt is cheaper. 

Walmart

Last year, Walmart launched Delivery Unlimited, and it currently delivers from 1,400 stores. If you’re eligible, you can sign up for a $12.95 monthly membership or a $98 annual membership and avoid the per-order fee. If you order more than once per month, this may be a great way to save over time. The Walmart annual membership fee is the cheapest option out of all the grocery delivery services mentioned above, including Amazon Fresh. 

Rent Relief for Pennsylvanians

As a part of the CARES Act, states were given money to run their choice of any number of programs. One of those programs is rental assistance.

Today, applications opened up for the state of Pennsylvania. Here’s a little more information for those who have fallen behind on their rent.

The CARES Rent Relief Program Launches in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s CARES Rent Relief Program (RRP) is open to all Pennsylvanians, but administered at the county level. Here are some of the key details.

How do I qualify?

To qualify for assistance, you as the renter must have seen a household income decrease of at least 30% directly because of COVID-19 related circumstances. That doesn’t mean you have to have been sick — it just means that this disaster impacted your monthly income.

You must also meet income eligibility limits for your county. Eligibility limits are set at the area median income based on your county.

The bigger your household, the higher the income limits.

How much help can I get?

Pennsylvania has capped assistance at $750/month. It is possible to get less money if your rent is less than $750.

You can get assistance for up to six months, for a total of up to $4,500 in assistance. The program has $150M in funding, though theoretically it could be expanded in the future.

You: I thought people didn’t have to pay rent during Corona because Congress said.
Me: No, that’s not how it works, unfortunately.

How will I get the money?

The money will be paid to your landlord by the county organization managing the RRP in your area.

When your landlords agrees to participate in the RRP, they must agree to accept the max payment of $750 as if the rent were paid in full. They will have to forgive the renter the rest.

This is a flaw in the program as $750 not going to cover rent for a lot of families across the state.

Some county organizations may be offering additional funding on top of the state-issued RRP funds. This may help your landlord fill the gap between the $750 and however many dollars you’re supposed to pay in rent.

What if I have a roommate?

Take the amount of rent you’re responsible for in the paperwork. If it is less than $750, the lower number is your new max rental assistance amount.

Now, make sure you are income eligible and that you have lost at least 30% of your income due to pandemic-related issues.

Let’s say you split $800 rent two ways. You could each potentially qualify for $400 in rental assistance each month for up to six months, getting your landlord 100% of the money even though the total exceeds that $750 limit.

Can I request assistance for future months?

Yes. If you qualify for the program, you can get help for months past and those upcoming months which you anticipate to be economically troublesome.

You will have to report your income every month. If it goes up high enough, you could lose access to rental assistance for that month.

How do I apply?

You can apply from July 6, 2020 through September 30, 2020. The organization you apply with will vary by county. Find your county organization here.

For my Pittsburgh readers: Allegheny County

What forms do I need to submit?

You will have to fill out one form and your landlord will have to fill out two. They’re fairly simple — as long as your landlord has been taking good care of you. They have to certify that the property is up to code, but the state’s not going to run inspections.

You will need to get your landlord on board for this to work. Here are the forms they have to fill out:

You will need to fill out the:

You will also need to submit supporting financial documentation as the renter, a copy of the lease and a utility bill or some other proof that you live at the property.

Depending on your county, you may be able to fill these forms out online. You should be able to submit them via email across the state.

Do other states have COVID rent relief programs?

Yes! But everything from their existence to their income limits to their payouts and administration process is going to vary based on state.

It’s fun, I know.

To find more information on your state’s program, search for “(your state)” + “CARES rent relief program” or some variation thereof.

Your city or metro area may be offering rental assistance at the local level, too. These programs exist, but they don’t exist everywhere and aren’t being done in a uniform manner. So you really have to search.

The most comprehensive list I have been able to find is from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. It does not include every single locality, though it does have information for some major cities.

Note

Assistance programs have been changing quickly during the pandemic. The information above is gleaned from the linked documents produced by the state of Pennsylvania at the release of the program. Requirements may change and there may be expansions or contractions of the program in the future.

Contact your county office for the most up-to-date information.

Celebrating 9 Years of Blogging with a Book #Giveaway

Nine years ago, I sat down at my computer and started this little blog. I was in school nontraditionally, young kids at home, scraping together every last penny I could.

It turns out I found a lot of pennies.

I figured I should probably share everything I was learning with other people; there must be someone else out there who could use this information. I wanted everyone to know all the money things I was learning. So I started sharing it on the internet.

I never imagined it would become my career. Yet in 2015, I went full-time.

I am eternally grateful for this journey. It’s allowed me to engineer my life around my family’s needs. It’s allowed me to provide for them reliably (until COVID.)

Just as importantly, it’s allowed me to connect with all of you. Through the years, you have been my support system — the reason I keep going.

Thank you. From the very bottom of my heart.

Year Nine in Review

Year nine has been…eventful.

It spanned a period of intense travel and professional efforts, and then a period of pandemic where I’ve had to reevaluate every business plan I ever had.

Here’s where we’ve been, friends.

Everything was dramatically different one year ago.

In the past few years, Femme Frugality has done a lot of work locally here in Pittsburgh. In 2019, event promotion was making up an increasing part of the business model.

I can’t help but look back at the 8-year mark, and fondly recall that it was celebrated by attending The Mattress Factory’s Solstice Party.

It was so much fun.

I skew introvert, but, dang, do I miss people lately.

We’ll get back to it. For now, though, stay safe. Parties and plays and all of the people-y things will be back in a safe way eventually. To be there for it, we’ve got to take care of our collective health now.

Summer Book Tour

Last summer I had the opportunity to go on a book tour to small towns and cities across the country. Those of you who came out to meet me — thank you. I remember each one of your stories and smart questions. Meeting you IRL was sustaining. I look back now with the perspective of pandemic and social distancing and find myself doubly grateful for the experience we shared.

If you’re looking for independent bookstores, here are a couple of my favorites that supported me on the road last summer:

Personal Finance by Women

Late last summer, Personal Finance by Women launched. We did some really cool things together, like get our members’ stories featured on major media sites. We used financial literacy to support the fight against the opioid crisis. Celebrated International Women’s Day together.

We tried to launch a series for Black History Month, but I had trouble trying to turn public-facing support into a dollar commitment from sponsors in a timely manner.

Then, I had to put Personal Finance by Women on pause earlier this year due to COVID time constraints. But we’re moving the content we had planned over here to Femme Frugality as a new addition to the Intersectional Finances series.

Keep your eyes out for it this summer!

In the meantime, one of the writers for this upcoming series — Jackie Cummings Koski — recently retired at age 49! Check out her MarketWatch FIRESTARTERS feature:

Plutus Awards

Last Fall, I was humbled to be nominated for two Plutus Awards. They were:

To clarify, the Intersectional Finances Series was not written by me. It’s merely hosted by Femme Frugality. All the recognition for that one goes to Choncé, ZJ, Nour, Taylor, Revanche and Kristine.

New Communities

In the past year, I’ve learned that while working to make the world immediately around you a better place may be a noble effort, there does come a point where your environment is so toxic that you have to walk away. Walk away from certain personal relationships. From certain business communities.

It’s painful, but it clears the way for better things.

I’m enjoying the search for those better things. While it’s overwhelming to be a newbie in some of my business communities all over again, I can already see the strength and opportunity in these new-to-me spaces. I’m looking forward to contributing and supporting.

I was honored to be awarded a grant from PEN America earlier this year, becoming a member of the organization.

Other great groups I’ve found have included a number of Binders groups for writers on Facebook, and Tarra Jackson’s DUALpreneur® community. I’m very new in all of these well-established spaces, and even so I’ve found so much support. I’m grateful and excited for this leg of the journey.

More community <3

If you’re looking for more community, I might not be super active with #PersonalFinancebyWomen long-form content and bigger projects at the moment.

But the hashtag is full of interesting new content all the time on Instagram, with contributions from a litany of amazing personal finance writers. Pushing 1,000 posts!

Join us!

The Feminist Financial Handbook Giveaway

To celebrate this year’s blogiversary, I am giving away five (5), signed copies of The Feminist Financial Handbook. Each person can win a maximum of one (1) copy.

You can enter through the entire month of July, up to 11:59p Eastern on July 31, 2020. This giveaway is open to people with mailing addresses in the US and Canada.

There are a lot of ways to enter, including following the women who shared their stories in the book:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Best of luck to all, and thank you for a great nine years!

Pandemic Money Hacks

As I find money tips that may help through this crisis, I’m sharing them in batches. You can find Batch 1 here.

Here’s what we’ve got in store for Batch 2:

You won’t lose unemployment if your employer illegally reopens in PA.

Governor Wolf.

Through this crisis, he has allowed public health and science to inform his decisions, and as a result, saved countless lives.

He has offered Pennsylvanians the opportunity to do the right thing voluntarily, but has also held businesses accountable when they openly flout the emergency orders put in place to protect the health of our citizens, our healthcare systems and our communities.

And now, he’s out there protecting your unemployment benefits.

Human lives over short-term profit.

Here is the full statement from the governor. Please read it knowing it comes from a twice-democratically-elected governor in a very purple state, regardless of the skewed images you might see on social media.

Basically, about half the state had restrictions partially lifted last week. But that’s not how people here were treating it.

More important to the people of Pennsylvania, that’s not how some employers wanted to treat it. There was this very real, lingering question:

If an employer opens up in an area where it’s been deemed unsafe to work, will you lose your unemployment by refusing to go back into a potentially unsafe environment?

Because maybe, just maybe, you’re not willing to die or kill your grandma for your employer?

The answer is, ‘No,’ according to Wolf’s statement.

At the time of writing this piece, in the state of Pennsylvania, if your business or locality is violating state orders by opening prematurely, you are completely within your bounds to refuse to go in to work. If you stay home, you will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

This is a huge relief for anyone worried about their own health, or the health of the communities in which they live.

It’s a huge relief for the average person struggling economically through this mess as their employers attempt use them as pawns to manipulate financial benefit programs like PPP.

Mortgage Forbearance

If you’re struggling to pay your mortgage, or are a renter who would like to know what your landlord’s options might be before you approach them about a late rent payment, it’s going to be really helpful to understand the mortgage forbearance rules out there right now.

You can find some perspective from Justine at Live with Plum. As she notes, forbearance is not forgiveness; you’re still going to need a plan to pay this off.

If you’re a renter, you’ll want to check the Batch 1 tips to find out why it’s so vitally important to understand your landlord’s options.

Start Looking at Summer Food Programs Now

Even if you didn’t qualify for or rely on the school lunch program before COVID-19, you might now.

At least in Western Pennsylvania, most school districts are distributing food via a basic signup list, waiving income eligibility limits to make sure all the kids have food.

This eliminates a lot of the paperwork barriers that often impede people from getting the benefits they need, and reduces social shaming.

If you’ve never dealt with the school lunch program before, you may not have thought about the summer yet. Luckily, there are summer meal programs across the country funded by the USDA.

Ask your school district about summer meals now. These meals are sometimes administered by community nonprofits and recreational organizations rather than in schools.

But during the pandemic, things have undoubtedly changed.

The USDA provides a searchable map so you can find local sites. But at least here in Western PA, the map is telling me to do the same thing: Contact your school directly.

Traditionally, admission to these summer meal programs required a separate application. In this time of crisis, so much of your eligibility and access is going to depend on decisions made at the local level.

Get in touch with your district to make sure your kids have enough food over the summer. Make your plan now.

Because believe it or not, we’re almost halfway through May.

Do Home Loans Need to Be So Stressful?

This post is brought to you and contributed by an outside writer.

One of the most daunting experiences of adult life is the anxiety-producing home loan. 

The constant hope that you will be able to maintain your income so you can make your mortgage payments on time can create a tension-filled life. 

Many of us sit with mountains of stress over the complications of maintaining and owning a home. It’s not uncommon to avoid financial problems by just hoping it solves itself if we keep making payments. Yet even when we’re avoidant, there’s always that constant worry that if things go wrong it could lead to the possibility of losing the house — despite our best efforts. 

If your mortgage provides more feelings of anxiety than security, it might help to know about the many helpful ways to reduce the stress of having a home loan. Yes, if you are in a bad spot with your mortgage, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

And it’s not necessarily the headlamp of an oncoming train. 

An Alternative to Foreclosure

There is an option available to homeowners who are no longer able to afford payments for any of several reasons — a way to get out from under the debt that their changing economic situations have left them with. 

If you are suddenly facing an uncertain and financially insecure future and still owe more than your house is worth, foreclosure isn’t the only way out. In cases where you believe a foreclosure to be around the corner, a slightly better options is short sales.

In the Ohio Valley, specialists like those at the Ohio Short Sale Center can help you determine if a short sale is a plausible option for you as a homeowner. You will have to move when your house sells, but it won’t be because the bank is kicking you out. 

In a short sale, the bank allows you to sell your home for less than you owe. The bank is taking a loss and so are you, but it’s better for the both of you than going through the losses that come along with foreclosure. 

Additional Financial Relief Options

More often than we realize, the value of homes can quickly change for several reasons, leaving many homes with a substantially reduced worth and owners with an existing loan that now exceeds the value of the property. Borrowing against your mortgage or property can also put you in a similar situation.

Or simply losing your job due to a pandemic.

You could consider a loan modification. This should be considered as an approach early on, and could involve options such as temporarily reduced interest rates, switching mortgage lenders, or restructuring of payments so the amounts become more manageable during the hardship you face. 

Temporary suspension of mortgage payments is sometimes an available option, but all of these options depend entirely on your financial lender. 

Whatever road you take, do so with the advice of a financial professional who knows the ins and outs of your entire, individualized financial situation. You can get the advice of a HUD-approved financial counselor for little to zero cost.

Learning Is Better Than Worrying

If you ever find yourself stressed out over your home loan or any other part of your financial situation, remember that knowledge is power. In the era of the internet, we’re lucky enough to live in a time when knowledge is literally at your fingertips. 

You don’t have to be great at trigonometry to ‘get’ personal finance, but putting effort into understanding how our finances work is something we can all benefit from greatly.