Full disclosure on this post: We founded this company. With that said, if we didn’t truly believe in the value that Storytime brings to parents and their children, we would’ve never started the company!
Storytime is an unlimited children’s book subscription service. After you join, Storytime sends four books to your doorstep that you can read and enjoy for as long as you’re a member. When you’re ready for new ones, send one or more books back, and Storytime will send more your way. Repeat as often as you’d like. It costs $39 per month and that covers all of the books and shipping. It’s basically a Rent the Runway, but for your kids’ books!
We truly believe Storytime is the best children’s book subscription service on the market. Here’s why we think Storytime is different (and better 😉) than other children’s book subscriptions out there.
Storytime lets parents pick topics that matter to them and their child
Life is complex and comes at your children fast. Children’s books are a great way to talk to your kids about tough issues and to help instill values that matter to you and your child. When you sign up for a Storytime subscription, you select the topics that are meaningful at that time in your child’s life:
First trip to the dentist? Storytime sends a children’s book to explain what a dentist visit is all about.
Have a loved one with memory loss? Storytime sends a book that introduces memory loss in a simple and understandable way.
Want to instill a since of Grit? Storytime sends books showing characters that continue to push through hard times.
Want just fun books to spur imagination and creativity? Yep, Storytime has books for that, too.
Storytime is your infinite library that delivers to your doorstep
We love books, and we think it’s incredibly important that every child has a full bookshelf. We don’t, however, think every book needs to be kept forever. Sometimes you just need a book to get a particular point across or address a specific issue at that time. Storytime lets you keep books as long as you have an active membership, and you send them back whenever you’re ready for more.
Does your child absolutely love one of the books and want to read it every night for the next two months? Totally fine, and we love that! Keep that one, send the other three back to Storytime to get three new books. You have four slots to fill and exchange as often or as little as you want. Not only does this offer flexibility and access to tons of books, it also keeps your shelves a little more tidy!
Storytime searches far and wide to find the best children’s books
It’s so important to find stories with characters a child can connect with. It makes the message so much more meaningful and is something you can refer to for weeks to come when reinforcing topics with your child.
As you could probably tell in our review of the best dog products, we absolutely love and spoil our Weimaraner dog. So much so that we welcomed another one into our family about 10 months ago. Even with just one dog, walking and boarding can be one of the biggest challenges (and expenses!) when you have a dog.
We used to board our dog at dog care facilities, but we ultimately hated it. He always had extreme separation anxiety; we felt he wasn’t getting the attention he needed; and we spent tons of money. Once our second pup joined us, we knew we needed a better option.
Luckily, we found Rover—a web-based and app service that lets us find local walkers and sitters to walk our dogs or to stay in our home with them when we are away. Our dogs don’t get separation anxiety anymore while we are gone; they are much happier staying in their own home and getting personal attention; and it’s surprisingly cheaper than dog boarding facilities!
Rover offers a number of different services to meet our needs:
House sitting, when we want someone to stay in our home overnight.
Dog boarding, for those who want their pups to stay overnight in other homes.
Dog walking, for when we need someone to drop by to walk the dogs when we’re working or out and about for the entire day
Day care in someone else’s home
And Rover Now, for when we didn’t plan ahead and need a walker ASAP—a life saver when those last-minute, late-night meetings pop up at work. With Rover Now, the app picks the walker and sends them to your home asap (think Uber). We haven’t used this service yet, but it seems really convenient.
The costs of Rover vary by service and walker/sitter. In our experience, we’ve always been able to find an affordable option. We’ve found:
dog sitting for $30-$50/night;
dog walking between $15-$25/walk;
and doggy daycare for $25-$40/day.
Comparing Rover’s prices to other facilities our pups have stayed at, the prices are great. For example, it costs around $90/night for our two dogs to stay at a Petsmart PetsHotel, where they are put in a kennel overnight and get to run around (and pee and poop…yuck) in a 30X30 room during the day. On Rover, we get to book with a sitter we love for $70/night (we pay $35 each dog per night), and our dogs stay in their home with lots of walks and love throughout the day. It’s a no-brainer for us.
Picking our Rover Dog Sitter or Walker
Picking a sitter or walker through Rover is simple. After entering some basic info about our dogs and home address, the type of service we are looking for, and the date, tons of potential sitters and walkers pop up. We live in Los Angeles, and there are always lots of options—even on short notice. We’ve also used the service while on road trips in other states, and similarly found plenty of options.
The Rover app lets us filter sitters by price, credentials (like dog first-aid certified), and level of background check, so we can narrow the options down a bit. We also find reviews to be super helpful. We can read about other people’s firsthand experience with that sitter or walker and even look through pictures of other people’s pups with that particular person.
As a side note: While the Rover iPhone app meets our needs, the full web version of Rover has even more search options and filtering available, such as “Fenced Yard,” “House,” “Dogs Allowed on Bed” (a must for our pups).
After finding a sitter we’re interested in, we can set up a time to meet the sitter before committing to a booking. That way, we can make sure we like the person, introduce our dogs, and talk about our preferences and routine.
One question we often get from others is whether Rover is safe because the reality is that a random person is staying in our home or walking our dogs. It’s a fair concern and something people thought about every time they hop in an Uber in the early days. Rover made us feel better about this in a few ways.
First, Rover has multiple levels of background checks and training experience for its sitters and walkers. We can pick someone who has a higher background check or training experience if that makes us more comfortable.
Second, the sitter’s reviews help us confirm that the person isn’t crazy. We can see firsthand experiences with that person and pictures to back them up. Rover also shows you how many repeat clients a sitter has had, which is one of the best indicators of a good sitter.
And, third, Rover offers insurance. If someone harms our pet or property in a negligent or purposeful way, we at least have some reassurance that we won’t be left picking up the entire tab. They also offer training so your sitter feels ready to tackle emergencies and you can filter to find sitters who have taken the initiative to complete the training.
Lots of TLC for our dogs. In many daycare or boarding facilities, the real goal (if we’re being honest) is just to keep the dogs alive. The caretakers are there to make sure dogs don’t get into fights and to clean up their messes, but they aren’t there to provide love and attention to our pups. With Rover, we know our dogs are getting undivided love and attention. The texts we’ve received from our sitters makes it clear they really know our pups and they describe their personalities perfectly.
Pictures galore! We get daily updates and pictures of our dogs while we’re away. That way, we know our dogs are happy and well taken care of. We can also look back at a collage of pictures from our many Rover adventures (check out ours below!).
Comfort in our own home. We choose Rover‘s house sitting because we know are dogs are less stressed getting to stay in their own home. They get to play with their toys, sleep in their own beds, and keep up with their normal routine.
Personalized training. Our Rover sitters have all been very willing to keep up with our training preferences. At other dog boarding facilities, the staff don’t have the time to personalize their attention to the dogs. After a long trip, we’d end up spending many days getting our dogs to pay attention to our rules and training.
Flexible cancellation policies. Life happens and plans change. Similar to Airbnb, Rover walkers and sitters can pick their own cancellation policy. It can range from strict (cancel at least a week in advance), moderate (cancel by noon the day before), and flexible (cancel before the start of the booking).
Little extras. We’ve found that Rover walkers and sitters are happy to help little odds and ends when we ask them. If we ask them to check the mail, water a plant, or bring in a package, they’re always happy to. We also feel much better knowing that someone is staying in our home while we’re away!
Rover Promo Code Freebie!
We’ve loved using Rover. Not only is it more affordable than many dog boarding and walking services, we love that our dogs are so much more comfortable when they get to stay in their own home. Try out the service and let us know what you think! Here’s a $20 off coupon for your first Rover booking (and we’ll get $20, too!).
Two things we’re always trying to improve: Getting in shape and getting our financial house cleaner. We’ve talked about Peloton, which can help shed some pounds; now let’s talk about the application You Need a Budget, or YNAB for short. Sure, it might be a bit ironic to talk about budgeting on a blog that focuses on buying not-so-cheap things. But, the only reason we can buy all of these things is because we budget for them.
Our budgeting skills and methods have evolved—and greatly improved—over time. We started off using spreadsheets to track our financial goals and expenses. Spreadsheets are a pain to maintain, so we turned to applications such as Mint. Mint was helpful, but we found it to be too backwards-looking. It was good at giving us a sense of where our money was going, but it didn’t let us plan where our money should be going. So, we went back to spreadsheets. While spreadsheets worked great for planning, the inability to link to banks or credit cards meant manual tracking, which was time-consuming and tedious.
Luckily, we found YNAB. In our opinion, YNAB is one of the best budgeting applications we’ve found. YNAB gives us the power to budget as a couple, review our financial situation before spending a dollar, and access our up-to-date budget from anywhere.
This article describes why we think YNAB beats the competition, highlights our favorite YNAB features, and provides links to resources to get you started. Take note, YNAB has a bit of learning curve and isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re ready to take control of your financial life, give YNAB a try. It costs $11.99 per month or $84 upfront for a year (which averages to $7/mo).
We tried other budgeting tools before YNAB, including Mint, Personal Capital (which we still use for stashing some of our savings, but found the budgeting to be ‘meh’), and HoneyFi. None of them worked for us. While they helped with expense tracking, they weren’t flexible and didn’t help us with financial goal setting. We finally found this total solution in YNAB for the following reasons:
Assigns a purpose to every dollar we have and tracks it forever.
This has always been our approach for managing our finances. We start with the money we have in the bank and the money we expect to earn, and we create a budget based on this amount. Once we’ve identified this amount, we ‘assign’ the money to our (1) required expenses (e.g., rent, utilities, insurance), (2) savings goals, and then, with whatever’s left, (3) luxuries like travel and dining. We watch these categories as they grow (or shrink) from month to month. If we want to eat at new, trendy restaurant in Hollywood, we eat on the cheap for a couple months and let our ‘dining’ budget grow. Many of the apps we tried simply reset our budget every month, which didn’t work for us.
Bottom line is that our budget is always a reflection of the total amount of money we actually have—not just the spending limit we’re trying to stay under. And, since all of our other priorities are already funded with real money, we can enjoy guilty pleasures knowing our goals are being met.
YNAB’s system fit our philosophy perfectly. In fact, this way of budgeting is what YNAB refer to as ‘Rule 1: Give every dollar a job.’ You can watch more about this rule from YNAB, here:
Once every dollar has a job (budget category) in YNAB, we can start tracking our expenses against those categories. The budget then becomes our go-to before making any spending decisions. If we have enough money left in the category, we know that we can spend with confidence! If we don’t, but we really need or want something, we have to figure out which category we’re going to “steal” from. We label our savings as ‘DO NOT TOUCH,’ so that category is never an option to steal from, but other money is free game.
YNAB makes us reconcile any overspent categories each month. Rather than simply thinking we’ll try harder next mont, we’re forced to figure out what other category will suffer from spending too freely. This is super helpful in keeping us accountable to our goals.
Plans for irregular and future expenses.
In addition to giving every dollar a job, we wanted a tool that let us plan ahead. We needed to save for ‘known’ and ‘known-unknown’ future expenses. We wanted to make sure we’d have enough money for car registration due every June and that we were putting aside money for inevitable-yet-unexpected expenses like house repairs.
YNAB helps with this type of planning. For every category, we can set a goal contribution. For fixed expenses, such as rent, we include that value as a monthly contribution (i.e., rent is $3,000, so we have a goal of $3,000). For expenses that are variable or occur in the future, we include a monthly target to add to that account. For bills due by a certain date, we create a target balance that must be met by a certain date. The app will then determine how much we need to fund that category every month to meet our goal. For example, car registration is $500 and due in June, so YNAB automatically sets a goal of $42 per month, so we’ll have enough money available when that bill comes due.
Gives deeper insights into our spending.
By forcing us to reconcile our categories at the end of each month, we found that some of our budget categories didn’t reflect the reality of our expenses. We also found that unplanned expenses that don’t fit neatly into a budget category happen every month. We always thought next month would be more ‘normal,’ but we haven’t found a ‘normal’ month yet. Instead, we decided to plan for these monthly unknowns by creating and funding a ‘stuff we forgot to budget for’ category that gives us some planned flexibility each month without having to steal from our other goals.
We have the worst memories and kinda freak out over expenses, especially when we forget details. With YNAB, we can add notes to every expense (e.g., ‘We took this cash out of the ATM to pay for XYZ.’). We can also add notes to our categories (e.g., ‘On January 15, we agreed to save $1,000 for this category and based this spending assumption on XYZ.’). If we’re thinking about stealing from a category that has money leftover, these notes remind us why we still need that money.
Has secure, automated (but not too automated) imports from banks and credit cards.
When we tried programs like Mint, the software’s algorithm never quite categorized our expenses the way we wanted. YNAB has the right balance, in our opinion, between automation and control. When we make a purchase, YNAB keeps it in a ‘new transactions’ folder for us to import, approve, and categorize. YNAB makes a category suggestion for each transaction to save us an extra click, but it never categorizes something without our approval. Similarly, when we have inflow, YNAB adds the money to a ‘to be budgeted’ category that waits for us to make a decision on how that money should be split across our spending categories.
We prefer this semi-automated workflow in YNAB. Many YNAB purists (I’m looking at you, r/YNAB) will say we should only add expenses manually to really think about our budget before we spend. The purists still use the automated expense import feature, but only to double check that they didn’t miss anything manually. For us, that’s a tad too tedious, and we understand our spending pretty well at this point, so we rely solely on the automated import feature.
Includes a powerful mobile user interface.
We’re often out and about when we make spending decisions, so it was important that our budgeting tool has a powerful mobile interface that lets us see every aspect of our budget and do everything we could as if we were on our computer. YNAB’s mobile user interface is the best mobile budgeting app we tried. From our phone, we can quickly skim our entire budget. We can fund categories. We can categorize expenses. We can add notes. A simple color coding identifies what categories are on track (green), at risk (yellow), or busted (red). All of these actions with a clean and intuitive (while not dumbed-down) user interface. We primarily use an iPhone with the YNAB app, but their site says they also have iPad, Apple Watch, Android, and even Amazon Alexa.
Doesn’t inundate us with ‘special offers’ and other nonsense.
Because YNAB is a paid subscription service, the app focuses solely on providing users with a great experience and powerful tools. YNAB doesn’t make money from advertisements offering credit card deals or whatever other nonsense. Just clean budgeting. That means YNAB focuses on its users—what tools do they need, what helps them stick to their budgets, and how can they make those tools easy to use. Other budgeting apps are focused on what the advertising money wants. Those are not the motivations we wanted our budgeting software team to be focused on. While it costs a small fee each month, having a painless experience on the app and a product developed with the right motivations is worth the subscription fee to us.
Makes joint budgeting easy.
A joint budget is only useful if both people are actively managing and in tune with expenses. We needed something that would allow both of us to see our latest balances for every category. YNAB makes this easy by sharing an account and having the app accessible both in mobile and web.
Like most couples, we divide our income into a wide range of categories: The mandatory expenses spent on a monthly basis, such as groceries and rent; quality of life goals we save for and spend over longer periods, such as travel and hobbies; and our long-term retirement savings. Each of us also gets a stipend each month that we’re free to spend in whatever way we want, completely judgement free. YNAB is capable of organizing and executing our budget in this way.
YNAB makes it easy for us to have conversations about our budget. We implement a system to ensure we have regular discussions about our budget and financial goals. Each week, we categorize any remaining expenses that haven’t been categorized and then systemically look at the spend rates for each budget category. If we see, for example, that our ‘dining’ budget is low, and we have most of the month to go, we both know we can’t afford to eat out that weekend. We don’t even bring it up because we know we shouldn’t.
Also, at the end of each month, we take a deeper dive through all of our categories to make sure we’re on track and then we set up next month’s budget by adding dollars to each category. If we notice we’re having a difficult time sticking to a particular category’s limits, we have a discussion about what a realistic budget is for that category and where the extra money would come from. If we’ve had a lot of unexpected expenses, we look for a trend in the type(s) of those expenses to see if a new category should be created to better plan for them. These monthly discussions are critical to adapting our budget to our actual needs and to ensure our savings projections stay accurate and realistic.
Allows us to personalize budget categories.
We wanted a budgeting app that allowed us to describe budget categories in a way that is meaningful to how we think about our expenses. This sounds trivial, but for our long-term retirement savings, we’ve always labeled those accounts as ‘DO NOT TOUCH.’ There’s something about having those big, bold letters staring at us that keeps us from borrowing against these accounts.
YNAB allows us to keep that tradition alive with flexible category naming. While the tool provided a list of initial categories to help us identify our likely expenses, it’s super flexible in letting us create/re-name/edit every category. In addition to different categories, we can split categories into larger meta-categories that help us collapse and/or expand on different parts of our budget. For example, we have a ‘just for fun’ meta-category that captures our entertainment-type categories like dining, wine club memberships, and streaming services. We also have a ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ meta-category that captures our retirement and investment categories. When we have our weekly budget check-ins, we focus only on our monthly spending and ignore all of our long-term, ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ savings categories by simply collapsing them all down. This makes our budget review much more efficient.
Provides support from real (and nice) humans when we need help.
Great customer support wasn’t something we were actively looking for in a budgeting app, but now that we have it, it’s a must. YNAB’s customer support team is amazing. The couple of times we had issues figuring out how to use a particular function, the support team from YNAB has been friendly and effective. YNAB has a live-chat function that provides immediate support during working hours or outside of working hours email support that typically responds within 24 hours.
Fun banter along the way.
We weren’t looking for this feature either, but the little jokes YNAB hides throughout the application takes the edge off of an otherwise tedious task of budgeting. The writers at YNAB have an approachable style that makes reading about budgeting and using the tool a joy.
YNAB’s Budgeting Philosophy
YNAB is not only a great budgeting tool; it’s a system and philosophy on how to take control of your finances. The following video describes the ‘Four Rules’ that YNAB users live by and gives you some insight into how YNAB’s budgeting rules are put into action within the tool. If you’re curious about what it’s like to use YNAB, the video is worth a watch.
As you can see, there’s a learning curve to using the tool, but there’s also plenty of videos and tutorials to get you set up. And, if you run into any issues, the YNAB support team is only a chat message away.
YNAB Free Trial and Quick Start
Are you ready to give YNAB a try? Start by using this link to get a free, 34-day trial of YNAB. You can set up your budget and make sure it works for you before committing to a subscription. Once you create an account, we suggest you use YNAB’s Getting Started video courses to help you set up your budget, connect your accounts, and fund your categories. If you get stuck at any point, reach out to the customer support team before spending too much time researching. They’re super helpful and will get you the right answer right away.
A few posts ago, we talked about the best dog products ever. Now we want to introduce you to a product our 15-year-old cat loves. Well, we probably love it more than her, but she seems to like it, too! It’s the Litter Kwitter, a toilet training system for your cat. That’s right, our cat uses the toilet and has been for over 10 years. For the longest time, we lived in small apartments and hated having a stinky litter box. We either had to keep the litter box in our bedroom, which stunk and got litter all over the carpet; or, we had to keep it in our only bathroom, which still stunk, still got litter all over the floor, and had the added bonus of our guests seeing it. We saw the Litter Kwitter and were skeptical at first, but it’s seriously been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Here’s why:
Simple, step-by-step instructions to train your cat to use the toilet
The product has easy instructions that anyone can follow (including your cat!). You start by putting a white, let’s call it, ‘shell’ on your toilet (which fits most standard toilets). It comes with three inserts that fit in the shell: A red one that completely covers the hole; an orange one that has a small hole; and a green one that has an even larger hole. You fill each insert with litter. The idea is that, over time, the cat gets used to jumping up on the toilet to go to the bathroom, and the hole gradually gets bigger as the cat becomes more confident. Hence, the red one has no hole and is solely intended to get your cat to jump up on the toilet to use the bathroom. The orange and green ones have holes, so the cat can become confident with placing its feet in the correct spot. It takes about eight weeks from start to finish until your cat is ready to use the toilet without any of the training devices attached. After that, you’ll never have to use a litter scoop again! All you have to do is flush the toilet.
The Litter Kwitter is reusable. We’ve noticed that there are other similar products on the market, one that has perforated insert which you slowly remove portions from over time to create the hole. It’s cheaper, and probably effective as well, but we’ve definitely had to use the shell and inserts multiple times, which wouldn’t be possible with these other products. Each time we move, we use the shell and at least the green insert to help our cat identify which toilet she should use in the new apartment. And, truth be told, the occasional slip happens, and our cat lands a paw in the water and becomes a little scared. Being able to put the shell and insert back on for a day is super helpful in making sure she doesn’t regress in her training.
Much more sanitary than a litter box
Back when we still had a litter box, we were lying in bed when we heard our cat get up, go to the bathroom, and then cover it up with litter. The cat then jumped on the bed and lied down on us. At that moment, we realized that every time she was using the litter box and then covering it up with litter, tons of germs were inevitably getting on her paws and then being tracked all over the house (and on our pillowcases!). After training our cat to use the toilet with Litter Kwitter, she now jumps up on a clean toilet seat, and we don’t have to worry about unwanted germs being tracked everywhere.
Ready to say goodbye to the litter box? Here’s everything you’ll need:
You need only three things to go from a litter box to a toilet-trained cat:
Flushable Litter: Avoid needing to call a plumber to clear out your pipes; use flushable litter. We used and loved the World’s Best Cat Litter. Definitely recommend using this litter while toilet training your cat.
Litter that attracts your cat: It was helpful to have some litter attraction handy in case our cat ever became booked with jumping up on the toilet. We found that Cat Attract is pretty irresistible. Note: Going completely above the advice above, it’s technically not flushable! So use it sparingly. We often mixed in just a VERY small amount with the flushable litter to get our cat to jump back up.
Tips for making a successful transition from litter box to toilet
Use the right litter. Regular cat litter and toilets don’t mix. So, to avoid a phone call to a plumber, use flushable litter. See above for our recommendation.
Don’t rush the process. After your cat jumps up successfully a couple of times, it can be very tempting to think it has mastered that particular phase and can move on to the next one. Don’t fall for it. Definitely spend 2-3 weeks per insert to make sure your cat is totally confident.
Slips happen. Your cat will inevitably slip and at least one or all paws will end up in the toilet. It’s okay, but it will be startling for your cat. When that happened to our cat, we would usually move back to an earlier insert for a couple of days to get our cat’s confidence back up before continuing on. We also found that sprinkling a small amount of the attraction litter (see Cat Attract above) is pretty irresistible to the cat.
We’ve been participating (or at least trying to) in the FIRE (financial independence and retire early) movement for quite some time now. We have a portfolio of long-term retirement investments, but we also like to have a good amount of cash available for any emergencies. Of course, cash doesn’t generate nearly as much as a traditional investment, so it’s important for us to put this cash to work as best we could.
Historically, CDs have been a good place to park cash, but these days, rates barely beat a savings account, and you can’t touch your cash for an extended period of time. We spent a few days researching the best place for our cash—without putting it at risk—and we found the best option for us: Personal Capital.
We can obsessively monitor our overall net worth on our iPhones.
We downloaded the Personal Capital app on our iPhones. It takes time upfront to set it all up, but it’s completely worth it. To get an accurate picture of your net worth, use the app to link all of your checking, savings, investment (e.g., brokerage, IRA, 401k, TSP, etc.) accounts. If you like tracking your home and/or other real estate investments as part of your net worth, you can add these addresses to get an estimate of your home’s current value through Zillow. You can also link to any mortgage accounts, so you get a better picture of the total equity you have. Once you make these initial links, the Personal Capital app goes on autopilot, and everything automatically updates whenever you open the app.
Before the Personal Capital app, we had to log into ~5 different banks to get a full picture of our net worth. Now, we simply open up the app and see exactly what our net worth is today. As you scroll, it breaks down your net worth into buckets such as cash, investment, credit card, mortgage, and other loan accounts. We can click into any of the accounts to see the most recent transactions—all in one place. Now it’s easy for us to obsess over our net worth and progress towards our FIRE goals. It’s actually super motivating.
We can get a high-yield interest rate from Personal Capital’s savings account.
While tracking our finances is great, we were still looking for a place to put our cash that could earn a high percentage rate with no risk. That’s when we learned about Personal Capital Cash through the app. Personal Capital offers a high-yield savings account. Frankly, it was the highest that we found that didn’t require you to be a millionaire to open an account.
There are plenty of other features to help achieve your financial goals.
To be honest, those are the two primary reasons we use Personal Capital. It offers a number of other features that we don’t currently use, but are available. For example, it also has a budgeting feature. We’re sure this is a solid feature, but we are already in love with our YNAB system because it offers a much more detailed look at our monthly budget.
It doesn’t cost anything to use their app, so it’s definitely worth downloading to see if it’s something that will help you achieve your financial goals. Use our referral link when you register, and if you link an investment account (e.g., brokerage, 401k, IRA, etc.) with a balance of more than $1,000 within 30 days of registering, you’ll get a $20 Amazon gift card and so will we! You don’t have to transfer any money, this will simply allow you to view your investments in one spot. And, if you have some extra cash making less than 2.30%, definitely park it with them and put it to good work!
If you could just speak a question or request into the air and get an immediate response, wouldn’t that be lovely? Meet Alexa, brought to you by Amazon. We bought our first Amazon Echo about 2 years ago, and now we have an an Alexa in every room of the house. For those who haven’t been introduced, the Echo is a smart speaker. Saying “Alexa” triggers the speaker to listen to your question or request and respond. Amazon Echo was one of the first smart speakers. Others, such as Google Home, have since entered the market. We can’t weigh in on the pros and cons of the Amazon Echo compared to other smart speakers (because we don’t have them), but we’ve pulled together the top 15 ways Alexa can change your life, including cool Alexa tricks, Alexa Easter eggs, and Alexa commands that we use almost every day. If you don’t already have an Alexa-enabled device, check out the bottom of the post for a comparison of the top models.
#1: Never lean over to turn off your bedside lamp again
“Alexa, turn off the lamp”
It’s that simple, and our bedside lamp is either on or off. It may seem unnecessary, but trust us, once you start using your voice to command your lamp off, you’ll never want to reach over again. To do this trick, you have to buy a smart indoor outlet to plug the lamp into. We’ve had good luck with this smart plug from Amazon, and it’s great because it doesn’t require an additional hub.
#2: Cool your bedroom without leaving bed
“Alexa, set the house temperature to 72 degrees”
Nothing is worse than getting to bed and realizing it’s too hot or cold. Alexa totally fixes that, and we can adjust the temperature without every getting out from underneath the covers or having to grab our phones. Of course, you’ll need a smart, alexa-compatible thermostat. We’ve had a Nest thermostat for almost 5 years now and absolutely love it, but others like Ecobee, Honeywell Lyric, and Sensi WiFi Programmable are all compatible with Alexa and get great reviews.
#3: Control the outdoors while indoors
“Alexa, turn on the Christmas lights”
We can control our Christmas lights, outdoor fountain, and patio lights, all through Alexa. Similar to the indoor outlet, you’ll need to purchase an outdoor outlet. We use this one from iDevices (no extra hub required!) We’ve had the iDevices outdoor outlet for a couple years ago and have had really good luck thus far.
#4: Water the lawn on your schedule“
“Alexa, turn on the sprinklers for 15 minutes”
If you have an outdoor sprinkler system, you’ll love having the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller. You can command Alexa to run all or some of your sprinklers for a certain duration or to pause your set schedule because of rain, among many other commands. If you get this, check out Rachio’s website for all of the commands you can use with your Alexa.
#5: Set the mood by controlling your lights
“Alexa, turn the lights to light salmon”
Yes, light salmon; it one of the 1600 colors you can choose if you have the Philips Hue lighting system. The Philips Hue bulbs have all sorts of funky colors that are fun for different occasions. We love them! We have custom settings for watching a movie or dinner with friends. This Philips Hue starter kit includes four bulbs and the hub that connects Alexa to the Phillips Hue bulbs.
#6: Get into a morning routine
“Alexa, start my day”
You can set all kinds of routines with Alexa. We pre-loaded a routine in the Alexa app so that once we say the phrase above, Alexa turns on our bedside lamp, says “top of the morning to you,” tells us the weather, and starts to play NPR—all with that phrase. You can create routines for almost anything. Amazon has a good video tutorial to show you how to create routines.
#7: Communicate throughout the house
“Alexa, announce dinner is ready”
With that phrase, all of the Echos throughout the house will play, “Dinner is ready.” This command also has fun Easter egg in that it will automatically ring a dinner bell at the beginning of the announcement. The commands “hurry up” and “good night” also have fun Easter egg sounds. In addition to making announcements, we can use the Echos as an intercom between two rooms.
#8: Play music
“Alexa, play pop music”
Alexa comes with access to a ton of songs. We can ask her to play a specific song or a particular genre. Every night before we go to bed we ask her to play music for sleep, and she plays a great collection of slow, soothing songs. Some songs aren’t available unless you have Amazon Unlimited, which has a monthly charge, but we’ve found the selection already included to be great. You can also hook Alexa up with your Spotify or Pandora accounts.
#9: Play games when you’re bored or have people over
“Alexa, play Jeopardy”
Alexa has a ton of fun games we can play either by ourselves or if we have friends over. We can ask her to play games like “Beat the Dealer,” “Price It Right,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Heads Up!,” “Jeopardy!,” and “Twenty Questions.”
#10: Order an Uber
“Alexa, order an Uber”
We take an Uber a few times a week and love being able to ask Alexa to order it for us as we’re putting on our shoes downstairs. It has our home address stored and automatically directs the Uber to that pick-up spot. Once we get in the car, we just have to add our destination. We had to link our Uber account in our Alexa app, but that’s it!
#11: Ask random questions
“Alexa, what is the capital of Iceland”
This one is pretty straightforward but definitely a feature to highlight. We ask her all sorts of random questions, and she (generally) responds with the information we’re looking for. Like Siri, there are limitations to what she knows, but Alexa is a handy resource to have in every room of the house when we need to know something.
#12: Get in shape by working out with Alexa
“Alexa, start my 7-minute workout”
You read that right; you can work out with Alexa. She has both 5-minute and 7-minute workouts. It’s hard to argue that we don’t have 7 minutes in our day to devote to a workout. She has access to dozens of exercises that she uses to spice up each workout and to keep us on our toes. It’s surprising how much she can pick up our heart rate in just 7 minutes!
#13: Ask for a joke to lift your spirits
“Alexa, tell me a joke”
Sometimes Alexa will personally tell you a joke, or she’ll ask a comedian like Jimmy Fallon to tell a joke. The jokes are PG and corny, but we can always count on them for a chuckle.
#14: Check the weather
“Alexa, what’s the weather in Los Angeles this weekend”
We love being able to ask Alexa about the weather while standing in our closet picking out our clothes. She will tell us the weather for today, this week, or this weekend and for any location on earth—all we have to to is ask!
#15: Set daily alarms or timers
“Alexa, wake me up at 7am”
This is another routine command that’s easy to forget how much we appreciate it. Alexa has replaced our alarm clock.
She also does wonders in the kitchen when cooking dinner. We set multiple timers by just specifying what the timer is for, such as, “Alexa, set a 20-minute timer for the cookies,” or “Alexa, set a 30-minute timer for the sweet potatoes.” She will let you know which timer is going off when, so you don’t burn the cookies!
Don’t have an Alexa yet, and now you want one? Don’t worry, there are several models to choose from for any budget.
While this is the most expensive model, the sound in the Sonos One is superior to any others, which you’d expect from a company like Sonos. We have one for our downstairs kitchen and dining room area, and it fills the room with quality sound. This is by far our favorite model, and we’d have one in every room if money didn’t matter. 😉
The Amazon Echo was the first Alexa we purchased. While the Sonos One model definitely produces higher quality sound, this one still produces solid sound, especially in light of the price difference. We have this model in our bedroom and love it.
We have an Echo Dot in all of our other rooms. The speaker doesn’t measure up at all against the Sonos One or the Echo, so we primarily use these for commands like turning on lights, communicating throughout the house, and asking Alexa for information. The price is pretty incredible for getting all of the Alexa features.
We love having a clean car but hate wasting time at the car wash. Sure, we could run our car through a quick, automatic wash in 5 minutes, but there’s the risk of damaged rims from the tracks, scratched paint from the brushes, and water spots. To get a truly clean car, we need someone to physically clean the car. After wasting hours at the car wash, we found Washos, a company that sends detailers to our home to clean our car (and the cars of many others in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas!). The detailers arrive with all of the equipment they need. All we have to do is open our garage door to let them in. Here’s what we love:
Full menu of car washes (plus more!) at reasonable prices
Two things really impressed us about Washos: (1) Pretty much any wash we could want is available. (2) The pricing is very reasonable. Washo’s menu of car wash options ranges from a basic exterior wash with interior vacuum and wipe down all the way to a show car-level wash with wash, wax, and clay bar treatment. There are also a number of add-on services, such as removing pet hair, cleaning baby car seats, and restoring headlights. Washos has both an eco-friendly, waterless option, allowing them to wash the car anywhere, or a water-based option if you provide them with access to a water supply.
We were really sold on Washos when we saw the price. The basic wash with interior vacuum and wipe down is $33. That’s comparable to what we would pay if we drove the car to a car wash and waited waited for an hour. So, we are paying basically the same price but getting to stay in the comfort of our home.
Easy to schedule a wash in the app
It’s easy to set up an account and schedule a wash in the Washos app (available in iOS and Google play). Simply put in your address and some basic information about your car, and you’re ready to book your first wash. After choosing the type of wash, select a preferred day and time (they often have same-day appointments available!). Washos confirms your appointment and tells you when your detailer will arrive.
Book your favorite detailer
Finding someone to wash our car is kind of like finding some one to cut our hair. Once we find that person, we never want to let him or her go. Washos lets us book our favorite detailer over and over again, so once we feel comfortable with someone, we can continue to have him or her clean our car.
Give it a try
Here’s the big caveat: Washos currently only serves the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. If you live in these areas and want try it, use our Washos referral code to get $5 off, and we’ll get a credit towards our next wash!
If you’re not located in Los Angeles or Orange County, there are likely local options available to you. We highly encourage you to check them out and enjoy the convenience and time-saving of getting your car washed at home. Feel free to add the names of those businesses and the areas they serve to our comments section. The other readers will appreciate it!
If you’ve read our Trunk Club review, you know we don’t like shopping at stores. Over the years, we’ve found some high-quality products and services that help keep our closet fresh without stepping foot in a store.
Trunk Club: Hand-Picked Clothes Delivered to Your Door
We still love Trunk Club. If you haven’t already, please check out our full Trunk Club review. Trunk Club makes it easy to request a trunk of clothes, give feedback to our stylist before the trunk is sent, and return anything we don’t like. Although there’s a $25 styling fee, it’s credited to anything purchased from the trunk, and we’ve always bought at least one piece of clothing. Trunk Club is also one of the few clothing services with options for both men and women, which is awesome.
Living in Southern California, we have the added bonus of being able to go into the local Trunk Club clubhouse to meet with our stylist in person and try on clothes, all while sipping on a glass of wine or beer. Trunk Club offers petite and plus sizes, so it’s helpful to go into the clubhouse to make sure your stylist really understands which clothes fit you best.
While the clothes may be on the pricey side, Trunk Club matches Nordstrom’s pricing, so we feel comfortable knowing there’s no added cost for the benefits we get through the Trunk Club service. We’ve tried cheaper online stylists options, such as Stitch Fix, but we found that the quality and service weren’t nearly as good as Trunk Club and the Stitch Fix stylists didn’t seem to personalize your selections. With Trunk Club, we know we have a real person making high-quality selections just for us.
Rent the Runway: Borrow Luxury, Designer Clothing for Any Occasion
Rent the Runway is another great option for refreshing our closet (at least for Randi!). Gone are the days of buying a $300 dress to wear only one time! For years, Randi used this service for renting luxury, designer dresses for special occasions such as weddings and galas. Over the past year, however, she’s taken advantage of the $159/month RTR unlimited service that allows her to rent any four pieces of clothing and borrow them as long as she’d like.
Rent the Runway offers clothes for any occasion: work, weekend, vacation, date night, or elegant. Rent the Runway also offers a wide selection of clothes for any size, including petite, plus, and maternity. An added bonus is that if Randi loves a particular piece of clothing, she’s able to buy it at a huge discount! Depending on how many times it’s been rented, she’s seen discounts of up to 50% off the retail price of the clothing. And, since she gets to wear the piece before she buys it, she knows she’ll love wearing it and it won’t sit in the closet with the tags on.
Randi was originally worried about the options available as many weren’t her style; however, she says the Rent the Runway app has learned her style and now recommends clothing she loves. She can also find pictures and reviews from other renters to see how the clothes look on ‘real’ women. The app sorts reviews by people with similar body dimensions, which has been super helpful.
In our view, Rent the Runway has the edge over some of its competitors because you can keep items for as long as you’d like and ship items back individually for replacement. Some similar services, like Le Tote, require you to ship all of the items back at the same time. Shipping is incredibly easy by the way. The clothes show up on our doorstep within 2 days of picking them, and we just drop them in at UPS box whenever she’s ready to send them back.
Rothy’s: Eco-Friendly, Washable Shoes
Sorry, gentlemen, one more ladies-only recommendation. Rothy’s offers high-quality, washable shoes that are made from recycled plastic—but are actually comfortable! The shoes are a bit on the expensive side ($125 for flats), and Rothy’s generally does not offer promotions, with the exception of Rothy’s referral codes from other members and teacher discounts on certain styles. With that said, the expense is worth it because these shoes are made to last. They are durable because they are made from recycled plastic, which also means that you can wash them whenever they get dirty. It’s like having a brand-new pair of shoes after each wash!
A word of caution – Rothy’s shoes (especially the pointed ones) tend to run VERY small in Randi’s experience. Be sure to size up a full size (not a half size) if you want them to be comfortable. If you get the wrong size, though, don’t worry, Rothy’s has some of the best customer service we’ve ever seen. When Randi’s first pair were too small, Rothy’s sent her a new size before she had even sent the original pair back! Incredible.
TOMS: Shoes, Sunglasses, Apparel, and Accessories with a Mission
TOMS has been around for quite some time, but we still love their mission. One for one. Meaning with every purchase, TOMS helps someone in need. With every purchase of shoes, TOMS provides a pair of shoes to someone in need. With every pair of sunglasses, TOMS helps give sight to someone in need. It’s an inspiring mission, and on top of that, the shoes are comfortable, and the sunglasses, apparel, and accessories are trendy. Over the years, TOMS has greatly expanded its line of shoes to include almost any type of shoe, including casual, dress, and waterproof work boots. I guess the only type of shoe we haven’t seen are tuxedo shoes! If you haven’t yet tried TOMS, you should definitely give them a shot!
We both got the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card almost two years ago and we think it’ll still be the best credit card for 2019. Prior to getting Chase Sapphire Reserve, Jared had only one card. In fact, the same one since 1998. I never had a credit card. The sign-up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card was unreal at the time—100,000 bonus points, or effectively $1,000 in cash or $1,500 in travel, along with so many other perks. We couldn’t pass it up. [Note: As of this post, the number of bonus points offered is 50,000, which is still a pretty good deal equal to $500 cash or ~$750 in travel!] We told ourselves we’d cancel the card after the first year to avoid paying another $450 annual fee, but here’s why we haven’t.
Great travel rewards for purchasing airfare, hotels, and rental cars
Cardholders accrue 3 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases, and 1 point for all other purchases. The points rack up pretty quickly. Redeeming points for travel through Chase results in great savings, often times a 30% savings compared to purchasing directly through the airline or a travel website like Expedia. Case in point: We bought tickets to visit our family in Texas a couple of months ago. It was going to cost $335 to buy the ticket directly from United. We bought the same ticket for 22,000 points through Chase travel, or effectively $220 (the cash amount you could redeem those points for). That’s $115 saved per ticket.
Access to fancy lounges and food vouchers at airports
Chase Sapphire Reserve also comes with a complimentary Priority Pass membership, which gives us access to over 1,200 airport lounges worldwide. Getting to relax in an airport lounge while charging up our phones and sipping a free glass of wine is the best way to travel. It doesn’t give us access to all lounges, but we always get into lounges at bigger airports like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. And the number of lounges is always expanding. Also, Priority Pass has started to partner up with airport restaurants to offer bill credits when eating there. We recently flew out of the Boston airport, and we were able to get $56 ($28 per person) off of our bill. With the credit, we had an omelette, breakfast sandwich, and 2 mimosas for a whopping $1.75.
Enough savings to more than cancel out the $450 annual fee
The card has a $450 annual fee, which scared us. We’ve never had a card with an annual fee, and we were skeptical the perks could justify the fee. We know credit card companies don’t exist to lose money and benefit consumers. But, we’ve found that the annual fee is easily canceled out by all of the perks. Here’s some quick math to show that: Chase credits us $300 per year for any purchases associated with travel. We easily spend that (probably in the first month of the year), due to our busy travel schedule. That brings the fee down to $150. (Note: the credit card automatically detects travel spending, so you don’t have to manually request credits!) The card also gave us Global Entry and TSA Pre-check, another savings of $100. We’re down to $50. If you simply use the numbers above, $115 savings on the ticket to Texas and $56 credit to the restaurant in the Boston airport, the fee is totally canceled out. We book all of our travel through the card, so we typically end the year in a significant net positive over the annual fee. We use the card for all monthly bills we can, such as our Blue Apron subscription, ensuring we have plenty of points available all year.
Check it out!
We’ve named just a few perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve. There’s many more, and you can check them all out on Chase’s website. You can also check out other sites that talk about the benefits of the card. See The Points Guy’s review or NerdWallet’s review. If you’re looking for a new credit card, you should definitely consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve, especially if you like to travel. We don’t get any perks from this post, we just wanted others to benefit from the card’s perks! In our experience, the benefits definitely outweigh the annual fee.
Disclaimer: We should note that we pay our credit card balance off every month. When you don’t pay off your balance every month, that’s when credit card companies make money (lots of it). Paying interest on a balance quickly negates any perks of the card. We recommend always being responsible with your money. Pay off that balance every month!
A kind reader hooked us up with a free week of Hello Fresh (thanks, Alex!). We tried it out last week, and here’s what we thought. To keep our comparison apples to apples, we selected the option with 3 meals for 2 people, the same as we do with Blue Apron (you should also check out our experience with Blue Apron as we often have free meal kit codes available).
What we liked about Hello Fresh
Hello Fresh has more menu options than Blue Apron. For our free week, we could choose from 15 options; Blue Apron only had 8 options. We also liked that Hello Fresh will send up to 4 meals for a week. There are many times when we feel like 3 meals—the max Blue Apron sends for 2 people—isn’t quite enough for a week and requires us to go out or order in on a day we would have loved to cook at home.
Hello Fresh’s packaging was better. When we opened the box, the 3 recipe cards were sitting nicely on the top and each recipe was in an individual paper bag. All we had to do was take the bags out and place them in our refrigerator. When we were ready to cook, it was super easy to just grab the right bag. Blue Apron packages the smaller ingredients (e.g., garlic and cheese) in individual plastic bags for each recipe, but larger ingredients (e.g., broccoli and corn) remain separate in the box. It takes more time to put up the food and to grab all of the right ingredients when we are ready to cook. In a couple of cases, we missed an ingredient at the bottom of a Blue Apron box when we were emptying it and accidentally threw the ingredient away (not fun).
What we didn’t like (as much) about Hello Fresh
The portions were a little small. In a way, we almost saw this as a positive for Hello Fresh because sometimes the number of calories per serving for Blue Apron can be a bit high (like 800 calories). However, for 1 recipe we received from Hello Fresh, we were supposed to be able to make 3 chicken tacos per serving, but the amount of chicken we cooked could barely fill 2 tacos. Many of Blue Apron’s meals are large enough that we can divide them into 3 servings and save 1 for lunch the next day.
We needed more ingredients in the pantry. For the 3 meals we cooked that week, Hello Fresh expected us to already have olive oil, sugar, butter, salt, and pepper. Blue Apron only requires olive oil, salt, and pepper. We recognize that may sound petty to some, but we don’t keep things like butter stocked in the house. We have almost nothing but what comes in our meal kits each week. Hopefully we never have to live through an apocalypse…
We (almost) wasted an ingredient. For 1 recipe, it called for us to use only 2/3 of the bag of kale. Wasting food is a pet peeve for us, and one of the things we love most about Blue Apron is that it has little to no food waste. (The problem with food waste is real as we discussed in our Blue Apron review and as reported by the National Resources Defense Council.) Blue Apron even stepped up its game recently by packaging the exact number of garlic cloves we need for each meal, rather than sending a full head of garlic.
We have to give the edge to Blue Apron (then again, we’re clearly in love with Blue Apron). Hello Fresh is a solid option though, and the meals we received that week were tasty. It’s definitely worth checking out Hello Fresh’s website to see what they have to offer. Unfortunately, we didn’t sign up for the service, so we have no free codes to give. But if you know someone who uses it, reach out and see if they have a free week to share with you!
Thanks again to our readers for this suggestion and for the generous free week! If you have any other ideas for products or services you’d like us to check out, drop us an e-mail or a comment.