Wednesday, December 31, 2014

This Instacart thing is pretty cool

I tried Instacart, since someone gave me a code for free delivery the first time you use it, which I saved for the next time I had a situation that involved not easily being able to leave the house. It does same-day grocery deliver and delivers to 02119, 02118, 02120, 02130, and 02131. It doesn't deliver to 02122, 02124, 02126, or 02121 yet. I couldn't tell if the prices were jacked up from the shelf prices; the store it was delivering from isn't one I usually go into. Still, they were basically decent, I was using a Visa gift card, and getting groceries delivered saved my ass when I was in a bind and was a lot cheaper than it would have been to pay a local teenager. They have one of those pyramid scheme things, so if you click here, you should get $10 off and I get some kind of credit on my next order. If you use it and share the code, it seems like you can get it to continue being free, which is pretty sweet.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Be sure to click on the e-mails from Purina MyPerks

I'm still in my groove of getting a free large bag of cat food every 6-8 weeks or so, which is awesome. I've discovered that the e-mails, which they send out about every week or sometimes more, are worth 100 points for clicking. It doesn't usually show up right away, but it does credit you.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Craigslist score

I got all this stuff for $20 from someone on Craigslist. Nice!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Free soymilk

Dollar Tree on American Legion Highway in Roslindale has Westsoy cartons for $1. Westsoy has a $1 off coupon available here. You do the math.

(Actually, even without the coupon it's a great deal.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: yellow peppers edition

This is a surprisingly easy recipe I picked up from a Middle Eastern friend. Just steam or roast the peppers for a few minutes until soft, add rice or couscous, then bake for a few minutes until the peppers brown a bit and the flavors can mix. I also tossed in some cherry tomatoes that I got from Fair Foods along with the peppers and roasted it all together. Those boxed mixes of rice or couscous with seasonings are often available for very little with coupons; they're pretty overpriced without.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: kale and sweet potato edition

Fair Foods has had a lot of kale recently. This past week they had kale and sweet potatoes. I figured I'd do some experimentation, and hey, it's soup weather, right? First, I cooked it up in the slow cooker with a little water until done. Then I proceeded to make some different soups with stuff I had on hand.

Shown here: kale and sweet potatoes in slow cooker

First up: simmered it with some milk, muenster cheese, white potatoes, salt and pepper. Used immersion blender to puree it about halfway.

Next: simmered it with some red potatoes, dill, soy sausage, onions, salt and pepper

Added kidney beans and black beans, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, garlic, chili seasoning. I cooked it down a bit longer than shown here.

Finally, since I still had some left, I tossed it in with some eggs and cheese and made a frittata for breakfast the next morning. Everything I made was gone quite fast, and I would make it all again. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Getting public assistance is a hazing ritual

Our family receives a small amount of SNAP (food stamps) each month, as we only have one person working right now and it's helpful to make ends meet. We are quite grateful for the program being available to help us and others in our community. As I've talked about before, it's worth it to apply even if you won't get a very large benefit, because you can get tons of discounts on utilities and admission to cultural institutions.

However, every time we have to reapply, I can't help but thinking how ridiculous and complicated the process is, and how much harder it has to be for someone who hasn't worked in accounting in the past like I have. The policies seem like they're aimed at making sure no one gets food stamps. Some things that my family and friends of mine have run into:

1)* If the Department of Transitional Assistance matches your wages against the Department of Revenue, they require you to provide detailed records on any income. No, not just job income, but income that the IRS doesn't consider income. Such as a $150 check for a public-speaking gig related to a hobby on which one spends more than one makes. Or $200 for reselling a no-longer-needed item that happened to be purchased by somewhere that cut a business check. It isn't enough for DTA for you to say "yes, those people paid me $150 once, go ahead and count it as income." They want the check stub. They also want a letter from the "employer" stating that you no longer "work" there. They don't seem to understand that people don't generally have contact information for someone off of craigslist who they met once. Or that the IRS doesn't require people to keep data on hobbies that don't result in a profit.

2) If wages are paid on a per-diem basis, as in, the applicant works whenever there is work and the amount is random, DTA doesn't seem to understand how to average this. Several of the workers think that if you worked one week out of the month, they use that figure for the weekly average. One of them even thought that multiplying it times 4.33 would get the weekly average, and came back telling a family making about $10K a year that they had made $50K per year. DTA also doesn't seem to understand that one wouldn't have paystubs for weeks there was no work. They demand letters from one's employer explaining this. They don't understand that one can look at the year-to-date figures on paystubs and determine whether pay was issued between the two checks. If you have a check from January for $500 with YTD $500, and then one from March for $200 with YTD $700, there are no paystubs missing. But DTA doesn't seem to understand this.

3) They send denial letters instead of sending requests for more information. The applicant then has to call and say that they were denied, at which point they are told that that happens automatically, and it will be reopened once the "missing" documents arrived and are processed. How many people do you think don't realize they should call and complain, don't have the time, don't have the skills, and so forth?

*Before anyone says anything about how people should be keeping records and reporting every cent of income if they want "government benefits," no, that's not how it works. All of you middle-income and upper-income folks are getting "government benefits" in the form of tax credits on your yearly tax returns, and for the most part only need to document and report things that you want to use to increase your refund. Middle-class people claiming the mortgage interest deduction (a government benefit) are not asked to provide proof that a guitar they sold on craigslist was their own used guitar, or that the couple hundred dollars they were paid to display their model train set somewhere did not result in profit over what they spent on the trains over the years. The IRS expects that normal everyday people make transactions with already-taxed income and doesn't get into things. Even when people are audited by the IRS, their standards for record-keeping are quite reasonable, and it is usually sufficient to show a few receipts and operate off the assumption that you had similar expenses, or show a photo of an item as reasonable proof that you purchased it. DTA though requires complete and proper documentation and likes to spend a lot of resources scrutinizing people with limited incomes over tiny amounts of money.

The penalties seem disparate too; the food stamps application has a long page of penalties for providing incorrect information, including jail time and being barred permanently from the program. For tax oversights however, unless they can prove massive amounts of malicious behavior, the penalties are pretty much that you have to pay the taxes you owe. Once again, the results of political pressure to make sure that people living in poverty don't get a single can of food they didn't earn, but considering it completely acceptable for wealthier folks to have routine errors in the thousands of dollars.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Making homemade veggie burgers for a few cents

This is a veggie burger recipe I invented through a little experimentation. The kids love veggie burgers, but they're so expensive, and even with coupons, are rarely cheaper than about 75 cents per patty. The recipe is vegan and uses simple household ingredients.

Pictured: veggie burger with the cheap homemade bread I featured previously and some homemade oven fries. Oh, and fake iced tea that was free with coupons, mayo and barbeque sauce that were free with coupons, plus some produce from the Fair Foods truck. This meal probably cost about a dollar for the whole family and a few guests.

Steel cut oats (I've also used rolled oats, and this works well too)
Black beans

Ketchup, tomato sauce, pasta sauce or barbeque sauce -- whatever you have

I cook the black beans and the oatmeal in the slow cooker, separately. I don't have two slow cookers, but these are things I tend to make large recipes of on a regular basis and keep in the fridge, because they're useful for cheap-and-easy cooking.

The recipe I use for steel cut oats is this one. I do it plain so I have it available for recipes like this, then if anyone wants to add fruit or anything or breakfast, we add it to individual portions and microwave them. FYI, the best prices on steel cut oats are the Trader Joe's brand and the Stop and Shop brand. If you can get a coupon for the ones in the metal can, the cans are pretty fabulous for later storing sewing supplies, crayons, dominoes, etc.

I cook the black beans in the slow cooker as well. I use a recipe similar to this one. You can cook them to about the consistency shown in the recipe, or you can let it go longer until they're more like refried beans; either will work for the veggie burgers.

Once you have your beans and your oatmeal, put about an equal amount of each into a large bowl. Add whatever flavors you like in your veggie burgers. I usually add a few tablespoons of whatever tomato product was on sale (ketchup, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, barbeque sauce, etc.) plus adobo seasoning, or a similar blend of salt, pepper, onion, garlic, etc. The mixture should be firm enough to form into veggie patties. If not, add flour or bread crumbs until it is. If you don't do wheat, I'm sure rolled oats would work. You can also add interesting seasonings or whatever veggies you have around; we've done it with spinach and some jarred Indian spices. 

Next, form the burgers into patties about the size of boxed veggie patties, or bigger or smaller as you like. You can form them in flour or bread crumbs as needed so that they aren't sticky and they form correctly.

Cook the patties either in the oven on a lightly oiled baking sheet, or pan-fry them with a small amount of oil until browned and cooked through. Both methods seem to work equally well. Pan-frying probably gets them a bit more even and takes less time per burger, though if you made more than three or four, they won't all fit in the pan so you don't actually save time. They take under 10 minutes in the pan and usually about 20-30 in the oven. I cook them at 400 or so, depending what else might be in the oven. This time I also tossed in some potatoes from Fair Foods that I sliced up and brushed with oil and salt. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Couponing like a mofo, nine-cent tax refunds, and other things that make you go hmm

Free shampoo, free salad dressing, free barbeque sauce, plus big discounts on a bunch of other stuff.

Anyone know how I managed to get negative tax? Does that happen when the amount of the coupons on taxable items exceeds the amount of the taxable items? This was the case this time, and I can see why the register might make that happen, though it doesn't actually seem correct based on how sales tax works between the store and the state (I used to handle such things for a store in a previous life). Kind of amusing though.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: kale edition

Fair Foods has had a lot of kale recently. Like most of the vegetables that show up on the truck, I like kale when other people make things with it, but am not entirely sure what to do with it that doesn't require buying another $10 worth of ingredients, thereby defeating the purpose of it having been so cheap.

I was quite happy with this "recipe" using the kale. I mixed up one of the boxes of kosher latke mix that I got for free after one of the Jewish holidays (protip: clip coupons for cultural items that show up right before that culture's holiday, check expiration date on coupon, use coupon after the holiday ends and the items go on mega-sale). I added chopped-up kale and some caramelized onions, then baked them on a lightly oiled baking sheet until they looked done. I made a big batch and they disappeared, so I'm going to recommend this. Seems like it would work for most random vegetables that show up.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: Brussels sprouts edition

A little late posting this, but Fair Foods had Brussels sprouts the week of Thanksgiving. Perfect!

Brussels sprouts are one of those things I like when prepared by people who are into cooking, or when they show up at catered work events, but just are awful and taste like dirt when someone who thinks it's the '50s decides to boil them. I hadn't ever tried cooking them myself before, but it was surprisingly easy and I highly recommend it.
I started by slicing them in half. I drizzled (how's that for a pretending-I-know-how-to-cook word?) oil and soy sauce on a baking sheet and set them cut-side down, then drizzled a bit more on top. I baked them at, well, whatever I had the oven at for other things? Maybe 400? For about 20 minutes, periodically picking one up and seeing what the insides looked like. The outsides were a little dried out, so I added about a teaspoon of water, dash more of soy sauce, and microwaved them for about a minute to steam them a little. I also tossed some salt, ginger, and a pinch of sugar on them before microwaving.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Loving these free cat food coupons

Just got my third coupon for a free bag of Purina cat food. They're taking 7-8 weeks to show up, and about the same or a little less to accrue. I'm not doing any of the tasks that actually require writing or anything, since that doesn't seem efficient, but am logging in most every day (usually at the same time I do my searches on Bing rewards) to click on the stuff, plus entering two proof of purchases per month and periodically having friends sign up via my post. Oh, and clicking on their e-mails gets you points as well -- just be sure to use a second address for your various promotions, or else you'll be swamped with spam.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Isabella Stewart Gardner museum has several ways to visit for free or for very little

Add this museum to the list of Boston museums that are accepting EBT cards for discounted admission; they will let in up to four people per card for $2 each. They also offer free admission on your birthday, and free admission at any time if your name is Isabella.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Museum of Fine Arts doesn't actually want people using their discounted admissions for EBT card holders

I previously wrote about how cool the MFA's discount program is. Last week I was told that they don't accept debit/credit payment for the reduced admission. Their website doesn't say anything about this, but the person at the counter and the manager were both adamant about this, stating "we aren't set up to process transactions at that price point." This seems to violate the Dodd-Frank act, since businesses can require a minimum purchase of up to $10 for credit cards, but cannot do so for debit cards (four $3 EBT admissions to the MFA is $12). They do have an ATM in the building, but seemed unsympathetic to the fact that this would result in the ATM and my bank charging me fees that are as much as the ticket.

Here are the links for reporting them to MasterCard and to Visa for violation of merchant policies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Did you know Masshealth covers over-the-counter drugs?

I recently learned that Masshealth covers a number of OTC drugs if you get a prescription for them. My primary care provider actually knew this when I brought it up, but hadn't ever informed me of it. My PCP was happy to write me prescriptions for iron, antacids, Aleve, and so forth. I did have a copay of $3.65 per prescription, so some of these products might be available cheaper through coupon stacking. If you're buying these things full-price though, most of them are quite a bit more than $3.65 for a month's supply. For children under 21, there is no copay, so definitely ask for prescriptions for any cold medications, Tylenol, etc. that your kids use.

The list of what they cover is here. I was pretty amazed at first to see that they cover a lot of medicine-cabinet items like rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and hydrocortizone ointment, but then remembered the copay; these items are available at Dollar Tree, and even at CVS or Wegman's are less than $3.65. Still, it seems like a great public health policy to make them available and convenient, and I imagine it cuts down on things that just should not be happening in a wealthy country, like people developing massive infections because they couldn't afford first-aid supplies. The Masshealth guidelines do state that pharmacies and hospitals have to let members have their treatment even if they owe copays, so hopefully this policy combined with the OTC coverage is getting people what they need.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Groupon now offering pyramid scheme where you can get free stuff

I hadn't looked at Groupon in a while (like, years) because the deals used to mostly be for yuppieish entertainment and recreation tickets, which while they were good deals, weren't really the sort of thing we were looking for or had extra money for. It seemed also that all the ones I saw back in the day were set up so that people would see the deal, recruit friends, make plans to go to the paint bar or Harbor cruise or whatever, then if not enough people would buy the Groupon for it to happen, my friends who were into Groupons would still end up patronizing the business at full price since they'd gotten excited about their plans. Brilliant business model, but yeah.

So, today I was pleasantly surprised when a friend posted a link to some steeply discounted holiday photo cards and saw that the deal was one in which they were already steeply discounted, then could result in even more of a discount if the purchaser recruited more purchasers through his/her link. I clicked through and saw that they've also greatly expanded their offerings and have a lot of discounts on things like more ordinary household purchases (BJs memberships, printing services at Staples, pet supplies, clothing, tires) and inexpensive local recreation (soccer field rentals, dance classes for kids, roller skating). There's a new "basics" section that has decent deals on things like diapers and shampoo. The prices aren't as good as what you could get combining coupons and sales, but it's a lot less effort.

Anyway, to the point, they now have a thing where if you sign up using someone's referral link and then make a purchase of at least $10 in the next 72 hours, they get $10 to use on Groupon. So, check out Groupon, if you see something you like, use my link to make your account, then tell all your friends about it so you can get free stuff too.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Free cereal, oatmeal, bottled water, ranch dip at Stop and Shop this week

This week, you can get Malt-O-Meal cereal, Essentia water, Hidden Valley Ranch dip mix, Quaker Real Medleys oatmeal all for free using printable online coupons. There are a couple more free items too if you use coupons from the Sunday paper. Remember, Stop and Shop's sales change on Fridays, so this is good today through next Thursday.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Museum of Fine Arts now offering discounted admission

The MFA has finally joined the Museum of Science and the Children's Museum in offering free or heavily discounted admission to EBT card holders. I'm not sure when they started doing this, or why it wasn't announced (I seem to recall writing to them maybe a year ago and asking why they didn't do it, and getting an e-mail back explaining that they don't have a lot of extra funds), but it's here now. On the "visit" page, buried toward the bottom, it says that if you show your EBT card at the admissions desk, you can get four $3 tickets. Youth 17 and under are always free. It's a nice respectful space for people with disabilities, particularly on weekdays. Something about the quiet and still art museum atmosphere means that staff and other visitors don't tend to do the whole running up and making patronizing comments, which is a plus

UPDATE: You'll have to bring cash if you want to buy discounted tickets.

Friday, October 3, 2014


I took one week off and didn't check the coupon deals (sick kids, low on cash, friend in town, etc.) and I missed an incredible deal. Right now on the various coupon boards, the Starbucks $4 off two products ($4.99 or more) coupon is all the rage. It isn't a coupon that would make sense for me to use on a full-price item, because even though $2 off a $6 pack of Frappuccino is a good deal, I'm not spending a dollar per bottle on a junk food item that I can make for a few cents at home. It isn't worth it for the bagged beans either unless they're way on sale, because while it's amazing coffee, but it would still be at least $7.99 a pound -- imma stick with Cafe Bustelo. BUT, apparently last week Stop and Shop had four-packs of iced coffee on sale for $1.99 each. I have four of these coupons. I could have gotten eight four-packs of Starbucks iced coffee for free. FOR FREE, PEOPLE. Thirty-two mo effin' bottles of iced coffee. I really enjoy deals on these sorts of brand-name products because I can store them and use them if I need a quick thank-you gift or don't want to show up at someone's house empty handed. I may be broke, but I'm just not going to take my free jars of pasta sauce or packets of noodles to the office holiday swap, ya know? Ah well, I'm on the lookout for more Starbucks coupon deals before these bad boys expire.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bread is ridiculously expensive. Making it is easier than I thought.

I've been experimenting with Artisan Bread in Five Minutes lately. I've been using the basic recipe from, but I really should buy the book at this point, because I looked through it at a book store and it has other recipes and a lot of great advice. It's been out since 2007, so there are used copies on Amazon for a couple bucks. There's also a new a new version out that has even more recipes, though it's expensive and there aren't very cheap used versions out yet.

I haven't calculated the cost of making bread, though I seem to remember the book getting into that. Just roughly estimating it, the recipe requires 6.5 cups of flour (about 1.5 pounds) and two packets of yeast. Oh, and 1.5 tablespoons of salt. That's like $1.50 worth of ingredients without getting them on sale and/or couponing, and it makes four one-pound loaves. So, about 50 cents for a loaf of nice bread, which can be three or four dollars at a bakery or supermarket. The thing with this method is that you make a giant batch of dough that you can keep in the fridge and use for a week or two, so you can also pull out a chunk and make pizza on it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Purina coupon came!

The free cat food coupon showed up from the Purina thing I posted about. I requested it on July 1, and it showed up on August 30, so it took nearly two months, but it's legit, it showed up, and I went and bought a giant bag of food with it. One word of caution: it shows up in an envelope that looks like junk mail, so check your mail carefully. But definitely go sign up (do me a favor and use my link in the previous post, please?) and you should be able to get a free giant bag of cat food every month to two months once you're started and earning the points regularly.

Complaining about stuff, for fun and profit

I've snagged some really sweet free stuff recently by complaining about crappy service or ridiculous policies. My initial intention wasn't to be compensated; in a few instances I had a time-sensitive issue with a service I was paying for and needed it fixed, and in a few others, I had constructive feedback that I wanted to pass along, and also felt that I hadn't gotten my money's worth. Nevertheless, I've gotten some pretty large gift cards and coupons from making complaints to businesses, so I highly recommend trying this. The few minutes it takes to send an e-mail or make a phone call are definitely worth it for the usually substantial reward you'll get.

My rules when complaining:

1) Unless something extremely egregious happened, stick to major corporations. Don't make complaints to family-owned businesses or small local businesses for minor issues. If you're going to come away feeling like you took advantage of someone or wondering if they'll be able to pay their bills, don't do it. (If you're someone who is going to feel guilty screwing over a multimillion-dollar corporation, I'm not sure why you're reading my blog.)

2) Make your complaints constructive. Explain to them how they might better handle it next time. Let them know that you totally understand how such a mistake could be made.

3) Try as hard as you can to make sure the complaint won't reflect poorly on a minimum-wage (or close to it) worker. If the specific person helping you likely fits into this category, make sure you make it clear that s/he was helpful and tried his/her best, but that a higher-up policy was the source of the issue. If the person was outright rude, do mention this, but try and frame it as an issue with training. Let them know that you've had your share of minimum wage jobs, and you know it can be frustrating to not be properly trained to handle things, and you sympathize with the worker, while at the same time, are asserting how you were screwed over.

4) If they aren't offering, ask. Let them know how much you appreciate their time and concern, but reiterate that you live on a limited income, and you paid for a service and feel you didn't receive it. Ask if there's anything they can do to win you back as a customer and make you feel like it was money well spent.

5) Don't make something up that didn't happen. Just don't. Don't pretend something was left out of your order, don't pretend someone was rude who was just bored. Don't treat the hired help like the hired help. This is between you and your deity of choice, or conscience or whatever you prefer, but just, for the love of whoever, just don't!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Children's Museum offers $2 admission for EBT card holders

I'm not a huge fan of the Children's Museum, just because the educational component is quite minimal compared to the Museum of Science or Museum of Fine Arts. Most of it has very little information to read and the hands-on experimental materials are mostly fairly common household items. It's definitely geared toward the infant/toddler set as far as learning anything new, but is still quite fun for kids and adults. At $2 per person though, I don't mind taking the family to a space that's essentially a playground. I will say that we have found museum to be super special-needs friendly and haven't experienced any issues around staff being patronizing or providing unwanted "help," which I can't say for many places. Just present your EBT card and a photo ID at the admissions desk and they admit you with no hassle.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Boston free grocery roundup

I love coupons. Before I read websites explaining how to use them, it didn't seem really worth it to use coupons to get 50 cents off of something. Since becoming mostly unemployed, I've read sites like Living Rich with Coupons and have learned how to wait until something is on sale and there's a coupon, which can get you stuff for a few cents or even free. With our newspaper, a couple neighbors' coupon inserts, and online coupons, we can usually buy several of things and stock up when they're cheap. We currently have a huge bin full of deodorant, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste in our bathroom, all of which were 50 cents or less a piece and many of which were free. These things never go bad, we don't really care about brands, so we just buy them whenever there's a coupon deal. We also have bins in our kitchen of condiments and a lot of canned and boxed goods that we got similarly cheap. Between coupons for dry goods and the Fair Foods truck for produce each week, we're spending barely anything on groceries.

Since there are already coupon matchup sites like the one I mentioned, I'm not going to post coupon matchups here. However, I will post free or near-free deals of things available in Boston-area grocery stores using online printable coupons.

Ortega Salsa, $2.99 for two of them at Stop and Shop, use printable coupon and it's $1.99 for two. Should be able to print two coupons per computer.

Pirates Booty mac and cheese, $1.50 at Stop and Shop, use printable coupon, which they'll double, and it will be free.

Westsoy 32 oz soy milk, $1.00 at Dollar Tree, use printable coupon and it will be free. I've only found it at the Somerville Dollar Tree.

Trying this Purina free cat food thing

A couple months ago, I signed up for this Purina Myperks site using a code a friend sent me. Every day I've gone in and clicked on things, had a couple of friends accept my invite, and I've entered two UPC codes from cat food I've bought. Wow, there really ARE internet pyramid schemes for everything! It took me about a month to get to 30,000 points, which is a coupon for up to $15.99 off of a bag of cat food. Pretty cool. I requested the coupon on July 1, and they mail it, and I haven't seen it yet. I'll update when it shows up. Still, the program seems pretty easy and I can't imagine it wouldn't be legit. If I can get a free $15.99 bag per month, that would cover about half of my cat food expenses, which would be awesome. Here's my link if anyone wants to try it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fair foods: huge bag of produce for $2, no income or ID requirement

I can't even tell you how much I am loving the Fair Foods truck. They come to my neighborhood every week and offer whatever surplus produce they have for $2 per bag. The bags are actually around 15-20 pounds most weeks. One week they had cases of blemished tomatoes for $2 as well. Last week we got summer squash, onions, garlic, lemons, and tomatoes. This is some of the leftovers of the haul:

For a quick dinner, I tossed onions and squash on a baking sheet and sprinkled it with oil, soy sauce, lemon juice from a couple of the lemons, and fajita spices. 

I roasted it in the oven until it looked amazing, then served with rice and sour cream on WIC tortillas. Amazing, fresh, healthy dinner (plus lunch the next day and still plenty of raw veggies left) for $2 plus a few cents' worth of items from my pantry. 

A great reminder

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bing Rewards seems better than Swagbucks so far

I’ve been playing around with Bing Rewards, which so far seems a bit better than Swagbucks. They’re similar type things, except that Bing will let you have up to 40 credits (roughly the same worth as 40 Swagbucks) per day from searching, and it makes it clear how many searches you need to do on your particular level to get credits from searching. Swagbucks, on the other hand, gives out credits for search randomly, and mostly relies on codes and scammy offers to earn bucks. Bing Rewards is much simpler and just has credits for search and a couple of articles to click on each day and earn 1 credit each.

Bing Rewards certainly seems to send the rewards faster; it’s generally taken less than a day to get an Amazon gift card. This is definitely a plus. It also has the option of trading in the same amount of credits for either a $5 Amazon gift card or 500 Swagbucks. As we lovers of free stuff know, 500 Swagbucks is more than a $5 Amazon gift card, but I’m not sure it’s worth it to wait the week or so to get the card through Swagbucks.

I do plan to keep my Swagbucks account around, because I enjoy earning credits for things like purchases I was already planning on making, redeeming coupons from, and so forth. But I’m thinking I’ll switch to Bing Rewards for my default search engine. Er, unless I want to actually find anything, in which case I’ll keep using google. So, yeah, if you want to try Bing Rewards, go sign up using my referrer link and we can each buy our families some supplies.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Internet Essentials $9.99 per month cable internet is available in Boston

My family and I signed up for Internet Essentials a few months ago, and so far we are quite happy with it.

The signup process was a bit ridiculous; I had to call and speak to someone for a screening to determine I was eligible, then they said they would mail me a contract to send back. First they sent me a Comcast bill for $0.00 and a bunch of pages of fine print, which I thought was the contract but wasn’t sure how to fill it out or send it back. I called and talked to someone and they said that wasn’t the contract, and the contract takes 7-10 business days to arrive, which 1) is kind of ridiculous 2) had already elapsed. They said they could resend it by mail or e-mail, and that e-mail would take 3-5 business days (WTF?), and that doing either would invalidate the first one because it would be a new copy with new numbers on it. Wow, and they’re not even a government agency. So I waited a couple more days for the mailed contract to arrive, which it did. I had the option of mailing or faxing it back, and fortunately, I’m one of the approximately six individuals in the United States who faxes things. After faxing it back, I had to wait 3-5 business days and then call them. To see if they got the fax. Right. I did, they did, and they UPSed me the Comcast setup kit with the modem and everything in a couple of days.

I discovered I didn’t have cable coming into my unit, so I called and arranged to have it installed. The installation scheduling was done through the general Comcast office rather than part of Internet Essentials specifically, so the customer service was standard-issue crappy customer service instead of holy-ridiculous-poor-people customer service, and they sent someone out the next morning. They quoted me $50 for the install, which was fine with me since I would be saving immensely on internet. They ended up refunding the $50 charge, noting it was “charged in error,” which I assume means Internet Essentials customers aren’t meant to pay it. Once it was installed, I set it up with no problem using the pamphlet that shipped with the modem.

The service is slower than many of the Comcast packages (5 Mbps), but it’s certainly sufficient for our purposes and is fast enough for watching Hulu, streaming Pandora, downloading things, and so forth without any issues. Eligibility requires proof that your child is enrolled in school or is homeschooled and is eligible for free lunch. I don’t know how they determine this if the local school provides universal free lunch as ours does. They did say that proof of Food Stamps eligibility works for homeschool or private school students. They also have computers available for $149.99, though they don’t say what kind and I couldn’t readily find anything doing a cursory google search. Naturally, they’ve done some serious SEO, so everything that comes up is press releases and official information, not, say, bloggers saying what kind of computer they got.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Eastern Bank likes to give me free money

I have a personal checking account with Eastern Bank that I haven’t used in years. It has no fees, unless I let it go more than six months with no activity, which I’ve taken care of by setting up an automatic transfer of a dollar into it every month from the online checking account I use regularly.

About once or twice a year, Eastern Bank e-mails me a promotion that says they’ll give me $20 if I pay two bills using their bill payment service. So I transfer some money into that account and pay whichever two bills are due next, and a month later or so they give me free money. Pretty sweet deal for doing nothing.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Who the hell faxes anything anymore?

I used to ask myself this, and still do from time to time, but the reality is that most of the medical and social services world still thinks it’s 1991 and uses faxes for everything. Many of these places are even using paper fax machines hooked up to phone lines. The reason for much of this is that HIPAA, FERPA, and all those other privacy-related acronyms pretty much say nothing about privacy precautions for faxing (or, say, sending medical records via first-class mail with no signature or tracking!) but require extensive precautions to transmit data via e-mail or cloud storage the way most of us do. Most places don’t have the IT capacity or the funds to revamp their entire system to use encrypted e-mail or cloud systems, so they’re stuck using fax and postal mail.

While I don’t work in community service or a medical setting, I now have to deal with these places several times per week between being a foster parent, having a child with multiple disabilities, and participating in a number of community programs to get services for this child and to make ends meet for my family. This means that at least once a week, I need to fax something because the place doesn’t accept it via e-mail. (Or I could take it there personally, or mail it and hope it gets to the right person, but that ends up being more trouble than it’s worth.)

This means I am now the (proud?) owner of a fax number. Fortunately, I don’t have some yellowing plastic paper-jam-ridden machine attached to my nonexistent landline. I’ve been using sFax, and the $9 a month is totally worth it. It’s actually $7.20 per month with one of these 20% off codes that they keep sending me, and sometimes less if you pass the codes along to friends. Yes, you heard me, I actually found a fax-number pyramid scheme; the internet really does have a sketchy multi-level-marketing deal for everything!

The service however is not at all sketchy, and actually is quite impressive. They have a free iPhone app that lets you fax things from your iPhone (it even works on my ancient crank-operated 1929-model iPhone). It’s been incredibly time-saving to just snap a cameraphone picture of whatever I need to send somewhere and fax it off. No one so far has noticed or cared that I’m sending phone pictures of documents; I mean, really, you’ve seen some of the crooked, mangled faxes that doctor’s offices send, right? That’s the other weird thing about faxes; for whatever reason the medical and social services culture considers a faxed document to be an “original.” Hey, works for me.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

National Grid offers discounted gas rate for low-income customers

The hardest part of applying for the discount rate for National Grid was finding the stupid form, but it was easy once I did that. They require proof of participation in an income-based program and the form must be mailed.

Friday, January 3, 2014

NStar provides a discounted rate for low-income customers

NStar provides a pretty substantial discount to customers who participate in a number of programs. The form is straightforward but needs to be mailed or faxed with copies of documents verifying eligibility for an income-based program. Our discount showed up on our bill within about a month and part of it was retroactive. Now our electric bill is about $22 per month instead of $35 per month (1000-square-foot home, gas heat, no A/C, no televisions, all light bulbs are energy efficient).