Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fuel assistance is getting harder to get

Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the fuel assistance program, but at this point it's almost becoming a hazing ritual.

We're having the same problem we've had in past years where they don't seem to understand that people in our household have per diem jobs where we might go several weeks or more without any work from that job. Someone in our household works in the arts and will get paid by a particular employer sometimes one or two times, or sometimes for a string of several weeks but then not again. The employers are often one person, who doesn't appreciate writing a letter stating you don't work there every couple months when trying to apply for something. Or the jobs are through a friend of a friend, and you can't even track down the company that sent the stack of checks to the gig with the person who pulled together the artists. ABCD and DTA and Masshealth and all of them of course don't get this, and say to call the HR department. What HR department? The "business" is one guy who put on an event once. You'd think they'd realize they're dealing with poor people. We often have weird and inconsistent employment. We're honest and we save everything and we file our taxes correctly, with the dozens of W-2s and all. Any reason these places can't accept tax forms instead of paystubs? They need to harass us to properly document a few hundred dollars from somewhere -- which we're being honest and telling them happened -- when you know they have applicants who make much more under the table.

In addition to that problem, they seem to have some new requirements. Now, instead of just submitting your Schedule C for self-employment, they want you to request a transcript from the IRS and send that, except they don't tell you that until they deny you for sending the normal copy of the Schedule C.

They also want proof that one young member of the household is a citizen. They haven't needed this in past years for this person or anyone else. I have to order a copy of that person's birth certificate, unless anyone knows a better way to prove citizenship for a child.

Is it even worth it for the $400 or whatever? I'm thinking I might just find something to sell on eBay to pay for fuel this winter instead.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cooking with WIC stuff

Since we are once again on WIC, I thought I'd start posting some recipes that can be made with entirely or mostly WIC ingredients. I've talked about chili before and how cheaply it can be made. It can also be made almost entirely out of WIC ingredients, plus cheap spices.

From WIC package:
  • beans
  • onions and/or garlic
  • canned or fresh tomatoes
  • zucchini, bell peppers, corn, or other veggies if desired
  • hot peppers (fresh, from produce department)
These WIC ingredients, plus a few cents worth of salt and pepper, will make a vat of chili to feed your family for days. It freezes well too. If you have the cooking facilities and cooking skills, get the dried beans instead of the canned beans, because it's a lot more beans. A whole bag of dried beans pretty much fills a large crock pot or large soup pot.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Masshealth is discontinuing the premium assistance program. Act now if you want free private insurance.

If you don't already know about the Masshealth premium assistance program, it's a program where Masshealth will buy children a private insurance plan. There is a brochure here that gives the basics.

Apparently they are discontinuing the program as of Dec 31 this year, which is unfortunate. They will continue to pay for plans indefinitely for people who are already participating or who enroll before Dec 31. It's convenient that right now is open enrollment for Blue Cross Blue Shield. (I don't know about other private insurance plans; Google is your friend). So, if you have Masshealth and you want private insurance for your child, here's what to do:

1. Call 1-800-422-3545, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA sales department. You can't buy a child-only policy online. Tell them you would like quotes for a child-only policy. If you have multiple children, explain that you need individual child-only policies, because Masshealth is paying. They will tell you you need a family plan. Insist on separate child-only quotes. Tell them you need a plan under $349 per month.* You will need to tell them your child's name, date of birth, and address. If you want to be able to use providers who are "out of network" (like, if you want to get reimbursed for therapies from therapists who don't bill insurance directly), ask for quotes for PPO plans. Otherwise, ask for the HMO and PPO plans and look them over and see what you prefer.

2. They will e-mail you a quote within a matter of minutes. Send that quote, along with your child's Masshealth number, to Lekecia.Powell-Watkins@umassmed.edu and state that you would like to see if your child is eligible for premium assistance. She generally does not call back or e-mail back, though if there is a problem or you do need to speak to her about something, she is very nice and very knowledgeable.

3. You will receive a letter from Masshealth within a few days saying you are eligible. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts will either mail you a check for the premium each month, or will direct deposit it if you have a direct deposit account on file because you receive other payments from them.

4. Enroll your child in the BCBS plan right away by sending all the necessary paperwork to the address on the forms that were included with the quote.

5. Note: Every December you will receive an odd form letter addressed to you (whoever enrolled the child and is receiving the payments), asking you to verify that your employee, [your own name], is still receiving health insurance benefits. They're actually asking you to verify that you are still paying for the BCBS plan for your child, and you'll need to send them your current contract with BCBS, or a bill, or whatever you have. I called them and was confused the first time I received this, and they said it's the same letter they use when Masshealth is reimbursing someone for insurance through their job. Right.

*If your child is certified by Masshealth as having a disability, which I believe means they receive SSI, the benefit amount will be higher, which means you could get a more expensive plan. In this case you should call 1-800-862-4840 and ask them to check and see what your child's eligibility is. If you haven't applied for SSI because your income is too much or child gets different disability benefits, you can do what we do and just go with the $349; I believe there is a process for getting your child certified as having a disability, but I'm sure you couldn't get it done by December 31.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Aeropostale's website has good deals on kids' clothing this weekend

Everything in the PS sections is marked down, plus you can use code holiday20 to get $20 off a $100 purchase (I found the code at retailmenot. When making online purchases, ALWAYS google "aeropostale coupon code" or whatever before checking out to see if there are additional codes the store isn't publishing on their own site). Oh, and free headphones when you spend $75. They don't appear to be brand-name or anything in case you have a kid who cares about such things, but if you don't, they look like something that would be perfect to stash away for a holiday present.

Jeans aren't a great deal; still $18 for the cheapest ones and $30 or more for most of them, while Old Navy, Crazy8, and H&M regularly have plenty of decent ones for $10. Tops are a good price though, with a number of nice short-sleeve and long-sleeve ones for $5-$10. Sort them by price, skip past the approximately eight million shirts that say PS on them (unless you like that sort of thing; I do buy them for sleeping and sports when they're down to like $3), and there are some nice tops. If you need school uniform shirts, they have polos for $6-$10.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Kids' snow boots $17.99 on H&M website

Black, unisex kids' boots, sizes 7.5-2, are on their website right now. We have a pair of these from last year (I think they're the same ones) and they're great. A lot of winter coats, snow pants, etc. are marked down on their site too.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Black Friday

Ah, the inevitable barrage of posts on blogs and social media about not shopping on Black Friday. I appreciate the sentiment as far as not feeding into the aspect of society where people get into brawls over televisions. And I definitely feel for the people who are working at the kinds of places where this happens. But really? I'm also seeing a lot of posts from some really privileged people, talking about how they aren't going to buy anything this weekend, thinking they're combating capitalism or some ish. How exactly does that work? Whether you're someone who's conscious about really only buying what you need or someone who purchases freely, aren't you just going to buy the stuff on a different day? How does this actually affect capitalism at all?

And another thing: all this rhetoric about not buying things this weekend to make a point, do people really think it's hurting giant corporations? Of course it isn't. Maybe it would if they had planned to have extra staffing for the weekend and literally no one came to buy anything, but I just don't see that happening. What it really does is annoy struggling people, like me. Of course I'm going to take advantage of Black Friday deals. I'm online right now to do just that. No I'm not buying video game systems and designer sneakers. I'm buying winter coats and socks and underwear, because that stuff is way cheap this weekend and most places have free shipping. But these privileged people who don't have to worry about how they're going to afford coats for everyone want me to wait until Monday or Tuesday or whenever it becomes socially acceptable to shop so I can pay $80 I don't have for a coat instead of $24.99 today. Right. I'll get right on that. See, most of us taking advantage of these deals are people who spend every day really only buying what we need, checking thrift stores first, swapping things with our friends and neighbors, buying and selling on eBay. But go ahead, y'all who think about capitalism and consumption one time per year, and put up your posts about how we should or shouldn't spend this weekend.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The new WIC app is great, as are the changes to the program

 We once again have a young child living in our household, so we are getting WIC again.

Several things have changed since we last had it, making it even more helpful and wonderful.

1) They now FINALLY have a card that is scanned at the checkout instead of the awful paper checks that half of the cashiers didn't know how to use. It no longer takes any more time than any other grocery purchase once you get to the register.

2) They allow families to get a vegetarian/vegan package without requiring a doctor's prescription. The package allows tofu and soy milk to replace the cheese, milk, and eggs (or just the dairy or just the eggs, depending on the family's personal or cultural preferences). We were very pleased to see this, as we don't do a lot of dairy out of personal preference, but don't have a medical reason and aren't strict vegans.

3) The whole grains can now be brown rice or whole grain pasta instead of just bread.

4) They have an app that lets you check your available benefits in real time. It also will scan the UPC codes to see if something is allowed on WIC, which is an absolute lifesaver. If anyone reading this has an issue with WIC ("but them are my tax dollars!") being aware that most people of all income levels use mobile devices in 2015, read here.

If you don't get WIC and have a child under 5, check the income limits here to see if you might qualify. A lot of my friends and family who work and make too much for food stamps weren't aware that they qualify for WIC. Also, the federal guidelines say that a family qualifies based on income if people in the family get Medicaid. I'm not positive how WIC does this in MA, since we have people who are eligible for Masshealth but not federal Medicaid, but it's worth a try if you're over the income limit but you or your child has Masshealth.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Required reading for anyone who thinks people with SNAP, WIC, etc. shouldn't have smartphones

If you missed it, this is a good post explaining how circumstances can change, and how it doesn't make any damn sense to sell your car and clothes and home at a huge loss because you suddenly can't make ends meet as well as you once could.  

I would expect that anyone reading my blog is not of the mindset that anyone getting government anything shouldn't have a mobile device, but just in case any poor-people-haters decided to swing on by, I wanted to explain a few things. I was also thinking it would be a good idea to have all this info in one place for handy sharing the next time some jackass on my facebook feed starts talking about how they saw someone with a food stamps card using a smartphone.

1) It's none of your business. Really. This should be enough, but since it isn't for some people...

2) It might not be their phone. Or SNAP or WIC card. They could be picking up things for a friend, a relative, their clients at the group home where they work, their foster kids, their grandkids. It could be a phone they have through their job. Who cares? 

3) Mobile devices are no longer ridiculously expensive. Several mobile plans have a low-end smartphone as their free phone at this point. An iPhone 4 or 4s can be purchased on eBay or amazon for $20-$30 at this point. People are routinely giving away iPhone 4s and 5s to their friends for free to use as an iPod for their kid or to use as a backup when their phone broke

4) You don't even need phone service on the device to use apps or check e-mail. People might have a device because they're using it to e-mail their job or check their kid's school grades. You can use apps anywhere you're connected to wi-fi, and you can compose e-mail, write notes to yourself, listen to music, etc. without any network connectivity. Home internet can be as little as $9.95, or you can pool together with several people in your building to share wireless. Or just piggyback on all your neighbors who don't know to put passwords on their networks.

5) A lot of low-income folks don't have a computer, cable, or home internet. They may have a device connected to phone service, and it might be the only way they receive phone calls, pay bills, send e-mails about work and school, and stay in touch with their kid's teachers. If the phone was cheap or free and the plan is $50 a month, they're likely spending a lot less than you on technology.

5) Oh, and just in case I do have someone reading who thinks that people who get WIC, SNAP, Medicaid, etc. should have their income and expenditures scrutinized, I'll just mention that I really hope they feel the same way about people who take mortgage interest tax credits, student loan tax credits, and so forth. It's all free money from our tax dollars, but some of it just somehow gets viewed differently by some people.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Free stuff at Amazon right now

Apparently Woot wants to get rid of some overstock, so badly that they're listing items for free. If you have a Prime account (and if you don't, find someone who is a student so you can save on the fee), go to Amazon, put something $25 or more in your cart, and then go here and sort it by price: high to low. Click on something that says Price $0.00 to $10,000.00, then click through and see what size and color is free.

I ordered a bunch of Reebok shorts, some men's shirts, fleece jackets, and kids' pajamas. I'm not sure if it will fit people in our home, but surely there will be someone who can use it.

There are a lot fewer items left than there were last night, but try it and see. If nothing that works for you is left, maybe order whatever is left and donate it to a shelter or to someone else who is scraping by?

(By the way, even when this crazy deal isn't happening, you can sort entire categories on Amazon from low to high and sometimes find things that are either free or had their price entered incorrectly, and score some amazing deals. All I ask is that you please look and see whether the item is sold by a small family-owned-type business or a large retailer. Please don't order 10 of an obviously mispriced item from a small business. That's just cold.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Snow boots on Amazon for $14?!

Interesting. These boots, which have great reviews, are $14-18 for certain sizes and colors. Size youth 13 in the star print came out at $14.03. That's cheaper even than most of the boots on aliexpress, and these come right away with prime shipping.

A few Kamik and DC shoes items are coming up this way too. Search for the generic item ("child high top sneaker," "toddler snow boot"), then it will come up near the top with a range of $15-$60 or whatever. Put in a size and see if any colors come up heavily discounted. Try the next size up if nothing comes up. Wow.

UPDATE: The boots arrived, they fit, and they're as sturdy and well-made as Kamik or any of the other swanky brands.

Monday, August 10, 2015

DTA informs clients of summer meals program. In August.

This just came in the mail. Note the date.

Do they not WANT people using the summer meals program?!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Free books for kids this weekend

This is a great event that we've attended in years past. Kids (I believe students of any age) get a package of free books. In past years they've gotten shirts and backpacks as well. The event also features free entertainment. Check it out!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Everything on Crazy 8 website is $8.22 today

The website doesn't say when this promotion ends, but everything is $8.22 or less today. They have a decent amount of fall stuff too for people looking to stock up -- jeans, sweaters, jackets, etc. I think this is probably the best sale they have all year, and $8.22 is a pretty amazing price for jeans, dresses, sweaters and jackets, especially in the youth sizes. Like any one of these fixed-price sales, there are of course t-shirts and infant/toddler things that are overpriced at this price, so stock up on the things that are usually $30.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Once again, I question whether the MFA actually cares about the community

My family and I love the MFA. The place itself is just amazing; all this stuff that's thousands of years old and still looks brand new just blows my mind. The staff are knowledgeable and will answer questions, the layout and overall atmosphere of the place is very disability friendly, and something about how quiet and calm the place seems to discourage visitors from coming over and patronizing children with disabilities in the way that they do in most other public spaces.

However, there are some things that make me wonder how much they actually want the community accessing the place. I wrote before about how they have a low-income discount, but they illegally refuse to process debit card transactions for the reduced-price tickets (and were condescending about it).

Today, I went to sign up for some art classes. We have previously done some one-time children's art classes. They were $9-$10 per class, and they were great. But apparently in the summer, the only thing offered is these all-day camps, which are several hundred dollars per week. Now, I get that not everyone is blessed with multigenerational families and flexible work lives, and many people need child care in the summer, but how much sympathy can I really muster for people who are paying $600 per week for MFA camp when there are readily available, high-quality programs for as low as $50 a week at Boston Center for Youth and Families, Boys and Girls Club, and so forth? I'm not going to include people who attend MFA camp under the heading of "people who need child care."

The people who *need* child care, of course, are either at the community centers, the free meal programs that have all-day drop-in care, or at home with a relative who is keeping them safe but not doing much beyond that. These kids would love some art classes taught by world-class instructors in an amazing facility. But, nope, no $10 art classes for them. Only $600-per-week art camp. I shouldn't knock them though -- they do offer partial day camp for the low low price for $250 per week. *eyeroll* Have I mentioned that the MFA requires children under *14* to be escorted into the building by an adult and signed out by an adult afterward? So even if a child saves up the money for one of these classes, they would need to have an available adult to accompany them. This is another thing that makes me think the MFA builds their programs and policies around rich people; the age to arrive and leave independently at the community centers seems to vary, but is in the 8-11 range.

Oh, and financial aid isn't mentioned anywhere on the website. I'm going to assume they don't have any? The community centers all do. They apparently manage to stretch their tiny budgets to subsidize families who need it. But these ridiculously expensive MFA camps can't? Hmm...

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Free films this summer in Boston

Listings are here. All are outdoors, so they'd likely be good for families with smalls or people with special needs.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Help a scraper out here: what are some good loan options in Boston?

A few years ago my water heater broke and I put the new one on one of those 0% interest cards, planning to pay it off before the promotional rate ended. My plan was working fine, but then my car broke. And the cat broke. And a relative needed some noncovered medical care. And I had to travel out of town unexpectedly. And one of the young folks living here got an amazing scholarship, but there was some payment required, and I couldn't bear the thought of passing up the opportunity. And so forth.

I managed to do fine making at least the minimums, and paid off a good chunk, but, well, I still have a ton of debt, and we all know those promotional cards jump up to 20% APR once the time runs out.

Since I've learned my lesson that life isn't stable enough these days to count on paying off a 0% card, I'm thinking my best option is to find a bank or credit union, either local or online, that will give me a fixed-rate loan or credit card in the 10% APR range. I own my home, credit score is in the high 700s (decent amount of debt, but no missed payments), have enough income to not miss payments on my stuff but I'm not rich and documenting my cobbled-together income is a chore.

Anyone have anywhere I should look?

Monday, June 15, 2015

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: okra and corn edition

The fair foods truck this week had okra, corn, onions, red potatoes, grapefruit, oranges, bananas, and iceberg lettuce. Amazing.

I grilled the okra, which is incredibly easy and in my opinion tastes pretty much the same as fried okra. Just cut off the ends, put it on a baking sheet, drizzled it with olive oil and some spices, and baked at 450 until it looked done:

Some of the okra we ate just like this. The rest, I used to make the fritters. I cut up about a cup or so of okra into small pieces, along with one small onion that I had sliced and grilled, plus the kernals from half an ear of corn, also grilled in the oven in the same way. I added half a cup of cornmeal, half a cup of flour, adobo, cumin, about half a cup of cheddar cheese, then enough milk to make it into a firm dough. I dropped it onto a baking sheet, flattened them out a bit, and baked at 400 until done:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: onions and red potatoes edition

Y'all didn't really need a blog post to tell you what to do with potatoes and onions in the middle of June, right?!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Awesome way to clean the house in a hurry with minimal effort

A friend moving out of the country gave me a crate of things that weren't worth transporting, including several cans of this 3M glass cleaner. I would never have spent $8 dollars on glass cleaner (I usually use all-purpose cleaning stuff from Dollar Tree or just use vinegar and baking soda), or bought something this chemically and in a wasteful aerosol container, but wow, this stuff is amazing. I'm hooked now. Sorry, environment.

I sprayed it on my cabinet fronts, counters, sink, stove, appliances, bathroom fixtures, waited about 30 seconds, then wiped it down with a textured cloth, and the stuff had dissolved everything greasy or sticky with no scrubbing. I literally cleaned my neglected kitchen surfaces to an acceptable state for having company over in about two minutes. It worked as well on the stovetop as those oven cleaners that are expensive and that I wouldn't use unless everyone was out of the house and the windows were all open. It smells slightly like ammonia or similar, so it's not completely non-toxic, but it doesn't have fumes or lingering odors, so I'm comfortable using it with kids and people with compromised health in the house.

It's available on Amazon, so while it's pricey, you can get it for free using Bing Rewards. And even if you pay for it, I think it's well worth it for something that cleans so ridiculously fast.

(Speaking of Bing Rewards, I saw tips on another money-saving blog about using bots to run searches on multiple accounts and rack up Amazon gift cards. Not something I'd risk myself, because Microsoft seems sufficiently evil to press charges or sue people, but I wanted to throw it out there as something that's apparently a possibility for those who might be broke enough to risk it.)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Nonprofit grocery store opens in Dorchester

I haven't yet checked Daily Table out, but it's on the agenda for this weekend. People who've gone, tell me what you've thought of it!

(And if you click through to that article, would you mind downvoting and flagging the comments that are poor-shaming and assuming a Black woman must be on public assistance?)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Tropical Foods coupon policy

The coupon policy isn't listed on the website, so I emailed them. They wrote back and said they accept any manufacturer's coupon. They didn't say anything about limits of how many per transaction or per day or anything like that, so this may be a good place to use large batches. Stop and Shop is still likely the best deal in town most of the time though since they double them.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Washer fluid for a dollar a bottle

Dollar Tree in Roslindale on American Legion Highway has windshield washer fluid right now. This isn't something they always carry. Stock up! They also have huge bottles of ketchup for anyone who needs some before the next time it's free or better than free with coupons (probably Independence Day for good deals on condiments).

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Some good deals right now using multiple mobile apps

Marley coffee is $1 off on Snap, $1.50 off on Checkout 51, and $2 off on iBotta. The shelf price is $6.99 at Wegman's. Mike's Hard Lemonade is also on multiple apps, as are Ciao Bella gelato, Scrubbing Bubbles, various Clorox products, CLR products, and Beech-Nut baby food.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bing Rewards is now getting me $5 every 18 days

So, I'm at gold status, I'm doing the 25 searches every day and clicking on the stuff, and I've been getting a $5 Amazon card every 18 days (sometimes sooner when they run promos). It's pretty fabulous; our household has a prime account that was $39 for the year using a student ID, so we don't pay shipping. I put the Amazon cards in my gift card account as they accrue, then any time I need a school supply, battery, light bulb, etc. that's not available at the stores I regularly go to (which would be Dollar Tree and grocery stores) and is going to be overpriced there anyway, I go onto Amazon and it shows up before I would have had a chance to go to a specialty store. It's such a great thing for busy families.

If you want to try it out, show me some love and use my referral linky thing.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Free bananas

Right now:
  • iBotta has an offer for 20 cents off bananas
  • Checkout51 has an offer for 25 cents off bananas
  • SavingStar has an offer for 20% off bananas
Bananas are 39 cents per pound at Wegman's right now. Buy one pound, use these three offers, and you'll get 7 cents plus 20 cents plus 25 cents back, making the bananas -13 cents. Is it sad that I'm mentally figuring out what equation one would use to figure out how to get the most free bananas?

(And if you don't have these apps already, use my referral links to help out the broke mofo who told you about them, right!?)

EDIT: The math is actually pretty simple; 56 cents worth of bananas is the maximum that would be free -- you'd get back 20 cents + 25 cents + [X/5, which is 11 when X is 56], so 56 cents back.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Free pizza!

I came across this story, in which people are apparently using this online chat/dating app to get people to buy them pizza.

My first thought of course is, hm, I could pose as a young lady and take advantage of some desperate guys with too much time and money on their hands, right? Of course, my next thought was, naw, I'm grown, I got other stuff to worry about, I'm not actually going to give my address to these sort of people, nor am I going to take advantage of anyone, even cocky rich boys trolling on the internet.

The idea kind of intrigues me though, and I'm sure I have readers who are the type to try this, so, well, I thought I'd let you know it's a thing. You're welcome.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Nail clippers for -43 cents at CVS

This worked at the Fresh Pond CVS in Cambridge using the self checkout. Near the nail care items, there are hanging coupons for $2 off any Beauty 360 implements. The implements on cards are all $4-$10 or so. To the right of that are loose implements in bins, including $1.57 nail clippers. The tiny stickers on the bins indicate that they are Beauty 360. It was a ridiculously cheap price for nail clippers anyway, so I figured I would try it and pay full price if it didn't work, but it did. Unfortunately, the coupons say one coupon per customer, so you can't use them to get a whole bunch of free stuff. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

Free entrance to museums and cultural sites this summer

I've heard great things about this Free Fridays program. My family generally prefers to go to museums during non-peak times, because of family members with medical and mobility issues, so I've skimmed right past this offering in past years. Looking at it more closely though, I'm thinking some of the sites that are a little ways out of the city and/or largely outdoors might be less crowded and worth checking out. Has anyone had experience with this program?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Local libraries offering free and discounted admission to museums

I've been aware of the museum pass program at the library for well over a decade, but I just recently found out that they've redone their system so that it's much easier to use. The first system I remember involved calling or visiting each library branch and asking what passes they had available on what dates, and they would look in a physical signout book. I did use this a few times, but it was tedious and I would end up reserving whatever pass they had for several months out. The next improvement was basically an online version of this, in which
one went onto the website, chose a branch, a date, and a museum, and did this repeatedly until an available date came up.

I was extremely pleased to see the new system, which has a searchable interface that lets you put in the date, branch, and museum, or leave it as open as you want. I did one search to see what passes were available for the next few days and found that there are many openings; if you aren't picky about which museum you visit, you could go tomorrow. I specifically wanted to go to the aquarium (holy expletive, it's $26.95 for 12 and up, $17.95 for kids, and there is no low-income discount available), and there are many passes available starting in a few weeks.

If you're interested in different museums from the ones BPL offers, Momlifehacker has a nice roundup of different museum passes that are available at different libraries in the area. FYI, the BPL, Minuteman, and Old Colony library networks have a policy that any Massachusetts resident can apply for a card in their system. Minuteman and BPL let you use the same physical card for convenience, but they each have to register it separately. I've found that several of the staff members at the town branches seem to think library cards are only for residents of that town, and will try to have you pay for a day pass or courtesy card or some crap to check out materials. It's not actually required unless you don't live in Massachusetts; just check the policy on the system's web site and show it to the library staff if you have to.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Free ferry rides to Georges Island tomorrow

The ferry rides are offered on a first come, first serve basis and more information is available here. The ferries are accessible to people with mobility impairments and Georges Island is probably the most accessible island, with flat paved trails, modern restrooms, and so forth. Georges Island is a neat places for kids, with a historic fort as well as gorgeous natural areas.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pleasant surprise in the mail today

This is one of the bigger checks I've gotten from class action suits. But come on, it really was the least they could do for causing me pain and suffering, right?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

America: Where soda is cheaper than water

This weekend I was in the grocery store, about to check out, when I decided I really needed a beverage since I was coming down with a sore throat and pressurey sinuses, and this was really getting to me all of the sudden. I didn't know off the top of my head where nearby I could fill my water bottle, was in the checkout line with a cart full of stuff and various kids and elders in tow, so decided I'd just buy something. My position at the end of checkout line was right at the head of the beverage aisle, plus there were various fridges and bins of beverages near the checkouts.

I looked around, and discovered that the cheapest single-serving thing was store-brand soda. It was cheaper than the store-brand water of the same size and even cheaper than the smaller store-brand water. I don't generally buy bottled water because it's a waste of money and horrible for the planet, but it was there, it was what I wanted and what I ended up getting. Just killed me that water with chemicals in it costs less than plain water.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Places to find inexpensive spices

When I post a recipe along with cost information, I generally don't include the cost of things like dried spices or small amounts of pantry staples. This seems to be true for most bloggers and writers who include cost information. But if you're like me and have gone from being a middle-class small family eating Trader Joe's food and takeout to a lower-class large family cooking from scratch most every day, you might find that your spice stash is running low. Sure, spices are versatile, and they keep fresh for a long time, but do I really want to pay $6 for cinnamon?

Here are some of my spice tips and tricks:

Goya adobo

I probably put this in 90% of the things I cook. (The others are baked goods, and that would be weird.) Goya often has a 50-cent-off coupon on their website or in the paper, and it often goes on sale for 99 cents at Stop-and-Shop, which doubles coupons. I currently have five bottles of free adobo in my cabinet. If you aren't familiar, it's salt and pepper, plus garlic, onion, and various other versatile spices (cumin, parsley, etc.) depending on the variety. I pretty much use it in every recipe that calls for salt and pepper.

Spice blendsFor whatever reason, these are cheaper than individual spices. My favorite two -- pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, a few other things depending on the brand) and poultry seasoning (sage, marjoram, thyme, etc.) -- are significantly on sale around Thanksgiving. Pumpkin pie spice works great in, well, pumpkin pie, as well as apple pie, holiday cookies, various fall baked goods, and just about anything that calls for cinnamon. Poultry seasoning is great for pretty much every Thanksgiving dish, or anything that calls for sage.

Latin, Caribbean, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian stores...or the Latin aisle in the supermarket. You can often find the same spices either in small plastic bags or large jugs for a fraction of the price per ounce of the same spices on the spice aisle of the supermarket. If you get them at a family-owned local store, you can support local businesses, people of color, and/or immigrants. The bags can be messy once you open them, and the jugs are kind of ugly if you store your spices on the counter, so I either purchase the spice the first time in a jar and then refill it, or get some jars from Amazon to pour them into. These snazzy glass ones are about a dollar apiece, or these plastic ones are 59 cents each. If you have more time, a Google search shows that you can buy empty plastic spice containers by the dozen for 5 to 15 cents a piece directly from many suppliers.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chili: ridiculously cheap and ridiculously easy

Chili (shown here on some delicious nachos) is one of my favorite standby meals. Everyone in the household likes it, it keeps for a week in the fridge if it lasts that long, it freezes well, and best of all, it's incredibly easy and cheap to make.

It's easy to make with couponing finds, pantry staples, veggies from Fair Foods, WIC, or your other favorite source. Pretty much all you absolutely need is beans, some sort of tomato product, and seasoning.

My easiest chili recipe is quite cheap, but isn't actually the cheapest recipe I've come up with (which I'll get to later.) Here's what you need:
  • Two cans of beans -- I used one can of kidney beans and one can of black beans
  • One 16-ounce can of diced tomatoes -- can also use one can of tomato sauce, one can of tomato puree plus water to make it about 16 ounces, or two to three fresh tomatoes
  • One onion
  • Spices -- I used Goya adobo plus lots of cumin
  • Peppers with some heat to them, or powdered pepper, or hot sauce -- I used hot sauce
Put everything in a pot. Cook on the stove until boiling, then turn down and simmer on low for about two hours, until it looks like chili. If it needs it, add a pinch of sugar to bring out flavor and help everything caramelize. Add salt, more seasonings, and more hot sauce or other hot peppers if needed. As listed here, it makes about six servings for about $2.50 worth of ingredients (assuming full shelf price). If you coupon, you likely have cans of beans and tomato products in your stash that were somewhere between free and 20 cents each.

If I have time, I prefer to cook chili in a slow cooker. It's less likely to stick and turns out better, but you need to plan ahead. I would at least double the batch if I were doing this.

You can also add veggies to chili. Zucchini and yellow summer squash are my favorites. Corn, yams, pumpkin, spinach, kale, and peppers are all great too. Especially if you're using the slow cooker, I imagine you could add just about any vegetables, since they get really soft and blend together with the other ingredients.

If you want to make the recipe even cheaper, use dried beans. Obviously this method takes several hours, even if you use the stove on high heat. They're considerably cheaper though, since a pound of dried beans is about the same price as a can but will absorb water and yield a whole pot. I don't bother soaking beans when doing slow-cooker chili. My slow cooker is the large oval type, and I generally put a total of one pound of dried beans (usually some combination of kidney, pinto, and black beans to add up to one pound). For a pound of beans, I would use two to three cans of tomato products or several pounds of fresh tomatoes, two to three onions, and a lot more spices.

Where to get inexpensive spices warrants its own post, I think. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Steep post-Passover markdowns still available

Universal Hub posters report on which stores still have items for 50% or more off. A lot of foods sold for Passover make good staples; the latke mixes are great to add various shredded veggies to, and matzos and matzo meal are great for breading things.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Free insulation and other weatherization services if you qualify

If you qualify for fuel assistance through ABCD, and you call them and tell them you're interested in weatherization, they have some really great benefits. I had heard from people in other communities that the waitlist was several years long, but apparently this isn't currently the case, at least in Boston at the moment. I called them about two months ago, they sent me an application, I sent it back, and last week someone came out to do the audit.

They said they would insulate our home, tune up the furnace, and repair some leaky siding and roofing -- all for no cost. They also can replace furnaces if yours is beyond repair. I will update when the work actually gets done, but they said it would be within the next few weeks. The program is available to homeowners of any type of home and renters with landlord's permission. The only thing they no longer do is repair or replacement of windows, but this is inexpensive compared to insulation and heating systems, and the Building Resource Center can hook you up with necessary supplies.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

In case anyone says the government just hands out money

I think our food stamps are reinstated. The web portal thing is showing that we're getting $66 per month this time.

What did I have to do to get this $66 per month?

February 23: Faxed the updated income information to DTA.

Several times in the weeks after that: Looked in the online portal, saw that nothing had been received or processed.

March 19: Finally called them, which involves six minutes of typing in my EBT card number, social, ZIP code, birthdate, and pressing keys acknowledging that I know that the info can be found online (no it can't; that's why I'm calling), then waiting on hold for 10-30 minutes.

Was informed that my fax arrived there on the 23rd but even though it was clearly labeled with my name and SSN, it got filed to another household member's SSN, not mine, and that person isn't listed as a head of household with an open case, so it just sat there having nothing done with it. They then decided they would process the info and give me my benefits back.

March 30: Nothing had been done, called back. Someone was confused about one family member having self-employment income plus W-2 income. Decided we were trying to call the job self-employment and deduct things we aren't allowed to. Instead of just realizing people can have two jobs, they mailed me a paper letter which I never got, asking for entire business records for said self-employment income (which is about $1000 a year). Person on the phone actually agreed the records weren't necessary and cleared that request out. Spent several minutes asking me for the name of the family member's business. Couldn't seem to wrap brain around that most people filing Schedule C don't have a business and you put the person's name under "business name." Kept saying "I need a business name."

April 2: Saw on online thing that we were given benefits starting next month, along with summary of our household income and how they had arrived at $66. Called to ask why they weren't put in going back to when the paystubs were from, which was what they said would happen. Spent 45 minutes on phone, while worker asked me about every paystub, whether that was my correct income, whether relative's disability income was correct -- pretty much just read the entire file to me and asked me questions about it, even though the previous workers had already calculated the amount and I was just asking about the retroactive part. Worker agreed that retroactive benefits were due and would be deposited. Said something about how "if you don't say anything, no one knows that you didn't get the benefits we said you would."

Is this some kind of intentional cost-saving measure? Or are they just incompetent?

I'm thinking it isn't worth $66 per month to do all this faxing and calling and waiting on hold. Maybe that's the point? Still, I'm sitting here in the richest country in the world, and every time I have a small victory over DTA, the school system, the community health center or some other organization that hoped we would just go away, I can't help but think of all the people who don't have the resources I do and are just hanging up the phone defeated. Should you only be able to feed your family if you previously worked in finance and know to correct DTA's math and correct their understanding of tax codes? Should your kids only get services if you know people who know special education law and Medicaid policies?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This state, man

In February I got a letter from Masshealth saying they needed me to reapply. I did that, it said I was approved, and I got a paper letter saying I'm approved, because that's an efficient use of resources.

Today I got a robocall saying it's very important I go online and apply for Masshealth, otherwise my coverage will end at the end of this month. I went on the website, logged back in, and it says I'm eligible for Masshealth. There doesn't seem to be any way to contact a person on the website other than the general "contact us" e-mail address. I guess I'm going to have to call and be on hold for an hour to figure out why I got approved but apparently didn't.

Friday, March 20, 2015

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

I still have about 3.999 pounds left of the four pounds of spinach from Fair Foods. Did you know that spinach is mostly water and shrinks like crazy? I wilted some (dig my fancy cooking term there) by putting it in the microwave for one minute, then chopped it up with scissors. I ended up doing this about five times, because I'd put a huge bowl full of it in there, then take it out and it was like a tablespoon worth. I added the spinach to a batch of latke mix from a box, along with some cumin, and baked them in the oven. They're gone now, so I think that means they turned out well.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

What the hell do I do with this vegetable: avocados and spinach edition

I got 15 avocados and four pounds of spinach from Fair Foods yesterday. I don't really need to make a WTHDIDWTV for avocados, right? They're easy to use for guacamole, sandwiches, or dumping some adobo on them and eating them. The four pounds of spinach though is requiring some creativity, and tonight's dinner involved both, so there.

I had some Vietnamese rice paper spring roll wrappers and some Vietnamese vermicelli, both bought from as Asian market for a dollar or so each. (Note to self: write blog post on things one can find in Asian markets). I made spring rolls with vermicelli, avocado with adobo on it, and raw spinach leaves:

Authentic spring rolls would generally have more flavor to them by way of cilanto, mint, and/or basil. I didn't have any of that stuff, and it's usually expensive. So the rolls were a little bland, but the texture was perfect, and it was nothing some condiments didn't take care of. (If you do the coupon thang, you have a whole stash of condiments that were free or near free, right? We poured some Lawry's teriyaki sauce and sesame-ginger sauce up in these, and they were perfect.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fair Foods Haul

$6 for all this from the Fair Foods truck today. Not pictured: entire box of spinach

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Free IMAX films at Museum of Science during March

I just found out about this, but there are still two Fridays left. The films look pretty good -- Galapagos, Humpback Whales, and Mystery of the Maya.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Couponing has been a little lame lately...

This stuff was $14.25, which is clearly a good deal, but it's a small haul. There just aren't many deals this time of year. However, I did sign up for yet another e-coupon thing, which got me a lot of the free/cheap stuff included in this haul.

The new app I'm trying is Snap by Groupon. It requires you to upload a receipt just like iBotta and Checkout 51, but there's no need to scan the bar code like iBotta requires. Unlike most of the other apps, it allows you to use many of the deals multiple or even unlimited times, so if you have a stack of coupons for an item that's on sale and is listed on Snap, you could get several of them for the lowest possible price. I claimed $5.50 the first time I used it, though I suspect that it gives you better deals at first to get you to start using it; there was $1 off any toilet paper (that 99-cent roll was free), $1 off any toothpaste (free 99-cent tube of Aim), $1 off any pasta (free 99-cent box). It currently has several Coke deals, as does iBotta right now, so you can double these up on a product that's on sale at your store and get Coke for a really low price. If you want to check it out, please click on my link above.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Health Connector website, you gonna make me lose my mind...

You know, I was gonna come on here and write about how the new website on which I had to enter my family's income and everything to renew Masshealth was refreshingly easy, and how I wish DTA would get something similar going on that checks your income against your tax returns, instead of having you send in a big packet of paystubs, a buncha paper forms, and only going by most recent month's income...

But then I finished the process, and I got this:

"Congratulations! Based on your household's federal poverty level..."


I mean, I'm glad we're eligible, don't get me wrong. But. Um.

Oh well. Made me laugh at least

Monday, February 23, 2015

City Strings United program provides cello lessons for youth

This story is from a few months back, but I'm just now hearing of the organization. There's a Globe feature story worth checking out about the program, which provides free lessons and free instrument rentals. The website doesn't have a whole lot of details about logistics of joining, but invites people to e-mail them. I will be on the lookout for their performances as well, which I assume will be free (or if not, certainly affordable and a good cause).

Other local programs that provide free music lessons to youth include Revolution of Hope and Project STEP. If you know of other music opportunities, please post in comments!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Time exchange in JP allows all labor to be valued equally

I just came across a posting for a Jamaica Plain time exchange, which is hosting an open house to learn more. This time exchange appears to be open to people in any neighborhood. I unfortunately cannot attend, but I love the concept and it would be great if people want to attend and try and start them in other areas.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

MBTA misses opportunity to help workers economically impacted by storm

Universal Hub and several other sources are reporting that the MBTA is hiring individuals from the community to shovel tracks and other property, but requires that they be members of unions.

I have nothing against unions in theory, and workers being able to organize is a good thing, but if they're going to hire non-MBTA employees to do this, why on earth wouldn't they extend some generosity to hourly employees who have lost considerable wages due to jobs being closed or not being able to get to them? As far as I know, union workers generally have paid days off of some sort. The union workers shoveling snow may well be doing so on a paid day off, or might have taken a personal day to take on the shoveling job. Well hiring union workers seems on the face as a progressive and pro-human-rights thing to do, it seems like the plan wasn't fully thought out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Another option for low-cost snow removal

The New England Center for Homeless Veterans has a lot of unemployed, able guys, who will shovel for cash. Ask for the supervisor on duty at the front desk when you call, 617-371-1700.

If you know of other options, please post in comments. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Snow closures mean lost wages and firings for many low-income workers

WBUR has done two great stories on this issue lately, here, and here. Both are very well-done human-interest stories that are worth the time to read.

Our family is dealing with this as well. We don't have sick time or vacation days, so we don't get paid if we can't come in due to illness, snow, transit being shut down, job being closed for the day, or needing to care for a child. We usually budget for this, but with all of the snow days lately, it's added up. There are no laws in Massachusetts or federally requiring jobs to pay workers in these situations. There is a law for certain types of hourly employees that they must be paid for three hours if they show up ready to work and then are told they are not needed, but this doesn't apply if they are given notice that the site is closed or they should not come in for whatever reason.

I guess the silver lining in this is that our food stamps will be reinstated, and at a generous amount at least for a few months, since we've made so little money the past few weeks. Oh, and that tax refunds are coming soon, so we'll be able to pay the bills this month, and then hopefully it will stop snowing. It's a little scary though knowing that even after the snow clears, there is still always the chance that some sort of natural disaster or home maintenance emergency or something can come up that causes us to need money and/or not be able to show up for work. And that the people who have the power to choose whether to be understanding about these things are always people with paid vacation days and healthy savings accounts.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Inexpensive soccer opportunity for kids ages 3.5 - 6.5

I've been noticing that most activities in Boston that aren't part of public schools (and even some that are) are ridiculously expensive. Especially with February break coming up, I'm getting a lot of e-mails for "camps" that run $300-$1000 just for the one week, and about half of these don't even run the normal hours of public school, let alone afterschool, so they wouldn't work for families who need childcare during that week. Who are these families who have the money for these programs and have flexible schedules that would allow them to drop off kids at 9 or 10 and pick them up at noon or 2? I don't doubt they exist, but it still shocks me that there are enough independently wealthy or executive types to fill all these camps and activities.

Anyway, this brings me to an activity I've been hearing about that's on the other extreme end of the price range. Jamaica Plain Children's Soccer is $25 for the season (spring or fall). No, that's not a typo. No equipment is required except for sturdy shoes and a ball if you have one. The families I know who've done it say it's fun, friendly, diverse, and intentionally and aggressively dissuades competitive-parenting types from joining. Check it out.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Seasonal couponing

$41.09 for $117.46 worth of stuff! Thanks, sporting event, for making there be coupon deals on pizza and nacho ingredients. 

The Purex deal at Stop and Shop right now is a good one -- they're $1.99 instead of $4.99, so you can get six detergents for $7 if you use the $5/$25 on SavingStar. If you have $1 Purex coupons from coupons.com last month you could actually get it down to $1 for all six (I only had two, but $5 for six detergents is still pretty amazing.) 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Can't afford someone to shovel or plow?

I've been hearing good things around the neighborhood and on social media about SnowCrew. In short, it's a site where people can make requests for shoveling and plowing, and people who are looking to volunteer can go and help.

I have long been a fan of the barter system. It creates ways for people who can't work traditional jobs to get goods and services. So, if you're physically unable to shovel or need to be inside caring for someone, use SnowCrew to get some help, then pay it forward. Got a car that needs to be shoveled out? Can you use your car to do some errands for other neighbors, or transport materials for a nonprofit? Or do a post office pickup or dropoff for someone who works business hours? Can you watch someone's children or parents? Take an elder to an appointment? Do some computer work for someone who doesn't have a computer or doesn't know how to use one? Teach someone a skill? We all have something to offer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dollar Tree makes me happy

I should really keep track of how much I save buying various things at Dollar Tree. I seriously love that place. I just got a pair of scissors there for, well, a dollar, obviously. They're nice, sturdy scissors that work well. At any other store they would be at least two or three dollars for the exact same thing. While some of the stuff there is just utter crap, it's worth it to buy things like this which are really the exact same things you'd by elsewhere, only without the overhead of a nicer store.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Yet another article on how hard rich people in Boston have it

© Jeff Durham
Now, don't get me wrong; of course I know it's expensive to live in Boston. I have a blog about being broke, after all. But this article is just aggravating me. Someone can't afford the median rent in Boston if they don't make $100,000 a year? Really?

First, the article lists the median rent at $2497 per month. That seems high. The article says it was based on rents on Zillow. Now, I love Zillow, mostly for, well, window-shopping for homes I'll never be able to afford, and, uh, maybe checking to see how hooked up some of my neighbors in their fancy homes are. But while Zillow is probably the best aggregator of homes for sale and for rent (it pulls from Craigslist and so forth), it still is only going to have homes that people are putting on the public market. Especially in working-class neighborhoods and communities primarily of color, people prefer to rent (and often even to sell) through word of mouth, to people they know and who are members of their community.

Also, let's talk about what a median is; think back to math class, where you learned (and promptly forgot?) that it's the middle number in a set. So, a median rent of $2497 means half the rents in Boston are higher than that and half are lower. Does that mean most are clustered around there? I don't think so. I think luxury downtown units going for $15,000 per month are skewing things. Those affect the median and mean rental figures, but they don't affect the price of a one-bedroom walkup in Dorchester. This is a city with a large population of students and people coming to work from out of the area who will overpay for an apartment that someone else is likely paying for, especially if they can get it rented and squared away before they arrive.

Oh, and the figures don't tell us what size the apartment is. Is $2497 ridiculous for a one-bedroom and unattainable to most people on one income? Yes. Is it perfectly reasonable for a six-bedroom Victorian near Ashmont with six housemates? Absolutely!

And let's just scrap the idea that anyone in a city is paying only 30% of their income on housing. For most people, it's going to be closer to 50%. Is that unfortunate and a sign of overpriced housing? Probably. But it's realistic and doable for most people.

Anyway, to my point, and yes, I had one. The reason the article is driving me crazy, and what led me to respond to it was this: "The cure to this, if you’d like to live in Boston, you need to find one or two roommates to split the cost. But, even still, it’s alarming to think the ability to live alone is reserved to those who make at least six figures."

MEDIAN. M-E-D-I-A-N, people. A quick peruse of Craigslist finds me several studio one-bedroom apartments in Brighton, East Boston, Allston, Roxbury, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, and Dorchester for under $1000. They're not the most amazing places, but they all appear to be safe and functional. If you plan it right, and especially if you get connected in a community, you can find a larger and nicer place for around this price. We did. So, if you spend half your income on rent, you can live in these places making $24,000 a year.

Ironically, when browsing, I actually saw the former apartment of some people I used to know. It's a small three-bedroom walkup badly in need of renovation. When I knew this place several years ago, they had 10 people living there -- three related nuclear families, each in one bedroom. Now, I did worry a bit about these folks as far as fire codes go, and I'll admit that during a meal I stepped into a bedroom to make a phone call and peeked out the window to make sure there were fire escapes. But my point is that people do what they gotta do. These folks were happy, hard-working, and grateful for their blessings.

Is it a bit messed up that people were living like this in the wealthiest country in the world? In a country where we have people who could have bought these families each a home with the monetary equivalent of me buying them a coffee? Of course it is. I definitely support the fight for better wages, better working conditions, housing, healthcare, education, and all the other things we as a civilized country can do better at.

But can people lay off with feeling sorry for themselves, and thinking they can't possibly live here if they don't make $100,000? It's insulting to my family and others who are living well below the poverty line. I'm not going to pretend our lives are glamorous or without some periods of extreme stress directly related to financial strains. But most of the time, we're thriving. And while there's a big part of me that's grateful that the sorts of people writing these pieces aren't bringing their privileged attitudes to our hard-working community-minded neighborhoods, I still don't need to hear about how they can't possibly afford to live "in Boston" when they really mean they might have to live somewhere poorer or less white. We're part of Boston too, even if the media likes to forget. Boston wouldn't survive without our labor.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Getting groceries whatever way I need to

Not my best haul ever, but I'm pretty much happy whenever I get more than 50% off. I wasn't doing as much couponing as usual during the past few months, so my condiment and canned goods stash was getting low.

Also, my foodstamps did get cut off, at least for now. I finally talked to someone, thanks to hearing about this governor's hotline linked to around the blogosphere, and they're cutting me off because one family member got a one-time payment from a job for some extra work, but it's included on the November paystub, making that month twice as much as others. We were grateful for some extra work that worked with our family's schedule, but now that person's income looks twice as high. We have to wait a few more months and send in new paystubs so they can re-do the average. For now, we're fine, thanks to my couponing stash of many months' worth of rice, noodles, dry goods, beans, soups and other canned goods, and for having some cash on hand that allowed me to restock on some condiments and things. The stuff that was available was a bit more processed than I'd have liked, but combined with way affordable produce from Fair Foods, we're eating pretty good up in here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Free Hamburger Helper at Stop and Shop

There is a printable coupon here for 50 cents off one box, Stop and Shop doubles coupons, and they're $1 this week. The coupon will only print once per computer, unfortunately. If you get enough coupons, they're potentially a money maker, since SavingStar has $1 off of three boxes and there's a $3 off $10 worth of General Mills deal at Stop and Shop this week.

By the way, our family doesn't really do meat, so I hadn't ever sought these out until they were free, but they're really no different from any other noodle-and-sauce packets. The mac-and-cheese or Spanish rice ones are fine on their own, or you could toss a can of mushrooms or some sauteed peppers and onions or whatnot into the various recipes.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Glade products at Target are free or potential money maker

Right now, all of the Glade winter holiday scents are on clearance at Target. Some of the scents (spruce, gingerbread) are pretty dang seasonal, but others, if you can ignore the Christmassy names and packaging, are just fine (citrus, apple cinnamon, mint). And who knows -- maybe there are people out there who like spruce and gingerbread in January, or who are more organized than I am and would actually put them away in a holiday box or something.

There are $1 off printable coupons for Glade products all over the place -- check Smartsource, Coupons.com, etc. The January 11 Sunday paper inserts had a ton of clippable ones too. Checkout 51 has an offer for $1.25 off two wax melts, $1.25 off two jar candles, $1.50 off automatic spray refill, and $1.00 off plugins. iBotta has $1 off wax melts, $1.50 off plugins, $1.50 off automatic spray, $3 off wax melt warmer, and $1 off one jar candle.

Glade jar candles are normally $2.99 at Target, and some scents are marked down to $2.08. If you buy two and use two $1 paper coupons, the Checkout 51 offer, and the iBotta offer, the two candles are -9 cents total. If you choose full price candles, they will be $1.73 for two candles, which is still pretty amazing.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Seriously, DTA?!

They've sent a few more letters saying our food stamps are going to be cut off because they didn't receive things that we definitely sent (I always send it certified mail, plus their letters refer to other things that were in the same envelope that they pretty clearly got).

I've called the hotline, repeatedly. For two weeks at various times of day, it's been saying that their call volume is too high and to call back at another time. Is a government agency allowed to just not be reachable?!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Boston Symphony Orchestra free chamber music concerts

I just found out about this performance at Roxbury Community College on February 15. It requires tickets that can be reserved on the website, but they are free. It looks like they do these performances fairly often; the page also links to several others.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Make iced tea for basically free

I've started making iced tea to avoid buying sodas and drink mixes, and it really seems to work. The method I've been using is to boil some water with a couple of teabags, let it actually boil a bit so it gets stronger than most people would probably want tea, then dump it into a pitcher with about an equal amount of ice cubes. You can do black or green tea if you want caffeine and herbal tea if you don't, or a combination. Tea bags will run you about 3 cents a piece for basic black tea or 15-25 cents for flavored and herbal teas, though the more interesting teas can be almost free with coupons. Seriously cheap for a whole pitcher, and great for teens who don't want to drink plain water and parents who'd rather not waste money on junk food. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

DTA continues goal of making sure no one can get food stamps

I just ignored a call from an unknown number, because it's Saturday and I've only ever gotten sales calls from unknown numbers on weekends.

Sure enough, it was DTA. The person left a message and said that they received my income verification but not the recertification application (which was in the same envelope, of course). The person said they would send out another one. They then said "also your case is due to close, so someone will be contacting you to set up an appointment to come in about that." There's of course no reason it should be closing; our income is certainly low enough. I'm assuming it's yet another ridiculous situations where their response to any missing info or confusing info is to close the case, thus putting it on the individual to call and beg to have it examined.

I tried calling back the number that called me. I got a voicemail box saying someone would be out of the office on December 19th and returning the next business day.

I tried calling the 800 number. I spent more than 5 minutes listening to prompts and typing in my EBT card number, entire SSN, birth year, and ZIP code, then was told that the office was closed. If it's closed, why are people in it, calling me? I like to deal with stuff immediately and get it off my very-full plate. This is pretty aggravating. 

Oh, and the website is similarly dysfunctional; it requires a username and password that I created, EBT card number, SSN, and birthdate. Seriously? Banks and mortgages and so forth where people could potentially cause a lot more damage just require a username and password that they trust us to use our common sense with. They really just are determined to make it as hard as possible to get or use any benefits.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Trying to get Legoland to offer a low-income discount

It looks like the cheapest tickets for Legoland are $15, and that's when purchased online for admission after 4pm. I wrote to them using their contact form and suggested they offer a WIC/SNAP discount and listed some of the competing Boston-area businesses that offer it. If you're interested in making Legoland available to more families, try doing this as well -- it can't hurt.