Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Uber Swagbucks offer: $12 in a couple of minutes, $90 if you work a bit harder

I just decided to check out the Uber offer that's been kicking around Swagbucks. It's listed at 9250 SB, but I clicked through and saw that it's 1250 just for signing up, then 8000 for your first ride, so I tried it. I entered my information on the Uber site and uploaded my driver's license. I usually don't give personal information to Swagbucks signup things when I've never heard of the company or it screams gimmick, but Uber is a reputable company, so I didn't mind. The next step was to upload my insurance information, which I wasn't willing to do since it has an exclusion for any paid ride-sharing service, and I'm not about to get my insurance cancelled. So I gave up.

Then I went back to Swagbucks and saw that it had credited me the 1250. Nice.

For those who don't speak Swagbucks, that's $12.50 in Amazon gift cards.

If your insurance doesn't exclude this type of use, you could have a friend take the ride so you don't have to actually be an Uber driver. Or if you know someone who drives for Uber and has the proper insurance rider, you could probably register using their car (I haven't checked whether two people can use the same vehicle).

Oh, and, obviously, if you want to sign up for Swagbucks to get a free $12.50, use my referral link, and then I can also get some Amazon gift cards. I'm currently saving up for a math textbook one of my kids needs.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Another trick to keeping track of eBay overhead

Since I've been selling so much on eBay, I've decided to start paying my eBay fees as I go, rather than waiting until I'm billed each month. Obviously the downside of this is that I'm giving eBay money that I could rightfully have available to me for a few weeks, but the upside is that this way the debt gets taken care of and the money doesn't accidentally get spent. It's essentially the same dilemma as whether to have enough income taxes withheld to get a refund versus having the money available to you and then owing taxes.

Specifically what I've been doing is this:

  1. Someone makes a purchase for $50 and pays for the item plus $4 shipping, and $54 goes into my PayPal account
  2. PayPal takes a fee of $1.87 (2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction) immediately, leaving $52.13 in my PayPal account
  3. I ship the item, paying $4 for shipping out of the same PayPal account, leaving $48.13
  4. I go into my account settings on eBay, where they add the fees to your account in real time even though they only require payment monthly, and see that they've charged me $5.40 for the sale (10% of the total of the item price and the shipping price)
  5. I make a one-time payment of $5.40, using the same PayPal account, leaving $42.73 in my PayPal account
  6. Now that all the fees are taken out, the transaction is completely over, and I withdraw the $42.73 to my bank account
This is proving to be a lot easier than setting aside money for the fees, or even leaving it in my PayPal account. I don't have to keep a spreadsheet with fees or anything if I just make a one-time payment every time I sell something. If I sell more than one thing before I get to the computer to ship my purchases, I can still make a one-time payment of the total fees I've accrued, and it works out the same way.

This calculator is useful for figuring out in advance how much you'll profit from a particular sale price, though it isn't necessary to use it if you're selling things that cost you nothing to acquire and you're charging actual shipping price. Any item priced at 99 cents or above with actual shipping price charged will net you a profit. The profit is 5 cents though, so you probably want to go with a few cents more to cover your envelopes and labels if you paid something for them. The calculator is quite useful though if you're selling something that did cost you something to acquire, or if there's a minimum profit you're willing to accept for your time. Just pay your fees as you go, and you won't have to worry about keeping data on your overhead, unless you really want to.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A critical look at food pantries

Having gone from being around the poverty line, to quite a ways above, to considerably below seems to have turned me into somewhat of an armchair sociologist. It's definitely fascinating to observe the privileges that come and go, as well as the able-to-present-as-middle-class one that might be the hardest for someone to obtain and hardest to take away.

Today I've been pondering food pantries. For the uninitiated, food pantries are (at least in states where food stamp and welfare distribution is funded and functional) programs that provide nonperishable and small amounts of perishable food to individuals and families who are either waiting for government food stamp (SNAP) benefits or who make too much based on the government guidelines but have a financial need because of a situation that the government isn't allowed to take into account. Some of these are run on an entirely volunteer basis, through houses of worship and other community organizations. Others are run through nonprofits using some combination of paid and volunteer resources. Some require participants to sign up and demonstrate financial need, some require identification of some sort to make sure people aren't participating more than they can allow, and others are completely anonymous.

If you've read anything I've ever written, you know that obviously I'm in favor of programs that provide for the needy. I of course favor a government that provides a high minimum standard of living for its people, but that's neither here nor there. In terms of programs that are available to us in 2000s Boston, I have worked at programs that provide for the needy, I've donated to them, and I've benefited from them -- both government-run and privately run. I wholeheartedly support these programs continuing to exist and being expanded and made easier to use.

But what I'm not sure I support is the current model of food pantries distributing actual physical food. And I have some skepticism around why this model persists.

The resources that go into these programs is immense. The programs collect food, usually at schools, businesses, and houses of worship. It's transported to a storage location. The storage locations can be quite large, up to full-sized warehouses for some of the larger programs. The larger programs run through nonprofits have full-time staff who are in charge of determining whether people are eligible. The smaller ones have volunteers running them, who could be spending their labor elsewhere, so it's not entirely free. Nothing is free. The programs often also distribute groceries to people who are older, disabled, have small children, etc., and can't easily come get the items. Again, even when this is volunteer labor, it comes from somewhere. They have distribution dates and times in which they have staff present, in a building that's climate controlled and up to sanitary codes and all that, for people to come and pick groceries.

This must cost a fortune. Surely it would be cheaper to mail people a grocery store gift card every month. (And allow people without a fixed residence or ability to safely receive mail to pick it up somewhere.) And probably frankly cheaper to skip the eligibility routine. I can't remember where I read this and my google-fu is failing me, but requiring people to sign off on something or speak to an actual person is a pretty damn good deterrent against people taking modest benefits that they aren't entitled to. And it makes sense to me; I think that even just having people put their name and address on a sheet and sign off that they meet the guidelines would result in very little fraud. I mean, really, do you think very many financially secure people are going to go hang out at a food pantry to get a few bucks' worth of groceries?

So, why does the food pantry model persist? Is it more about making the donors feel good than about providing food? And how much does the whole "I get to choose what poor people are allowed to have" play into it? That's what I imagine this is really about. I'm guessing that plenty of people who say they are basically progressive would be fine donating foods to a food bank and supporting its existence, but if you asked them about just giving gift cards, they'd have some conservative excuse about how "those people" would just use it to buy crap, or "those people" would buy something that isn't food.

We used these programs when The Thing™ happened and we were suddenly without much income, and I noticed that the food people donate to food banks is largely status quo "healthy" food. Which, I was cool with this because that's a lot of what we buy, but still, people seem to donate canned fruits and vegetables, boxes of plain low-cal foods like plain rice, plain pasta, a lot of canned tomato products, plain cereals, plain oatmeal. A good proportion of it was organic and high-end brands, too. I pretty much never saw anything like crackers I'd want to eat by themselves, any sorts of cookies, non-plain cereals, cake mixes, or anything like that. Just plain, mostly organic, fruits, vegetables, whole grains

Again, good stuff, for my family who has proper pots and pans and enough expendable income to buy milk, oil, produce, spices, sugar, and other things to add to it. But having known lots of food-insecure people in my life (and having had periods in my young adulthood where I didn't have stable housing or income), I have always have made sure to donate higher-calorie foods and foods that don't require other ingredients to make a decent meal. If the food pantry haul is all you have for the week, you're going to be better off with things like Mac and Cheese or rice and beans packets that don't need anything but water added. Or cans of stews and higher-calorie soups. Oh, and ramen. Ramen is 400 calories for one packet, which cost 10-25 cents. I make a lot of it myself. I add veggies, tofu, and eggs when I can, but I absolutely buy ramen largely because it's cheaper than rice or pasta and it ensures that everyone gets enough calories.

People rarely donate these things though. I rarely see any processed foods with a decent amount of calories that can be consumed on their own. I see organic, expensive, minimally processed foods. My only conclusion is that the people donating honestly think they're doing something really great for the poor people. They're thinking that they're providing healthier foods than we usually have. I mean, on some level they are; I don't often have organic $8 steel-cut oatmeal. But think about how many of the families using the food pantry don't have a fully stocked kitchen, only can afford the food the food pantry gives them, and would benefit more from the box of high-fructose-corn-syrup-arrific instant oatmeal packets. And think about how many more calories they would get for that $8 if they instead got several boxes of oatmeal packets.

I do really think the problem is that the people who do most of the donating, while well-intentioned, aren't thinking in terms of what they would want in the same situation. If I think about what people in this household have needed recently, we've had an adult who needed lunches to take to a workplace with a microwave but no fridge, kids who've needed to take a non-refrigerated, non-smashable-in-backpack snack to a day camp, and an instance in which someone needed to bring a celebratory item to share. Listen, our family is pretty happy with being unconventional, but even so, there is just no way we're going to send a bowl of plain oatmeal to an end-of-the-season celebration, or bring along a can of plain beans to microwave at work, or send a container of room-temperature pasta to camp when everyone else is bringing chips and granola bars. We make do with minimalist food at home, as you've seen here, but let's get real. We managed to provide for camp and work and all that with items we coupon for, but there's just no way we would have been able to do this on food pantry items alone if that was all we had access to. Yet the idea seems to persist that poor people don't need "junk food" like noodle packets and granola bars, and I'm sure we didn't need "fancy food" like the $3 package of seaweed I used to make cucumber sushi rolls for my kid's team.

I would love to see research as to 1) whether people would donate the same amount of money they spend on food pantry donations if they didn't get to control what people end up eating and didn't get the sense of altruism that they provided organic healthy foods to those poor people who don't know any better and 2) whether some of the people would donate at all, or whether they'd make snide comments about how "those people" would just buy junk, or sell the card, or whatever.

I mean, really, people could just as easily sell the food from the food pantry, right? If someone is really in that desperate of a situation that they're selling either food or their gift card, doesn't that mean that the people who are in a position to donate are in a much better place, and should have compassion for them? And what are we assuming poor people are buying if they do sell their card? I've heard that selling food stamps to buy diapers or pay for child care is fairly prevalent. Should this offend me? Yes, it does, but only in the sense that there are people in the wealthiest country in the world who are needing to do this.

And really, if someone is using any funds they can find to gamble or use substances, is the solution that we cut them off further from food so that they (and their dependents) are hungry too in addition to whatever illness they have? And as far as people buying junk, or buying fancy stuff, how does it affect me? Does it affect me any differently if I donate $20 a month and someone buys their kid a birthday cake instead of organic oatmeal? Especially because nearly all of what I donate would be going to feed a family, instead of the cash running the program and the organic oatmeal going to people who might prefer other things. I would love to know if someone has looked into moving food banks to a cash/gift card model instead of the current model, and what conclusions they came to.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

WTHDIDWTV: Still moar cucumbers

I did another google search for cucumber recipes, because they're continuing to take over. We keep giving them to people and eating them ourselves, and there keep being cucumbers. This was a quick and easy lunch; cucumbers, dill, and cottage cheese, served on toasted pumpernickel from Fair Foods. It's a little hard to eat, because the cucumbers slip off, but it was really good. Except notice how a whole lunch only uses six cucumber slices. There just is no way to get rid of these things! Argh!

Friday, September 23, 2016

WTHDIDWTV: Sweet potatoes, kale, corn, zucchini

Tacos! Who doesn't love tacos? I'm a big fan both of the fast-food Tex-Mex type and the more authentic type; I just think of them as pretty much completely different foods.

Today I made the Mexican type with stuff I had around the house. The cost was about a dollar to feed the whole family with some leftovers.

I had tortillas that I got free with coupons. They're Old El Paso, which are overly processed and kind of gross, but they were free. I had sauteed kale and sweet potatoes from the other day, which were from Fair Foods. I had zucchini from my garden and corn that someone gave us, which I also sauteed together. It was huge zucchini full of large pumpkin-like seeds, which I left in and cooked as-is, since these seeds roast up nicely and are often included in Latin food. The kale and sweet potatoes were generically seasoned since I used half of the batch in my quiche fritatta whatever thing the other day, and the corn and zucchini I cooked up with a lot of hot peppers and fajita-type seasoning, intending to use them just for this. I added canned kidney beans I got for a few cents with coupons, and some sour cream that I got with a coupon. Good stuff.

For dessert we had cucumbers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

WTHDIDWTV: Sweet potatoes, kale, onions, cucumbers

Hey where'd I go? I just logged in on the computer after a month or so of not doing so, and I realized that I screwed up some setting and was sending all my posts from mobile into a drafts folder instead of publishing them. I guess it's not much of a blog if people can't see it, hm?

So, here I am. Um, I made some stuff with produce from Fair Foods and our tiny garden. We had a bunch of sweet potatoes and kale. I sauteed them with onions and herbs from our garden, then made a thing. I'm unsure whether it's a quiche, frittata, stratta, omelette, casserole, or what. And the sites google pulled up about what these are didn't agree with each other. So it's just going to be a thing.

This thing was incredibly easy to make. Just pour veggies, eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, and seasonings into a large flat pan, then bake until done. The cottage cheese is optional; I got several big containers of it from couponing last week. If you don't like cottage cheese, don't worry, as long as you do like dairy products and soft cheeses in general; when you put it in something that cooks at a high temperature, it melts completely, and it's indistinguishable from ricotta, cream cheese, or other dairy products that you might use in this way. This works in lasagne and stuffed shells too. And of course, I served it with cucumbers, because our garden is producing them like crazy with no end in sight.