Friday, December 30, 2016

Oh, or, instead of getting $5 free, you could get $30 free

So I did the Dollar Shave Club Swagbucks deal, and it worked flawlessly -- $1 was charged to my debit card, I got credited 600 Swagbucks three days after I did the deal, and the razor and cartridges showed up today, which is six calendar days after I placed the order.

I decided to look on eBay and see whether people buy these razors and cartridges. (Helpful hint: If you want to know what people are actually willing to pay for something on eBay, rather than what people are trying to make you think it goes for, go into the sidebar and select "sold listings only.") Yeah, so, the starter package ("The Executive" razor plus four six-blade cartridges, in a carton with some shaving product and some leaflets) sells for $20-$25. Dayum. Yes, I sure would like that much free money.

Just listed my Dollar Shave Club starter package on eBay. I'd suggest ordering one and selling it on eBay even if you don't do Swagbucks. Because dayum.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Donating used items helps low-income families. So why are so many low-income folks against it?

From Vox: "A lot of the advice I hear about what to give, and what not to give, is well-intentioned, but it's rarely informed by the experience of the people who actually rely on thrift stores to keep their closets stocked and their budgets balanced."

As someone else who does a lot of shopping at thrift stores and on eBay, I will say that this is largely on point. Yes, people like me will buy things that you think should be thrown out rather than donated. I have no superstitions about using something that may have touched who knows what; we wash everything. And stuff that's got some slight wear? It's going to get that way anyway the first time it's used.

The one thing I think this article does get wrong though is the suggestion that it's mainly wealthy people who think no one wants something slightly worn. As a long-time resident of a mixed-income, racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood, I actually notice that my friends who tend to be the most meticulous about things needing to be new and flawless are people who have grown up in intergenerational poverty.

I get why this happens. I've written before about how my family, despite being poor, has enough educational and other privilege that people think "resourceful" and "hippie" when they learn that we eat a lot of rice and beans and most of our belongings are from thrift stores, rather than thinking "can't afford hats and gloves for their kids" or "better call child protective services." A lot of families don't have these same protections as we do. I absolutely get why people without a lot of privilege feel the need to clothe their children in new and spotless garments and to go into debt to have brand-new matching furniture sets in every room. Many people, unfortunately, need to live in such a way that no one can question that they can provide for their families properly. My poorer friends who do shop at thrift stores, barter, hand items down among their families, and so forth tend to be people who have more protection against potential bias, generally through things like education, housing stability, and participation in community organizations.

What I don't really get is people's tendency to shun being a part of people reusing items even on the giving end. I frequently observe friends of mine living in poverty stating that they absolutely won't donate used items to charity, typically because, "that's nasty." Stacks of brand-name, barely used clothing and shoes go into the trash. Even some of my friends' teens, who love to make money selling electronics and similar things locally or online, want no part in the reuse of clothing or household items. Now that know firsthand that people will buy absolutely anything on eBay, I wonder if I would get anywhere letting them know they can make money with the clothing they would ordinarily throw away.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Dollar Shave Club offer on Swagbucks: One razor plus $6.81 Amazon money for a dollar

I just did this offer. I'm getting one razor shipped to me for $1 (paid by credit/debit card), and 600 Swagbucks (worth $6.81 on Amazon if you redeem in batches of 2200 points for $25) credited to my account within 3 days. After the free trial, Dollar Shave Club doesn't actually seem to be a good deal, so I'm going to cancel; I'm only in this for the better-than-free deals, obviously.

If you need a Swagbucks account, this is a good time to sign up using my link. We both get even more free stuff than usual, since they're doing a promo right now. And then you can get your friends free stuff, and they can get their friends free stuff, and since this is a damn pyramid scheme like all of these things are, the people who wait too long don't have anyone to refer to get free stuff. But even without referrals, anyone can still do deals like this razor thing, so go do it!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Ship Goodwill donations for free if you can't drop them off

I'm not sure how green this actually is, in terms of using up a box and taping it up and printing a label and all that rather than just walking over and dropping off donations in overflowing trash bags like we tend to. But for people who live in rural areas, or who can't always leave loved ones to do errands, or aren't physically able to get out as much as they'd like, Give Back Box sounds pretty great. It's definitely better than tossing perfectly usable items in the trash, which I see far too many people doing.

How it works is: You put your things in any box you have lying around (they're partnered with businesses like Amazon and REI that are specifically encouraging people to use their boxes for this purpose, but it can be any box), print a label from their site, and arrange for UPS/USPS to come get it. It then gets shipped to Goodwill.

In terms of Goodwill Industries, I am aware that the charity is problematic in some ways. Their stores are run as a sheltered workshop program, which means that individuals with significant disabilities are paid less than minimum wage to sort, tag, wash, and display merchandise. Employees with a higher level of independence get paid minimum wage to work the cash registers and interact with the public. Some disability advocates believe that no one should be a subminimum wage, even people with severe disabilities who aren't able to work without constant supervision and assistance, who would be watching movies all day in an adult daycare program if sheltered employment wasn't available. Other advocates have raised concerns that Goodwill continues to pay some folks a subminimum wage even after they've progressed and have demonstrated that they can complete a typical amount of work with minimal extra support. Be aware though that a hoax post is going around stating that Goodwill is a for-profit company and the CEO makes $2.3 million per year, and this information is not in fact accurate. They are a nonprofit and Charity Navigator rates them highly.

In the Boston area, if you are able to donate in person, or you have a donation large enough for them to send a truck, I would suggest donating to Boomerangs. They support the AIDS Action Committee and are completely legit. Their website also has a list of charities where you can donate items that thrift stores don't take. But if you have a smaller amount of items and would otherwise be putting them in the trash, please check out Give Back Box and help those items get reused by struggling families instead of ending up in a landfill.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Taxpayers claiming EITC won't see refund until late February

From the IRS website:

"The IRS reminds taxpayers that a new law requires the IRS to hold refunds claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until Feb. 15. In addition, the IRS wants taxpayers to be aware it will take several days for these refunds to be released and processed through financial institutions. Factoring in weekends and the President’s Day holiday, the IRS cautions that many affected taxpayers may not have actual access to their refunds until the week of Feb. 27."

Well that's annoying. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Graze box: It was free, but eh

My Graze box showed up today. I got this through a Swagbucks deal in which I paid $1 shipping for a free trial of Graze, then earned a couple dollars' worth of Swagbucks.

The concept is really more of a novelty than utilitarian. The snacks are small, definitely more of a tasting than an actual snack. I was thinking they'd be nice to take for lunch on the go or send with the kids when they don't have time for real meals between activities (like I often do with homemade muffins or energy bars I get with coupons), but they're not substantial enough even for that. The snacks list the calorie content, and most are not even 100 calories.

I haven't tried the snacks yet, but they look good. They're basic enough I can't imagine they'd be bad; mostly assortments of dried fruits and nuts and things. One of the ones I was sent is a "flapjack," which is their term for something like an energy bar, only shaped closer to a square than a bar. I also got a Tom Yum dried-soup-in-a-cup-type thing, which sounds promising. So, sure, it was a fun little thing to receive, considering it was free, but overall I'm not impressed. In fact, given that the actual subscription is quite expensive, it seems downright frivolous. You can get normal portions of wholesome snacks at Trader Joe's or from Annie's or whatnot for a lot less money.
Box pictured here with junk mail for scale. See? SMALL.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

MA DCF foster adoption subsidy payment schedule 2016-2017

I scanned this and am posting it here for other families who foster, have guardianship of relatives, etc. DCF typically is almost a year behind in posting it on their site. As of today, they still have last year's up. I couldn't find my paper copy and tried to google and see if it was posted anywhere. I found a ton of people looking for it, but didn't actually find it.

So, here it is, the 2016-2017 MA Massachusetts DCF Department of Children and Families Foster Care and Adoption/Guardianship Subsidy Payment Schedule, which runs from July 2016 through June 2017 and includes the dates for foster payments, adoption subsidies, guardianship subsidies, clothing checks, and holiday bonuses from the aforementioned Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. (Hey, just trying to make this findable on The Google, OK?)

Click here to see it full size. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Ways to reduce food waste

I thought this link might be useful to many. It seems quite relevant to those of us who use Fair Foods and end up with a ton of produce we need to use up quickly.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Good site for comparing prescription costs

A friend told me about GoodRx. I haven't played around with it much, because we are super fortunate to have Masshealth, but the site works, and various interwebs reviews tell me the information is accurate. Apparently the out-of-pocket cost for various meds can be a few dollars at one pharmacy chain and a few hundred at another. So definitely check it out before paying if you're ever told something isn't covered.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Free book giveaway

Thanks to a generous donation of Disney inventory from First Book and the AFT, the BTU and BTU-PAC will be giving away 25,000 FREE Disney books!
When:   Tuesday, December 13, 2016, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Where:  Boston Teachers Union, 180 Mt. Vernon Street, Dorchester, MA 02125
Parking Available: Use 80 Day Boulevard, Dorchester for GPS directions.
MBTA Accessible: Less than a 5 minute walk from the JFK/UMass Red Line.

Click here for more information.
Also, the person who sent me the invite mentioned that there will be books for all reading levels, up through highschool. Typically these events tend to only have preschool or early elementary books, so this is nice to see.

I can't find additional information as to whether the books will all be Disney-themed, or whether it's just a partnership. I checked out the First Book website, which has a lot of great information and resources, and it seems to indicate that they receive a lot of funding from Disney, but doesn't suggest that the events center around Disney books. It's possible someone misunderstood, or it's possible that this will be Disney books. It seems worth checking out even for people who stay away from Disney for social reasons, because Disney also owns Star Wars and a bunch of other media that most people find less problematic.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Today I Learned: Socks and underwear are not clothing least at Target anyway. They have this sweet deal right now on "clothing, shoes, and jewelry" where you can get $10 off of $50 or $25 off of $100 using checkout code STYLE. The fine print didn't list any exclusions, but the promotion didn't work for the underwear and socks I was going to order. Pajamas were included though, and a lot of things, especially Cat and Jack and the other house brands, are already on sale.

There's also 25% off cold-weather items, which is even more ambiguous and isn't clarified on the site, but likewise, when you go put it in your cart and enter the code, it will list "promotion code COLD applied to this item," so you can easily tell what to take out or how much more you need to spend.

Monday, December 5, 2016

HomeChef trial was definitely worth it

I'm finally getting around to posting about the two meals we got for $2.75 from HomeChef. So, it was easy to place the order, and we got to pick which meals we wanted out of a selection of meals available during that week. We chose a risotto and a calzone. The food came in a box with gel ice packs and lined with insulated sheets, which the website states is safe to be left outside if you aren't home when it arrives. I ended up refreezing the ice packs because free ice packs, and saving the insulation stuff for packing fragile eBay items, because, well, you know what blog this is.

The risotto ingredients
The boxes contained everything we needed for the recipes, including things like flour, rice, and butter. The only things we had to provide were oil, salt, and pepper. Everything was measured out and neatly labeled. I snapped a photo of the risotto package, minus the little bottle of white wine which apparently didn't make it into the photo. Oh, the meals also generally come with a few reusable-type plastic bottles, like the kind you buy to put travel toiletries in or pack salad dressing with your lunch in. Zing!

I assume HomeChef is intended for people who don't cook much, but have a basic familiarity with food and kitchens. The recipes include a lot of photos of what each step is supposed to look like and how you can tell when it is done. We don't fall into the don't-really-cook demographic, but I would say the recipes and the pre-prepped ingredients would be suitable for people who don't cook. Keep in mind you do need basic kitchen items though (pots, pans, baking sheets, knives), but nothing you can't get at IKEA or Dollar Tree. The recipes were simple and straightforward enough that a couple of elementary-aged kids were able to make the calzone without any difficulty.

I particularly liked the risotto recipe because it's something I've never made before, and actually didn't really understand how it's made. I've certainly made rice and kind of stir-fried it with whatever produce I had in the house, but it's not quite the same.

The "garnish" is only because I forgot one piece of kale
Risotto gets its texture (kind of overdone compared to how rice is generally eaten most places, but creamy and firm rather than sticky and mushy, sort of a mac-and-cheese texture) by frying the grains of rice in oil until toasted, then adding a small amount of water at a time and boiling it away until the rice starts to get sticky, then adding more and doing this for about 25 minutes until it's the right texture. This was intriguing to learn, and definitely something I'll try again. The rice that's used is arborio rice, which is typically expensive. Thrive Market has it though, so I added it to my most recent box of mostly free stuff. 

The other recipe was a calzone, which was also great and easy and fun to make. It uses that two-ingredient bread recipe that I've been curious about, but not curious enough to actually buy self-rising flour, which seems wasteful. It turned out so well though that I did actually cave in and buy self-rising flour, which I've been using to make pizza and rolls and things lately. The only downside is that the recipe requires yogurt and won't work without it, so it doesn't work if you have people who can't eat dairy even when cooked. In that case, use this recipe, which is a little more time-consuming, but still very cheap and easy.

Calzones are something I never think to make, but they're so easy and versatile. I really should just come up with a list of different foods to make with random produce. Basically what you do is saute whatever you want to put in it (this was mushrooms, red pepper, broccoli, onions, I think a few other things), mix in some cheese if desired, and stick it inside dough and bake it.

The meals were quite big. I ordered the smallest (i.e. cheapest) box available, which was two servings of each meal. They really are midrange-restaurant-type servings though, so two servings plus the salads we served it with was enough for a whole family.

Overall, the HomeChef recipes were quite fun. It allows you to put your subscription on hold indefinitely instead of cancelling it, so that's what I've done. I'm thinking I might order from them again as an alternative to going out to dinner. I think the standard price is about $10 per meal, which is much cheaper than going out, and in most cases cheaper than buying all of the ingredients, since they only give you exactly as much as you need. The way it shows up at your door and is a new recipe makes it feel to me like something that would be a better birthday dinner or dinner with company than just cooking something you usually make, without the expense of going out to dinner or ordering food.

Friday, December 2, 2016

70% off everything at Aeropostale

Everything is 70% off online and in stores. FYI their kids' pants start at size 4 and all have adjustable waists. Some stuff is ridiculously low, like $1 and $2. And there's a $20 off $100 deal if you use your Visa card, promo code VISA after you've entered the card number.