Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Review--Smarterbucks

I heard about a website called Smarterbucks a while back, and was immediately curious about it.  It works similar to Ebates, which means that when you shop online at certain retailers, you first log into their site (Ebates or Smarterbucks) and they track your purchases giving you back a percentage of what you spent.  Ebates gives you back cash, but Smarterbucks makes a payment on your student loans.

I was intrigued.  After all, if I'm going to be spending money at certain retailers anyway, it's always nice to get some back, even if it is a mere 2%.  So I signed up, and played around with it for a while.

The Good:

  • I think this is a good system, and it's nice to get something back in exchange for letting your purchases be tracked.
  • It's really nice to have small payments made to your student loans that you don't even have to think about.
  • Something for nothing! Who doesn't want that!?
  • They also have the new option of taking online surveys to earn cash toward your loans.
  • They have a debit card option that nets you more cash back since you get cash back for everything you purchase and aren't limited to their pool of online retailers.

The Bad:

  • Unlike Ebates, which posts your cash back within 24 hours, Smarterbucks takes FOREVER.  It takes literally a month before anything posts to your account.
  • They are very aggressive about getting you to sign up for their debit card, which I don't want to do though that seems like the best way to get more free money paid to your loans.  Has anyone done this?  Care to comment?
  • Ebates tells you when your next payment is coming, and I couldn't find that info on the Smarterbucks site at all, so I guess it will just be a surprise.
  • I didn't find a lot of retailers I wanted to buy from, so I just placed a few test orders with Old Navy, which was only 2% cash back.
  • Naturally, getting cash back for spending might make you buy more, so it's a bit of a Catch-22, but when you're spending money you would have anyway, I see no harm in it.
  • I tried to take about 20 of their surveys to earn extra cash, but I got kicked out of each one for not meeting the criteria and earned nothing.
Overall, there's no reason why I would discontinue doing this, since it really only works in my benefit.  I'm never going to buy enough stuff that it will have a significant impact on my total student loan debt, but every little bit helps.  It's not a perfect system, but it is new, and they seem to be improving it pretty quickly.

Anyone else have any experience with Smarterbucks?

*This is not a paid post and Smarterbucks has no clue who I am, I just wanted to let people know it exists.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Food Waste Friday: The Trifecta

I am sad to report that this was not a super successful food waste Friday for me, but an example of the times when you just can't help but waste food (unfortunately).

That's 1/2 a tub of cottage cheese, a jar of hot fudge sauce and a small amount of broccoli slaw that turned strangely pink (but still tasted ok).

In the case of the cottage cheese, buying it was a bit of an experiment.  I love cottage cheese, but I'm super picky about it.  To date, the only brands I like are Cass Clay (available only in the midwest), and the Stop and Shop brand.  I can tolerate the Friendship brand, but it's way overpriced.  The one pictured above is Target's store brand, and it just didn't do it for me.  I gamely ate half of it, and meant to choke the other half down, but it was starting to go off and therefore goes into the trash.

The broccoli slaw was good, but I just didn't get around to eating it.

The hot fudge was the most disgusting thing I've consumed in years.  I had borrowed a yonana from a friend, and wanted to make hot fudge sundaes.  I got a really good hot fudge recipe from my mother, but the day I set out to buy the ingredients, I was all overwhelmed and could not bear the thought of searching the whole store to find sweet and condensed milk.  So, I bought Mrs. Richardson's hot fudge, and I'm here to tell you: DO NOT DO WHAT I  DID.  It tastes like brown plastic, and it settled into my stomach like a brick.  You microwave it, and then it immediately solidifies into a hard lump of awful.  I kept it around for a few weeks thinking that maybe I would want to eat it again, but I just don't.

How did you do this week?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Minimalist Inventory--Kitchen

This is not my kitchen, but it's similar
In my increasing push to be more minimalist, I've purged a lot of items from my home, or just not acquired them.  I love the test of ingenuity that comes from not having something, but then finding a way to work around it.  My rule, for the most part, is that I only want to have things in my house that I actually use.  That said, there are allowances to be made for things that don't serve a real purpose but have sentimental value.  Probably the easiest way to do this is to break it down room-by-room.  We'll start with the kitchen, since that's a room people like to buy a  lot of gadgets and just stuff for.

Dishes:  As I've mentioned before, I only have four dinner plates.  This means that if all four are dirty, I have to wash one, but it honestly hasn't been an issue at all.  I have six salad plates that get more use, seven bowls (I'm more than certain I will break one in the coming year, I break a bowl at least every nine months).  I have too many glasses and mugs right now, but I'm deciding which ones to get rid of.  Ultimately, I'd like to have about four mugs--one for coffee, one that's a good size for tea, and two backups for when other people come over and want a hot beverage.  I also have various food storage containers, of course.

Pots and Pans: I have one medium sized sauce pan, one bigger pot that I make mashed potatoes in, and one large frying pan.  The bigger pot gets used the least, but I do like having it around.
In the move, BF took both of the cookie sheets we have (one was good, the other was pretty gross), and I took the pizza pan.  At first I was really worried I'd have to buy a cookie sheet, but I just use the pizza pan for everything.  I don't do much baking, and you can roast vegetables on a pizza pan just as easily as a cookie sheet.  I also have a glass baking dish and a round pie dish that I use for quiche (note to self: make some quiche).

Appliances:  I have a coffee maker, microwave, electric tea kettle, coffee grinder, toaster oven, foreman grill, stick blender, food procesor and crockpot.  With the exception of the crockpot, stick blender and food processor, I use all of those nearly every day, and I got rid of my regular toaster when I realized that I didn't have the counter space for it.  The toaster oven does the same thing.  I don't really use the food processor, so I may get rid of it.  I bought it because I (for some reason) had a giftcard to Sears and had no idea what to buy there, and to make hummus.  Turns out, I have never made a batch of hummus I've actually enjoyed, and I hate cleaning the thing when I'm done with it.  We shall see.

Two other things that I don't use much, but that I haven't gotten rid of yet are my stovetop espresso maker and my French press.

This is because once upon a time, I broke the carafe for my coffee maker and had to rely heavily on the French press.  For some reason, instead of having a backup coffee carafe, I have a backup French press even though I don't really like French press coffee.  I may have also kept it because I kept thinking there would be a time when we didn't have power, but I would need to have coffee.  Now that I've ditched the stovetop kettle for an electric one (faster and more energy efficient), I can't really live that survivalist dream anyway.  Also, I buy my coffee whole bean and wouldn't be able to grind it without electricity--man, I just didn't think that through at all!
 I kept the stove top espresso maker because BF would use it occasionally, but I think it might just be time to say goodbye to that.

Cutlery:  I have about six each of knives, forks and spoons; a pizza cutter, can opener, bottle opener, large and small paring knife and a steak knife that I bought at a rummage sale in 1996.  Yes, there was one time someone brought a pineapple to a potluck I was hosting and we had a hell of a time figuring out what to cut it with, but other than that, I have pretty much exactly what I need.  I initially wanted to get a better knife for cutting vegetables, but the large paring knife works just fine.

One thing that I have in the kitchen that is utterly ridiculous is a pizza dough docker:

It's the very definition of a uni-tasker, but I made pizza professionally for five years, and grew super attached to this little gadget.  Plus, I use it just enough that it proves its worth.

Obviously, your minimalist kitchen will look different depending on how you use it, but this is really working for me.  The dishes can't pile up because there aren't that many, and I don't have a bunch of stuff stored away collecting dust.  I've never read a recipe or had a notion of something I wanted to eat and been unable to prepare it, so I'm doing pretty well, though when I look at this list, it does still seem like a lot of stuff.  Probably a true minimalist would say this is not a minimalist kitchen, but I'm operating on the principle that I use everything I have and that justifies keeping it.