Cook at Home to Save Money

Cook at Home to Save Money

Cooking is one of the most important skills for literally every single person to learn. The days of hoping you marry someone who can cook are over; even if you do, there will be periods of your life where you’ll need to cook for yourself.

Eating takeout all the time is hard on your wallet and your waistline, and cooking for yourself (or your family) has the benefit of allowing you to know exactly what is going into your meals. Additionally, for people with intolerances or allergies to certain foods, cooking for yourself might be literally lifesaving.

Saving Money by Cooking at Home

Particularly at the time of this writing, quarantine across most of the globe due to COVID-19 has us stuck in our houses, so there’s never been a better time to learn how to cook. Let’s take a look at some ways in which home cooking can benefit you, your wallet and your weight.

Cooking is a must for weight loss

If you’re trying to lose weight, cooking for yourself is the right way to go. Even though most restaurants have calorie and macronutrient breakdowns (fat, protein and carbs), those are still dependent on a chef that goes by exact measurements. A heavy hand with the sauce ladle can tip the calorie count 200 or more, and nobody wants that.

Since weight loss is based mostly on what you put into your body – mainly calories – knowing how many you’re taking in per day can be far more easily measured when you’re cooking for yourself.

Home cooking saves you money

While it’s a great thing to support local restaurants, particularly during these difficult times, you can’t reasonably do it every single day. Cooking is far cheaper than eating out, and it’s not difficult to see why.

When you map out a meal plan – you do make a meal plan each week I hope – you can usually ballpark how much it’s going to cost you. For a family of four, a frugal meal plan can be $100 or less, but to eat out for a family of four might cost upwards of $50 for one meal. The math is plainly obvious; $100 for an entire week of meals, or $50 for one single meal of takeout.

Cooking is so easy to learn

Despite what you may think, cooking isn’t incredibly difficult to learn. There are plenty of places online where you can learn basics of home cooking, even if you’re a complete novice. Youtube is a great place to find beginner recipes, cooking steps, tips and basic information.

For a new cook, one of the most daunting tasks is figuring out how to convert measurements – how many tablespoons in a cup, ounces in a gallon, etc. Having a reliable website to convert measurements is hugely helpful, even for a seasoned cook (or if you’re trying to make cooking fun but educational for the kids!)

The conversion tools at Culinary Schools.org are fantastic for quick conversions, no matter how new to cooking you are. I’ve been cooking for years but there’s times where I’m in the middle of a recipe and simply don’t know how to measure out an ingredient, especially when the directions are using metric versus imperial units.

They’ve also got a handful of weight loss calculators that are perfect for figuring out your macros, your body fat percentage and the amount you can expect to burn from working out. If you’re learning to cook to lose weight, they’ve got all the tools you could possibly need to scientifically progress towards your goal.

No matter what reason you have for embarking on the noble pursuit of learning how to cook, it’s not nearly as hard as you think, and the benefits are enormous. Cooking at home is a powerful, noble life skill, it can save you money and help you become the healthiest version of you. There’s never been a better time to learn how to cook for yourself.

RepairSmith Review

RepairSmith Review

We’re in constant search for things that can save you time or money, and this newest discovery is pretty unique. RepairSmith is a service that is currently based in California (primarily) but will be rolling – that’s a car pun – out to major cities across the US later this year.

RepairSmith Review

Their business is simple; take the mechanic to you, wherever you might be. Their mechanics are highly trained, well-vetted and did we mention they come to you? This means that if your car is stalled in your driveway or in the parking garage of your work, you can get it fixed right there. Their vans are exceptionally cool – equipped with a small mechanic’s shop worth of tools, diagnostic equipment and parts, their site boasts that they can handle 85% of common repairs wherever, whenever. They’re open 7 days a week, so even on a Sunday they can get you moving again, and if they can’t fix it on-site, they’ll bring you to one of their partner shops to get it worked on there.

On-Site Offerings:

– Brake pads and rotors
– Fluid fills and changes, including oil changes
– Alternator replacement
– Transmission rebuilding and replacing
– Replacement of catalytic converters
– Replacing spark plugs

What all does using RepairSmith entail?

Their website is incredibly easy to navigate – you can get an active quote in just a few minutes by plugging in your zip code. From there you choose from a handful of different repair options, add on anything else you can think might need fixing, and then submit. You’ll be given a number to call for a fast, simple quote and if you’re satisfied, you can set up the visit.

If by chance there’s more going on than they can fix right there, they always have garages standing by for rapid repairs, which is incredibly helpful.

Is RepairSmith worth it?

There are two things to consider when you’re looking at a new service; does it save you money and/or does it save you time over conventional approaches?

RepairSmith definitely saves you time – you can avoid sitting in the lobby of the mechanic while they change your oil and instead stay hard at work at home. Additionally their repair fleet can in many cases service your car before a traditional garage could get to it, meaning less time without a vehicle.

Monetarily, their services are on-par with traditional mechanic services and obviously pricing will vary based on a handful of factors (severity of the problem, model of the car, etc). You can also factor in the fact that this service saves you a tow in many situations, and prevents you from needing to be out of work. Even if their direct cost is more expensive on some jobs, overall you will save more money and time with RepairSmith for common repairs.

One of the best things I feel about their service is their 12-month/12,000 mile warranty on all their parts and services. While a good mechanic will stand behind their work, to have such a long-standing warranty is truly a testament to how confident RepairSmith is in their mechanics’ abilities.

If you live in LA and would like to give RepairSmith a try, there’s never been a better time. You can book at appointment at this link, and if you don’t live in LA, San Diego or Orange County in general, keep an eye on their site for their upcoming expansion. They might be coming to your city this year!

Healthcare Options When You’re Low Income

Healthcare Options When You’re Low Income

Healthcare and medical supplies for the most economically vulnerable often represent one part of a difficult choice. Choosing between critical medicines and eating, for instance, requires sacrifices that nobody should have to make. There are resources out there for people who are in low-or-fixed income situations to obtain their medical supplies cheap or free, but it’s a matter of the resources and the people being linked up.

Now before we go any further, I do want to say that this article in no way represents legal or medical advice. It’s merely my own thoughts and experience.

With that said, medical supplies, as defined under Medicaid, are typically disposable items for incontinence, diabetes or other chronic conditions that require testing or management. The constant resupplying of these items requires not only monthly payments but also a reputable and reliable provider.

There are, thankfully, a number of programs to help disabled, elderly and low-income families get their medical supplies for free or at the very least, drastically reduced in cost. We’re going to go over some options and help you determine the easiest, cheapest method for you to take care of your ongoing medical needs.

Healthcare Options When You’re Low Income

Qualifying for Programs

The first thing to do is to understand that budgeting for your medical supplies isn’t likely necessary, depending on what your income status looks like. For disabled and elderly people, the first step is to determine your Medicare eligibility. If you qualify, you can dramatically lower what you pay out of pocket every year for health services and supplies.

If you’ve ever served in the military, you likely qualify for veteran’s benefits through the VA. In some cases, these benefits can cover home health supplies.

Medicaid is the option for people who fall within a certain income bracket, depending on household size. It helps pay for medical supplies, doctor visits and other healthcare-related expenses. Qualification is based on annual income and allows you to get recurring shipments of medical supplies on a regular basis at little or no out-of-pocket cost.

Finally, check with local hospitals to see if they have clinics for low income families. Many will provide basic medical care and possibly some supplies, depending on where you live. These programs also partner with other local support for lower income individuals as well, so you can find a network of assistance when you need it most.

Once you qualify, find a reputable supplier

Once you have insurance or some other form of health cost coverage like what we detailed above, you can find a retailer that sells and ships medical supplies. For instance, incontinence has a variety of tools and supplies necessary to keep it managed. Finding a supplier that accepts your coverage and will ship directly to you can save you a large amount of money and worry.

One primary concern of people in low income situations is that they will reuse medical supplies because they don’t have the money to use fresh ones all the time when necessary. This exposes you to increased risk of infection or other complications, so having a constant supply of clean, disposable incontinence supplies is critical to maintain your health.

Don’t make unnecessary choices

There is no reason to pay more money than necessary for your medical supplies. Likewise, don’t put yourself in danger by reusing supplies you shouldn’t be. If you qualify for Medicare, Medicaid or veteran’s benefits, you can find a reputable medical supplies retailer who will ship fresh products directly to your door. There is help out there to keep you from having to make difficult decisions about your health, so please check into these programs today and start down the path to better health.

Black Friday Planning with Kohl’s

Black Friday Planning with Kohl’s

Camping out in a tent, watching people scramble for the last television – sounds like a typical Black Friday, doesn’t it? If you’ve never experienced the tradition of Black Friday planning and shopping, you might only have these examples on which to base your experience. For those of us who love the deals and the energy, however, Black Friday offers a yearly ritual that gifts us a head start on holiday shopping.

While a lot of commerce has turned to online stores, there’s nothing better than getting bundled up to go shopping in actual stores. With a perfect cup of coffee or hot chocolate in hand, you’re ready for anything. Any veteran of Black Friday knows, however, that the best shoppers have a strategy.

We’ve put together some tips that will make you into a Black Friday pro, even if you’ve never braved the craziness before.

Get in the right mindset

Bring your friends, pack some snacks and some tasty drinks; this is a long haul. If you go into Black Friday shopping with an aggressive mentality, you might think that will give you an edge. The reality is that it will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. It’s better to go in relaxed with backup and some treats to refuel. Some of the best holiday season memories are built around the strangeness and warmth of shopping at 3am, as weird as that sounds.

And speaking of – my one absolute “must visit” place on Black Friday is Kohl’s. I’ve mentioned this in past Black Friday posts, but seriously if you want the best of the best deals, Kohl’s is where they’re at!

Black Friday Planning with Kohl’s

Plan, plan, plan

You cannot go into Black Friday department store shopping without a strategy or coupons. Check your local paper the Sunday before Thanksgiving for all the best ads and coupons for Black Friday. If you don’t get the Sunday paper in your area, it’s worth buying one by itself, just for this season. In addition, check out sites like Slickdeals, which houses all of the coupons and hottest deals online in one convenient place. Slick Deals in particular lists the best buys, biggest discounts and strategies for each store. Finally, Slick Deals has a real-time forum where people can contribute information, like what deals are sold out and what prices are better elsewhere!

Make your money work twice

A lot of department stores have a rewards program; Kohl’s, Old Navy and JCP all give you store cash for each dollar you spend. This can be redeemed in increments for anything in the store. One of the best strategies I’ve ever used personally was buying as much of my gift list as I could from Kohl’s on Black Friday. This earned me about $500 in Kohl’s Cash, which I then redeemed during their Christmas sales, saving over $500 and finishing the majority of my list. If you can get some or all of your gifts from a place that offers this type of program, I highly recommend it.

Know what you’re getting for your effort

Those incredibly cheap televisions they have at the front of the store? Those are last year’s model, which if that sale doesn’t bother you then go ahead and fight for them. The same goes with toys during Black Friday; they’re often the hot toys of the holiday season past – the new hot toys will go on sale in December. Basically know when the discount isn’t worth the hassle!

Don’t forget to treat yourself

Last year, I scoured as many ads as I could to find places where the rewards program cash was huge. This lead me again to Kohl’s where I picked up a handful of kitchen appliances I had been wanting – an air fryer and a pressure cooker. In this case, however, these items also had rebates and discounts. After I got my Kohl’s Cash back and sent in the rebates, I got these items for free. In fact, I came out a little bit ahead on each one. The point is, don’t just pay attention to what’s on your list if you find a deal that is just beyond good!

Rethink Black Friday

If you’ve only got a negative impression of the Black Friday rush, I urge you to think twice. It can actually be fun if you let it, and the deals you can get are beyond compare. With a little planning, utilization of coupon codes and sites like Slick Deals, you’ll find that department stores are enjoyable no matter how late (or early!) you go.

How To Avoid Black Friday Mistakes

How To Avoid Black Friday Mistakes

Black Friday brings with it some terrific deals but also terrifying mistakes to avoid. I’m not saying there will be pits to jump over or fire to avoid; rather, these hazards are of the shopping-mistake variety.

With some tips and tricks and a little planning, you can avoid these easy-to-fall-for mistakes people make every year on Black Friday, saving you valuable time and money. Here’s what not to buy, places to avoid, and alternatives to both.

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Get Started with Mystery Shopping

Get Started with Mystery Shopping

If you’ve ever considered mystery shopping, you know it can be kind of…confusing. There are companies that claim to be mystery shopping firms but are really scams. Then there are mystery shop companies that never have any offers and just wastes your time. The fact is that if you’re doing it right, mystery shopping can be fun and earn you some free meals, items and actual cash. The trick is getting into it the right way.

Using this tutorial, you should be able to get started with mystery shopping, avoid predatory companies and start enjoying all the cool perks of the gig.

Earn Freebies and Cash By Mystery Shopping

get started mystery shopping

How to start with mystery shopping

The first thing you want to do is ensure that you know what mystery shopping entails. Most shops will require you to purchase goods or services for which you will be reimbursed down the line, and usually compensated on top of that. With that said, it can be a month sometimes before you’re paid out, so setting aside some funds for the sole purpose of this gig is a great idea.

Open a separate bank account or simply keep a ledger of mystery shopping expenses. This way you can see what you’re spending on shops and set aside some of your earnings to pay for future shops. For instance, we went to a local restaurant a few weeks ago, a shop that reimbursed us for the dining experience and paid us, but we won’t get paid for that until the end of the month. Dining out can be expensive with kids, so reinvesting into your side gig can keep costs from spilling over into your normal budget.

Check out the MSPA Americas’ website. Basically the who’s-who of mystery shopping partners and programs, the MSPA will get you started with companies and opportunities in your area, and help you avoid scammers.

Avoid Mystery Shop Scams

Once you know how to avoid scams, start finding opportunities. We were only signed up with Bestmark for a long time, and it allowed us a handful of jobs a month, usually restaurant visits, but hardly enough to really make money. Once we started to really look for local gigs, we found that we could actually earn additional, relevant income from mystery shopping. A few places to look are:

  • The best is always going to be Google. Search for your area and find quality companies with shops in your area.
  • Craigslist is another place where you might find companies scouting your area for shoppers, but be especially wary and only go with these opportunities if you can verify it’s from a reputable company.
  • Bestmark is a A+ Better Business Bureau company and is the largest, most reputable mystery shopping business there is. We’ve had dining, electronics shopping, cellphone shopping, and service opportunities through them and they always pay.
  • Market Force is another tried and tested name in mystery shopping. You can sign up and like the others, you’ll get paid out monthly for your efforts. Typically these are more retail shops than dining or services, but not strictly.
  • A Closer Look is another company that hosts mystery shops. They’re open to shops in both the US and Canada currently, but they are more selective on their shops. This means less opportunities overall but better incentives when you do get one.
  • Secret Shopper is last but not least in our list of reputable, online mystery shopping groups. They also have global opportunities if you’re not in North America.

Take Notes as a Shopper

Keep track of your shops, the companies you worked for and dates you went. This provides you a sort of resume from which you can solicit your own shops. If you know a company in your area is more selective about which shoppers they hire, this can give you an edge.

Be persistent. The best gigs and most opportunities go to the shoppers who are on-the-ball, respond quickly and complete shops regularly. Apply for as much as you can reasonably do, but don’t apply for things you will likely flake on, as that will impact your ability to get future jobs. Finally, complete the exit surveys and questionnaires as thoroughly as possible. Use good grammar, write in-depth, and do a fantastic job and you’ll be much more likely to get more work.

Other things to consider when getting started with mystery shopping

If you’re diligent, you’ll make extra money fast with mystery shopping. That said, be aware of a few things:

  • You will need to apply to forums, look for jobs regularly, and complete tasks to the best of your ability to make good income this way; no being lazy!
  • There will be some weeks where there doesn’t seem to be anything going on and you might get discouraged, but the best season for mystery shopping is around the holidays. This is where your diligence pays off, because by slogging through the summer, you’ll be one of the first people picked for good opportunities around Christmas and the New Year.
  • Never EVER get with a company that requires you to “make a deposit” or send them money to get you on a list or get started. These are always scams. A reputable company will only ever pay you out directly and will never ask for money from you. This is different, however, from shops that require you to make a purchase of dinner or a retail item and then reimburse you later on; these are often how you shops will go.
  • If you can’t get out to locations, some companies like Bestmark and Market Force have “phone shops”. These opportunities allow you to call a company and ask a few scripted questions. They’re quick, and usually pay $3-5 dollars each, which isn’t bad considering you can do them from home in your pajamas!
  • If the payment comes before the shop, or it seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are scammers that will pose as representatives of actual, reputable companies that will send you a huge check in advance of a shop, or just a big payment for a mundane task. These are scams, and you’ll need to be wary. Nobody is paying $100 to walk into a Best Buy and look at televisions!
  • If you get offers through text or phone calls, chances are good it’s not legit. Market Force has a tightly controlled app that they communicate with their shoppers through, and Bestmark communicates via email which links to their secure forums. Each company is different, so learn the channels of communication through which they operate and you’ll be safe.

Mystery shopping is a fun, simple way to earn some nice rewards

With a little effort, attention to detail, and persistence, you can get continual cash flow on the side for shopping at places you’d normally go. Free or cheap meals, discounts on goods and services or freebies are all part of the gig if you’re good at it, and seasonal upticks in business can mean some awesome potential around the holidays!

Be diligent and wary of scammers, write great reviews and make sure you’re applying for everything you can find and you’ll get the hang of mystery shopping in no time.

Do you have any experience mystery shopping, either in-store or on the phone? Do you make good money doing it? Let us know in the comments; our newbies would love your tips!