Sunday, September 29, 2019

Deutsche Kuche Harvest Potato Soup (Aldi)

Pretty darn good, as far as canned soups are concerned.
Those Germans are at it again! I’ve mentioned in another review that I’ve really started shying away from canned soups because of the ridiculously high sodium content. However, suddenly being thrust back into Poorville for a little while (don’t worry…won’t bore you with the details) my wife and I found ourselves once again pinching pennies, and buying things that we got away from, and in many cases, never really wanted to go back to.

And that’s pretty much how we ended up with a can of Deutsche Kuche’s Harvest Potato soup: It looked good, it was pretty inexpensive ($1.99 for a large can), and would be quick and easy to just heat up and serve. Sadly, this stuff doesn’t skimp on the sodium…in fact, it’s even worse than most soups, so don’t let the plain packaging make you think you’re getting something light and healthy…one serving of this contains a disgusting 42% of your recommended maximum daily sodium intake. What does that mean? Eat a whole can (which are three servings), and you’ve just absorbed 126% sodium…hope you weren’t planning on eating anything else that day!

I was a little hesitant to try this, because I have to admit I’m one of those men that like their soups chunky…I want to feel like I’m getting something of substance with my soup, whether it be large chunks of potato, or chicken. I like soup as a meal, and this clearly did not fit the bill, with barely-noticeable chunks of carrots and potato drowning in a sea of broth: It was a definite step in the opposite direction. There also wasn’t any meat in it, another thing I favor in soups; again, probably to make me feel like I’m getting something of actual substance in it. This has none at all.

Yet surprisingly, it’s a pretty flavorful soup. My wife hates canned soups of just about all kinds, but she really “warmed” up to this one (haha!); we bought two cans, and she ended up eating half of it with me for dinner one night, and then made the second can for herself a few nights later. We’ve been married for over ten years, and I can literally count all the times I’ve seen her eat canned soup on one hand, so this is a pretty big deal.

I see what she sees in it…it’s not super-flavorful, so it’s light enough to appeal to those that don’t need a kick in the taste buds, but it’s also not bland, like many canned soups tend to somehow be, despite the massive salt content. It’s got a nice potato soup base, with just the right amount of additional spices to make it a tasty little soup. It’s hard to explain, so you’ll just have to try it to see what I mean. I will say the can claims it is “thick and creamy”, but both times we made it, it’s actually very thin; other than that, it’s easily worth the $2 asking price.

Overall: 7.5/10. I don’t usually like thin soups, and I especially don’t like thin vegetable soups, but this one really hit the spot. I always worry when “potato” is the main feature on a soup product, because potatoes on their own tend to be very boring. Thankfully, they’re anything but boring here, combining with carrots and spices to make it a delicious, but still fairly light, flavor. Downside is the excessive sodium content, which is even massive compared to most other canned soups…eating one whole can (which admittedly, is quite a bit) amounts to a whopping 126% of your recommended daily maximum sodium intake. Ouch. Regardless, it's one of the few Deutsche Kuche products that are available as part of Aldi's permanent inventory, and there's good reason why.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Daily Basics Soft & Strong Bath Tissue (Aldi)

A good product for the non-discerning asswiper.
My wife and I have differing viewpoints on what constitutes a “good” toilet paper: She prefers to have the pillow-soft, multi-ply paper that caresses the privates as it delicately cleans; I say, as long as it wipes without tearing, either itself or my asshole, then it's a winner. Why spend more for “luxury”? After all, even the more expensive stuff still performs the same function in the same manner: manually cleaning your privates after you use the toilet. Where's the luxury in that?

Our compromise? Since we have two bathrooms, I buy her whatever kind she wants from Aldi (she's thankfully not “above” private label brands, as long as it's appropriately more expensive), and I usually just get the dollar-store special to keep in my personal toilet room. I don't have a “favorite” brand, so I tend to try whatever's available wherever I happen to be when I remember (generally too late) that I'm out of toilet paper. And on one occasion, that happened to be at Aldi, where they offer Daily Basics Soft and Strong Bath Tissue.

Many stores have their own private label toilet paper brands, and in almost all instances, you're going to be looking at around a $1 price tag for four rolls. Aldi's version is noticeable because it's cheaper...much cheaper. We're talking to the tune of just $.59 for four standard-size rolls. But is that price even worth it to an indifferent man like myself? Or is it even too cheap for me? Let's take a look, shall we?

You can tell it's cheap the moment you take it out of the packaging: even though it's 2-ply (I guess I do have a preference after all: two-ply TP tends to be stronger), the two layers are very loosely attached to one another. This gives it an overall sloppy appearance that tells everyone that comes into contact with it that you're a cheapskate, even if it's on a roll and the packaging is hidden. The cheapness is even more apparent when you to use it: the cardboard roll in the middle is not synchronized to move with the rest of the roll, almost threatening to fall out at any moment. I don't typically use it on a roller (I'm a man and too lazy to take the 2 seconds required to set that up) so I can't speak as to how they perform on there, but I'm sure it'd be fine...just maybe a little bumpy and aesthetically displeasing.

On to “performance”: despite the evident cheapness, it functions as well as any other toilet paper I've tried, at least in accordance with my weak standards. That is to say I've never had it tear in mid-wipe, or cause any other issues that have lead to...unpleasant situations. As can be expected, the “comfort” level is certainly lacking, so don't expect it to feel like you're caressing your anus with satin bedsheets, or anything, but it's still not even the worst toilet paper I've tried in this regard.

“Bottom” line (pun intended) is that this is a pretty solid TP for the non-discerning family members, or for those on a strict budget, or a great paper to have on hand for guest rooms, or as an emergency backup for when you run out of the good stuff, or a restroom that doesn't see much action. Because, let's face it, you can't really expect much when you're paying $.15 a roll—and “not much” is exactly what this delivers. But in a good way.

Overall: 7/10. It certainly looks cheaply made, with wobbly cardboard rolls that look ready to fall out at any given time, two layers that seem to be held together with a single dab of glue, and it's nowhere near the softest tissue paper on the market, but for a ridiculous $.59 per 4-pack, it's worth all those tradeoffs for the non-discerning asswiper. Even if it's not for you, it functions as an emergency backup for when you run out of the good stuff and forget to replenish, or as a cheap option for guest bathrooms. It might not be a great toilet paper in any sense of the word, but it's great for the price, as I've used far worse that were nearly twice the price.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Elevation by Millville Chocolate Meal Replacement Shake (Aldi)

A tasty and affordable way to help lose weight.

I was a pretty big fan of Fit & Active’s chocolate diet shake, which they sold in four-pack bottles for $3.19 (if memory serves me right). It was never a constant purchase for me, because I never diet, but I liked having them on hand for their intended purpose: as a meal replacement, for nights that I was either too lazy to make something, or got so focused on a task that I didn’t realize until 10 p.m. that I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch. Hey, it happens.

Well now, the Fit & Active shakes are gone, and seem to have been replaced with a similar product from Elevation by Millville, the line that tackles high-end energy bar and supplement knockoffs (and generally very well). Since there are six of them, the price has understandably gone up, but it’s a comparable per-bottle price, with 6 bottles retailing for $4.79 (edit: it's now $4.99, a hike that isn't drastic enough to affect the final score). It’s a little pricier than I’d normally like to spend on diet supplements, but again, it’s a nice option to have around for when the only other option is “nothing”.

It’s been a little while since I’ve had Fit & Active’s version, so I don't feel like I can accurately compare the two flavors, but from what I remember, that one was much smoother and more chocolatey. Elevation by Millville’s version has a slightly stronger chocolate flavor that isn’t very sweet, and even threatens to enter “bitter” territory as it slides down the throat, but thankfully it never does. There’s also a certain graininess to it that tells you you’re drinking something that’s supposed to be healthy…it’s the same style of “tongue grain” found in protein bars. (After drinking about two packs of these over a three-week span, I will say that I barely even notice it anymore.)

And that’s appropriate, because one thing Elevation’s drink has that Fit & Active’s didn’t (again, if my memory serves me correctly) is some added protein: 10g of it, to be exact, per 11 oz. bottle. Aside from that, there are decent-to-moderate amounts of 24 different vitamins and minerals, which can also make this great as a "breakfast on the go"

It might be my award-winning metabolism, but I never actually get “full” from these, and I’m not even sure if most people do, either (despite their “meal replacement” marketing stance), but I do like drinking one at least a couple times per week to help keep the vitamin counts up, if nothing else.

Overall: 8/10. I don’t quite like the flavor as much as I remember liking Fit & Active’s version, but Elevation by Millville’s chocolate shake provides a plethora of twenty-four different vitamins and minerals, while also providing 5g of dietary fiber, and a respectable 10g of protein (with 230mg of sodium, 6g of fat, and 19g of sugar, with 5g added.) Those are some pretty respectable numbers. The $4.79 $4.99 price tag (for six 11 oz. bottles) also offers pretty good value compared to other diet/nutritional products, and is closely comparable to Fit & Active’s $3.19 per 4-pack. On the downside, there is a certain graininess to it that prevents it from being ultra-smooth, but you won't notice after a couple bottles. If you’re dieting or just want to get a vitamin boost between meals, this is a great product at a great price.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Here's Why You Should Never Change Your Domain Name, From Personal Experience: A Rant

Well, after three months of nosediving traffic (and therefore earnings), yet the most work I've ever put into the site, I finally confirmed why my little blog's health is somehow in steady decline: my change, on a whim, from budgetfoodreview.com to thebudgetreviews.com.

That might be common sense to some, especially those familiar with SEO and rankings and the like, but as a casual blogger, I figured the move would just be more or less lateral. After all, I already defy the common sense advice of every marketing person out there, by never promoting this blog, instead allowing Google and other search engines to naturally lead interested parties to me. After all, that's mainly what inspired me to start this site: constantly searching for reviews of Aldi (and other store brand) products, and finding little to nothing for many of them. 

At the same time, I thought (and still do) that the change in title was necessary. Sure, it's always had reviews of non-food products (like Special Buys from Aldi) even under the Budget Food Review moniker, but the focus was mostly on food and budget items. Now, with reviews of apps, services, and other things that (occasionally) break away from the whole original idea of reviewing physical items from grocery stores, I thought it needed a broader name that tried to encompass all of that.

Since I was relying on organic traffic, and had decent search rankings up through July (even during long periods of blog neglect), I figured all of that stuff would just translate to the new blog. Nothing was changing except for the name, so it seemed like perfect common sense! Of course, "common sense" and "internet" are not two words that often go together, which is something I probably should have stopped to think about. My loss.

Moral of the story, my blog is more or less considered "new" within the Google ecosystem, with search results that were ranking at or near the top ten in the blog's previous iteration, dropping to the second or even third page, on average. That makes this site much harder to find, even when the content is more relevant to the needs of the user than some of the other results. And that's with absolutely no changes to the actual blog, outside of a simple name change! It's also where my complete reliance on organic traffic has failed me: with little-to-no outside links, and no prior push to create a small-but-loyal group of followers, pretty much all references to the old site - which would have redirected people to the new site - are gone, leaving no trace of the blog's golden era. Ouch. Now we see why all those marketing people have jobs after all, eh?

Honestly, the entire point of this post is merely to rant, and I'm sure I'll take it down at some point in the future. I'm also fairly certain (though not as much as I initially would have been) that, over time, all of the work I've put into it these past few months, will eventually reap some form of rewards, once my site re-establishes "tenure" and continues to grow in post count, search rankings (hopefully), and organic traffic (hopefully).

But it can also serve as a cautionary tale: If you are planning to make changes to your site's branding, please do some research first on how to lessen the impact. As someone who will obsessively research a $20 purchase to make sure I'm getting the best possible bargain, it's kind of ironic that the one time I didn't see a need to do so is probably the one time where I absolutely should have.

At any rate, there are still many more posts to come, and I will still retain my frequently-wavering attention to this site, which will probably come and go in spurts, as it always as. Aaaand, I think that's enough of that.

Sincerely,

Aaron


Saturday, September 21, 2019

Assured Pediatric Electrolyte Maintenance Solution (Dollar Tree)

An exceptional value.
I'm in my mid-thirties as of this writing and I can't recall a prior time that I've ever tried the national brand of children's electrolyte solution. Of course, I probably had some when I was way too young to remember, as that's the time most people receive it, but lately there's been a massive increase in sales to adults, thanks to its marketing as a hangover “cure”. It's also been used by athletes as a replacement for sports drinks, something I never thought about (or really needed) when I was playing rec-league hockey.

I think a big part of why it probably never landed on my radar is simply because of how expensive the national brand is. It's absurd. Especially when you compare it to sports drinks, where 32 oz. can frequently be had for $1 or less. To put that into perspective, a liter of the national brand oral rehydration drink, which amounts to roughly 33.8 oz., is $5. Thanks, but no thanks. Even as a hangover cure, I wouldn't touch the stuff at that price, no matter how miserable I felt.

Then a curious thing happened. I was at Dollar Tree one day when I happened to see little bottles of this for sale. Not really needing it for anything at that point in time, I made a mental note of it, simply because I didn't recall having ever seen it at Dollar Tree before. Well you know how life is full of strange coincidences? Well this happened to be one: Not a week later my wife got really sick and requested that I pick up the national brand electrolyte solution on my way home. At first, I was thinking about how expensive that was going to be...until I remembered it sitting on Dollar Tree shelves! I went there instead, and picked up a couple of bottles.

Now, of course the bottles for sale at Dollar Tree are not “full size” bottles. Quite contrarily, they look almost embarrassingly small, and I began to wonder if I was being had. After all, that is sometimes the tactic employed by discount stores...offer smaller quantities for a pro-rated price that's actually more expensive (relatively speaking) than buying the normal-size product elsewhere. So was I getting a deal? The answer in a nutshell: absolutely. You see, the national brand seems to be available only in liter bottles. One liter equals approximately 33.8 oz. Each of Dollar Tree's bottles are 16.9 oz. Multiply that by just two and you get...voila!...33.8 oz. That means for $2, you're getting the same exact quantity as the national brand, which is generally $5 or more at other retailers.

But how does it taste? This was something that I legitimately wasn't sure about, because I'd never had it. Apparently neither had my wife, as she immediately winced and basically said she would rather die of dehydration than drink another drop, as it was too sweet. I felt like that left it in my wheelhouse, because I love sweet drinks...and I found that it is indeed overly saccharine, with a kind of syrupy taste that's more akin to cough syrup than any sort of mixed fruit.

However, that observation was just in a situation where I was sipping it as if it were a fine wine, with no real need for it. On another day--tired of the lackluster taste of water, yet feeling dehydrated—I reached for a bottle of this, and chugged it down in about ten seconds flat, my body absorbing the nutrients and leaving me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated within minutes. The flavor certainly didn't bother me then; in fact, I quite liked it, its taste much better than the stale nothingness of water, and the sweetness factor diluted by my body's intense need for liquids. It goes down smooth and easy, with no bitter notes.

Taste aside, this is great stuff just to keep on hand, and at a ridiculous price that makes it one of the best deals inside Dollar Tree. It's a good cure for hangover, sickness, and just regular dehydration, for kids and adults alike, and the $1 price point is insane.

Overall: 10/10. I've never had the national brand before, and only purchased it at the request of my wife, who wanted to replace liquids she lost after being very sick. As it turns out, it was too sweet for her, so I inherited the two bottles I purchased...and it was way too sweet for me, too. But that was just under “casual” drinking scenarios...and I don't think anyone drinks this for fun. Flash-forward to a time when I actually needed it—after staying active a little longer than planned and without water—and I downed a bottle of this stuff with no issues, feeling better within minutes. At $1 per 16.9 oz. bottle, this still represents phenomenal value, as it only takes two bottles to equal the average bottle size of the national brand (which is generally at least $5). Fantastic product for the price, and one of the best values to be had inside Dollar Tree stores.

NOTE: I've seen (and tried) this under two different labels at Dollar Tree: under the brand name "Ready Case", and under "Assured". Both are the same thing. I'm assuming they are doing a re-branding, as the last couple times I've gotten it, it's been under the "Assured" label, which is their umbrella name for medicinal products.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Turn Your Downtime Into Cash: An In-Depth Look at InboxDollars (App/Web)

Everyone, meet Billy, InboxDollars' cute little dollar bill mascot.

WHAT IS IT? 
InboxDollars is one of the top "paid activity" sites, probably second only to Swagbucks, that offers users the chance to make small amounts of money by taking company-sponsored surveys. What makes it great though is that, like Swagbucks, there are a variety of other ways to help you raise your balance to the minimum $30 payout requirement, which prevents things from getting overly boring. Because, let's be real here, answering the same questions over and over again can get to be quite a drag after a short amount of time.

INTERFACE/NAVIGATION
My, oh my is that an ugly site.
Visually speaking, InboxDollars is a very ugly site that, in my opinion, feels about five years out of date. I promise not to make this a comparison between the two similar services, but especially compared to Swagbucks's pleasant, clean look, InboxDollars feels like walking into a Goodwill when you were expecting Old Navy: The ugly orange and green color combination, paired up with a focus on “spammy” offers that take up at least 60% of the page, make visiting the site an almost depressing experience. (I must say their dollar-shaped mascot, Billy, is pretty darn cute.)

From a navigational standpoint though, the site is set up fairly well, utilizing the now-standard practice of having all of your available options spread out horizontally across the top of the page. The main screen highlights three top surveys, supposedly catered to you, while a vast majority of the remaining space is used to highlight the mostly-crappy “cash offers” they have available. These are actions you can take to make money, but many of them either require payment, are shady as hell, or have some ridiculous threshold that must be met in order to meet the obligations for payout (such as becoming an Uber driver and accepting your first “job”). Sure, these are great for the small percentage of people who are already planning on doing it, but they certainly aren't worth going out of the way for, and thus will only apply to a very small percentage of people.

There are so many options across the top that they have to “hide” some things under a “more” banner, which aside from taking an extra click to get to (oh no, think of all the wasted time!) does keep a couple useful tools out of plain sight, but they are tools most people won't use very often, so this is just a minor quibble.

Overall, if you can get past its ugly look, it won't take long to acclimate yourself to where everything is, which can help you figure out a routine that will maximize your cash flow.

REWARDS SYSTEM & ACTIVITIES
InboxDollars relies on the tried-and-true system of “what you see is what you get” in terms of total balance, where your accrued amount is shown in actual dollars and cents. This, at least in my opinion, is much preferred to earning “coins”, or “points”, or some other form of fake currency that other sites use, because you can tell exactly how much you have at any given time, without having to refer to a FAQ to figure out the conversion rates between units and actual cash payouts.

While there are quite a few different paid activities, which I will dig into at length in a separate post, the “highest” payouts are generally answering surveys. If you've ever used another survey site before, then you already know what to expect here, namely lots of time reanswering the same demographical questions and getting disqualified from a large number of surveys, but InboxDollars does tend to pay a little better than some sites, with a $.25 minimum on every survey. Some even go up near $5, though in my experience those ironically tend to require you to be in a high-ranking position within a large company; I can't see many people like that, who are mostly making at least $60,000 a year, dedicating what little extra free time they have left to filling out surveys, but maybe I'm mistaken.
Get used to this page, because you'll probably be seeing it a lot more than you want to.
Conveniently, there is also an “estimated time” column presented right next to the payout amount for completed surveys, so you can weigh out the ratio to see which ones work best for you. Personally, I try to keep the quarter payouts for surveys that take ten minutes or less, and will only go for longer ones if they pay more, but that's just what works for me—if you have more time to kill, the longer ones tend to have a higher success rate (because many people, like me, tend to avoid them).

Awww, thanks Billy!
Even though you will more than likely be disqualified from dozens upon dozens of surveys on a monthly basis, each of your failed attempts will result in a spin on “Billy's Spin & Win”, which can reward you with scratch and win progress, a $.25 survey token (which tacks $.25 onto the total of your next completed survey), or instant cash in the amounts of $.05, $1, or even $5! Surprisingly, even though there's a “No Win” tab, you'll win something more often than nothing, even if that something is just a small little fraction of scratch and win progress. Regardless, seeing that bar constantly moving can be pretty encouraging to help you keep going.

What is this “Scratch & Win” I keep speaking of? At the top of the screen, there is a bar that stretches vertically the entire way across, and is broken down into three sections. This is the Scratch & Win bar. Doing a variety of tasks fills up the bar, such as watching videos, playing games, or reading PaidEmails. The more the bar fills up, the greater the potential cash payout: fill up the first tier (a very simple task), and you can win up to $10; fill it up to the second and that goes up to $25; or fill it up all the way and you could stand to win $100! But you probably won't.

I've scratched these off dozens of times, and used to let the bar fill all the way up constantly, but realized the effort just really isn't all that worth it for the small odds. I don't doubt people have won—there is a rolling banner that shows you the big winners from the past couple of days—but I've scratched off dozens of tickets, and can't recall winning anything over $.10. But the thing that's really nice about the scratch-off is that you're guaranteed to win something...there are no losing tickets. And the minimum amounts tend to go up as you work your way through the tiers: for the first tier, you'll win at least a penny; second tier will grant you at least $.03, and the third tier is usually around $.05. Keep in mind the more you scratch, the more they may limit your winnings, so these numbers can change, but you still won't ever lose.

The much-discussed "Scratch & Win" bar.
These are just some of the main earners, but there are lots more where that came from, including games, watching TV and videos, WinIt codes, referrals, and so much more which, again, I will cover at length in a separate post. While there aren't as many things to do as Swagbucks (there goes that comparison again), there should be enough options to keep most people entertained and earning cash for at least a few months.

HOW MUCH CAN I MAKE?
As with any similar site, putting a precise number on things is virtually impossible, because earnings rely on a wide number of variables that will vary greatly from member to member. As a general rule, though, I'm able to cash out about once every 1-2 months, using the site for 30 minutes to an hour (on average) most days. Weekdays, when I work, I don't spend much time on the site at all, but I'll set aside an hour, or sometimes more, on weekends to try to earn a couple extra bucks. When all is said and done, I can typically make around $5 per week; those with more free time can probably make quite a bit more, but no matter what, you're not going to make anything resembling a living wage.

At any rate, this is actually my preferred platform for earning extra money out of any cash-earning site that I've tried so far. Sure, there are other sites that offer higher payouts, and fewer survey disqualifications, but those sites tend to have far fewer survey opportunities, or require you to complete more labor-intensive tasks that would require you to leave the house (gasp!). Of course, everyone is their own unique person, so your mileage may vary, but personally, I consistently earn more here than I do anywhere else.

MOBILE APP
The main page of the app is somehow even more spammy than the website.
Like many survey sites, InboxDollars does have a mobile app, and while I mostly use the site on PC (easier to fill out surveys, a wider variety of games available, and no suckage of battery), I still keep the mobile app around. Navigation on there is even simpler than the PC interface, and while part of that is because there are some missing options (you can't print coupons, for example, from a mobile device), there are also a couple of additional ways to earn cash that are only valid from a mobile device.

The first one is known as “InMarket”, and it's an easy way to earn a nickel almost any time you're out and about. Just make sure your location services are on, and when you pass a company advertising in this way (currently for me, it's Walmart, but I've had Target and MAC Cosmetics pop up in the past) you'll receive a push notification (if you have those activated). Simply wait for the ad to load, and then click out of it (the site says you have to click into it, but you don't) to receive your $.05 reward. It's that simple. I don't even have push notifications for InboxDollars activated on my phone, but I've found as long as I open my app within the hour, it typically still pops right up, even if I'm no longer near the advertising business.

An example of their new feature, called "Scansense".
The second way was just added in August, 2019, and it's called “ScanSense”, which pays you a nickel per item you scan at a specified store. In the top right corner of the home screen is a barcode icon with a number beside it. Tap the barcode icon, and a list of participating nearby stores will pop up, along with the number of items they have available for scanning. Simply head into the supermarket, scan the barcode of the specified item(s) using the app, and voila! A nickel will be credited to your account for every item scanned.

I just tried this for the first time last night, and it was as easy as expected: click on the item you want to scan, and a camera pops up (you'll have to give InboxDollars access to your camera) with a barcode field inside. Just line that up with the barcode on the product, an ad for that product will pop up, and then you'll receive a verification message that you earned $.05, which is added to your account immediately. That's not too shabby, and the perfect task for me to do while my wife is taking forever at the supermarket.

CASHING OUT
When I first used InboxDollars in the middle of 2018, there was only one option for getting paid in cash: a paper check. While I'm not going to complain about free money no matter how I get it, I have to admit that limiting users to just a paper check in this day and age was pretty absurd. But after recently opening a new account (accounts lapse after 6 months of either not attempting a survey, or checking PaidEmails) and hitting the payment threshold again, I was surprised to find that Paypal is now a supported option, which is a huge deal, and one that addresses my biggest complaint against the service.

Good news...Paypal is now a payment option!
One thing I have seen users harp on about the payout process is that there is a $3 processing fee, which was presumably to cover the costs of issuing the check (and now is more understandable as Paypal presumably charges fees to process the payment through them, as well). But the thing that I have not really seen covered anywhere is that there's a way to avoid paying anything at all to get your money, and it's actually fairly simple.

If you go from $30 to $40 within 30 days, they'll completely waive the processing fee for you, and pay you the entire amount you have accrued. I've cashed out my account three times now, and have hit $40 every single time, which has saved me $9 in processing fees. Sure, $9 is not a lot, especially considering if I would have accepted the fee, I still would have made at least $81 in “free” money. But by bringing my account balance up and saving that $9, I've made a little over $120 total within that same time period, which is an even better deal.

Funds take two weeks to process for first time members, whether you request Paypal or paper check, and are processed on Wednesdays. But you're also automatically given free access to another perk, which is a "Gold Membership"!

Cash out once to become a "Gold Member", which pays you out a week earlier in the future.
As the slightly-misleading table above shows you, Gold Members can get "weekly payments", which almost makes it sound like you can cash your balance out weekly. But before you get excited, just know that it's much lamer than that: You still have to hit the $30 minimum, but from that point on, your payments will be processed on the following Wednesday, instead of having to wait the full two weeks for first-time payees. And that, as you can see, is the only perk.

I don't want to sound ungrateful, because really I'm just happy to earn some extra cash, but it would be nice if there was some other kind of perk for Gold Members, such as the ability to deposit directly to a bank account (which I believe would be free for InboxDollars to do anyway), or even some kind of timed “boost”, like a 2x increase on Scratch & Win progress for your first week after cashing out. Or even Gold Member-only social media contests...something that would be a little more enticing and encouraging for people to keep going. Or, you know what else they could do? Just ax the whole program entirely, and pay everyone out within a week.

You're also given your $3 processing fee back (even if you didn't pay one!), in the form of a $3 balance credit once you're cashed out and your . I don't know if it's a psychological tactic, but I have to be honest: it's one that more apps should use. There's nothing more depressing than taking a few months (or in some cases, multiple years) to raise up enough funds to be able to cash out, only to have your balance go down to zero and realize your only reward is getting to do it all over again, only this time from scratch. (And I speak from experience: my excitement for Ibotta went down the tubes in this fashion, when I went from cashing out $110, down to nothing.) But wait! The first time you cash out, you're also given the chance to take a quick two-minute feedback survey, which pays you out an additional $2! That puts you a sixth of the way toward your next cashout goal, all with a minimal amount of effort.

$5 is a nice little bonus for cashing out for the first time. (Every other time it's $3).
SUPPORT/COMMUNITY
There are no message forums to speak of, so not much in the way of a community, and I've never had a need for support, so I can't really vouch for it from personal experience.

Their support page.
One tip that I will offer for not just this site, but any similar site: The use of a VPN will get you immediately banned, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was the reasoning behind at least a quarter of the people who were booted from the site. Survey sites in general often use your location information to corroborate your identity, which could be the reasoning behind the bans: if you're saying you're living in Ohio, but your IP is showing another state, then that's enough just cause for them to feel that you are not being honest. Also, the site (along with most other such sites) are only available to users in the U.S., so if your IP is linked to another country, that would be cause for immediate termination. I'm not at all saying all, or even most, of the people that do this were intentionally trying to manipulate data (I got banned from Swagbucks immediately after signing up simply because I forgot my VPN was on), but in their eyes, it's a pretty unforgivable no-no.

You can also be booted if you are caught constantly speeding through answers, or if you consistently fail “attention check” questions that are peppered throughout some surveys. Again, this is to weed out the people that are trying to take advantage of the system (although it is pretty ironic that the scummy, dishonest corporations that sponsor many of these surveys will ban you for being just like them; I'd think lying would earn you a chance to sit on their board of directors.)

A quick search of InboxDollars on the internet (or a quick glance at their Facebook page) does show a large number of users whose accounts were terminated, and who can't seem to get in touch with customer service. Again, they more than likely violated a policy, either intentionally or by accident, but it's still pretty concerning that customer support seems to ignore them rather than give them an explanation; it's also par for the course with many such websites prone to these kinds of actions virtually all across the board. With no specific details on why these people were terminated, it's hard to say who's in the right, but there are enough complaints that one should approach with caution, and actually spend some time reading the site's terms of use before signing up.

All I can speak to is that I was able to cash out twice within two or three months in 2018, and then again in mid-2019 after about a month of use, with no problems.

InboxDollars' admittedly enticing Instagram feed.
On the social media front, InboxDollars are pretty active on almost all major social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Pinterest (which is one of the least pinteresting social media sites ever made). Through these channels, they alternate between offering up some motivational words (for “Motivational Monday”), Win-It codes (which are single words that can be redeemed either on the website, or in the app), and other fun money-earning contests, so if you're active on social media, they're probably worth a follow.

OVERALL

PROS (+)
+Quite a varied mix of paid activities beyond surveys that can keep you entertained as you make some money.
+Active on social media, where they have fun contests and hand out Win-It codes that can earn you some extra cash.
+Generous $5 sign up bonus gets you off to a good start.
+$3 “refund” of your processing fee (even if you didn't pay one!) upon cashing out ensures you should never see a balance of $0.
+Paypal support recently added to paper checks as a way to get “cash”; gift cards to various retailers also an option.

CONS (-)

-Some activities that paid out direct cash (PaidEmails) now only contribute to “Scratch & Win” progress.
-Accounts can be banned with little to no warning, leaving you unable to cash out your balance.
-Can't speak from personal experience, but many users online complain about being ignored by their support staff after facing issues with their account.
-Interface is ugly.
-Many “cash offers” are unclear about what is required to earn money, and also opens you up to loads of spam emails.

InboxDollars is, in my opinion, a very underrated survey site that doesn't really get much attention. Sure, it's prone to the same issues that plague other sites (frequent survey disqualifications, slow/no payouts on completed offers, etc.) but if you go in with realistic expectations, and have a bit of time to kill, you can make a decent chunk of extra cash. Not at all to brag (because in the grand scheme of things, it probably equates to pennies per hour), but as a real-world example, I've made a little over $120 in about four or five total months of use, using the site about an hour per day, on average. It's not going to pay all your bills, but hey, that's an Amazon Prime membership right there! Or it can go into checking/savings accounts, toward gifts for friends or family, or toward your own growing list of wants and/or needs...the possibilities are endless.

You can always go back to wasting time here if this doesn't work out.
And if it doesn't work out for you, all you're really out is a few hours (or minutes) of your time, which you were probably just going to use to look at porn anyway.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Art of Shaving Tester Sets @ Dollar Tree!

I don't know why my $600 phone camera struggles under Dollar Tree lighting every single time.
I can't remember if I've mentioned this before, but I hate shaving; the fact there are people out there that get satisfaction out of it just completely baffles me. I've also mentioned that I will not become a deal blog, because I'm always slow on the draw.

But every now and again, I stumble on some things within discount stores that really catch my eye, and that sometimes even make my jaw drop: case in point, this Art of Shaving tester kit, which was available (in large quantities) within my local Dollar Tree store.

If I need to explain to you what "The Art of Shaving" is, it probably isn't for you, but it could end up being for someone you love, so here goes: It's a high-end shaving brand: you know, the type that sell safety razors for $50+, and replacement blades for over $1 apiece. These are people that take the "art of shaving" (something that, to me, is more of a "hassle" than an art) very seriously, and then charge you large quantities of money for items that probably cost mere dollars to produce, just to prove how much "better" they are than everyone else.

Well here's your chance to see what all the fuss is about (or isn't), with this kit that purports to offer up "the perfect shave": The set features 0.1 fl oz. of pre-shave oil to get your beard all turned on, .2 fl. oz. of silky-smooth shaving cream, and another 0.1 fl. oz. packet of after-shave balm to finish off your orgasmic experience.

I tried it out, and have to say that my pre-shave oil packet appeared to be empty, despite being sealed (I ripped the whole thing open and nothing came out), but the shave cream is buttery smooth, and the after shave balm is...something I will probably never use again. But for men that like to pamper themselves, but live on a budget, this could be a good way to get acclimated to the brand. The only kind I saw was "unscented", which is also kind of a downer, but I guess good for those sensitive to fragrance.

But hey, just the fact this is an actual high-end brand and not some bad knockoff is a pretty impressive feat for the Tree, making us one step closer to a possible future where we can load up on samples of the latest Chanel fragrance for only $1, without having to set foot in a hoity toity department store. And if that's not the very definition of "convenience", then I don't know what is.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Savoritz Original Clubhouse Crackers (Aldi)

Buttery as all hell, and melt-in-your mouth good!
It’s kind of an odd thing, but aside from the baked cheddar kind, we don’t buy crackers very often. Especially given the amount of cheese we plow through in a typical year, which we tend to put on toasted breads, or just eat by themselves, right out of the package. This time, however, we put crackers on our grocery list, with the plan of them accompanying either tuna (a delicious and very simple snack), or one (or more) of our beloved cheeses.

I made the mistake of letting my wife choose the crackers, and was dismayed to find that she picked up a box of Savoritz Clubhouse Crackers. That’s not to say that these are bad--quite the contrary, these are fantastic--but everyone knows that tuna goes better with the grainy stuff; ditto for most cheeses. One thing these crackers do go perfect with though, are cheese spreads, and we happened to have some that was a part of a meat and cheese Christmas gift that my grandmother sent to us. Sure enough, these were a flawless match for a “higher-end” cheese spread that tasted suspiciously like canned cheeses. But the focus isn’t on the cheese, but rather these crackers.

The truth is, these crackers aren’t just excellent in most dips and spreads, but they are fantastic right out of the plastic sleeve. There’s a rich butteriness that’s similar to the national brand, but that might manage to be even better. They’re seriously addicting no matter how you enjoy them. Oh, and did I mention that a three-sleeve box costs just $1.45? That puts them well under the national brand in terms of price, but at the very least, on equal footing in terms of taste. In other words, it's the very definition of an absolute win-win.

It’s not all sunshines and rainbows, though: These crackers are very, very weak. I don’t remember if it’s as much of an issue with the national brand, because it’s been a very long time since I’ve had them, but if you’re trying to dip these into a thicker cheese spread, or even attempting to spread something thick on them, there’s a very good chance they will break. It’s pretty annoying, but thankfully the taste, not to mention the ridiculous price, more than makes up for the minor inconvenience. If you like the national brand and haven’t given these a shot, do it right now.

Overall: 8.5/10. They break way too easily, which is about my only gripe. Other than that, these are ridiculously rich and buttery, and go fantastic with a variety of dips and spreads. Easily on par with, if not better than, the national brand in terms of flavor, but coming in at a mere $1.45 (for a three-sleeve package) gives them outstanding value when paired against the “main” brands. If you’re new to Aldi, this is a great product to test out on a first trip…just don’t be surprised when you find yourself going back to get them time and time again!

Monday, September 9, 2019

SimplyNature Kids Apple Multi-Fruit Squeezable Fruit Blend (Aldi)



Pretty good, though there are much better values to be had.
We took a look at the delicious Apple Banana squeezie in the past, now let's see just how their other flavor stacks up. This one is the more mysterious “Apple Multi-Fruit”, though it only takes a quick glance at the ingredients to see it's comprised of apple, banana, mango, strawberry, and passion fruit. So presumably, it's like a tropical punch of sorts. Like the other variety, this one is available at checkout counters in single quantities, as sort of an impulse buy for healthy parents.

Yep, there really are a lot of flavors at work here, and it does have a fruit punch-y finish after the initial apple flavor. Normally, I'm huge into fruit punches, but I think I actually prefer the simplicity of the plain Apple Banana to this one. This one just feels like there's too much going on, and while the taste is still very good, a lot of the flavors just blend into one another, with no clear distinction between what's what. This might actually be a good thing for kids who don't like apples or bananas (or any other specific fruit listed above), simply because it's hard to specifically pick the tastes of each out. I will say the balance of sweet and tart is pretty perfect in this one, which is no small feat given the mango and passion fruit juices (which don't take much to overwhelm other fruits), so it's neither too sweet or sour.

Again, this is by no means a condemnation of the beverage—I wouldn't hesitate to pick this one up again, either, I just prefer the other one a bit more. As for kids, I would think a majority of them would be satisfied with either one. They are just sweet enough to feel more like a dessert than a healthy snack or meal, and the applesauce-style texture is also pleasant, light, and goes down smooth.

The same critique from above applies here, though: The Little Journey Organics line offers tons more flavors (12 to be exact, I believe, as compared to these two), consist almost entirely of organic ingredients , are .8 oz. larger, and have more vitamin C in each one (ranging from 35-170%), all for just ten cents more. Again, this is targeting impulse buyers, and even at this price it's far from a scam or gyp, but letting you know where my allegiance lies. I will still absolutely get these from time-to-time as a little change, though.

Overall: 7/10. A collage of tropical flavors combine to form what is basically a “fruit punch” flavor. I love fruit punches, and this one is good, but I'd prefer the simplicity of the Apple Banana pouch above as that has more clearly defined flavor. Still, for $.69 this is a pretty good deal (though not quite as good as the Little Journey Organics pouches, which are very similar—just had to mention that), and a healthy alternative to many snacks out there, so you can't really go wrong with either flavor. I wouldn't hesitate to grab this again in the future.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Little Journey Organics Pear Apple Broccoli Baby Food Puree (Aldi)

It's not as nauseating as you might think...does that make it a "win"?
Well I had a nice treat in my lunch at work the other day: Another pouch from Little Journey Organics to try! And it has one thing in common with just about all of the rest: there’s apple in it. There is also pear, which isn’t really one of my favorite fruits, and broccoli, which I do like but can’t really imagine being combined with a fruit to create any sort of taste beyond “disgusting”. So let’s see how this one plays out, shall we?

The scent is pretty much all broccoli. There may be some sweetness surrounding it, but the vegetable is clearly the dominant force in the aroma department…let’s hope that it’s not the case with the taste. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not. I don’t really taste much in the way of pear (maybe that’s by choice), but the broccoli and apple seem to be roughly even in terms of flavor percentage…and it’s not as bad as you would think.

It wouldn’t make the list of my favorites, but the fact that it’s not entirely nauseating has to be a big win in its favor. The apple adds just enough sweet to compliment the serious flavor of the broccoli, somewhat taming it down a little bit. You’ll get the broccoli—quite a bit of it, to be sure, and especially in the aftertaste—but it’s definitely made more palatable by the strong fruit presence.

Now, keep in mind two things: 1) This is coming from someone who likes broccoli. Lots of adults don’t, and even with the added sweetness, I could see them struggling with the taste. And 2) This is also coming from the mouth of an adult. Kids will probably be hit or miss (as it turns out, lots of kids don’t like the taste of broccoli much, either), but if you can get them early enough, they might be more apt to guzzle this down and forge a friendship with the awkward-looking vegetable for the rest of their lives. Like I said, it's not my favorite, and I wouldn't ever go out of my way to seek it out, but I do have to say that it's a lot better, and more drinkable, than I ever would have expected possible.

If you've read any of my other reviews for the products in this line, I'm going to sound like a broken record, but it's worth reiterating for all the newbies: The ingredients are a huge win, consisting only of organic apple, broccoli, and pear purees, organic lemon juice concentrate, and added vitamin C, in the form of ascorbic acid. It doesn't get much more straightforward, or healthy, than that, so it's really something that most parents will feel comfortable about giving their child, while the price tag (a 4 oz. single-serve pouch for just $.79) also works well in its favor.

Overall: 6/10. That it's not nauseating and undrinkable is a huge win for Little Journey Organics' Apple Pear Broccoli baby food puree; in fact, it's far better than you probably would have expected possible from the combination. However, keep in mind this is coming from someone who likes the taste of broccoli, so if you have a strong aversion to the vegetable, stay very far away: It's by far the dominant flavor. There is a strong burst of apple to balance it out with some sweetness (I didn't really detect pear much, if at all), but the aftertaste mostly consists of the oddly-shaped vegetable. It's nowhere near one of my faves within this line, but this one is palatable enough that I will definitely give this to our son early, in the hopes he grows to enjoy the taste of broccoli, and hopefully by extension, other vegetables. The simple, almost entirely organic ingredient list, paired up with the ridiculously affordable $.79 price tag (per 4 oz. pouch), are other solid wins. Worth a try for sure.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Little Journey Organics Apple Banana Raspberry with Yogurt Baby Food Puree (Aldi)

Very, very delicious.
I thought I had already reviewed this one a while back, so I let my wife have it. But as it turns out, it was the apple banana strawberry variety. Oops! Then I forgot all about it, got it again a few months later for my son, still thinking I had reviewed it, until I finally researched and discovered that I had not. So back to Aldi I went, just to grab one of these little guys!

And man oh man, was it worth it: what a fantastic flavor. One of my main complaints with this line, is that, in a vast majority of the flavors with banana in them (and there are a lot), it was very hard to taste that fruit specifically. Here, though, there is a perfect balance between all three fruits, where each one is detectable and distinguishable from each other. I thought the raspberry would add too much tartness (which I more than likely would not be a fan of), but thankfully, the apple and banana both bring just the right amount of sweetness to the table to counteract the sour raspberry taste.

This one, like the Apple Banana Strawberry variety, also adds (organic) yogurt into the mix. I’ve gotta be honest with you: I don’t notice a difference in taste or texture between the ones that add yogurt, and the ones that don’t. Maybe that’s the idea, that the yogurt is simply used to make the texture as smooth as all the other ones (it has the same consistency of applesauce, with ever-so-slight bumps throughout, but goes down easy), as opposed to being used as a flavor enhancer. If this is the case, it does its job well.

I like raspberries, but I don't love raspberries, and I thought that preference would be the decider as to how much I like this one. But that wasn't the case at all; all the fruits are given equal opportunity to shine, and all of them stand out, meaning I can finally taste the banana in one of these pouches! If this one isn't outright my favorite flavor in the Little Journey Organics line, it's certainly up there. As with the others in this line, the combination of value and taste is extraordinary and not to be missed.

Overall: 9/10. I wasn’t expecting to like this one so much, but it has shot toward the top of my favorite flavors list, if not outright claiming the number one spot. There's a nice equal balance of tart and sweet that complement each other nicely, without either side overwhelming the other. Again, the added yogurt just seems to be more for texture than flavor, as I can't tell the difference between taste in the ones with yogurt, versus without. But that's just a moot point, because this is an excellent flavor that will appeal to kids just as well as adults: the fact that it's organic and only $.79 (as of this writing) are just extra icing on the cake.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Angel of Mine Plastic Spill Proof 11.5 oz. Sippy Cups (Dollar Tree)

Despite its boring appearance, these are among the best sippy cups at Dollar Tree.
Dollar Tree isn't really a place that I would think of to look for sippy cups, so I was rather surprised to find they offer a few different kinds, ranging from licensed characters, to the previously-reviewed “designer” cups (which feature cute kid-themed graphics), to these standard, “boring” ones, which consist only of solid-colored plastic with matching lid. They look more like a “standard” child's cup, shorter and stouter than the designer cups, and feature the same “spill-proof” mechanics: a piece of plastic that fits to the underside of the lid, designed to prevent the free-flow of liquids should your child absent-mindedly set it down and then flail about wildly as he (or she) desperately uses their last ounce of strength in a futile attempt to prevent the gentle lull of a good night's sleep. (Meanwhile, us adults flail about wildly desperately trying to get a good night's sleep; weird how life works.)

Anyway, similar cup design means similar results to the disappointment of their “designer” cups, right?

Not in the least: These cups are fantastic. In fact, they've become our go-to semi-disposable cup. While they don't feel nearly as sturdy as the double-walled “designer” cups above, they still have some heft to them, and are still a notch or two above the “disposable” baby cups that are made of thinner plastic. They've been subjected to the dishwasher several times (which we have since learned is not recommended: oops), and have maintained their rigidity, with no cracks or other issues from the water. For the plastic part, we just handwash it to be safe, and even crusted on messes wipe right off with a little dab of soap and warm water.

The main difference is in the performance: The plastic piece under the lid snaps on securely every time, and stays there. I'm still very careful when shaking things up in it, either swishing it from side-to-side, or gently flopping it up and down while plugging up the escape holes, but I can't recall a time when it's ever come off. You get the best of both worlds, though, because when you do need to take it off to wash it, it comes off easily, and snaps back on with similar ease.

Once again, I'm a little bummed because these are much more “boring” than the other ones, and therefore aren't much fun to look at, but it outperforms the graphic cups by being much more reliable in the “spill-proof” department. Ultimately, I just wish there was a way to combine the body of the “designer” cups, with the plastic part of this one (and no, you can't just swap them out because the plastic stopper is a different shape and size on each one), which would really come close to giving us the “perfect cup”, but I don't know why I'm complaining so much because our son doesn't even care (I just prefer the cute graphics myself, okay?!)

If nothing else, they're a great back-up cup, or for taking on trips, at a price-point that won't leave even the most budget-minded parent tearing up the house looking for it should it suddenly go missing. Highly recommended.

Overall: 9/10. A fantastic cup for the price. The plastic, though not as sturdy as the “double-walled” cup above, is still made of a tough plastic that feels like it's made to last: True to form, we've put them through the dishwasher several times (again, something I just noticed is not recommended...oops), and they've maintained their strength and performance every single time. The lid is easy to twist on securely, requiring minimal effort, and the plastic “stopper” that goes under the lid to prevent spills is easy to put on and take off, yet—and this is the most important part—stays there, even through drops and violent shaking fits. Even better: This holds 11 oz. of liquid (compared to the 9.5 oz. designer cup, which features adorable graphics), so you even get more for your money with this one! Highly recommended...it's just a shame the solid-colored designs on these cups are so boring.