Thursday, April 30, 2020

Save Money at the Pump, and For Free? An In-Depth Look at "Pay with Gasbuddy" (App)



WHAT IS IT?

When I first started using it a few years back, GasBuddy was merely a way to find the cheapest gas in relation to your location. I can see where it would be useful to some people, especially those who travel a lot and don't want to get gypped, but I found that I was too stubborn to drive out of my way just to save a few piddly cents on gasoline, so I got rid of the app and more or less forgot about it.

But after researching ways to save a little bit of cash, I recently re-discovered GasBuddy: not because of the reason above, but because they now offer more ways to actually save at the pump, like a debit card linked to your bank account, that saves you $.05 per gallon every single time you use it (with minor restrictions that don't affect me at all). On top of that, there is also a paid option that can also increase your savings, as well as add a few more benefits, for a monthly charge. Sound too good to be true? Spoiler warning: it's not, but there are some (minor) caveats, so let's take a look, shall we?

THE SIGN-UP PROCESS 

The sign-up screen. Requirements are on the left.
In order to use the GasBuddy card, you will have to sign up using a valid U.S. checking account: this is what the GasBuddy card will “link” to in order to pass on the savings. Applications can be filled out online, or through the app, and since it's through debit, there are no credit checks or any other hoops to jump through. In fact, this is actually how the idea works: since transactions paid for by the Gasbuddy card are run as debit, this means the gas stations are avoiding higher credit card transaction fees, and pass some of those savings on to consumers.

Assuming your bank is one of the ones listed, account verification is pretty much instant, so the next step is to wait for your GasBuddy card to arrive, which I believe says will take anywhere from 7-10 business days. I've found usually companies say this as a worst-case scenario, and the card comes much sooner than that, but it really did take me about two weeks from the day I signed up, until I received my card. It was within their stated time frame, but keep that in mind if you're hoping to get it in time for your next fill up, you may have to miss one or two before you actually do.

A visual representation of what the card looks like.
If your bank is not listed in the previous step, you can still manually add your routing and checking account information, but then you must verify it the old-fashioned way: via the amounts of two small deposits that can take up to 72 hours to post. This just adds even more time before you get your card, which certainly sucks, but that's what you get for not having a greedy nationwide corporation handle your money!

Once your card finally arrives, you activate it through the GasBuddy app (available on iOS or Android), set up a four-digit driver number (which functions kind of like a pin), and then swipe it instead of your usual card at the pump, making sure you choose “credit” as your payment option if it asks. (I've found that if you don't specify either option, it automatically runs it through as credit, at least at the gas stations I frequent.) Then you can start using it right away!

The only weird thing about the process is that the pump won't “recognize” the card as a discount card, and so when you're actually pumping your gas, you will see the “full price” displayed. However, once you close out the transaction, you will receive an email showing you the discounted price you were actually charged, and how much you saved. I also don't quite understand why they need to send you a physical card, and why they couldn't have just gone in a similar direction as Dosh and other saving programs, where you just input your banking information to “link” your card. I'm honestly not complaining (the card does look pretty cool), but just kinda wondering out loud (I'm sure there's a logical reason, I just don't know what it would be).

NAVIGATION


Thanks to the app's simple focus, using it is likewise very straightforward.
Since this app pretty much focuses on one thing, navigating around is as straightforward as it should be. From the main page, tap on the "Find Gas" button and, assuming you have location services enabled, it will pull up all the gas stations closest to you, with filters available to help you drill down to something more specific. By default, the closest stations to you are at the top (under 1 mile), with additional distances continuing down. Under each distance, the stations are categorized in order of cheapest, to most expensive.

Refreshingly, unlike GetUpside, location settings are not required to simply browse stations, although it is a requirement if you want to activate a deal alert or to use the card. (This makes sense, so they can match up the deal you're going for to your precise location to make sure they line up.)

Everything else can be accessed from the bottom, allowing you to find gas stations, enter to win their daily $100 gift card contest, etc. You can even add your car model to get information on recalls, which is kind of a cool bonus. And that's about it. It's very easy, and almost impossible for anyone to get lost anywhere in the menu.

PAID OPTION


For most people, this is a waste, but it can be useful for people with no other options.
Although the base level of GasBuddy ($.05 per gallon) is always free, there is also an additional paid tier available. There used to be two, Gasbuddy Plus (which I was actually contemplating signing up for), and GasBuddy Premium, but it appears that only the Premium remains.

The premium adds a $.20 discount on every gallon of gas, up to 50 gallons per month (with the standard $.05/gallon discount applying to anything above the limit), along with roadside assistance, which covers up to three events per year. This costs $9.99/month, or $99 per year. For those who don't have other options for roadside assistance, and who are looking to add it, this is a good option, especially if you tend to fill up with at least 50 gallons per month ($.20 discount x 50 gallons = $10, which basically covers your monthly subscription fee, minus tax). Their RA plan includes free towing up to 10 miles, three gallons of gas should you run out, and coverage for typical events such as flat tires, lockouts, and jump starts; the service is provided by Allstate. Considering we're already covered through AAA, we have no need for it, but for the right person, once you factor in your monthly gas savings, this is like getting all of those things for free, with even greater savings if paid for as an annual subscription up front.

(For what it's worth, the “Plus” upgrade was $5.99/month or $49.99 per year and offered the same $.20 discount up to 40 gallons, but without the added roadside assistance.)

OTHER ACTIVITIES
You can shop at retailers to earn money back that you can use on gas.
Although the main focus is simply on using the debit card to earn cash back, there are other ways to save some money from within the GasBuddy app: namely, GasBack, and Deal Alerts.

GasBack is essentially an eBates-style rebate platform, where a certain percentage of your sales to certain retailers come back to you in the form of “free gas”. Honestly, the percentages offered are about the same as they are through other platforms, with the added benefit of being able to cash them out and use them on whatever you like elsewhere. But if you're already planning on using the rebated money for gas, and are planning on doing some shopping anyway, then the GasBuddy app can be a good alternative, especially considering there are no minimums necessary to cash out: the GasBack is saved in your GasBuddy account, and can be applied to any fill-up once it clears (which can take weeks, and depends on the retailer, per the norm).

Deal Alerts have just started working a little differently than they used to. Initially, you saved $.05 by default every time you used the card, and Deal Alerts were a way to save even more at select stations. Now, however, you must manually select your gas station of choice in order to earn the $.05 discount, with the default savings (should you forget to do so) dropping to a mere $.03. You have to wonder what the company stands to gain (besides slightly-increased profits) by requiring this extra step, but it must be worth it to their bottom line.

How "Deal Alerts" are designated in the results.
There are some stations that do offer deeper discounts than $.05, though, and these stations are clearly labeled in the results screen, with a banner showing you the additional savings. For these stations, all you still have to do is activate the deal alert as you normally would before pumping gas, and voila! Additional savings for literally no extra work!

The amount of the extra offers tend to fluctuate in line with current gas prices (i.e. the lower the retail cost of gas, the lower the discount), but they're usually around $.10-.15, which can really add up. I've been incredibly lucky in that a gas station right down the street from me participates in this plan, which has allowed me to save over $50 in gas within the first six months of using this app. While that might not sound like much, it's money I was going to spend anyway, so why not save a buck or two per fill-up? (Plus, that same gas station is one of only three in my highly-populated metropolitan area that are also on GetUpside, allowing me to stack both deals and nearly double my cash back every time...I'm going to be depressed when this hookup ends.)

HOW MUCH CAN I SAVE? 
Well, how much gas do you buy in a given month? The more you buy, in theory, the more you save. But let's be real here: contrary to what human nature seems to believe, $.05 per gallon is not much. (It always cracks me up the people that will drive five miles out of the way to save $.10 a gallon on gas—which equates to $1.40 on a 14-gallon tank—and then will turn around and drop $3 on a bottle of name brand ketchup.)

But it is something. And basically for nothing. While it used to be even simpler (just use the card to save $.05), remembering to use the GasBuddy card on top of activating the Deal Alert at the gas station before pumping certainly isn't difficult, and becomes part of your natural routine after a couple trips to the gas station.

As a quick, real-world calculation of roughly what you can expect to save, my wife and I each have our own vehicles: she has an SUV that holds about 20 gallons, and I have a Chrysler that holds around 15. We each fill up about once every week-and-a-half, which equates to about three fill-ups per vehicle per month, averaging out to somewhere around 90 gallons total. Just at the base rate of $.05 per fill-up, that equates to somewhere around $4.50 per month, or $54 per year. Again, certainly not a life-changing amount, but it's pretty much money for almost nothing, so why not take advantage of it?

If you're lucky enough to be near a gas station that frequently offers “Deal Alerts”, that above number can be boosted quite a bit. For me, I've earned over $50 back through six months, which would put me on par for somewhere around $100 in a year. I don't know what I'm going to spend that extra money on, but I know it won't be on gas! (And that's just through GasBuddy...you can stack with other apps to increase savings even more.)

"Price Hike Alerts" are another great tool to save you money at the pump.
You can also sign up for "Price Hike Alerts", which send an alert to your phone when gas prices jump more than $.10 per gallon within a 24-hour period. This gives you a bit of time to get a last-second fill-up before all the stations in your area are affected. It's a pretty nifty little tool that can save you even more.

SUPPORT
I have never had to use GasBuddy's support, so I unfortunately can't speak as to their timeliness or effectiveness at handling questions. As with most services these days, they have a FAQ that seems to be updated pretty frequently, and that can handle basic questions and requests; for questions or concerns not addressed in the FAQ, there is also a contact form that can be filled out and submitted directly to them.

Beyond that, they are active on major social media sites, and will generally respond to requests on there just as quick, if not quicker, than through the contact form.

PROS (+)
+An almost completely passive way to save money at the pump
+Deal Alerts can drastically boost savings, especially when paired up with other apps.
+Completely free base version saves $.05/gallon at almost every gas station, every day.
+Available at around 95% of all gas stations nationwide (notable exceptions: "club" stores, a la Sam's Club; H-E-B; Exxon; and select Walmart and Arco stations).
+Price Hike Alerts notify you when gas prices in your area start to raise by more than $.10 a gallon, allowing you to fill up before it spreads to all stations.

CONS
-Must use GasBuddy debit card, linked to checking account.
-Default savings down to $.03 per gallon (from $.05).
-Eliminated mid-tier paid plan, and raised price on upper tier plan (which comes with roadside assistance).
-Savings can be cut down when used with gas station rewards.

If you drive a car and fill up with any sort of regularity, Pay with Gasbuddy is worth looking into. It's not a great fit for everyone, as it's not accepted at every gas station, and savings can be cut back if you use other discounts at the pump (such as gas station rewards), but for the vast majority, it's a good way to get something back for a necessary product that you're going to purchase anyway.

Especially now that gas prices have hit rock bottom, I'm regularly saving upwards of $.20 per gallon thanks to Deal Alerts, without having to spend $1,000 on groceries, or jumping through any sort of hoops to earn it. Again, results will vary by person, but for me, this is a fantastic, nearly passive way to bank some pretty solid savings. And now is the perfect time to sign up.

RATING: 8/10

Monday, April 27, 2020

Benton's Cinnamon Graham Crackers (Aldi)

More like a saltine than a graham cracker.
There are always those treats that seem to appeal to you less and less the farther away from toddlerhood you get. I mean, some are obvious, like baby food, but then there are the more interesting casualties, and graham crackers would probably be chief among them. I mean, it's at least an occasional staple in almost every child's diet at some point in their lives, but have you ever actually witnessed an adult eating one, like, ever? And it's not that they don't still taste good—it's just that, in the overwhelming world of the supermarket, graham crackers become buried amongst the thousands of more appealingly-packaged options.

About the only time I ever eat graham crackers at all is in s'mores, and despite being one of both my wife and I's all-time favorite treats, about the only time we ever think to get them is the twice-a-year we visit her parents in Tennessee (where we make them over an open fire in the quiet solace of their large country acreage). It's one of those products that people seem to always have in the pantry, but they never even consider eating, unless it's a matter of life or death survival, with nothing else available in the house; you could probably go to the store the day before the known apocalypse, and graham crackers will still be fully stocked on the otherwise-empty shelves.

So, naturally, after offering some to my son (an offer that he and his underdeveloped tastebuds eagerly accepted), I decided to take a visit down memory lane to check out a snack from yesteryear....

...and it doesn't even come close to satiating my memories of a cinnamon graham cracker-fueled youth; the taste here is majorly disappointing. The flavor starts off innocuously, with a light cinnamon profile taking the early lead; however, the strong, trademark graham cracker flavor that you're expecting to follow immediately behind just never decides to show up, like it's on vacation, or something. The texture does slightly make up for the lull in taste, with a light, soft exterior that feels like it's going to melt in your mouth, without actually doing so (although this preference to a softer graham cracker is personal and probably won't appeal to many others). In many ways, these are more akin to cinnamon-covered saltine crackers than grahams, which is highly disappointing, to say the least.

The $1.25 price tag (for a 14.4 oz. box) delivers quite a bit of product for the price, which technically gives high marks for value, should this be something you enjoy. But as I always say, value has no bearing on a product that sucks...and this one, unfortunately, falls rather safely into that category.

Overall: 4.5/10. Ouch. I was anxious to revisit a little bit of childhood by (once again) stealing some of my son's snacks, but this one did more to destroy the memory than enhance upon it. The value is solid (with a 14.4 oz. box retailing for just $1.25), and the texture also receives some good marks for me (although the soft, almost melt-in-your-mouth composition won't be for everyone), but as attractive as everything is on the outside, it all goes downhill once you, you know, actually try eating it. It's not that the flavor is bad, it's just that there isn't nearly enough of it there: the soft, appealing intro of cinnamon is followed up by a light touch of graham cracker flavor that barely registers as a blip on the radar of your tastebuds. It's more akin to a cinnamon-covered saltine than a graham cracker, a notion every bit as disappointing as it sounds.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Ultimato's Cheese Calzone (Aldi)

These should be available all the time.
Aaaah, the calzone, that wonderful breaded concoction that no one ever seems to talk about or actually eat. I dunno, maybe it's just where I grew up, but I never even tried one until a few year's back, and I still can't bring myself to actually order one from a pizza place, because they have, you know...pizza. And who would rather have a calzone than a pizza? Hell, I don't even think I've ever seen anyone else eat one, no matter where I've been...it's almost like the redheaded stepchild of the pizza industry.

Recently, however, I have been indulging a bit more in Mama Cozzi's calzones, which are fairly inexpensive, semi-filling, and tasty as a quick bite when no one feels like making anything. However, as I noted in those reviews, they are lacking a noticeable amount of pizza sauce inside, making them somewhat bland if you don't happen to have a dipping sauce nearby. And that's when I saw the weekly ad that proudly displayed this massively overlarge calzone (at least, in comparison to their typical offerings), just in time for the Super Bowl; I immediately knew I had to have it.

This thing is pretty massive, and probably more in line with the size of a typical calzone when ordered out. I baked it for about twenty minutes in the oven (per the instructions) and it came out just perfect, with an almost fluffy dough that wasn't too soft or too hard—perfect texture. The cheese is ridiculously stringy and falls all over the place when cut open, making it deliciously inviting. The packaging touts that it's “restaurant quality”, and judging from first appearances, that's an accurate way to describe it, both in size and texture.

Diving in, I quickly hesitated when I saw loads of red stuff on the inside; I seriously had to double check the packaging to make sure I didn't get pepperoni. As it turns out, of course, it's pizza sauce, but considering Aldi's typical calzones have next to none, I wasn't expecting much here. I'm not even sure if typical calzones are supposed to have any, considering Aldi's usual ones barely have any at all, but this comes loaded with a heaping helping of the tomato-based sauce, which certainly helps to keep the bread from becoming too dry. So as you can probably tell, at least for me, this was certainly a welcome addition.

Tastewise, yeah...this is excellent. The pizza sauce isn't really a stand-out sauce, but it doesn't have to be, delivering a solid amount of tomato flavor that goes well with the breading and delicious, stringy cheese. Even the bread is good on its own, featuring a mix of spices that make it edible, with no dipping sauces required (although I would always still recommend it). Honestly, after having gotten a taste of these, it not only makes me respect calzones a lot more, but also makes me wonder how I can go back to the puny Mama Cozzi's ones that I've been enjoying for a little while now. And at $4.99 per monstrous calzone, the value certainly beats going to a restaurant! The biggest drawback is that these are only a special buy; one can only hope they (or a private label version of them) will be available as part of their permanent inventory at some point in the (hopefully) near future.

Overall: 9/10. As far as Aldi's calzones go, the $4.99 price tag on this one might seem to put it in more of a “premium” category...but it's three times the size of their typical calzones, while serving up ten times as much flavor! It cooks up large and surprisingly fluffy for a store-bought calzone, while the flavor comes way closer to matching the “restaurant quality” it (rather curiously) boasts about on its packaging than one would expect. Especially within that context, with most pizza shops offering calzones for upwards of $10, that makes the price tag on this one all the more enticing. The biggest drawback is that this is only a special buy, and one that exhausted itself pretty quickly at our store...only time will tell if it becomes a constant fixture on Aldi's take and bake menu, which is where it should be.

RANDOM SIDE NOTE: It's worth noting that this product technically doesn't seem to be an Aldi-exclusive, nor an Aldi private label brand. However, despite being made by Festive Foods, the company responsible for Gino's Deep Dish frozen pizzas, these also don't seem to be widely available anywhere, with very scant traces of it mentioned online (and virtually all paths leading back to Aldi), hence the reason it's covered here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Season's Choice Black Pepper Fries (Aldi)

Have had this damn thing in my queue for months, but they haven't offered it since I tried it, so fuck it: here's the only image of it I can find on the internet, courtesy of Nutrionix, just so I can publish the damn thing.


Well we already tried (and enjoyed) the black pepper onion rings that were offered by Season’s Choice a couple of months ago, so naturally it’s time to turn our attention to their Black Pepper Fries, available as a Special Buy at Aldi stores nationwide. True to form, these are what they suggest they are: French fries sprinkled with a black pepper seasoning. Wow, how unique! Let’s see what I thought of them! 

First of all, I don’t know if it was sheer luck, or just their outer coating, but I tend to undercook fries in the oven. Even when I cook them well, they never turn out as crispy as I like. These, just like the extra-crunchy onion rings, came out just perfect from the oven - they weren‘t burnt, but had a nice bit of added crunch. The black pepper is evident on each fry just by taking a look at them, but you can really appreciate the addition after taking a bite: even though pepper constantly takes a backseat to the more popular "salt", it adds a nice flavor that reminds me of something a chain restaurant serving bottomless fries might serve (this honestly isn’t a specific reference to any particular one, just a general observation). There’s quite a lot of flavor in each bag, and for a mere $1.99, there’s some solid value to be had here, considering there's well over a pound of fries here.

A side note: While it may seem a little obvious to just buy some regular fries, and sprinkle some black pepper on them to get a similar effect, I don’t think it would achieve the same taste. The outside coating seems to be a lot crispier than their normal fries, and it tasted like there are some additional spices that really mesh well with the pepper. Honestly, these are some pretty solid fries for the price, akin to what you might get at a chain restaurant, but for literally a fraction of what you would expect to pay at one. (And I know the “chain restaurant” distinction might be a mood killer, and I dislike most such places myself, but let’s be real here: are you really expecting gourmet fries at this price point?)

Overall: 7.5/10. These hit the spot pretty well, with the black pepper seasoning offering something a little left of center, and a welcome change from the typical varieties of fries (crinkle cut, seasoned, etc.) that we’ve grown accustomed to. They cooked up perfectly crispy, unlike most other frozen fries I’ve had, and just have a great spicy taste that give the taste buds a little extra kick. This is the first time I’ve seen these, but I’d definitely pick them up again during another Special Buy cycle…if they're ever available again. The $1.99 price tag only makes things even better. Definitely worth a purchase.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Restorz Gummy Multivitamins (Dollar Tree)

Taste great, but beware the serving size of two gummies...
I'm usually a pretty good analyzer of labels and product packaging, especially when it comes to Dollar Tree. There are no doubt a number of great deals to be had within the confines of the popular dollar store, but there are also a number of tricks and tips that the stores use to make you think you're getting a great deal that you're not. For example, a lot of the name brands will have smaller sizes, or fewer counts, that frequently make buying the full-size versions elsewhere a much better bargain.

But every once in a while, a product still manages to pull one over on me, and in this case the offender is Restorz, a vitamin vendor who sells a small variety of products that I swear have just started popping up in Dollar Tree stores within the last few months. Obviously, seeing something that's typically as expensive as gummy vitamins are for a mere $1 set off a number of red flags. Fourteen gummies included? Well, a lot of vitamin containers I see have around 80 gummies for $7 or $8, so this means 70 would be $5...which checks out as a good deal. A healthy serving of 11 vitamins and minerals, with 33% iron being on the low end, and 133% vitamins B12 and E being the most concentrated? That was another plus, and I was sold right then and there.

Instead of being in small bottles, these are in small resealable hanging packs. The vitamins themselves are small, and look kind of like dried up fruit pieces rather than delicious gummies, but I didn't care...after all, they were only a dollar. Without much hesitation, I popped one in my mouth...and was honestly kind of blown away. These things taste good. Like, really good. They are a little grainy, which I didn't expect, but it's not to an off-putting degree, and the genuine deliciousness of the chews more than makes up for it. My wife tried them and loved them, too, which only cements my stance that these are good. I'm awful at remembering to take things daily, but the taste itself served as a reminder...it's like candy but with health benefits! Wow, I was all set to scream from the mountaintops that I had found the best deal in vitamins! 

Then, about five days later...FIVE!...I saw something that changed everything. I got up in the morning, went to grab yet another gummy vitamin, and saw some basic information that I had somehow completely overlooked. There it stood, in plain black letters against a white background: serving size, 2 gummies. My world was rocked, my life was overturned. Was everything else in my existence a lie, too? I couldn't trust anyone anymore; paranoia took control. I divorced my wife, abandoned my son, quit my job, and moved to a secluded and run-down cabin in the hills, where I will live out my empty life in isolation, waiting until I break down to the point that putting a single bullet in my head seems like a logical way out...

Dammit, I really wanted to end it on that unnecessarily dark note, but the structuring of this post won't allow it, because I still have more information to share. That's right, these have a serving size of two gummies, which is one less than the standard serving size of a typical gummy vitamin. All of a sudden, the great deal is off, because there are only 7 servings in this small pouch, not 14 as originally believed. Mathematically, these went from a good deal, to an awful one; you can routinely get 100 count (or more) gummy vitamins elsewhere for around $10, while $10 here would only net you 70 servings.

But the more I thought about it, the more rationality took control. You know what? These don't have to be a bad deal after all. Even if I only take one a day, that's still 50% of the daily recommended value of five different vitamins (C, D, B6, Folic Acid, Pantothenic Acid) and 66.5% of B12 and E. If you're not getting them any other way, I would think that amount is far better than zero. For me, I tend to eat a pretty large serving of cereal every day, so that would at least push many of the vitamin totals closer to the 100% mark, if not over in some instances. I also think it can be a great way for lower-income families, who may not be able to afford an $8 container of vitamins all at once, to at least get some of their necessary vitamins without having to break the bank. 

And that has to count for something.

Overall: 6/10. It's probably not an ideal product for most, but Restorz Gummy Vitamins taste surprisingly great, and offer up 14 vitamins for a mere $1. Be forewarned, however, that a serving is two gummies, not one, so you're only getting 7 full servings in a pack, which negates much of the value I initially thought I was getting. Still, taking one a day and getting at least half of the recommended dose of 7 vitamins, and smaller amounts of four more, is still better than getting none at all, I would think. This makes multivitamins affordable to just about everyone, and on those grounds, it deserves at least some commendation, although if you can afford it, it definitely makes more sense to buy them elsewhere in the larger, "one-gummy-equals-one-serving-size" containers.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Clancy's Sweet Maui Onion Kettle Chips (Aldi)

Some things just shouldn't be translated into chip form.
I’m going to say it for the millionth time: I eat a lot of potato chips. It’s not something I’m proud of, nor is it something I aspire to do. It’s just that, packing four out of my five working days every week, it’s something I can easily just toss in a bag and be on my way. Even better, they can be pretty darn cheap, especially at Aldi, where a typical bag retails for under $2.

This isn't a flavor I'd normally be interested in at all, but sometimes you get sick of all the standard flavors, and just want to try something new. And hey, how else are you going to find out if you like something or not? That was the mindset I was in when I grabbed a bag of Clancy's Sweet Maui Onion Kettle Chips; after all, I really enjoy sweet things, and was interested in how that could be implemented in potato chip form.

These aren’t exaggerating when they call themselves “sweet” chips. The onion taste somewhat reminds me of those “fun onion ring” snacks you can get in the chip aisle, only instead of strong salt, this one amps up the sugar quotient to almost stomach-churning proportions. It’s not that the flavor is bad, it’s just that the sweetness is so overbearing—even to a self-avowed fan of sweet stuff like I am—that I get sick of them, pretty much literally, after I’ve only had a few. I guess the silver lining to this is that the bag of chips has lasted me twice as long as they normally do, but with the trade-off that I virtually dread the thought of having to eat them.

Despite the score and the previous sentence, I actually might—might—get these again (though the more I think about them the more queasy I feel), but it won’t be until the memory of their taste completely leaves my mind. Eating them is not a pleasant affair, and I kept finding other things to pack just so I could avoid including these in my lunch at times. The main thing working in its favor, besides the $1.79 price tag which isn’t bad at all, is that these are pretty different, at least when compared to the overly-salty flavor of many potato chips. But “different” doesn’t always mean good, and this is a shining example of that.

Overall: 3/10. The more I think about these, the sicker I get. It's not that the flavor is really all that bad, just that the “sweet” in the title is not an exaggeration: These things are almost grotesquely so, with an onion flavor that peaks through at the end, though it's not enough and it's already too late. It's almost like it can't decide if it wants to be savory, or a dessert...unfortunately, the onion makes that decision rather forcefully. At $1.79 a bag, the price is pretty much on point, but it's not worth it when the mere thought of them make your stomach churn. It's different from the norm, I'll give it that—in fact, that was the trait that drew me to them in the first place—but also a sobering reminder of what can happen when you voluntarily stray from the norm. Lesson learned.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Breakfast Best Sausage Breakfast Bowl (Aldi)

If you can take the health hit, these are tasty little bowls. And I stress: "little".
Sadly, there was a time when I ate Breakfast Best's Sausage Bowls pretty frequently: It was about a decade ago now (!) when I first started a new job working at a high-end clothes retailer. Since it was a pretty early shift (it started at 6 a.m.) I would bring these to work with me to eat during my break, simply because it was quick (ready in under three minutes), cheap (under $2), and gave me a little pick-me-up, considering it was often the first thing I would eat most days.

A lot has changed in the years since then (though, ironically, I still work at that exact same place). For example, as a hereditary benefactor of my mother's high cholesterol, I now try to really limit the amount that I take in, and the 255mg present in each sausage bowl just isn't a good fit with that equation. There's also, unsurprisingly, equally-ridiculous amounts of sodium and fat to go along with it, to the extent that by the time you finally find something positive (23g of protein), it just feels like a moot point.

But there's one area where the point isn't moot, and one thing that hasn't changed: this is still a very delicious little bowl. And that is why I'm willing to take the occasional health hit to enjoy one every now and again. The potatoes are pretty dry and fairly tasteless (which is just standard potato) but there's enough cheese and sausage to ensure that you should never have to get stuck with a bite consisting only of the unmoist vegetable. Sometimes, melted cheddar cheese can come off as fairly tasteless, especially in frozen meals, but this has a very strong flavor that really hits the spot. Rounding everything out is the sausage, which you can't really go wrong with...it's greasy as all hell (seriously, there's about an inch-thick layer of grease on the bottom of the bowl when you're done) but packs in some good, albeit standard, sausage taste.

It's just a shame that, despite how much crap is packed inside, there's just so...little here: the bowl is so oversized that the contents only take up maybe half of it, making it appear larger than it really is when displayed at the store. The average person can have this downed in somewhere around 10 bites, making it feel somewhat anti-climactic, considering the havoc it will probably wreak on your bowels in a short time.

In other words, it tastes exactly as you would probably expect it to. I remember being appalled seeing the price tag on the national brand version of these bowls, and as usual, Aldi comes to the rescue, offering these for a mere $1.99. While that's loads cheaper than the main brand, I will say that there's not really a whole lot to them: the average hungry man will get probably under ten bites before it's all gone. That makes it feel more like a teaser than an actual meal, which makes the health hit seem even worse, since you'll probably have to eat more stuff just to feel full. But as a quick meal of convenience, this one delivers enough on flavor to make it a worthwhile option to have on hand.

Overall: 7/10. Flavorwise, these are actually really good, with potatoes, cheese, and sausage coming together to form a rather tasty little snack. The problem is, this “snack” is also an instant heart attack that won't even come close to filling most people up, yet still has loads of cholesterol, sodium, and fat. Preparation is quick and easy, though, and at $1.99 per bowl, it's way more affordable than the absurdly overpriced national brand (at least at full price). If you fill up way easier than I do (and I think most people do), then this could fit the bill as a convenient and quick little meal on the go. For me, though, as good as it tastes, it doesn't even come close to filling me up, yet has well more than half of the daily allowance of pretty much everything that's bad for you; as someone with high cholesterol (and borderline high blood pressure), that fact alone relegates this to little more than an occasional treat.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Specially Selected Roasted Vegetable Bistro Style Flatbread (Aldi)

If "boring" is your thing, this delivers it in spades.

Let's start this one off with a very uninteresting story: we had actually gotten this one before, and found ourselves underwhelmed on virtually all fronts. But what happens when you send your wife to Aldi, and she thinks she's getting the mozzarella and tomato flatbread? She ends up not paying attention and casually throwing this one into the cart! She was so disgusted with herself that she adamantly refused to even re-try another piece, which meant I had the honors of forcing it all down again by myself.

Even though I'm a meat-eater by trade, I actually enjoy vegetarian dishes from time-to-time, but this one kind of gets everything wrong for me. For starters, I feel like vegetarian dishes especially need some sort of “kick”, or standout flavor, to get my tastebuds excited and hopping. This one delivers a crap-ton of uninteresting and underflavored vegetables just as they are, in all their underflavored and uninteresting glory. There aren't any caramelized onions, to boost the flavor up a bit, or even something cool and unique, like Brussels sprouts, which would at least make it an intriguing failure (assuming it ended up being one). Instead, we get grilled peppers, tomatoes, white and red onions, and grilled zucchini...that line-up is basically what a conversation with Gwyneth Paltrow would taste like, if that were an edible experience.

It does nothing for the texture, either, which simply delivers one semi-mushy bite right after another. The zucchini is probably the worst offender, with large bits of the stuff that deliver soft, juicy bites consisting of almost no flavor, but the others chime in with similar structural profiles, making even the experience of eating it bland and uninviting. Come on, at least throw in some charred cauliflower, or veggie-based bacon bits or something, to give us some sort of crunch! The mozzarella cheese is hardly noticeable, but the Grana Podano PDO and Pecorino Romano PDO cheeses have a crumbly texture that's more akin to feta, and do add a bit of textural interplay with the rest of the mush. (Fun fact: Both of those cheeses have been granted Protected Geographical Status over in Europe; the “PDO” stands for “Protected Designation of Origin” and ensures that both of those cheeses are “authentic” and made in their proper respective European region.)

Capping everything off is that the already-small flatbread has a 1-2” border consisting of thick, raised crust, meaning there's that much less room in the middle for all the ingredients; in this case, I suppose that's a good thing, but it's a curious decision considering most flatbreads don't have a crust at all, instead opting to stretch the toppings from edge-to-edge. In fact, it's not even really a flatbread at all: it's more of an actual pizza crust, just made smaller to give the appearance that it's made of flatbread material. In the lone surprise, the crust honestly happens to be the best part, something I would say even if the rest of it was good, with a buttery flavor that goes down easy on its own, without the need for a sauce to dip it in; coming from me, that's saying a lot, especially for a frozen pizza-type entree.

As you can probably tell, this is simply an underwhelming misfire, from an “upscale” brand that I typically expect more from. And while the $3.49 retail price (which has, rather admirably, stayed consistent since 2016) certainly won't break the bank, it's also about $3.00 more than you'll get in flavor.

Overall: 3/10. A bland failure, delivering an overall mushy texture that's spared only by infrequent bits of crumbly cheese and an overbearing crust that's more “pizza” than “flatbread” (where's the FDA when you need them?). The veggies contained (roasted peppers, zucchini, red and white onions, and tomatoes) are all rather boring on their own, and when combined with one another, simply become more boring. The crust, which is “overbearing” in that it takes up most of the real estate, is actually the best part in terms of flavor, offering up a nice bit of crunch and a buttery flavor that goes down easy on its own, without the need for dipping sauce or other accoutrements, but its contributions are largely lost amidst an endless sea of dull. Even worse: though the flavor strongly hints at “healthy”, the 1/3 flatbread serving size constitutes a whopping 310 calories, with 4.5g of saturated fat and a healthy dose of sodium to round it all out. Sheesh, might as well get a fast food hamburger.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Simply Nature Apple Peach Squeezable Fruit Blend Pouch (Aldi)

An affordable and tasty (almost too) little snack for kids.
I’m quickly learning another great benefit to having a child: raiding their food stash, especially as they get older. I don’t do it all that often (although some of my reviews might make it seem otherwise), but sometimes I’m a little short on “grown-up” food for lunches at work, or I need a quick pick-me-up snack at home, and don't have very many “adult” options. That's when I find it’s okay to snoop around and see what items he’s had sitting in his little section of the pantry for a while…I mean, hey, it’s better than having it go to waste!

The (un)lucky item this time is Simply Nature’s Apple Peach Squeezable Fruit Blend, which are little pouches of what basically amount to flavored applesauce. Aldi sells these four to a pack, for under $2, which is a good deal made slightly less so by the size of each pouch: 3.2 oz. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again: these are almost too small, as our 3-year-old has them sucked down before I even make it out of the room. But he likes the flavor, and they seem to be pretty healthy, so I don’t mind keeping them on hand.

In fact, the ingredients list is pretty minimal: apples, peach puree, apple juice concentrate, and ascorbic acid, which is reminiscent of their Little Journey line of baby food pouches. The only differences are that Simply Nature’s pouches aren’t organic, and they also pack in another ingredient: those pesky “natural flavors”, which kind of makes you wonder how and where they are used. (If I had to guess, I’m going to say it’s the peach, because the flavor seems to have that “lab-created” intensity to it that I wouldn’t expect to find from a natural peach.)

After digging into one myself, it's easy to see why the little one likes them. Most kids already seem to appreciate the applesauce texture, which is here in spades, while the pouch cuts back on the frustrations of making a mess, or having to coordinate dipping the spoon into the cup. So I guess my biggest frustration—the quick time it takes him to down it—is probably one of the reasons he likes it so much. The strong, sweet flavor also helps, with peach taking center stage, and the apple following close behind. It might be overly sweet for some, but I think it's a pretty good balance, especially for the child demographic that it is clearly marketing itself toward. Also, for the record, I pretty much have the palate of a child.

Good value, great flavor, reduced mess...what's not to like?

Overall: 7.5/10. What we have here is basically a glorified applesauce pouch, and while they're a little more expensive than buying the multi-pack cups (and with typically less applesauce per pouch), the trade-off is the reduced odds of a mess, since it requires no hand-eye-spoon coordination on the part of the child. It does feel a little anti-climactic, considering my son has these downed before I can even leave the room, but it's healthier than some snack items, and with a delicious peach-forward flavor that most kids (as well as myself) will enjoy. Nice to have as a backup snack, if nothing else, and the $1.65 asking price makes keeping them on hand easy, without having to break the bank.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Benton's Soft Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies (Aldi)

Wonderfully, woefully average.

Fearing that their delectable “Original” Australian cookies were on their way out of permanent inventory (a fear that seems to be unfounded, as they appear to have gotten in another shipment since my previous trip), I actually picked up a pack of these hoping to find a somewhat viable cookie replacement should my preferred option dry up. Hey, as we're learning now, it never hurts to be prepared for any situation!

Excited at the prospect of potential deliciousness, I let my wife try one first immediately after getting home, and was more than a little annoyed when she contorted her face in slight—but genuine—disgust , and declared that they basically tasted like every other pre-made triple chocolate cookie. She’s a self-admitted bakery snob, though, and frequently turns her nose to everything that’s not fresh-baked. “What did she know?” I thought to myself, well aware that she actually knows a lot about making foodstuffs and has a much more refined palate than I could ever hope to achieve.

So I did what I frequently do: completely blocked out her opinion. Instead, I prepped myself for a flavor sensation that my close-minded wife was certainly missing out on...a sensation that never came because, unfortunately, she was right (at least this time). I was initially won over by the soft and chewy texture, which is almost too perfect...it's like the person who's overly sweet because they're up to no good; it's proof alone that these clearly weren't made by the loving, imperfect touch of a human being, but rather a mechanical cyborg programmed to construct the perfect cookie, every time, and the results are honestly rather off-putting.

Beyond that, my wife hit the flavor profile on the head: there’s nothing special here. She did go too far when she said she’d rather have a crunchy name brand cookie (ahoy there, maties!) as opposed to these (I wouldn’t)), but these are otherwise pedestrian cookies in every regard; a special shame given the inclusion of white chocolate chunks, which don’t seem to get featured in cookies near enough for me. Here, I figured they would provide a perfect sweet counterpoint to the strong cocoa combination of the cookie and milk chocolate chips, but instead, they just seem to get lost in the neverending sea of brown chocolates, offering little more than a pleasant aesthetical counterpoint by being the only light thing in the entire cookie. (Which sounds like a metaphorical allegory of racism, but is genuinely simply describing my preference for white chocolate to dark, or even milk, even though I'm fully aware it's technically not even “real” chocolate. Like a white woman with a large booty. Which now has brought race into it.)

Value is pretty much a wash, in my opinion: they're not too expensive, but they're also not a great deal, with each 7.4 oz. package retailing for $1.99, and consisting of eight cookies. While that might sound like a bargain, they are not full-sized cookies; they are maybe a little larger than the aforementioned “crunchy name-brand cookies”, making them around half the size of one that I would consider to be “full-size”. In other words, this has the attempted look and feel of a premium cookie, but with the pedestrian flavor and eerily-perfect “Stepford Wives”-style consistency of one that's mass-produced. No thanks.

Overall: 5/10. The price tag is decent ($1.99 per 7.4 oz. package), but these are just standard, mass-produced cookies masquerading themselves as something more noteworthy. The triple chocolate flavor is rather pedestrian through-and-through, while simultaneously coming in at about half the size of “real” ones, no less. The white chocolate chips (which is the reason I pulled the trigger on these in the first place) get lost amidst all the abundance of genuine cocoa, and provides little addition to the flavor, while the cookies themselves are almost too perfectly chewy, a sobering reminder that you're eating a mass-produced product made by robotic, automated hands, and not the loving touch of a caring human being. It's almost a perfect example of a wonderfully average product, through and through, but at a cost that insinuates you should be getting more.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A Rising "Receipt App" With a Great Community: An In-Depth Look at Coinout (Mobile App)

WHAT IS IT?

Coinout is yet another receipt-uploading app that pays you money for uploading receipts. Like Receipt Hog, it allows you to upload virtually any itemized receipt from virtually any store; unlike Receipt Hog, which only gives you “coins” (which can then be exchanged for gift cards or Paypal cash) for certain kinds of receipts, Coinout pays you instantly in cold-hard cash. It shot to nationwide attention in 2017, when the founder appeared on the hit show “Shark Tank”, and accepted an offer of $250,000 from one of the judges; despite this, I only heard about it recently.

(A fun fact that I haven't seen mentioned in very many places: its “pitch” on Shark Tank was completely different than the finished product. Originally, it was conceived as a way to avoid receiving coins, with the basic process functioning something like this: you go to a store, pay with cash, and instead of the cashier giving you change back--which you can easily lose or forget about--you would pull up the Coinout app, the cashier at the store would scan a barcode that appeared in it, and the change you would have received would go straight into your CoinOut account. From there, you could do whatever you wanted with it: let it accrue, transfer it to your bank account, invest it elsewhere, etc. It's actually a pretty brilliant idea, and I'm curious as to why that aspect was dropped, or if that is a feature that will eventually be coming down the pike. Either way, whatever.)

INTERFACE/NAVIGATION
This is the ugly screen that you're greeted with.
Quite simply put, the interface of Coinout screams “scam” right from the outset. To be perfectly clear, it's not, but it's very unattractive...it looks like the work of a first-year design student making his (or her) first mobile application.

Honestly, if you were to download this app with no idea what it is beforehand, figuring out its point would be pretty confusing: there are vague “buttons” in the middle of the screen, a large (relatively speaking) banner offering cash back at the top, and then an option to click on “All Badges”. Clicking on any of them will give you more details, but a lot of them are the spammy type of ads found on survey sites, requiring you to get a quote on car insurance, or sign up for a service in order to receive the offered payout (which is generally around a dollar). At least all of their offers are from legitimate companies, however, instead of the shady “Sign Up For a $1,000 WalMart Gift Card”-type offers found on other survey sites (Swagbucks and InboxDollars, I'm looking at you!)

Current savings offers...ouch.
There are also buttons for “Share & Earn”, which offers $.75 for every person you refer to their service, as well as one marked “Savings”, which simply shows you a rotating selection of savings accounts that it “thinks” you may be interested in. They don't seem to actually be targeted to the user specifically so much as just randomized options that are probably just masked advertisements, though to be fair, the options do at least tend to have high percentage yields. It's a pretty weird option to have on the main page, though, because how often do people really shop and change savings accounts? It's also weird considering you often get nothing for signing up.

The only thing most people will need to know is the large button marked “Scan”--this is where (almost all of) the magic happens.

UPLOADING RECEIPTS
CoinOut utilizes a pretty standard receipt uploading template.
The upload process is very similar to other sites, with markers helping you to align the receipt to the borders. One curious thing about the app that I learned the hard way, is that there are no options to take multiple shots of the same receipt—you have one shot to take a picture of the whole thing. This is weird for longer receipts, but as a workaround, the app suggests folding the receipt so that the name of the retailer, the date, and the purchase price are all displayed. This kind of strikes me as odd, considering many receipt apps want to see the specific items purchased in order to gather details on user purchasing habits, but I'm not going to complain about its simplicity.

In-store receipts are valid 14 days from the purchase date, which is about the average length for non-specific deal apps; it also means people just starting out can make a good chunk right away by uploading whatever receipts they've accumulated the past couple of weeks, which is a good incentive to get started.

Once you're done snapping the pic, just hit the large "Submit" button, wait about five seconds, and your amount will immediately be added to your balance. Sometimes, it will ask you a simple question related to your purchase, or hit you with a full-page ad related to one of their offers, but answering the question or backing out of the ad takes an extra three seconds, and you'll see your updated total right then and there.

The lack of processing time is another oddity with the app; you could conceivably upload the same receipt 50 times, or even something resembling a receipt (like a piece of paper), and get paid each time. Obviously, I'm not at all suggesting you do that - you'll get your account terminated when you go to cash out and must verify your info - but it's just weird that they don't do all those things upfront, and in real-time, the way virtually every other app works. It gives it a kind of laid back feel that's certainly a welcome change from the norm.

REWARDS SYSTEM
First, the good: Coinout's reward system foregoes "points" or "coins" or other fake currency in favor of one that displays the actual amount of money you have in your account at any given time. Thus, you are paid in actual money for every receipt you upload.

Now, the bad/just plain weird: unlike virtually every other “receipt reward” site, CoinOut doesn't have a set rewards system, meaning the amount you make per receipt is completely randomized, ranging anywhere from $.01 on up. This means exactly what you're thinking it means: that you could conceivably make more money from a receipt for a single item from a convenience store than your $348.68 receipt from the supermarket, which is pretty dumb when you think about it. But hey, at the end of the day, all of those pennies add up, and in theory, it should all even out in the long run. There are ways to boost your balance besides receipts, which we'll touch on later, but if you're just relying just on scanning (which I do, so I'm speaking from experience here), then it's going to be a slow slog to any meaningful amount.

Receipt amounts are completely randomized.
The biggest draw that CoinOut has over the competition is that virtually any receipt from a valid retailer is eligible for cash payment. So those gas-only receipts that only get you a sweepstakes entry elsewhere? Upload them here for immediate cash payment. That receipt from a clothing store that would only be good for a "spin on the slots" in other apps? Cash here. Electronics store? Cash. Restaurant? Cash. Thrift store purchase? I'm not entirely sure on this one, but I'm sure that's valid for cash back, too. As a general rule of thumb, as long as it's printed, itemized with a total amount, legible, and has a store name, it can earn you money. The only ones that aren't accepted are the obvious: bills, movie tickets, handwritten receipts, etc. are all invalid, which really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

What is rather surprising is that they even take e-receipts, unlike many of their competitors. The process for claiming them is simple, but also rather bizarre: simply forward the actual receipt (not an invoice or other vague document) to receipts@coinout.com and you're good to go. A verification email will be sent once they receive it (which is generally almost instantly) and is a nice touch that let's you know it's safely in their hands. The first time you submit one, you do have to include the mobile number attached to your CoinOut account in the body section of the email, but after that you're given the chance to fill out a form that makes every submission thereafter automatic (assuming it comes from the same email address, I presume).

E-receipts are paid out in one lump sum every Thursday, and designated, confusingly, as a "gift".
Payout for these, however, is not instant: instead, all e-receipts are processed on Wednesdays, with the money appearing in your account on Thursday morning. There are some more specific rules as to when they must be submitted by in order to be processed that week, so visit the website for full details, but in the worst-case scenario, you'll just have to wait until the following Thursday to get the cash. The same rules as the printed receipts apply: must be itemized, with date, store name, and total clearly legible, but other than that, they'll accept them from virtually anywhere.

The only catch—and it's a fairly big one—is that online receipts must be forwarded to them the day you receive them. The reasoning behind this is unclear, but considering the process is even simpler than uploading receipts, getting into the habit of immediately doing it quickly becomes second nature. I did test this theory and uploaded some receipts a day after receiving them, and they still seemed to go through, but that's something that's liable to change at any time, especially as the user base grows and their rules get more strict.

COMPUTER FUNCTIONALITY
Like an ever-increasing number of apps these days, Coinout is limited only to mobile devices, with absolutely no computer functionality whatsoever. Some sites will at least let you sign up on a computer, then force you to download the mobile app to actually use it, but you can't even sign up on a PC here, making it a poor option for those without a smartphone or tablet.

HOW MUCH CAN I MAKE?
It's going to depend on a variety of factors, such as how many receipts you upload, and what your random payout is for each one, but either way, don't expect much. After making over $1 within my first week, it took me close to a month to double that total (and on probably three times the number of receipts), so expect a slow drag that's about on par with payouts on other apps.

As can be expected, there's a daily limit to how many receipts you can submit...but like many other things with Coinout, it's very vague. At one point, it was 25 (per day!) but users on Reddit have claimed that number has been quartered down to roughly six (I can't exactly vouch for this because I rarely, if ever, get that many in a single day). And if you think you'll get a clear answer from the company themselves, their own terms simply confirm that there is a daily limit, but that it varies by day, with absolutely no numbers given for reference. So I guess just keep scanning until you don't earn anything.

For those people into referrals, you can get $.75 for every verified user you add.
For a personal, real-world example, I signed up around mid-July, 2019, and as of mid-March, 2020 (about eight months), I had just shy of $16 in my account. That equates to somewhere around $2 per month, with an estimated average of one receipt per day uploaded. In the grand scheme of things, that's pretty good compared to similar services I've signed up for, and there's a good chance if you're in a bigger household, or get way more receipts than I do, or sign up for their paid offers, that your results will be even better than mine.

Honestly, once the payments dipped down to normal levels, I was seriously tempted to drop the app. And I would have, were it not for the wide variety of supported receipts, as opposed to other ones like Receipt Hog, where certain categories only earn you entries into their sweepstakes, or spins on their slot machine, or some other pointless low-odds jackpot. It's also nice to not have to worry about cashing out “coins” or other fake methods of currency, which can sometimes be a little frustrating to remember how many points equal what, especially when the conversion rates tend to differ across the board.

NOTE: For those people into referrals, click here for my referral link. I get a one-time payment of $.75. You don't get dick.

PAID ACTIVITIES
Beyond the receipts, there are additional ways to make extra cash, with more being added on a pretty frequent basis.

They've jumped on the eBates-style bandwagon by offering cash back on purchases made through certain retailers. I always forget to do this when buying things online, so I can't compare their cash back percentages against similar apps, but they're generally around 3% or less. I can't imagine them being much better than the competition, and the selection of stores is relatively small (around twenty, with many of the stores seemingly offered on a rotating basis), so this probably wouldn't be my first choice for a cash back app, but it's there in case you're in the market for something from one of the places on offer.

Rules for their "online rebates" program.
The downside to these offers are the vague terms of each; since there's only a small square dedicated to each website, that doesn't leave a lot of room for specific notes. Hence, you'll see things like the below picture, which doesn't really give you a whole lot of specific, useful information to go off of.
"Up to 1.2%"? Okay, on what categories specifically? And what are the "excluded items"?
While receipts and rebates are about the only two constants, they do occasionally have Ibotta-style rebates for specific items, cash for completing sign-ups, a cool monthly (or is it twice a month?) trivia, and plenty of contests and sweepstakes that help to keep things fun and interesting. 

CASHING OUT

Another advantage CoinOut has over the competition are the number of ways to receive your payout—and none of them involve waiting for a paper check to arrive. You can be paid out via bank account, Paypal, or Amazon gift card. Looking over those options might not seem like much, considering there are other places that offer gift cards to dozens of different shops and vendors, but being able to transfer the money direct to your bank account is a relatively rare option among many sites. Even more amazing is that there are no minimum balances for anything except the Paypal option (which is $10): Desperately want to spend the $.57 you have in your account? Transfer away! Want a $2.18 gift card to Amazon? Do it! There really aren't many other sites that give you that kind of flexibility, which is another win in its favor.

To be perfectly honest, I have yet to cash out my winnings (saving up to hit the $20 mark), but I will definitely update this section once that happens.

COMMUNITY/SUPPORT

As is standard for me in this category, I have very little actual experience with support; I guess I'm just an easygoing guy. The only time I did contact them was after signing up to a newsletter that promised $1 payout...and receiving nothing after about a week. Support was very friendly, I submitted photographic evidence of receiving the newsletter in my email, and the money was added to my balance within 72 hours of contacting them. That's pretty solid turnaround, in my opinion.

An example of their newsletter layout; just like their app, it's ugly and simple, but the tone is positive and endearing.
As for the community, I have to confess that their newsletter is the only one I consistently read from any app. It matches the design of their website by being pretty ugly to look at, but its simplicity, straightforwardness and laid-back tone are all infectious: There are no spammy, over-the-top surveys, or other shady, questionable offers that other earning sites bombard you with. Instead, there are usually several contests running that pertain to the time period in question, and that just make the site fun. For example, for fall they had a contest where anyone that uploaded a receipt with the word “Pumpkin” in it somewhere, would automatically be entered to win some extra cash, with the winners randomly selected. For another, people were asked to submit receipts from their favorite local spot, with winners once again selected from the pool and given extra money.

They also have a Coinout Facebook page where they run more fun competitions, as well as a separate "Coinout Insiders" group - run by the founder himself, who also posts and responds to inquiries - with even more contests and chances to win, only for group members. They also seek user-submitted feedback on offers and features, and take the responses into consideration. Say what you will about the app itself, but the people behind it are certainly good at cultivating the feeling of a tight-knit community around the group's users, with newbies received just as warmly as longtime users, and no one jumped on for questions or comments. This is an area where other apps should take notice...hell, this is an area where social media in general should take notice.

What makes the contests fun is that, instead of giving a large lump sum to one winner, there are generally anywhere from 10 to 100 people selected as winners for each contest. This results in much smaller earnings (I don't think I've ever seen anyone win over $10 for one contest), but also increases the odds for everyone to win at least something. I don't know why, but I find their upfront honesty refreshing, and more encouraging to keep going long-term.

But perhaps the highlight of every newsletter is CoinOut trivia, which (I believe) is done about once a month. This is the one contest where there is no set amount given to winners, and where everyone has a chance to win: the trivia consists of about five questions, with all of them having something to do with Coinout. Anyone who gets all of them right splits the pot of money, which is generally around $500, but occasionally reaches as high as $1,000! This is a pretty fun way to potentially earn some cash, while simultaneously learning about the app and company. I've won three times, and while my highest amount was around $.40, it's still fun to do and a cool little boost...look at it this way: that's potentially ten receipts!

OVERALL
PROS (+)
+Instant payment for receipts.
+Accept e-receipts.
+Wide variety of supported receipts; perhaps the widest in the business.
+Fun community, with a supportive Facebook group and a down-to-Earth newsletter.
+Responsive support, at least for me the one time I needed them.
+A wide, ever-rotating number of ways to make extra cash.
+14-day acceptance window for paper receipts.
+Instant cash payments for receipts.

CONS (-)
-Ugly interface.
-No PC functionality (app only).
-Receipt payout amounts completely randomized.
-Limited in-store cash back offers, with sometimes vague terms to boot.
-E-receipts must inexplicably be uploaded the day you receive them to get credit.
-Very few free offers; usually low payouts on paid ones.
-Duplicated receipts are not caught by the system upon upload, and can lead to account termination when you try to cash out.

On its own, CoinOut would probably be pretty worthless; even as it stands it's going to be a slow slog for those that are uninterested in the cash-back offers they rotate out (many of which are for paid subscription services or online bank sign-ups). However, the sheer multitude of receipts accepted (virtually anything that's itemized, dated, totaled and with a store name clearly printed), and the fun laid-back community help to make this an app that's at least worth checking out.

They do dabble in all sorts of cash-back possibilities (eBates-style cash back offers for online shopping, Ibotta-style rebates on purchasing specific items, paid sign-up offers, etc.), which for some apps would come off as a clear lack of focus, but here it gives the appearance of an app that wants to cater to its users as much as possible, in an effort to keep them engaged. Whether or not it has the long-term capacity to do so remains to be seen, but it's gotten consistent use out of me for the last eight months, so that certainly has to count for something.

RATING: 7/10