Friday, July 31, 2020

Elevation by Millville Strawberry Protein Meal Bar (Aldi)

Sickeningly sweet. And that's coming from me.

Well, I’ve taken a look at a couple different products by EbM and was pretty well won over by both of them. They are more expensive than the average Aldi product—their excellent mint chocolate protein bars come in a six-pack that retails for $1 per bar, putting it uncomfortably close to the national brand in terms of cost—but they have great texture and taste that help to offset the “investment”.

With that in mind, I decided to push my luck: I realized I always stuck to the familiar flavors that I enjoyed—such as, in this case, chocolate—and never really branched out to try anything new. Right then and there, I made the decision to try a flavor that I wouldn’t normally get…but I did chicken out a bit by offsetting my potential disappointment by buying the cheapest box I could find. This set of 6 protein bars came in at a respectable $4.19, which isn’t too bad at all, especially for six full-size bars.

Oh wow, the smell hits you right away, like you’re in an enclosed laboratory space where a vat of strawberry natural flavor just got dumped all over the floor—it’s pretty evident that this ain’t real strawberry that we’re dealing with. But you know what? That’s not a problem with me, because it reminds me a lot of the strawberries and cream oatmeal packets, which are some of my absolute favorites.

The flavor matches the scent pretty well—for better for worse—by offering a clearly fake strawberry imitation that is very, very sweet at first, and then continues to snowball from there. The yogurt-based coating (I’m assuming that’s what it is, anyway) provides a nice exterior texture that melts in your mouth, providing a counterpoint to the puffed rice-style interior of the bar. To help put your mind at ease, there are also chunks of dried strawberries laced throughout, although they are in such small increments they don’t really do anything for either flavor or texture.

This is pretty much a strawberry overload of flavor; I happen to have a palate that skewers toward the sweet, but those that are sensitive to sweet flavors will be disgusted and overwhelmed. Even with my own high tolerance for the saccharine, I find that this bar is about the perfect size to test my limits: right as I’m nearing the end is when my stomach starts gurgling, and right as I finish the last bite I start to feel sick, as if my body is shutting itself down to protect itself from potential sugar (and artificial strawberry) overdose. I don’t know that each bar actually has as much sugar in it as it tastes like it does, but regardless of that, it’s…overwhelming.

And that was just the first bar...by the end of the first box, it wasn't finishing the bar that became so much of an issue: it was building up enough courage to start it. Even now, a couple months on, the mere thought of it still gets my stomach a-rumblin'...and that's exactly why I'm hesitant to get it again, and even more hesitant to recommend it.

Overall: 4/10. The price ($4.19 for 6 bars) is actually very reasonable and the taste isn’t all that bad…at first. But gradually, the unrelenting onslaught of fake strawberry mixed with a bucket of sugar overpowers the tastebuds with a syrupy sweetness that always leaves my stomach churning by the time I reach the final bite. Even thinking about eating a bar now leaves my poor tummy feeling queasy, and I ate my last bar over a month ago. And if it's enough to overpower a guy like me—an avid purveyor of sweets—then I can only imagine just how off-putting it will be to most other people. So much for trying a different flavor for once…looks like I’ll be back to sticking to the familiar flavor of chocolate for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Meijer Spicy Trail Mix (Meijer)

No thanks.

I feel like I’ve written too many long-winded intros for trail mix lately, so just as a tl;dr version: I don’t get lunch breaks at work any more, so I just bring some snacks to nibble on throughout the day and trail mix is one of my favorites because I can eat as much or as little as I need to keep me energized.

Anyway, now we turn our attention to a spicy trail mix from Meijer, where my wife has been doing almost all of our grocery shopping lately. I haven’t tried any of their varieties, so it will be interesting to see how they compare to Aldi brand, which I’ve eaten quite frequently, and Kroger’s, which I just tried recently for the first time, and was pretty impressed with.

Oooh yep...this one misses the mark for me, by being an almost perfect example of what not to do with a trail mix. Why is it that all trail mixes seem to have the requirement that they are overly sodium-packed? I never understand why they have “exotic” ingredients like nacho corn sticks and chili bits—things that would taste pretty good on their own—then add boatloads of seasoning to the extent that it's all you can taste.

That’s exactly what happens here, making each bite a pretty repetitive experience, despite the inclusion of many different types of nuts and other goodies. The base mix actually tastes very similar to Aldi’s Sweet and Spicy trail mix, but as that name implies, Aldi was smart enough to counteract the overly salty portion, with some little candied peanuts to help offset the sodium burn. Since there’s no such balancing agent here, all we’re left with is what tastes like essentially the same bite, over and over and over again, no matter what combination of ingredients you're eating.

Piling on it while it’s down, the value here is rather nonexistent, with a 12 oz. bag retailing for $4.49. That’s about 40 cents cheaper than Aldi’s version…but for about 12 oz. less. To be slightly more fair, they do offer larger bags (in the case of the spicy, it’s 18 oz.) for $6.49, which brings the cost per oz. down a teeny bit (from about 37.4 to 36), but that’s still giving you less than similar Aldi trail mixes, but for over a dollar more.

Unless you’re a huge fan of overly salty snacks with little in the way of variety, just consider this one an all-around failure.

Overall: 3/10. This is a hugely disappointing trail mix that makes the fatal mistake of drowning everything in salty seasoning. What’s the point of even having chili sticks and nacho corn sticks when you don’t give those flavors room to develop? Instead, every bite is just overly salted, and they all start to blend in with one another almost immediately out of the gate. Value is also fairly poor, with a 12 oz. bag retailing for $4.49 (or an 18 oz. bag retailing for $6.49), while Aldi offers up bags that are around 24 oz. for under $5. Not a fan of this one at all.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Money For (Virtually) Nothing, or Just Plain Nothing? An In-Depth Look at Dosh (Mobile)

WHAT IS IT?
Dosh is yet another “money back” app, the likes of which seem to be cropping up every single second in this digital age. Yet, this one works a little differently than most others: You link your credit (or debit) card, and automatically earn money back on purchases from participating vendors. There are no specific items to buy, or offers to “activate”--just use your card as you normally would , and get some money back! It's a nice passive way to make some cash...at least in theory. Let's see if the execution follows suit, or leaves a lot to be desired.

INTERFACE/NAVIGATION
The main screen. Online offers on top, scroll down for local offers (if location services are enabled).
In this digital age where the mantra seems to be “more is more”, which leads to cluttered and packed interfaces and confusing user experiences, it’s actually kind of refreshing to see an app like Dosh start to gain traction. (And yes, I hate the name too; it’s a slang British term for “money”.) In order to start saving money, there are no menus or hoops to jump through (outside of linking your card for the first time): just use your location settings, or manually enter your zip code, and a list of all participating businesses pops up, from closest to farthest away. Or, if you prefer, you can rank them from highest percentage back, to lowest.

The "hamburger" icon gives you access to all of your specific account needs.
That's pretty much all I ever use this app for: the local cashback. However, they're pushing other features of the app, as well, so there are categories for “mobile offers”, “hotels”, and “online offers”, which you will have to get in the habit of scrolling past to get to the good stuff.

As is standard for this kind of app (and really any app these days), all of the "savings"-related stuff can be accessed with buttons running along the bottom of the screen, while the "administrative" things, such as account information, debit/credit cards, and support, can be accessed with an oddly-shaped "hamburger" icon on the top left of the screen. It's all pretty straightforward and, unless you just crawled out from under a rock that you've been living under for 15 years, should be easy for almost everyone to get the hang of.

SIGN UP PROCESS
Signing up is easy, but there are four big requirements that might be dealbreakers for some people: you must have a valid mobile number, you can only use the app through a mobile device, you must link a debit or credit card to the app (that's how you get cash back), and you must also link either a Paypal or bank account in order to cash out your earnings.

While two out of those four things might make some people uncomfortable, we're all being spied on and tracked at all times anyway, so why not voluntarily give it out so you can at least get paid for it!

Keep in mind that Discover, pre-paid, and department store cards are not accepted, which is fairly typical of these kinds of cashback programs. Assuming none of these things bother you, and you can meet each of those requirements, then you should have no problems getting yourself up and running.

THE IN-STORE CASH-BACK PROCESS
The process is where Dosh unanimously has my vote: no other app that I’m aware of makes earning the money back so easy. Just shop at a participating vendor, run your card (whether debit or credit) as “credit” at the terminal, and you’ll receive an email about your cash back earnings almost immediately. That’s it! There is no need to upload your receipt, or to “claim” an offer beforehand, or even to go shopping through a specific link: just go to that retailer, make a purchase, and wait for the money to roll in.


Target local shops with the "lightning bolt" icon as much as you can; your balance is credited almost immediately.
But I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking the same exact thing: “Well some places won’t let me run my debit as credit,” at which point I just assumed you were SOL. After all, isn’t that how these apps tend to work? Didn’t claim an offer beforehand in Ibotta while using your loyalty card? Sorry, you're shit out of luck. Didn’t claim an offer in GetUpside before pumping your gas? Sorry, there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes it seems the hoops you already have to jump through just to save a few pennies in these apps are already getting smaller...then they light the hoops on fire until you just no longer want to participate.

This is another area where Dosh is pretty refreshing, because, contrary to my expectations, there’s an easy workaround for this: If it was run as debit, simply upload your receipt and upload it to the Dosh team. Once they verify it, they will add the cash back amount to your account. It’s an extra step, sure, but in their defense, debit cards are processed differently than credit, and it’s quite literally out of their hands. The fact they have a workable solution around this at all besides just telling you "better luck next time" is somewhat generous.

THE ONLINE CASH-BACK PROCESS
One area where I'm resolving to get better for the new decade, is to look for online cash back discounts. There are many sites that offer a percentage back, but I've never really paid much attention to them in the past. This is because I generally only shop at Amazon and eBay online, and they don't always offer a percentage back, seeing as how they're two of the biggest marketplaces in the world and don't really have to.

And, would you believe it if I told you that the process is almost exactly the same as in-person sales? Unlike virtually every other “rebate” program in the world, you don't have to make your purchase by following a link in the Dosh app—find a participating vendor, and make a payment through your connected card. It will “spot” it, and then you will receive your percentage rebate. That's it.

Now, similar to every other rebate program in the world, receiving your money back may still take up to 90 days (it's usually dependent on when the return window for your purchase closes), so it's not as “instant” is the in-store option. But it's nice not having to remember to follow through a link, which then opens up the possibilities of “stacking” your Dosh cash back with other link-clicking rebate apps (assuming your preferred provider doesn't use the same platform as Dosh), or credit card reward programs.

SELECTION


The "local offers" screen, which may vary wildly by area.
Here's one area where this app is going to be worth it to some, and a waste of time for others, depending on where you live and/or how much online shopping you do. Around me, in a suburban area neighboring a huge city, there are quite a few offers from local restaurants that we like going to, that offer 5% cash back. We typically only go to these places once or twice a month, and that only equals somewhere around a couple bucks per month, but hey, that's better than nothing!

However, not everyone will be so lucky, as some reviewers online claim that there are very few cashback opportunities around them at all. As a real world example from personal experience, I visited a somewhat older metropolitan city in Illinois, to visit my family, and there were no local restaurants on board whatsoever, leaving me with just a handful of Papa John's and Wendy's locations (and leading me to believe those are nationwide partnerships). So the potential for cash back can be severely limited by where you live, or where you are willing to shop. Although it is unfortunate for the consumer, it's really not the fault of the app, who would no doubt love to have as many companies on board as possible.

Another thing to keep in mind, is that the participating places and categories are always subject to rotating around, although I must confess it doesn't seem to happen as frequently as I thought it would. A few months before I signed up, they offered 2% back on purchases from Kroger. Sure, I hate that place, but my wife (inexplicably) likes to shop there, and I figured it would get added back to the rotation soon. Over a year later, and it hasn't yet; in fact, there are no participating grocery stores in my area, save for Costco, which technically isn't a grocery store at all. Truth be told, outside of restaurants, there's really not much around me; I did expect a lot more variety when I signed up. But again, not all this is within the app's control.

HOW MUCH MONEY CAN I MAKE?
This is one of those sites where the question becomes, “Well, how much money do you spend?” Unless otherwise specified within the offer (and it seems to be only the larger corporations that do this, at least around me), the cash back is usually limited to some absurd monthly amount (such as $2,000). So unless you’re constantly ordering stuff for your office, or some other large scale operation, you can shop at all of those places every single day, and get some cash back.

Again—and this is something that should be common sense, but that can sometimes get lost in the drive to earn money—since the “rewards” completely depend on your spending, so it’s probably not smart to go out of your way to spend twice as much somewhere you don’t normally go, just to earn a couple of bucks back.

In my case, I signed up somewhere around September, 2019, and have around $18 in my account, pretty much all of this from repeated visits to one local restaurant. It's not a lot, but it's something I wouldn't have had otherwise, and I'm pretty satisfied with it. However, the cashback percentages are often pretty low (probably 2-3% on average, up to 5% near me) so you're going to have to spend quite a bit in order to build up your balance.

CASHING OUT


Here are your cashout options...note the complete lack of gift cards!
Cashing out is one of the major issues I have with Dosh and other apps of its ilk. I'm not referring to the actual process of transferring a balance from Dosh to Paypal, or your bank account (which are the only two options, as of this writing), because, quite frankly, I've never reached the minimum balance for cashout. And that's what brings me to the main issue: Many of these services require a rather large minimum balance in order to transfer your savings at all, which can put people in a hard situation if a store that they've accrued a large portion of their balance from, is suddenly dropped from the app.

Dosh is no exception: in order to access your funds via Paypal or bank account, you must have a minimum balance of $25. That doesn't sound high, but just look at my example: close to a year in, and I only have $15. Other people may even worse off than that, with very few chances to even earn money back at all near them.

And speaking of oddities, another thing I don't like: Dosh won't even let you add any of your Paypal, Venmo, or bank account information until you actually have enough money to cash out. It's the only app I know of that's set up that way. I'm one of those people that like to have everything ironed out well in advance so that any problems or setbacks can be cleared up by the time I cash out. Plus, this opens the door for problems, like making people who think they have a valid account, wait until they have enough balance to find out that their accounts aren't valid, and that they can't cash out the money that should rightfully be theirs. While I can't see this really affecting all that many people, that's still a borderline shady business practice, and a rule that I can't see having any business being implemented.

Referrals can be a good way to get you there quicker, if you have a strong network of people who may be interested, as those can net you $5 every time someone signs up and makes their first valid in-app transaction using a linked card. However, keep in mind that no matter how many referrals you have, you can't cash out until you make a qualifying transaction yourself.

Referrals are a good way to boost your funds quickly; feel free to use mine.
This is definitely something that should be factored in when people are deciding whether or not to create an account here. Sure, they give you a "free" $5 for signing up, but that still means you have to actually earn $20 yourself before you hit the base amount and can put it to use. And, while Dosh seems to be on decent financial ground (PayPal is a major investor), there's always the possibility that the company could go bankrupt or lose money, especially in this uncertain year where it feels like anything can happen; at that point, you can kiss your balance goodbye.

COMMUNITY/SUPPORT

The support menu.
As seems to be standard for me in this section, I have not had a need to contact Dosh support (what can I say? I'm easy to get along with), so I can't vouch for their usefulness in handling inquiries. Based on a variety of reviews I discovered on the world wide web, the consensus is that Dosh support sucks overall (and that also gets mentioned in positive reviews). Lots of complaints involving “bait-and-switch” tactics with sudden changes to their terms of service that took away cashback on what should have been eligible purchases, with the majority of these cases involving a specific Staples offer.

Other complaints seem to focus on Sams Club purchases being hit or miss as to whether or not the rebates actually post to their account. Ditto that for online orders in general, with some users complaining they had to send over additional documentation to verify purchases made from online retailers before they were given any money.

They do have an “A+” with the BBB, but just a gentle reminder that the BBB are worthless scam artists who give higher grades to businesses that pay for a membership, and that they are in no way affiliated with the federal government, as some people believe to be the case. (And I'm not at all suggesting that Dosh's score should be lower; just giving some insight as to how the BBB works, since people tend to put way too much weight on their ratings.)

For the record, this is all just publicly available information I've found online from reviewers: In my experience I've personally never had an issue with anything taking longer to post than it should. Granted, as stated earlier, my transactions have all focused on local businesses that offer “instant cash back”, but it has certainly lived up to that terminology every time I've used them, with the verification email hitting my inbox usually before I even put my debit card back in my wallet.

OVERALL
PROS (+)
+"Instant cash back" establishments give you, well, immediate cash back.
+No deals to "claim" or links to shop through; just use your linked card and earn money back.
+Existing users can earn $5 per referral
+New users get $5 just for signing up

CONS (-)
-Widespread reports of virtually nonexistent customer service
-Very limited number of offers in some locations
-Minimum cashout balance of $25
-Most offers 5% or less
-Cashback for online orders can take up to 90 days to post
-Local offers seem to focus mainly on restaurants

Dosh has performed just as well as I've been expecting it to in the year or so since I've started using it. Even so, the trudge up to the minimum $25 cashout balance has been pretty slow, and there hasn't been nearly as much rotation of available businesses and categories as I was expecting (Kroger offered a percentage back shortly before I signed up, and thought another grocery store might step up to take its place, but that hasn't happened in the past nine months).

The percentages, especially for nationwide partners, are usually pretty low, hovering between the 2-3% range, while the highest I've seen is only 5%. Sure, it's better than nothing, but again, that cashout minimum means you'll have to spend $500 in order to see that money again.

On the plus side, using it is easier than most other apps of its ilk: just use your linked credit/debit card at a participating merchant, either online or in person, and watch the balance hit your account within seconds (if it's a local business that participates in the "instant cash back" program), or 90 days (if it's an online vendor). There's no need to remember to shop from a certain link, or "enable" an offer before you go. This reason alone makes it worthwhile for me, as there have been a few instances I've unknowingly shopped at a participating store, only to get a surprise email stating that I have a rebate on its way to my account. And you really can't beat that!

RATING: 6.5/10

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

X-Mode Energy on Tap Watermelon Rush Energy Shots (Online)

A decent "watermelon" flavor, but too similar to the apple for my liking.
Well what do we have here? In the two or so months since my last order, I see those fine folks at X-Mode have added yet another flavor into the mix: watermelon. This takes their total number of options to four, up double from the two they initially offered when I first heard about them a couple of years ago. I don’t typically care for artificially-flavored watermelon things (although I love the actual fruit), but you know what? You only live once, so I figured I might as well get out of my comfort zone. Well, that, and the other flavors were getting kind of boring to me, so that made the decision even easier.

I won’t go into a hugely long preface since I’ve already done that in previous flavor reviews of X-Mode, but just a quick recap about what X-Mode is: In quick terms, think a boxed wine, only for energy drinks. Each order comes with two resealable 2 oz. bottles which you then refill over and over again until the contents of the box are gone. The idea, I guess, is that it cuts back on waste over getting a one-use energy shot and throwing it away every day. I don’t know…I mentioned back when I first reviewed them that I can’t tell if it’s a genius idea or a completely stupid idea and I’m still stuck in the middle, even though these have become my go-to energy beverage (though mostly out of convenience; going to the store to load up on energy shots and/or drinks every single week was getting to be a rather annoying hassle).

Anyway, onto the watermelon: it smells just like what I was expecting, which is to say an incredibly artificial watermelon candy. I don’t understand why so many beverages and candies even have a watermelon flavor, because they never taste (or even attempt to taste) like the real thing…although I guess that ideology could extend to “sour/green apple” and “blue raspberry” candies, too.

It fits the exact flavor profile of every other X-Mode variety, with a very sweet flavor profile that goes down pretty smooth for me, but that will be a chore for those with a preference for the “dryer” things in life (like my wife, who refuses to go near these things). Honestly, I questioned why watermelon flavors even need to exist, and that goes double for this one; the more I sip on it, the more I realize that it’s very close in taste to their “Jacked Apple”, which was the previous flavor they released last year. Even the smell is pretty similar…I can distinguish the watermelon, but the surrounding notes are so alike that it seems like they barely even had to do anything to change the formula from apple to watermelon.

The one thing that really strikes me as kind of odd about these beverages (besides the whole idea, I suppose) is that, despite all being founded on the same intensely sweet foundation of flavor, none of them hit the taste buds too strongly, at least for me. Like, you know how you get a sweet candy, and it kind of makes all your taste buds wiggle and respond to how sweet it is, basically letting you know that you’re getting a sweetness overload? This hits the top of the tongue in a similar fashion, but seems to dissipate before it hits the surrounding tastebuds. I know, I know, part of it might be because there’s no actual sugar in it, but it’s almost like they somehow “mute” the sweetness in the aftertaste, so that you just get an initial blast of candy-like intensity that quickly weakens so that it doesn't become too overbearing. Eh…I think I’m doing a terrible job of explaining it, but to sum up: it’s not as intensely sweet as it starts off suggesting it will be. (Again, as a counterpoint, my wife finds it to be overwhelmingly cloying and won’t go near it unless it’s her only option and she has another beverage to blend it in as a means to completely mask the flavor; to each their own, I suppose.)

Overall: 5/10. This one has sour notes of typical watermelon candy that hit your tastebuds from the outset, before it all dissipates rather quickly after you swallow. It will be way too strong for some, and while I will say I don’t always enjoy these flavors, I never have to “force” a drink of it down. There’s a slightly medicine-y aftertaste, but it’s light and rather pleasant compared to most energy shots. The biggest hit to the points is just how unnecessary it is, as it offers up a very similar scent and taste to the sour apple flavor the company released last year. And, just like that one, this one is only available at “full price” through both eBay and Amazon, unlike the cherry and orange flavors, which are slightly discounted (with the capability to “make your own offer” on eBay to save even more money on top of that). It’s okay, but I'll just stick to the cherry for the most part, and get the "Jacked Apple" instead of this one when I want something different.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Assured Pregnancy Test (Dollar Tree)

Unless you need to know the moment a consumer-grade test can tell you, these are a great value.
I recently reviewed Dollar Tree’s personal lubricant, so naturally, let’s take a look at what you can expect to need a couple of months after that: a pregnancy test. But typical tests are ridiculously expensive, despite all being designed largely the same, and made of pretty much the same (plastic) materials. So are the name brand tests that much more accurate to justify the 10x price hike? Not at all.

We’ll set the stage somewhere around March, 2016. My wife felt like she might be pregnant, but considering I was strongly anti-kids and she didn’t want any either, wanted to ignore the possibility as long as possible. When the feelings not only didn’t go away, but got even stronger, that’s when she knew she had to be sure; like any budget-minded gal, she decided to grab a dollar store test first, just to confirm (or, in this case, hopefully deny) her suspicions.

Long story short, her suspicions were confirmed. She was pregnant, something we had somehow managed to avoid through 8 years of marriage highlighted by pretty consistent fucking. It had been so long that we kind of just assumed that she couldn’t even get pregnant, which is probably the mindset that lead to that little accident. Oops. But, understandably, she wanted to be sure that she was getting an accurate reading, so she went and bought a name brand one. And, of course, the more expensive one only confirmed what the dollar store version had already told her. And for, like, $10 more.

When she finally broke the news to me, over the phone and while I was at work, bawling to the point that she was almost incoherent, I expected the worst: Did she cheat on me? Did a family member die? Was someone gravely injured? I guess my mind went to such terrible places that, when she was finally able to spit the news out in an audible sentence, I was actually somewhat relieved. I didn’t get pissed, I didn’t get mad…it was kind of weird even to me, despite it being news that I honestly never wanted (or expected) to hear. And now, here we are, four calendar years later, with a three-year-old child who we would gladly trade for the world on certain days (“Terrible Twos” are a fallacy; “Shitty Threes” is a more accurate thing, despite not having the same catchy ring), but who has brought us more laughter, fun, and cuteness than we ever thought possible. Who knew?

Anyway, the moral of this story is that dollar store pregnancy tests always seem to get a bad rep, and at least part of it is for good reason. After all, a lot of the things to be found inside dollar stores are cheap junk. But there’s one little piece of info that seems to elude the general public (and that, honestly, I had never really considered up until now): pregnancy tests are FDA-regulated, meaning they have to be FDA-approved in order to end up on store shelves. And while that probably doesn’t amount to much in real world value—after all, the FDA is the same agency that regulates the allowed amount of rat shit that winds up in the factory-assembled foods we eat—that does at least mean one thing: they have to be pretty accurate in order to end up on store shelves. (This is also a good time to remind everyone that no consumer test is 100% foolproof; even expensive tests can give wrong answers from time to time.)

So is it worth spending more on a name brand test? The answer depends on how soon you need the results: typically, the more expensive brands do give you results a few days earlier than you might get with the cheaper ones. That’s about the only thing differentiating one test from another...well, besides the logo on the front and ensuing wallet hit, that is.

Overall: 9/10. It’s not the most sensitive test on the market, meaning some of the more expensive tests are able to detect pregnancies a little while earlier, but in terms of overall accuracy, it’s up there with the best of them. How do we know this? Because any test sold through official channels must be FDA-approved. And we know how in-depth the FDA gets when it comes to protecting its citizens (did anyone note the sarcasm)! At any rate, my wife took one of these to confirm her suspicions of pregnancy four years ago now, and then re-verified it with a much more expensive name brand, which (surprise!) told her the exact same thing.

And that’s the story of how our son was made.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Natureplex Warm Touch Warming Jelly Personal Lubricant (Dollar Tree)

I didn't think it was all that warming, but it's still $1 lube!
Well this is kind of one of those products you only use for one thing, so I’m not going to go into any specific details about what it was used for…because you probably already know. All I will say is that we saw this in-store at Dollar Tree one trip, I kinda laughed it off, and then decided to grab it the next time we went. After all, the name brand lubricants are an excessive rip-off, and not only was Natureplex serving up a personal lubricant for $1, but with the added benefit of it also having warming properties? That’s just a bonus!

It goes on smooth the way any lubricant should, with a nice texture that is more runny than thick, but still easily controlled. In other words, it’s not water-thin, but it’s thin enough that spreading it anywhere is an easy task that can be done with little wasted time.

I have to be honest that I don’t feel the warming properties as much as I have with similar products from other brands; my wife seems to notice it a lot more than me, even going so far as to say that the burn was strong enough that it almost hurt at first, before quickly dying down to normal levels. I noticed it a little bit, but not so much that I would have thought anything of it had I not known it was supposed to be a warming gel.

That being said, the actual lubricant is indistinguishable from the name brand. I feel like it would be pretty hard to fail at making a lube work (and it would be quite obvious immediately if you did), but this one works just as well as any others that I’ve tried. It virtually eliminates noticeable friction, making things go pretty smoothly—almost too smoothly if you ask me: It can be kinda hard to control things when you’re used to going without it.

At any rate, the warming aspect is not at all a dealbreaker for me, because this is the only lube that Dollar Tree carries, period. However, if it would be for you, I’d say go ahead and pick it up anyway…even though I didn’t really notice all that much, my wife certainly did, and even if you end up being disappointed, then hey, you’ve got a spare tube of the "regular" stuff to use as backup.

Overall: 8/10. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t really notice the warming aspect all that much—my wife, on the other hand, definitely did, noticing that it was very intense from the outset before gradually calming down to lesser levels. It's also a little thinner than other brands, although not thin enough that putting it on is hard. Considering this is the only lube Dollar Tree carries, the warming aspect isn’t really all that important to me (although it is nice for a change on occasion): all that matters is that it glides on smooth and then…glides smooth. And this one is definitely a hit in the texture department, serving up an almost frictionless foundation that makes it kind of hard to control when you’re not use to using it. Definitely serves a solid purpose, and for only $1 per 2 oz. tube, that makes it a pretty excellent value over the national brand.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Meijer Macaroni Salad (Meijer)

As far as store-bought macaroni salad is concerned, this stuff is very good.
Macaroni salad is one of those things that should be on my grocery list a lot more than it actually is...I just completely tend to forget it exists. It's one of those foods that's not one of my absolute favorites, but also not one that's so far down the list that I remember to avoid it, and so it just gets lost in the shuffle of the trillions of other foods and side dishes available in any given store.

Well, for the first time this year, it randomly just popped into my head at the last second as my wife as heading out on a recent grocery-shopping expedition, and I made sure to add it to her list with a loud exclamation of "macaroni salad!" as she was heading out the door. (Hey, whatever works!) I'd never had Meijer's version of the popular American side, and I was pretty eager to see if it could satisfy my inexplicable, sudden craving.

Oh man, this is some pretty solid stuff for being store-bought. The macaroni noodles are perfectly soft—not mushy, nor too hard—giving them the great, slimy texture that apparently is what one looks for in a mac salad. The accompanying veggies (celery, carrots, and green onions) are diced in very small, uniform pieces but in a complete shocker, the celery and carrots actually offer up a “fresh” level of crunch more akin to a homemade salad. They don't add much to the flavor, and the green onions don't really seem to add anything, but they're at least there in spirit, adding some color to the bland wasteland of neutral shades that the dressing and elbow macaroni provides.

Speaking of "dressing", that's the main star of any good macaroni salad...it's the one ingredient that makes or breaks the rest. And a great dressing should have an “edge” to it, like a well-dressed businesswoman, quiet and reserved on the outside, who hides a wealth of tattoos underneath her suit and has a motorcycle waiting for her out in the parking lot. Let's face it: macaroni salad looks pretty darn boring, but it shouldn't taste boring, and considering the tame, dull nature of everything else (macaroni noodles are among the most plain things ever made and celery...c'mon, that's like the vegetable equivalent of water) is the only thing carrying the flavor.

Meijer's version of this classic dish hits the nail on the head in this regard, delivering a creamy mayonnaise-based foundation that offers up a nice, strong kick of tangy flavor that's missing from other store-bought versions. It's not only edible, but addicting: once I got my first bite, I had a hard time putting it away, eventually finishing off the whole 16 oz. tub in just three sittings (although it was closer to two, as my last serving was a disappointing three or so bites).

That leaves just one area to account for: value. After all, where's the value in an expensive dish? When you pay a lot for something it's supposed to be good; the best values are things that taste expensive, without actually being expensive. Coming in at $2.39 per 16 oz. tub when not on sale (or $5.99 for the 3 lb. tub) doesn't make it a particularly strong value, but I also wouldn't consider it overpriced...especially given how delicious it is. Even at this rate, I would grab it again, although a sale would help entice me into getting it more often (or into trying some of their other "deli" sides).

Overall: 8/10. This is a great store-bought macaroni salad that's one of the best I've had thus far (although my research is fairly limited). The texture is “great”, with soft macaroni noodles covered in a very tangy, delicious mayo-based dressing that's hard to put down once started (I put “great” in quotes because the texture of macaroni salad is actually kinda gross if you think about it; the noodles become almost slimy in texture when covered in the dressing, but this is the standard expectation when eating the dish, and thus the “correct” texture.) There are also little celery and carrot chunks scattered throughout that somehow maintain their crunch, giving it a more “homemade” vibe (even though the bits are so small, they don't actually add much to the flavor). Meanwhile, a 16 oz. tub retails for $2.39 at full price (with a 3 lb. option going for $5.99), which doesn't make it a value king, but is reasonable considering the solid flavor. I'd definitely snag this again in the near future.


Friday, July 10, 2020

Assured Double Edge Safety Razor (Dollar Tree)

Better than you might think possible for $1
If the notion of a “man-card” were real, mine would have been revoked...well, at least twenty years ago. I've just never been into the typical things that the stereotypical male is into. For example: I don't get a hard-on from putting food on a grill. I like the taste of grilled foods, but I don't gain excitement from the act of intentionally creating a fire just to primitively cook a dead animal. I “hate” cars in the traditional masculine sense: I appreciate their amenities, and I love that they get me from point A to point B infinitely faster than walking, but my wife literally knows more about car maintenance than I do (and at the rate my son is gobbling up YouTube videos of mechanics fixing vehicles, he'll know more than me by...next week). I hate the taste of beer, and will gladly go for a "foo-foo" drink instead either at home, or the bar (life's too short to pretend to like gross shit just to fit in). I don't like guns, I hate the thought of killing animals for sport, and up there with all of these things: I hate shaving.

I hate it. I don't know why, because I have thin, wiry hair that I could probably lop off with a butterknife, so it never takes me more than ten minutes, but I get no excitement whatsoever out of the experience. In fact, I almost dread it, frequently putting it off until I can no longer stand the feeling of the hair on my face, which—to put my hair growth into perspective—can be stretched out to a little over a week before it becomes a nuisance to me.

When I was forced to shave, I always used the multi-blade razors. This was both out of loyalty - I was a member of Dollar Shave Club for years - and convenience, as those were the only things I'd ever used (besides disposables, but they're the same idea). I always knew there were cheaper options out there, but DSC was fairly inexpensive (especially over name brand razors), reliable, and in the rare instance something went wrong (once in 3+ years), were quick to credit my account. (I don't mind paying a little extra for solid support, especially in this day and age where the customer experience seems to take a backseat to...well, everything else.)

Then one day, I just randomly decided to see how much money I could save without a razor subscription. I tracked down DSC's supposed supplier - which is easily found online - saw they were offering a pretty good deal that saved me a few bucks per cartridge, placed an order, and canceled by DSC account.

Everything went well with the order, and I was excited to be able to get several months' worth of razors upfront. I wasn't sure how well I'd do actually remembering to re-order them when I was running low (something I'm terrible about, and why the DSC subscription was so useful), but considering my wife and I shave way less frequently than we probably should, we would have a few months before we had to worry about that. (And no, we're not gross hairy messes, either; we just don't grow hair at "normal" rates.)
An Assured safety razor, after about 8 months of use.

Then, about three months after my initial purchase, came the devastating email from my new razor blade supplier: they were going out of business. Well, not exactly...they would presumably still be supplying Dollar Shave Club, and their razors could be purchased direct through Amazon, but they were closing down their own storefront. And considering they sold out of the razors I used about a week after I purchased them, and were still wiped out three months later, I decided it would probably be in my best interest to find a more consistent manufacturer to order from. I looked for a little while, and then after not finding anything that really stood out to me, kind of just put it on the backburner and forgot about it.

Well, as they say, you'll often find what you're looking for when you've stopped looking, and a short while after quitting my search was precisely the time I stumbled on Assured's version of a double edge safety razor, complete with five replacement blades, inside a Dollar Tree store. It was like a sign from the heavens...the (possible) razor solution that I was looking for. I mean, not only the handle, but five razor blades...all for $1? I struggled to comprehend the typical "how can the company make money off of this" for just long enough to realize that I didn't really care about the financial situation of the company; they're clearly making money off of it somehow, considering these are always available at DT stores, and that was good enough for me.

All I knew about safety razors is that they seemed to be the preferred tool of complete douchebags: the kind of person that thinks they're better than everyone simply because they use a certain item. In other words, a "man's man". I was definitely out of my league here, but I didn't even hesitate to throw that sucker in my basket; I wasn't going to let a complete lack of knowledge on the subject dissuade me from giving it a shot. Besides, you can get 100-count safety razor blades for about the same price as a single month's supply of shave club cartridges (no exaggeration), so I was game, if for no other reason than to save a few bucks over the course of...well, the rest of my life.

I have to be honest here: I think the general reason I hate shaving is because I don't really even know how you're supposed to do it. Granted, I also don't care to learn, which is why I've never taken the time to do a Google or YouTube search on the subject...or just asked someone in my family. My “technique” mainly consists of standing in a poorly lit bathroom, and just randomly going up and down my face until I think I'm done, or I get bored; the results are usually as awful as you'd expect, because I frequently miss small spots every single time, requiring me to go back over them later on.

I did make an exception for this, and watched a tutorial on proper double-edged safety razor techniques, simply because I was afraid I would end up slicing my face clean off without guidance. Unfortunately, it didn't really do much: even after viewing the entire thing, and learning the finer nuances of shaving, I still opted to go my usual route, just lightly raking it across my face in a vertical fashion until I was satisfied that I had done a good enough job. And despite my initial terror (I did have to use a disposable razor to “finish off” some hard-to-reach spots the first few times, because I was so sure I would end up taking off a layer or three of skin if I made a mistake), I have to say that I've kind of grown to like this setup; at the very least, I can see why people would actually get some satisfaction out of it.

As can probably be expected, it wasn't a perfect transition: I did nick myself a few times over the first couple of months as I got more familiar with it. But even those instances weren't nearly as bad as past experiences: I'm a bleeder, and would frequently have to hold a tissue over my face for several minutes to completely stop the bloodflow on the rare occasions I would carelessly slice my face with a multi-blade cartridge. Here, though, the blood would stop almost immediately; that seems to be one of the major benefits of using a single blade: Since they cut as close to the skin as possible, if you do slice yourself, it's only a single small layer removed, rather than the potential for repeated cuts as each of the multiple blades on a typical cartridge run over the same area.

Considering my background and interest in the subject, I can honestly say that I have absolutely no point of reference to compare this razor to, aside from what I've read online. To me, the razor itself, which is made of metal, is unexpectedly heavy, and feels very sturdy in my hand. I'm sure it still won't compare to the build of a $20 or $30 razor, but for $1, there's way more weight behind it than I was expecting. It uses a "twist" mechanism on the bottom to open the "doors" on the top, allowing for easy removal of the old blade, or installation of a fresh one, which takes about five seconds to do. This design also makes cleaning both the blades, as well as the razor itself, infinitely easier to do than it is with disposable cartridges.

In fact, I like it so much that after using up the five included blades (which took over a month for me to do), I went out and bought a different brand of blades from Amazon (at a rate of around $7 for one hundred, with free shipping), just so I can continue to use this razor. And over the course of the ensuing months, I have to say that I've gotten much more comfortable with it; there are still some sensitive areas of my face that I take some extra precautions around (like my jaw-line, which I feel is cartoonishly exaggerated and my nose/lip area), but for the most part, I can comfortably zip through my face with no nicks or cuts whatsoever. 

Now, it's not all unicorns and rainbows: Even though I like it, the more I use it, the more I'm sure this technically isn't a great razor. I've noticed that only one side gives me a great, comfortable shave, while the other barely seems to cut much at all; I have no doubts the more expensive ones are designed to give equal performance from both sides. And even though I'd be willing to bet I could find a (probably quick) fix for this online, my general uninterest in this prevents from even trying. Besides, it's honestly not that hard to stick to the one side...I've been using it so long now that I can almost immediately tell which is which, just from one swipe of the blade.

Also, the included blades aren't the best, something I can easily tell after having used a different brand for about six months now. I definitely wouldn't call them horrible, and wouldn't hesitate to use them if they were an only option, but these new blades seem to cut a lot better, and last a little while longer. Then again, I wasn't really expecting premium quality to begin with from the included blades, so this isn't really that much of a knock against it.

Despite its flaws, though, these remain a steal at this price point, and remain a solid "entry-level" option for people wanting to give safety razors a shot, without breaking the bank. If you love it, you can upgrade your handle and/or razors for an even better experience; if you hate it, the experiment only cost you $1...pass it on to someone else that wants to try one. It might not be the greatest shave on the planet, but I can almost guarantee it's the best shave you'll probably ever get for $1.

Overall: 8/10. If you're looking for a top-notch shave, well...you probably shouldn't be looking at a dollar store razor to begin with. However, if you've never used a double edge razor before and want to give it a shot, or if you want a decent "back-up" or "travel" razor to always have on hand, this is an enticing option. It's way sturdier than I was expecting, and while I'm sure the build quality is far from premium, it still functions just as well eight months later as it did straight out of the box. The main downside is quality control: only one side of my razor shaves well, while the other side seems to barely reach my face, and doesn't do much of anything at all. The included razors - while not being as terrible as you might think - aren't all that great, and don't last as long as more "premium" ones. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Kroger Frosted Flakes Cereal (Kroger)

Stop that bunny! He's using his magic wand to remove the anti-milk coating from each piece of cereal!
Frosted flakes are one of my favorite cereals, so let’s see how Kroger’s version stacks up to those I’m used to, shall we?

Well, before we get to that, what is going on with the box design? Most cereals have one cartoon character who functions as a "mascot" to entice children into buying it. Fair enough...that's just modern marketing. This one not only features four cartoon characters, but also some type of attempted storyline, in which a Harry Potter-esque...bunny?...uses magic to blast a piece of cereal for no discernible reason. Now, really, only the bunny is needed for this scene, and yet there's a knight character holding the "magick-ed" (presumably so the inanimate cereal piece doesn't get away?) piece of cereal, while two random ding-dongs just watch from the background. Looks like someone's trying a little too hard to sell this cereal, which is a red flag right from the start...

From the bag to the bowl, I was pretty impressed: The flakes appear to have the same consistency as just about every other frosted flakes knockoff I’ve seen, and each one seemed to have just the right amount of sugary sweetness covering them. I was also pretty excited with the price: I still think Kroger's a piece of shit overall, but they've (mostly) been doing a good job of hanging near Aldi in terms of cereal prices. Aldi usually beats them by a dime or two, but certainly not enough to where it's worth making an extra trip if you're already shopping here. Case in point: Kroger's version of Frosted Flakes, which retails for $1.49 (per 15 oz. box); that's some solid value right there. With a look of excitement and anticipation, I decided to dive right in!

The first couple of bites were okay, although it quickly became pretty evident that the flakes were not as generously coated as I originally thought. Just like their own honey nut O's knockoff, I found the flakes to be, at first, barely sweet, with more of a corny taste than anything else. Still, as pale an imitation of the national brand as it was, it was something I could probably get used to. However, by the fourth or fifth bite, it was as if the milk washed off most of what little sweetness there was, and all I was basically left with was a bowl of corn flakes, with some slightly-sweet milk. And by “fourth or fifth bite”, I don't mean I got sidetracked by something and had a ten-minute lull in between...I'm talking fourth bite within two minutes. This “sogged-up” way quicker than other brands, and quickly lead to an unappetizing, tasteless pile of mush.

In all honesty, if you’re thinking of grabbing a bag of this cereal, you might as well just grab a box of corn flakes and add sugar like you used to do when you were a kid, because that’s pretty much what it tastes like. Now, obviously, any cereal placed in milk for extended periods of time is going to get soggy. That’s just the nature of the beast. But I can’t recall another store version of this cereal that succumbs to the liquid so fast…usually the white, sugary coating at least provides some resistance to the milk, keeping it crunchy for a few minutes--but not here. It became a mass of soggy mush within seconds.

And now, thanks to the packaging art, I'm lead to believe it's because of some evil bunny who uses his magic wand to remove the milk-resistant coating from each piece of cereal. Why won't Knight Fox stop him instead of grinning like an idiot...is he an accomplice? And why is Suspiciously Well-Dressed Dog Boy and Old-Fashioned Cat Girl even there at all? The public needs answers!

Overall: 5/10. The value is great, with a 15 oz. box retailing for just $1.49, but even factoring that in, I‘m not recommending this stuff. It gets soggy way too quickly, thanks to the milk washing away its sugary coating, and loses most of its flavor by the fourth or fifth bite, instead becoming little more than a bowl of mushy corn flakes in slightly-sweetened milk. Although the flavor is already a little too weak for me to begin with, even just a slight upgrade in “milk resistance” could add two or three points to the total score; as it stands, though, value aside, there's not much here to recommend, especially since there are similar deals for better cereals within the same aisle. Even at Kroger.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Millville Kookies Cereal (Aldi)

Childhood: ruined.
I always enjoyed the national brand cookie cereal when I was a little one, but that's one cereal brand that kind of fell off my radar the older I got: even though Aldi has carried it for as long as I can remember, I've never had much of an urge to give it a try. But then a thought suddenly hit me: I have a son. Well, that wasn't really the revelatory part, because I've had him for three years and kids are pretty unforgettable, for a variety of reasons (both good and bad). The main revelation was that he's never tried this cereal before. And considering eating cereal together is almost a daily bonding activity for the two of us, and considering he loves cookies just as much as virtually everyone else in the world, I figured it would be a good time to pass my old cereal traditions onto him.

Only it wasn't, because this cereal sucks. It's literally been years since I've had the “original”, but I remember it enough to know that this is only the palest of imitations. Sure, even the national brand tastes absolutely nothing like the chocolate chip cookies they're supposedly imitating, but Aldi's version foregoes the nostalgia by delivering a cookie that, at least to me, tastes more like vanilla, with no hints of chocolate in sight, despite the prominent appearance of chocolate chips (which seem to be bigger than I recall seeing in the national brand variety). It's appropriately sweet, without being too sweet...just not at all in the right way. I'm completely baffled how this is even still on store shelves, in all honesty, though I guess it's possible that I'm in the minority on this one.

But no matter how outside of the majority I am on this issue, I'm not the only one: “I don't like cookies,” are the words uttered by my own cookie-obsessed son every time I offer him a bite of this cereal. (And no, he's not referring to actual cookies, because he could still eat those for hours.) I seriously can't recall one other cereal that he absolutely refuses to at least take a bite of if it's offered to him, making his opinion more validating to me than even my own.

I'll end this review on a positive note, no matter how slim it may be: it's not so awful that I can't eat it. In fact, it's technically not even close to that threshold. There's nothing “vulgar” or “offensive” about the taste other than how far off it is from what I was expecting (and hoping for). I don't like wasting cereal, so I managed to polish off the rest of the box with little issue, although I didn't enjoy a single minute of it. But this one box is as far as my relationship goes with Millville's Kookies, because I can almost guarantee that I won't buy another one ever again.

Overall: 2/10. It's nothing at all like the national brand cereal that it's ripping off (or at least, nothing at all like my childhood memories of it), which is strike one. Beyond that, it's just bad, with more of a vanilla-y flavor and really no chocolate to speak of, despite the appearance of rather large chocolate chip pieces spread throughout; that's strike 2. But the most unforgivable strike of all—the one that takes it over the edge to irredeemable territory—is that my son, who will eat virtually any kind of cereal as long as I'm eating it with him, won't even touch these, claiming, “I don't like cookies” every time he sees these in a bowl (despite that statement not even being remotely true). The only plus: they're not offensively bad, so I was able to polish the rest of the box off myself (I hate wasting anything, but especially cereal). Still, there must have been a reason that I've never bought a box of these before, despite liking the national brand as a kid...and I sure as hell won't ever buy another one again.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

One of the Best Survey Sites Available? An In-Depth Look at YouGov (Online/App)




WHAT IS IT?
YouGov is another GPT site, where you get paid to fill out surveys. But before you go casting it aside, know that it has at least one thing going for it: some of the lowest disqualification rates in the business. I've taken close to 40 surveys total over the span of a year and have only been disqualified twice. That's a way better acceptance rate than any other survey site not named Prolific. This is because, like Prolific, their surveys aren't so much about finding the right demographics to support the research of a specific brand, but rather gaining insights about people's behaviors and ideas in general.

So what can you expect from the site? And is it right for you? Well, read on and let's find out!

SIGNING UP AND TAKING SURVEYS


Signing up is as easy as filling out this form and verifying your email address.
The sign-up process with YouGov is shockingly straightforward: fill out your email address, create a password, verify your email address, and voila! You're done! That's right, unlike other websites that ask you for all of your info and promise to keep it private (yeah right), YouGov doesn't ask you for any specific details up front, and will only ask you for the typical cluster of broad demographic information (race, household income, zip code, etc.) at the end of every survey. Other sites promise that this information is used to “pair” you up with surveys that pertain to you, but given the incredibly high disqualification rates for those sites, that’s clearly just a load of BS used to set your mind at ease.

YouGov, on the other hand, really is different: their DQ rates are among the lowest in the industry. And they do this because of the way they operate: whereas most of these questionnaire companies are paid by specific brands or industries to target the opinions of people that fit the specifics of a certain demographic (an athletic shoe company releasing a line of hip sneakers, for example, won't care about the thoughts of some 40 year old who only buys one pair of work boots a year), YouGov just looks for people's general attitudes on a wide variety of (usually trending) topics.

Which brings me to another plus: many of these surveys are actually somewhat interesting. I say “somewhat” because there are a lot of political-themed questionnaires (I find politics to be on the same plane as religion: something people can argue for hours about despite there often being no provable “truth” either way), but you at least won't get the mind-numbingly boring “watch this advertisement and tell us if you'd buy this product” types offered up by other questionnaire sites elsewhere. Instead, you'll get a lot of questions about your thoughts and opinions concerning current events, with multiple choice answers ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”.

These are the kinds of questions you can expect.
Furthermore, these surveys rarely last longer than 10 minutes, meaning you can be back to your regular day without being bombarded by studies that say they'll only take 5 minutes, but drag on for 20 or more. I'd say this is a survey site for people who usually hate survey sites, simply because it functions in a way all of them should (but very few actually do).

Another great feature is the website's “lax” attitude: you often have days to complete surveys, versus the hour or less you get with other popular sites, who offer them up on a “first-come-first-served” basis and then close them down once they hit the desired number of responses. With YouGov, they'll send you the initial survey offer, and then follow up with a reminder either 24 or 48 hours later (I forget which). And just because they don't notify you any more after that, it doesn't necessarily mean it's not available to take: I've seen a few surveys stay active for a week or longer in my dashboard. This is yet another way they stand out, and a great option for people who are too busy to actively participate in sites that seem to hit their threshold by the time you get the email.

Of course, it can't all be unicorns and rainbows, so you know there has to be some kind of “catch”...and there is: the frequency (or rather, infrequency) of the surveys. On average, I’d say I usually get around three per week, but keep in mind that this number can fluctuate—there are some weeks where I might get only one or two, and I'm sure some where I get none (I don't really pay much attention, honestly). It all just depends on what's happening around the world.

NAVIGATION
If you can get lost here, please quit the internet.
For me, perusing their site is very simple, because I don't: Available surveys are delivered straight to my email, and I just take them from the invitation there. Once it's done, I close out, delete the email, and move on with my life.

But if you actually have to navigate through the site, doing so is super-easy: all your information can be accessed from the “My account” button at the top right of the homepage, save for your points balance, which are in huge numbers that blast you in the face from the middle of the screen the moment you sign in. You can also view your account history, including surveys you've taken, when you took them, and how much you received for taking them.

You can see how you've responded to virtually every
question they've ever asked.
In the most intriguing bit of info, you can also find out who you are as a person: I never knew this until I happened to snoop around, but they keep track of every response you've ever answered to any of their opinion questions. And you can even go back and see the specific questions that lead you to answer in that certain way. For example, you can click “strongly disagree” to pull up every question that you answered that to, completely separated by the date you answered it. Most people won't care about this, but as a fan of statistics and aggregate data, I think it's pretty fun to see how my attitudes and opinions on various topics (might) have changed over the preceding months. Plus, this is the information that they're submitting to other parties, so it's kind of refreshing to see all of that together in one place; it really gives you an idea of how you look as a person to the companies requesting this info.



What's also cool is that they at least give you the perception of privacy: I've been a member for over a year and have cashed out twice, yet have never filled out my YouGov profile. That means they don't have my name, address, or any other information on file. Now, I'm sure they have a way to get it if they want it, but it's neat that no individual surveys will ever ask you for that information, and neither do they, nor is it required information to cash out. This makes them seem a little more trustworthy when compared to other sites who say they keep everything private, yet still have you fill out every single little detail about your life.

Here's how my personal profile looks after a year and two cashouts.
Now, I'm not saying they are more honest and trustworthy than any other data-collecting agency, because no one knows what goes on behind the scenes or even what most of this data is used for. All I'm saying is that they require less information upfront than other sites, and don't hound you to keep everything up-to-date (like Swagbucks does).

MOBILE APP
For those “on the go”, YouGov is available in a mobile version, for both Android and iOS. Admittedly, I have never used it, and don’t ever plan to, because the browser version works just fine on my phone: I just click on the email link, am taken to the survey, and then close out when done, a process that works just as well on both desktop, and mobile devices. Considering the lack of other paid activities on the site, I can’t see the app offering up any more functionality than that, but for those that just enjoy having apps on their phone, it’s there for you if you want it.

GETTING PAID
It's a slow slog, but it is legit.
Each survey you complete generally pays out 500-750 points, which are banked immediately upon completion. At the end of many surveys, you can also get a chance to take a part in YouGov ratings for an additional 100 points, which has quickly become my favorite aspect of the site. In it, 30 random things pop up, ranging from athletes, to actors, to musicians, to brands, and anything else that might be considered “popular”. You are then to rate that person or band or brand, from “strongly dislike” to “strongly like”, or if you've never heard of them, there's a marker for that. It's pretty fun being able to show your support (or hatred) for a certain person or brand, and while it makes no difference in the long run, getting some extra points for it is pretty nice. Sure, 100 points isn't a lot at all (it would take 250 sessions of this just to get to the minimum for cashout), but it's more than the usual 0 you'd get if you just went through them for fun, and it really does add up.

Once you hit enough points to cash out (as of June, 2020 the minimum amount is 25,000 points, which is good for a $15 Amazon card) you can navigate to the “Redeem” page. Redeeming a gift card is as easy as clicking on it, and then clicking “Redeem”, at which point the points will be subtracted from your balance.

These are all of the "cheapest" gift card options.
Payouts are one area where YouGov trails behind others, as it can take up to three weeks to receive your gift card code—that's quite a while compared to the usual 7-day maximum waiting period offered by other sites. From my own experience, it has taken over a week, but less than two, both times I requested payout, so you probably won't have to wait the full three weeks most of the time, but keep in mind that holidays and other high-traffic times can push it closer to the three-week limit (and maybe even beyond).

HOW MUCH CAN I MAKE?
I say it every time, but I’m going to continue to do so: You’re not going to make a living wage. While I think most people know that going in to any of these endeavors, there are a small amount who might think it's possible—put that thought out of your head right now.

Each survey you take usually awards you somewhere in the ballpark of 500-750 points, with a minimum cashout requirement of 25,000 points to get a $15 Amazon gift card (yes, that is the only option). At the minimum 500 point rate, it would take 50 surveys to hit that goal. In reality, though, they will probably accrue much quicker than that: according to my dashboard, I've “only” completed 35 surveys, and have already been able to cash out for $15 gift cards twice.

However, what that information doesn't provide is just how long it's taken me to complete those 35 surveys, and since YouGov's detailed stats only seem to cover the last couple months—and oddly enough, don't include a sign-up date—I'm unfortunately unable to provide that info. I'd say I've definitely been a member for at least a year, and taking into account the couple of month-long breaks I took from all GPT sites, I'd say I've completed about 85% of the total surveys they've sent me within that time.

Factoring that in, I might have been able to cash out an extra time had I completed those neglected surveys, but that would only take me up to $45 in total earnings in over a year, which sounds about right in terms of what to expect.

They do offer one other paid option, though you have to be invited via survey to use it: YouGov Pulse, which downloads an app to your phone and then pays you $50/year (in point value) to keep it on there. As can be expected, the program tracks what apps you use and what websites you visit, and is supposedly anonymous. I was actually invited, but turned it down because I hate the thought of random apps running in the background (plus, my Huawei phone would probably shut it down anyway); judging from the poor scores on Google Play, I made the right call, with many users complaining of battery drain, and general usage issues stemming from the fact YouGov Pulse basically runs as a VPN (the usage of which on virtually all survey sites can get you permanently banned), and submits large amounts of your usage data in the background.

Personally, I don't find the monetary gain worth it, but if you don't mind it, or you have an extra phone laying around that you rarely use, you can chuck it on there and make a few extra bucks per month. It's still not a lot, but it's something more than you'd get from just sticking to surveys.

SUPPORT
By virtually all accounts, this is YouGov's Achilles heel.
I've never had to contact YouGov for any support-related reason, so once again, I'm of no help to anyone here. However—and I'm actually kind of surprised here—ratings on Trustpilot are incredibly negative, with many users claiming their account(s) were shut down right before hitting their cashout limit, and with no response from the company. Bear in mind that most of these issues seem to affect users in the UK a lot more than US users (they are run as separate companies), but any review that mentions “support” on either side of the ocean pretty much unanimously agrees that it's nonexistent. That's a terrible shame, because outside of this, they really seem to be trustworthy; despite my experience, it's certainly something to keep in mind if you're thinking about signing up.

For the record, I've cashed out for Amazon gift cards twice with absolutely no problems either time, and have never had an issue banking my points (or at least, with no problems that I've ever noticed). But it does kind of make me pause knowing that, should something go wrong, there might be a chance that I can't get a hold of them, and that's not really a confidence-building feeling.

OVERALL
PROS (+)
+Very few survey disqualifications
+Most surveys last 10 minutes or less
+YouGov Ratings can boost your point total over time
+Email notifications bring surveys to you
+Technical issues are a rarity.
+Only need a verified email address to sign up.

CONS (-)
-Virtually unanimous complaints of nonexistent support 
-Can take a while to receive gift card after redemption
-Infrequent surveys limit maximum earning potential
-No other paid activities to earn additional cash

YouGov works as a no-frills survey site, with very few disqualifications, since most of the surveys are opinion-based, and concerning current world events. This means they're usually a lot more interesting than the advertiser-based surveys found on other sites. It also gains points for privacy, requiring only an active email to sign up (with basic demographic information collected at the end of every survey).

However, infrequent surveys and a lack of other paid activities severely limit the amount of money people can earn. That, along with nonexistent customer support (note: I never experienced this, but this is a virtually unanimous consensus across the board according to online reviews...even among fans of the site) can bog down what could otherwise be a near-perfect experience. It's still recommended, but not as enthusiastically as it should be.

RATING: 7/10