Monday, June 22nd, 2009
Last week when I wrote about the Verizon debacle I promised I’d write about something I actually do like, and I am. I meant to faster than I did – last Friday was 6 months since my Dad unexpecteddly passed away, and coupled with Father’s Day this past weekend, I wasn’t in the best of places to write anything coherent. But it’s a new day, a new week, and I do have something I’ve been meaning to write about – not directly financially related although in our case, it is a money saving device.
I was contacted a few months ago by a representative for Brother, asking me if I’d like to review one of their all in one printer/fax/scanner/copier machines, the Brother MFC-5890CN. I get a number of offers to review things and I usually don’t accept because I’m not all that into writing reviews, but in this case, I think my spouse would have cried if I didn’t say yes. We have to fax a number of documents each month for our Flexible Spending Account, and usually that means I have to go to our local copy shop and pay them to fax them for me. It isn’t a huge expense, but it is a recurring one that’s nice to eliminate. In the spirit of full disclosure, in exchange for writing an honest review of the all-in-one printer (not positive or negative, just what I honestly think), I get to keep it. Yahoo!
And honestly, I think it is pretty cool. I’ve only ever had a printer before, so I didn’t know what I would think. Some background information about the all-in-one printer: as I said before, it prints, faxes, copies, and scans, as well as direct photo capture from a memory card. It prints up to 11″x17″ paper for both photos and documents, and there is an auto feeded on top that feeds up to 50 sheets for scanning, copying or faxing.
Some of the things I just love about it: scanning. Oh, the scanning. I can scan documents into PDFs, I can scan pictures into JPGs, and it does it pretty fast. I also really like that where the paper comes out is basically right under the machine, so it doesn’t shoot out into the room, and takes up no more extra horizontal space. The machine is sort of large to begin with, so this feature really helps save space on my desk. The quality of pictures, both scanned and printed, has been very good for me. And I am happy with the ease and speed that it both prints and copies, especially color. The black and white does seem a tad slow to me, but the color more than makes up for that. And it is pretty simple to use – there are big buttons on the front to change functions, which is good for me since I am not a big doirection-reader.
A few things I am not as fond of: the pages when I print come out in the order printed, meaning that my documents are in reverse order. There may be a setting to reverse that, but I couldn’t find it. Also, setting up the fax was a bit complicated and tim-consuming. We did get it to work, and there is even a place you can fax to verify it is working, but it took my spouse a few tries to get things right. Lucky for me, my spouse sets things up. These are small things in thebig picture, but things that annoyed me.
All in all, I’m pleased by the device, and I am excited to never have to pay for faxing again. Compared to our previous inkjet printer, this one is pretty slick, and the cartridges are much less expensive. It does have 4 cartridges though, not two, so I am sure that factors in somewhere, depending on how fast they run out. But if you want a printer that scans, faxes, copies, and does it all quietly and efficiently, look into this one in your search. It is pretty nifty. And now I am going to play with it some more, I have copying to do!
Tuesday, June 9th, 2009
I’ve written about Swagbucks before – it is a search engine portal that gives you the chance to win “Swagbucks” every time you search (redeemable for a number of prizes including Amazon gift cards, which is what I redeem mine for). The portal uses Google and Ask.com to search, and although it does mix in some sponsored results (as does any search engine) I have found in using it that the results I get are comparable to using Google (my search engine of choice, which also does have sponsored search results) and I like earning gift cards at Amazon for doing what I would normally be doing anyway. I am one of those people who does a lot of online searching, so it works well for me. In fact, through a mix of search-earned Swagbucks and referrals, I purchased my spouse’s birthday present this year as well as some DVDs for my mom.
A few months ago Swagbucks offered me my own “swagcode” for new users to their portal – if when you registered for their free search engine portal, you entered my swagcode, you got bonus swagbucks for registering. And now they’re doing it again. If you haven’t tried Swagbucks yet, sign up and enter the code PAIDTWICE1 (case sensitive) and you’ll receive 6 Swagbucks (3 for signing up, 3 from the code)! It is active now and will expire the 16th of June at 11:59pm PST.
Swagbucks has a number of new things going on this week, including Thursday, unveiling an entirely new and sleeker version of their website, so if you haven’t tried using their search engine, check it out (and enter the PAIDTWICE1 swagcode of course)! It is totally free, there is no hidden catch, and if you don’t like it, you don’t ever have to use it again. For me, it’s a frugal way to earn gift cards to get presents for my family I was going to get anyway – but now I can do it for free.
And a user tip – I use Firefox as my web browser, and Swagbucks gives you an option to add Swagbucks to the built-in search bar in the Firefox browser. So I have Swagbucks selected there as my default search, but if I ever want to use Google or something else to search, all I have to do is select it from the dropdown menu. Easy peasy! In Firefox, it isn’t a separate toobar or anything like that (in IE I think there is a toolbar you can install if you choose to).
Thursday, May 14th, 2009
If you have some self restraint in using it, that is. But I think we’ll be trying it out this summer.
My son brought home a flyer yesterday for a program called Kids Bowl Free. The program is a nationwide one, and it has a branch in our neighborhood. Basically, the program is this. You register your child (or children) and receive via email or by logging into your account, 2 free bowling games per day for each child for the entire summer. Our local program runs from May 1st to August 31st, but dates vary depending on location. You can use as many or as few of the coupons as you’d like (you get one coupon per child for each day good for two free games). Shoe rentals for the kids are also free at our local center, not sure if that is at all centers or not.
Of course, the bowling centers are not completely altruistic, they are doing this to gain business. Most parents would probably want to actually bowl with their child versus just watch them bowl. The program does cater to this as well – you can purchase a family pass good for up to four adults of your choosing to bowl with your children for $23.95 for the entire summer. Now, if you’re only going to go once or twice, this is not at all a good deal, but if you plan to make a weekly (or more) event out of it, this is a great discount.
I am sure that the participating centers have snacks and such they hope you buy, and that you love bowling there so much you keep bowling after the program is over. It is a great marketing ploy. But it also, to me, sounds like a really fun program! We love to bowl, and I even have my own ball and shoes so I wouldn’t have to rent shoes (I am not sure if the shoe rental for adults is free with the family pass or not). Times of participation vary per center so you’ll have to call and find out. I grew up bowling every week with my parents, so this sounds like a fun way to keep that tradition alive.
I am not in any way affiliated with this program, I just got a flyer about it from my son’s school and wanted to share it with my readers. If you’ve done the program before, share your experiences! I would love to hear how well (or not well) it worked for you!
Monday, April 13th, 2009
A few months ago, I read about the Swagbucks search engine on another blog, and I thought about trying it, but I wasn’t convinced. I had tried “Search and Win” type search engines before, and they had always been spammy and given me all completely sponsored and irrelevant results. However, I kept seeing Swagbucks mentioned different places on different blogs that I followed with really positive comments. So I decided finally to try it. And I haven been happy about it ever since.
Swagbucks is a “search and win” search engine but it has a few keys differences from the generic concept. First, Swagbucks uses Google and Ask.com to do its searches. I have compared my (first page of) search results to Google’s many times and have seen very similar results when using Swagbucks. Second, yes there are sponsored results (like any search engine) but in my experience, it isn’t every result or even the majority of results. They are clearly marked as sponsored so you can avoid them if you wish to.
When you do your online searches with Swagbucks, you have the chance, every search, of winning one or more “swagbucks”. Swagbucks can be collected to redeem for prizes. My prize of choice is $5 gift cards for Amazon.com. Currently, 45 swagbucks = 1 $5 amazon gift card. I have been using the gift cards (once I collect enough of them) to order some TV On DVD for my mom to watch when she can’t sleep in the middle of the night. I’ve sent her several seasons of Bones (her show of choice) since January when my dad passed away.
Generally I use search a lot (and did before I started with Swagbucks). I win anywhere from $1-$5 of Swagbucks in a typical day, which adds up quickly. I may use search more than the average person, I don’t know, but most of my friends who use it win at least $1 in swagbucks any day they do more than a search or two.
Swagbucks contacted me this weekend with a special promotion for Paidtwice readers who have not yet tried Swagbucks, and I was totally thrilled to be able to offer it to you. For new Swagbucks registrants, use the Swagcode PAIDTWICE when you register (case sensitive – all caps!) and receive a bonus 2 swagbucks on top of the 3 you get for registering already (so a total of 5). This is a limited time offer, and expires on Wednesday, April 15th at 11:59 PM (like the tax deadline in the US, heh). So file your taxes, and register to use Swagbucks!
So if you have not given Swagbucks a try – here is a chance to get an extra bonus for doing so. 5 Swagbucks for registering instead of 3 when you use the PAIDTWICE swagcode! Yay! Thanks for contacting me, Swagbucks!
As a PS – I use Firefox as my web browser, and Swagbucks gives you an option to add Swagbucks to the built-in search bar in the Firefox browser. So I have Swagbucks selected there as my default search, but if I ever want to use Google or something else to search, all I have to do is select it from the dropdown menu. Easy peasy! In Firefox, it isn’t a separate toobar or anything like that (in IE I think there is a toolbar you can install if you choose to).
Monday, March 16th, 2009
When we moved into our house in 2006, we had a long “wish list” of sorts of things we would like to do in the future to improve the house. Some were short term, some were long term, and some were more necessary than others. But we also had a short list of three things we knew we would absolutely have to do to the house in the short term – replace the furnace, replace 5 windows, and replace the refrigerator. Last spring, the furnace made itself first on the list by breaking down. We replaced that, which left us with two necessary repairs – the refrigerator (which is somewhere around 26 years old as of this writing, and still going strong but… how long do you bet on a 26 year old refrigerator?) and 5 windows.
The five windows that need to be replaced are in our downstairs, and the only windows remaining that are original to the (41 year old) house. They are almost floor to ceiling windows, and are in our playroom/office, the most used room in our house. They create a nice cross breeze as the winter winds whistle through the room, and make that room several degrees colder than the rest of the house. Because we’ve been focusing on debt elimination, we haven’t done anything about them yet, other than caulk what we can and plastic over what we can. But we have been slowly saving a small amount each month towards “home improvements”, which the windows fall under.
We had a company come out last week to look at repairing our porch (one of the support posts is rotting and left unchecked, the porch will develop a distinct slump in the not too distant future) and while they were here, we discussed the windows as well. We’ve had several estimates on the windows already and were adding another to our arsenal. The salesman made us aware of some tax credits we hadn’t known about, and I wanted to share them with you. I knew that in 2007 there were tax credits for making energy-efficient improvements to your home, but just our luck, we replaced the furnace in 2008, when there were no tax credits. In 2009 and 2010, as part of the new stimulus package, several new credits are now available:
Federal Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency includes:
Tax credits are available at 30% of the cost, up to $1,500, in 2009 & 2010 (for existing homes only) for:
- Windows and Doors
- Roofs (Metal and Asphalt)
- Water Heaters (non-solar)
- Biomass Stoves
Tax credits are available at 30% of the cost, with no upper limit through 2016 (for existing homes & new construction) for:
- Geothermal Heat Pumps
- Solar Panels
- Solar Water Heaters
- Small Wind Energy Systems
- Fuel Cells
This list is from the ENERGY STAR page, and it is important to note that for windows and doors, it is the cost of the materials, not the labor, that the tax credit is available on. But it gives us food for thought as we’re looking at making this improvement at some point in the future to our home – that if we act in 2009 or 2010, we’ll get a rebate back as well (as long as we select windows that are certified to the correct standard by the manufacturer). And hey – no more single pane wood windows that let wind whistle through our downstairs… that’d be a bonus!