Get Rid of Second Car and Use Uber Instead?

uberiphone5

uberiphone5Forget borrowing money to buy a car, the concept of owning a car itself is changing. Owning a car requires committing to a long list of expenses:

  • car payment and value depreciation ($1,000+ a year)
  • car insurance premium ($500+ a year)
  • fuel costs ($600+ a year)
  • government tax, registration, and fees ($300+ a year)
  • maintenance and repair costs
  • parking, traffic tickets, and tolls

In rough terms, owning a car runs at least $3,000 a year with most people spending more than $5,000 a year. Consumer Reports calculates the median at $9,000 a year over the first 5 years for new car buyers.

As a couple with two cars, I’ve been thinking about trying to get by with one car in the household. Even besides public transit, consider all the car-based options that may be available:

  • Renting a car, but driving ourselves. (ZipCar, RelayRides)
  • Being driven around by other people who rent or own cars. (taxis, Uber, Lyft)
  • Being driven by autonomous robotic cars. (Google or major auto company)

After recent positive experiences with Uber and reading about the advancements in self-driving cars, I now believe that within the next 10 years we will shed at least one car. (I doubt I would want to go completely carless with two kids and all their activities.) Some food for thought on the subject:

  • With Uber, Less Reason to Own a Car – Farhad Manjoo at NY Times.

    “In many cities and even suburbs, it’s becoming much easier to organize your life car-free or car-lite,” said David A. King, an assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University who studies technology and transportation. By car-lite, Dr. King means that instead of having one car for every driver, households can increasingly get by with owning just a single vehicle, thanks in part to tech-enabled services like Uber.

  • A Financial Model Comparing Car Ownership with UberX (Los Angeles) – Kyle Hill at Medium.

    So there you have it… for the average American who drives 13,476 miles per year, owning a motor vehicle will cost them $12,744 per year to maintain, and the cost of taking UberX everywhere will cost them $18,115 per year. However, Americans who drive less than 9,481 miles in a year should seriously consider ditching their car, because UberX will be cheaper.

  • How Do Car Ownership Costs Compare to Uber? – Uber Blog.

    The math doesn’t lie. In a city with with a fast, practical (and cool) alternative like Uber, it would very much be worth your time to crunch the numbers and see how much you’re really spending on your gas, parking, maintenance, etc. and how much time you spend doing those things. Because having your own personal driver pick you up in a slick car each and every day is a hell of an appealing alternative.

  • Uber vs Car Ownership – Sam Altman.

    Taking uberX everywhere is now cheaper for me than owning a car (I have an expensive car, so it’s not a super fair comparison, but I still think it’s interesting).

Of course “the math” depends on where you live and how you drive, but even small to medium cities will be affected. Uber now has UberFamily (car seats) and UberPool (multiple passengers heading the same direction). Now look at self-driving car technology. If I buy a self-driving car, that’s really just another convenience/luxury that costs me more money. But what happens when Uber and Lyft don’t have to pay drivers? (Robots taking jobs again!) Fares will drop even further.

Early Retirement Lesson #4: How Much Car Can I Afford?

jagf200

Pretty Jaguar F-TypeHere’s another installment of what I would tell my kids about pursuing financial freedom. Read all of my early retirement lessons here. I’ve already covered housing, so the next big expense that comes to mind is cars. This is a revised version of a older post.

If you want to achieve early retirement, my rule of thumb is that you should only pay CASH for cars. By cash I don’t mean retirement savings in an IRA, I’m talking about actual cash sitting in the bank while otherwise still making timely progress towards your other financial goals. I’ve never had a car loan. When I buy a car, I write a check or hand over a wad of cash.

Don’t you like cars? I’ve been a Car and Driver subscriber off and on for 20 years now. I wanted to become an ASE-certified mechanic and even applied to automotive school, but settled on being a mechanical engineering major. But I also know that cars are the biggest area where the price paid vs. utility derived (i.e. value) can get completely out of whack. While a BMW M3 is a beautiful example of precision German engineering, unless your commute involves an unrestricted Autobahn it won’t get you to work any faster than my old 2001 Pontiac.

I’m also a proponent of individual choice according to personal priorities. Great cars are beautiful manmade creations, just like great buildings and great bridges. (Top Gear reference!) You may derive an obscene amount of personal joy out of your car. Okay, so buy it with cash saved up after you put 15%+ of your pay aside for retirement. An old classmate drove a 12-year-old Porsche 944 that he worked on himself.

So I can never buy a new car? Again, if you have the cash knock yourself out. My parents are the buy-new-and-drive-for-a-decade type, and they’ve done well with that philosophy. Not everyone enjoys haggling for a used car, and buying new with cash and driving it into the ground is good enough.

Reliable car sweet spot? The “true cost” of a car is the sum of depreciation, maintenance costs, gas, and insurance. New cars hurt you on the depreciation front. Going too cheap may result in high maintenance costs overwhelming the low depreciation. Any fuel-efficient car between 3 and 7 years old with good maintenance records seems like a reasonable choice to me. Buy it from a private party on AutoTrader or Craigslist, get it checked out by a trusted mechanic, use one of the many pricing guides available. Modern cars can easily go past 10 years and 100,000 miles now with proper maintenance.

I personally like the idea of a used GM, Ford, or Mazda model. This is because I bought a Pontiac Grand Prix for under $9,000 at 3 years old and 35,000 miles (company car went off-lease). Even though this was the base model of a struggling-and-now-defunct domestic brand, it ran for another 9 years with the only major repairs being broken power window motors. Essentially, I now believe that the used car pricing market adjusts adequately for reliability. Hondas and Toyotas are certainly more reliable but there is no way I could get a 3-year-old Camry for $9,000.

What if I only have 50 bucks and need a car for work? My first advice would be to try harder to find alternatives. Public transportation may be uncool, but I dislike the idea of working past 65 even more. Can you vanpool or carpool? Could you (gasp) bike or walk?

If you absolutely have to finance a car, buy used and bring your own financing from a credit union like PenFed or Hanscom FCU, which currently offers used car loans starting at 1.49% APR. Negotiate only on price, not monthly payments. Make the loan term 3 years or less.

Again, this rule of thumb is targeted at those folks to want to escape the rat race early. You can still have the $40,000 luxury vehicle, but you’ll have to plan ahead and save for it. Then, when you’re staring at a nice $40,000 balance on your bank statement, it becomes much easier to weigh clearly the value of the car vs. writing a huge check.

As a final note, never buy anything based on monthly payments – that’s the same logic that encourages just making the minimum payment on credit card debt and spawned rent-to-own furniture! Don’t fool yourself into believing you can afford a car just because the monthly lease payment seems manageable. Did you know that over 70% of Mercedes-Benz C-classes are leased? There are many people who spend big chunks of their income every year on cars when they could have a paid-off mortgage instead.

Dinner Boot Camp: Free Family Meal Planning for a Week

dinnerplaybook

dinnerplaybookThe New York Times Motherlode blog is running Dinner: The Boot Camp next week with Jenny Rosenstrach, author of the new book Dinner: The Playbook “A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal”.

Here is the free shopping list and weekly dinner meal plan [pdf] for Sunday night 9/7 through Thursday night 9/12 (you get to go out on Friday). Just shop once on Saturday/Sunday, and the meals are meant to be easy-to-make and tasty. Check in the day after each meal on the Motherlode blog to share experiences.

Inspired by Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, we’ve been trying to shift our eating our habits to the theory that as long as you make it yourself from scratch, it’s healthy enough and cheap enough. Think of “processing” as the middleman that shaves off quality (and replaces with salt and sugar) while increasing cost (have to make a profit, right?). Cut out the middleman.

Our overall goal is to cook ourselves using raw materials 5 days a week, eat “food-in-a-box” dinner once a week, and eat out (or take-out) from a restaurant once per week.

Baby Gear Reviews: Car Seats, Strollers, and Feeding Pillows (Part 2)

babystuff2

Here is Part 2 of my series on baby gear, organized in the order of Amazon’s Baby Registry. Here is Part 1. The entire series can be found with the Baby Gear tag here. This week is car seats, strollers, and feeding pillows.

babystuff2

Car Seats

babystuff_carseatI’ll start with car seats, as we decided that first before picking a stroller. We chose the Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat with Base (plus an extra base for the other car). It was #1 rated by Consumer Reports, well-rated by various other sources including the popular Baby Bargains book, and was recommended by all our friends who had it. You don’t want to go used with a car seat.

After owning it through two different infants, we found it is easy to use, relatively lightweight, durable, easy to take apart, and easy to clean. It’s rated up to 30 lbs, which is more than you’ll probably need. We like that if the baby is sleeping, we can just take the entire seat in and out of the car without waking her up. Our kid often napped in the car seat at home. This also meant we only needed one car seat (and two bases) for two cars.

I haven’t used any other infant car seat so I am unable to provide a good comparison test, but we really have no complaints. A good friend generously bought us ours, and I bought my sister one. The only catch is that it is not the cheapest option. I have seen the Britax B-Safe and it looks similar and is slightly cheaper.

After our first kiddo outgrew the car seat, we bought a pair of Britax Marathon G4 Convertible car seats. Britax seemed to have a good safety history and the chair itself felt very over-engineered and beefy. Honestly, I don’t know the differences between the 26 different Britax models. Ours was on sale. The basic model runs $130 and seems fine to me, it lacks a few conveniences and maybe some comfort padding. The new Chicco Nextfit convertible seat is also highly rated but is closer to $300.

  • Verdict: Buy new. We highly recommend the Chicco Keyfit 30 and have nothing negative to say about it. It currently costs ~$190 but will last through two kids and probably another if we have temporary insanity and try for a third kid. When you outgrow that, we like our beefy Britax convertible seats. Just keep moving up the price range (starts at ~$125) until your budget protests.

Strollers

babystuff_strollerBuying a stroller is like buying a car. There is basic transportation, and then there a million luxury and fashion features for the “outdoorsy” and the “hip urban” set. Strollers can also be bought used in barely-used condition at a significant discount.

Since we picked the Chicco Keyfit, our first thought was to buy the Chicco Cortina, which is basically a regular toddler stroller that can also hold your car seat. Sounds smart right? One stroller, two uses. But at 26 lbs for just the stroller, it was heavy. We ended up just buying a lightweight 14 lb universal frame stroller for $50 which just has one purpose: to hold an infant car seat. 12 lbs difference is a big deal when it comes to both pushing and repeatedly lugging it in and out of a car. If you want your seat to “click in” rather than use a strap, then you have to buy the Chicco-branded one for $100.

For strollers after that, my frugal advice is to find a used baby gear shop and try out their strollers in person. There is so much variation, you just never know until you actually try it. Plus they cost half as much as new. The height could be wrong, you might kick the back wheels when you push, your kid might be too big/small/wide/narrow, etc. The main factors for me are (1) is it lightweight, (2) is the kid comfortable, and (3) are the wheels compatible with the terrain you’ll be one. We often take walks on uneven, thick grass so small wheels get stuck very easily. We have a small, lightweight “mall” stroller (Combi Cosmo) and a heavier “SUV” stroller (Baby Jogger City Mini). I’m not absolutely in love with either one, but they are good enough. The City Mini is fashionable yet has sturdy construction. I think the one-handed collapse feature is rather overrated.

  • Verdict: If you buy a removable infant car seat, just buy a lightweight stroller frame starting at $50 new (or find one used for half). You’ll be good for the first year or so. Always try out a stroller in person. If putting on a baby registry, at least test the usability (fold up, put in car, take out of car, unfold, several times in a row). If buying yourself, just wait until the kid is old enough and buy one used. A good stroller can cost safely under $200 and last a long time.

Feeding Pillows

babystuff_pillowWhen we had our first baby, I think Boppys were trendy or something because we got a few of them as gifts. We used both and liked the Boppy but preferred the My Brest Friend feeding pillow even though we’d never heard of it before (still not a fan of the name). I just noticed that the Brest Friend is the #1 best-selling feeding pillow on Amazon right now, so I guess we were not alone. Allows a comfortable position both for breastfeeding directly and bottle-feeding.

  • Verdict: We preferred the My Brest Friend over the Boppy. Used daily for feeding, totally worth it at ~$40 if you breastfeed. If formula-fed, it is nice but not essential as you have other options like a bed, chair, or car seat.

Baby Gear Reviews: Playards, Swings, and Baby Carriers (Part 1)

babystuff_beco

As a father of a 2-year-old and 2-month-old, I am now an unquestionable expert on all things parenting (that’s how it works, right?). Funny how parents can come off that way when in reality we live in constant fear of messing up our kids permanently.

Since a few readers have asked to write about baby-related things, here is a multi-part series on baby gear organized according to Amazon’s Baby Registry system. I realize this only applies to a certain subsection of readers so I’ll space the posts out. This is part 1; the entire series can be found with the Baby Gear tag here. The first three items on Amazon’s checklist are all items that will ideally occupy your baby while you do all the things you used to take for granted: eat, sleep, shower, use the restroom, and basic personal hygiene.

babystuff1

Playards / Travel Cribs / Playpens

babystuff_pnpThe most popular brand is the Graco Pack N Play, they are like the Kleenex of playards. We received one Pack N Play (PNP) as a gift, and another as a hand-me-down. We’ve also had to use several of them in various hotel rooms that we’ve stayed at. They are very easy to set up and take down once you get some practice. Since they are used as travel cribs, really they can function as everyday cribs until your kid physically grows out of it (manual says up to 30 lbs on the bottom, 15 lbs on the raised mesh level).

I had a fantasy of my kids happily playing in them while I did work on the computer, so I set one up in my home office. That did NOT happen. When they are crawling it serves as a handy pen to keep them safe while you’re doing something briefly. But our kid never spent more than 15 minutes (awake and happy) in one. These days it serves as a nap area or toy storage bin. The other PNP went to the grandparents’ house and mostly serves as a diaper changing table.

  • Verdict: We got the basic ~$70 Graco Pack n Play playard and it did come in handy. Basically a portable crib. I would say it is more of a convenience than a necessity (unless you use it as a primary crib). I did not miss the extra add-ons like nap stations, changing tables, rocking seats, etc.

Swings and Bouncers

babystuff_swingEvery parent seems to have a specific swing to recommend. That’s because when you find a swing that your kids like and will sleep for an hour or more in, you whisper a Hallelujah! (don’t wake the kid!) and weep for joy.

We got a couple different swings as gifts. Baby #1 didn’t like them. We tried some of our friends hand-me-downs. Didn’t like those either. We bought some used ones from the local kid exchange store. Nope. Our first kid was colicky and simply didn’t like swings. One day we were at Nordstroms and saw the $300 retail price Mamaroo. I couldn’t believe I was actually considering buying a swing with an LCD display and iPhone connectivity.

Baby #2 actually likes the Fisher-Price Snugabunny Swing because it swings side-to-side and not just front-to-back. Both babies actually preferred this Fisher-Price Rainforest Bouncer due to its vibration feature and colorful distractions. We ate a lot of dinners with that thing in the middle of the dining table.

  • Verdict: Swings are totally worth the money if your baby sleeps in them. Ours cost $140 but many run much less. Try one that swings side-to-side and front-to-back. Try a vibrating bouncer too.

Soft Baby Carriers

babystuff_becoThey all carry your baby on your body so that you have both hands free to do something else. It seems like many cultures from around the world have similar ways of carrying their babies, so this is definitely something to at least try.

Mrs. MMB and I both tried a few different ones on and ended up picking the Beco Gemini baby carrier (~$130). It was relatively easy to adjust and get in/out, felt sturdily built, and supported both facing-you and facing-forward positions at a wide range of weights. After using it through amusement parks, airports, and multiple washings, we found it very durable and it should last through multiple kids. Worth the extra cost in our experience.

We thought that both of us could us it, but in the end, it was a lot of trouble adjusting it for size between the both of us, and really she did most of the baby carrying. It worked well and I think both kids preferred the carrier to any car seat, stroller, or swing.

Many other brands are similar: Baby Bjorn, Ergo Baby, Infantino. The Moby Wrap ($40) looked very natural but was pretty difficult to get the baby comfortable despite many viewings of YouTube instructional videos. It’s just one big piece of fabric so I’m also not sure why it costs $40. Some people love it, however. Our friends gave us a Mei Tai Carrier ($25) which is more like a Beco/Bjorn but all cloth without plastic clips. I now use it myself to hold the baby around the house. I think the Mei Tai is a good budget version of a Beco-style carrier, although it is more convenient to have the click-in buckles than to tie knots every time.

  • Verdict: If you are cool with carrying your baby on your body, definitely get one. Starts at just $25. Mrs. MMB uses her baby carrier all the time when out shopping or running errands. Both of our kids napped in them regularly.

Costco Meal Planner Service: 20 Family Dinners For $150

5dollardinners

I know it’s still summer, but with two kids under two I’ve been trying to cook extra on the weekends and coast on the weekdays. This past weekend I made beef stew and pulled pork sandwiches in the slow cooker, and they turned out pretty good. Today I found 5dollardinners.com (from my wife’s Pinterest or Facebook), which shows you how to make 20 slow cooker meals for $150 using Costco’s bulk food packages (this version is gluten-free too).

5dollardinners

Basically, you go to Costco and buy exactly what is on the provided shopping list (6 pack of chicken breasts, 15 lb bag of potatoes, massive tub of BBQ sauce, etc) and then chop and separate all the ingredients into 20 separate freezer bags. When you need an easy cheap meal, pop a bag into your slow cooker in the morning and you’ll have dinner ready by the time you’re done with work. You’ll need a slow cooker with a timer if you don’t work from home. You can piece together all the info on the site for free, or for $5 you get some nicely organized instructions and even bag labels.

That makes this site a cool entrepreneurial example as well. Costco is already a great place for people who don’t want to shop for extreme bargains, they just want a decent deal with no hassle. Why not extend the idea to meal planning. The creator definitely put in work to save you time, so why not compensate her for it? They also have two other Costco meal plans that are not 100% slow-cooker specific.

With every ingredient having to go into more than one recipe, you’d worry about too many similar meals but the variety of the recipes actually looks pretty good. I haven’t actually cooked any of them myself, however. If I was really motivated I would try and make something similar for my own personal tastes.

Buy Things, Not Just Experiences: 3 Questions That Will Help You Buy The Right Stuff

You’ve probably heard that you should buy experiences, not things. But what about things that help you experience? Rebecca Rosen of The Atlantic shares research by psychologists Darwin A. Guevarra and Ryan T. Howell in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (an academic journal which I didn’t know existed).

Begin by examining why experiences provide more happiness than material consumption. [...] Experiential goods fit in under this framework because they likewise can satisfy those same psychological needs. A musical instrument, for example, makes possible a sort of human happiness hat trick: Finely tune your skills, get the happiness of mastery (competence); play your heart out, get the happiness of self-expression (autonomy); jam with friends, get the happiness of connecting with others (relatedness).

You could reframe this into asking the following questions before buying something:

  • Does it encourage you to become skilled at something over time?
  • Does it help you express your personal voice?
  • Does it help you spend time and connect with friends and family?

Of course, if you were really determined you could make anything fit into this criteria. (We could all use the Ab Blaster 4000 together!) But I think it’s still a good general guide, as you avoid things that are disposable, only provide temporary amusement, or only useful for giving the appearance of wealth or popularity.

Time Warner Everyday Low Price Internet Review: $14.99 a Month

twc_elp

In late 2013, Time Warner Cable announced a new tier called Everyday Low Price Internet (ELP) for $14.99 a month + taxes. Speed is 2 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. The $14.99 a month is not a sale or promotional rate, that is the retail price available to anyone. If you are located in a Time Warner service area and are looking to save some money on your monthly bill, this is an option to consider. You won’t be able to stream HD Netflix on it, but it should work fine for e-mail and web browsing.

twc_elp

Things that are not included in the plan:

  • Cable modem rental (additional $5.99 a month) – Get around this by purchasing your own modem from their qualifying model list. Example is this for Motorola Surfboard SB6121 for $68.99. More details on buying your own cable modem here.
  • Home WiFi (additional $4.95 a month) – This feature is nothing more than a WiFi router that may be integrated into your cable modem. Either buy a cable modem with WiFi, or better yet just buy a separate router for under $20. Example is this well-reviewed TP-Link Wireless Router with lots of customization features for $19.99.
  • Installation. I was quoted $29.99 for installation, but it may vary by location. You can also try to “self-install” for free if you have had the service at that address before. Existing customers can downgrade to this plan by calling in, there should be no need for a service visit.

Note that the above are not included on their standard high-speed internet plans either.

Comcast Internet Essentials Review: $10/Month High Speed Internet For Low Income Families

Updated with new sign-up promo and debt-forgiveness program. Comcast recently announced that they are continuing their Internet Essentials program that provides high-speed internet service for $9.95 a month + taxes, a subsidized $150 computer, and free digital literacy training to eligible low-income families. Specifically, you get their XFINITY Economy Internet Service for $9.95 per month with no activation or equipment rental charges.

Comcast will also include up to six months of complimentary service for any new family that has not yet applied for Internet Essentials. Families who are approved for Internet Essentials between August 4th and September 20th, 2014 will receive up to six months of Internet service.

Qualification details:

  • Be located where Comcast offers Internet service.
  • Have at least one child receiving free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. If I read the income guidelines for the NSLP correctly, a family of 4 within the contiguous 48 states can’t make more than $31,005 a year to get free lunches.
  • Have not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days.
  • If you have a unpaid balance with Comcast that is less than a year old, you’ll need to work out a payment plan. Debts over a year old will be forgiven for a limited time.

This program is not supported with government taxes. Instead, it was a condition of the FCC’s approval of Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal, and now they are extending it because they want to merge with Time Warner Cable. Comcast states that if the merger goes through, they will expand access to all Time Warner coverage areas. They also state that over 300,000 families have signed up since this started in 2011.

(And yes, I know, Comcast has had customer service issues. Is that really shocking?)

Official announcement, via The Verge.

T-Mobile New Plan: 4 Lines for $100/Month Unlimited Talk, Text, 10 GB of 4G LTE Data

tmobile10gig

tmobile10gig

T-Mobile just announced 7/30 that their Family Plan will offer 4 lines for $100 a month with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 2.5 GB of 4G LTE data per line. (10 GB total across 4 lines. Unlimited 2.5G data after your LTE data allotment is used up.) That is an increase of 6 GB (1.5 GB per line) from their previous offer. Offer expires 9/30/14. I’m not sure why, but the bump up lasts only until 2016, after which it will revert back to 1GB of high speed data per line. That is 17 months from now, so hopefully 4G data will have become cheaper by then anyway. Add a 5th line for only $10 more a month.

These plans include T-Mobile’s free international 2G data and texting in 120+ countries. Came in handy for my brother-in-law when he was at the World Cup in Brazil.

These plans do not include any subsidy for a new phone. You can bring your AT&T or Verizon iPhone 5 straight over to T-Mobile just by swapping out the SIM card inside, no special unlocking procedure required. Usually the Prepaid SIM card is $10 but from 8/1 to 8/6 use the promo code SIMDEAL to get it for only a penny ($0.01). Get a nano SIM card if you have a compatible iPhone 5 or iPad Mini. Get a micro SIM card if you have a compatible iPhone 4, 4S or iPad. You can also check compatibility here.

I really hope T-Mobile stays independent because their aggressive pricing will help keep everyone’s plan costs in line.

Alternatively, you can get unlimited talk, text, and WiFi/3G data for $25 a month with Republic Wireless (per line, no minimum number of lines). You’ll have to buy one of their phones (Moto G starting at $149).

Walmart Savings Catcher: Automated Low Price Guarantee Now Nationwide

wmcatcher

(Update: Walmart’s new automated low price guarantee appears to be nationwide now. While still in “beta”, their FAQ has been scrubbed of any geographical limitations. Their inclusions list was changed to add the phrase “most fruits and vegetables.” You must submit receipts within 7 days. Via nicemann of FW. More details below.)

wmcatcherMany stores offer a “low price guarantee” but in reality nobody actually uses them. You have to find the competing price yourself, wait in the returns line, all for the opportunity to argue with the cashier about the validity of your claim. Who wants to do that?

Walmart is has a new feature called Savings Catcher that automates their low price guarantee. Thanks to reader Doug for the tip. Here’s how it works:

  1. Enter the TC Number from your Walmart receipt at walmart.com/savingscatcher or scan the barcode using the Walmart smartphone app.
  2. Savings Catcher compares the prices of the items you bought at Walmart to the advertised prices at the time of your purchase from the print and online versions of weekly print ads of top retailers in your area.
  3. If Savings Catcher finds an advertised price that is lower than what you paid for the same exact item at Walmart, you can get a Walmart Rewards eGift Card for the difference.

This program appears to be available nationwide now. Just for reference purposes, here were the initial test markets and the local competitors they checked against:

  • Atlanta, GA– Aldi, Food Depot, CVS, Food Lion, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Ingles, Kroger, Publix, Rite-Aid, Kmart, Target, Walgreens, IGA, Wayfield Foods and Piggly Wiggly.
  • Charlotte, NC– Aldi, Bi-Lo, CVS, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Ingles, Kmart, Lowes (Food), Target, Rite-Aid, Publix, and Walgreens.
  • Dallas, TX– Albertsons, Aldi, Brookshires, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, HEB, Kroger, Target and Tom Thumb.
  • Huntsville, AL Market– Aldi, Belle/Food World, CVS, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Save-A-Lot, Foodland, Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, Publix, Rite Aid, Target, Walgreens.
  • Lexington, KY– Aldi, CVS, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Save-A-Lot, Kroger, Meijer, Rite Aid, Target and Walgreens.
  • Minneapolis, MN– Aldi, Cub Foods, CVS, Family Dollar, Hy Vee, IGA, Rainbow Foods, Shopko, Target and Walgreens.
  • San Diego– Albertsons, CVS, Dollar Tree, Ralph’s, Rite Aid, Vons, Smart & Final, Target, Fresh & Easy, Walgreens, Stater Bros and Save-A-Lot.

Savings Catcher applies to your in-store Walmart purchases only. Online prices from competitors don’t count. If you use a manufacturer’s coupon, it will consider the pre-coupon price. You can submit up to 7 receipts per week and 15 receipts per month. Savings are issued on a Walmart gift card that can be used in-store or online. There are item restrictions.

Included:

  • Most groceries such as cereal, rice and most fruits and vegetables except for: store brand items, deli, bakery and weighed items like meat.
  • Consumable items such as paper towels, bleach and trash bags.
  • Health and beauty items such as shampoo and makeup.
  • Select general merchandise items.

NOT included:

  • Store brands, deli, bakery and weighed items like meat.
  • General merchandise items, (including, but not limited to, electronics, media and gaming, toys, sporting goods, housewares, small appliances, home décor, bedding, books and magazines, apparel and shoes, jewelry, furniture, office supplies and seasonal products).
  • Non-branded items.
  • Tobacco, firearms, gasoline, tires, prescription drugs, optical and photo products and services, or products that require a service agreement such as wireless, automotive or financial products.

How much should you expect back? One frequent shopper reports 2-3% back, via DailyFinance:

Anne Jurchak was part of Walmart’s focus group. She said she’s been getting back $5 to $7 on her weekly trips to Walmart in which she typically spends $200 to $250. Jurchak has used those savings to buy holiday stocking stuffers and a case for her e-reader.

Keep in mind that like many other savings programs like CVS ExtraCare and Safeway Club cards, this will collect data on you and basically track your spending to your SavingsCatcher account. I personally don’t worry about that kind of stuff too much, but FYI.

Manything: Turn Your Old iPhone, iPad, or iPod Into a Free Home Security Webcam

manything

manythingIn order to keep an eye our house on longer trips as well as monitor our dogs anytime, we bought Samsung WiFi cameras a while ago that stream directly to our phones. We decided not to go with Dropcam in order to avoid recurring monthly fees. Our cams only record short clips onto Google Drive upon motion detection, but it is free and they work adequately for our needs.

A new app called Manything will turn any iPhone, iPad, or iPod with a camera into the same style of streaming WiFi webcam, complete with motion detection and saved video clips in the cloud (currently iOS only, Android in development). Found via ad on Daring Fireball. You can view live streams on your iPhone or computer, and it can send you app or e-mail alerts when there is motion detected.

Recently added was IFTTT support (not even available with Dropcam), which allows you to link the app with other services and networked devices like Philips Hue lightbulbs, Belkin WeMo and Google Nest. Via 9to5Mac and GigaOM, here are some examples of what you could do:

  • Start recording when I leave home, stop recording when I return
  • Start recording when the last family member leaves home
  • When motion detected outside the home, turn on Philips Hue lighting to look like someone’s home
  • Start recording and send alert when Nest smoke alarm is activated

That sounds pretty neat. Right now, they are offering 30 days of continuous cloud recording for free. However, future pricing will include a free option limited to one device and 12 hours of recording. That’s still good enough to serve as a free security camera. Unlimited live viewing and motion detection alerts will also stay free.

My experience. I played around with this app over this last weekend, but perhaps due to the recent press I found their Manything.com website to be very slow and unresponsive at times. The motion detection and alerts worked, but then I was unable to load up the saved clip, which was frustrating. I had better luck using the app directly to view clips.

Otherwise, viewing the live streams on my phone worked fine; The sound was clear and I counted about a 10 second delay. The app itself is relatively simple and easy to set up. I like being able to adjust the motion sensitivity and to block off specific areas where you should ignore motion. I wish you could change the sensitivity settings remotely however, right now you can only modify them on the actual camera.