My Review of FamZoo – An Allowance and Finance Education Solution for Families
Looking for advice and ideas on how to make more out of giving your child a weekly allowance or to reward them for meeting goals or doing chores? Look no further than FamZoo.com.
FamZoo is a great solution for families to handle this time-honored tradition. Not only does it provide a great, easy-to-manage system for giving your kids money, it teaches financial literacy, and encourages charitable giving.
Here’s a quick summary of the features that make this a great option for families with kids:
At its most basic level, FamZoo is a MasterCard debit card for each of your children.
The card is the same as many bank-issued debit cards/ATM cards.
When you order the cards, each kid over the age of 13 years old can get their own name on the card.
Kids younger than 13 years old get their parent’s name and their name on the card.
The parent’s transfer money into a FamZoo account and then it can be distributed as required either automatically in regular intervals (such as for an allowance) or as the parent authorizes.
There is a web-based and iOS application that parents can use to setup accounts, transfer money to kids’ cards, and keep track of transactions/spending.
Savings and charity accounts can be created. Parents can decide on an “interest rate” for their child’s savings account. (The parent pays the interest, but the kid learns about the value of saving.)
When a child earns money, some of it can automatically be diverted into the charity or savings accounts. Parents can setup a “savings match” program if they like.
If a debit card is lost, there’s a checkbox in the app/web account that can disable it instantly.
Since it’s a debit card, and you set the pin, the possibility of theft / fraudulent use is minimized. It is easy to order replacement cards and to transfer the money on the old card to the new account.
Debit cards also mean no chance of accidently going into debt, late fees, overdraft fees. The money that you put on the card is all that is available for your child to use.
The debit card is on an ATM network (MoneyPass), so your child can withdraw cash as needed (from the available balance on her card).
Watch the video below to learn more about how FamZoo works:
Central Marylanders are often faced with a choice during the summer–trek out to Ocean City or the Delaware shore or go to one of the closer in Chesapeake Bay Beaches. If you don’t have time or money to head all the way over to the Eastern shore, there are definitely a few popular beaches in Anne Arundel and Calvert County.
I’d say that among the most popular Chesapeake destinations are North Beach, Chesapeake Beach, Flag Point and the one everyone knows – Sandy Point State Park.
The park is open year round. As of this writing, it is only closed on Christmas Day.
The street address for the park to put into your navigator is:
1100 E College Pkwy, Annapolis, MD 21409 1-800-830-3974 / 410-974-2149 (Office) General Information Hours of Operation are 7am to sunset. Fishermen and boaters may have 24 hour access.
There are entrance fees (see below) that are paid either using coins (quarters or dollars) or credit cards (Visa/Mastercard).
See below for park entry costs (Updated for Summer 2019).
Sandy Point, which opened in the 1950’s, is located just to the western side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge which looms over the beach. In fact, one drawback of the Sandy Point beach is that you may encounter some of the beach traffic you’re hoping to avoid by not going to Ocean City.
To get to Sandy Point, you head down Route 50 towards the bridge but exit (exit 32) shortly before you reach it to get to College Parkway.
Just plan your visit with the potential for traffic in mind and most days you’ll be able to get there without much of a delay. In case you were wondering, a section of the beach is supervised by lifeguards from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays, Memorial Day to Labor Day.
As a state park, there is an admission fee which as of May 24, 2019, Sandy Point State Park entry for Maryland Residents is:
$4 per person on weekdays
$5 per person on weekends and holidays.
Children buckled in a child safety seat (infant and small children in a car seat or booster seat) are free. Costs are a few dollars more for non-Maryland residents. Rates may increase for holidays or special events.
Military and their dependents as well as disabled people get in for free–you have to present proper ID to get these free passes to Sandy Point.You can also buy a season pass or buy a Golden Age Pass for $10 if you’re older than 61. Here are a few more details: If you plan to go often, you probably want to consider getting a season pass. Golden Age Passes are available for purchase for people age 62+ –with it, you’ll get free admission (and unfortunately, the National Park Service Eagle Passees aren’t accepted).
As mentioned above, those with a Maryland Park Service Disability Pass get in for free. BTW, when you get a season pass, they give you a magnetic card to get you into the park, as the entry gates typically aren’t staffed. By the way, aside from those passes, these automatic toll machines accept exact change only in the form of $1 coins and quarters. Alternately, you can use a credit card: MasterCard and VISA are accepted.
Be aware that sometimes, especially on certain holidays, the park can fill to capacity and they simply stop letting people in. That can really be disappointing because there aren’t really any comparable nearby beaches. If that happens to you, I can only suggest taking a ride to downtown Annapolis and taking in the sites, or if you a heart-set on the beach, take about a 1-hour ride down to North Beach and hope for the best.
The beach itself isn’t perfect, but it is a nice way to spend the day with kids. As mentioned earlier, there are life guards on the beach during the summer months from 10am to 6pm. Snacks and concessions are available for sale at the beach. They also have showers and restrooms available.
Aside from going in the water or hanging out on the beach there are also opportunities for crabbing and fishing (for licensed fisherman and people age 16 or under). There are rock jetties you can stand on for fishing or you can rent a 16 foot motor boat/bring your own small craft. Fisherman enjoy 24 hour access to the park during certain times of year.
Jigging and chumming seem to be effective ways of catching striped bass at Sandy Point–especially if you’re there in the early morning hours. If you like hiking there is are several nice trails that take you through marsh land and a planted pine forest. It is a great way to see wildlife such as birds and turtles.
Pets are allowed in the park only during the off-season times of year. Dogs must be leashed.
Sandy Point might be a place to consider for group outings or parties. For large parties they have shelters available for rental that can hold up to 300 people.
Note that this is the only place alcohol is allowed in the park, and you MUST get a permit if you intend to serve drinks. Also, you are NOT allowed to have amplified music at Sandy Point. Another important consideration for groups is that everyone entering the park must pay separately. Youth and scouting groups can also reserve a campground area.
Another important thing to note is that Sandy Point is a “trash free” park. What that really means is that it is up to the visitors to collect their trash and take it with them.
There aren’t any trashcans in the park. Related point–you can bring your dogs to the park during the off season, but you are expected to clean up after them.
People ask me what I don’t like about Sandy Point. Well, we’re lucky to have a close-in, convenient option, but well, it isn’t the same as Ocean City. The sand is different, the bottom of the bay feels different to walk on and there seem to be more creatures that bite and sting (Both flying creatures and lots of jellyfish some years–especially when the water starts getting warmer).
Another issues is that the beach itself can get kind of dirty sometimes. Anyway, I do like it, but sometimes it makes me wish for O.C. — also, on most days, given the choice, I would rather trek out to North Beach which tends to be better maintained for sunbathers and swimmers.
tldr; – I am a fan of both mobile phone companies, however at this time (January 11, 2020), I feel that Google Fi is the better value. Get a $20 credit here. Read my Republic Wireless / Google Fi review below to find out about the ups-and-downs of both discount mobile phone companies, information about Republic Wireless and Fi compatible phones, see sample bills, and more.
If you’re tired of the big U.S. mobile phone companies (aka Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile), you may want to consider two very strong contenders: Google Fi and Republic Wireless 3.0.
Below is my review and comparison of the two mobile phone service providers.
I am a current customer of both Google Fi and Republic Wireless. I have been with Republic Wireless since the beginning and am a more recent Google Fi phone company (formerly Project Fi) customer starting in July 2016.
I currently have two mobile phone lines on each service–my wife and I mainly use Google Fi, and my kids are on Republic Wireless phones.
At the moment, I’d say Google Fi is the better option – especially because it supports more phones (Android and iPhone) and has additional connectivity options, particularly when traveling internationally (no “roaming” fees in 120 countries).
I also prefer Google Fi, because it has built-in security in the form of a virtual private network (VPN) when you’re accessing service via WiFi.
Right from the start, I’d like to say that neither Google Fi, nor Republic Wireless are perfect for every mobile user.
Google has a helpful tool to help you determine if this sort of service will meet your needs and save you money (or more importantly–whether it won’t!):
Pro Tip: If the Google tool tells you that Fi phone service isn’t right for you, then the Republic Wireless service probably won’t be right either.
Service coverage general isn’t an issue for U.S. customers of either carrier, the main question is whether or not you’ll require more than the tipping point of data to make it worth it. In most cases, if you can commit to connecting to WiFi as often as possible, you can make the switch to Fi or Republic worthwhile.
BTW, if you decide to go with Google Fi, please use my “refer a friend” code. After you’ve been on the service for 30 days, you’ll get a credit for $20, and so will I! The Google Fi coupon code/promo code is EM35EF or you can just follow this link.
You should see something like this at the top of your screen:
This is valid for single accounts (not group/family plan accounts) and may expire (they have extended the deadline for this program, but haven’t stated a new end date–but if the link works–and it will tell you immediately that it did, then you WILL get the credit. It is definitely still in effect as of January 2019 and looks like it will continue for now.)
Both companies allow you to purchase a phone from them or bring your own unlocked phone. Republic Wireless has a more limited list of bring-your-own options.
Both companies allow you to make calls and send text messages over WiFi. Both try to save data by connecting you via WiFi when possible. Google Fi has the added advantage of built-in VPN security over WiFi. This means there’s less worry about hackers snooping your data when you’re using WiFi in public places because it will be encrypted.
Both companies are month-to-month, no contracts. Stop service at any time.
Google Fi service automatically routes your calls and data on one of three 4G LTE networks (Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular), depending on which has the best connection when you place a call or use data. It will support 5G on Sprint’s network as it rolls out, provided your device can accommodate 5G. On the other hand, Republic Wireless is only on T-Mobile’s network.
Both companies offer very competitively priced data plans. The real savings come into play when you use WiFi for calls, texts, and data as much as possible. Google Fi offers an unlimited plan.
You are more likely to have better mobile call quality with Project Fi than you are with Republic Wireless, but I have had very few problems with Republic Wireless’ call quality in recent years. If you are placing calls on a decent WiFi network, either provider works great.
Both companies offer the option of monthly payments/financing on the phones they sell.
Republic Wireless plans start at $15/month and Google Fi’s plans start at $20/month. These are the base prices to keep your line activated and make calls and send texts via WiFi — you’ll be charged more if you use any mobile data. (Which can be avoided by using WiFi for data when possible.)
Data on Republic Wireless is cheaper than on Google Fi, however, Google Fi’s “flexible plan” billing model is much more, well, flexible since you only pay for the data you use–and you only pay to the penny. In other words, although they quote $10/gig, they only charge you for any fraction you actually use when you select this plan–you don’t have to pay for an entire gig.
With Republic Wireless, you will know exactly how much you will be billed at the end of the month based on which plan you select. With Project Fi, you will know the base costs, and then the actual bill depends entirely on how much data you use. Google’s “Bill Protection” feature puts a cap on the monthly charge and amounts to an unlimited plan.
Google Fi has an “unlimited plan.” It is a great deal if you use lots of data. The most an individual will have to pay in a month is $70. For that price, an individual on the plan will get 22 gigs per month of high speed data without throttling and without paying anything more. If you exceed 22 gigs, but don’t want to be throttled you can opt to pay an additional $10/gig.The same deal exists on the family/group plan…but for instance the most two people would have to pay is $120/month. There are additional savings for each person you add to the plan.Here is a table with pricing as of September 22, 2019:You also get free calling to over 50 countries included in the unlimited plan. Google One membership with 100 gigs of Google Drive space is also included.
Republic Wireless requires you to upgrade your plan when you hit your data limit. You can upgrade and downgrade your plan up to two times per month. This is a bit of a pain. You also must pay for the entirety of the amount of data in the plan you select no matter what portion of the data you use.
Republic Wireless does not have a family or group plan, Project Fi has a “group plan’ with very competitive rates, convenient “bill splitting” features if you’re sharing with friends, and data plan sharing. This can be an especially great deal for members of your family who don’t use alot of data…and the bill splitting is very innovative.Google Fi will let you pause a member of your group’s data usage or pause their service completely. On Republic Wireless, you can downgrade a user’s plan to not have data, but you can’t really pause their account yourself (although you may be able to do this by contacting customer service).
If you purchase your phone from Google Fi, you can enroll in their “Device Protection” insurance plan for about $5 – $7/month. I highly recommend this, as it has been hassle-free help for me on three occasions including one where a $300 phone was dropped in water. In the event something goes wrong with your phone it’s will be replaced with a refurb for around $60 – $90. If your screen is broken, you can take it to a local retail shop and have it fixed for around $20.
What’s So Special About These Two Mobile Phone Carriers?
They have some great selling points and great phones in common. As mentioned earlier, I am a customer of both of these services, so I wanted to share some insights for people trying to figure out if Fi or RW is right for them and whether or not they should dump the usual suspect mobile carriers and save money. (The answer is probably YES!)
Below is a review of some of the feature differences between the two mobile phone service companies:
What are the Phone Options for Google Fi and Republic Wireless
Republic Wireless and Google Fi get the best performance with certain pre-selected Android phones. Importantly, Google Fi allows you to use an iPhone, Republic Wireless does not.
When you sign up for either of these companies, you’ll either have to bring your own phone (which, in the case of Republic Wireless, will need to on their list of approved phones) or purchase one from the company.
The phones they recommend are generally among the higher-end phones. If you purchase a phone from either company, it will come “unlocked” — it will be yours to take with you should you ever decide to move to a different phone company. This is good to know as it is often not the case when you buy a phone from other carriers.
Likewise, if you buy your own phone (or if you already had one that’s compatible), it will need to be “unlocked” for it to work. If you are purchasing a new phone, just be sure that not only is it a compatible model, but that it is an unlocked phone.
If you have a compatible phone that you purchased on a plan through AT&T, for example, it may not be unlocked. You may or may not be able to get AT&T to unlock it for you, depending on your contract. You’ll have to call and ask to be sure.
Both Republic Wireless or Google Project Fi will provide you with a SIM card that you’ll need to install to use their service.
Google Project Fi Phone Options
At the moment (as of November 2018), Google Fi supports most Android phones. Their recommend phones are the Google Pixel (1 – 4 / Pixel 3a), LG ThinQ, Moto G6, certain Samsung phones, OnePlus, iPhone, and the Moto X4. These are venerable phones.
If you need a cheaper option, I am also impressed with the cheaper version of the Google Pixel 3 (Google’s previous flagship), the Pixel 3a. It is a bit slower, and has a plastic body (NOT waterproof), but also has an excellent camera, just like the 3’s.
Generally speaking, if you have a Pixel 2, 3, or 4, you’ll get a monthly software update from Google–You will always have the latest release of Android–a truly a nice feature, rather than waiting and hoping that your phone will get an update…a chronic problem due to a combination of phones and phone companies.
The Moto X4 and Moto G7 are also well regarded and certainly have a lower price point than the Pixel phones. Although having said that, you may want to look at the refurbished Pixel phones on Amazon.
Along those same lines, you can purchase these phones from Google when you sign up for service, but you should double-check the price on Amazon just to make sure you can’t get a better deal — here are some links to refurbished older Pixel phones: Google Pixel, and Google Pixel 2.
You can finance the phones when purchased on Google or Amazon. Having said that, a compelling reason to purchase the phone from Google is their trade in program that is applicable to certain phone models and includes a Google Fi credit of varying amounts depending on the age and condition of the trade.
I have bought several phones through Google Fi’s store and have had good luck that way. It definitely does make it a little bit easier than bringing your own phone.
A Word About Google Fi Device Protection
The Google Fi device protection will cost you $5 to $7 per month and covers things like: cracked screens, spills, and device malfunctions.
If something goes wrong they will replace your phone with a new or refurbished similar phone. I have used the service once when the battery was failing on my Nexus 5x. It was quickly replaced with a refurbished identically configured phone. There is a deductible to consider.
See the table above for example costs for device protection and the deductible you’ll have to pay if you get your phone replaced using this service. Note that you can only sign up for device protection if you buy your phone from Google.
Bring an Additional Data Only Device to Google Fi
Google Fi will allow you to add a free additional “data only” SIM card to your account. This will let you share your data plan with another device (without any additional monthly fees!) So for example, you could have your main SIM card in your Google Pixel phone, and then put the data-only SIM in an iPad. Whatever the device, so long as it’s able to use a compatible SIM card, and it is “radio compatible” with T-Mobile. You would not be able to use the phone’s dialer with this option and there is no tethering.
Here is a list of devices they have verified are compatible with the free data-only SIM card:
Android tablets running 7.0 or higher with LTE bands 2 and 4 (US Versions)
iPads running iOS 10 or higher with LTE bands 2 and 4 (US Versions)
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 or newer (US Versions)
Sony Xperia Z4 (US Version)
Nexus 7 – K009 (2013 US LTE)
Nexus 9 – 0P82300 (2014 US LTE)
iPad Air 2 – Model A1567 (2014)
iPad Mini 4 – Model A1550 (2015)
iPad Pro – Model A1652 (2015)
Galaxy Tab S – Model SM-T807V (2015)
Nexus 5X (North American version)
Nexus 6 (North American version)
Nexus 6P (North American version)
Other devices not on the list could work, if they are radio-compatible with T-Mobile (GSM Radio) and they have the right sized SIM slot. For example, I have heard of people using it with their iPhone 6.
You can just order one and try (it’s totally free! You don’t even have to pay for shipping.) if you think you have an unlocked device that will work. Just remember there will be no calls or texts through the normal channels (although you can certainly replace the regular dialer and text messenger with some other app for example, What’s App, Viber, or Skype…). Note that you might potentially need a “nano SIM to Micro SIM adaptor” for some devices.
Republic Wireless Phone Options
Republic Wireless is compatible with lots of phones, but they only allow you to use specific models, and there is no iPhone support. Having said that, the list of choices are fairly substantial and that gives you more freedom if you’re bringing your own unlocked phone that is on their short approved list. Below is a list of a few of the phones they are currently compatible with (The model number IS important!).
I have included a link to Amazon.com for each phone. You are likely to find the phone cheaper on Amazon than on the Republic Wireless site, in some cases $50-100 cheaper–especially for the Moto G, since Amazon is selling it at a discount, but it includes some relatively innocuous advertising.
At any rate, as long as the model numbers match, you will be able to use it on Republic Wireless–just be sure it is unlocked and double check the model as sometimes these links get switched out to different products on Amazon’s end, and I can’t control that:
Moto X4 – Great semi-waterproof phone with a pretty good camera.
I wouldn’t mind having any of the above phones, but the Google Pixel 2 and the S6 and S7 are my favorites.
At this writing Project Fi also offers insurance on the phone, Republic Wireless does not. Insurance is something Republic is said to be working on.
Multiple Mobile Networks and WiFi in Use
One very cool feature of both Republic Wireless and Google Project Fi is the way they can move seamlessly between wireless networks, and they can also place calls/send text on WiFi networks.
Google Fi has the upper hand here, as it can make use of 3 major US mobile phone networks: Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Whichever network is providing the strongest signal is the one that your call will be routed on. It does this in real-time, so if you should move to an area where one of the three providers is giving you a better signal your call will switch networks and you’ll be “none the wiser.”
Republic Wireless utilizes just one network–T-Mobile (actually, they don’t tell you, but they hint that it’s the one that has the best 4G LTE network.)
The Seamless Handover Between Phone and WiFi
Both Republic Wireless and Project Fi will allow you to seamlessly switch over to and away from a WiFi connection. This is REALLY handy. Especially if you live in a place where there just isn’t really any strong cellular signal (or if, for example, you work in a basement that has WiFi, but no mobile signals get through).
If you’re connected to a WiFi hot spot, you don’t incur any data charges and you can use voice, data, and texting as you would on the mobile network. Did I mention how great this is? 🙂
If you place a call, and then move away from your WiFi network, your phone is going to seamlessly jump on to the wireless network, assuming one is available.
Google Fi also keeps a database of hundreds of open WiFi networks that it can automatically connect to. When it does, it always uses an encrypted connection to protect your calls and data. It seems to work very well and saves you money.
The Data Plans and Costs
Depending on your situation, you will probably find that you’ll save money using either one of these companies, when you compare them to AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon.
The Cost of Google Fi
Google Fi has two basic plans: Unlimited and Flexible. You can choose which one you’d like and switch between them at will–the change takes effect on the next billing cycle.
The Flexible Plan on Google Fi
The formula for pricing is something like: Google Fi Monthly Payment = Base Cost of $20/month + data used & international calls + phone insurance (optional) + taxes, fees (in my case $3.62 in October 2016 for a single line to be exact–see sample bill below).
Google’s FAQs state “Taxes and government surcharges vary by service address, but are normally between 10-20%. For example, if your monthly bill is $40, the taxes on your statement could be between $4-8.”
If you’re paying for your phone on a monthly basis, that fee would also be charged on your monthly bill along with device protection fees if you are enrolled.
Google Fi “Flexible Plan” is really a pay-as-you-go offering. They do give you benchmark “data plans” but really, at the end of the month you’re only going to pay for what you actually used as far as data (down to the megabyte). This is a bit hard to grasp, because we’re so used to phone companies that charge you the minimum of your chosen data plan and then charge you for additional data as you go, but in specific large blocks of data. This is not the case with Project Fi.
When you sign up for Google Fi on the Flexible Plan, you will “choose a data billing plan,” but really it’s just to give you the idea of what you will be spending each month. That might sound scary, but it works–especially with their bill protection feature.
Even though you signed up for a plan, they charge you by the megabyte. To put this more specifically, Google currently charges a base of $20/month to keep the service activated for voice and texting, then they charge $10/gig of data used (plus a monthly fee). In reality though, if you only used 350 megabytes in a month, you would be charge $3.50 for data, not the whole $10. So you are always charged for just what you used, no matter which plan you select.
Project Fi’s help explains signing up for a data plan on their network this way “You’ll always pay for what you use, so changing your data budget is like setting a goal. We’ll send you alerts as you get close to your budget.” They go on to explain that “With Project Fi, you’re charged $10 per GB for data. If you use more data than your budget, you’ll be charged for the exact difference–at the exact same rate. If you use less, you’ll get credited for what you don’t use. ”
If you really need to have no more than an exact amount of data used, you can use your phone’s “set mobile data limit” features to set a hard limit. This way, when your phone notices you’ve reached a certain data threshold it will shut off its mobile data usage.
Pro Tip: I’d recommend the Datally app made by Google to control your data usage in any case.
The Unlimited Plan on Google Fi
The Unlimited Plan is a pretty good deal. At the moment, an individual line on this pays $70/month. A family of 4 would see a bit of a discount, paying $45/line. This includes 22 gigs of high-speed data. After that you will be throttled.
The Unlimited Plan also includes free international calling to 50+ countries and a subscription to Google One with 100gigs of Google Drive space.
Traveling and International Calls on a Google Fi Plan
An important, and notable feature of Project Fi is that if you travel to any of 135+ other countries, your data plan will still be in effect–you won’t be charged any extra (beyond the regular $10/gig if you’re on the Flexible Plan and nothing additional on the Unlimited Plan), and you’ll be able to consume data, just as you did in the USA. I recently traveled to Italy, France, Spain, Ukraine, and Germany with my Fi phone and had success with calls, text messages, and data. This is a great feature because you don’t have to worry with purchasing a local SIM card or anything like that.
Once I got to a new country, it took a few minutes, but I’d get a message from Google Fi confirming my phone had been registered in the given country, and then I could make calls, send texts, and use data. For more details and to see the list of countries that are in Project Fi’s plan, click here.
Note that although your data costs will be the same as they are in the USA, expect to pay 20 cents per minute for calls. Assuming you have a US phone number, WiFi calls within the USA and abroad would be free, and beyond that, if you’re calling another country, the same international calling rates would apply.
If you are wondering, yes, you can send text messages to other countries from Google Fi phones–I have texted to Germany and Ukraine without problems.
A Word About Groups and Families on Google Fi
Google Fi offers a group plan/family plan. Each additional line above the initial primary line is $15/month, and then the data is shared at the same rates mentioned above.
If you have younger kids and want to be able to control their data usage, you’ll want to use Google Family link app. It lets you set limits on the child’s phone including which content they’re viewing but you can also create settings and alerts for data usage that the youngster can’t tamper with.
One great feature of this group/family plan is the bill splitting/”repay” feature. “Fi plan members can repay group plan owners for their share of the monthly bill directly through the Google Fi app. No need to pull out your calculator—Project Fi will handle the math. Reminders, payments, and tracking are all just as simple.” That means it’s a bit easier if you’re sharing an account with friends or roommates, everyone can easily pay their share of the wireless bill.
The Cost of Republic Wireless 3.0 Plans
Republic Wireless has a base cost of /month. This base cost includes no data, and doesn’t include things like taxes and fees, phone payment plan, etc. But if you own the phone outright, that is a great starting point. For college students who are near ubiquitous WiFi, that could truly be all you need. Plans go up from there. Most people will need a data plan, and with Republic Wireless, you get 1 gig included for $20/month. Not bad.
Here is a chart (as of 8/6/2016) that shows how the rates increase with more data. You will find these rates turn out to be lower cost than Google Project Fi. See below for a direct comparison.
Republic Wireless allows you to switch plans via their app whenever you want, so if you hit your limit or need to cut back, you can do that at will. It is important to understand that unlike with Project Fi, you can’t just keep using data beyond your selected plan. The data will stop when you hit your data plan limit. At that point you can upgrade to a higher plan through the Republic Wireless app, and you will immediately have more data at your disposal.
On the other hand, if you then want to downgrade again, you can request it, but it doesn’t take place until the beginning of the next billing cycle. (I think you can just do this immediately after you upgrade, so you won’t have to wait an extra billing cycle to switch back down). With Republic Wireless, you still get billed for the entire amount of your data plan, even if you don’t use it.
A Word About Using Google Fi and Republic Wireless with Kids
If you have children and those children have a phone, you’ll probably have concerns about their data plan usage. The question will be: how can I restrict my child or teen’s data usage so that they don’t cause the parents to go bankrupt. Here are a few thoughts on this:
With Republic Wireless, it’s a simple matter – you just select the amount of data you’re okay with and that’s what you’ll be charged — provided that your kid doesn’t upgrade their plan themselves–a possibility, but definitely a deliberate action, and one you may be able to restrict (see Family Link bullet below)
On Google Fi, there is no “hard stop” on data usage. It will let you keep going, and you’ll be charged until you hit your plan’s threshold for unlimited data. After that there will be no further charges. So if you have a kid who uses lots of data, there is no line where the data will be “gone.” Having said that, they do have two features that are useful in cases where you need to control your family member’s data usage. First, you can set a data usage “alert” at whatever amount you think is appropriate. So for example, if you think you’re child should only use 1 gig per month, you can choose that amount, and you and your child will receive an alert when they hit that benchmark. Second, you, as the account owner can sign in to Google Fi and pause the data for your child’s account. So if you’re on the ball, you can sort of control how much data is used. Depending on your child, the alert itself might be enough for them to curb their data usage.
On Android devices, you can setup the “Family Link app.” Family Link is a free Google app that allows you to control all aspects of your kid’s phone usage. Family Link doesn’t specifically let you control they amount of data they can utilize, but it would allow you to restrict their ability to access certain apps. So this may be a way for you to stop them from adjusting the phone’s settings. It definitely lets you restrict the amount of time kids can spend using specific apps. I don’t know much about it, but there are similar apps for iPhone/iOS.
I think it is worth mentioning again that both Google Fi and Republic Wireless are built on the idea that you’ll use WiFi as much as possible — including for sending text messages and making phone calls. Therefore, in many situations that other mobile phone companies would have you using data from the data plan, these two companies stand out since they save you from this where possible.
Comparing the Cost of Republic Wireless vs Google Fi
In short, although there are some nuances to this, Google Project Fi is slightly more expensive than Republic Wireless. It really depends on how you intend to use the service which of the two would be better.
Base Plan (No data) cost
Republic Wireless: $15/month (no group/family plan at this time)
Republic Wireless: Depends on the amount of data. All plans already include unlimited voice & texting: 1 gig $20; 2 gigs $25; 3 gigs $30, etc. (as of 8/6/2016). You DO have to pay for unused data.
Google Project Fi: Base Cost of $20 PLUS the data costs (but only for the exact amount of data you use): $10/gig. So a one gig plan would be $30/month; 2 gig plan would $40/month, etc. +taxes, fees, etc. I am in Maryland, and I paid $3.62 in taxes and fees on my October bill (see below).
Google Fi Sample Bill
Here is a sample bill from Google’s Project Fi for one line in October 2016… and if you’re wondering about Google Fi taxes and fees, there is a breakout (again for October 2016 in Maryland! It might be somewhat different in other states):
You can’t go wrong with either of these phone companies. Both offer great service and operate with very decent phones. Google Fi has the power of additional phone networks, encrypted WiFi, international data, phone replacement insurance/device protection, etc, but Republic Wireless gets the job done at slightly lower costs. Since there are no contracts with either company, you can leave and take your phone with you at any time — you just have to finish paying for the current month and you’re done.
You can certainly try Project Fi and if you don’t like it, you could switch to Republic Wireless (assuming you are using one of the compatible phones that work on both mobile services!). The hardest part would be changing out the SIM card in your phone (which isn’t that hard, but can be kind of a pain if you’re a bit ham fisted like me.)
These notebooks put a new twist on taking notes in the more traditional way with pen and paper, while at the same time not being as onerous as using a tablet computer to take handwritten notes.
There are a few things that raise the value of this system:
The spiral-bound notebook is made of paper-like plastic, rather than regular paper. This is great because it means that if you use the readily available Pilot Frixion Pens or Markers, anything written on the pages can be easily wiped away clean with a damp paper towel. So basically it means you can reuse the notebook over and over again. I love the feel of the special Pilot pens on this surface. It is smooth and fluid. I also appreciate the fact that the notebooks have some pages that use dots instead of lines. I prefer this because makes it easier to use the paper for a wide-variety of notes including drawings and landscape notes (as opposed to portrait) which definitely has come in handy.
There are two sizes available: 8.5″x11″ and 6″x8.8″.Although there is a cool-factor to having the smaller size, I’d recommend going with the letter-size book. It’s slightly more expensive, but the added utility makes it worth it.
Before you wipe away your notes with a wet cloth, you can use the Rocketbook app to photograph your work and automatically file it up to one of several services including Google Drive, DropBox, and Evernote, or just email the notes to yourself or a designated email address (perhaps use Gmail’s “+ addressing” as part of a filing system).
The app includes handwriting recognition that incorporates artificial intelligence to improve the results. I have been using this feature and I must say it is pretty good–not perfect, but my writing certainly isn’t either. What it gives you (for now) is the ability to make your notes searchable once you scan them and email/file them in the cloud. That’s a huge step forward, and it’s definitely a welcomed feature.The notebook’s pages have a 7 symbols at the bottom of the page that when checked tell the system where to send your notes…You define the symbols in the app…that way, if you check one or more of the symbols, the app will automatically know where to email or upload your notes. Otherwise you have to do it manually once you’ve photographed the pages…kind of a waste of time since it can be automated.
These two parts taken together mean freedom for people like me who need to take lots of notes and actually keep track of the resulting work for future reference.
Here are a few points that may help you understand the way you can make use of the Rocketbook system:
The Rocketbook system let’s you work in a nonlinear way–since the notes will be sent to the cloud, you don’t necessarily have to use contiguous pages to track the same topic–you just have to send the right pages to the right place in the cloud and then possibly further organize them from there.
You may want to consider adding a pen holder to your Rocketbook.
If you don’t plan to fill the notebook before you photograph it, or if you need to erase some notes but aren’t ready to erase others, you’ll need some sort of system to identify which notes have already been photographed. I keep it simple–I just use the upper right hand corner of the page to put the date and circle it after I capture the page so I will know it’s safe to erase.
There are a wide variety of Pilot Frixion pens and markers available from retailers including Amazon.com. They come in different colors, sizes, and tips.
I learned from the “A Life of Productivity” blog, that it’s better to use the Pilot Frixion 0.5 tipped pens–they dry faster and obviously don’t make your writing as thick. This solves a problem that I have also noticed: it takes a few seconds for the ink to dry on the page–I’ve definitely smudged a few notes with the default 0.7 pen that ships with the Rocketbook. I have a few of the .5 tipped pens, and it is clearly an improvement. I also appreciate the fact that I can take up less space with a fine tip.
Rename your files when they reach the cloud. For instance with Google Drive, you would want to rename them and possibly move them into a more precise folder.You will want give the files some kind of descriptive name to help you to know the contents of the notes and the order that they’re meant to be read. If you always write about a particular subject, you may be able to leverage the symbols system to always file particular types of notes to a particular place/folder…so that can save some time.
The Rocketbook people also have another notebook that is possibly more well-known than this one called “The Rocketbook Wave.”It is cool in that you erase the notebook by microwaving it, however it may only be able to be used a few times.Aside from that, the idea behind the notebook is basically the same as the Rocketbook Everlast.
One final tip: The day is going to come when you’re going to make a little mistake in your notebook and you’re going to want to erase. It would be simple to just use the eraser that is on the other side of your pen. Don’t Do That. If you do, you’re going to mess up the coating on the notebook. I know it’s a pain to use a damp cloth to get to just one small area of the notebook, but still don’t erase the regular way. If this comes up for you alot, you might find something like this aqua eraser which could work in some cases.
Stickers like post-it notes seem to mess up the notebooks. It’s unfortunate because one thing that’s missing is a good way to bookmark or divide up the Rocketbook…but try to avoid putting these to use in your notebook.
tldr; The Ecovacs Deebot N79 is a worthy robotic vacuum that may not be as smart as some of its competitors but it definitely has a great feature set and does an excellent job of its primary job–it is a really good vacuum.
My daughter asked for a robotic vacuum cleaner for her 9th birthday. (Looking for better gift ideas for a gifted and talented student? [Opens in a new window]) A strange request, but my wife and I were talking about getting one anyway, and the birthday wish was the push we needed to finally look into it and make a decision as to which robot vacuum to purchase. There are several competitors, and among the competitors there are different price points and features. It was difficult to decide.
We mainly considered the Roomba and Ecobots offerings. They seemed to get the most favorable reviews. We were especially interested in the Roomba model that Costco sells (Not a member of Costco? See my review!), but since we weren’t really sure how much use we’d get out of it, we didn’t want to shell out nearly $400 for it. So we decided to look for something cheaper.
As we looked at the various models, we considered whether they would be able to interoperate with our Google Home, whether they had the ability to mop the floor as well as vacuum, and how well other reviewers received the devices. We eventually settled on the Ecobots N79 and purchased it from Amazon. We loved the fact that former Roomba owners endorsed it, and were sold when we read the review from the woman who left her sliding glass door open and found it outside dutifully cleaning her patio until it got stuck in some lava rocks.
The Deebot N79 was easy to setup and get it going. It comes with a charging station and a tool used to clear hair, etc, from its rotating brush and to clean off the filter intake. The first time we ran it, we were extremely impressed, if not a bit mortified by the amount of cat hair and crud it picked up before heading back to it’s charging station about an hour later. We don’t keep the tidiest house, but we do vacuum and we didn’t think there would be so much invisible debris. It didn’t stop there though. It’s holding tank was stuffed full the next few times we ran it–I am sure it sucked up an entire cat’s worth of cat hair…and much more. To be fair to us, the robot is able to slip under our sofas and is rather persistent about trying to get into various corners we may often miss.
Certainly, one of the things we like about this model is that it has a low profile so it can get under the sofas. It also can slip between our dining room chairs which means it does a decent job of cleaning up after dinner. It has side-brushes that stick out and sweep crumbs into its rotating brush path (also a distinguishing feature as many of the competing units don’t use a spinning brush). We also like the fact that it can be programmed to start automatically at a certain time of day either via the included remote control or from a free Android/iOS app which can trigger a vacuuming from anywhere you have an internet connection.
The Deebot N79 seems to be very durable and determined to do it’s job. I really like the fact that it is really easy to change and clean it’s brushes. Even the main roller brush has a compartment that easily snaps open, so it makes it easy to clean off hair that gets wrapped around it etc (and they also include a tool that helps you cut off hair without taking out the brush too. Also, it is no problem to change its air filter–again you just snap open a chamber on the dirt collection box and you can just put in a new one.
As you can tell I am genuinely happy with our purchase, however everything isn’t perfect about the vacuum. Unlike some of its competitors this device is rather dumb. It runs in random patterns and redirects itself if it approaches something it can “see” in its path such as something tall like a wall, sofa leg, a person or the top of a staircase. It doesn’t always see things ahead of time but if it runs into something it is a relatively harmless bump that turns it around and sends it in another direction.
While some of it’s more expensive competitors can map your house and know which areas it has done recently, this one is clueless. Still, in an average session, it seems to find its way all over the place. So even though it doesn’t have all the smarts, its cleaning algorithm seems to get it around to enough places so that it is still effective. It handily gets between our hard wood floors, our area rugs, and the shag carpet in our bedrooms–this is something that apparently can’t be said of certain competing robotic vacuums.
This review would be remiss if I didn’t include a sort of warning for new owners. You kind of have to “clean up” for this robot if you want to get the most out of it and/or don’t want to risk certain belongings getting chewed up by it. We’ve had two occasions so far where this became an issue. One time it made it’s way into our bedroom and found a dress that was touching the floor in the closet. It did manage to suck it into it’s brush and apparently tried to get away with it. It didn’t end very well for the dress. The vacuum’s consumable side brush got a bit torn up in that tif as well.
Another time our indoor welcome mat got sucked in and dragged around until the robot stopped and shut itself down. This probably wouldn’t have happened, but our mat had become a bit disheveled. The point is that you have to get certain things out of the robot’s way or it is going to try to “neutralize” it. So before you decide to buy one of these, look around your house and think about what may need to be picked up before vacuuming. If you have chairs whose legs are too close together, that could also be something you’d have to move out of its way if you’d like it to clean in that area.
This should be obvious, but the robot can’t go down stairs by itself. So if you have a multi-level dwelling, you will need to physically move the robot yourself and turn it loose. It won’t be able to find its way back to the charger if you do this, so it will eventually just die someplace and let out a sad beep to make you aware of its failure. Certainly it is worth the effort to move it to another level for a while and let it do its thing while getting a break from the usual scenery.
There is another odd foible about this vacuum that I would like to mention. You can use the app to schedule vacuum sessions ahead of time at different times of day/days of the week, etc. It isn’t that much work, but in an instant, your schedule can potentially disappear. If for some reason you decide to use the robotic vacuum’s On/Off switch to toggle the power–something that there is rarely a valid reason to need to do–your schedule will be toast. That makes absolutely no sense and I hope they will fix the problem at some point.
It seems to me that if the app in your phone knows what the schedule was, it could easily re-download it to the vacuum’s memory at next opportunity. But for now, if you toggle the power on the vacuum, and return to the app, your schedule will also be removed from there…and you’ll have to recreate it. Rather a pain.
In spite of that and the above detractors, I definitely do recommend this vacuum. At the price, you probably won’t have an easy time finding something that is as reliable and capable. Don’t take my word for it, you’ll definitely want to have a read over the other reviews on Amazon.
We recently added a Google Home to our household. We’ve all been having alot of fun with it and I think it’s very useful for families with children. The device is relatively family friendly, and my kids love having it–so do I.
Ways we use Google Home with Kids in our house
Timers: I think the timer feature is one of the “killer app” aspects of the Google Home. You simply say something like “Ok Google, set a timer for 30 minutes for Piano,” and it will start running a timer. The cool thing is that you can have as many timers going at the same time as needed. So cooking timers and music practice timers for two kids can all be going together. The time left can be checked by asking “Ok Google, how much time is left on the piano timer.” The convenience of using this feature, combined with the legitimacy of a computer dutifully timing something means less fudging of practice time. The rule in our house is that if it isn’t timed, the practice didn’t happen.
Games and jokes: There are lots of fun games to be played on the Google Home. For example, Mad Libs. The Google Home will walk you through the Mad Libs interview process and then read back your mad lib. We’ve been having a great time playing Mad Libs as a family. There are plenty of other games it can play as well.My favorite is trivia. “Where was Andy Warhol born?” Not exactly a kid’s question, but fun, nonetheless.There are other kinds of games too–including the “Crystal Ball,” the online version of the 8 ball. You ask a question and get blythe answers like “all signs point to yes.”…and the jokes. So many jokes. Just ask Google Home to tell you a joke, and you get one of hundreds of jokes, not so funny sometimes, but others, pretty good. An example just handed down from Google is “Why can’t you trust an Atom?” “Because they make up literally everything.”It will also be happy to sing you a ditty if you ask “Do you know the muffin man?”There are plenty of other games provided by third parties. One of my girls’ favorites is called “Akinator.”
When you give the command to “talk to Akinator,” Google Home connects you with a service that guesses which literary character you’re thinking of by asking you a series of questions until it is able to narrow it down. There are also plenty of academic games such as mental math and spelling quizzes.
Stories. Google Home can tell fiction and non-fiction stories, and recite poems. Some of them are pretty good–occasionally my kids will even listen to them 🙂
Controlling Lights – We have two sets of controllable devices for our lights: a few Philips Hue light bulbs and a Wemo dimmer switch from Belkin that controls our basement lights.In both cases, they are a bit expensive, but the cool and convenience factor is worth it. At the basic level, you can control the lights from an app on your mobile phone. You can turn them on and off, slowly bring up the lights over time…if you have a Google Home, you can just ask Google’s assistant to turn them on for you. Commands like “Turn on the light in Mary’s room” or “set the light in the living room to 50%” are fun to use.
For even more fun, you can connect IFTTT to your Home device to add additional commands. For example, Philips Hue bulbs come in white or colors. The colored bulbs can be any one of thousands of colors that you set via the app or Google Home. You can use IFTTT to flash the colors of your favorite professional sports team when they score a touchdown, run, or goal.
You can also write your own commands and the responses. So when my daughter whines I say “Ok Google, my daughter is whining!” Google responds with my daughter’s name and says “stop whining. You are 8 years old. I am only a few months old, and I don’t whine…” and then it blinks the lights for added effect. If you have the colored Philips Hue bulbs you can ask Google to do things such as “Ok Google, set the living room lights to Christmas colors…”
By the way, you can do some really useful things with IFTTT and Google Home, for instance it can log things into a Google Spreadsheet for you such as keeping track of work hours. By the way again, IFTTT can also control smart outlets such as Wemo. Follow the link to see that it’s just a gadget that plugs into your existing wall outlets, but it can be controlled via your mobile phone, Google Home, and in fact, IFTTT.
Controlling a TV. That’s right, it’s great for controlling Netflix and chromecast compatible televisions for that matter. If you have a TV near the Google Home, it’s most useful. You can ask Google Home to put a certain video or photograph on the TV screen for you.
Getting facts. Google’s search engine has lots of facts and information. Things come up at dinner. Google knows the answers. “How far away is the moon from Earth?” “What’s the fastest land animal?” “What sound does a horse make?” (It answers that one with a sound!) Its also great for homework help. It can answer questions, but also help kids practice math problems, spelling words, and more.
Music. It is fantastic for music. I am amazed at how quickly it can pull up any song or type of music I can think of…and that my kids can think of. We’ve subscribed to YouTube Red (Google Home came with a six month free subscription) and so we’re getting tons of advertisement-free music. You may be wondering if there is any way to restrict the content on the Google Home so that the kids don’t hear anything “adult” on YouTube. In fact, there is a setting in Google Home called “YouTube Restricted Mode” which allows you to “Hide songs and videos that may contain inappropriate content.”
Relaxation. Google Home has a library of relaxing sounds such as forest sounds and beaches. We turn this on during dinner or homework sometimes.
Recipes. Google Home has access to a huge library of recipes that it will walk you through step-by-step. This is fun for the kids, and sometimes can be quite helpful in general.
Alarm Clock. This is the most flexible, easy-to-use alarm clock your kids will will ever have. “Ok Google. Set an alarm for 8:30am with School of Fish on YouTube.”
Calendars and reminders. Maybe this isn’t so helpful for kids, especially younger kids who aren’t as concerned with future events, however this feature certainly does help parents. Google Home allows you to set up calendar events and reminders for a future date. Busy parents will appreciate not having to stop what they’re doing to update the family calendar.
Are you looking for some ideas for places to have your child’s birthday party in Baltimore County? If you need ideas, here is my list of birthday party places around Baltimore County and other areas of Maryland, including nearby in Howard County and Anne Arundel County for toddlers, kids, tweens, and teens.
With each idea I try to include links to Amazon.com for some ideas for party favors and sometimes educational gifts that go along with the party theme.
First, here are some of the more typical birthday party place ideas from around Baltimore County. These are popular and possibly done too often (I am purposely not mentioning bouncy parties–I am so tired of them!), but kids of the right ages will usually have a great time:
(Ages 8+) Bowling parties are a great idea for older kids. The younger ones who may have trouble handling the ball will enjoy it less, and may get frustrated, even with bumpers in place. I’d definitely, strongly recommend using a duckpin alley because the balls are smaller and lighter so it’s a better venue for birthdays, especially for the younger kids. There is one in Parkville that offers kid’s parties. Locations: Parkville ✳Party Favor Ideas: ✳LED Rubberband Helicopters ✳(I love these!) or Rocket Copters
(Ages 4+) Kids love going to the movies. Most people don’t think of it, but you can host a great party at some movie theaters. A great example in Balt. County is Cinemark in Towson. The theater has a party room, and if you have twenty or more guests, you can even do a private movie screening. Pretty cool! With the right movie, this party is a good idea for any age, and it’s definitely a great party place for toddlers. Locations: Towson ✳Party Favor Ideas: Kid’s Card Games, Mini Uno Cards, Puffy Kush Balls
Gymnastics Parties(Ages 2+) These parties tend to work out great — especially for toddler birthdays and for other younger kids. Everyone has fun running, jumping, and playing on gymnastics equipment, not to mention it’s great exercise. There are lots of gyms that offer birthday parties in Baltimore County. For example Rebounders in Timonium offers great parties as does Gymboree on Rossville Rd. ✳Party Favor Ideas: Ribbon Wands, Necklaces, Jump Ropes
Wonderfly Arena(Ages 3+) This is definitely a fun kind of party for even the tiny tots to teenagers. Imagine a party in a hamster ball. Just keep in mind that keeping these giant balls moving is alot of exercise with lots of motion–meaning people who aren’t in the best shape or get dizzy might not have fun. They do have other party options though! Locations: Arbutus ✳Wonderfly Party Favor Ideas: Silly Putty Balls
Chuck E Cheese’s(Ages 3-7) I am not the biggest fan of Chuck E Cheese, but I know many families like it. There is a location in Catonsville. Token prices are low—maybe around 20 cents each depending on which package you get. This is a great party venue for toddlers and younger children.
And here are some more unusual ideas. These parties are possibly more memorable because they are more likely to be “one offs” that none of their classmates or friends have already done:
Escape Room Party(Age ) There are a few escape room locations in the Baltimore area. The one I have experience with is Breakout Games (Timonium and Columbia). They offer several types of games. I am told that the best choice for kids is Museum Heist. They have no party room, and there isn’t really a group rate. You can just visit their website and purchase the number of tickets you need.Please note that you have to have an adult in the party and the maximum number of people is 8. So the most you can have is 7 kids. Still this is a great party, especially for older kids (Younger kids might find it frustrating rather than fun).
Fencing(Ages 8+) I am not sure if there is a fencing club in Baltimore County, however in Baltimore City there’s Chesapeake Fencing Club and then there’s the Baltimore Fencing Center in Columbia in Ellicott City, MD . Both of which have a great facility for unusual birthday parties. Guests learn the basics of fencing and can get a little practice in at the party. If you’re looking a different kind of party location, this is your place. Locations: Ellicott City, Baltimore City
Nature Center Parties(Ages 2+) There are several choices around Baltimore County for Nature Center birthday parties. One of the best is Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills. They have an excellent offering at a reasonable price. Fun for children of all ages. Location: Owings Mills
Craft Parties(Ages 4+) There are lots of options for this. One easy one is to have your party at either Michael’s (for example the one in Owings Mills/Reisterstown) or JoAnn Fabrics (stores in Parkville and Cockeysville). You may also want to check out Social Studio in Roland Park/Baltimore. Locations: Parkville, Cockeysville, Baltimore
Pottery Parties(Ages 6+) Paint your own pottery is a great idea for a birthday party. Kids in kindergarten and beyond will enjoy paint parties with their friends. In the Baltimore area, one of the best places is in Catonsville — the Pottery Cove. ✳Party Favor Ideas: Playdough, Magnetic drawing tablets, Putty Balls Locations: Catonsville
iFly(Ages 3+) An amazing new venue in White Marsh! Possibly the most unusual idea on this list, indoor skydiving would make for a wonderful birthday party place. Your boy or girl will never forget this birthday party! Be warned, this is a bit of a pricey option, at the end, each child will probably only get maybe 2 to 4 minutes of flying time. I would suggest that due to the amount of patience needed while waiting for your turn to fly, this venue is best for kids older than 7 even though toddlers are welcome. Locations: White Marsh ✳Party Favor Ideas: Parachute Cord Bracelets, LED Finger Lights
Rock Climbing(Ages 5+) Earth Treks has an amazing facility in Timonium that makes a wonderful place to host a bdp. Your kids will also definitely enjoy ClimbZone in White Marsh. Lots of great things to climb there. Locations: Timonium, White Marsh
Toy Store Party at AmuseToys(Ages 2-6) In Pikesville (Baltimore County). Parties in the lab are great fun. This is definitely a different kind of place to hold a birthday party. Locations: Pikesville
Indoor Playground(Ages 3 – 7) Kiddie Crusoe might be a good party place option for younger kids. Large indoor playground & party room.
Fire Station Birthdays(Ages 3-7) Many people don’t even know that you can host a birthday party at some of the fire stations in Baltimore County (Pikesville). I know quite a few kids who love fire trucks and love birthdays…so why not combine the two. It’s fun for the kids, and they get some fire safety tips too! My only caveat would be that an emergency could potentially cut the party short. As an alternative, there is a Fire Museum in Towson that provides a pretty good bdp experience. It’s an interesting place for both adults and children. Toddlers are likely to get a thrill seeing all the fire equipment. ✳A great gift to go with this birthday party would be a pair of walkie talkies. Here is one suggestion for a pretty good pair–but please read my caveats about them in my gift ideas for brainy kids blog post. Locations: Towson, Pikesville, and other fire stations around Baltimore County.
Zoo Parties(Ages 1+) Wherever you are in Baltimore County, the Maryland Zoo isn’t very far. They offer great birthday party packages, and it is sure to be a great time for kids of all ages. Toddlers will really enjoy looking at all the animals, and even 8-year-olds and 9-year olds will have fun. The zoo is relatively small, which is really a plus. They do a great job of highlighting the animals, habitats, and ecology. A great place for a Maryland birthday party. Locations: Baltimore City ✳Party Favor Ideas: Zoo Animal Headbands, Cat Keychains, Magic Snake
Port Discovery(Ages 2 – 8) (Located in Baltimore City near the Inner Harbor) – Always a popular place to take kids for any reason, Port Discovery makes a great place for a birthday celebration. Depending on the package you get, this can be a rather pricey place to hold your party, and you really need to plan ahead because they need 2 months notice in most cases. Still, this is sure to be a fun, memorable experience for your child and their friends.
Granite Rose Tea Parlour(Ages 11+) Located in charming Granite, Md in Southwest Baltimore County ) – If you’re thinking of an especially fancy birthday party venue, this might be the place for you. Hosted in an authentic Victorian house, kids will enjoy attending a “real” tea party. I think this would be a great party for 11-year olds, and older, but if say you are looking for ideas for 7-year olds…perhaps extra-well-behaved 7-year-olds, they might also find this party interesting. Party Favor Ideas: Tea Party Hats,White Formal Gloves, Friendship Bracelets
Trampoline Party(Ages 5+) (Timonium) – SkyZone is the place to go for a trampoline party. Great atmosphere, lots of options including “sensory” jump hours for quieter time for kids with special needs. I hesitate a bit on this one, because I am concerned about safety issues–people do get hurt at these kind of places and that can really spoil a good time, especially if it is a serious injury. Having said that, SkyZone does a pretty good job of making trampolines as safe as possible.
IKEA – (Ages 13+) This might sound a little odd, but for some kinds, a party at IKEA may be great for teens and older kids. Friends dine in the cafe, and then have fun checking out the rooms. Photo contest anyone? $5 or less cactus plants for party favors…$1 ice cream cones. What could be better? Location: Whitemarsh
Hopefully this list of party ideas helps you out. If you can think of any places I missed, please comment below. Don’t forget to check out my list of gifts for gifted kids.
The Juicespresso Juicer is an amazing device for juicing fans. If you’re considering purchasing one, read my review.
The Juicespresso cold press masticating machines are very efficient at getting the juice out of various fruits and vegetables. You’ll be pleased that it will potentially lower your produce bill when compared to your old high-speed juicer. This juicer is compact, so it doesn’t take up much counter space (you’ll want to keep it out all the time!) and it is dishwasher safe.
I was using a Jack LaLane juicer that I purchased from Costco a few years ago, and was surprised by some of the differences. The two biggest being how effective the Juicespresso was at extracting juices compared to the Jack LaLane juicer, and two, one of the Juicespresso’s biggest bragging points: It’s so quick and easy to clean, it makes juicing much more convenient and fun.
Juicespresso machines run quietly and do a solid job of “squishing” the liquids out of fruits and vegetables. You’ll have to precut any item that won’t fit through the chute, which isn’t very large. You’ll definitely find some bits of fruit and vegetables in your juice as well. I think of this more as a plus, but some may not like that.
The resulting juice can be used right away or kept in the refrigerator for up to two or three days. This means that you may be able to get away with making juice twice a week, rather that once or twice a day. This is a time saver compared to the Jack LaLane because the juice from that device seemed to start to break down very quickly, so it needed to be used immediately.
Juicespresso is constructed with BPA-free plastic and comes with a seven year warranty.
Alternatives to Juicespresso
If the price tag for the Juicespresso juicers is too steep for you, consider purchasing a refurbished Omega Juicer on Amazon (About $190). The refurbished models are typical very difficult to tell from new and they great warranties, etc. not to mention you’ll save big compared to new Omega or Juicespresso Juicers.
Many home buyers and home sellers in Maryland are asking themselves whether or not they should use Redfin (RDFN) to buy or sell their home. They are worried about whether they’ll get the same service or somehow make less money, or do more work themselves if they use Redfin.
Redfin is great. It is NOT a do-it-yourself or for sale by owner (FSBO) service by any stretch–this is a myth that seems to be very common. You get the same service from qualified real estate agents, or better from Redfin as you do from traditional agents, only cheaper and often more efficiently.
I have sold my home in Howard County Maryland and bought new homes using agents from various well-known agencies and there has been no real difference at all–at least not on the downside. On the other hand, there have been some very important enhancements that I did not get using other agencies. Read my review below to find out more about why I wholeheartedly recommend choosing Redfin.
Homes sold with Redfin for more money than with traditional agents
Homes sold faster than with traditional agents, and 15% more homes sold within the first 90 days than with traditional agents
Those are just statistics, and your mileage may vary, but that’s really just the beginning of why Redfin is superior to agencies such as Long and Foster, Coldwell Banker, Century 21, and Remax.
Redfin Charges You Less To Buy or Sell a Home
If you’ve done some reading then you know that Redfin is only charging a 1% commission for selling your home in some parts of the USA, including Maryland. This is a huge savings compared to the 3% traditional agents charge. When you use Redfin to help you buy a home, they give you a rebate on part of their commission (Ours was over $2,500)–so you will save money both buying and selling with them. But really, that’s just the beginning of the benefits of using this company.
That sounds great, but it’s going to make you wonder: Why is Redfin charging less money than regular agents, and what really are the differences? They say they make the money up in volume, and I am pretty sure this is true. Honestly, the traditional agencies should be worried, and they are starting to be.
My listing agent (the agent that helps you sell your home) from Redfin, lifelong Marylander Brandon Hoffman, sold 54 houses in Howard County, MD last year. That is a high number. Most real estate agents are going to sell an average of 5-15 properties per year. Obviously some agents do sell more than 54, but Brandon said that this volume of home sales keeps an agent very busy. Redfin’s agents always work as a team, so I never felt like I couldn’t get answers when I needed them. One way our agent balanced this was by only selling homes. He didn’t ever take people out to show them properties to buy. We used a different set of agents from Redfin for that.
Redfin Has Salaried Agents
Typical real estate agents work on commission only. If you think about it, that means they don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart–and studies of how real estate agents sell their own homes have proven this, including this one by Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (A fantastic, interesting book, BTW). Here is a quick summary in a video by the authors of the book–if you read the chapter in the book, you’ll get a much more in depth analysis about the incentives of commissioned real estate agents:
I know a few agents and they are definitely good people, but even so, their incentives and motivations may not always be in what you hired them to do for you.
Having an agent that is on salary is great–both when you are trying to buy a home or sell one. They really don’t care if you buy a house or not. In fact, Redfin agents get a bonus based on customer satisfaction surveys…so they want you to be happy and have a disincentive to be pushy. They are also encouraged to be honest, and I can tell you based on my experiences with the company that they definitely did share opinions on the homes we visited that I wouldn’t have expected from a typical agent.
Redfin Is In
Redfin gives you a few bonus items you may not have included with one of the usual suspect agencies. First off, they give you $250 towards fixing up your home to sell. This could include handymen to make repairs, landscapers, etc. You give them the receipt, they give you up to $250 back. It’s not that $250 is such a large amount, but it’s that they bother to put a bit more skin in the game. We used the money to have a handyman out to make some repairs for us. We sent them a receipt for the work, they mailed us a check. It was that simple.
Like most agencies, Redfin will create a brochure for your home. Redfin did a full color double-sided brochure, it was very professional and definitely added to our home’s marketing. Redfin also provides a photographer and a 3-D tour of your home.
Most agencies will help you get a photographer. Redfin gets you two, included in their service: One to take traditional photographs, the other to make a 3-D tour and a digitally created “dollhouse” and floor plan view of your home. Both of these help your home standout.
The Machine of Redfin
The Redfin website and the Redfin mobile app for Android or iOS are very popular with home searchers–even those not using Redfin to buy or sell a home. When you do list your home with Redfin, they give you an advantage over other listings by putting your home listing above other non-redfin results. This gives your property exposure other competing homes don’t have. It really worked well for us.
The home I sold with Redfin is nothing spectacular, and was market-priced, but we had quite a bit of traffic to our home. We had about 50 tours in 4 days with 10 offers tendered. This is as much about the housing marketed in Howard County Maryland as it is about Redfin, but I am confident that being on Redfin’s website helped us make this happen. What you should know is that when you list with Redfin, they do also syndicate your home with the MLS system, so your property will wind up on Zillow, Trulia, Realestate.com, and the other common real estate websites.
After the Sale
Redfin’s agents have gone way above and beyond the call of duty for us, getting us timely information quickly and working with us late into the night (even on weekends) on the sale of our old home and purchase of our new home. They did an amazing job of taking care of us and made us feel comfortable through the entire home sale and purchasing process. Again, I must point out that since they are on salary and get bonuses based on customer satisfaction surveys, their motives were different than many agents. I never felt any pressure whatsoever to sell or buy a home from them. I am sure they’d rather not waste their time, but being on salary clearly would make a big difference for many agents.
Another perk for Redfin is that the whole process is tracked in their website’s “home dashboard” where you can login and see what’s due, and get access to upload sensitive documents and sign papers electronically.
Redfin was excellent at providing recommendations for service providers after the contracts were written. They gave a very good recommendation for a home inspector for our new home–4U Home Inspection. Like Redfin, they handled appointment setup and payments online. Redfin’s agent was with us the entire time our new home was being inspected and they were able to provide additional knowledgeable explanations for the inspectors findings.
Our Redfin agent supported us the whole way through in negotiating additional repairs with the sellers and helped us to move our settlement up to the fastest possible closing. I was reassured the entire time.
Buying a Home With Redfin
We both bought and sold a home through Redfin. As mentioned earlier, our experience in house shopping with Redfin was very positive. We really liked using the Redfin app and website to find and “favorite” homes.
When my wife and I both found a home we felt might meet our needs, we would schedule a tour with the click of a button. These tours are “on demand” and you’re able to request a tour for just one house or as many as you can fit into a day. Generally, you just need to give a few hours notice and a Redfin agent will meet you to show the home.
We had one “main” agent (Dan Borowy) who would be the preferred agent to show us a home, but in practice, we worked with about 7 different agents that were on his team as we visited various properties around Laurel, Clarksville, Elkridge, and Ellicott City. That was fine with us as we liked each one of them and each one had their own styles and insights that were helpful for us to take along with us. In the end, several of them were our “eyes” and helped us by sending us to properties they had seen recently to may have been right for us.
When we finally found a property we wanted, the agent who showed us the property worked with our primary agent to get our offer in. With such a competitive market, they knew time was of the essence. I can tell you that our agent was happy to work well into the night on a Saturday evening getting our contracts together and submitting it. We could not have been more happy with the experience.
I had a really great home sale and home purchase experience working with the Howard County, Maryland Redfin Realty team. They were professional, honest and very responsive whenever I needed them. If you live in an area where Redfin is available, don’t hesitate–use their service. I know there will be plenty of non-Redfin agents who will take offense to this post, but I think it’s mainly because Redfin is successfully changing the real estate business model and they realize their is nothing they can do–although I do expect there will be Redfin competitors, I don’t think the old model has very much chance for survival in the coming years. Redfin is just too big of an improvement.
My customer review covers the Republic Wireless Mobile Phone Service with the Moto X gen 2, Moto E gen 2 and Moto G phones. This review is about the Republic Wireless 2.0 plan which isn’t available anymore. They have now launched a their 3.0 plan, so the information below is outdated.
“Stop wasting money on high-priced yearly contract phones. Get reliable, smarter service cheaper.”
• Get 1 gig of 3G data + unlimited phone/text/ service for $25/month–and they refund you for whatever amount of data you do not use–average refund of $8/month. Since you typically use WiFi for data, there is a good chance you won’t need an entire gig. (There are other plans available for as low as $5/month – see part 2 for complete details) • 30 Day No Hassle Money Back Guarantee. • NO CONTRACT – Month to month, cancel or change your plan at any time–in fact you can even change your plan right from your Republic Wireless phone.
• The Republic Wireless Motorola Moto X (first and second generation) is a first rate Android Smartphone that delivers speed, features and reliability. (Two more phones are also available: Motorola Moto G for $99-a great price for a decent phone and the Moto E 2nd gen for just $129.)
• No Hidden Fees – There are no roaming fees, etc.
• Republic Wireless has been in business for more than a year with thousands of customers. A division of bandwidth.com, so this isn’t a scam or fly-by-night company. They were just rated #2 in PC Magazine’s reader’s choice among all of the mobile carriers in the USA.
• Republic Wireless will gives you credit on your bill for unused data from your data plan. This is a new feature that only applies to certain plans, but to be sure, this is very innovative.
Republic Wireless provides low cost mobile phone service based on the Moto G 3rd Gen and Moto E 2nd Gen Android Smartphones. Voice, Data & Texting service is provided through the Sprint network when you are on the go (roaming is included), and via WiFi when you are at home, in the office or outside of the USA/Canada.
The Motorola Moto G 3nd gen is an excellent high-end 4G LTE phone–it is very well reviewed and has a respectable list of features–this is clearly one of the best phones on the market at this time. You must purchase your phone upfront–but you will save money in the long run–and probably quite a bit. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to try Republic Wireless, keep in mind that they offer a money back guarantee for a month, so that will give you a chance to try out the phone service.
The Motorola Moto G is a mid-range phone that has great features. At $199, this is a great phone to get started saving money with Republic Wireless. The Moto G is a very good phone at the relatively unheard of off-contract price of $199, it is a steal. It has some respectable features based on Android Lollipop 5.1. It is 3G and 4G LTE ready and it comes with 8 or 16 gigs of memory but can be expanded with a 32gig SD card. It’s camera is a auto-focus and shoots up to 13 megapixels. The display is 5 inches and is available in black or white.
The Motorola Moto E 2nd gen also has some respectable features based on Android Lollipop 5.1. It is 3G and 4G LTE ready and it comes with 8 gigs of memory. Its camera is a tap-to-focus and shoots up to 5 megapixels. The display is 4.5 inches and is available in black or white.
Consider joining Republic Wireless to save. They have thousands of customers in the USA and their offering is rated very well by consumer magazines including PC Magazine who gave it a reader’s choice award.