tldr; – I am a fan of both mobile phone companies, however at this time (October 24, 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. This is important because it will give you more confidence that your data isn’t being stolen when using public WiFi hotspots (eg – at the airport).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!):Take the Google Fi “fit” quiz to find out if Google Project Fi is the right choice based on your current mobile needs. Just answer a few questions about your usage habits and typical location, and it will help you to know if the costs and Google Fi coverage will work for you.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 generally 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. Much of the time, service is better over WiFi anyway, so it’s really a bonus.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 PA42YJ 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 May 2020, and looks like it will continue for now.)BTW, check here for current Project Fi special offers.
What Do Google Fi and Republic Wireless Have in Common, and What’s Different?
iPhone Support: Google Fi supports iPhones. This is exciting news because it opens the door to cheaper service for all users-not just on Android. Most iPhones should work fine on the service. Unfortunately, iPhones don’t support network switching 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. 5G is available for certain phones on Google Fi.
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.[Learn More About Google Fi]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 October 2020), Google Fi supports most Android phones. Their recommend phones are the Google Pixel (1 – 5 / Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a), LG ThinQ, Moto G6, Moto G Power, Moto G Stylus, certain Samsung phones, OnePlus, iPhone, and the Moto X4. These are all venerable phones with different price points and selling points.As you may be aware, the Pixel 5 phone is now the flagship phone of the Android operating system and has some fantastic features-I am a HUGE fan of this phone (EXCELLENT camera, fast response, waterproof, very good all around and perfect for Fi–follow this link and click SHOP to see the discounted Fi customer price).If you need a cheaper option, I am also impressed with the cheaper “a” versions of the Google Pixel phones (Google’s flagship): the Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a. These two phones are a bit slower than the “regular” versions of the phones (without the “a”), and have a plastic body which is NOT waterproof, but also has an excellent camera, just like the Pixel 3 and 4 do.Generally speaking, if you have a Pixel 3, 4, or 5, 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, and the newer Moto G phones 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, and in some cases even theft.
Here is an overview of the device protection rates for some devices. To see the whole list, and to learn more, visit Google Fi’s website.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 Tabs S2 or newer (US versions)
Nexus 9 LTE (US versions)
Sony Xperia Z4 (US version)
Other devices not on the list could work, if they are unlocked and 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 yet, although it is available in beta, so coming soon. 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:
If you already have one of the above phones and want to check to make sure it’s compatible, you can just download, install, and run the Republic Wireless app from the Android app store. It will tell you if your phone is compatible.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)Google Project Fi: $20/month first line, $15/month additional group plan lines
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.)Like what you read? See my review of the Vitamix 5200 blender and my list of gift ideas for Brainy / Gifted kids.
If your family is like ours, we eat lots of fruit and vegetables. We especially like to buy fresh organic fruits and produce when possible, but we also like to keep the costs under control.
Below are my top recommendations for where to buy produce, plus some bonus tips on how to get great veggies for lower prices in Maryland. Read further for some great kitchen gadgets to help you make the most of your produce:
1) You can subscribe to a weekly fruit and vegetable box delivery. We’ve been using Hungry Harvest to get weekly organic deliveries. The company drops the box on our porch every Friday. We can pick the items we want to have in our box week by week.
This particular company says they give you cheaper prices because they deliver “ugly” fruits and vegetables. We haven’t really found this to be the case for the most part for our organic box. We suspect it may be more likely that we’d get less attractive fruits if we subscribed to their non-organic offering. Sometimes we do see things in the box that are a bit undersized, but mostly it’s just the normal stuff you’d get in the supermarket. (And some things you wouldn’t find there at all.)
Often we get unusual fruits and vegetables that you don’t normally find in regular grocery stores. Things like sunflower greens and fresh bay leaves. Again, we get these by choice — you can select the items you want for each delivery.
Hungry Harvest has a warehouse near me in Jessup and they employ local drivers to drop off the fruit and vegetable boxes in each neighborhood. I spoke to our driver today and she said it’s really exploding in popularity.
Each produce box you get comes with a gel ice pack. So if you decide to order from Hungry Harvest, be sure and save your ice packs and return them…just leave them on your porch on the drop off day and the driver will get them. They prefer them to be thawed out and dry.
One of the great things is that they stock lots of organic fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen. Availability varies from store to store, but at the Costco in Columbia, MD they reliably have organic bananas, gala apples, “power greens” (Kale, spinach), and frozen organic corn as well as pineapple and various berries.
Another great thing about Costco is that it is more Earth-friendly to purchase in bulk. I highly recommend Costco for everyone, you don’t have to purchase very much food there to make up for the membership price. Find a Costco location near you.
Green Onions at a Maryland Asian Market
3) Shop at Asian or International markets. There are many of these in Maryland. One of the better ones is Lotte, but also in Laurel there is the Super Best. We are always surprised at the cheaper prices at Super Best–but note that we tend to find that the items we buy there need to be consumed quickly as the cheapest items tend to be near the end of their shelf lives.
There are plenty of other Asian markets around…for example H-mart and Lotte in Ellicott City/Catonsville. And my current favorite Great Wall in Catonsville. You won’t find very much in the way of organics, but you will find a huge, unusual variety of fruits and vegetables and they’re suspiciously cheap. For example 3 bunches of green onions for $1. If you live in Columbia, you may want to visit La Mart. To find your nearest Asian market, just Google Asian Market in your city/state.
3) Get your fruits and vegetables wholesale by the case. Wholesale fruit markets aren’t for the faint of heart. You need to have time and a sense of adventure to make this happen, but it definitely does pay off. In Jessup, Maryland there are two places where consumers can go to get wholesale produce at the central distribution point.
That’s right you can go the place supermarkets and restaurants get their fruits/vegetables and save. Below is a video that explains what to do if you decide to go to the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market – Conowingo Drive, Jessup Maryland. Note that when you go, you should probably expect to pay with cash and you’ll have to stop at a guard gate to explain what you’re doing there.
If you’re mainly interested in organic produce, you’ll want to visit Class Produce. Class Produce isn’t far from the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market, but it is a bit easier to access. Class does take credit cards and my experience with the staff there is that they are very helpful and welcoming to families who want to purchase wholesale.
It is very important to note that you really need to place your order ahead of time. Visit their website to get more information and to request a current price list. They are located at 8477 Dorsey Run Rd, Annapolis, MD 21401 in an industrial area. (410) 799-5000. PRO TIP: For the freshest perishable fruits and vegetables (ie-berries) arrange for pickup on Mondays or Tuesdays. It seems that Class produce and other wholesale sellers get their deliveries late Sunday nights, so it’s strategic to pick up your fruits and veggies early in the week to get the freshest foods possible.
4) Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or “farm share”. Local produce is delivered to your home or central location at predetermined intervals. This is a great way to get super-fresh food and help keep local farming viable.
A great example of a well run CSA program is Gorman Farm, which is kind of on the border of Columbia and Laurel. You have to be on the ball to get into a CSA program–there is a window of time when you can sign up each year and generally there aren’t many openings because of course the farms don’t produce an unlimited amount of fruits and vegetables each year. There are lots of these but here is a list that the Washington Post provided a few years ago.
5) Shop for fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. There are a few farmer’s markets around Howard County that have fairly decent variety and prices. Locations sometimes change but for instance the Howard County General Hospital and the Miller Library are two reliable places to find markets. Here is a resource with an up-to-date list with hours and days (typically farmers markets take place once per week in the specified location). PRO TIP: One great thing about Farmer’s markets is the ability to actually talk to the people who grew the crops. This means that often you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of how pesticide-happy the farmer was when growing them–often you will find a farmer who is actually using organic farming methods but who hasn’t yet been certified in organics and that can lead to significant savings.
Bonus Tip: Not-So-Cheap Fruit and Vegetable Options: Grow your own. Ok, this isn’t directly buying fruits or vegetables, and it can in fact be expensive rather than cheap, but it is fun, educational and great exercise to have a garden.
This year we got 3 Aerogardens hydroponic systems, so we’re growing year round now. At the moment, we are raising Italian herbs (parsley, thyme, mint, two kinds of basil…and had the cat not eaten it, we would also have chives), roma tomatoes, and chamomile. Miracle Grow is the manufacturer and they definitely do make it easy.
Unfortunately, even though the plants don’t need any herbicides or pesticides (since they’re grown indoors), the required nutrients that you add to the water isn’t organic. We aren’t that concerned about this, but I am trying to determine whether there is an organic substitute we can use. Having said that, we REALLY love the Aerogardens. My favorites are the tomatoes and basil. The basil grows like crazy!
There are different price points for getting an Aerogarden. The Aerogarden Elite takes 6 seed pods, and gets great reviews. There is also a 9-pod system that may be worth consideration, especially if space is not an issue.
Bonus #3 Also in the expensive rather than cheap column, but worth it is a trip to Larriland Farm in Northern Howard County to pick a variety of fruits and vegetables. They have apples, peaches, broccoli, kale, spinach, melons, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and more. Check their website to see what is ready for picking.
BTW, Larriland Farm uses “integrated pest management” which they say means that they use much less pesticides than a typical farm. I have spoken to them about this several times and they say that they mostly only use pesticides when they have severe problems. It may not be organic farming, but at least this sounds like a huge improvement over the norm. You can read about how Larriland uses this system here. There are many pick your own farms throughout the USA–here is a curated list.
BTW, here are some of the gadgets I recommend that are great to have in the kitchen when cooking with produce:
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.
Costco sells two 36 ounce bottles of Organic Blue Agave for $9.89
Easy Ways to Save Money: Shop at Costco
This is part 1 of my review of Costco. [Don’t miss Part 2 here]
I know this may seem a little off-topic for this blog, but I think there are still many families who haven’t discovered the joys of shopping at bulk food warehouse stores.
Many people are turned off by the membership fees or think they just don’t need a huge box of this or that. I submit that if you have a family of 3 or more, you should definitely look more closely–even couples can offset the membership fees with a few purchases.
The cost savings on many items is drastic and although the selection can be limited, there are other factors that offset this such as higher quality of available items and even environmental benefits of buying bulk.
In a typical grocery store, you cannot buy this quantity of batteries at all. Instead you’d buy maybe 12 batteries per package at most and they might cost you $11. It is a huge difference.
Many folks might say, “yeah, but what am I going to do with all those batteries?” but in this case, Duracell guarantees their batteries to be usable for 10 years…so as long as you have a safe place to store them, this is a fantastic deal.
I really like Costco. Generally speaking the shopping experience is good, although I admit that sometimes it is so crowded that you feel like you could be mowed down at any moment by a wave of oversize shopping carts.
I have the executive membership that is currently priced at $110. One of the benefits of the executive membership is that you get 2% cash back on your purchases. So that means that if you buy $5500 worth of products there, you will make your money back on the membership purchase.
That might seem like alot ,but over a year’s time it could easily add up–especially if you purchase any of the many non-food items such as electronics, appliances, home and garden, furniture and much more (especially if you count what you can buy on costco.com). There is also a regular membership that costs about half as much.
With your membership you get two membership cards, meant for two people who live together from the same family. You need to present the card whenever you pay and when you enter the store. (You might be able to get away with going in on a membership with a friend who doesn’t live with you, but it is against their policy and only one of you will get their monthly coupon mailings.)
Below is my full, 2-part review of Costco. I will try to include as many of the aspects of the store as I can, starting with their Visa Credit Card.
The Costco Visa Credit Card
As of June 2016, Costco no longer takes American Express, they have switched over to Visa which means you can use any Visa credit card at their stores. You can also use a Visa or Mastercard debit card to make purchases there. However, if you’re a long-term Costco member, you should definitely consider getting yourself a Costco Visa from Citi. It is a fantastic deal, especially if you are careful to pay it off each month before interest kicks in.
The card gives you additional cash back on Costco purchases (see below) plus has other great features and benefits.
The cash back comes in the form of a check that can only be redeemed at Costco (for products or cash), but if you’re an avid Costco shopper, then it’s all the better. At this writing the interest rate is about 15.5%. You can apply online.
The features you get with the card beyond the cash back make it even more worthwhile. Here are a few of the reasons I think this is such a great card:
As mentioned above, you get 4% cash back on gasoline purchases from any gas station (There is a limit of I think $7,000 worth of gas, and then it goes down to 1% cash back).
You get 3% cash back on qualified travel and restaurant purchases.
You get 2% cash back on all purchases from Costco
You get 1% cash back on everything else
Cash back comes in the form of a voucher that is emailed to you or mailed on paper that can be used to make purchases at Costco or redeemed for cash. This really works fine for my family and I since we shop there so often. But there are also other benefits, all of which have various caveats, that make me think they may or may not work for real-life situations, but anyway, they exist, so here are some of them:
Travel insurance / Trip cancellation insurance
Rental car insurance
Extended warranties that include thefts and other losses
I am pretty sure this is one of the best credit card deals you can get at the moment. I highly recommend checking into it.
The “Green” of Costco – Organic and Environmentally Friendly Offerings
As I mentioned earlier there are a few reasons why shopping at Costco is good for the environment. First of all, buying bulk items typically means reduced amounts of packaging. Although this hasn’t held true for some items, usually you are buying much bigger amounts of an item so less packing material is needed.
Secondly, Costco offers quite a large variety of natural, fair trade and organic items. A good example is their house brand of chocolate chips which they sell for the price of $6.99 for 3.5 pounds. These chocolate chips contain fair trade cocoa and do not have any preservatives. They are delicious and much better quality than the comparable Nestle chips. (Although Costco also sells Nestle as well)
Cost of Organic Rice Milk At Costco
Here is another example of the savings you can garner by shopping at Costco: If you purchase Organic Rice Milk at a regular grocery store, you might pay about 8-15 cents per ounce. As you can see below, you will pay less than 4 cents per ounce ($1.14/quart – – on quart = 32 ounces) at Costco. Yes, you do have to buy 12 quarts at a time, but with something like rice milk, you can definitely store it very easily and it lasts a long time. I should mention that Kirkland is the house brand of Costco. Most of the time Kirkland products are of very good quality and typically much cheaper than their name brand counterparts.
As I stated, there are many organic foods at Costco. I am excited to see Costco adding more and more of these kinds of items because when they do, their buying power has strong effects in the consumer ecosystem. They purchase huge amounts of these things from suppliers and that helps stabilize the market and reduce the prices for everyone.
There are plenty of examples of the organic items you’ll find in a Costco store. (BTW, if you live in central Maryland, see my blog post about other ways of getting lower cost organic fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices) I have put prices down for some of them to give you something to compare to other stores–be aware that sometimes these things come and go, plus prices do change and vary around the country, so YMMV. Here is my current list of organic foods available at Costco–unfortunately this list isn’t complete:
– Eggs (they recently stopped packaging their organic eggs in styrofoam (doh!), excellent) – Whole and 2% Milk – Several cuts of chicken/whole frozen chickens – Ground beef – Coffee – Butter (2 lbs for $7.69) – Olive Oil – Croutons (2lbs/ 32 oz for $6.49) – Rice Milk – Soy Milk – Frozen Blueberries – Quinoa – Spinach – Kale – Mixed Greens (Kale & Spinach) – Bananas – Frozen Corn – Frozen Mixed Vegetables – (The flash frozen vegetables are great to have around for soups and quick sides. The quality has been very good.) – Stoneyfield Yogurt – Sugar – Blue Agave ($9.89 for two 36 ounce bottles) – Frozen Mango – Bread (two pack) – Tortilla Chips – Brown rice – Edamame – Mary’s Gone Crackers Gluten free crackers – 18 Rabbits Granola – Rickland Organic Trail Mix – Next Organics Drak Chocolate Covered Banana Coconut – Late July MultiGrain Snack Chips – Tasy Brand Organic Wild Berry Fruit Snacks – Hanover Organic Ancient Grain Pretzels – Tazo Organic Iced Green Tea – Horizon Organic Vanilla Milk – Apple & Eve Organics Orange Carrot Juice – Mayorga Organic Cafe Cubano Coffee – Carrington Farms Organic Coconut Oil – Minsley Cooked Organic Brown Rice Bowls – Della Organic Belends Quinoa and Rice Blend – Gluten free Organic Black Bean Spaghetti – Organic Pasta – Classico Organic Pasta Sauce – Kirkland Signature Organic Tomato Paste (12 – 6 oz cans- $5.99) – Kirkland Signature Organic canned Diced Tomatoes – Kirkland Signature Organic Tomato Sauce – Pasta Prima Organic Spinach and Cheese Ravioli – Sambazon Organic Acai Juice – Better than Bullion Reduced Sodium Beef Base – Black Chia seeds (2 pounds for $9.89) – Several Breakfast cereals – Carrots – Peanut Butter – Nutiva Gluten Free Coconut Flour
Sometimes Things at Costco Come and Go
Just to say a bit more about a couple of things that have come and gone: One of my favorites that they took away without warning was the organic oatmeal…they have plenty of genetically modified Quaker oats though.
So if I was going to make any complaints about Costco, one of the top ones is that you cannot count on a product to be there for “good”. Certainly there are some reliable offerings in general, but I would say that you can mainly only count on staple foods, as I have seen all sorts of random things get removed from the lineup or replaced by a different brand over the years.
They also tend to have “road shows.” These are also temporary items brought in by Costco or 3rd party vendors that are only there for a few days, and then they are gone. It’s anyone’s guess whether they will ever be back again.
Things like suits, high-end purses, coats, bedding, jewelry, folding ladders, and a variety of food items are only there temporarily. They do have some “regular” road shows too, such as their seafood roadshow, which seems to turn up at our local store approximately once a month with items they don’t regularly sell. Also in this category to some extent are things like blenders (Vitamix and Blendtec brands) that tend to be consistently sold in the stores, but seem to run out regularly and then are restocked after a company demonstrator comes in for a few days.
They also sell “earth friendly” products of other sorts. For example, they offer products from the Honest Company including vegan shampoo and diapers/wipes. They also offer environmentally friendly Costco-brand environmentally friendly dish soap and laundry detergent.
Sheet Cakes and Desserts
As someone who thinks most supermarket cakes taste disgusting, I do think that Costco’s sheet cakes are definitely better tasting than most and at $18 for a half sheet cake that feeds 48 people, it is a good deal.
We have purchased several cakes for birthday parties at Costco and that have always been tasty (Having said that, they still use quite a bit of sugar and have some chemicals that everyone should do without). They always have “stock” sheet cakes available that are quite nice or you can order a custom decorated cake by filling out a form.
There are two basic kinds of cake – chocolate and white. The white cakes are filled with 2 pounds of vanilla mousse and iced with white butter cream. The chocolate cakes are filled with 2 pounds of chocolate mousse and iced with chocolate buttercream. They request that you give them 1 day’s notice for customized cakes.
There are also several other types of pre-made party desserts you can purchase at Costco. For example, there are many types of non-sheet cakes you can get–they have some really delicious choices including a red velvet cake, coffee cakes, an amazing chocolate cake, cupcakes, and apple strudel. Availability tends to shift, but you can bet there are plenty of outrageously delicious options. You can also find some amazing frozen party desserts, such as filled pastries, mochi and ice cream bars.
In this article I explain how I replaced my home phone service provider with a $50 adapter (or cheaper with a good sale/coupon) that uses the free Google Voice service to make and receive phone calls. For the past 10 years I have been a customer of Vonage for my home phone service. And although I think alot more of Vonage than I think of most other home phone service providers, especially the POTS landline providers, I finally dumped it. I had Vonage’s $26/month international plan, but with all the taxes it was $36/month…and that money could be better spent or saved…so goodbye Vonage, but what to do instead?
Many people would suggest just getting rid of the home land line completely in favor of using your mobile phone, but I felt that having a handset to reach for that is always charged, and has less radiation was worthwhile, especially when it is almost free.
So what is the solution I am using? Google Voice with an adapter from Obihai Technology, specifically I got the Obi110 for $48.99 from Amazon.com–this is a one-time purchase. It is easy to install-to summarize, you hook the adapter up to the internet via an Ethernet connection and then to a telephone or telephones in your home. Once that’s done, you log into the Obi Technology website and set up an account (for free)–this is where you configure your device to use Google Voice, which currently allows free phone calls in the USA and Canada.
If you’re not familiar with Google Voice, you should be–even if you don’t plan to use it for your home phone service. Google Voice is Google’s free telephone solution. Just visit voice.google.com while you’re signed into your free Gmail account and you can get started choosing a phone number, hopefully in your area code.
You can always change the phone number at any time and I will explain how to transfer a phone number from another service below. Google Voice is great because it has lots of features and it is really flexible–for instance you can set it up so that when someone calls you the call is forwarded to one or more of your other phone numbers–simultaneously. Most importantly though, it works with the OBI adapter so that you can get home phone service for free.
The quality of the calls is very good. As long as you have a decent internet connection, you will have crystal clear calls without lag or noise.
Cutting The Cord From Cable Television
I want to add this is an important part of the puzzle for people who are cutting the cord and getting rid of Cable TV in their homes. The ballooning prices make it worth it to ditch the hugely over-bloated and wasteful television experience, but many people are in a circumstance where they get their television bundled together with internet and phone service. So getting rid of the TV and phone service is complicated by the fact that the cable company provides your dial tone. I’ve written more about this in another post about saving money, but basically if you get in on a good deal from your cable company for internet only, you can easily save $100/month just right there.
More About Google Voice
Here is a screenshot of the interface of caller treatments in Google Voice.
Google Voice is awesome. It gives you lots of flexibility in routing your calls and handling your voicemail.
One of my favorite features is the fact that it allows you to decide how to handle calls from contacts you know, people you don’t know and anonymous calls separately. So you might decide to send anonymous calls straight to voice mail, or when your mother calls–all of your various phone numbers will ring in unison.
Keeping Your Existing Phone Number
The good news is that Google Voice lets you transfer in a phone number for $20. So theoretically you can keep your existing home phone number…but there’s an issue: Google Voice only lets you transfer in mobile phone numbers, not landline or VOIP numbers. So if you had a Vonage, AT&T, Verizon or other landline, you’re going to have to go through some contortions to keep your old number.
I think the easiest path to take is to do what I did: get a T-Mobile mobile phone SIM card (it was on sale for $1 shipped when I got mine–normally they are $10), and then transfer your old landline phone number to T-Mobile as a waypoint between your old provider and Google Voice. One the number is transferred to T-Mobile than just transfer it again to Google Voice.
Google Voice needs to be able to call your phone number in order for you to initiate the transfer eg- in order to successfully transfer the number to Google Voice, you’re going to have to activate your T-Mobile phone. And in order to do that, you’re going to need some money on your T-Mobile account. I can tell you that the smallest amount you can get away with is $10.
If you select a pay-by-the-day plan or pay by the minute, that will work fine. Unfortunately, once you transfer your number out, you loose any credit on the account…so, in my case, I lost $10 (plus the dollar I paid for the SIM card). The process took three days altogether…but I am happy to still have my old number.
Hooking Up The Adapter
If you already have been using Vonage or another VOIP phone provider, hooking up the OBI adapter is a very simple matter – you just swap the Vonage adapter for the OBI one by hooking up an Ethernet cable and phone line. If you haven’t used Vonage before, you might need to make some adjustments to your home phone wiring if you intend to use your wall jacks. It is a much simpler matter if you just want to hook up a cordless phone (or better yet, a multi-handset cordless phone like the ones you might get from Costco with one or two bases, but four handsets).
It turns out that if you run a phone wire from the telephone out of the OBI box and plug it into your wall jacks (you can use a Y-jack if you want an extension where you plug this in). But it is very important that if you are going to go this route, you need to first disconnect your old phone company’s wires from your phone system (through the network interface box that is probably outside of your house). IF YOU DON’T, there could still be current on the line and it will fry your OBI box. Again, this is only important if you plan to light up the phone jacks in your house with a dial tone…if you just plan to plug in a set of cordless phones, you don’t have to worry about that at all.
911 and Emergency Phone Service Concerns
Although using Google Voice for your home phone works very well, there is an important, valid concern–what happens in an emergency? There are two facets to this–one is that with regular phone service (the old kind) your electricity could go off in your home but your phone would still work. That may still be true with Cable/FIOS service if they give you equipment with a battery backup…however it is not so with the OBI device–at least not unless you put your internet equipment, phones and your Obi200 device on a separate backup.
The second concern is that if you dial 911, what will happen? Well, in short, that may not go so well with a Google Voice line. Luckily, there is an option. For $12/year you can get E-911 service from a company called Anveo that will route your call to the correct nearest 911 center and will send your address (that you provide–you have to change it if you move) so you don’t have to tell the operator where to send help. (If you sign up for Anveo’s e911 service, please use the following referral code: 2722344.) After you create your online account for your OBI adapter, you’ll find a link to setup Anveo’s service.
Here is a video that explains more about the OBI and Google Voice–some of it is slightly outdated especially the information about no 911 service (See above):
Summing It Up
Using Google Voice for your home phone numbers is a fantastic/flexible way to save you a monthly phone bill. Altogether, this was about an $92 investment (the adapter plus the costs of transferring in my old number and E-911 service) that will very quickly pay for itself if you consider I was paying $36/month prior to this switch.
If you have AT&T or Verizon contracts for your smartphone, you’re paying too much money. Not only are you paying too much, but you probably don’t have an unlimited data plan and it is likely that you have some stupid text messaging cost arrangement too. If you have T-Mobile or Sprint, then you’re probably getting a better deal, but there are still savings to be had–and sometimes those savings are so great that it might be worth to break your contract and pay the penalty to switch to a different carrier.
If you have an AT&T or T-Mobile phone that want to keep using, you’re in the best situation because those phones have a certain amount of flexibility that Verizon and Sprint phones do not have.
The Republic Wireless Option
Let’s talk about Republic Wireless. They offer no-contract service on the Sprint network which is unlimited talk, texting and data for either $19/month or $29/month. The catch is that you have only one choice of phone (a relatively decent Motorola Android phone) and you have to buy it from them. The cost for the phone depends whether you’d like to pay $19/month or $29/month. If you’re willing to pay $29/month then you can get your phone for $99.
If you want to pay $19/month then you must pay the full cost of the phone up front, which is $250. There is no discount for multiple lines however, which means there isn’t anything like a family plan, so depending on your situation the savings from a typical AT&T contract could be relatively small–that is assuming you don’t really need unlimited data. If you only need one or two lines, then you should definitely consider it. You can read my review of republic wireless and Google Project Fi.
Another Option: Get the Same Network Much Cheaper
There are several companies that purchase bulk access on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon networks and then resell it for cheaper with no contracts. Some of these are especially good options if you already have a phone you want to keep using but that is no longer on a contract with another provider.
If you have an AT&T or T-Mobile Phone You’d Like To Use
This applies to one of my phones…I originally purchased a Samsung Infuse Android phone from AT&T. Now I use the phone with a month-to-month deal from Straight Talk Wireless. I pay $45/month with taxes for unlimited data, texting and phone service.
The great thing is that I am using my old Android smartphone on T-Mobile’s network, but paying much less than I would if I had a contract with T-Mobile It works very well and the setup involved putting a different SIM card in my phone to get it going and changing a few settings. Relatively painless. They also offer some phones that you can purchase from them outright, but you’re even better off if you already had a phone that you can use on their network.
Another reliable example that is similar to Straight Talk Wireless is Simple Mobile. They are definitely worth comparing to the Straight Talk if you’re thinking of going that direction. They use the same networks as Straight talk. You might also look into Net10.
If you have a Verizon Phone You’d Like To Use
I only know of one company that offers service on Verizon’s network and they do not have an unlimited plan, but it should still be cheaper than Verizon themselves: Page Plus Cellular. I am not sure if you can bring your own phone though.
Roku boxes let you choose various channels from the internet including unusual channels like the Autism Channel and NASA Television. You can’t get these on cable TV at all.
I wanted to write some posts that outline a few ways that I have saved more than a few dollars lately. Even if you’re not really on a budget, these ideas should make sense, after all a penny saved is a penny earned, but for most families with kids, every penny helps. This one is about cutting out cable TV in favor of getting your television entertainment through internet-based channels. I have written others about changing your home’s electricity provider and changing your mobile phone provider.
Save Money By Getting Rid of Cable Television and Going with Streaming Video Instead
More and more households are coming around to the idea of getting rid of their cable television provider and sticking with an internet only service. (See here for Nielsen’s survey on this)
I used to have cable TV until recently–I was sick of paying $120+ dollars per month for service that I mostly didn’t use. I had a “triple play” from Verizon FIOS which included phone, TV and internet.
First of all, I never once used their phone service. I was very happy with Vonage and didn’t see the need to switch. In fact, the only reason I had Verizon FIOS’ phone service was because it was part of a bundle deal, and if you didn’t get the bundle, you’d wind up paying more than you would if you got it. (You can read more about how to save money on phone service in Part 2 of this series)
Secondly, I hardly ever watched Verizon’s Television offerings. I had hundreds of channels but couldn’t find anything to watch. So that leaves the internet.
I rely heavily on good internet service, not just for surfing the web, but also because we do watch alot of streaming video entertainment. So the idea here is get rid of cable TV and then “roll your own” television entertainment instead.
If you are not in a contract with your cable/FIOS provider, then you should be able to cut the service down to internet only. We found that Verizon’s best price for internet was about $75/month–alot cheaper than the $120 we were paying, but still kind of alot.
Luckily, we also have Comcast cable in our neighborhood, and they’ve been trying to build up their customer base. They had an offer for relatively fast internet (25down/5 up) for $24/month with taxes for a year (and then it goes up to 34 the next year). So that’s what I decided to go with.
Note that you do have other possible options besides cable if you have “alot of bars” for cellular service in your neighborhood you may be able to get a cellular modem from Verizon, AT&T, Clear or FreedomPOP (the later two being the best deals price-wise–again it also depends who’s service has strong signals in your neighborhood). As 5G starts to roll out, this will become more common.
We have a Roku Ultra Box, which is a device that costs between $50-100 and allows you to connect your television to the internet. This device allowed us to watch television series and movies that are available on services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus.
We especially like Netflix because it has the largest selection of streaming videos that you can watch on demand. This includes all sorts of television series, comedians, films and educational videos. They also have a DVD service that mails you DVD movies that aren’t available on streaming video. Visit the Netflix website to see their offering and to get a free trial. Netflix streaming costs about $9/month.
Hulu is good because it has many more recent TV series that you can watch, but it also has commercials. At this writing (July 2019) Hulu costs $5.99/month. You can visit their website to have a look at their offerings.
Amazon Prime is similar to Netflix with a couple of differences. First they have fewer available free viewing choices when compared to Netflix, but they also offer newer movies and tv shows that you can pay-per-view.
These choices usually don’t appear on Netflix for a few months, so it is a nice option, but it can cost $1.99 per TV episode, which can add up fast. The other difference is that when you get Amazon Prime, you get free two day shipping on many Amazon.com items and you get a free kindle book rental per month. So the free movies and tv shows on Amazon could be considered a perk if you use it enough to justify the free shipping. Amazon Prime costs $99.99 per year.
You could also get a digital HD antenna to pick up “over the air” channels. Many people have had cable for so long, they don’t even realize this is an option…and in fact, it is a pretty good one.
The antennas cost about $30-60 and they are able to pick up many traditional TV stations, plus some other stations that you probably didn’t know you could get for free over the air. This may be a good idea because it does make up for one thing you might miss-if you ever need to watch live news on TV or an event like the Superbowl, it might not be possible without one. Although my Roku box does offer the “Roku News Channel” and in fact Fox News, it’s not usually “live” news.
It is clear that the costs of cable TV aren’t going to go down soon unless more people start dumping cable. More than a form of protest, you will save money and probably wind up fairly satisfied with what you get.
If you still have regular “land line” phone service at your home, you are probably wasting some money–it is time to “cut the cord!” Specifically if you have stand-alone phone service from Verizon or some other dial-tone provider you need to think about making changes.
These days people usually fit into four categories of home phone service:
1) People who have totally gotten rid of their home phones and rely strictly on cell phone service. 2) People who have home phone service from a stand-alone “Voice-Over-IP” (VOIP) provider (such as Vonage or Obihai with Google Voice ) 3) People who have bundled phone service that comes from their cable TV provider (Comcast, Verizon FIOS…) 4) People who still have old-fashion copper wire service to their homes
Lets have a look at each category to see how they can save more money:
People with no home phone service
The folks in the first category are content with their cell phone service and don’t see the need for a special phone to their home. These folks might still be able to save money by switching to a cell phone provider such as Republic Wireless that has a lower monthly rate than AT&T and Verizon (Republic Wireless is $19.99/month for unlimited data, voice and texting–you can read my Republic Wireless review here). At any rate, more power to these people because they have recognized that for them it is more convenient simply to have no home phone number at all. This is definitely a growing group of people who most likely ported their old home phone number to their cell phones.
People Who Use Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) For Their Home Phone
I fall into this category. I have been using Vonage for my phone service for over 10 years now. The idea is that you use your existing home internet connection to make your phone calls. As long as you have a halfway decent internet connection, this works very well and you can definitely save lots of money with full featured phone service. The gist is that they send you a box and you connect it to the internet in your home. Your phones are connected to the box. I can tell you that Vonage is very low cost and has great plans. If you make lots of international calls you will certainly save good money.
A second, even cheaper VOIP option is to purchase an Obi200 (or better) adaptor and to hook it up to your home phones. You pay for the adaptor once and from there, you home service comes through Google Voice, which is free for calls in the USA. This is slightly less reliable than Vonage. See my full review of the Obi experience in my blog post “almost free home phone service“…
People Who Use Bundled Phone Service
This category of people will have the most difficult time saving money. It is very common for the cable TV providers to sell their services as bundled “triple plays”–you get phone, internet and television together for some set price and you’re tied to a 2 year contract.
I definitely have some experience with this, because until recently, I actually had a triple play, even though I never once used the phone service it provided (since I was happy with my Vonage service). It turns out that they rope you into the triple plays because if you unbundle the services and just go for say TV and internet, you will pay more than you would if you got all three services. If you are in a contract, there isn’t much you can do–but if your contract has expired, then I do have a suggestion or two.
First of all, don’t get into a contract again. Be very careful when you call to negotiate that you do not get a new contract. I cannot emphasize this enough. Your current provider desperately wants to keep you, so you have that as a negotiating tool, especially if you have more than one provider in your area. Keep your eye out for deals, and search websites like slickdeals.net to see if you can find any special offers. Most of the time these offers renew your contract, but if it is an attractive deal, then probably take it.
In my case, I decided I didn’t want cable television anymore. I was sick of having hundreds of channels of stuff I never wanted to or had time to watch. I was paying about $120/month for a Verizon FIOS triple play, but I also had netflix and was able to watch movies and tv shows over the internet with a special device called a Roku Box (if you have a WII or an X-Box you’d be able to do the same thing). I found that I was watching shows and movies on Netflix much more often than I was watching anything on cable TV.
So I decided to get rid of the TV and phone service. With FIOS that brought me down to about $74/month. But I also had offers from Comcast for $20/month for a year of similar service. So now I save $100/month and am not really missing the TV.
People Who Still Have Old-Fashion Copper Wire Landline Service
People in this category should consider any of the three choices above. You stand to gain more features and a much more flexible phone service. If you have concerns about whether these other solutions would work for you, you an always try them out while keeping your traditional phone service. Once you’re comfortable then pull the plug on your copper wire land line phones. People who have alarm systems that are wired to your phone service may have an extra consideration–you will probably want to contact your alarm provider to see what they suggest.
Changing electricity providers can result in significant savings
I wanted to write a post that outlines a few ways that I have saved more than a few dollars lately. Even if you’re not really on a budget, these ideas should make sense, after all a penny saved is a penny earned, but for most families with kids, every penny helps.
Many people aren’t aware that you can change your electricity provider, and it takes very little effort. Really, you aren’t really changing providers so much as joining a large group of people who purchase electricity together and therefore get it cheaper. In most cases you will still receive your bill from your current electric company, its just that the rates you are charged will be cheaper.
You should be aware that electricity is bought by the kilowatt hour (KwH). If you check your electric bill there will be a figure that tells you what you currently pay per KwH. That figure is the one you need to try and beat. There is an example of what to look for in the image below.
In my case, I beat it by 2 cents per KwH, and that really adds up considering I use around a thousand KwH per month. Not only that, but I am very happy to have the option to go with 100% wind power “offsets” so that I actually am getting green energy for cheaper than what I was paying for coal–8.99 cents per KwH. There are many companies selling electricity and rates and deals do vary.
The site I used to find a new electricity provider is called Point.Click.Switch. You just need to choose your state and your electricity supplier. They will then show you a list of possible energy providers along with their rate, cancellation fee (most of them do not have a cancelation fee), the amount of time the specified rate will last and the amount you would save over your existing rate (you need to enter that rate from your electricity bill at the top of the page).
Definitely pay attention to the term, just as much as the rate. After the term is over, they may change your rate to higher amount. So whichever term you select, mark your calendar so you’ll know that it’s time to find a new provider/or evaluate the existing one.
I typically use about 1500 KwH per month. If you want to compare, at my old rate, I was paying 11.99 cents per KwH, so the savings looks like this every month:
Old Rate: 11.99 cents x 1500 = $179.85 New Rate: 8.99 cents x 1500 = $135.85 (Savings of $45 per month)
If I would have opted for the non-green electricity at 7.99 cents per KwH, I would have saved an additional $15/month.
It took me about 10 minutes to sign up and then they emailed me to verify that I really wanted to do this. You will need your electric bill when you fill out the form. It might seem a little scary, but don’t worry, it isn’t like you run the risk of having your electricity cut off if you make a mistake–your main electric company is still regulated and so is your new one. They have to go through a process for changing your provider and the reality is that is all “on paper”…in other words, you still actually get the same electricity as you got before through the same wires that you already have. Again, it is really “all win” for most people.