Free Gaming

Occasionally (okay, rarely) I find myself with everything done and nothing left to do. I could read a book, write a blog entry, work on a project…but you know, sometimes it’s nice to just sit and relax with a game for an hour or two.  Every since I discovered computer games (I think one of the first was a block breaker game) I’ve been hooked.  I know I’ve spent quite a bit of money on the original Sims game, along with several upgrades (which my computer couldn’t handle!)  I love other simulation and conquest games, too, and SimCity, Age of the Empires, and Civilization II were some of my favorites.  Does anyone else remember the original Masters of Orion?

I also know several people who play online games – in particular subscription games like World of Warcraft.  These can get expensive and addictive!  If you have the extra money just lying about, great!  But I don’t. 🙂

In the spirit of gaming, I wanted to pass on several free gaming sites that I’ve tried and enjoyed.  Perhaps some of you can add to the list.

Now I admit that gaming is generally a huge waste of time, so I usually limit my time quite a bit.  I also know what it’s like to be addicted to a game, so it’s important that I make sure I am not becoming obsessed with a certain game.

Online games:
1. Kingdom of Loathing – the online role playing game that makes fun of online role playing games.  It’s a lighthearted (but sometimes crude) game full of mocking and sarcasm.  It’s also full of riddles and mind-benders, so be prepared to think.  This one is great if you are someone who tends to get addicted – you are limited to how many actions you can perform a day, and that ends up being no more than two hours’ worth of actions – if you really draw it out.

2. Neopets – Geared mostly toward younger folk, but you’ll find a lot of adults here, too.  Choose up to four pets to take care of. You can challenge other pets to fights, play games, and chat in the forums.  Many of the adults find a lot of fun in choosing an area in which their pet will excel – for instance, eating all the “gourmet” foods or reading every book in neopia.  Some like to make their pet as strong as possible, or play the mind-bending role playing games available on the site.

3. Moola – This is basically a gambling site that you can’t pay in to.  The site gives you a penny (yes, a real penny!) and you bet your penny against someone else’s in a game of mostly chance.  Right now, there are three games to choose from, but the site owners keep promising more soon.  If you win, you would then have a total of $0.02, and you can bet it all in another game, or just bet part of it.   When you get to $10 you can cash out – Moola sends you a check in the mail.  The trick is not to get greedy – once I got up to $80, but then I had a losing streak and ended up quitting at $16.  Just like Vegas. 🙂  However, it really does work – I did cash out a $20 check, which I just got in the mail.

How do they make their money? Players have to watch an advertisement at the beginning of every game. Sometimes you have to answer a question about the ad afterwards.  However, they tend to play the same seven or eight ads, so you are given the option to “skip” the ad if you already know the answer.

There’s lots more to Moola than that, but I want to get on to other things.

Downloadable games:

1. Big Fish Games – Each day a new game is placed on the site.  You can download a free one hour trial version of most games, which is usually just the right amount of time for me.  Beware, though!  If you find you want to buy a game, it’s very expensive.  If you want to buy several games, I’d recommend that (if you have the expendable income) you sign up for a Game Club Membership.  Games are less than half price with a membership, the downfall being that you buy a credit each month whether or not there’s a game you want.   I have one of these memberships, and I’ve canceled it before with no problem.  I find I will not use any credits for a couple of months, and then one month I’ll use all those saved up credits all together.  So it’s a good deal if you enjoy the games – but it’s anywhere from $7 to $10 a month for the game membership.

You can find a lot of those same games on MSN and Yahoo in their games sections, but I’ve found I have a lot of problems, either with the site or the program itself.  Big Fish Games has proven itself to me in being glitch free and spyware free.

 That’s all I have.  Does anybody else have some suggestions for some good time wasters?

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I’m a crazy freecycling fool!

Ah, the wonders of freecycling. I’m sure most of my readers have heard of freecycling and all the problems and pleasures involved therein, but for the ancient few (just kidding Dad!) I’m going to explain a bit.

Freecycling is the distribution and acquisition of free used goods, generally through an organized network of people. It’s a mixture of the words “free” and “recycle” – and that pretty much sums up it’s purpose too. When you hear the word “freecycle,” you can safely assume they are talking about the website I linked above.

I freecycled today, but actually not through the .org site. I gave away an old cot we found in the attic to grandparents looking for someplace for their grandson to sleep besides the floor. It’s nice to have the floor space back in our garage!

I’ve given quite a bit of stuff I didn’t need or want on freecycle – from egg cartons and baby food jars to electronics we didn’t use anymore.

I’ve also gotten many things – most recently, a woman was giving away plastic window seals – the kind you use a hairdryer on – which we desperately need upstairs! I’ve also gotten baby clothes, toys, moving boxes and free appliance removal!

Craigslist has a free section too. They don’t call it freecycling on craigslist – but it is. Anytime you recycle an item that would normally get thrown away, you are freecycling.

The original intent of freecycle.org, based on what I’ve read on that site, was to allow people to give away stuff they considered rubbish – that were invaluable to others – cardboard boxes, scrap paper, egg cartons, used jars, broken appliances (think teachers and repairmen.) But you can find some pretty good stuff on there.

One man’s trash is another’s treasure, right?

The major benefit to freecycling, of course, is that not only is it good for the recipient’s budget and the giver’s trash can, but it’s reusing the item. Obvious, yes, but the implications may not be.Every product we purchase has to be made – that requires several steps:

1. First the materials for the product have to be mined, farmed, raised, grown, harvested, etc. This costs more than just money – the miners, farmers, and corporations use fuel, which reduces the world’s supply as well as adding more dangerous chemicals and excess carbon monoxide to the air. Renewable items, like trees, may take years to grow back. Ore will not renew in our lifetimes, or the lifetimes of our great-great grandchildren.
2. Next the raw materials are processed into useable forms – raw ore may be melted to purify it and then formed into sheets and rods for manufacturing. Trees are cut into boards and and cotton is cleaned of the seeds. This step also adds to the reduction of fossil fuels and adds chemicals to the air.
3. Now it’s time to make usable stuff! The materials are sent to factories, where they are made into clothes, cars, toys, and packaging. Then they are individually packaged, packaged again in larger boxes of several individual products, and then put on a pallet and wrapped in plastic. I don’t feel the need to tell you what gets taken out of the earth and put in the air and ground – you can guess!
4. Now it gets to the store, and they remove the pallet, remove the plastic, remove the cardboard boxes – much of this will get thrown in the trash, but many responsible companies will recycle or reuse most of it.
5. You buy it and take it home. You remove the outer packaging, and if you are environmental conscious, you will recycle what you can. Maybe even reuse it. But say you weren’t environmentally conscious – you’ll throw it into a white garbage bag which will go into your trash can and eventually sit in a landfill.
6. The product breaks, or you tire of it, and you throw it in the trash. You go buy another, which has already gone through the first 4 steps of our process.

But say you got that same item used somewhere – we’ve already gone through the cycle once – but that’s where it stops. After step four, there is a distinct change in what happens!

5. You buy it and take it home. Since there isn’t any packaging, you immediately put it to use. No need to unwrap or throw away, so you can use that trashcan to store rainwater (I’m just kidding – I know you’re still using it for something though.)
6. The product breaks, or you tire of it. If it’s broken, you either salvage parts for other items, offer it on freecycle for someone else to salvage, or you take it down to the metal and plastic recycling facility, where they’ll give you a few cents for it. If you tire of it, you give it to someone else who can use it, and the cycle is broken.

My challenge to you is to find ways to reuse or recycle your items. In other words – Don’t buy new!
Your wallet (and the earth) will benefit in many different ways – you will pay less for the item and have less trash. But you will also be helping by not being a part of the deadly cycle of buying new products that require new materials!

Smart Shopping

So how do you buy groceries for cheap? How do you provide for your family with a very limited budget?

It all has to do with smart shopping techniques I’ve learned from books, the internet, and some of you all. I’d like to share 12 of the best ideas I’ve heard. There are many more, but I could easily fill an entire book – and you don’t want to read a book where there should be a blog, do you?

Many of these ideas

Smart Shopping

1. Shop the loss leaders like crazy – last week I got 90% lean ground beef at Giant Eagle (a mid-line grocery store) for $2.29 a pound. That’s unheard of nowadays – the same stuff at Sam’s Club is $3.29 a pound, and the usual price at Walmart is closer to $3.69 a pound. When I come across deals like these, especially in meat, I buy enough for a month or more. In my experience, I can expect the stores to “loss-lead” a meat product in a six-week rotation. So if ground beef is a loss leader this week, I can expect that in 6 weeks it will be a loss leader again. However, be careful that you don’t stock up on loss leaders to the extent that you can’t get the groceries you need!

2. Double your coupons when you can – but again, be careful. Many of the stores that double coupons also cost significantly more in general. If you double your coupons on a few items but buy a bunch of full-priced stuff you’ll still lose money.

A good example of the price difference – I went to Walmart and bought store-brand gelatin for $0.26 each. The Jell-O was $0.48. I went to Giant Eagle next and happened to look at Jell-O there. How much was it? $0.96! The next week it was on sale for $0.50 each. Even on sale it was more expensive!

3. Make sure it’s really a deal. Use a price book. I know when something is a good deal because I know the prices.

4. Buy locally when possible. Your local farmer’s market or flea market is a good place to get produce and even meats for excellent prices when they are in season. You might also find people selling teas, spices, soaps, and just about anything else you could use!

We also buy from the local Amish stores – they are bulk foods, mostly, and some sell meat and cheeses from the local Amish cheese factories/butcheries. They are only slightly lower in price, but we are also supporting a locally owned business that makes much of their food within our county.

5. Buy produce in season and can or freeze it if you can. Buy frozen vegetables and fruits when they are out of season – or don’t buy out of season produce at all. Apples and oranges are in season right now, and frozen corn, broccoli, peas, strawberries, etc, are readily available. We also froze some of the berries from our yard last summer – they’ll be great for sauces when they thaw. We’ve canned many tomatoes, and we still have several quarts of tomato base for soups and sauces.

6. Buy items with rebates – Walgreens has items that are completely free after rebates every month. You can even browse the rebate catalog online! Check other drugstores, too. My experience with Eckerds and CVS is that they don’t have quite as large of rebates, but they still have those items that are significantly discounted, and nearly free if you have a good coupon.

7. Try it before you buy it – using sites like absurdlycool.com and walmart.com to get free samples of items in the mail. There are some ethical considerations to sampling – don’t request samples you wouldn’t use or don’t need. I tend to sign up for the free samples of things I enjoy – I just signed up for a sample of tea for my Senseo hot drink machine – but I avoid the samples of artificial sweeteners and dog food since I use neither.

8. Check for a money back guarantee before you buy. A couple of years ago, I bought a certain expensive moisturizer from Bath and Body Works and absolutely loved it. When I went to buy another bottle, the company had changed the formula to include sunscreen – which made my face break out. Bath and Body Works has a satisfaction guarantee, so I was able to return the nearly unused bottle for a merchandise credit. I am more likely to try a new product if I know I can return it if I hate it, and usually I’m happy with it.

9. Write or call in to companies with your complaints and or suggestions. I recently burned a pumpkin pie from a big frozen dessert company (it was a loss leader) even though I followed the directions exactly. I figured I still must have done something wrong until my friend came for dinner the next night with a burned pumpkin pie from the same company. We both wrote the company and complained, since it was obviously not a fluke. I recently got several coupons in the mail from the company, including one for a free product (though I won’t be buying more pumpkin pie, the apple pie from the same company was very good.) I also got an email repeating the directions, so be prepared for them to only half-listen to your complaint.

I’ve also recently written a coffee company about some samples I received and really enjoyed, and suggested that if they created the product in a darker or flavored blend, I’d definitely buy even more than I already had. Guess what? I got a free product coupon in the mail, along with more samples – of their new Columbian and flavored blends! I like to think I did that, but the likelihood is they were already planning the new flavors. 🙂

10. Buy store brand. It’s almost always the same stuff. If you don’t like the taste, it’s not because it’s a weird store brand – it’s because it’s a name brand you don’t like. I don’t buy generic ketchup because there is one brand I like and I haven’t found the store brand that matches.

My father worked for a very large, famous food company. He would tour factories and watch as his company’s brand label was placed on the goods. Then the factory workers would stop the line, change the label to a store brand label, and continue labeling. Same food – different labels. And significantly different prices.

11. Buy in bulk when you can afford it. I don’t buy little 10 ounce boxes of baking soda for $0.50 each. I buy one 12 pound bag at about two-and-a-half cents an ounce (it’s $4.89 for the bag) from a warehouse club. The 10 ounce boxes cost five cents an ounce – that’s twice as much! Since I use it for cleaning and baking, we’ll go through about two bags in a year. Buying the 12 pound bags saves me about $10 a year. No, it’s not much, but if you think about the fact that this is only one product of many that we buy – it adds up!

12. Don’t buy prepared meals. Buy the rice, veggies, and meats and make it yourself. For the same price as one frozen prepared meal (like a skillet meal or lasagna) one can make two or three meals from scratch – sometimes more.


What do you really need?

Do you really need expensive bags of preservative-rich chips? Over processed cookies? Tubes of yogurt? Cereal straws?

Our nation is drowning in fatty, sugary, overprocessed foods that destroy our bodies and our wallets while filling landfills with dumptrucks full of shiny plastic and cardboard. We save nothing by buying junk at the grocery store.

What smart shopping comes down to is a commitment to find the best prices, but also a commitment to buy and cook healthy, wholesome foods that will nourish our bodies and keep our pocketbooks a little fuller. By keeping the junk food out of the kitchen, we keep it out of our bodies, which means a fewer medical bills, diet pills, and large grocery bills!