Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Car Repairs Are So Expensive

Owning a car is great because it gives you the freedom of transportation but that convenience comes at a cost. Cars are pretty expensive as it is, but it is the cost of repairs that really add up over the years. It's a cost that many people may not think about until there is something wrong with their car and they have to take it in.

Recently I took my car in for some repairs so this issue was on my mind. I took it to a new place that had many good reviews because I was not satisfied with the other place I usually take it. While this new place is fair, the costs for repairs are still very expensive. I have an older vehicle so I don't like putting a lot of money into it.

I live very frugally and don't spend a lot of money so when I get hit with a large bill for car repairs, it seems astronomical compared to what I am used to paying for daily living expenses. Although it can be expensive, I think it is something you just have to figure into your budget.

An alternative would be buying a new car that hopefully would have fewer repairs needed, but of course that would be a huge up front expense and it will still end up needing maintenance and repairs over the years.

Recently I started a new job where driving is a big part of it, so it is important to have a reliable vehicle. I figure the cost of the car repairs can be figured into tax deductions because the car is being used for business so a percentage of it will be a business expense.

Another thing to consider is resale value of your car. If you don't fix anything and it is falling apart by the time you go to sell it or trade it in, you will not get much for it. On the other hand, if you take care of your car and it is in good shape when you go to sell, it will have a higher value and be easier to sell.

Some people may opt for leasing a car so they have a newer vehicle and don't have to worry about repairs as much. Leasing may help avoid having to take it in for repairs over the years, but you may end up paying more per month and then once the lease is up, you are left with nothing while if you buy the car, at least you still have the car once it is paid off.

So what is the solution? I think the best advice would be to try to take care of your car with preventative maintenance to avoid more costly repairs down the line. Do research to find out which cars have a low “cost to own”. Vehicles that are more expensive are likely to have repairs that are also more costly.

When it comes to taking your car in for repairs, ask around to see if anyone has any shops they recommend. Do plenty of research to see what customers are saying about the repair shops. When you decide to try out a new shop, have them fix just one thing even if they recommend to fix a bunch of different things. You want to be sure they will do good work for a reasonable price before you authorize them to do a lot of work on your car.

If you know which parts your car will need, try to buy them on your own since most shops will mark up the prices on the same parts if they have to order them. Check for parts on Amazon, Ebay, and auto parts stores to find the best price.

If you take care of your car and find a reputable shop that has fair prices, you can help keep repair costs down for the life of the car.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

California Olive Ranch - Everyday Olive Oil Review

I add olive oil to many dishes to add flavor and healthy fats to my diet. In the past I would buy the cheapest extra virgin olive oils or the ones that were on sale. The last one I bought was a store brand and it went bad within a few weeks to the point where it was not even edible and I had not even use 1/4 of the bottle yet.

I decided it was time to try out some higher quality olive oils. I did some research and decided to try out California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil. They have many different types but I decided to go with the Everyday style first which is a versatile oil that can be used for many things. I noticed it was available in most stores but the prices varied by store. The best price I found was about $8.39 at Target for the 16.9 oz bottle.

Upon opening it up, the closure system is pretty interesting. The cap unscrews but underneath, there is a built in nozzle that pops up when you pull the cap off. This allows the oil to pour out slowly and keeps it neat so it does not make a mess. When you are done, the cap fits back into the nozzle and screws back onto the top.

For the taste, I found it to be very good. It did not have any bitterness and had a smooth and buttery flavor. I have been using it on bread, as well as dishes like pasta and rice. So far I am about 1/4 of the way through and it still tastes good. Hopefully it will hold the quality through the entire bottle.

The bottle itself is a square shape that makes it look bigger than some of the similar brands with a rounded shape, but if you compare the ounces, they are about the same.

If you are looking for a good extra virgin olive oil that is not too expensive, but don't mind spending a little more compared to the cheap varieties, I would recommend trying out California Olive Ranch olive oil.

Update 1-5-18: 
I am nearly at the end of the bottle and so far it still has a good taste so it looks to be holding up well 2 months after opening. 

Update 1-15-18:  
Interesting note, upon opening the 2nd bottle, I noticed it had a different kind of spout inside. The bottle size was the same and it was purchased from the same retailer, but the inside part was different. Maybe they changed it or have more then one spout that they use. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

When you see a police officer, do you feel safe or nervous?

An interesting question is “When you see a police officer, do you feel safe or do you feel nervous?” Many people may say nervous or something similar because often we associate police officers with giving tickets.

For example if you are driving and you see a patrol car on the side of the road or driving behind you, you may instinctively press the brake and check your speed as to make sure you do not get a speeding ticket. In my experience, the most interaction I have had with police officers has been traffic related, whether it is getting pulled over for a traffic violation or having to call them to file a report for an accident.

It is a shame because there is so much more to police officers than just writing traffic tickets. They are here to enforce the law and keep everyone safe. They play an important role in keeping a peaceful and civilized society. Even though I am a bit wary of police officers when I see them on the streets, I must say I have a lot of respect for them and what they do.

Police officers have chosen a profession that can potentially put them in harms way on a daily basis. They are expected to deal with situations and people that may be unpleasant or dangerous and are expected to enforce laws that others are breaking. This takes a lot of bravery especially when working in high crime rate areas.

So a question is, why does it seem like most of the focus is on traffic tickets when there are much more series crimes being committed? Maybe it is because in some locations that are more suburban or rural, there is not a lot of crime so the only thing left to enforce is minor things like traffic violations.

Because of this, I think it gives people a bad impression of the police. For example, you may get pulled over for going 10 mph over the speed limit or for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. These are pretty minor things and are not really a problem in most situations, but you may end up getting a ticket and have to pay a lot of money.

Of course if you are driving recklessly or unreasonably fast, then yes it should be addressed and would warrant a ticket but for the minor things, they could be more lenient. I think if more focus was put serious crimes, people would have a better impression of police and would not always get a bad feeling when they see them in the rear view mirror.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Goldfish - Honey Mustard and Pretzel Mix Review

Goldfish crackers have been around for a long time and chances are you have tasted some of the common varieties. I had only tried some of the basic flavors until I got a sample of the Honey Mustard + Pretzel flavor. They are surprisingly good! On my next trip to the store I decided to pick up a pack in this flavor.

They come in a purple package and retail for about $2. Be careful to read it carefully because they also have a cheddar flavor mix that is in a purple package that looks almost the same. I have not tried the cheddar mix flavor yet, but I may try that one next.

The flavor of the honey mustard Goldfish reminds me a lot of Gardettos snack mix with a little more of a honey mustard flavor. They have the standard Goldfish and Pretzel Goldfish mixed together and both have a honey mustard flavor but I find the pretzel to have a stronger flavor.

Nutrition wise, they are not too bad. In terms of fat and sodium they are about on par with other similar snacks. If you like Goldfish or honey mustard flavor, I highly recommend trying the Goldfish Honey Mustard + Pretzel mix.

Have you tried any of the other new Goldfish flavors? Which one is your favorite?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Instacart Review – Working as a Full Service Shopper

A few months back I was browsing job listings and found one for a company called Instacart. I had not heard of it before, but it turns out Instacart is a grocery shopping and delivery service that is available nationwide. It allows customers to order groceries from many of their local stores through the Instacart app or through the website. I enjoy grocery shopping and have some experience with delivery, so I decided to apply.

Applying and Getting Started
The online application was incredibly quick. As I remember, it did not even ask for much other than basic information. A couple weeks later I was invited to schedule an “in person” session. At this session, I was able to ask questions, do a practice shop, and get set up with an Instacart credit card. After this, I was able to start picking hours. From what I understand now, they have tried to phase out the in person session so you will be able to get your card by mail.

Before getting started, I did the tutorials, read all the information in the help center, and tried to learn as much as possible on sites like Youtube where other shoppers have posted about their experience. While Instacart provides you with the basics you need to know, there is a lot more information out there to learn. I eventually found a Facebook group that is active and has a lot of tips and advice from other shoppers.

First Impressions and First Day
On my first day, I was scheduled to work a shift from 8-10am. They send you a message 30 minutes before your shift starts that tells you they are looking for an order for you, or that there is an order ready for you that will start at a certain time and location. Since it was my first day, I did not really know where I was supposed to be so I went to the Whole Foods where I had the in store session. I kept an eye on the app and waited for an order.

Turns out, that day and time it was slow so I ended up not getting any orders. I soon learned that you do not have to head out to a store until they actually assign you an order. If you live within your zone, you can actually stay home until they have an order ready for you.

Shopping and Using the App
The next day I started getting orders. I was a little nervous at first, but overall the job is pretty easy. You are given a list of items to find in the store. Most of them will have pictures and details to help find them. Once you find the item, you use the camera on the phone to scan the barcode. This will tell you if you found the right item.

If you can't find something, or something is out of stock, you have the option to find a replacement or to refund the item. You can also message the customer during the shop to get feedback, for example if something they wanted was out of stock and there are a few other options available.

Once you are done, you go to checkout and use your Instacart card to pay for the order. Usually this goes pretty smoothly. So far there was only one time where I had an issue where the card got declined but customer support was able to fix it fairly quickly.

After you pay for the order, you pack up the groceries and navigate to the customer address given in the app. Once you get to the customer's house, you give them the groceries, mark the order as “Delivered” and you are all set!

Overall Impression
I have been working as a Full Service shopper for a few months now and I really enjoy it! I like the independence and flexibility of the schedule. Also the money is pretty good considering the job is not very difficult and does not require much in terms of qualifications or advanced training.

I got a lanyard case for my phone which is very helpful so you can keep your hands free while shopping and pushing the cart. I also recommend getting a car charger and even a battery power bank which can re-charge your phone on longer shifts. 

As a Full Service Shopper, you do the shopping and delivering. For some markets, they do have positions where you can do shop only or deliver only. I enjoy the diversity of doing both as it keeps you moving and makes it so it does not become boring.

How much you will like this job can also depend on your location and zone. Some zones are more busy than others. Also the pay rate can vary quite a bit depending on which market you are working in. My zone is somewhat newer so it is not very busy but they do offer an hourly guarantee so you will be guaranteed to make a certain amount per hour, even if you don't get that many orders during your shift.

When I worked at previous jobs I used to dread going to work each day. With Instacart I actually look forward to working each day. If you like grocery shopping and driving and it sounds like something you might be interested in, I recommend checking out Instacart to become a Full Service Shopper.

Update 4-25-18: 
I have been working for Instacart for about a year and overall it is still pretty good. They did eventually do away with he hourly guarantee which is to be expected. I believe they still offer this guarantee for new shoppers when they first start. Also the base rates per order did drop a bit in most of the markets but I have found they are still pretty good depending on which market you are working in. For now I am sticking with it, but I am also checking out other companies such as Shipt which is a similar grocery shopping and delivery service.

Update 11-21-18: 
Instacart recently changed their earnings structure from a fixed rate system to a variable rate system. They used to pay a base rate plus a per item commission, plus an occasional bump for large or far away orders. Under the new system they basically pay whatever they want to. Instacart said that the new system was designed to keep average earnings the same, but unfortunately with the new system we have found earnings to be much less.

Personally I have noticed and average decrease in pay of about 30% from what orders used to go for. This is very disappointing especially for veteran shoppers who have years of experience and are now being subjected to a large pay cut.

Many shoppers are upset by this change and have taken to social media groups to share their frustration. Since Instacart is not paying shoppers fairly, orders are going unclaimed and customer orders are being delayed if they even get picked up at all.

Personally I am only accepting orders that are paying at least close to what they were in the previous system. I feel it is the best way to make our voices heard. If enough shoppers stand up to Instacart and refuse to take orders that are underpaid, Instacart will have to make a change and start paying shoppers fairly.

Update 4-12-19:
The pay continues to go downhill. Instacart is now paying about 40-50% less than they were 6 months ago. This is a huge pay cut and as you can imagine, shoppers are not happy about it. It seems Instacart's plan now is to just keep hiring new people who don't know any better. Once these shoppers figure out the pay is too low, they will leave and Instacart will just keep hiring more new shoppers.

I understand they are a business and their primary goal is to make money, but it is not a good move to cut the pay of your best shoppers by 50% after they have provided years of service. In most companies, you get a raise with more experience, but with Instacart, we are seeing the exact opposite. With this current model, Instacart can expect to get what it pays for and unfortunately this will ultimately affect the customer experience.

Update 9-21-19:
Things seems to have stabilized a bit at least in my zone. The pay itself is inconsistent as some orders pay ridiculously low while others actually pay pretty good. You have to be selective and only take the orders that are worth your time.

They have now started incorporating the On Demand model which lets you log in and accept available orders even if you did not sign up for hours ahead of time. They continue to hire more workers which they probably need since they keep trying to get people to accept offers that do not pay as much as they should. Overall I am sticking with it but they still have room for improvement.

Update 1-14-20:
Instacart continues to go downhill. They keep hiring more people while dropping the pay to an all time low. It seems their business plan now is quantity over quality. They would rather hire a new person who has no idea what they are doing and pay them $7 to complete an order rather than pay an appropriate amount to someone who has been working with them for years.

My acceptance rate is at about 10% right now, which means if they offer me 10 orders, I only accept 1 of them because the other orders are simply not worth it. It is quite ridiculous some of the orders they try to send out. Were talking orders that would be about 30 miles of driving and would take about 1.5 hours to complete and they will try to pay you $7 for that. And that is not including gas or car expenses! So when you factor in those expenses, you would pretty much LOSE money by completing those orders!

At this point the only orders worth taking are ones that are at the store closest to your house or ones that have a large tip from the customer. And that is another thing. When the customer adds a good tip, Instacart uses that as a excuse to pay even less! So they are basically using the customer's money to pay the shoppers instead of paying the amount they normally would.

These examples show how Instacart only cares about making money for the company and does not care at all about the people who work for them.

So if it is so bad, why do I still work for them?

I still like the flexibility of the job being able to work when I want to. Every once in a while a decent paying order will come in so I still get some income during the week. This works for me because I have plenty of savings and few expenses so I'm not dependent on the income from Instacart, but for most people who have bills to pay and families to support, this job probably would not work out.

I hope that it will get better and Instacart shoppers are always fighting to improve conditions, but having worked for this company for years and seen how they are, unfortunately I don't see it getting better any time soon.

Update 2-18-20
As of today Instacart has gone all On Demand which means you can no longer schedule hours to work. Instead you pretty much just have to constantly check the app to see if there are any available orders. Every once in a while they may send you a notification if there is an order available but if it has a value that actually makes it worth taking, it will be gone before you even get a chance to see it.

So far today the only batches I have had a chance of getting are paying about $7-10 for a medium size order which is not worth it. It appears the only way to get a decent order is to constantly check your phone which is unrealistic and a waste of time.

If it stays this way, it looks like this may be the final straw that broke the camel's back as they say. I have stuck with this company for years but under this model it does not look like it is going to work out anymore.

Update 7-21-20
I have not accepted an order for Instacart for a few months now. The pay is awful. Orders that used to pay $20 now pay $7. It is still On Demand so you have to check the phone constantly to see if there are any orders. I have switched over to Grubhub which is much better. The pay is better and it is so much easier than Instacart.