The Best Baby Gear Guide: This Stuff Survived 3 Kids in 6 Years

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Some close friends of ours are having their first baby at the same time that our third (and last!) kid is turning 2. That means we’ll be passing along a bunch of stuff and also recommendations. Sometimes I read these buying guides and wonder if the author actually tried it past a 5-minute trial run. We got a lot of items that sounded cool but ended up collecting dust. Other stuff we didn’t think would be useful but quickly became daily essentials through 3 babies over 6 years.

I am not a UL-listed lab and nobody sends me free stuff. These are the real things that we bought or got from our own baby registry that I would buy them again if I had to do it all over again. (I’ve even thrown in some Amazon screenshots which show our actual purchase dates.)

If you create an Amazon Baby Registry, they will offer you an extended 90-day return period as well as a 15% Completion Discount on eligible items for Prime members (Otherwise 10%). It’s a one-time coupon worth up to $300 (15% of $2,000) and valid up to 60 days after your expected arrival date, so use it wisely.

Out & About

Carriers – Beco Gemini Baby Carrier

We picked this carrier out after trying on several different types. We liked that it was convertible with snaps to accommodate both front and back facing positions. If this thing could talk, it would say “I’ve seen some stuff, man…” Poop, vomit, food, the floor of our minivan, and probably a hundred washing machine cycles. It has survived it all with a thick, beefy construction.

Strollers – ZOE XL1 (Single) and XL2 (Double) Lightweight Strollers

We’ve gone through a lot of strollers. New strollers, hand-me-down strollers, consignment store strollers. Once we started traveling with two kids, we did a ton of research trying to find something light yet useful. My pet peeve is “lightweight” single strollers that weigh 20+ pounds! The XL1 weighs 11 pounds. The XL2 is a double stroller that still weighs only 17 pounds. Not only that, but it retains important features that you won’t find on a barebones umbrella stroller – quick-fold, extended shade canopies, 135 degree recline, lower basket, and snack/cup holders.

If you click on the Amazon link, you can buy direct from ZOE as a third-party seller. The shipping breakdown is expensive, but it works out the about the same price as buying direct from their website. You might also find some open box returned items on their website.

Playards – Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard

The “Pack N Play” has reached the status of Kleenex and Band-Aid where the brand names are used instead of the official term. Once you figure these things out, they are both sturdy and able to be setup/taken down in seconds. They just work, and can be found in hotels everywhere. If you add a custom-sized mattress, you could realistically use this as a permanent crib replacement. We just bought the most basic best-selling version, but there are tons of add-ons.

Car Seats – Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat

The Chicco Keyfit 30 has housed all three children in comfort and safety. It has been rated #1 by Consumer Reports for who knows how many years. It’s lightweight, ergonomic, durable, and the cover washes easily. It’s been in airplanes, taxis, Ubers, rental cars. Our “Keekoh” has finally earned a retirement full of leisure, while we have handed down the convenient car seat bases to someone else. We definitely maxed out the value on this one.

Travel Systems – Chicco KeyFit Caddy Frame Stroller

We don’t like all-in-one “travel systems”. They tend to be too bulky and heavy, I’ve seen some weigh over 40 pounds! Why push around parts that you’ll only need a year later? If your child is still small enough for the car seat, buy a bare frame and use that as your stroller. It’s lighter and you can still make easy transitions between car and stroller (especially if napping). If your child is older, just buy an independent lightweight stroller (see above).

Nursery

Cribs – Delta Children Emery 4-in-1 Convertible Baby Crib

We bought this crib because it has no moving parts (safe) and it had pictures of it being used as both a toddler bed and eventually a headboard. However, we keep having kids so it’s always been just a crib. It is simple, sturdy, and has lasted through all three kids (and is being slept in as I type this).

Gliders – Dutailier Sleigh Glider and Ottoman Combo

We didn’t buy a Dutalier for the first baby because we thought it was too expensive. However, those all-nighters with a colicky baby means you’re spending a lot of hours sitting on something. If that something makes both you more comfortable and the baby more likely to go back to bed, well… take my money!! When we found out we were having a second child, one of the first things we bought was this glider. We did not regret it. The good news is that it is high quality and still glides quietly and smoothly after 4 years of constant use. The bad news is that they are still pricey. *Cough* Put it on the baby registry and hope someone really likes you *Cough*

Mattresses – Colgate Classica III Crib Mattress

We picked this mattress because it had dual firmness and did not have any funny plastics or gases (supposedly certified by so and so, etc). Infants are supposed to have very firm mattresses for safety, and then you can switch it over to the softer side when they are older. It is of quality construction and well-sealed so that you can wipe off… whatever needs to be wiped off when the time comes.

Bathtime

Bath Tubs – PRIMO EuroBath

It’s simple, durable, and made of thick plastic. Would probably last for 100 babies. I didn’t want anything cloth or stretchy. You can just wash or even bleach this thing as needed. I hung it up to dry each night over the tub (use 3M bathtub hook).

Diapering

Diaper Bags – We got multiple diaper bags as gifts, but we never used them. Too heavy. We just used whatever bag felt right, often a smaller purse/messenger bag thing for her and a backpack for me. Once they are old enough, I use a reusable grocery bag. Mainly you need to remember snacks and the…

Changing Mats – Skip Hop Baby Pronto Portable Changing Station

Diapers, butt cream, wipes, poop bags. Check. Mat for really gross places. Check. Okay, I usually leave the mat at home now (it zips off). Have I mentioned I don’t like carrying extra weight?

Diapers – I know I should use cloth diapers, but we got a million diapers as gifts with the first kid and… that was that. We were so overwhelmed with everything else that the idea of dealing with cloth diapers was too much. Sorry. Although for some reason, kid #3 goes through about 1/3rd of the diapers that kid #1 did…

We like Huggies. and Pampers. and Luvs. I only look at the cost per diaper. If you wait for a sale + Amazon Family 20% off, you can get close to or at 10 cents a diaper.

Diaper Pails – We received and have used a Diaper Genie for all three kids, and it has worked for the most part, although I’ve never been thrilled at how much the refills cost. I’ve tried the generics and I’ve tried just using a trash bag, but somehow the smell gets out. Our main attempt at economizing is that we only put #2s in the diaper genie and the #1s go in the normal trash. This is more so we don’t have to keep emptying the darn thing than the cost. Otherwise we just buy the name brand refills.

Bottles – We used Medela bottles, primarily because we got a Medela breast pump from our health insurance. They worked fine and were of good quality in my opinion. The bottles lasted for multiple kids.

Bottle Sterilizers – We don’t use any bottle sterilizer gadgets. We just follow the CDC directions and use warm soap and water, clean hands, and the dishwasher.

Breast Pumps – We got a Medela breast pump from our health insurance. It kept working despite some pretty heavy usage. The battery does start to go after a year or so.

Feeding Pillows – Mrs. MMB was not a fan of the Boppy. It moved around too much and was uncomfortable. She much preferred the questionably-named My Brest Friend, which is ergonomically better and has a strap for security. We even bought the inflatable travel version which also worked well. The cover is easy to remove, wash, and put back on.

One Last Random Thing – Little Martin’s Baby Nail Trimmer

I know, you’re worried about what the baby is going to eat, how it’s going to sleep, and keeping it safe in the car. But one of the more stressful things for me was trimming the nails. If you don’t trim, their little claws can scratch their own face and even eyes. But using a traditional nail clipper is tough on a tiny wriggly hand, and I have drawn blood before. One of my favorite purchases was this little Dremel-like nail trimmer. No more blood, no more fighting, and I can still use it on my older kids.

Frugal Trends: Keep Your iPhone For 3-4 Years + Switch to Cheaper Plan

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

If you’ve been holding onto that iPhone for longer than you thought you would, you are not alone. According to this WSJ article, the average consumer now waits 2.9 years to upgrade their iPhone (2.8 years for all smartphones).

Horace Dediu runs the numbers independently in Determining The Average Apple Device Lifespan and finds it to have risen to just over 4 years:

These two statistics can both be true as one phone can have multiple owners. The initial owner keeps it for about 3 years and then upgrades to a new phone. Someone else can buy the used phone and get another year or more out of it. Some phones will last longer, while others break prematurely.

Smartphones and data plans add up to thousands of dollars per year. As we see above, the first way to lower your expense is to keep your phone for longer. I think people are noticing that the newer iPhones are certainly better, but by a smaller amount each generation. I’m not as familiar how well this works with cheaper Android phones as you can pick up new Android phone for $200. However, the latest iOS 12 is supposed to speed up old phones, and works all the way back to the iPhone 5S.

The next step is for people to realize that they can bring that “still-good-enough” phone over to a cheaper plan. The WSJ article mentions that carrier turnover is actually lower now than before those big upfront subsidies. People are keeping their old phone but also their old plan – not the same thing! Last year, we saved over a $1,000 with the “secret” Sprint Free Unlimited $0 per month plan after switching from Verizon. Here was our monthly bill for two unlimited lines:

Side note: I’m pretty sure that Sprint is trying hard to boost its numbers before the T-Mobile/Sprint merger is complete. Take advantage of their desperation while it lasts! I don’t think you’ll see this deal after the merger is closed.

Here are more options:

Libby App: Improved Access to Public Library eBook and Audiobooks

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Public libraries have offered eBooks for a while, but I stopped using the service because it was too much work. There weren’t that many popular titles available, and finding them was tedious with a waitlist of unknown length. When you did finally get the book, I couldn’t read it on my Kindle and would have to use a clunky third-party Overdrive app. These small hurdles meant that I often wouldn’t finish the book before the due date, upon which the book was unceremoniously yanked back into the cloud.

Happily, I recently discovered the Libby app by Overdrive, which has improved the overall experience dramatically. (Thanks Tom.) You can sign into multiple libraries*. The app is well designed and makes it easier to find titles, and an estimate of the waitlist time is included. Your eBook can be automatically checked out when your turn is up. In addition, there is:

  • Built-in eBook reader that is much improved.
  • Built-in Audiobook player.
  • If allowed, it will send the book to your Kindle device.

Basically, everything can be done within one single app.

This may just be my local library, but the selection also seems to have improved. It’s not perfect as the books seem to come in clusters so it’s hard to read them all in time (I wish there was a defer option to be next in line), but I like that I can at “try” many books for a few chapters and return it earlier if I don’t like it. If I do like it and want a permanent copy (I still prefer to buy physical books), I can buy it on Amazon or the local bookstore.

Bottom line. If you want to try an easier way to borrow free eBooks from your local library, check out the new Libby app.

(* If you join multiple libraries you can expand your access to different ebook/audiobook titles. There are some listed that offer non-residents a library card via mail/online and only charge a nominal fee.)

Consumer Report Car Brand Reliability Rankings 2018

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Consumer Reports shared some results from their 2018 Car Reliability Survey in the public articles Who Makes the Most Reliable Cars?, 10 Most Reliable Cars and, 12 Models Lose CR Recommendation Over Car Reliability Issues.

Here’s a partial snapshot of the brand breakdown, which includes the relative change from last year. Highlights:

  • Most reliable: Lexus and Toyota. Again.
  • Most spots improved: Mazda and Acura.
  • Biggest ranking drop: Honda, Chrysler, Volvo, and Tesla.

A partial excerpt with the top rankings are below:

Despite providing these brand rankings, Consumer Reports recommends that you shop by vehicle and not just by brand. Some brands like Toyota and Lexus are reliable across the brand, but others like Honda and Kia have a wide range of rankings by model. In addition, new model redesigns often results in variable reliability. Of course, you’ll need full print or digital access to get those numbers.

My thoughts. In terms of trends, I was disappointed to see Honda slip a bit again in the reliability rankings all the way down to 15th. We’ve said goodbye to our trusty Honda Fit, but I don’t know if we’ll go back to Honda. I bought a Toyota not just due to lower total ownership cost (frugal living), but mostly about avoiding headaches and hassle (simple living).

In terms of methodology, I see a lot of mentions about infotainment issues. Honestly, I now have a car with a big LCD screen, and I never use it. I just stream music, podcasts, and audiobooks from my phone via Bluetooth. Any issue that keeps me from driving the car itself should count 50 times more than a slow or frozen screen.

The Quest of the Simple Life: Escaping The Work Grind in 1907 vs. 2018

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

The Quest of the Simple Life by William J. Dawson was published over 100 years ago; it’s so old that the copyright has expired, making the book public domain (and thus available as a free Kindle download). Yet, other than the old-fashioned writing style that required regular dictionary usage, much of the contents are perfectly applicable today! Here are some excerpts to help prove my point, and at the end I compare 1907 vs. 2018. (Any bolded parts are my doing.)

On the feeling that your family time is lacking:

Let us take the life of the average business man by way of example. Such a man will rise early, sleep late, and eat the bread of carefulness, if he means to succeed. His children scarcely know him; they are asleep when he goes off in the morning, and asleep when he returns at night; he is to them the strange man who sits at the head of the table once a week and carves the Sunday joint. It is well for them if they have a mother who possesses gifts of government, sympathy, and patient comprehension, for it is clear that they have no father. He gets a living, and perhaps in time an ample living; but does he live?

On the true cost of “Keeping up appearances”:

Money may be bought at too dear a rate. The average citizen, if he did but know it, is always buying money too dear. He earns, let us say, four hundred pounds a year; but the larger proportion of this sum goes in what is called ‘keeping up appearances.’ He must live in a house at a certain rental; by the time that his rates and taxes are paid he finds one-eighth of his income at least has gone to provide a shelter for his head. A cottage, at ten pounds a year, would have served him better, and would have been equally commodious. He must needs send his children to some private ‘academy’ for education, getting only bad education and high charges for his pains; a village board-school at twopence a week would have offered undeniable advantages. He must wear the black coat and top-hat sacred to the clerking tribe; a tweed suit and cap are more comfortable, and half the price. At all points he is the slave of convention, and he pays a price for his convention out of all proportion to its value. At a moderate estimate half the daily expenditure of London is a sacrifice to the convention or imposture of respectability.

On the cost of commuting and eating out:

In all but very fine weather I must needs use some means of public conveyance every day; there was a daily lunch to be provided; and when work kept me late at the office there was tea as well. One can lunch comfortably on a shilling or eighteenpence a day; and I knew places where I could have lunched for much less, but they were in parts of the town which I could not reach in the brief time at my disposal. Moreover, one must needs be the slave of etiquette even though he be a clerk, and if all the staff of an office frequent a certain restaurant, one must perforce fall into line with them under penalty of social ostracism. Thus, whether I liked it or not, for five days in the week I had to spend eighteenpence a day for lunch, and fourpence for teas; and if we add those small gratuities which the poorest men take it as a point of honour to observe, here was an annual expenditure of 25 pounds.

Various quotes about those who feel this certain type of “discontent”:

I saw that it was the artificial needs of life that made me a slave; the real needs of life were few. […]

The debate went on for years, and it was ended only when I applied to it one fixed and reasoned principle. That principle was that my first business as a rational creature was not to get a living but to live; and that I was a fool to sacrifice the power of living in securing the means of life. […]

My chief occupation through these years was to keep my discontent alive. Satisfaction is the death of progress, and I knew well that if I once acquiesced entirely in the conditions of my life, my fate was sealed. […]

To the man who detests the nature of his employment as I detested mine, I would say at once, either conquer your detestation or change your work. Work that is not genuinely loved cannot possibly be done well. […]

On looking back having lived his new simpler life successfully for four years:

After four years’ experiment in Quest of the Simple Life I am in a position to state certain conclusions, which are sufficiently authoritative with me to suggest that they may have some weight with my readers. These conclusions I will briefly recapitulate. The chief discovery which I have made is that man may lead a perfectly honourable, sufficing, and even joyous existence upon a very small income. Money plays a part in human existence much less important than we suppose. The best boon that money can bestow upon us is independence. How much money do we need to secure independence? That must depend on the nature of our wants.

Honestly, after finishing the book I was suspicious that it was written as some sort of strange parody, as some of the themes were so similar to what folks face today. But William James Dawson appears legit and wrote several other books during the same period. Here’s a comparison between Dawson in 1907 vs. a hypothetical person in 2018:

1907: The author worked full-time as a clerk in London, but finds himself dissatisfied with that lifestyle. He worked long hours, didn’t enjoy his desk job, and felt his health suffering in the sooty city air. He calculated that much of his expenses went to simply keeping up everyone else: higher rent, high commuting costs (time and money), paying extra to eat out with coworkers at lunch, maintaining a proper work wardrobe, and so on. He dreamed of a simple rural life. He found a small cottage in the countryside with very low rent. He fished, hunted, and farmed much of his food and paid for the rest with his earnings as a freelance writer for a local newspaper.

2018: A young woman works full-time in a large urban metro, but finds herself dissatisfied with that lifestyle. She worked long hours, didn’t enjoy her desk job, and felt her health suffering due to sitting in front of a computer all day. She calculates that much of her expenses went to simply keeping up everyone else: higher rent, high commuting costs (time and money), paying extra to eat out with coworkers at lunch, maintaining a proper work wardrobe, and so on. She dreamed of a simpler life. A small (tiny?) house or RV on a cheap piece of land. She gained income from her investments, including a rental property (Airbnb?) and stock dividends. The rest was covered with freelance work through Upwork or Elance.

Bottom line. In some ways, life hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Some folks will become unsatisfied enough with the commonly chosen path and take the risk of making huge changes. A simpler life with lower costs but more time with friends and family. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have the money for full “financial independence” yet, but perhaps a job more aligned with your true values where you aren’t solely maximizing income.

Kids & Materialism: What Thing Were You Obsessed With in 7th Grade?

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

In the Atlantic article Why Kids Want Things, Dr. Marsha Richins is interviewed about her research on materialism and children. She explores why kids tend to place the most importance on owning and having things during middle school:

I think of seventh grade as being the worst age of a person’s life. It’s really a fraught time, and there’s all this insecurity that kids have about, “Who am I? Do people like me? What kind of person am I?” So, how do we navigate that? Well, our appearance is one of the things we navigate with. So, what does a kid see when they see another kid? They see the expression on their face, they see the body language, the posture, and the clothes they’re wearing. And so a kid who’s not very self-confident in navigating this is going to maybe feel a little more self-confident if they’re wearing the right kind of clothes rather than the wrong kind of clothes. Here we’re learning, right off the bat, that having things can help us define who we are.

Looking back, middle school was indeed the first time that I really started to want certain clothes. My most vivid memory might be somewhat localized and dated, but the trendy thing to wear in my middle school was a Browning Down Jacket:

This $100 jacket basically signaled that you were rich and cool (and cozily warm). Like SUVs or North Face, it also suggests you do rugged activities on the weekends. I never got one as they were too expensive, but I do remember one of my friends successfully begging his parents to buy him one and then him becoming a “cool kid”. My parents did eventually get me (one) Bart Simpson t-Shirt. Nike Air shoes were another item that did not fit in my parent’s budget until I found a pair on clearance in late high school.

My wife says that her 7th grade obsession was Z. Cavaricci pants. (She never got a pair either. Coincidence?)

Until we had this conversation, she had never heard of Browning jackets and that critical buck logo with antlers. I had never heard of Z. Cavaracci pants and the little label on the zipper. It seems like other places had NFL Starter jackets as the hottest item.

As a parent, I’ll have to brace myself against this materialistic tide when the time comes. Is it me, or do the trendy things seem to be more expensive now (iPhones! Apple Watch! Hydroflask that you lose within a week!). I’ll have to try and be a good role model in the meantime:

But one of the most consistent findings is the association between the person’s current level of materialism and how they perceived their parents using things when they were growing up. […] The helpful thing for parents here—and also the harmful—is yes, peers are really important, but our kids are watching us. Our kids are learning from us. A lot of what kids take to be normal comes from what they see us doing. Kids are going to learn what their relationship with products should be by looking at our relationship with products.

See also: We Are All Accumulating Mountains of Things

What thing do you remember coveting in 7th grade?

Lesser-Known Cheap Unlimited Cell Phone Plans Data on Every Network (2 GB from $15/Month, 5 GB from $20/Month)

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

phones7Updated October 2018. Cell phone bills are getting cheaper than ever. Have you checked prices recently? All of the major networks sell wholesale minutes to MVNOs (Mobile Network Virtual Operators), which they in turn sell at a significant discount to individuals. If you choose to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), every MVNO will have a form where you can check compatibility via identification number (IMEI or MEID).

This list includes unlimited talk and text plans with at least 2 GB and 5 GB of 4G LTE data. The average data user used 3 GB of data per month in 2017. If you don’t need data, here are the lesser-known cheapest talk and text only cell plans. Many of these advertise “unlimited data”, which means they throttle speeds down the 128 kbps (2G) after your LTE allotment runs out. After looking through what must have been over 100 MVNOs, here are the cheapest options by network below (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint).

T-Mobile NetworkT-Mobile Network Color: Hot Pink

  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 2 GB LTE Data. Mint Mobile has an unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB LTE data plan from $15 per month. Their intro offer is 3 months at $15 per month. After that, you’ll have to buy 12 months of airtime upfront to get the $15 per month price. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets. They offer a 7-Day Money Back Guarantee (starts upon SIM activation) so you can test them out before making any commitment.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 5 GB LTE Data. Mint Mobile also has a $20 a month plan with unlimited talk, text, and 5 GB of LTE data. Their intro offer is 3 months at $20 per month. After that, you’ll have to buy 12 months of airtime upfront to get the $20 per month price. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets. They offer a 7-Day Money Back Guarantee (starts upon SIM activation) so you can test them out before making any commitment.

Note: I recently switched to Mint Mobile in my own phone. Please see my Mint Mobile SIM Activation and Number Port Transfer Review for tips based on my experiences.

Sprint NetworkSprint Network Color: Yellow

  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 2 GB LTE Data. Tello Mobile has an unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB data plan for $19 a month. You don’t need to buy a year upfront. You need to choose a custom plan to find this option. Their 1 GB plan is only $14 per month. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 5 GB LTE Data. Red Pocket Mobile via eBay offers unlimited talk, text, and 5 GB data for $20 a month when you pay for 12 months upfront ($240 for one year) with a free SIM included in the kit. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets. You can choose the Sprint network when you sign up.

Sprint “Secret” Offer: If you switch in from AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile, Sprint itself is offering one year of unlimited talk, text, and unlimited data for $0/month + some taxes for a year via this unadvertised Sprint Free Year offer. (You can’t be an existing Sprint customer.) You’ll need to bring over own phone, port-in a phone number, and undergo a credit check.

AT&T NetworkAT&T Network Color: Blue

  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 2 GB LTE Data. The cheapest price across all plans with 2GB of data is actually the same as the one below with 5 GB of data.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 5 GB LTE Data. Red Pocket Mobile via eBay offers unlimited talk, text, and 5 GB data for $20 a month when you pay for 12 months upfront ($240 for one year) with a free SIM included in the kit. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets. You can choose the AT&T network when you sign up.

Verizon NetworkVerizon Network Color: Red

  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 2 GB LTE Data. Red Pocket Mobile via Amazon offers unlimited talk, text, and 3 GB data for $21.25 a month when you pay for 12 months upfront ($260 for one year) with a free SIM included in the kit. You can choose the Verizon network when you sign up.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text + 5 GB LTE Data. Total Wireless has an unlimited talk and text plan with 5 GB data for $33.20 per month with auto-refill (every 30 days). $35 per 30 days without auto-refill.

If you don’t need data, here are the lesser-known cheapest talk and text only cell plans.

Lesser-Known Cheap Talk & Text Only Cell Phone Plans on Every Network – From $1 a Month

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

phones7Updated October 2018. Cell phone bills are getting cheaper than ever. Have you checked prices recently? All of the major networks sell wholesale minutes to MVNOs (Mobile Network Virtual Operators), which they in turn sell at a significant discount to individuals. If you choose to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), every MVNO will have a form where you can check compatibility via identification number (IMEI or MEID).

This post includes light and unlimited talk & text only plans – no data (although some plans include some anyway). Here are the cheapest plans with unlimited talk & text and 2+ GB LTE data. A minimalist plan is good for people who only want to make short calls, while unlimited talk and text plans allow you drop that landline completely for under $18 a month. After looking through what must have been over 100 MVNOs, here are the cheapest options by network below (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint).

T-Mobile NetworkT-Mobile Network Color: Hot Pink

  • Light Barebones Usage. Lycamobile has a barebones Pay As You Go plan where you just buy a SIM and there is a minimum top-up of $10. The rate is a flat 5 cents a minute for talk, and 12 cents per text. You must have some sort of activity every 90 days to maintain your service (make a phone call, send a text). If you only used 200 minutes a year, that would be under $1 per month ($10 a year).
  • Unlimited Talk & Text. Mint Mobile has a $15 a month plan with unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB of LTE data. You even get slower 2G data speeds if you exceed your LTE allotment. Their intro offer is 3 months at $15 per month. After that, you’ll have to buy 12 months of airtime upfront to get the $15 per month price. They offer a 7-Day Money Back Guarantee (starts upon SIM activation) so you can test them out before making the multi-month commitment. If you don’t want that 2 GB of data, you can go with Republic Wireless and get unlimited talk and text with zero data for $15 a month with no bulk requirement.

I recently switched to Mint Mobile myself – see my Mint Mobile SIM Activation and Number Port Transfer Review for tips based on my experiences.

Sprint NetworkSprint Network Color: Yellow

  • Light Barebones Usage. Tello Mobile has a Pay As You Go plan where there is a minimum top-up of $10. The rate is a flat 3 cents a minute for talk, and 1 cent per text. You must have some sort of activity every 90 days to maintain your service (make a phone call, send a text). If you used 400 minutes a year, that would be $1 per month ($12 a year).
  • Unlimited Talk & Text. Tello Mobile also has an unlimited talk, text, and no data for $11 a month. You need to choose a custom plan to find this option. You can get the same plan with 1 GB of data for $14 per month. I will also mention that Republic Wireless has $15 a month plan for unlimited talk and text on the Sprint Network, but you can’t bring any used Sprint device over – you must buy a specially-modified phone.

Sprint “Secret” Offer: If you switch in from AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile, Sprint itself is offering one year of unlimited talk, text, and unlimited data for $0/month + some taxes for a year via this unadvertised Sprint Free Year offer. (You can’t be an existing Sprint customer.) You’ll need to bring over own phone, port-in a phone number, and undergo a credit check.

AT&T NetworkAT&T Network Color: Blue

  • Light Barebones Usage. H2O Wireless has a Pay As You Go plan where you can buy a $10 card that lasts 90 days. The rate is a flat 5 cents a minute for talk, and 5 cents per text. You must buy another card after it expires in 90 days. This means you could use 800 minutes a year for $3.33 per month ($40 per year).
  • Unlimited Talk & Text. Red Pocket Mobile via eBay offers unlimited talk, text, and 1 GB data for $17.08 a month when you pay for 12 months upfront ($205 for one year) with a free SIM included in the kit. You can choose the AT&T network when you sign up.

Verizon NetworkVerizon Network Color: Red

  • Light Barebones Usage. PagePlus Cellular has a Pay As You Go plan where you can buy a $10 card that lasts 120 days. The rate is a flat 6 cents a minute for talk, and 5 cents per text. You must buy another card after it expires in 120 days. This means you could use 500 minutes a year for $2.50 per month ($30 per year). PagePlus now accepts 4G smartphones.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text. Red Pocket Mobile via eBay offers unlimited talk, text, and 1 GB data for $17.08 a month when you pay for 12 months upfront ($205 for one year) with a free SIM included in the kit. You can choose the Verizon network when you sign up.

Here are the cheapest plans with unlimited talk & text and 2+ GB LTE data.

Everyone Worries About Money, Even The Wealthy

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Here’s a refreshingly blunt quote from Scott Galloway’s article Yay Capitalism via It Is Always About The Money via Abnormal Returns:

Wealthy people claim they don’t think much about money. That’s bullshit; they are obsessed with money. The notion that rich people don’t think about money is an attempt to dampen resentment (e.g., revolution) from the 3.5B people who have fewer assets than the wealthiest 12 individuals. What, like, rich people got there because they are just so benign and talented, it just happened (oops, I’m rich)? People who tell you to follow your passion are already rich. They have doggedly pursued a path and have been obsessed with success for a long time. They want to sound inspirational and give you a sound bite, because the truth that success requires 60–80-hr weeks for several decades doesn’t get applause in graduation speeches.

Every wealthy person I’ve known measures their net worth in frightening detail, and often. You have to stay nimble, or you stand to lose a lot. We live in a capitalist society, and the amount of money you have is a forward-looking indicator of the effectiveness your healthcare, the comfort of your home, the harmony of your marriage, and the quality of your children’s education.

Regarding that last sentence, I might agree up to a certain level of wealth, but after that I don’t think better healthcare or a more comfortable home is the reason that the wealthy still keep worrying about money.

I think it’s just another weird artifact of human psychology. If we can keep making money, it’s really hard to stop. Most wealthy people still work. They may say that they just like work (“passion” again), and that may be true, but another major reason is they want to keep making money. Earning money provides a measure of self-worth. Earning money provides a sense of security. Certain jobs may come with respect and power. (They might say they would it for free, but they wouldn’t for long. Every job has annoying parts that you accept because of the money.) If the hardest part of retirement is building up the pile, the second hardest might be saying no to adding more to the pile.

Mint Mobile SIM Activation and Number Port Transfer Review

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After writing about their new lower prices and hearing positive responses, I have switched my phone service to Mint Mobile, a MVNO which runs on the T-Mobile network. Here’s my experiences and some tips regarding the switching process.

Prices start at $15/month for unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB of LTE data (3 months prepaid). After the initial period, you will have to prepay for 12 months to keep the $15/month price. You can also upgrade to $20/month for 5 GB LTE data or $25/month for 10 GB LTE data. After your high speed data runs out, you still get “unlimited” data at 2G speeds (throttled to 128 kbps). All plans also include free international calls to Mexico and Canada.

1. Buy your SIM card and service online. You can bring your own unlocked GSM phone including both Android and Apple iPhones. You can check phone compatibility here. The $15/month 2 GB plan x 3 months worked out to an all-in price of $45 + $3.13 in taxes and fees in California. I got free shipping added automatically, but it might cost $5. See screenshot below.

2. While you wait for it to arrive, collect the following from your existing carrier: Account number, Account PIN/password, and zip code on bill. This will be required for an instant and smooth port-out of your existing phone number.

3. Install the new Mint Mobile SIM card in your phone and then visit mintmobile.com/activate. Don’t do this until you are ready to activate your service, because it will start immediately. I wanted to try out the 7-day guarantee, so I gave myself a little wiggle room. You’ll need the activation code on the back of the SIM “credit card” from which you punched out the SIM. After providing the carrier information from above, my old number was ported to Mint Mobile in a minute. Everything was done online, no calling in required.

4. Change your APN settings. You will need to change a few settings on your phone to get MMS messages. Here are the instructions for both iPhone and Android. Turn your phone off and on, and everything should work fine again. At this point, I’d spent under 10 minutes and my phone was back to full working condition.

Note: Their 7-Day Money Back Guarantee starts at activation, not order date or ship date. You can request a full refund (minus shipping if any) if you let them know within 7 days of activation. You won’t need to ship back your SIM card.

5. Cancel your old plan. But first, test out your voice, text, and data. After the 7-Day Money Back Guarantee is over, you can call your old carrier and officially cancel. They should see that you ported out your number already and not hassle you about it.

Thoughts on Mint Mobile (T-Mobile MVNO) network so far. In my neck of the woods, Verizon is tops and T-Mobile and AT&T are about tied for second. I ran the Speedtest app and got 5 Mbps down from Mint Mobile as opposed to 1 Mbps down from Sprint in the same spot. I don’t stream much video on my phone so it’s not a huge deal, but I do hope to get more LTE coverage in places where Sprint left me with 3G.

Bottom line. Mint Mobile is a T-Mobile MVNO with prices starting at $15/month for unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB of high-speed LTE data (unlimited slower 2G data above that) when you prepay for 3 months initially (12 months after that). $20/month for 5 GB LTE data. $25/month for 10 GB LTE data. 7-Day Money Back Guarantee. Following the directions above, I was able to swap SIM cards, port my old number, and activate everything in under 10 minutes.

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links above, I may be compensated.

Save Money on Pet Costs By Splitting Doses of Frontline Plus Flea Medication ($0.66 a Month w/ Generic!)

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frontline0

Updated for 2018. The NY Times came out with a recent article The Secret Price of Pets. (Neuticles? Cosmetic surgery?) Meanwhile, the cost of flea medication has dropped for us from $10 a month to 67 cents a month over the last decade of dog ownership. That’s over $200 a year in savings for two dogs as compared to buying it retail. We have dogs so that is what I’m using for my numbers, but the same strategy would work for cats.

There are many options for flea prevention today, but Frontline Plus is still quite popular. It used to be that you would buy it from your vet and it would cost close to $15 per monthly dose. These days, I’m guessing most people use Amazon or Costco since you don’t need a prescription. In addition, the patent for the main active ingredient in Frontline (fipronil) has been expired since 2011. Generic brands now include Sentry FiproGuard Plus and PetArmor Plus.

Price comparisons. Here’s an example of the cost comparison for their “Orange box” meant for small dogs (22 lbs and under). Prices taken July 2018.

Store Cost (w/ shipping) Cost per 0.67 ml dose
Frontline Plus Orange at1800PetMeds.com $69.68 for 6-pack $11.61
Frontline Plus Orange at Amazon.com $64 for 6-pack $10.66
Frontline Plus Orange at eBay $48 for 6-pack $8
PetArmor Plus 22 lb at Amazon.com $34.46 for 6-pack $5.74

 

Buying a larger dose and splitting it yourself. I got this idea originally from eBay sellers that were selling the biggest size (Red box) made for dogs up to 132 lb. dogs with with glass vials and syringes for splitting. I’m not sure what happened, but I believe that the manufacturer Merial pressured eBay and/or their authorized sellers to stop the sale of such kits. I don’t see any such kits available for sale any longer. You can simply buy amber glass vials with droppers on Amazon yourself for under $10 upfront.

I still believe the DIY method can be efffective and safe if done properly. I’ve seen articles from licensed vets and also multiple reader comments saying their own vet approves this practice. Pet shelters and rescues also commonly do this to stretch their limited resources.

More accurate dosing for your pet. By default, Merial categorizes dogs into four broad categories: 0-22 lbs, 23-44 lbs, 45-88 lbs, and 89-132 lbs. This corresponds to vial sizes of 0.67 ml, 1.34 ml, 2.68 ml, and 4.02 ml respectively. I don’t know about you, but I see a pretty big gap between 45 and 88 pounds.

They have to make sure even the biggest dogs in the range are adequately dosed, so if you divide the vial size by the largest size for each category in pounds, you get 0.0305 ml per pound every time. So if you have a 25 lb. dog why give them double the dose of a 22 lb. dog? Just give them a bit more (0.76 ml) and you should be fine. Less meds, less waste, less money.

Example DIY savings. For simplicity, I’ll assume you have exactly a 22 lb. dog. Next, assume you buy the biggest size (Red box) made for 89 to 132 lb dogs and split it into the same 0.67 ml doses as the 22b size (Orange box) using a glass vial and plastic syringes. In other words each single 4.02 ml dose will be split into six 0.67 ml doses. Prices taken July 2018.

Store Cost (w/ shipping) Cost per 0.67 ml dose
Frontline Plus Red at1800PetMeds.com $69.68 for 6-pack $1.94
Frontline Plus Red at Amazon.com $68 for 6-pack $1.89
Frontline Plus Red at eBay $53 for 6-pack $1.47
PetArmor Plus 132 lb at Amazon.com $23.79 for 6-pack $0.66

 

Proper precautions. Here are some tips to make sure you split your doses safely and effectively.

  • Use protective gloves. You’d ideally want to do this with the official product anyway, so a box of nitrile gloves is a good investment.
  • Keep medication away from light and air. Either use a dark, glass vial or keep it an airtight syringe in airtight bag in a dark, cool space. When using a plastic syringe as the applicator, remove any needle! You’re just drizzling the stuff on your dog’s skin surface. You can buy 12 glass vials with droppers for $9 from Amazon. The 0.51 ounce bottles hold about 15 ml. The biggest dose packages are 4 ml. A drop is about 0.05 ml.
  • Do not mix and match dog and cat Frontline. The ingredients may differ slightly, or the concentrations may differ as well.
  • Dose carefully. As with all these flea medications, you can do some trial and error to see what brand and dosage level works for your dog. You might need more or less than indicated for your dog and environment. I would avoid going over the maximum manufacturer recommendation.

Bottom line. Monthly flea & tick medication is an ongoing cost of owning a dog or cat. You can save some money in this area by splitting up larger doses and buying in bulk. You can save even more by buying a generic version (see above) with the same active ingredient, just like Advil vs. ibuprofen. For a small dogs, you can get your cost down to under $1 per monthly dose.

Airbnb vs. Hotels Price Comparison Chart

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

airbnbMary Meeker is a partner at famous venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Many people follow her annual presentation about internet trends, and you can view the entire 294 slide deck here.

It’s a lot of information, but there are some interesting links that she makes that relate to personal finance. For example, you can start with the observation that housing costs are an increasing portion of household spending:

Next, you might notice that new houses are getting bigger while the number of people living in them are actually shrinking:

Finally, the success of Airbnb shows that there is a ready supply of people willing to rent out part of their property to help pay for the mortgage. The fact that it’s often cheaper than hotels helps the demand:

Airbnb can estimate your income as a host if renting out a private room, in-law unit, or entire house. You can share a spare room in your apartment or do a pseudo-“home swap” by renting out your whole home the next time you’re out of town. You can open your space for one day or all year.

I like how Airbnb helps connect people displaced by natural disaster and those with open rooms. Right now, they are helping to shelter people affected by the volcanic eruptions in Hawaii.

We stayed at Airbnb’s in Europe and it was great for a family with little kids. We could cook simple meals in the kitchen and eat around a real dining table. You felt more like a local family. If you’ve never stayed at an Airbnb, you can get $40 in travel credit towards your first rental with my referral link. I believe I will get $20 of credit after your first booking. Thanks if you use it.

Before booking, I would definitely read review and look for a “Superhost” if possible. Here is a NY Times article with Airbnb tips from a former Superhost.

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