I Agree with Kayne West: A Plea to Designers of Apps for Toddlers

My world does not cross with Kayne West’s world very often. (Read: at all). He is a famous celebrity, a rapper, record producer and fashion designer. I am your average working mom just trying to make sense of my world. With the vast differences in our experiences, it is little wonder I don’t share many of his views on things. I couldn’t begin to fathom what his life is like.

So when I heard about his tweet regarding in-app purchases on games for toddlers a few weeks ago, I, for one, could finally relate to the guy. I hope by now, he has managed to turn on the parental controls on his iPad to keep North from running up any more bills. Kim seems to know all about it so she can help him out.

But even with the in-app purchasing disabled, it is extremely frustrating for not only the parent, but also the child when they are trying to use, what is advertised as, a game for kids. Let’s take for example, my toddler’s favorite game: EduKidsRoom by Cubic Frog. Just typing that, I sang the little opening like the children in the app. I can’t help, it is the #1 thing my son likes to open when he gets his mitts on my iPad. It is one of the apps I don’t mind him using, because it shows him letters and colors. He always gets excited when yellow shows up, and cheers “Yellow” just like the kids in the game. It is marked as for ages 2 to 6, and my son is only 18 months old, so to be fair, he is using the game outside of the suggested parameters. Here is a shot of the opening screen:

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But seconds later, you get this screen:

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This ad pops up shortly after you open the app. I mean – just look at it. Of course the baby has tapped it, because he doesn’t know any better. It is bright and colorful. It’s baby click-bait!

The pause before it shows up is just long enough that your finger is already in motion to hit the “Play” button. Even I have been tricked into clicking on the pop-up ad. It opens up the company’s website on Safari, and you are no longer in the game. The baby has already learned to hit the Home button to exit out and reopen the game again, only to once again have the pop up ad redirect him. He gets frustrated and abandons it. So, to resolve the issue, I bought the full version, through the handy-dandy ads placed in the game.

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IMG_0852But even then, there are links to places baby doesn’t want to go, like a website by Cubic Frog for parents, a link to rate the app and of course a link to the App Store, so you can buy more Cubic Frogs games. It seems you are supposed to tap and hold for these items to open, but they open with a regular tap too. Not that it would matter, because toddlers don’t differentiate between tapping and holding and just tapping. The baby is drawn to tapping on these links because they are colorful buttons, and the baby is coo-coo for buttons right now. (He takes an enormous amounts of selfies, because he can’t help but press that shiny red button in the camera app.)

It seems a simple enough solution to start the game for him, so he doesn’t see the home screen, to access these links, but seeing that the only button on the iPad is the Home button, he frequently exits the game only to reopen it. With this particular app, it returns to the main screen, no matter how briefly you’ve left the app.

So now that someone like Kanye has expressed his frustration with these kid’s apps, let’s use this visibility to make a plea to app designers for toddlers: Stop the nonsense!

(I wonder if this will be part of Kanye’s platform when he runs for President in 2020?)

Making Friends

I remember when my son first took the basketball court. I was so proud a tear came to my eye.

I played in school, and was very good. All I wanted for my son was a chance for him to have the great experience that I did with organized sports. The camaraderie of  defeating your opponents together. What could bring you closer?

It started of well, with me cheering him from the sidelines, but all too soon I realized my cheers had become constructive criticism. “Pass the ball!” “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” “Watch the ball!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw my son talking out around the three-point mark with a player from the other team. Over the noise of the gym, I could still make out what they were talking about, they were that far away from the play. They were talking about Thomas the Tank Engine.

“Get your head in the game!” My son rattled, turned his head with a start, and tried to comply. I wish I hadn’t turned into that mom, but I had. It would be best if I could have controlled myself without learning the lesson the hard way. In a way, I’m glad I got it out of my system so early. We still had more than half the season left, and in that moment, yelling from the sidelines, I could see a truth about my child that I had all too conveniently ignored. He is not competitive. And that is fine with me. He just wanted to make friends.

Friends

We had just moved from Virginia to Massachusetts and my son saw basketball as a place to forge friendships. In his young wisdom, he knew sport can bring people together, in victory or defeat. Once I saw that he wasn’t there to crush his enemies, I recognized his attempts to be friendly. The remainder of the season, I kept my mouth shut, and offered praise after each game. “That was a great pass!” “Your shot was so close, maybe next time, bud!”

Then something wonderful happened. He made a shot, and his face was priceless. I had another tear well up in my eye. I didn’t miss it because I was relaxed and enjoying the game, instead of trying to coach him from the sidelines. But he didn’t look to me when it happened, he had his teammates congratulate him, and that is why he was there. To have friends.

With my competitive nature, I can truly understand if you are unable to get to the zen state, where you watch calmly from the sidelines, and let the team coach instruct your child. A small suggestion to those who need to be involved, volunteer, get a team of your own to coach, and instruct the athletes of the future. Then take your coach hat off and enjoy your kid’s game. Maybe they’ll even win when they aren’t distracted by all your yelling and screaming.

Being Present in the Moment

As parents, we have many responsibilities, ambitions, tasks and burdens. Corporations should thank us, because multi-tasking was undoubtedly created by parents. With technology making our tasks more accessible, i.e. mobile banking, online shopping and even an APP to help us talk to our kids, we are being driven to produce more results, more often.

In my childhood, I remember clear boundaries being drawn in regards to my parents’ time. When my mother sat down each month and handled our bills, we were not to bother her. My siblings and I would find something to do, and if we argued about it, we kept it down because Mum was busy and interrupting her was not an option. We weren’t scared to interrupt her, we weren’t under threat of punishment and we weren’t all that considerate that we left her be simply because disturbing her concentration was rude. My parents’ boundary lines taught us to prioritize our needs, so that everything we experienced wasn’t an emergency.

Well thank goodness I don’t have to set boundaries! I can just do all those things on my phone while I attend to my children’s every need and want!

Wait a second… but that isn’t a good idea.

Aside from the fact that children do need to be taught boundaries, I am doing no one a service by splitting my attention in too many directions at once. Can I really enjoy their performance at the soccer game, if I’m making my shopping list through my grocer’s weekly ad app? Am I really listening to the song my son made up on his guitar, if I’m running through a To-Do list in my mind? Will I hear the baby’s first word, if I’m listening to the news while making dinner? Probably not.

I have often struggled in my life to be present in the moment. I barely remember my college graduation, with all the logistics of my whole family coming in from out-of-state, getting them checked in to their hotels and figuring out what restaurant could accommodate us, I forgot to stop and take a picture. I had no pictures of my graduation ceremony, or myself in my cap and gown. The professional photographer at the event only has a picture of me hurrying back to my seat. I couldn’t even take a moment on the stage, to savor the culmination of my college career. I had to throw my gown back on, late that night at the hotel, and snap a few pics.

These days, I’m slowing down a little. It is important to me to make these memories not only last, but exist! Making memories is an active participation task. You must do your part to not only plan these things we do with our family, but you must participate as well. I have gotten a little better at it now that I’m more mature, but I wish I knew these things when I was younger, especially as technology has become a larger part of my life.

These are a few tips, that I would have given to my younger self:

Life isn’t made up of ambitions

When I was small, I was a bit of a dreamer, and spent much of my time planning my future. I’m not talking about the normal run-of-the-mill “I want to be an astronaut” day dreaming. I mean I did research, made lists and planned it out, I even had a list of dogs I wanted to own! (Although, I DID want to be an astronaut, very much so, for about 6 months.)

Now that I am older, I realize life isn’t about the specific job you hold, things you own or places you visit. It is the attempts to achieve your ambitions. It is the memories you create for yourself and others. Especially when you have children. Those memories will hold value to your children when they’ve grown, and they will pass those values to their children.

Set a time to focus on your business, and take care of your business during that time.

When I come into my office during the day, I have time set aside for daily tasks, like running reports, checking emails and making phone calls. It works well at home too. When I get home, I have a little 30 minute routine that I go through that gets me up to speed with the rest of the family.  I talk to my husband, during this time I assess his stress level. If the baby has been crying all day and has worn him out, it is easy to tell. Because he is a man, he just says “The baby cried all day, I’m going to lay down, you’re up.” (A side note, I’ve encouraged my stay at home mom friends to use this line as frequently as needed.) My husband will fill me in on the day, what the baby did or didn’t do, and since I want to teach the baby to talk, I ask him about his day as well. Did he play with his favorite toy? Did he take a nap? Did he drink juice? He just sort of gazes at me happily, I can only assume glad to be part of the conversation. I check in with my older son the same way.

The reason I can take this time to connect with my family is because I have set aside time to deal with the business of running my house. It is so tempting when I see the mail by the door on my way in, to pick it up and start going through it, but knowing that I have time set aside to handle my correspondence leaves me free to check in with the rest of my clan. I planned dinner the evening before, so I’m not stuck trying to figure out what to eat and there is nothing thawed, or I need to go to the store for that one ingredient item, which somehow ran out. And the mail will be handled, just not in this moment.

My secret productive hour? It is actually in the morning. Since I’m blessed with a stay at home spouse, I don’t need to prepare the baby to leave the house for the day. Most days he is only waking up when I am leaving. I realize this is not everybody’s situation, and morning can be quite hectic. But take a look at your day and find that time you can get down to business. Then stick to it, everyday.

Note that it doesn’t have to be the same time everyday. On weekends, my productive hour can shift to just after lunch. Everyone is fed and happy, the baby takes a nap, and I have some quiet to deal with my responsibilities.

No one is saying emergencies won’t pop up, and thankfully we have the technology to make those easier to handle, but paying your electric bill at your kid’s dance recital is not one of them. Transferring funds into your checking account because your husband mixed up the debit card with the credit card might be.

During an activity, don’t worry about the mess.

My kitchen must be cleaned daily, as most people’s do. So, when I decided to do those Halloween food crafts two weeks ago, I started to notice that we were making a huge mess. I immediately shut that thought down.

How do you eat this thing?

How do you eat this thing?

That is the old me, the me without a graduation picture. When I shook the thought off, I caught a glimpse of my stepson opening his mouth super wide to bite into the skeleton pretzel brownies. I wouldn’t have missed that moment for anything, especially not a little extra mess in the kitchen. Ok, a super big mess. But who cares? I’m still going to have to sweep the floor. The odd thing is sweeping the entire floor takes about the same time with a little bit of dust as with a lot of pretzel salt and brownie crumbs. You’re still covering the same area. So, don’t worry about it and instead pay attention to what is happening in front of you.

You are responsible for you

Well, sort of…

You are responsible for your kids, yes, but can you make them feel differently about a moment by changing your behavior? No.

I really wasted so much time worrying about everyone feeling good in the moment, that I failed to notice how I felt about what was happening. When I look back at those memories, they are faded somehow. On my graduation day, I was totally worrying that everybody was comfortable, watching all the interactions between my friends and parents, looking out for my brother, in case there was an area he couldn’t take his wheelchair. But nothing I could have done or not done would have changed their day. It only changed my memory of the day. I definitely wasn’t thinking about how I felt about completing my degree and savoring the victory of a job well done.

Feelings go hand-in-hand with memories, and strong emotion can boost your memory. So, take a second to feel all the feels. And you don’t have to do this only at special family events, do it every day.

Pay attention to these tips, and when you look back, you won’t see lists, bills and your phone. You will see your life, made up of wonderful memories.

This post was inspired by the photography of Eric Pickersgill and blog post by

Loss of a Sibling

The past week has been difficult for me. Three years ago, on October 18th, 2012, my brother passed away suddenly from an aneurysm. Every year, my family holds a memorial mass at our church in the old neighborhood where we grew up. We go out to dinner afterwards and share memories of him. He was only 45.

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I miss him every day.

He was our family’s golden child, the first-born and the only son, he adored his three little sisters, and doted on us readily. When I was just 4, he would play-wrestle with me, and somehow I always won. When I was small, I would go to his high school basketball game with little pom-poms and cheer for my brother, but I didn’t want to be a cheerleader when I got to high school, I wanted to be the starting center, just like him. He was the ultimate in coolness to me, watching a new thing called MTV and wearing Ray Bans and a Members Only jacket. All my friends though he looked like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

My brother was 10 years older than me, he was giant, standing 6′ 7″ tall. But he was also larger than life in his personality. He was the type of person that you were just drawn to. He was smart, but incredibly easy to talk to. Every where he went, he made friends. He was my hero.

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When I was 9, he was in a terrible car accident. He had been in accidents before, in my mom’s car, and mom got so mad at him and she yelled and yelled. But this wasn’t like before. My mother didn’t look like she wanted to yell at anyone. Actually, she looked like wanted to cry… all the time. At my young age, I couldn’t have understood what was happening back then. He was in the ICU for a long time. In fact, I didn’t see my brother again until I was 10.

I remember going into Boston, to one of the big hospitals. My parents took me to a scary part of the hospital I had never seen before. There were very sick people there, and all kinds of machines attached to them. They led me into a room that held a single bed. The walls were covered with get well cards, there were balloons and flowers of all sorts. My father got a stool for me to stand on.

As I climbed up, all I could think about was how I had been trying to send my beloved Pound Puppy in to my brother via my parents for months. When they returned from visiting my brother, I would always asked if they had given it to him, and was always told he couldn’t see it.

0e98ffbc25303b503d123f93333f2627What I didn’t know at the time was he couldn’t see it because he was in a coma. So, of course my first order of business was to show my brother my Pound Puppy and explain that my puppy would make him better. I held it out over the hospital bed above my brother’s face. He tried to show his appreciation, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. There was a big tube in his mouth, a ventilator, to help him breathe. No matter, I thought, I gave him a big hug, and told him to hurry home to play with me. He spent a year in that hospital.

His car accident was the first time I was told to be prepared, that my brother could die.  But he pulled through. After he came home, there was a period of adjustment. Our ancient colonial was not wheelchair friendly. But, my dad made the house wheelchair accessible, my brother returned to college and life went on.  I think many people would have a hard time finding out they would never walk again, but if my brother struggled with it, I couldn’t see it. Some years later he was playing another sport, Quad Rugby, and I was again on the side lines cheering for him.

Shortly after, I graduated and moved off to go to college in the South. It had been 10 years since my brother’s accident. I was out, partying with my friends, and I got a message, “Call home.”

My parents had been calling all over to find me (Ah, the days before cell phones, how did we do it?) and when I finally got in touch with them the news was not good. My brother was in the hospital with a mysterious heart problem. I jumped on the next flight home to be with my family. It turned out to be an aortic aneurysm.

I didn’t know much about his condition, but the doctors told us it was a grave matter. The aneurysm could burst and he would die within a matter of moments.

It turned out that my brother had Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. My brother’s athletic nature may have contributed to the formation of the aneurysm, as all those years of pushing himself, and his heart, can cause these issues.

My brother traded in his Quickie quad rugby chair, for a more sleek black chair. He started wearing suits and ties and settled into a more calm way of life, keeping his blood pressure down so as to not aggravate his condition. Again, life went on, and we went on with it, adjusting as need be.

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After the Marfan’s Syndrome diagnosis though, something strange happened. Each time they would check my brother and the status of his aneurysm, we were told to prepare for the end. My brother developed additional aneurysms over time. When they grew too large, he underwent surgery of the most amazing nature, they patched up his bulging arteries with sail cloth!

In 2009, my brother agreed to an aggressive surgery to repair an abdominal aneurysm. It did not go well, and we were told once again, it was the end. In order to do the operation, they essentially stopped all of his systems, and once they completed the patch up job, they started him up again. But his kidneys didn’t startup with the rest of him. He had dialysis treatments, and eventually was put into hospice care. But he had had enough.

By this time, he had negotiated his retirement from his job of 14 years. They were so thankful for his service, they gave him the full benefits package normally reserved for those that had worked 15 years or more. (After his passing, they named one of their conference rooms for him.)

I rarely saw him out of his hospital bed in his home after that. He had an electric wheelchair, and his wife managed to buy a wheelchair van suited to the heavy electric wheelchair. But he could no longer drive. My mother, sisters and I took turns each weekend sitting with him and his daughter, while his wife worked. When I would stay with him, our kids would play in the living room, leaving us to have wonderful long conversations. We had such fun.

In October of 2012, my parents called to let me know that my brother was once again going into the hospital. He was having some pain and not feeling well. I sent my well wishes with them, and told them to call me with an update after they visited him. Our family had learned over the years that when you first get to the hospital, there is a lot of paperwork, and nurses and doctors coming in and out of the room – it is not the best time for visiting.

On their way in to Boston, my parents had a fender bender. It had made the car inoperable, even though there was only slight damage. I loaded my son into the car and went to pick them up. Together, we continued on into town and waited while my brother got situated in his hospital room. Finally, we were able to go in to see him.

I remember everything about that room. It was small and there was nowhere to sit. My son was, oddly enough, 9 years old at the time. He told his uncle all about our upcoming cruise for his 10th birthday. We exchanged some more news amongst ourselves, and then decided to get going. My parents made plans to come see him the next day, after they took care of their vehicle. We all hugged him, and took off for home. It was very hectic, I had some of my parents belongings stuffed into the trunk of my Toyota Corolla. I ended up losing my phone somewhere in the car.

At 2am, my parents rang my doorbell. They had been trying to call me, but I didn’t answer, so they had to come out to my house. They had to drive out in the middle of the night to tell me their son, my brother, had passed away. I was in shock.

The doctors had told us this was possible, but my brother had beaten the odds so many times, it seemed run-of-the-mill to us. He was my hero and he was infallible. I was in such shock, I actually went to work the following day. I broke down in a meeting around 11 o’clock, blurted out, “My brother died.” and just left.

I don’t know that I’m not still in shock, three years later. I do know it helps that people remember him. To this end, I established a scholarship that is given to a senior at our old high school. It was something I could do to keep his memory going. And each year, when we go to the old school to give out the award, we see old faces, friends of my brother, who remember him fondly. It makes my parents proud to see good being done in his name, because he was so good.

By reading this, now you know his story too, the story of my hero.

Ready to Try Again

When I suffered my miscarriage back in the summer, the question hung in the air; Would my husband and I like to try to conceive again?

This was a hard thing to think about while I dealt with my grief. I felt like there would be time later to decide this. Then we got the all clear from my doctor. We are physically able to try to conceive. But am I prepared mentally?

The miscarriage shattered the world I lived in previously. In that world, nothing bad could happen, I was a super pregnancy unicorn. With my first son, I was very sick and lost 30 lbs., due to my nausea. I couldn’t keep anything down. Somehow, he managed to grown to a whopping 9.5 lbs! I don’t know how I did it, but I did. With my second son, I was scared of giving birth. I was 11 years older and not in the great shape I was in at 25 years old. Would I be strong enough? Apparently, I was too strong, as I barely got into my first good push and the doctor yelped “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” – the baby was already out!

So, I felt like I was made to have babies. It just seemed to go well for me. Extreme nausea aside, most people didn’t even realize I was pregnant until I was almost due. My tall frame made for plenty of room for little ones to grow.

Back in the summer, in that doctor’s office, with no heartbeat to be found, I just knew it must be something wrong with the equipment. Things just work out for me, this couldn’t happen to me.

But it did happen.

Now, we have to decide if we want to try again. We are certain we want another child, but now the worries are around every corner. I am fallible.

The questions are many and none are productive thoughts. “What if it happens again?” “What if we struggle to get pregnant?” “What if the doctor missed something?” “Can I stand to go through that again?”

To dwell on negative thoughts such as these is not helpful, but they creep into your mind, and you can’t help it. Before, I would just assume things would be fine, but now, I know better. Things can go awry, for apparently no reason. But it’s in that fact that I find my hope to push past the negative fears in my head.

There was nothing I could have done to save my baby.

So, going forward, I can only do my best, and hope that we will be blessed once again with good news. I will use my fear to motivate me to a healthier state, both physically and mentally. Because to let my fear paralyze me will cause me to miss out on what’s to come.

Play with Your Food

Last week, I happened upon some great ideas for food crafts. With hope in my heart, I went to the store, bought the ingredients required, and set off to have a fun weekend with the kids. These ideas are by Robert Mahar , presented by Julianna Strickland. I loved the ideas immediately, but would the kids enjoy making them as well?

10426257_10208053654088187_3504280038095661407_nI set up at the kitchen table, made a one of each and called the boys into the room. Did anyone want to try or make things with me? The baby was, of course, very interested. All the items on the table just had him ready to create, or at least grab things and push them into his mouth. Then I looked at the faces of my 12 and 10 year-olds. Slightly more reserved than the baby’s reaction, they actually sat down at the table. Now, I just had to reel them in. I started with chocolate, because that is very hard to turn down. I pushed a plate of witch hat cookies towards them. Easy and fun to make, we just used some orange icing on the center of a Keebler’s Fudge Stripe cookies and pushed a Hershey’s Kiss onto the icing to make the point of the hat. 12115559_10208053653808180_5987752917513585714_n

Then, I hit them with the skeletons; a brownie base, with a pretzel spine, ribs and a marshmallow head. More fun to look at, but much more difficult to actually eat. The kids seemed to prefer making them to actually eating them. I have seen a few variations of this one, using a cupcake instead of a brownie, or leaving out the pretzels. If we were having a Halloween party this year, these would make fun centerpieces.

We had a failed attempt at making witches brooms, like the ones shown here. The cheese crumbled too easily, and the chives snapped apart when I tried to tie them. The apple peanut butter marshmallow teeth fell apart when the kids tried to put them into their mouths. Although they said they tasted yummy, I could tell they were disappointed that they couldn’t walk around and use them as false teeth.

I finished off our food fun with jack-o-lantern stuffed peppers, which I had been roasting in the oven while we were having our fun. My planning on this wasn’t best, since the kids were now filled with sweets and weren’t in the mood for something a little more substantial. Oops!

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I learned a few things – primarily, that you should have lunch first. But also, I had selected too many projects to do, which resulted in a long shopping list. Although, it is important to pick more than one project, because if it fails, you can quickly move on to the next fun project. You don’t want your kids shuffling back to their rooms disappointed with your craft fail. The reward for all this effort? An extremely messy kitchen, and the gratitude from my children. Yes, actually grateful that I took the time to do something with them. They said it was fun, and they enjoyed it.

I felt the meter move closer to supermom.

My Swagbucks Experience

I joined Swagbucks 3 weeks ago, and I have definitely learned some things. You should read this before you try Swagbucks (SB) for yourself. On a boring Friday evening, I was reading some blogs about bringing in extra money. I came across some information about Swagbucks and decided to give it a try. It was easy enough to sign up, after a minute, I was up and running. When you first begin, they have tutorials you can watch to learn how to use the site. You can watch them, but the site is very intuitive, it doesn’t take long for your clicks to add up some SBs.

I started with watching videos. There are tons of videos on the site; the types of things I was watching everyday anyways. The news headlines may not be as current as you would like. I watched a video about Hurricane Joaquin’s path, and how it might hit New England, the day after the storm had already passed us, way out at sea. As much as I liked the videos, they repeat day after day, normally being updated weekly. Which means I watched that hurricane video every day for a week. But, it’s not a big deal, because I just left the string of videos running in the background, and switched over to it when a story came on that I wanted to see. They give you 1 to 7 SBs for a playlist of videos.

You learn very quickly that 100 Swagbucks can normally be redeemed for about $1. This helps you figure out what is worth your time. So, the playlist of videos earns you just pennies. This makes it unlikely you will sit there and play videos that you aren’t interested in. I got a bunch of ideas for things to do at Halloween from the videos and I can’t wait to try them this weekend with the kids. So, they are entertaining and even useful videos.

Then you may want to start to branch out. The website sets a daily goal of SBs to earn, and you’ll find that watching videos won’t cut it. They have polls you can take, websites you can explore and even offer SBs for money spent at online websites, like Target, Groupon, etc. Generally, you would earn 1SB per dollar spent, which is like a 1% coupon. Would you even cut out a coupon for 1% off?

Well, I went for it, in the interest of seeing what this website had to offer. I needed some Polo shirts for my son, so I decided to buy them online at Old Navy, which for this week, you get 6 SB for every dollar spent. I was thinking, “Alright, a 6% coupon, that’s much better! I would maybe cut out a 6% off coupon…”  Well, I had some reward points from my Old Navy credit card, and decided to apply them to my purchase. Even though I spent $100, the amount credited to my Swagbucks was less the rewards, or $50. They only credit you for money that came out of your pocket. Same thing happened for another store, where I had a rewards check that I used during checkout, and I wasn’t credited for the full amount that I spent there either. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, I’m just saying it is what it is.

Being the competitive type, I pushed to see how much I could earn. I ended up with about $10/week, just over 3,000 SB in three weeks. I requested my first cash out yesterday, in the form of a Visa Reward Card. It turns out that has to be used online, because it’s a virtual Visa. You don’t get a card in the mail. They also have gift cards to just about any place you can think of, or anything you can think of (ebay, Amazon, Playstation Store, restaurants, etc.).

Overall, it seems harmless, and a way to make some pennies that you don’t have to dive through your couch for. But as I think back, I have to ask my self, was $30 worth it?

Some offers on their site should be avoided at all costs. The iPhone 6S release in September had a unique offer popping up on Swagbucks. To earn your SBs, you simply had to tell the site where to mail your iPhone 6S, and it would be on its way to you. This is a complete scam (read more here). To their credit, Swagbucks removed the offer fairly quickly, I only saw it offered that one day, but if you thought you could get an iPhone 6S for free, then you probably are too busy with the spam hitting your phone and email to even read this post.

I also took issue with some of the websites the Discover option took me to. Most websites were fine, you could explore stories from all over the web. Others were just blatantly installing cookies, without even the guise of having interesting content. My computer started having issues, and my web browser would close unexpectedly. I started noticing the ads on every page were things I had recently searched for online. I was definitely being tracked.

Undoubtedly, if you are on the internet, there is some tracking going on. Just by saving preferences on some websites, you are actually installing first party cookies. But if your web browser is crashing, you’ve got some cleanup to do on your system, if you haven’t inadvertently downloaded a virus somewhere along your travels.

I think that overall, Swagbucks could be a fun way to pass your time on the internet, but watching videos and visiting sites you aren’t interested isn’t worth the pennies paid for these actions. If you add the headache of selecting an offer that gives your email to third parties, or worse, your phone number, it’s worth it to pay them to leave you alone. In fact this week, that offer showed up on my Swagbucks page – I can earn Swagbucks if I let an app have access to my account:

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Um… no thanks. I don’t want to sell my privacy for pennies, which incidentally, is what I was doing for the past three weeks. Time for me to go to the National Do Not Call Registry, to re-register my number.

A Penny Saved…

Why is a penny saved, a penny earned? Anyone that uses coupons and rewards programs can tell you it can be hard work maximizing your savings.

I remember when I was young, clipping coupons with my mother. I liked looking at all the lovely things we could buy with the slips of paper. My mother would have us clip every single coupon in the paper, because who knows what you’ll end up needing. She would tell me that coupons were free money that came in our newspaper. Free money!? Sign me up!

My mother spent 3 hours organizing her coupons yesterday. Always clipping every single coupon she comes across, she has substantiated this chore with the excuse that she clips not only for herself, but she shares her coupons with her children. She clips diaper coupons for me, and dog food coupons for my sister, and she even finds Costco coupons for my sister in California. She carries little scissors around in her purse, in case she comes across a coupon she needs to clip in the field. Every time I see my mother, she has a little envelope filled with coupons for me. Aw, thanks Mom!

It’s great that my mom has time to do this, but even she can recognize that sometimes it’s not worth the effort. For instance, our local grocery store offers a rewards system where you can earn points, and then use those points toward discounts on gas. But she found out that her local gas station normally sells gas at a price that is the same, or even lower, than the discounted price she would receive from the store’s gas station. Not only that, she would have to drive farther to get the store’s gas station. So, she just doesn’t use the program, it really isn’t worth her time.

And that is the key to using your coupons and rewards to your benefit, not detriment. Your time has value. If clipping coupons takes up all your time, or you have to run all over town (or the next town over) to use your rewards, what is the point?

So, here are some tips to streamline your savings process:

Use an online coupon site. What I have found that works for me, is a free service, like coupons.com. I can open my store’s sale paper in one window and the coupon site in another, and go through and clip coupons for the items on sale. Why would I need coupons for something already on sale? Because I’ve been burned, that’s why.

I have found in the past, after coming across what I thought was a great coupon, only to find out that the item was still more expensive than its competitors items. For example, I once had a coupon for $1.50 of General Mills cereal, which would make the price $2.79 at my store. But when I checked my store’s deals for the week, they had Post cereal on sale $2.00. That coupon was really useless. It wasn’t saving me any money at all, and I spent time to obtain it.

Don’t spend too much time organizing your coupons. I normally split the coupons I get into 5 categories, I put them immediately into my coupon binder and the process only takes a few minutes. My coupon binder has 6 pockets. I leave the first one empty, then the other five are split into Non-Food, Pantry, Refrigerated, Frozen and Store.

The first pocket is empty, until I am actually shopping. When I’m in the store, and I have picked up an item, I move the coupon into the first pocket. then when I check out, I don’t have to fuss with the coupons I haven’t used on this trip.

Non-food is just that, anything that you don’t eat. From cleaning supplies to personal hygiene items; medication to dog food, it all goes into the same pocket. Why? There is no point to separating them out further, as I normally only do my shopping for household items once a month or less. Why spend time organizing them? How many dog food coupons can you have? Just lump them together.

I think the Pantry, Refrigerated and Frozen sections are self-explanatory. When I’m in the middle aisles, looking at Pop-Tarts, I don’t want to have coupons in my hand for frozen chicken. And vice-versa.

The last pocket, Store, is reserved for coupons that must be used in a particular store. So when I get my coupons printed out from my local grocery chain, I stick them straight into that last pocket. Then, if I find myself out and decide to do some shopping, all my coupons are at hand. I stuck some Macy’s coupons in that last pocket that I got in the mail. I didn’t think I’d get to use them, since I had no plans to visit the mall anytime soon. Then, when we were coming home from a family outing, we decided to talk a walk through the mall. We ended up at Macy’s and my older son asked for more school pants. (He has a strict school dress code this year, so I didn’t buy much at the beginning of the school year.) As I paid for the pants, I pulled out the coupons and ended up getting 20% off khakis that were already on sale. Score!

Post in the comments your favorite coupon cheat and look for future posts on rewards programs and my recent experience using Swagbucks. I look forward to hearing from you.

#NoShameParenting

I am so excited about #NoShameParenting. If you have been on Yahoo Parenting today, there are a plethora of articles covering all kinds of parenting decisions and styles. There is something for everyone there.

There have been times I have felt judged as a mom, and times I have judged others. My worst critic is probably myself, but if you ask my husband who his worst critic is… that’s probably me too. When I feel judged by others, my husband reminds me that not everything is about me. I can be quite imaginative when it comes to slights from others. Most people are just going about their day, and really don’t have time to consider you and your child/ren.

When I first feel the brunt of judgement, I try to consider if it’s just in my head. Considering how often I walk around with a scowl on my face, it is easy to imagine that scowl is directed at you. It isn’t. Concentration does that to my face, it crunches up, and my newly formed wrinkles, have given me a harsh look. I guess my youth serum is to become a little more vapid.

When people open their mouths, it becomes harder to imagine they aren’t directing their thoughts towards your woefully pitiful parenting choices. Like when I ran into the store to grab a gallon of milk and didn’t bother to put the baby’s shoes on. “Oh! What a cute baby! Aw, he doesn’t have any shoes!?”

Maybe that was just an innocent comment. Surely, that complete stranger in the store wasn’t meaning to pass judgement on me. My mother on the other hand was certainly passing judgement when she told me the baby looked “undernourished.”

Why? Why would me mother do that to me? Knowing that my child is exceedingly healthy, I still followed him around for weeks after that comment, trying to get him to take one more bite.

So I try to remember to be kind to myself and my husband, as parents. Starting there, it is easier to not judge so harshly when viewing other parents. Comment below about feeling judged or judging others.