Sunday, June 27, 2010

Free Macaroni for Life?

If it seems like I won't shut up about Swagbucks, it's because I'm really grateful to that site for helping me out when need it.

For those of you who know me, yes I have a much better job than I did 3 months ago, but things are still tight (this is San Francisco, after all). I'm thankful for every little freebie or extra bit of cash I can get my hands on, and I recently discovered a way to combine my Swagbucks earnings with's reoccurring bulk grocery shipments to get completely free food. Let me explain...

If you weren't aware, has a lot of groceries you can buy for pretty decent prices, usually in packs of 12. They recently added an option to sign up for regular deliveries of a product, either every month, two months, three months, or six months.

I know I keep saying "I made $xx in gift cards", but that's a little vague. The prizes are e-cards; you exchange your Swagbucks for the prize, and within two weeks (they post prizes on the 15th and 30th of every month), you receive the code in the Gift Cards section of your Swagbucks account. Once you get the code, you can apply it in your account—you can combine as many cards as you like, and the balance is automatically applied when you check out.

Now back to getting free food. For example, this: Kraft Blue Box Macaroni & Cheese, 7.25-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 15) costs $18.20, making each box cost $1.21. Not bad, but if you sign up to have it delivered, say, every 3 months, the cost goes down to $15.47 (with free shipping), or $1.03 per box.

So, you've signed up for reoccurring shipments of macaroni or other cheap food that you use often (ramen is another good idea). Now all you have to do is make sure you keep enough on your gift card balance, and you'll get regular deliveries of completely free food. If you signed up for delivery every 2 months, all you'd have to do is make sure you earn 2 $5 gift cards every month, which is super easy (I made $25 worth this month alone!)

Do yourself a favor and get on Swagbucks if you haven't already!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting the most from Swagbucks

I've already discussed Swagbucks in this blog (see: legit free stuff part 2), and I strongly recommend using it. If you've signed up, or are thinking of signing up, here are some tips for making it work for you.

be patient
I have been on Swagbucks about 3 months, and I've found it takes me 2-3 weeks to get enough SB for a $5 gift card payout (hands down the best reward on the site.) Sometimes you get lucky, though (I actually made $10 worth this past week alone!)

play often
Doing a search on SB every 4 hours or so is the easiest way to get points (once you get some points for a search, wait another few hours before trying again.) Don't spam or keep refreshing the same search; you'll get served with the "rules" screen and eventually booted from the site.

There are a few things you can do daily to earn small amounts of points. They have a toolbar you can download, and at least once a day just opening your browser yields 1 SB. I use Firefox most of the time, so I just installed it (and other such rewards toolbars) on IE. I only open up IE when I feel like paying attention to those particular sites. You should also participate in the daily polls (1 SB per day) and the "no obligation special offer viewing" (1 SB per day. Go to Ways to Earn > Special Offers and click on the red "Go Now" button. Skip everything and get 1 SB.)

special offers
Swagbucks has tons and tons of "offers" you can complete for points. Some of them are sketchy, but some of them are quick, easy, and painless. I avoid anything that involves downloads or credit cards, but there are plenty of email mailing lists (hint: make a hotmail, etc account just for these types of things) and other random sponsored activities you can do with little trouble. They change often, so I check at least once a week. Lots of "install this Facebook app" ones have popped up lately, so I made a "just for games" FB account to install them. Instant easy points.

Get matching points from people you refer with banners or your referral link (points for their searches only, up to 1000 SB.)

Yes, it involves pestering everyone you know, but if you don't want to do that, just place a link or banner on your blog or website. You never know when someone is going to click it. Try not to spam people. I start by addressing my friends personally, telling them how much I've made from the sites and suggesting they join. If they don't want to, shrug and move on.

shop & earn
Swagbucks gives you 2 SB per dollar spent in certain online shops when you click through to the website via their shop & earn page. The key here is not let this cause impulsive purchases, thus totally defeating the purpose of getting *free* stuff. However, if you shop online often anyway, see if the sites you frequent are listed on the Swagbucks shop & earn area. I get many of my household items (cheaply) from It's a poorly designed site, but occasionally has epic discounts and free sample pack offers (hint: be on their email mailing list and keep an eye out for sample offers and discounts.) If I start by clicking through Swagbucks, I'll get (essentially—see below) 2% back. It takes a month for them to clear (which is kind of annoying), but hey, nice surprise a month later.

These pop up usually at least once a day (mostly on weekdays) somewhere around the Swagbucks site/blog or on their Twitter/FB. You just copy and paste the code and into the box on the homepage. Each code yields a predetermined number of points and is valid for a limited time (usually a couple hours.)

analysis: what are you really earning?
If you exchange your Swagbucks for $5 gift cards (450 SB), that means that each SB is worth $0.011. If you just do those minimal daily tasks, you'll earn $0.033 a day. That sounds like shite, I know, but over the course of a month, you've made $0.99. A rewarding search usually yields between 8-14 sb (you have a greater chance of winning a higher amount on Fridays), and you can get that at least 2-3 times a day. Let's say that without special offers, swagcodes, shopping, or referrals, you can get a minimum of 30 SB per day. That amounts to $9.90 a month. Sounds a little sweeter, right?

To sum up: Play often, get referrals, always check SB shop & earn before making any online purchases, look for swagcodes every few hours, check the special offers once a week or so. Then use your gift cards to buy something useful, like boxed macaroni & cheese.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Joys of Repurposing

It's always inconvenient when you find yourself with a lot of something you don't really need, but a lack of something you do need. When you're broke, you find all kinds of creative ways to hack stuff together. :) Some of my favorites:

coffee mugs
As popular marketing fodder and being small enough to put into your purse at a diner, coffee mugs tend to be very prolific in any given household. If you're like me, you only actually use 1 or 2 favored mugs, so the good news is they can be used to hold just about anything. I have several on my dresser to organize my makeup (my lipsticks are upside down—so the color name is visible—in some short mugs, and my eye and lip liners are in a taller mug), a large one on my desk for my pens and pencils, and a few in my bathroom holding cotton balls and q-tips. I also have a few more in my room holding various small things, like foil-packed medicines and such.

Another thing that springs up all the time. Who doesn't have some lame free radio station t-shirt rotting away in the back of their dresser? There are lots of things you can do with them—if it's ratty, cut it up and make washcloths (you should stop buying sponges anyway, they're a waste and just get throw away). If it's still in good condition, you can use it as a pillowcase (or even sew it up and stuff it to make a real pillow). You can pretty much sew them into anything—tote bags, other clothing items, or use them as stuffing/filler for other projects. A t-shirt-stuffed t-shirt pillow would be awesome. :p

still-good parts of broken stuff
I had this great tea cup and saucer that I picked up for $1.99 at Goodwill. Unfortunately, I broke the tea cup during a move. I still had the perfectly good saucer, so now I'm using it as an incense tray. Small plates or cups with chips or cracks that are otherwise okay can be better used as jewelry/trinket trays.

bottles, cans, jars
Cleaned pasta sauce jars are great for holding stuff like dry beans/lentils, rice, etc. An empty beer can makes an awesome toothbrush holder. A wine bottle can make a great vase or ashtray. (The long neck is perfect for inserting cigarette butts, and the low oxygen environment snuffs them out pretty quickly. Just make sure you've cleaned all the alcohol out first.)

Check out Lifehacker and Instructables for tons of tips and tutorials for repurposing and making your own stuff!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Earn More part 1: ICS

The unfortunately named Instant Cash Sweepstakes is a recent discovery of mine. I normally steer very, very clear of survey-type sites (and anything containing the words "instant" or "sweepstakes"..."cash" I like), but I'm really impressed with this site so far. It's self-contained (no pop-ups or constant redirections), well-designed (unlike every other survey site that hasn't been updated since 1998), quick, easy, and even a little bit fun.

The basic concept of survey sites is you're getting paid a little bit to help with various company's market research. It's usually a mind-numbing clusterfuck trying to fill one out, and then you realise you could have spent the same amount of time rummaging through couch cushions and gotten more money. That's usually when I start breaking stuff.

ICS has only 3 questions per survey, and you can only fill out 5 surveys every three hours. You either get paid in "tickets", "coins" (which you exchange, money (starts at 1-3 cents at a time; increases the higher your level), or a combination thereof.

The best thing? You get rewarded for being smart and answering properly. They have "Trust Levels" which increase with every survey you submit that appears honest (they periodically have surveys which ask you about your profile info to make sure you aren't mindlessly clicking.) If you come across the same survey twice, fill out the same answers each time. You can write surveys, too, which I like. It flexes the writing muscles. :D

I really just wish they had picked a better name. It's like they picked the 3 top words associated with spammy, fake, spyware-laden, pop-up redirection sites. CLICK THE PONY AND GET $100

You know what I'm talking about. Anyway, it's worth a look.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Spend Less part 2: Use less

Okay, duhhh, right? But you'd think such a simple concept wouldn't be lost on so many people. Every time I see someone tear off 14 sheets of toilet paper, blow their nose with the corner of 1 sheet, then chuck it all in the trash, or completely saturate a sponge with dish soap to wash one glass, I want to strangle them. There should be a mandatory kick to the crotch for anyone throwing away food because they took more than they could eat.

The fact is, most people are using more of everyday products than they need to, and throwing away perfectly usable stuff simply out of laziness. Here are some easy tips to help avoid me punching you in the face.

start small
Take the least amount of soap, or shampoo, or tissue, etc possible. You can always add more if you find you need it (you probably won't.) If you can reduce your consumption of household things by half, they will last twice as long.

eat less
The problem of overeating is a rant for another day, but in the meantime, when serving yourself food, use a small bowl or plate and finish that before taking more. Promptly put away leftovers in proper containers (not a ceramic bowl with a sheet of saran wrap over it...that's asking for trouble.)

use all you can
Cut open lotion and toothpaste tubes when they appear to be empty—I guarantee there is still enough inside for at least 3-4 uses. Use bar soap instead of liquid soap (it's cheaper anyway) and save the slivers inside a stocking or washcloth. Bars of deodorant usually have a large chunk stuck in the base after it's "empty"—scrape it out, warm it up, and mold it back into a lump (or better yet, use a rock-type deodorant in the first place! I strongly recommend LUSH's Aromaco. I've had the same tiny piece—that I got for free!—for over a year.) You can do the same thing with lip balm (next time you get a little mint tin or something, save it for this purpose.)

don't waste food...ever
If you find yourself tossing out a lot of expired food every month (or worse...just letting it sit in the fridge to rot), there are a few things you can do. First, take note of the stuff you aren't using, and stop buying that stuff. Second, make small, frequent trips to get groceries, rather than buying a lot at once. Check the dates of everything you buy and try to get stuff that expires later (but don't forget about it during that time!) At least once a month, take inventory of your cupboards and fridge and move near-expiring items to the front.

There is nothing wrong with stocking up on food, especially if you find a great deal on something you like, but remember that NOTHING is truly non-perishable. If you're going to stockpile food, you need to rotate that stock. Saving a bunch of pasta for 2 years becomes wasted money when you finally reach for it and realize that bugs have eaten through the box. Same goes for the tofu you got on sale that rotted in the back of your fridge.

Basically, avoid any kind of unnecessary waste, and think before you put something in the trash. If you overstocked something that you know you aren't going to be able to use, offer it to someone else. They'll probably be very grateful.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Legit Free Stuff part 4: Network!

Networking is a fancy way of saying, "Get a lot of friends who can help you do stuff." I always thought it was just for, you know, "business types", but even just having a big group of friends can open up a lot of doors. Even if you just start a skill-trade with a few people, you can easily acquire things you need (did I mention haircuts?), and offer your own skills without ever exchanging cash.

Many great things have come to me from the connections I've made at my jobs. I got a couch, dresser, vacuum cleaner, and a huge bag of bath stuff from my old manager when she moved back to Japan. Plus, I have several contacts in Japan who can help me out should I find myself there. Keep your eyes and ears open, and remember to give back as good as you get. The karma will come back to you eventually.

Oftentimes, all it takes is just admitting that you're having a hard time financially, and people will want to help you. I've been offered food, rides to work when I didn't have money for train fare, etc. It's less about being a mooch than it is about giving and receiving help—remember that thing about giving back? At the very least, let anyone who does you a favor know how much you truly appreciate it, and let them know that you'll be there for them when they need it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Legit free stuff part 3: get a job...with benefits

If you're reading this, you probably aren't pulling down a great deal of cash, even if you are working. The paradox of being poor is that you can quite literally work your ass off and at the end of the day, still not have enough for groceries.

Most students work part-time, so getting stuff like health benefits and sick pay are pretty unlikely. But there are plenty of places to work that might give you an increase in your quality of life by providing other random benefits.

restaurants, cafes and food shops
...will usually at least give you a discount, or one free meal per shift. Many places like bakeries and cafes often have a lot of unsellable food left over at the end of the day. This can be a great source of food (whether they let you take it, or you fish it out of the dumpster later.)

warehouses (or the offices connected to them)
Especially if they're dealing with perishables, stuff past its "freshness date" or anything with damaged packaging often gets hucked, or left out for employees to take. I worked for a tea retailer for 2 years, and my closets are still overflowing with unopened packages of high quality loose tea (plus some random chipped teaware and other goodies.) I may not be able to live on tea, but I do drink it all the time, and it can also be swapped to friends for more useful things.

Have a cup on me.

office jobs
Okay, don't be that guy that steals office supplies, but you can often find useful stuff that's being tossed out, especially at places that turn over electronics like it's their religion. An office job can also be a decent source of free food; even if they aren't providing free donuts or whatnot, people often leave extra stuff for anyone to take in break rooms.

These are just my experiences, I know people who get free clothes, free catered food, free travel... Has anyone gotten anything totally amazing for free from their job?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spend less part 2: Learn some new skills

It always saddens me when I see people without what I consider to be very basic life skills. Sewing buttons or tears in clothing. Cooking a simple meal. Doing laundry. (I once had a friend ask if I would help her put her dirty clothes in the dryer. Not only did she not know how to do her own laundry, I don't think she even understood the concept.)

Got those skills down, you say? Awesome. It's time to go to a more advanced level. One of the most useful things you could learn is how to cut hair—specifically your own. I have never paid for a haircut in my entire life. It's far easier to cut long hair than it is short, but if you're feeling adventurous, get a buzzer and start messing around. Mohawks, Chelseas, and just plain old buzzcuts are totally sweet, and garner a great deal of attention (if you can handle that.)

You too could look this awesome.

If you don't trust yourself with scissors, make friends with a beauty student, or call around salons asking if they need hair models—a lot of apprentice hair stylists will cut and style (and even color) your hair for free to get practise. I got an awesome free haircut from Vidal Sassoon this way.

Other skills that have the potential to save you money include:
  • electronic building and repair (you most likely have a computer—start by figuring out what all the sparkly stuff inside it does.)
  • sewing, cooking, and baking (you know, home ec stuff)
  • handicrafts—especially building stuff. Even if it's just a stack of free boxes that you turned into a coffee table. Still a free coffee table.
There are tons of how-tos and learning resources online—start using them! (Hey, maybe I'll even tell you how to do something eventually.) What other random skills have you found helpful in tough times?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Spend less part 1: Unnecessities

Most Americans have been brainwashed into thinking A. their wants are actually needs, and B. they are entitled to all of those supposed "needs". Time to let go of that and realize that living simply actually means "living happier and more awesome". As a bonus, using less disposable stuff not only saves you money, it is also more eco-friendly (funny how the two seem to collide so often.)

Here is an incomplete list of things you do not need to buy, ever:

air freshener
I hate that people have been tricked into thinking that "trying to cover up the smell of the garbage you haven't taken out in 2 weeks with sickly, chemically flower scent" is the same thing as "cleaning". Just keep your hovel relatively clean, open a damn window, and never buy that shit again.

fancy toilet paper
Just buy the cheap, regular stuff. It still functions, and also is less likely to fill your bathroom with squeezably-soft fuzzy toilet paper lint.

Would you like some caviar with that?

"facial tissues"
Use toilet paper.

paper towels/napkins
Use cloth. No, I'm serious. Cut up an old t-shirt, use to clean, mop, dry hands, etc, and have a bin (or pile) in your kitchen for the dirty ones. Wash them with the other dirty towels. Same goes for stuff like paper plates, etc.

any bathroom/kitchen cleanser that is not baking soda/vinegar
Not only clean, but deodorized and toxic chemical-free. I'll eventually devote an entire post to all the things you can do with these two common items, but for now, try this instead using of scrubbing cleansers and the like: Sprinkle baking soda, splash on a bit of vinegar, delight in the cool fizzy action, then scrub and rinse.

bottled water
There are people who would be amazed if clean, drinkable water came out of a faucet in their house. Get a reusable bottle and learn to love your tap water.

Take all your mail and harvest the envelopes. Black out the old addresses and glue some new labels on top of them. Tape or glue the flaps. Or fold a sheet of recycled paper in thirds and tape the ends. Use grocery bag paper, wrapping paper, etc. You get the idea. There are also plenty of online tutorials for making your own fancy, "real" envelopes. Get creative. Save all bubble envelopes and packing you get in the mail, too.

If you're in college or work in an office, you probably have a lot of handouts and memos printed on only one side. Take all your old ones, flip to the clean side, staple or sew together. If you're crafty, you can even bind them into real books.

plastic storage containers
Use shoe boxes, shipping boxes, or hell, even garbage bags to organize your closets. A Sharpie works wonders for labeling.

Know of any more things that can be deleted from your life? Comment! Let me know if I have permission to post them later (with credit to you, of course!)

Legit free stuff part 2: swagbucks

Simple premise: sign up for free, use their google-powered search engine, earn points. Exchange the points for prizes. This is one of those things that seems too good to be true, but I've got $15 in gift cards to prove otherwise.

Ignore most of the site. The best way to rack up points without ever touching your credit card is to use their search engine. You get various bonuses here and there, and they offer limited-time codes usually at least once per day to get even more points. They have a whole "offers" section, too, and there are a few easy, free ones, but using the search engine is still your best bet.

The best way to get points is to just search for stuff like your normally would. I find it's willing to cough up points every 6-8 hours. Search, and if nothing shows up, change your terms and search again. If after 2-3 tries nothing happens, wait a few hours and try again. The most popular prize is naturally the $5 e-giftcard - shouldn't take more than a month to get enough points for one. (Remember that you can get _food_ on, as well as, you know, just about anything on the planet.)

If you happen to be doing some online shopping with, say, (which is by itself a surprisingly great resource for random cheap/free stuff...but more on that later), start by clicking through their "shop and earn" section, and you'll get 2 points per dollar spent...eventually (it takes about 3-4 weeks for the points to actually post. But hey, it's something.)

Legit free stuff part 1: free sample sites

Okay, let's start with this, because it's the most fun part of being broke. You get to go on treasure hunts!

You probably remember a time when a random free sample came in the mail. How awesome that day was. It doesn't even matter if it was cereal, laundry soap, whatever. You got a pint-sized product without having to do a damn thing. It is possible to get all kinds of random free stuff (even full-size products), with new offers popping up practically everyday. The two most solid resources for this are:

Hey it's free
Sweet free stuff

These sites are the only ones I go to - no spam, no spyware, no fake "free" offers where you have to provide credit card info...just actual free samples from legit sources (usually big name brands and companies rolling out new products.) There is a bit of cross-over between the two sites, but sometimes they do post different stuff, so I like to check both every few days. They also each have their own Twitter feed, so you'll never miss a chance for something free.

In the past 5 years I've gotten enough random free samples to fill a bathtub (I seriously cannot remember the last time I had to buy shampoo), and that tiny tube of toothpaste can really come in handy when you run out and aren't getting paid for another week.

Remember that everything I post here is personally tested. I have not noticed any increase in spam or junk mail from signing up for these offers, but you do usually have to provide an email address. I recommend you make a hotmail (etc) account just for this purpose. But most places don't even email you.


Welcome to Broke Sandwich. Please exercise patience while I fiddle with the layout and graphics.

My goal for this blog is to offer practical, awesome, self-tested (and legal) tips for saving money, getting stuff for free, and getting extra money out of seemingly thin air. All from experience I've personally gathered from growing up not-exactly-rich, working a job I love for shite pay, going to college at the same time, and living in one of the most expensive cities in the US.

Most of the "money-saving tips" sites out there are for people with kids, and mortgages, and cars, who don't want to give up their weekly manicure, not people to whom "slice of pizza that has been sitting there for like, 3 days" is a totally viable meal option, and had to pillage the couch cushions for change to take the bus to work. There's no real point in planning a budget when your bank account has 7 cents in it.

It isn't always easy, but I somehow manage get by with a take-home pay of around $800/month (with monthly rent of $750.) My dad used to tell me about when he lived in England, he and his friends would have "wish sandwiches" - take two slices of bread and wish you had some meat. We're going to get creative here.

In the meantime, check out some of the sidebar links for a start on some free resources.