Cord cutting is becoming more and more mainstream as consumers get fed up with the high cost of cable tv and incessant, interruptive advertising.
If you have been looking to cut the cable cord, or if you already have and are looking for some more sources of media, then your local library may have you covered!
Our library began advertising their partnership with Hoopla.Hoopla is an add-on service that your library may offer to you for free. Here is a bit more about Hoopla from their About page:
hoopla digital builds on that passion by providing public libraries of all sizes the ability to offer patrons an enormous selection of digital video (movies and TV shows), music, audiobooks, ebooks and comics to their patrons. For these libraries, we’ve pioneered a unique model that allows patrons to borrow content immediately, removing artificial availability constraints and maximizing the power of digital content and Internet distribution. Technologically, we focus on the latest browser, phone, tablet, and TV products to deliver the best possible experience to our user – our passion – the public library patron.
There are currently over 1,200 libraries in the USA and Canada that have partnered with them.The signup process took less than 2 minutes.
Each library sets its own Hoopla borrowing limit. For me, that means that I can borrow a total of five (5) items per month. I had to dig around the help quite a bit to find out that returning an item early does not increment your borrow quota for the month. So if I borrow five digital items today, I have to wait until the start of the next month before I can borrow anything else. Obviously this kind of stinks, but for the price (FREE) how picky can you be?
There does seem to be wide support for devices. It looks like both TV and chrome cast are both supported via mirroring from a phone or tablet.
Ok, what about the actual content available? It looks like they have Audiobooks, Movies, Music, Comics, Ebooks, and Television.While there are some bigger well known titles in the catalogue, there is also quite a bit of B and C roll material. You might get lucky and find just what you are looking for however to scratch that ear worm.
A thorough review is available here if you want to read more.
It has been 147 days since I began using the free language learning website Duolingo (see initial post here) and I am happy to report that I have finished the Spanish skill tree! Woohoo!
I rushed through the last dozen or so courses, so I will have to spend the next several weeks reviewing them and solidifying those skills. If I had to describe my fluency level, I would peg it at the same level as Frugal Boy’s 2 year old English proficiency. I can understand what he wants on a very simplistic level and sometimes he even strings together a simple sentence but it is no where near conversational level. That’s me with Spanish, a notch above grunting and pointing.
From here I have several options for learning. Firstly, I plan on reviewing and strengthening what I have already learned in Duolingo by redoing past lessons. Secondly, I could do the learn English as a Spanish speaker skill tree within Duolingo. I have heard that is quite the challenge doing it in reverse. Finally, there is another free language learning website/app that we can access through our library accounts called Mango. Chances are good that your local library also grants you access to it as well.
Shae, Frugal Boy, and myself are all monolingual, meaning that we only speak a single language. Growing up in the Midwest did not present many opportunities or push us into situations where we would need to know a language besides English.
Depending upon whom you ask, the percentage of English speaking world population is between 9-27% and is widely expected to decrease to as little as 5% by 2050. For a family like us that is looking to start traveling abroad more extensively (Frugal Boy’s passport should be arriving later this week), that poses a serious problem. We need to learn at least one more language especially if we have any hope of spending part/all of our retirement abroad.
Cue DuoLingo, a free and cutely themed online/app language learning platform.
Q. Is it really free?
Yes. As with any free service, I am skeptical to say the least. Call me a pessimist or a realist, but I do not believe in a free lunch. Duolingo cleverly makes money by offering advanced users ‘immersion’ courses where they translate real world text. Naturally, there are companies wanting human translation and are willing to pay for it. So to sum up, Duolingo makes money by users who hone their language skills by translating things for them.
Q. How does it work?
After setting up an account and picking a language that you would like to learn, Duolingo starts you on a skill tree. You can test out of skills if you already have some knowledge, but for the most part you start with very easy words and phrases and work your way to more complicated ones.
There is heavy gamification, it feels like a game not a classroom, and each block is short enough that you can do it in a few minutes (perfect for those short downtimes we all have in our lives).
Q. Will I become fluent?
No. Well, I cannot say for certain, but from other reviews that I have read online, it seems as if you complete the entire skill tree (a process that can take 3-4 months for a highly ambitious individual) you will acquire about 1800-2200 vocabulary words. From my limited understanding of languages, fluency requires closer to 8000 vocabulary words and conversational practice.
Q. What languages are offered, what are you studying?
Shae and I are both studying Español. We have several trips that we’d like to do in the near future to Central America and we are also intrigued with the idea of retiring abroad (adventure, cost of living, and climate). Duolingo offers:
Q. Can I learn along with you?
Absolutely. Sign up and then search for username ‘frugalliving’ to add me to your Leaderboard. We can get competitive in learning a new skill and keep each other active. As of writing this I am currently ahead of Shae on points earned. 😀
Q. Were you paid/compensated for this review?
I wish. Sadly, these views are my own and I did not receive compensation from Duolingo (or anyone else for that matter for writing this blog post). If Duolingo would like to compensate me, I would gladly accept payment.
In conclusion, we have just started to use the free service Duolingo to improve our globe trotting abilities. While we may not be fluent speakers at the conclusion of the skill tree, we should be able to at least make a decent attempt at communicating with the locals. From what I have heard, even an attempt at the local language can make a big difference in how you are treated in return. Surprise surprise, people appreciate it when visitors make the effort to assimilate to their own culture.
I’m not sure where I first heard about CreditKarma, it was likely on a finance related forum somewhere on the inter webs. Anyhoo, I decided to check it out for myself and try out the service. That was over a year ago.
What is CreditKarma.com you ask? Taken from their own website,
Credit Karma offers a new way to track your credit score and a unique way to benefit from it. For the first time you can get a truly free credit score with no hidden costs or obligations. Based on your score, you gain access to exclusive offers from companies that value your creditworthiness.
The last line should make you feel more comfortable because now you know the catch for the free service. They are going to offer and promote credit cards and other financial products to you. That is how they make their money, not by selling off your identity to some bloke in a country you cannot pronounce.
Now that we have determined that this is a legitimate business, we can go ahead and create an account. Accounts are free, and I can confirm that over the past year they have never asked me for my credit card #. You will need to fill out some information online, including your SSN. Don’t worry, this won’t affect your credit score in any way. The site advertises that it will take less than 2 minutes to create your account and get your credit score.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “I can already get 3 free credit reports a year from Experian, Transunion, & Equifax. Why do I need to signup for this website?” Yes, you can get credit reports, but credit reports aren’t credit scores. The most popularly used credit score system is the FICO and it ranges from 300 to 850. A score of 300 means that you are extremely risky to lend to and are unlikely to pay it back. A score of 850 is extremely rare and signifies an almost zero risk loan. Your FICO credit score is computed using a proprietary formula that analyzes your credit report. Late payments, bankruptcies, hard inquiries, high credit utilization, number of lines of credit, and average age of lines of credit are all included on your credit report and therefore figure into your credit score.
Credit Karma calculates your number using the Transunion New Account Score. The TNAS also ranges from 300-850 and is claimed to closely correlate to your FICO score. Below you can see my TNAS score.
Credit Karma would be kind of pointless if all it did was show you a score. Fortunately, it offers a wealth of additional information that can be used to improve your score, compare your credit to other demographics, analyze credit card offerings, and much more. Let’s take a look at some of those features.
Credit Report Card
First up is the credit report card. You can see the summary of mine below.
The credit report card helps you improve your credit score by showing you where you are losing points. It also tells you the weighting of each category. For instance, Credit Card Utilization has a HIGH weighting and I currently have a B grade. That tells me, that I need to cut back on using my credit card in order to improve my score. On the other hand, Total Accounts has a low impact on your score. I currently have an F in that category because I do not have many lines of credit. It probably isn’t something that I need to rush out to fix though because it has such a low impact on the overall score.
If you click on any of the metrics you will get additional information about it like so.
They even offer a credit score simulator so you can see how opening a new credit card or paying off an existing balance would affect your score.
Do you want to see how you stack up to other people using Credit Karma? Not a problem! As part of the report card you can compare your numbers against the general user base. Below you can see how I compare to other Illinois residents aged 26-30 in making payments on time.
As you can see, 3 out of 10 peers have missed at least one payment. Ouch! Credit Karma offers some suggestions about how to avoid missing payments.
The last noteworthy feature of Credit Karma doesn’t require an account. You can see score and demographic stats on different credit cards. For example, here is a link to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review page. As you can see, the minimum credit score needed to obtain this card looks to be around 650.
A higher credit score will net you a higher limit (with exception to the very bottom, can someone explain to me what is going on there).
And the folks with high credit scores and high credit limits also tend to have the lowest balance.
There are a bunch of different card stats available online so you can look up your own card and see what kind of limits and scores are out there. (I don’t have a Chase Sapphire card, I just used it as an example).
Credit Karma offers a virtual (literally) treasure trove of information. You can use it to get an idea of what your current credit score is and then how to improve it. It is pathetically easy to compare your own situation to the anonymous masses and see how you stack up. Finally, if you are shopping for a new credit card it can help shed a little insight into the type of person a card is aimed at. I would recommend signing up for an account if for no other reason than to have a free “manual” credit monitoring service. Just log in once a month or once every other month and make sure no funny business has popped up on your credit report.
Oh, and make sure your password isn’t something stupid like 1234.
When was the last time you checked your credit report? Your credit score?
I first heard about www.myenergy.com from my gas company. They wrote a short blurb about them on either their website or newsletter (I don’t remember which). Anyway, I decided to check the website out.
The gist of the website is that you sign up for a free account, link your online utility accounts (electric, gas, & water), and they keep a running tally on how your doing in regards to conservation. I hear you proclaim, “wait a second, I already know how much I’m spending on utilities!” Good point, but do you know how much your friends are spending or how much other citizens of your city or town are consuming?
The second reason to consider using the website are rewards. Taken verbatim from the website:
How it works MyEnergy analyzes your past patterns of energy use and makes a prediction of how much energy you’re likely to use in each subsequent month, accounting for variations in weather from the past to the present. When you use less than the prediction, you’ve saved! Here’s how many points you get for your savings:
Gas 10 points per therm
Electric 1 point per kWh
Water 1 point per hundred gallons (or 10 points per 1,000 gallons)
So far we’ve earned 106 points for doing nothing except the initial sign up and living our daily lives. What can you exchange your points for? That’s hard to say, I think it depends on what state you are in as it seems to be a mix of local and national products & services. For example, one of the rewards is a free one month supply of Popchips for 100 points. I googled around to try and find some details about how much you get and the best I could find in about 30 seconds of searching was that it was a $30 value. That doesn’t sound half bad.
“It all sounds too good to be true, what’s the catch?”
The catch so far as I can tell is that MyEnergy is owned by Nest. Nest is probably best known for its iOS-esque thermostat.
Naturally, there are ads on the website encouraging you to buy Nest products. Also, I would be shocked if Nest isn’t collecting all of this utility data (anonymized hopefully) for their own commercial benefit. If you’re a company specializing in home automation devices that save consumers money then what better way than to offer a website that aims to do just that. “Hey, you spent a lot on your electric bill last month, try getting a new thermostat to help out with that.”
The social nature of the website just ties into the marketing. Does Big Brother knowing how much energy I use every month bother me? Mmmm, let me think that over with a chip… nope. It does not. The only problem that I’ve had with the website so far is that I cannot link my water bill to it. While that is likely the fault of the municipality that I live in, it still bugs me that I cannot link all of my utility accounts (and thus lose out on rewards and being able to peep at others usage).
If you’d like to join the website and friend me click on the button below.