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Friday, June 26, 2015

I Switched To Ting Mobile and I Love it

I don't often talk about services and I don't often post referral links because I don't like being spammy, but in this case I'm going to make an exception. Because I love this service so much. I want others to know about it.

Ting Mobile Network
After nearly two years of yearning for a better, cheaper choice than my previous provider I finally discovered Ting. I was browsing Reddit's /r/frugal sub and found a discussion about reducing your cell phone bill. During that thread, Ting came up, so I immediately googled it and discovered that they offered service in my area. Yay! I live in a rural area, so finding decent service is very important to me. 

The things that jumped out at me were: 
  • Ting is a post-paid no-contract provider. 
  • You pay for what you use, nothing more. 

Before I set up my new service, I initiated live chats with their customer service reps. From the start I was impressed with them. They were knowledgable, friendly, and consistent. After each chat session ended, I received a copy of it in my mailbox. They keep excellent records so each person I spoke with knew exactly what I needed. 

No stress. No fuss. 

I got a referral credit for mentioning where I'd heard about Ting (Reddit), and am now sitting on a $100 credit to use toward my bill simply because I told the guy I came to their site from another one. (This was a limited offer. I don't know if they're still offering this, but it doesn't hurt to ask.)

I purchased a BluStudio 5.0 C HD phone off Amazon, purchased a SIM card from Ting, and when it arrived, I activated my service via live chat. (I'll be doing a review of the Blu phone in a later blog.) 

I've been with Ting since June 8 and so far, I really like it. My only issue is with the data connection, but I suspect that it isn't Ting (or the T-Mobile network it piggybacks) but rather an issue with Taos itself. I can connect to 4G data in the small town where I live and in other areas where 3 and 4G are available. But in the town of Taos where I need it? Nope. I had this same issue with my previous provider, so it might be that the surrounding mountains interfere with the data. Or it could have something to do with the Taos Hum

Or maybe it's just aliens. 

So, here are my personal pros and cons of using Ting in a rural area (besides the sketchy data connection that often plagues such places).

  • The absolute best customer service I've ever had in a cell phone carrier. They offer phone service or live chat from 8am to 1am EST during weekdays.
  • It's a service with an anti-plan. You only pay for what you use, so you don't waste money.
  • They use national networks so you're getting the same coverage as with Verizon or T-Mobile without the huge price tag.
  • You can bring your own phone and port your own number.
  • You get a referral bonus for bringing in new customers that you can apply to your bill.
  • It's not pre-paid. You pay at the end of your billing cycle, not before.
  • It's great for people who are light users.
  • You can discuss your service via live chat. They send a four-digit code to your email on file to verify it's you, and when you give them that code, you're good to go.
  • There are some restrictions to porting a number. Because the CDMA reception in my area is not optimal, I had to switch to a GSM phone in order to port.
  • Not every phone is compatible with Ting. Before switching, check the website and enter your phone's IMEI/MEID to see if it's compatible.
  • It's not the most frugal choice for heavy users. If you need unlimited data all the time, Ting is probably not the best option. (An XL level of use would put you over $80 for one phone).
  • You are billed for minutes for accessing voicemail, for receiving calls, and for calls that go to voicemail. Every single call, in and out, is used to determine your usage.
How it works.

This is for individual plans with only one phone.

One phone: $6 flat monthly rate
Minutes: $3 for using 1 to 100 minutes.
Text: $3 for using 1 to 100 text messages.
Data: $3 for using 1 to 100 megabytes.

If I adhered to this amount of use, I'd only be paying $15 per month and whatever taxes applied for my area.
Screencap of Ting's rate chart. 

So far, though, I'm up to $21. I've sent and received 81 text messages and have used a total of 447 megabytes of data. From 101 to 500 megabytes, you pay $12, so it's a bit of a leap from $3 to $12. But it's still relatively cheap.

I discovered a $3 for minutes on my plan and wracked my brain trying to think of when I'd made a call. I contacted the customer service via chat and asked what happened? Apparently, my phone had somehow connected to my voicemail and because of that I was charged. I was able to get that charge taken off. He offered to disable all calls to my account, too. So, whenever someone tries to call my number, the caller gets a message that I'm unavailable. I don't ever get any notice of a call, and it's not charged to my account.

So, the verdict?

If you live in an area serviced by T-Mobile or Verizon and want don't use a lot of data or minutes, I recommend Ting. This is especially good for people who live in rural areas with limited choices for cell service. If you do decide to sign up, you can use my referral link. Ting often runs specials for new customers, so be sure to check it out.  

* This post contains a referral link. I am posting this of my own accord and am not being paid in any way for posting this. I only get referral credits if someone signs up using my referral code. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Frugal Find: Vintage West Bend Bread Machine

I'm a sucker for deals. I love scouring yard sales for vintage finds. What I love most is finding a vintage item that still has a lot of life left in it.

Two weeks ago I got lucky and found one such item: a 1995 West Bend bread machine, specifically, the 41065 model. And to my pleasant surprise, it was made in Wisconsin! For those of you too young to remember, our great nation used to have a thriving manufacturing industry and we made most of the products we use! Just try and find a decent household item today that isn't made in China (or in some other Third World country). Alas, you probably won't.

I went off on a tangent there. Sorry about that! Anyway, two weeks ago, my town was having a community garage sale and one of the participants had the bread machine and an older 1970s Cuisinart food processor that looked something like this:

Since I already have a set of hand-held food processor thingies, I decided to get the bread machine. I asked the girl selling it if she could plug it in to test it and sure enough, it turned on. Well, that's good enough for me! I still knew there was a chance it wouldn't work, but for a measly five bucks I was willing to try.

I got it home, washed it out and yelled at my husband, “Hey! The window on the door is real glass! They don't make 'em like this anymore!”

I also searched for (and found) the user manual on the West Bend site. Being able to access a user manual for a 20-year-old machine gave me a bit more confidence in using it, so that was another plus. 

Of course, the man was only mildly interested and reluctantly grunted his acknowledgment. He was more excited about his frugal vintage find: an old Panasonic pencil sharpener with a little light that tells you when it's done sharpening. 

The bread machine...and the pencil sharpener the man found.
When I made my first loaf of bread with the machine, the smell of it filled my home and had me thinking warm and fuzzy thoughts. I only hoped that the bread would rise properly because I live at a high altitude (8,600+ feet) and bread baking can be tricky.

Fortunately, I followed the advice of experienced high altitude bakers and used a half-teaspoon less yeast and one tablespoon less sugar than the recipe called for and it turned out nearly perfect. Fluffy, moist, and delicious.

I tried a 50-50 whole wheat-white bread recipe and it turned out well. But I discovered one thing: I hate the smell of cooking honey, but most wheat bread recipes call for it. The only way I can accurately describe the smell is “muted poop,” or “wet dog poop”. I ate the it, and it tasted good, but it was not as enjoyable as the white bread, which is odd because I normally prefer wheat bread.

So, I did some research. Could I substitute brown sugar for honey? I was so, so happy to discover I could. Thus, I tried again. It turned out way better than I'd hoped, and it's becoming my go-to bread recipe.

I also tried a 100% whole wheat bread recipe, adjusting the yeast and sugar for altitude. It turned out dense, but not too horrible. It was moist, so I ended up just cutting it in thin slices and it worked fine. But I'm definitely going back to the white-wheat blend. It just seems to work better for me.

Nearly ten loaves later and I can say without a doubt: This machine's a veritable workhorse! And the man's interest in it has increased dramatically since loaves of delicious, homemade bread have become a part of his daily gastronomic routine. My daughter loves the bread, and it doesn't languish like the store-bought bread does. We eat it every day. Good, wholesome, fresh-baked bread.

I even made Italian bread sticks and cheddar cheese dinner rolls using the dough setting. This is the setting you use when you only want to prepare the dough but not bake it in the machine. Both turned out fantastic. The cheese rolls lasted nary a day before they disappeared from the plate.

Just throw the ingredients into the tub in the proper order, set the timer for the appropriate type (wheat or white), and leave. Three-and-a-half hours later, I've got a steaming hot loaf of bread just waiting for me to shake loose.

Ok, so you're probably wondering if this was a frugal find. Am I spending more money on flour, sugar, and salt than I would on regular store-bought loaves?

Well, since the number of cups in a 5lb bag vary by whomever you ask, I'll just go with my experience. I got about 16 cups out of a bag. A bag of plain bread flour around here costs about $3.39. A bag of whole wheat flour costs around $3.89 per 5lb bag. A regular 2lb bag of brown sugar costs $1.39 in my area, and I can find a 4lb bag of white granulated sugar for $1.99. I found a jar yeast for a couple bucks at the store.

So, total of these items, including the cost of the bread machine ($5.00) is:


I've made eight loaves/batches, which means I've used 16 cups of flour and 12 tablespoons of sugar (mostly brown sugar).

You might call the bread from a machine close to artisan bread, so it would probably sell for more than just a buck a loaf. Let's say, $4 per loaf, because that's how much the fancy ones around here cost.


The machine practically paid for itself after just one loaf. I still have some flour, sugar, and yeast left.

Oh, I nearly forgot. The recipes call for milk, dry milk, and butter/margarine, but the cost doesn't go up too significantly. Each loaf takes a just over a cup of warm milk and two tablespoons of dry milk. You can substitute those with warm water, though. Each loaf takes just 2 tablespoons of butter.

In any event, you can already see that I'm coming out way ahead. Plus, I'm feeding my family fresh-baked bread without any nasty preservatives. So, it's a win-win!

So, my frugal baking friends, get thee to a thrift store if you haven't got a bread machine already. I've already found several just waiting to be snatched up. But before you shell out the moolah, make sure it works.

I'll post some of my favorite recipes adapted to high altitude here in a future post. In the meantime, check this out. Yes. It's after midnight, and yes. I'm baking bread. 

Yes, I am baking right this very minute! At midnight!