Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ShannQ's Best of 2014 Part 1

It is a week before Christmas, so it may be too soon for me to sum up the best parts of 2014, but I am tweaking out from having coffee so late at night. (Terrible decision.) I was going to make a list post, but I realized that I write way too much, so I will do multiple posts.

1. Couponing.
Coupons deserve its own blog post, because it has been truly life changing. In July, I watched an episode of Extreme Couponing for the first time in years. I asked myself- How do they do it? Is it really possible? I had a lot more time on my hands this year to figure it out. Now, 5 months later, it is a way of life for me, and I will never go back.

Today, I checked my Rite Aid account, and I earned 1,000 points and reached Gold Status. (1 Point= $1.)
As you can see from the photo, I am currently at 1,005 points. It will reset back to zero on January 1st, 2015, but my Gold Status will remain. (20% off everything in the store.) It shows my total sale and UP Reward discount, but it does not account for my coupons...
So essentially got over $1,000 in products for around $100 in real dollars. This week alone, my shopping trips to Rite Aid will get me roughly $40 in products for free. (4 bottles of Excedrin, Ivory soap, 4 Herbal Essence body washes, Monster energy drinks, Christmas candy (M&M's and Dove), Axe Shave Gel, and 6 boxes of Playtex Tampons.)
AND THIS IS JUST RITE AID! I have been getting free and cheap stuff from Shop Rite, CVS, Walgreens/Duane Reade, Walmart, and Target. In total, it is more like $2,000 retail value of products over 5 months for only 10% of the actual cost. That is more money than my part-time job in college paid me for an entire YEAR of work. Couponing is literally a part-time job, or at least like a revenue stream.

Seriously, it has ruined me forever. I can never go back to paying full retail EVER again.
This is a screenshot of my Rite Aid member dashboard.
 
This week, I was able to donate a giant Macy's shopping bag filled with toiletries (deodorant, soap, feminine products, etc/)  to a charity my brother was participating in for National Honors Society. He is graduating High School this year, so I was happy that I had this opportunity to directly help my community through him without having to go out and find a Women's Shelter on my own. (I guess I'll have to figure that out next year.)
Aside from toiletries to the poor, I was able to score a lot of really great toy deals to give to the Children's Ward at the hospital and Toys For Tots.

My parents no longer have to worry about dish washing soap, laundry detergent, toiletries, cleaning products, etc. We have 6 people in this house, so trust me, these things get used up really quickly. It has only been in the past few months that I truly realized how much money it takes to run a big family.

It's mind-boggling how much money my parents must have spent over the years without using coupons. I feel AMAZING to know that I have this skill before I even get married and have even one child of my own.

For the first time in my life, I walk around my house, and everything is a name brand product. Tide, Colgate, Palmolive...
I was always one of those people who scoffed at name brand clothes or products, because I thought: "What's the difference?"
In some cases, it's true. There is not much of a difference. In other cases, it is clearly better quality.

I can't even explain how desperately I wanted to help my family with their struggles. My dad is disabled, my younger brothers are still in High School and college, and the Depression is really hitting us hard. I would feel so powerless when I would see us running out of things around the house, and I could not afford to buy anything. I would actually hide products that I bought in my room to make sure I was the only person using it, so it lasted longer.

Now, I have back-ups of just about everything in my closet. It's like having my own personal drug store. If we run out of shaving cream, I just open my closet, take it off the shelf, and bring it to the bathroom.
It truly makes me feel empowered. I feel like no matter how poor I get, I will never have to worry about coming up with the money to buy these necessities again. I have enough back-up necessities to last me a few months, if an emergency happened. And no matter how rich I may become some day, I will never waste unnecessary money into products that I can get for 90% off.

My goal for 2015 and beyond is to have a big enough stockpile so that whenever my brothers and I move out and start out own families, I will be able to give them a gigantic box of things that will save them hundreds of dollars to get their lives started. I also want to make sure my parents have everything they need. I also want to gather enough to give to even more charities next year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Journey To Amazon Vine Update

It has been exactly one month since I wrote my first entry about my journey to Amazon Vine, and I have a few updates.

First of all, my Reviewer Ranking shot up a LOT. I went from being #1,261,159 when I started to #372,376 two weeks later, and after four weeks, my Reviewer Ranking is now #103,249.
(Side note- my starting ranking was actually higher than the lowest ranking possible, because I had reviews written from a long time ago that received some "likes" and no "dislikes. Apparently, the lowest ranking possible is around 65-million or so, because some people actually go in the negative if the "dislikes" outnumber the "likes".)

Becoming #103,249 is not that impressive, but it makes me really happy, because it is most definitely a step in the right direction. For my ranking to jump over a million places in just a month is really significant for me.

It seems as though people get invited to Amazon Vine once they become a Top 2,000 Reviewer. I cannot confirm or deny this yet, but from all of the research I have done, it seems to be the threshold of when you can expect to be invited. I have no idea if my ranking will continue to move up, but if it keeps going at this rapid rate, I should expect to be in the top 2,000 in the next two to four weeks. However, I am sure that the ranking increments will get smaller and smaller as my Reviewer Ranking updates.

How did my ranking jump so much?
Simply put- I wrote good reviews. My first strategy was to scramble to find as many things to review as possible, but I quickly realized that it is more about quality than quantity. 

For example, I wrote one really popular review for the Silkn' Flash-n-Go hair removal laser. I was honest about my experience with the machine, and I wrote a really long and in-depth review. So far, it has 20 "likes" and zero "dislikes". Most of my other reviews only have between one to three "likes" with some "dislikes" mixed in there. So far, I have 38 "likes" and 55 reviews. If I had written less reviews, my ranking may be higher, because the review-to-like ratio would bring my rating up. I am hoping that as more people do holiday shopping, my ration will eventually be one-to-one.

My Top Tips So Far:

1. Give an in-depth, honest review on an expensive product that people will be debating on whether to buy or not (like my $200 hair removal laser). Do not even waste your time reviewing something like a new candy. It will only flood your reviews and make it more difficult to pull your ratio up. Cheap or common products that already have hundreds of reviews will most likely never get "liked", because when a product is cheap, no one wants to waste their time reading all of the reviews.

2. The cheaper products that have received the most 'likes' for me are the products that I either got as review copies, things I pre-ordered, or new products the same week they became available. If you know there is a market for Product X, and if you can be one of the first people to review it, more eyes will see your review.

3. Be original. Do not regurgitate the same things everyone else is saying.  People "like" a review if you bring up a good point that no one else has mentioned before.

4. Don't even try to think about faking reviews. The only way to do that would be if you read everyone else's reviews and just try to re-write a review in your own words. If you just repeat what everyone else is saying. no one will find any reason to "like" your review. If you lie or give inaccurate information, people will "dislike" the post. Trust me. For example, I recently checked out the book reviews on one of the graphic novels I was given for free, and someone else who got a review copy gave the book One Star. The things they were saying about the book were just blatantly untrue. Since I actually read the book, I knew that this person also got a free copy, skimmed it, and decided to write a review without actually know what the hell she was talking about. So far, she has gotten 18 "dislikes" on the review, and zero "likes". Her ranking is  #26,137,602. ....I think that speaks for itself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Journey to Vine Voices

Recently, I was browsing Amazon reviews, and I noticed the green text indicating, "This reviewer has received a free item as part of Vine Voices."

Curious, I started researching what Vine Voices even is. Once I discovered that a few select lucky people are invited to get free stuff, I was excited.You only need to spend about 10 minutes browsing the reviews of Vine members to see that they frequently get free vacuum cleaners, TV's, surround-sound speakers, cookware sets, and more. I am only 25, and I have been slowly trying to gather things I will need for my future home, but if I could get into the prestigious club that is Vine, I could get every single thing I need to be a "real grown up" for free.

I started scowering the Internet looking for clues as to exactly how and why people get selected to become part of Amazon Vine.

There are theories circulating the Internet. I am sure that some people are of the camp that they do not want to give away the "secret" to being accepted as a Vine Voice member. Most of the posts I found were written in 2011, which has me wondering if any new people are even being accepted into the program since then, or if Amazon keeps giving products to the same group of people who were savy enough to strike while the iron was hot.

I have always loved writing, and right now, I know I can be doing something productive, like writing reviews. I have also decided to document my process,in the event that I ever do get accepted, maybe I could give a proper road map to people who are also attempting to be invited.

So far, I have been following that the guidelines tell you to do- Just write good reviews.

I already established myself as a book reviewer a little while ago, so I had already been receiving free per-released titles to review. Some of them, I wrote posts about on this blog, and others, I simply wrote up a paragraph on Amazon, because that was all that is requested in exchange for my free book.

According to my research, being accepted to Vine has more to do with the amount of people who found your review helpful. If they hit "yes" or "like" your review, you get one vote towards your overall score. I began to pay attention to the "likes" I received on my Amazon account, and how and when it happens the most often. I have only been doing this for about a week, but I already noticed a pattern.

Since most of the books I review are per-released titles, I am guaranteed to be among some of the first to write about it. I will be there at the very beginning when people are reading reviews when deciding to buy the book or not. The only down-side to this strategy is that if I do not like a book, and I am being honest, the author will give my review of thumbs-down. (I know it is the author, because who else would be refreshing the page of the book, looking to rate a review?) On the flip side, I know that these hawk-authors will very quickly give me a "like" in 24-48 hours if I had something positive to say.

That has happened to me twice already. In both cases, the authors had terrible, horrible flaws with the book that made me feel as if it was like flushing money down the toilet, so of course I gave them bad reviews. It's frustrating to think that I may have to forgo my honesty and continue with the philosophy of; "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all."

So far, I do not know what is more important to the people judging your acceptance to Vine. Will they appreciate that I am honest, or will they care more if I had received a "like" instead of a "dislike" from an angry author?

Besides the pre-released books, I have been reviewing anything and everything I can think of, regardless of how old it may be, or how many reviews are already written. I just try to be honest and say things that other reviewers may not have mentioned, which got me a few "likes".

Since I have been getting into couponing recently, I began getting free or cheap products when they are fresh on the market, so it makes it easy for me to be one of the first people reviewing a newly released product. So far, I have gotten more "likes" on the new products, but it is not guaranteed to get a "like" in the same way that a new book does.

I have  made it a habit of trying to review at least one thing per day. It only takes me about 10 minutes, after all. I will give an update on my progress if anything changes. Right now, my ranking is in the 1.5 million range. I have a long way to go before I can even consider Vine in the realm of possibility, but I am willing to try.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Catcalling Does, In Fact, Suck

I just watched this video, and I knew I immediately had to write about it. I have never been able to articulate why catcalling sucks so much, but Hayley Hoover his the nail on the head in this video:
If you're a guy, or a girl who has experienced catcalling, please watch this.

Thank you, Hayley, for explaining the awkward, anxious fear that catcalling has instilled in me my entire life. Now, I don't feel so alone.

I may or may not have written about my story of when I had my ass grabbed with both arms full-facial by a midget when I was 16 years old. That was my scariest story for years, until about a year or so ago, when I was alone in New York City overnight, where, like Hayley explains, you can't take two steps on the streets alone at night without being propositioned for sex.

I can't even explain it as well as Hayley. Just watch the video.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Greed

In English, greed is a very negative thing. In fact, it is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
By definition, it is a selfish desire for something. If we want to spin greed in a positive light, we use words like "ambition."
When it comes down to the truth, what is the real difference between "greed" and "ambition"? At what point do we begin to call an ambitious go-getter "greedy?" In America, the answer would be: Never.

All my life, I have never heard anyone called "greedy" outside of a situation where someone was taking too many desserts or free swag and not leaving anything for anyone else. In any other situation, wanting the best out of life is normal, and even expected of all of us. In fact, if you are satisfied with very little, it's more common to hear those people called "lazy" rather than "minimalistic" or "easily satisfied".

Recently, while watching both Chihayafuru and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, the Japanese spin on "greed" has come to my attention.

One quote from Fullmetal Alchemist got right to the point; "Greed is neither good, nor evil"

In Chihayafuru, the main character Chihaya tries to pump up her team by saying that she wants them to win all of the tournaments so they can be the best in Japan. Over and over, her friends say she is "too greedy".

Hearing that took me by surprise. My immediate reaction was; "Of course she wants to be the best in Japan! She is ambitious! She wants to be the BEST!" And I only recently realized how American that was of me.

Yesterday, I discovered this thing called the Greed & Fear Index that measures the feelings of investors in the stock market. Even our Capitalist system doesn't try to hide it.

When you really stop to think about it,  our entire society is centered around Greed.
Some call it "Manifest Destiny", while others could easily call it greed. A want for something you don't have, and you don't need it to survive, but you want it anyway.

If our country was a little less greedy, would there be so much war? So much debt?
If we were less greedy, would so many relationships fail?
And yet, greed is neither good, nor evil. It's just part of human nature. I just think if people learned to identify it and call it by its true name, maybe we would be better off as a society.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Orphan Master's Son

It's probably a little too early for me to do a full review of this book since I only got up to page 85, which is the amount I managed to squeeze into my oddly busy life whilst waiting for my younger brother to be released from surgery last week and a lovely hour relaxing in the park today, but I can confidently say that The Orphan Master's Son is now going on my list of favorites.

I am not going to bore you with a standard plot summary you can read anywhere on the Internet. Just trust me when I say it's probably going to be taught in schools about what life is like in a real dystopian society. (At least, that's what my syllabus would include, if I ever went through with being an English professor.) I honestly think is more beneficial to teach young people about different cultures that are so vastly different than our own that actually exist than hypothetical universes that a student can brush off at the end of the day while they lay back in their bubble of a world view.
I was lucky enough to snag one of these first editions
The Orphan Master's Son should be a requirement, right alongside 1984 and Brave New World. 

While I sat in the park, I wrote down some of my favorite non-spoiler quotes.


"In my experience, ghosts are made up only of the living, people you know are out there but are forever out of range."

It's rare for me to read one sentence that hits me right in the gut. I think that it is so incredibly accurate, if you have even experienced going through that sort of situation. Maybe, in this world where everyone is connected online, that feeling is not as universal as I think it is, but it is at least relevant to my personal life experiences.


There was also a line during a scene where the protagonist talks about the fact that Korean sailors tattooed portraits of their wives to their chests:
"How was it that we didn't walk around with every person who mattered tattooed on us forever?"

Which is so significant, because the main character doesn't have anyone who matters to him enough to tattoo on to his chest. This one sentence speaks volumes about who this man is. Even the idea of having someone who would love him is enough to want him to tattoo their portrait on his body. It's that absence of a connection that pulls him to imagine the mother he never knew, who is more of a concept of someone who would love him unconditionally.

I won't go into too much more detail. I just can't recommend this book enough for your next plane ride.

Sunday, September 21, 2014