Last Updated: September 29, 2023
Something I find really handy on other sites is a single “Recommendations” or “Resources” page that collects all the top services and products that the site/person recommends. So I decided to create a recommendations page for EYFI as well.
As you’ll read on most other reputable sites, we only recommend stuff that we really believe in and have used/purchased/read ourselves, and would recommend regardless of any financial incentives.
Speaking of financial incentives, many of the links below are known as “affiliate” links. These kinds of links don’t cost you a penny, but we receive a small commission if you do use the link to sign up for the service / buy the product / whatever. This is a fantastic “win-win” in my mind, as you get solid recommendations at no cost and we receive $ that lets us run this site and contribute to our Engine For Good.
For more info about how we handle affiliate links, see the relevant content on our Disclaimer page.
Also keep in mind that while we do highly recommend the below products and services, no product or service is perfect. And while we try to provide completely transparent and unbiased reviews, of course we can’t cover everything and know about every problem/issue/feature.
For example, Empower (formerly Personal Capital) is by far the best asset and net worth aggregator I’ve tried, but it still has its fair share of bugs they work to iron out over time (though to be fair, they also have to fight the whack-a-mole game of changing connection standards for financial institutions). Keep this in mind if you sign up for something based on our recommendation and it has issues – they could be dealing with some short term challenges and it may resolve soon.
Finally, I expect this to be a living document, adding and subtracting content over time. We’ll do our best to keep it updated and note at the top when the page was most recently updated.
Financial Products and Services
Empower (formerly Personal Capital)
Empower (formerly Personal Capital) is probably the most recommended service I’ve seen across the universe of financial content sites, and for good reason: it’s head and shoulders above other sites in terms of showing all your account balances and assets in a single location. I’ve been using it since April 2016, and I still check it every single day the markets are open.
My wife and I joined Mint Mobile in 2019 and we are still very happy with this carrier. I have not yet found any competitor that matches the price of $15/month for 5 GB/month (far more than we use, but we like that we don’t have to stress about each MB we use like we’ve had to with some low cost carriers), unlimited talk and texting, and no ridiculous restrictions on tethering/hotspots (it’s my data, I should be able to use it however I see fit). They even have free international calls to Mexico and Canada, if you need that.
Mint uses the T-Mobile network, which has really improved vs AT&T and Verizon the last few years, IMO. We rarely lose reception anywhere these days, even on road trips between cities.
There are only a couple downsides to Mint as far as I can tell:
1) To get the lowest rate of $15/month, you have to pay for a full year of service up front. In some ways it’s like going back to the old days of having a contract you’re locked into. But I really doubt they could offer such low rates without this upfront payment system, and it’s a very worthwhile tradeoff in my mind for such low prices. And it’s pretty rare that people change their cell phone carrier anyways.
2) There are no brick and mortar stores with Mint. But again, this is part of how they keep their rates down – not paying for storefronts that most people don’t need these days. Their website and phone service is perfectly capable of handling anything you need. But I’ll admit, for people who are just not comfortable switching their phone service without in-person help, Mint is not the service for them.
Fortunately as a new customer you can get that $15/month rate for just three months, so you can determine if their service will work well where you live. And they have a 7-day money-back guarantee as well, so you don’t even have to pay for those three months if it’s obvious it won’t work in your area.
I will also say that having our phone numbers transferred to Mint was far easier than other carriers I’ve tried, with the sole exception of Google FI.
My wife and I tried Free Tax USA for the first time in 2018, and we’ve used it every year since. Previously we used the online H&R Block app for a number of years, but in 2018 they really jacked up the prices on us and we went looking for greener pastures. And they were green indeed! Not only was it now completely free to do our taxes (since we don’t have state income taxes here in TX), the interface and explanations were significantly BETTER than the paid H&R Block service. And no matter how complicated our taxes get each year (businesses, adding kids, tax loss harvesting, etc.), Free Tax USA easily handles it. Highly recommend!
Vanguard is really the only option for investing that the vast majority of people need. My wife and I have used Vanguard as our primary investment platform for many years, and have no plans to change. They pioneered the field of ultra low cost index funds, which is definitely the best way to invest, and their interests are fully aligned with their account holders because Vanguard is owned by the people who invest in their funds (unlike other for-profit companies such as Fidelity which are owned by their shareholders).
When my wife switched from a high-deductible to non-high-deductible health insurance plan through her employer, we had to decide what to do with her HSA account. Unfortunately her company works with HSA Bank, which was going to start charging us a fee to maintain the account – ugh!
We then switched to Lively and enjoyed being their customer for a couple years. Unfortunately, Lively had worked with TD Ameritrade to provide investment options, and when Schwab purchased TD Ameritrade, they decided to start charging a fee.
Important tip with Fidelity: their phone support is dramatically better than their website quality. It’s a pain to have to call, but for the trickiest situations you often have to call anyway.
We’ve used Expensify to capture/track receipts and confirm credit card bill totals since 2013. They have a solid website and mobile app for capturing those receipts. A great tool for making it easier to know exactly how much you’re spending, and for confirming no fraudulent or mistaken charges slipped through on your credit cards.
After having Hippo and Progressive for our home and auto insurance for several years in row, in 2022 we switched to Allstate for all our insurance after the prices for Hippo and Progressive jumped heavily.
We’ve also made our first ever home insurance claim in 2023, for roof damage from a hail storm. Allstate was a little tricky to work with initially (they sent an inspector that did not take very good photos of the roof, but our roofer was able to send much better photos), but after that initial challenge they’ve been great.
For both home and auto insurance, every year we use the insurance aggregator Answer Financial to get quotes for a large number of insurers at once (with the notable exception of Geico), and thus quickly and easily find the best rates. A really nice thing about the agents at Answer Financial is that they really are agents of the insurance companies, instead of brokers, so there are no broker fees. I do believe they get commissions, but I’ve never gotten the impression that the commissions they get between the different companies are substantially different, or that they are doing anything other than plugging our information into a wide variety of companies and just delivering the best result on their screen to us.
This site uses Hostinger for hosting, and so far it’s been solid. We got a fantastic rate, the interface is good, and downtime is minimal. Basically the fact that I have no complaints is a pretty solid endorsement in my mind.
Need to make your will? Want something more vetted than random templates on the internet, but also don’t want to pay an attorney huge fees to prepare your will? Quicken Willmaker & Trust is a great middle ground, at under $100 and lots of good instruction.
I’m going to write the same thing you’ll read on every other legit personal finance site: do NOT use credit cards if you cannot 100% of the time easily pay off the ENTIRE balance every month. If you’re at 99%, not good enough. If the thought of not paying off your credit card balance and paying even one CENT of interest on that balance sounds as ludicrous as sticking your hand in an alligator’s mouth, THEN you’re ready to use credit cards. Not a moment before.
IF you’re at that point, then there are amazing credit cards and bonuses to be had my friends. Below are some of our favorite cards for both daily use and for bonuses that can fund an incredible amount of travel.
Note: many of the cards below have details on current bonus amounts, but that can change easily and at any point, so make sure you verify the amounts before signing up.
Chase is typically the gold standard when it comes to credit card bonus offers and the value of their points. It’s usually the first credit card recommended on personal finance sites like ours. I like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, because it has a fantastic bonus (60K points as of this writing, worth about $600 to $1140 depending on how you use them) and a much more reasonable annual fee ($95) than the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which has the same bonus but with a $550 annual fee. Some people still prefer the Reserve because of the other perks, and I might try it someday, but for now the perks don’t appear worthwhile for us.
As an example, my wife and I used the bonuses we received from this card (each of us applied for it) to pay for airfare and hotels on a trip to Minnesota from Texas, and had more than enough leftover to pay for all hotels on a couple subsequent trips. I plan to do a travel hacking post at some point that goes into detail on how we used those points, especially for the “sweet spot” we used to go to Minneapolis from Austin.
Another major player in the credit card rewards field is Capital One, and one of their main cards (if not their top card) is the Venture. 75K bonus points, which are worth about $750 to $1350 depending on how you use them. While not quite as flexible as Chase points, they’ve gotten much better over time from what I’ve read, with more travel partners. My wife and I also got these bonuses, which were very nice. Also a $95 annual fee.
The Citi Double Cash has been our primary credit card since we first got it in 2020. 2% back on all purchases, which is fantastic. The only times we don’t use this card are a) when we’re shooting for a minimum spend for a bonus on another card, or b) we can get more than 2% using another credit card (see below for examples).
We’ve tried a couple other 2% back cards: Fidelity Rewards, and the Wells Fargo Active Cash, but they are terrible in terms of functionality compared to Citi (especially Fidelity’s) – the charge notifications are horribly late (like next day, often in the middle of the night), and the websites are terrible compared to Citi (which has functionality on par with Chase and Capital One). I would not recommend those unfortunately.
The Chase Freedom Flex card we primarily use for the 3% back at restaurants, but they sometimes have decent quarterly 5% cash back bonus categories. E.g. home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, gas stations, groceries, Amazon, Walmart, etc. But you do have to keep track of what the bonus category is each quarter, which is a pain. I recommend creating a note of some kind on your phone so you can quickly check it if you can’t remember when paying for something.
Chase currently offers a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months – pretty easy.
The American Express Blue Cash Everyday card we use for groceries, as it provides 3% back on groceries up to $6K per year. That $6K limit means that if you spend more than $115 a week at grocery stores, you’ll want to track when you hit that limit and use another card for the remainder of the calendar year (otherwise you’ll just get 1%). Also if you buy groceries from stores like Walmart or Target, which aren’t classified as grocery stores, you won’t get 3%. So make sure you double check how your store is classified before you get this card.
Previously we used the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card, even though it has a $95 annual fee, because it provides 6% back on groceries up to $6K per year. If you go all the way up to the $6K limit, that’s $360 back, so you’re ahead $265 in the end. We got a $300 bonus when we signed up for the card in 2020, but it sounds like you can get as much as $400 with different offers.
However, we found ourselves needing to put most of our groceries on other credit cards to hit minimum spend requirements, so the math didn’t work out any more with the $95 annual fee. So we decided to downgrade to the Everyday version in 2023. And we’re quite happy with that decision. 3% back is still much better than 2% you’d get with the Citi card above, or even worse 1% you get with most other rewards cards. They offer a $200 bonus after spending $2K in the first 6 months.
If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you’ll get 5% back on all Amazon purchases – which is the main way we use the card (when we don’t use Amazon gift card credit). If you happen to frequent Whole Foods, you’ll also get 5% back there – assuming you don’t get 6% back with the above American Express Blue Cash Preferred card. If you’re in the Prime camp, this card is a slam dunk.
If you don’t have an Amazon Prime membership, it’s still a solid card because you’ll still get 3% back on all Amazon and Whole Foods purchases. Not quite as amazing of a deal, but still better than the 2% back you’ll get by using the above Citi card on your Amazon purchases.
No annual fee, with or without Prime membership.
Looks like right now they have a $100 signup bonus, which is $100 more than we got! Very nice for new card members.
The Target RedCard actually comes in three different forms: a credit card, debit card, and reloadable account. The reloadable account option looks new to me as of 2023.
They all offer 5% back on all Target purchases (online or in store), and free 2-day shipping, extra 30 days for returns, no annual fee. So of course we use our RedCard for all Target purchases.
We have the debit card, I think because we got it before they offered a credit card version? Or something about the credit card version made us choose the debit card version – not sure.
At this point I’d probably recommend the credit card version though (again assuming you ALWAYS pay off your balance in full every month), because unlike the debit card it offers 2% on dining and gas purchases and 1% elsewhere outside of Target.
Looks like right now they have a $40 signup bonus, which is $100 more than we got! Very nice for new card members.
A Note About Rewards Card In General
You might be picking up a theme from all the above cards – we’re always looking for cards that give us maximum cash back for particular places we shop, and we use those cards there. So we get 5% back on Amazon, 5% back at Target, 3% (previously 6%) back at our grocery store (HEB), 3% at all restaurants, etc.
All these discounts really add up! Even if you don’t want to constantly chase after different credit card bonuses and you want to just use the same set of credit cards for your spending, by learning which cards to use at different places, you can save a tremendous amount of money over time.
E.g. if you spend $6K at grocery stores, $3K on Amazon purchases, $1K on Target purchases, and $1K on restaurants in a year, and you use the above cards appropriately, you’re looking at 0.03*6000 + 0.05*3000 + 0.05*1000 + 0.03*1000 = $410 in savings! It still blows me away when I see numbers like that. If you use just a 2% back card for all those expenses, you’re looking at 0.02*(6000+3000+1000+1000) = $220 cash back – definitely not nothing, but still less than half the savings. And that’s EVERY YEAR.
All you have to do is learn where to use what card – and for online purchases it’s super easy to do that, as you just save that particular card as your default payment method.
Non-Financial Digital Products and Services
It’s not much of a stretch to say that my wife and I basically run our lives out of Trello. Everything from packing lists, discussion topics at child-free meals, house projects, finance tasks, and MORE we throw into Trello. I’ll admit it took a little time for my wife to convince me to move over from my old task list system involving standard digital and paper documents. But I am so glad now I’ve embraced a more modern task management system.
If you’ve ever used Kanban boards in a work setting, you’ll feel right at home in Trello.
Any time I come across an article I want to read online, I immediately save it to Pocket. This makes it far easier to manage all the stuff I want to read, and provides a great interface for reading – even offline.
I highly recommend Vote411 for doing research on candidates in an election. Just plug in your location, and it shows you all the positions up for election, who’s running, and what their platforms are. I love that it makes the process of voting far easier and more effective – no need to listen to the constant news hype just to get the positions of the candidates on the major issues. After you make all your selections, you can just print it out and bring it with you to the polls (if you’re not lucky enough to live in a state with mail in ballots).
We use the OurGroceries app for all our shopping lists. Grocery store, hardware store, Walmart, Target, etc. It’s available on both iOS and Android, syncs very quickly between devices, lets you sort items by store aisle (so you can go down the list as you move from one of the store to the other, making the trip much faster), lets you upload pictures for items so they’re easy to identify on the shelf (super handy if someone else added the item to the list), and other useful features.
Before we started using CookBook, our recipe collection was a total mess. Scattered across favorited links, text messages, blog posts, google docs, paper notecards, and probably other places, it was always a nightmare to find a recipe. Initially we (mainly me) thought about creating our own system using free tools, but we feared a backslide into chaos.
Eventually my wife started researching recipe apps, and converged on the CookBook app. Back then it was a paid app, but we bit the bullet and paid for it – and we were very glad we did. Our recipes are far better organized, it can automatically import recipes from websites, and it can generate shopping lists.
Unfortunately they switched to a subscription plan recently, but that seems to be par for the course these days. Fortunately as legacy customers we got half off the lifetime plan, but given how much value it provides for us, I suspect we’d have done a subscription as well.
It still has some issues, especially regarding navigating in some parts of the app, but we’ve definitely seen improvement over time, so they are working on it.
We purchased the Baby Connect app just a few hours after our first kid was born. We’d been looking for free ways to track feeding schedules, etc. for our newborn for a while, but never found anything we liked. When the feeding schedule of a newborn hit us in that hospital room, we knew we would need to shell out some $ to keep our sanity.
And I’m now very glad we did. We’ve used it to track feedings, diaper changes, medicine, temperatures, and lots of other things for both kids the last 7 years. It’s still on the front screen of my phone, and I still use it to track when both kids and even *I* took medicine, so it’s easy to know when more medicine can be taken if needed. Super useful when you have a cold or are recovering from surgery, etc.
Though like CookBook they also switched to a subscription model, which is unfortunate but again par for the course. Very thankfully we were grandfathered in because we purchased the app previously.
I’ve been a Pandora subscriber since 2011, and I still use it every day. I subscribe to the lower cost Pandora Plus plan at $55/year (vs $110 for the top plan), which has no ads but doesn’t allow you to play specific songs. But that’s just fine with me – I rarely want specific songs when I want music, and if I want a specific song, it’s easy enough to find on YouTube.
Google Docs, Sheets, Slides
I’ll admit it feels a bit silly to recommend something from Google. It’s like asking if someone has heard of water before. Yet I’m still surprised how many people pay for Microsoft Office 365 ($70 to $100/year!), when the completely free tools from Google EASILY have all the capabilities they need.
We get probably $10 to $20 of Google play store credit each year by filling out super easy and quick surveys from Google. It’s one of the many reasons we prefer the Android OS over iOS – we never saw anything like this from Apple to get app store credit.
Again this might be a silly recommendation, since most people have probably heard of Google Photos. We use this service for sharing photos with family and backing up our photos to cloud storage.
We, like many others, were really upset when Google stopped providing free photo storage, but at the same time it wasn’t terribly surprising – I’m sure Google was spending a fortune on storage for all those photos and videos.
We looked far and wide for other cheaper/free apps that could provide everything we wanted and needed from a photo storage and sharing app/service, trying lots of different apps/services. But in the end we couldn’t find such an app/service. SO we bit the bullet and started paying for Google storage – bleh. But still the best option at this time.
We used to struggle a bit to figure out how best to spend the play store credit from the above Google Opinion Rewards app, but now that we pay for Google Photos storage, and we can use that credit, it’s a no brainer. So that takes some of the sting out.
I get about $5 worth of easy and fast surveys from SurveyMonkey over the course of a month or two, which I can cash out for Amazon credit (which is effectively cash for us). The surveys are definitely more annoying and long than Google Opinion Rewards, but still pretty easy.
Note that sometimes I’ll go quite a while without a survey, but I think opening the app might help restart them (or just a coincidence, not sure).
I’ve gotten the impression that it’s increasingly difficult to get into this program now, but if you can, it’s fantastic. My wife and I upload just ten receipts a month in this app to receive $10 in Amazon credit. Obviously we don’t upload any sensitive receipts we don’t want Amazon to have access to, such as medical receipts.
After switching to Android from iOS, one of the apps I missed most was Apple Podcasts. Initially I thought I could find a free replacement, but eventually I recognized I’d need to pay for a decent app. In the end I chose Pocket Casts, which I paid $4 for in February 2019, and I’ve used it nearly every day since.
Like a number of other apps on this list, Pocket Casts switched to a subscription model later in 2019. Fortunately they’ve taken an approach where you only pay for premium services, and the base functionality is still in place. So in that sense, I guess I lost $4 by buying it earlier in the year – but at least I supported the company a bit.
Every time I go for a run (usually every morning, but sometimes I have lame excuses), I use the Runkeeper app to track my distance and speed. It’s not perfect of course, especially since my phone is getting jostled in my pocket the entire time, but it’s overall a great app. You can use it to track lots of other fitness activities I believe, but I’ll admit I haven’t tried that.
When LastPass started charging for their app in early 2021 we started looking for other free and good password management apps. Initially we didn’t find anything that looked comparable, so we braced ourselves for yet another monthly expense. But in March 2021, I stumbled across Bitwarden, and I loved it. My wife and I use this app across all our devices every single day, and it’s totally free for all our needs. I strongly recommend this app to anyone I know that doesn’t use a good password manager.
We use Libby extensively, and we have three different library systems within the app we can search for any book (digital or audio) we want. I recommend looking around your area for any other libraries that are outside your main system to see if they provide free library cards. If so, you just have to go once to get the card and then you can search their entire system for ebooks/audiobooks through Libby. And there might even be libraries in another part of your state that just need a state drivers license to sign up (e.g. Houston public library, if you live in TX).
At some point I’m going to write a post about the many library tricks we’ve learned over the years.
One of the libraries we have an account with gives us access to the Hoopla system. Hoopla has more limited selection than Libby, but there are times I can find books on Hoopla that I can’t find in any library system via Libby. It also limits content in a different way: instead of checking out books via a traditional system (only if there are available copies, given a certain period of time before it expires), you can check out up to 5 titles each month and there are no limits on the number of people that can check something out (that I’ve seen, though perhaps I’m missing something).
A fantastic resource for giving and receiving items from your neighbors is your local “Buy Nothing” group, which seeks to prevent waste and save people money. Apparently they have an app now too! For iOS and Android. But I’ll admit I’ve only ever interacted with the organization via our local Facebook group. It’s usually pretty easy to find, but you can also see a list of all the groups here. Though pay careful attention to how they define the boundaries of each group – they really only want you in one group. Groups can also split or merge, but you’ll get plenty of notice about that happening.
Wind / Renewable Power Programs
We’re big fans of utility companies that offer programs that let customers pay for entirely renewable energy. I first heard about this concept through Mr. Money Mustache, who subscribes to Longmont’s Renewable Power Purchase Program. It took a simple Google search to find the equivalent program for Austin, which we proudly participate in. Thus we know all the electricity we use for our house, lawn equipment, and our EV and PHEV are effectively from a fully renewable energy source. This is well worth the extra $0.0075 per KhW to us.
Other wind energy programs I found via a quick Google search: Green Power in northern Indiana, and Energy for Tomorrow in Wisconsin. Hopefully your electric utility has a similar program, and if they don’t, tell them you want one.
You may not have heard of this little company, but they are really making some noise! Like many others, my wife and I heavily utilize the Prime membership for the shipping and Prime Video benefits (so no need for Netflix!).
CamelCamelCamel is a fantastic resource to ensure you get a good deal on Amazon. The site allows you to paste in any Amazon product link, shows you the price history of that item, and allows you to set a “price watch” such that CamelCamelCamel will email you when the item drops below a certain price. It’s awesome, especially for things you don’t need right away. It’s rare that we buy something on Amazon without checking the price on CamelCamelCamel first.
Linux and other open source software
I’ve used all the major desktop operating systems: Windows, macOS, ChromeOS, and Linux. And the clear winner for me is Linux. It makes even an older and cheaper machine FLY compared to other OSs, and I can do an incredible amount of stuff on Linux that’s simply not possible on the other OSs.
Previously I thought it would be a good idea to buy a Chromebook and install Linux on it to avoid paying for the Windows license that comes with most non-Apple computers. But unfortunately after trying it myself and reading about others who have tried the same thing, I wouldn’t recommend doing that. Most Chromebooks are pretty weak in terms of computational capabilities, and it can be a pain to install linux on them (I even had to take the laptop apart to remove a physical write protection screw). Even people that write the software to allow the installation don’t recommend buying a Chromebook to install Linux on it. Finally, the keyboards for Chromebooks are missing a number of keyboard buttons that are really useful on other OSes like Windows and Linux.
SO, as much as it pains me to say this, probably the best bet is to buy a machine with Windows (because it’s still so difficult to find a good powerful machine for a good price that has just Linux installed), and install Linux on it. The good aspect of that is that if you can preserve Windows on a partition of the drive, you’ll still have access to it if you should ever need it (e.g., an app or game is only available on Windows).
Physical Products – Electronics
- Electric mower
- Replacement mower blade
- Manual mower
- Replacement Trimmer String
- Hedge shears (i.e. bush clippers)
- Extension cord, or 100’ version
- Work gloves
- Eye protection
- Big floppy hat
- Bluetooth sound protection headphones
- Headband to keep sweat out of your eyes (apparently these days they make them differently for men vs women?)
This is the Level 2 charger we had installed last year for our EV and PHEV, and it’s performed like a champ since then. It has a mobile app of course, but we rarely use that – we just plug the car in and get a notification when it’s fully charged. Couldn’t be simpler.
There are lots of other well rated Level 2 chargers on Amazon that are even less expensive than this Wallbox charger, but we haven’t used those ourselves, so we can’t recommend them.
We bought a Roomba robot vacuum in 2019, and it has been one of the best purchases we’ve ever made. I’m still amazed how effective it is (or “he” rather, since our son named him “Mater” from the Cars movie) after several years of use. Pre-pandemic we would run him during the day when we were at the office/school, but since we now work from home we have him run at 11pm every night (after everyone is in bed, but early enough that he’s not waking us up in the middle of the night). We also went with Roomba in 2019 because we read they had better than average durability and repairability. So far so good!
We spend $250 on the Roomba 690 in July 2019, and with inflation that’s about $300 today (2023). The nearest equivalent up-to-date model is the Roomba 692, which according to CamelCamelCamel varies from $170 to $300! So definitely check the price before you buy. As I write this sentence (9/24/2023), it’s $189.
When we bought our EV in 2021, for some incomprehensible reason (cost?) it came with standard halogen headlights. And weak ones at that. So after a couple youtube videos and some amazon sifting, I found these LED “bulbs” (not really bulbs, more like sticks). They were pretty easy to install (with help from YouTube of course), and they have worked flawlessly since. I also found that the Amazon system for determining if a set of bulbs fits a particular car was wrong for our car and bulbs – so don’t just assume it’s correct.
The last time I had to go through the obligatory step of finding a case for a new phone, I found myself wondering if I should get a case with a built-in kickstand. Every once in a while I would see some people using that feature, and it seemed like it could come in handy when I sat at the kitchen table to read/watch stuff on my phone, and for video calls.
So I tried ordering a few different kinds, but I didn’t like any of them. They made the case and phone much bulkier than cases without stands, and the stands didn’t work well at all. The phone would very easily tip over.
So like a good engineer, I decided to take a step back and reevaluate the problem I was trying to solve. I wanted something that would make doing stuff on my phone at the kitchen table easier than awkwardly trying to prop it up against something on the table. And maybe something I could use elsewhere in the house or while traveling, every once in a while.
At this point the solution became obvious: a separate phone stand. I procrastinated on the decision to buy it until a lightning sale came up, and then hit the buy button (Amazon is very good at getting you to buy things, FYI). And I’ve used it EVERY SINGLE DAY since it arrived. An excellent $10 purchase. It allows you to adjust the phone tilt angle very easily, and it’s very steady. So much better than any built-in case stand.
Initially we also used this stand for our tablet, but eventually we realized it was not large enough to handle it well, so decided to go larger and get a tablet stand. We use it nearly every day at home, but don’t tend to take it when traveling since it’s not quite as small and portable.
Speaking of tablets, you’ll probably want to get your kids some headphones to maintain your sanity when they’re watching stuff on the tablet. These JLab JBuddies Studio Over-Ear Kids Wired Headphones were relatively inexpensive, comfortable, and max volume limited for kids. Our son has not complained once about comfort, but he does sometimes complain he can’t hear well in loud environments. But we’re not willing to let him use headphones that can get too loud, so he just has to deal with that for now. Given that these are over-ear headphones, I’m pretty sure it offers close to the max sound protection for inexpensive kid headphones.
Speaking of headphones, I strongly recommend having some Bluetooth headphones you can use to listen to music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc. when you’re going for a run in the morning, doing dishes, working out, and other more active activities. Listening to audiobooks while I’m doing dishes and making kid lunches each night is probably how I get over 50% of my reading done these days.
I got SoundBot SB220 headphones way back in 2015 for $14, and they have held up well for nearly a decade now. Good quality sound and decent noise protection. Unfortunately that model isn’t sold anymore, but the SoundBot SB221 headphones look like the most similar updated model, sold for $20.
Unfortunately the bluetooth headphones that are designed for “active use” tend not to work as well when you really want good noise cancellation, like on an airplane or when you’re trying to get stuff done on your computer in a noisy environment. Also, the kind of active headphones I like have a bar that goes around the back of your head, which is great for stability but gets in the way when I try to lean my head against a head rest (like on an airplane).
For these reasons, I looked for a while for some good bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones, and I did not have good luck initially. Every pair I tried was either too loose or too tight or some other issue.
I then finally found a pair that fit and worked perfectly: the Soundcore Anker Life Q20 headphones. Really comfortable and yet they don’t easily slide off my head either. Great sound quality, noise cancellation, battery life, buttons, etc.
I used them on a work trip a couple weeks ago and it was amazing how much more pleasant the airport and airplane experience was – being able to dramatically reduce the assault on your ears of so much noise for so long is phenomenal. Even better than I expected.
Continuing with electronics that go on ears, I purchased the Logitech H390 Wired Headset in March 2020. I’ll let you figure out why I bought a headset that month. Hint: working from home became a LOT more popular that month.
Initially I just used them for video calls and meetings, and they worked well. But then I realized they were actually really good for music and watching videos as well. And in fact before I bought the Soundcore Anker Life Q20 bluetooth headphones, I used this headset as my primary headphones when working at my computer.
I will say that my wife bought the same headset and she really disliked how sharp the mic part is. I hadn’t really noticed it, but it was a deal breaker for her. So you might have to test for yourself, and return if needed. And they are USB headphones, so you’ll need a USB port for whatever device you’re using (or an adapter that can provide a USB port).
When I bought a new desktop computer in 2019, I intentionally chose a machine that only had a really large (2 TB) and slow Hard Drive Disk (HDD) (a traditional spinning hard drive). The reason? I knew I could buy and install a Solid State Drive (SSD) myself for far less than if I bought it pre-installed. AND I’d have a large capacity HDD I could use for archival purposes, in the same machine. It’s a great hack for lowering the price of a new computer, while taking far less effort than building your own machine from scratch.
So after shopping around a while, I decided to go with a 500 GB SSD from Samsung. I didn’t need more than 500 GB, since I had the 2 TB traditional drive for archival storage. I just needed something that would give me plenty of room to dual boot Linux (Ubuntu) and Windows, install any software I would need, and store files I’d need on a regular basis. Several years later, I still have 340 GB free on this drive.
And even after four years, this computer with the SSD still ZOOMS. Booting my computer takes 10 seconds max, and I almost never experience any lag opening files or moving files around. Which still amazes me, because I could always see a slow down by year 3 in all my previous computers. This machine still feels brand new. Though using Linux instead of Windows is probably a very large part of that performance stability as well.
A couple weeks later we bought the Crucial MX500 1TB SSD for my wife’s computer, which really gave new life to her Macbook Pro. It went from nearly unusable to not too bad essentially. We chose a 1 TB drive instead of 500 GB, since it would be her only internal and readily accessible drive, though I suspect if we checked it that we’d find she’s probably not using more than 500 GB.
Amazingly that Crucial MX500 1TB SSD is now just $50 (as of Sept 24, 2023)! Far cheaper than the Samsung equivalent. Amazing how cheap SSDs are these days. So I recommend just buying the Crucial SSD.
On a Prime Day deal we bit the bullet and finally purchased a Wyze Outdoor Camera for monitoring the front of our house. And it’s been fantastic! It’s battery operated, but the battery lasts for months, so we’ve only recharged it once, which took just a few hours. At some point we might also purchase a solar array that can be used with it to avoid the need to charge, which the last time I checked was around $20 or so. But so far the battery life seems great.
We also ordered a Ring camera, but there were so many issues with the delivery, and it was more expensive, and the plan for saving/accessing videos was more expensive, and the Wyze cam worked really well, so we returned the Ring cam.
We also got this fantastic electric skillet on some kind of Amazon sale, and it’s been great. Really effective non-stick surface, pretty easy to clean and store. We got this skillet as part of our effort to “electrify” our kitchen without doing a full replacement of our gas stove (which we just shut the gas off to), because we’re holding out to hopefully get a new stove replacement via the High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program later this year or (more likely) next year.
Another item we purchased to electrify our kitchen was this induction cooktop, which is also fantastic. You have to have the correct kind of pots and pans for it to work, but the efficiency is absolutely incredible. And it’s really phenomenal in our hot Texas summers – it’s amazing how much less hot our kitchen gets vs using a gas stove. Our stainless steel pots and cast iron pan worked perfectly, so we just purchased a single additional normal compatible pan which works great.
Finally, the last big electric item we got to electrify our kitchen was this phenomenal countertop oven. This oven is large enough to easily fit a 9×13 casserole dish, full size pizza, etc.
And just like the induction cooktop is vastly more efficient and cooler than a gas cooktop, this oven is vastly more efficient and cooler than a full size oven. That means we can easily bake/roast/etc. through the entire summer and the kitchen temperature barely budges.
It also preheats an order of magnitude faster than a full size oven – which makes sense, it’s heating far less space! It’s always bothered me how much empty space a standard size oven has for the vast majority of times you use it – and you have to heat that entire space!
As a result, even once we do replace our gas range/oven with an electric (probably induction) range/oven, I suspect we’ll continue to use this Breville most of the time for the incredible efficiency and speed it offers.
For way too long we fought with an unreliable thermometer that was supposed to work on either the forehead or ear, but it was a pain to use and eventually it got to the point where we didn’t trust the readings anymore.
So finally I looked for a better option and lo and behold I found a fancy no-contact forehead thermometer we’d only seen at doctors offices for just $10! And it was one of the recommended options by Wirecutter as well, at least when I bought it.
Physical Products – Not Electronics
I bought this VIVO standing desk for my home office in March 2020. I’m sure you can guess why I bought it that month. And it’s worked super well the last couple years, going up and down usually at least once a day. It has a ton of surface space for all three of my monitors plus speakers, and it’s very stable. I bought it for $270 and it’s $250 now – pretty incredible with how much inflation has driven up other prices the last couple years.
One thing I read in the reviews before purchasing was that the lowest level of the desk is very slightly higher than the average desk height for many folks. I’ll admit this minimum height took some getting used to for me, even after I took the unnecessary feet off the base. But after that adjustment period, I was totally fine. And one unexpected benefit is that desk chair arms no longer get caught under the desk.
You may note this item is NOT in the electronics section. But don’t standing desks use electric motors and electronic controls? Not this one! It uses a manual crank, baby!
Yep, that means you have to actually do work to crank the desk up and down. But what’s the point of a standing desk? Reduce sedentary activity like sitting all day, right? So why not add some extra (relatively easy with this crank) activity when you adjust the desk?
More benefits of a manual crank:
- Cheaper! Sometimes by a substantial amount.
- No electronics or motors that can fail.
- No need to consume yet another slot on your power strip, which if you’re like me is likely at full capacity already.
One good question though: how to get it to the same height each time? An electric standing desk you can set to a particular saved height usually. The answer: count the turns. It is a little tedious, but you get used to it pretty quickly and easily. I turn my crank 43.5 turns. A nice mindfulness practice 😉
Last August (2022) we had an infestation of Pharaoh ants, and it was unbelievably difficult to get rid of those suckers. I tried lots of things, including standard Raid Ant Gel from the grocery store that usually knocks out any ants we have, but nothing worked. Eventually I did some research into more “pro” versions of ant gel, and this Syngenta Ant Gel Bait rose to the top. After it arrived, it still took a few days of the ants eating the bait, but FINALLY they all died off. Woohoo!
However, this August (2023) we had an infestation of Big-headed ants (which was ultimately identified by a friendly member of an insect identification group on Facebook – I was flying blind until then). And MAN WOMAN CHILDRAN these suckers were even HARDER to get rid of!
I used the same Syngenta Ant Gel Bait, and I even bought a brand new tube of it just in case it had lost some effectiveness being opened over a year ago. And they went CRAZY consuming it. Hundreds swarmed the gel every evening like clockwork. However unlike the Pharaoh ants, they didn’t fully die off within a few days. Instead they kept coming for OVER A MONTH! Eventually they did stop showing up, but that happened the same day we finally got a decent rain storm after a long hot dry summer, so I wonder if that was partly responsible.
I sure hope this trend of super-hard-to-kill ants showing up in August doesn’t continue. We’ll see. Might have to resort to a professional exterminator at some point.
Another tip: strongly recommend putting the gel on a bit of cardboard instead of directly on the floor – makes cleanup FAR easier.
Tired of throwing away hundreds of disposable baggies every year? We were. So we decided to try some reusable silicone bags, which Mrs. EYFI researched extensively, and they work really well. Dishwasher safe, which is amazing. Below are the different bags we got (I had no idea we got five different kinds until I put this list together):
- Stand-up Mega – good for storing dry overnight oatmeal mix while traveling
- Stand-up Mid – good for carrying nuts on trips or for keeping some at an office without their getting a gross plastic taste
- Stasher – good for carrying a small stash of nuts in a purse or backpack for an emergency snack (and with small kids, it’s always an emergency)
- Small cup – good size for kid snacks on the road, as they fit into a cupholder (just don’t fill them past the max fill line or they’ll pop open in your bag)
- Small dish – perfect size for making a single serving of overnight oatmeal from your dry mix while traveling and eating it from the container like a bowl the next morning
Have young kids and want more space in the backseat? My wife and I searched extensively for a reasonably priced car seat that also didn’t take up too much space (side to side or front to back), and we eventually landed on the Graco SlimFit 3 in 1 Car Seat. With two cars and two young kids, guess how many of these seats we’ve purchased? Yep, four friggin car seats. Ah, the joys of parenthood. But the seats have been solid.
Eventually our older kid got old enough to use a booster seat on trips, so we didn’t have to haul two full size car seats through multiple airports. The SlimFit 3 in 1 is one of the slimmest seats we found, but it’s still a full size seat and so not THAT small. So we got this Graco TurboBooster Backless Booster Car Seat for a fraction of the cost of a full size seat. It’s also a nice portable backup to his normal seat, for use by grandparents or whatever.
I hate how much toothpaste or lotion/cream/whatever is left in a tube after you can’t squeeze any more out. Sounds like a job for a tool! We tried a variety of products actually, but this Toothpaste Squeezer was the most effective we used.
Do you dread trying to jam your Christmas tree back in its original box after the holidays? We did too. So we found this Christmas Tree Storage Bag, which works brilliantly. FYI, we initially thought we’d need to get a larger bag, assuming their recommended size would be a really tight squeeze, but they aren’t that conservative so we ended up returning that bag and getting a smaller one. I do recommend going with the bag they recommend for the size tree you have.
So I’ll admit this one took some getting used to. I’d seen bidets in Europe and other parts of the world, but they are pretty rare in the US. One day we were at a friend’s house and I saw this sprayer on the side of their toilet. I came out and asked about it, and they raved about it. They particularly liked the handheld bidet sprayer over a toilet seat mounted bidet (and it’s cheaper as well).
So we decided to give it a whirl, as we were also sick of kids using thousands of pieces of toilet paper. After we bought an inferior brand that I couldn’t get to not leak, we bought this Purrfectzone Bidet Sprayer (yes, there are two r’s), and it’s been great.
While it’s primarily for spraying your bum, it’s also great for cleaning the toilet and for cleaning dirty underwear accidents with kids. Eventually we grew to like it so much that we bought two more for the other two bathrooms in our house.
- Make sure you close the valve after each use – the instructions will say this as well, and it’s definitely something you should do. It’s easy to open and close.
- It does take some practice learning how to shoot it at the correct angle and force (it’s pretty powerful if you squeeze fully).
- In general women will be better off spraying from the front, while men are better off spraying from the back – for anatomical reasons I’ll let you figure out.
- Be prepared for cleaning up a little water if you’re teaching young kids how to use it – some old towels nearby can be handy.
Now that I’m getting old, I find that my heels will get insanely dry and cracked, especially in the winter. So much that it actually hurts – which never happened in my 20’s.
The problem was that if I put any moisturizer on my heels, it would quickly rub off on the floor/sheets/whatever – not good. Then I ran across these Moisturizing Heel Socks, and like an old married dude that doesn’t care about appearances anymore, I decided to buy these Nado Care socks. And they work great!
But of course you need a good foot cream for the socks to work. I previously used O’Keeffe’s Healthy Feet Foot Cream, but eventually I switched to Gold Bond Healing Hydrating Cream, which seems to work a bit better and is less greasy.
I grew up with Corelle plates and bowls, and I did not appreciate how awesome they are until I started using other kinds of dishes. They stack way more compactly in the cabinet than most dishes, and they are incredibly chip and break resistant. We have indeed broken one plate and maybe one bowl over the years, but it takes a pretty big fall onto something really hard like tile to make that happen. If you’re tired of bulky dishes that break/chip easily, or you’re looking for a super practical gift for a college graduate, it’s hard to go wrong with this option.
So as part of our effort to “electrify” our kitchen without doing a full replacement of our gas stove (which we just shut the gas off to), because we’re holding out to hopefully get a new stove replacement via the High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program, we decided it would be really nice to cover our gas range. Mainly so that we could cover the nasty gas burning surface and gain a ton of counter space.
So we got this Prosumer’s Choice Stovetop Cover Bamboo Cutting Board during Black Friday last year, and it’s been fantastic. I know it has “cutting board” in the name, but we never use it for cutting anything. Initially we thought we’d put our new Breville countertop oven on this cover (since we wouldn’t be using the gas burners anymore), but we ended up placing the Breville on a different counter. And we didn’t lose any counter space by doing that, because we can now use the incredible increase in counter space that this cover provides.
For a hot minute I thought I might make the cover myself, especially when I wasn’t seeing ideal options initially, but once I found this board and saw the black friday price, I knew it would likely be far superior to anything I created.
Important Tip: plenty of folks in the reviews complained about the legs that come with this board, so instead of using those, we took all the burner grates off the stove and have the board flush against the edges of the stove (using a bit of anti-slip material to keep it from sliding around).
We did add some food grade mineral oil to the board since it arrived pretty dang dry, and that’s the common advice for keeping bamboo in good shape. But honestly I’m not sure how much it was worth doing that, since we don’t use it as a cutting board.
Finally, even when we replace this gas range/oven with an electric (probably induction) range/oven, we’ll make sure to get one that has a flat top so that we can continue to use this fantastic board and retain all the wonderful additional counter space it provides.
Books: Why, Where, How
Ah, books. You could spend a lifetime doing nothing but reading books, and still barely make a dent in the insane number of amazing books out there. But, that shouldn’t stop us from trying.
Books usually offer far better organization, polish, and concentration of knowledge than other sources of information. A book has usually had multiple eyes carefully review every word, and has likely gone through multiple iterations of editing to make it far cleaner and clearer.
Thus I make it a point to do the majority of my reading with books, whether they are electronic, printed, or audiobooks. In fact, you can get a tremendous amount of additional reading in by listening to audiobooks while you’re doing other things, such as dishes, cleaning, exercise, driving, etc.
Of course, when it comes to obtaining a book, you should ALWAYS search your library system(s) first.
See above app recommendations Libby and Hoopla on finding eBooks and audiobooks. And you can use a site like worldcat.org to search all nearby libraries to see if they have a printed book.
If you can’t find it in a library, submit a request for them to purchase it.
If you can’t get a particular library card without paying a fee, there may be a program in your state/area that allows you to get a limited library card using your account at a different library. Here in Texas, we have the TexShare program, which my wife and I use every year.
If you can’t find a book in any library, and you’re not willing to wait for a library to buy it, then definitely look for used copies. If you can’t find it used either somehow, then you have my permission to buy it new (or if you’re wanting to support the author – that’s another good reason to buy new).
Finally, there may be libraries in your (US) state that only require you to be a resident of the state (vs the city/area they are located in) – which is the case for a few libraries here in TX. Search around online with a phrase like “library cards free for all X residents”. Many of these libraries allow you to apply online for a digital-only library card for their digital collections – so no need to visit the physical location either. Thus you can collect all your library cards in Libby and search a number of different libraries for a particular item.
Or rather, HOW to keep track of books you’re reading. Though I would recommend the book “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” if your kids are currently learning how to read. It was a great book for my son as he learned to read.
I find that a good organization system for reading books is essential, especially as you get older and the chance of forgetting whether you’ve read a book or not increases. I got this idea from my Dad, who got it from his Mom.
I have a spreadsheet I call “Book Queue” that has the following tabs:
- To Sort: where I put potential books that I need to place in the correct category later (this is where I quickly add new book ideas)
- Ideas – Self Help: list of all potential books that generally involve learning new skills or improving yourself, with the categories “Money / Finance / Investing”, “Business”, “Leadership”, “Parenting”, “Health / Food / Fitness”, “Mindfulness / Meditation / Meaning / Happiness”, “Habits”, “Coding”, “Writing”, “General Self Help”
- Ideas – Self Help: list of all potential books that are more general interest, with the categories “Psychology”, “Historical”, “Biography / Autobiography”, “Other Non-fiction”, “Fiction”
- Currently Reading
- Cancelled: those books I didn’t find good enough to keep reading – important so that I don’t accidentally try to read them again (which typically happens when a book has a good title, but I dislike the contents)
- Not Easily Available: those books I can’t find easily right now, but might be interested in reading in the future if they do become more easily available (i.e. I’m not interested enough to purchase – I know with Amazon you can *buy* pretty much any book)
For each book idea, I list the title, authors, year, where I might find it (Libby, Hoopla, etc.), and general comments such as where I heard about the book.
In general I like to alternate between self-help and non-self-help books, so that’s why I split the potential books lists into those two overall categories (instead of fiction vs non-fiction).
I also try to rate each book after I finish it, from 1 to 5: 1 = bad, 2 = meh, 3 = ok, 4 = good, 5 = very good. The vast majority of the books below I’ve given the top score.
The Simple Path to Wealth, by JL Collins, is usually the first book I recommend to people that are totally unfamiliar with investing. The simplicity of his message and JL’s great storytelling capacity results in a fantastic first book about investing, and an enjoyable book for experienced investors as well.
Stocks for the Long Run, by Jeremy Siegel, is usually the first book I recommend to more experienced investors. He goes into lots of informative detail on lots of investing concepts you’ve probably only heard of in passing.
Note that I’ve only read the 5th edition, released in 2014, but the 6th edition released on September 27, 2022, so I’ve linked to that above. The first edition was released in 1994 – nearly 20 years ago. I will read the new edition at some point.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street, by Burton Malkiel, teaches you about the statistical nature of the markets, and how you can use that knowledge to overcome investing mistakes. Given my background in statistical estimation, I really enjoy how this book brings those concepts to many people. The 13th Edition was released January 3, 2023.
The Little Book of Common Sense Investing, by John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard and essentially the person that made index fund investing possible, is a classic investing book. If you’re wondering about why some people are so obsessed with index funds, Vanguard, and John Bogle, this book will give you a very good window into their obsession (and why they’re often referred to as “Bogleheads”).
Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence by Carol Pittner (the daughter) and Doug Nordman (the father) is a fantastic guide to raising kids focused on the right ideas about money and future financial independence.
Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence, by Chris Mamula, Brad Barrett, and Jonathan Mendonsa, is a great overview of the main principles of the FIRE movement. Brad and Jonathan created the ChooseFI podcast that has grown tremendously in popularity since 2017.
The Psychology of Money, by Morgan Housel, I enjoyed a great deal. I can’t say I agree with 100% of his ideas, but they are really compelling nonetheless. I gave it my top book rating.
This recommendations page is already long enough, and this is a site focused on personal finance, so I’m going to stick to a simple list for books not focused on finance. Though I am at least organizing by category. I may have future blog posts describing how these books connect to personal finance at some point in the future though, as many of these books are absolutely incredible and can dramatically change your life for the better.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
- 10% Happier by Dan Harris
- The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
- Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
- How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King
- How to Talk When Kids Won’t Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King
- Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
- Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
- Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich
- The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
- Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
- In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
- Cooked by Michael Pollan
- How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Health and Fitness
- Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
- How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
- Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell
- Abundance by Peter Diamandis
- Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight by Jay Barbree
- David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
Have a suggestion?
If you have any recommendations not included above, feel free to leave a comment below!