I’m fed up with Swagbucks, Ibotta, and other “cash back” apps

I have a, um, limited income. Comes with being a writer and working in the non-profit world. I have enough, but I’m always looking for ways to save money here and there. I compare price per-ounce at the grocery store, take advantage of BOGO deals when they come around for my usual purchases, and have cash back rewards on my credit card. I’m obsessed with Thred Up, a website that carries secondhand designer clothes (and if you click that link, you will get a $10 credit, and if you spend that credit I will get a $10 credit. Just a disclaimer. Be warned, though, it’s addictive!).

I started using Ibotta sometime last year, and signed up for Swagbucks a few months ago. For those of you not familiar with these apps, Ibotta partners with companies to give you a “rebate” when you buy specific items and scan your receipt to prove your purchase. The rebate varies from $0.25 to $10.00, depending on the cost of the item, and once you reach $20.00 in rebates you can get the money sent to your PayPal, Venmo, or purchase a gift card.

Swagbucks has a similar system, but beyond just purchases they have surveys and “content” (i.e. ads) that you can participate in for “Swagbucks,” points that add up to cash. The nice thing about Swagbucks is you don’t have to reach $20 to redeem your points. You can get a gift card as low as $3.00.

Ibotta and Swagbucks have helped with my Amazon addiction. Also known as my ebook and music addiction. Between the two of them I’ve probably gotten close to $75 in Amazon credit (and used it all, alas).

But I think for me they have outlived their usefulness, and are now time-wasters and money-wasters. Let me tell you why.

You get the most bang for your buck with Ibotta if you refer friends, because with your referral code they get $10 in credit, and when they redeem their first rebate you get $5 in credit. I guess if you have a ton of friends you can keep this going for a while, but I’m kind of tapped out. What the hell, though, if you want to try it here’s my referral link and yes I will get credit if you use it.

Here’s how Ibotta can actually cost you money, though. It’s great if they are featuring rebates on items you normally buy at stores where you normally shop. The pitfall is if you buy an item or choose a store just because of the rebate. This is an old, old marketing trick. “Filet Mignon is 20% off today? I must buy Filet Mignon!” Did you intend to buy Filet when you went to the store today? No? Well now you just spent money you didn’t need to, even if you spent less thank you would have if you’d bought full price Filet Mignon.

Or, and this is what I realized I’d been doing, you pay more for an item by purchasing it at a store with rebates rather than going to a store with overall cheaper prices. For example, I might look at the current rebates featured and see that a specific brand of chicken breast has a $1.00 rebate at my favorite nice grocery store. “Hooray!” I think to myself, and go spend $6.00 on chicken breast for a $1.00 rebate instead of going to Aldi across the street and paying $3.00 for the same amount of chicken breast.

(Side note, if there is an Aldi in your town you should be shopping there.)

I can’t believe I’ve allowed myself to be taken in this way. Ibotta can be useful, and you CAN make money on it, but if you truly want to to be frugal, it’s worth doing your research and having some self-control.

I’ll probably keep using Ibotta, sparingly, but what really bugs me is Swagbucks. The only way to make any money there is to spend money. Buy this $14/month luxury subscription and get $15 in Swagbucks! Donate $40.00 to this charity and get $40.00 in Swagbucks! Most of the time you’re breaking even, or getting on another company’s mailing list for a few bucks.

Then there’s the surveys. Hundreds of marketing research surveys, they say. What they don’t say is the surveys are often looking for very specific candidates and if you don’t fit you waste 5 minutes answering their qualifying questions and earn 1 swagbuck as reward. You know how much 1 swagbuck is? $0.01. If you do qualify, you are very lucky to get a 30 minute survey that rewards you 100 swagbucks, or $1.00. Best case scenario, you are earning a couple bucks an hour.

If you have that much time to waste, you could get a job that pays at least minimum wage.

The time when Ibotta and Swagbucks are going to work for you – and ThredUp, for that matter, and any sale or discount – is when they give you the opportunity to gain or spend less on something you were already going to buy at the cheapest price anyway. Cash back apps are not evil, but I’ve found they waste my time (especially Swagbucks) for little reward, or at worst encourage me to spend when I don’t need to.

P.S. This video from Bite Size Psych explains why we fall for marketing tricks!


Why you should be an academic

I sent this meme to my friend the other day:


I dare you not to laugh at it. I dare you not to watch it over and over again and giggle every time.

I was not being a good friend, because after a long string of HAHAHAs and a ROFL or two, she replied,

“Stop making me laugh!! I’m writing a grad school paper and I need to be academic!”

“BUT,” I countered, “could this GIF not be academic? Could we not look at dear wiggle cat and friend Shaq and ask, Why? Why is it funny?”

Is it funny because every cat owner has seen their cat do the same thing?

Is it funny because Shaquille O’Neal was a legend on the basketball court?

Is it funny because of Kazaam, the 1996 classic starring Shaq as a sassy genie?

To give a truly academic answer,


I’ve done time in academia and, despite the pages and pages of research and structuralism and semiotics and seminars and the tiny print in the dusty books and hours spent on JSTOR, I did enjoy it. It gratified my innate tendency to take every little thing to the farthest possible conclusion.

The farthest possible conclusion? Let me demonstrate.

If the above GIF is perceived as funny by cat owners due to their familiarity with the gesture, what is it about the gesture itself that is amusing?

Perhaps it is found amusing because the cat’s posture and dilated pupils indicate extreme eagerness, contrasting with the generally indifferent mood most cats seem to prefer.

The author hypothesizes that the cat owner recognizes this as the pre-pounce wiggle, and the concept of a cat pouncing on Shaq, juxtaposing its tiny size against his legendarily massive bulk, can be characterized as absurd.

However, this does not conclude that the GIF displays features of classic absurdist fiction, the genre of literature in which characters fail to find purpose or meaning in life. Rather, it is absurd in the sense of the familiar dictionary definition: “Wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.” (Webster 211.)

What I learned in graduate school is that anything can be academicized. (Is that a word? If not let’s make it one. I’ll call Webster.) Anything can be academicized because of anything you can always ask the question: Why?

Why is this situation this way?

Why is this TV show popular?

Why do people care about the Kardashians?

You can do research into the social, economic, and cultural factors. Who is watching the Kardashians? Who is following them on social media? What do those people have in common? How does psychology factor into this phenomenon?

Boiled down, academics is just asking questions and looking for answers. And then asking more questions about those answers. Because everything is always infinitely more complex than it appears at first glance.

And isn’t that in itself, divorced or not from the ivory tower, a worthwhile pursuit? Is that not what the reputed father of western philosophy did, Socrates himself? He called himself “the gadfly,” because of his persistent question asking of others.

What if we all gadflied? What if the next time your friend said, “Pizza is my favorite food,” you asked, “Why? What do you like about it? Do you prefer thin crust or deep dish? Why that? Where did you first eat pizza? What kind of toppings do you like?”

Okay…maybe we wouldn’t have any friends. But for every ridiculous thing that is academicized (and believe me, there are plenty), there’s another worthy question waiting to be asked. It’s probably not about pizza. But maybe it is. Regardless, there is always more to discover.

I don’t think I am in the minority as someone who wants to truly, deeply understand all the layers and machinations of the world. The further into it we dive, the more beautiful the world is. The more wondrous her people, and the more significant their deeds.

Self-love, Makeup, and Beauty

I’m a no-makeup girl who wears makeup.

Wait, what?

First off, why is O! Wandering Folk, supposed proponent of the deep and philosophically weighty, talking about something so superficial as makeup?

There’s no digression here, my friend – I believe there’s a deep root and eternal proportions to everything.

Let’s rewind a bit, shall we? My mother did not teach me about makeup. It just wasn’t a thing in my family. She didn’t wear much, if any, and when I looked at her face – her freckled nose and light eyebrows – all I saw was beauty.

I remember at an open house night for my middle school, she noticed a sixth-grader with a face full of makeup (and glitter, as was the trend in those days) and shook her head, saying to me, “Girls this age are just so naturally beautiful, it seems a shame they feel like they have to wear makeup.”

I often have that same thought. I look at women with heavy makeup caked on and my heart sadly wonders – why is she hiding herself?

Through most of high school and college I wore little to no makeup. I often wore foundation, because I have acne, and I went through phases of playing around with a very, very small amount of eye makeup. That was it. My best friend was – is – a pro at cosmetics because her mom taught her how to use them well. She would occasionally beg me to let her give me a makeover and I’d consent reluctantly – although the root of our friendship is actually her chasing me shrieking around a sleepover trying to brush me with body glitter.

My friend would proudly pronounce my makeup done (sans glitter) and tell me to look in the mirror.

“It looks really nice,” I’d say, truthfully, because it did. Then I’d slowly add, “but it doesn’t look like me.”

Fast forward through this unnecessarily long story, to grad school. I got irritated with people assuming I was a “fresher” (UK slang for freshman, I quickly learned). One day I wore eye makeup and someone passing out brochures stopped me in the street – “How old are you, 22?”

“Oh! I’m 23!” I answered eagerly, not caring that he was trying to sell me something. I was just glad he didn’t think I was 17.

I started wearing makeup almost every day. That was the start of my journey to learning that I can present myself to be perceived a certain way, and thus the start of my struggle between changing my apperance to garner a more desireable perception, or being as comfortably “me” as I wanted to.

Perception is something, I learned, that you can manipulate, if you know what you’re doing. And there’s power in that – enticing power. But it’s also wearying. Wearying for the effort it takes. And wearying for the idea that your “unaltered” appearance might not reflect how you feel on the inside.

It goes beyond makeup, of course – wear a pencil skirt and heels and you’re a power woman. Jeans and Converses and you’re youthful and carefree. A cat eye is chic and a red lip is classically bold. Too much makeup and you look like you’re trying too hard – or you’re too easy. If you know what I mean.

But it’s not all about deception. And that’s why I still like to wear makeup, even though I feel confident enough now that I don’t feel like I need to wear it. The older you get the fewer shits you give (which gives me great joy anticipating how few shits I will give when I’m actually old, because, I’m still quite a youngin in the scheme of things). No, I’ve grown to like the creativity of it. How my makeup and wardrobe choices can give me a certain type of confidence, or express a facet of my personality. Today I feel punk. Yesterday I felt like Audrey Hepburn. Tomorrow I’ll feel like a wild woman and I’ll just wear moisturizer.

I still feel sad sometimes when I see girls or women wearing a lot of makeup. I understand it is an avenue for creativity, a means of self-expression. But I think that too often these are the buzzwords used justify hiding, or self-deprecation. Well-done makeup is beautiful. A completely natural face is also beautiful.

I love to see those “celebrities without makeup!” photos. Recently in the news for going sans makeup are Alicia Keys (all the time now!), and Adele in an apology video made for her fans. Makeup trends make everybody look the same, I think – and that’s a real shame, because I believe beauty is found in variety.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I’m not against makeup, and I’m not against no makeup. I like both. I do both! What I am against is hating your uniqueness, fearing the opinions of others, feeling the need to hide, or thinking you have to alter yourself to be beautiful.

In the interest of full disclosure, and because you read all the way down through this Wandering, here’s my face. I struggle with self-love, like all women, but I’ve learned to give myself – and my face – the kindness I deserve.

An “everyday” office look.


And just me, clean and ruddy.



It’s life-giving and hard to find.

As I mentioned earlier, recently I finished a book called The Hiding Place, a true story about a Dutch woman and her family who were sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews during World War II.

Toward the end of the book she describes her first night in a bed after being released from the camp and her almost indescribable awe at sleeping in a real bed with sheets – clean sheets, no less – after months of sharing a flea-ridden cot with five or more other women and only a thin blanket.

Reading this I paused, emotion caught in my throat.

Every night I sleep on sheets.

Clean, soft white sheets on my big, comfortable bed, with all the blankets I’d need, and air conditioning and a ceiling fan for a hot night. Any night of my life that I spent otherwise – and believe me they are few – were done so completely voluntarily.

I thanked Jesus for my sheets when I slipped between them later.


Driving to an annual checkup the next morning, I marveled at the rush-hour traffic, especially since there were still so many cars when I was heading in the opposite direction of most commuters.

Then I recalled the time I spent working in Atlanta and when I lived in the metro DC area. The worst traffic day in Birmingham is better than the best in those places.


The wait in the doctor’s office was just as long as usual. Wait to get called back. Wait for the nurse. Wait for the doctor. All this effort seems so annoying to have to go through once a year for such a trivial medical problem. Even more annoying to have the problem in the first place

While I lay back letting the nurse give me an EKG that I knew would be normal, I thought of all the many, many people in the waiting room whose EKGs would not be normal.

I am so healthy, to be so assured of a normal heart rhythm, and to hear from the doctor, “Ok, well, we’ll just see you in another year!”


It’s almost my twenty-seventh birthday and in my region of the States that puts me in old maid territory. Not saying that’s right, it just is what it is – most people in the South get married in their early twenties.

Sometimes I feel a little taste of bitterness about this – but then I remember I really, really love my life. If I had married at age 23 – I would have made some very unwise choices. Instead, I’m independent and happy.


It’s hard to find perspective when your vision is filled with what you’re currently experiencing. Even the suggestion to “get some perspective” can have you lashing out like a cornered animal (or maybe that’s just me). But a moment of perspective is the clear strike of a bell. Before it even quits ringing your emotions are changed – just with that one thought, the thought that’s hard to find, and easy to forget.


I just read two Holocaust memoirs.

The first, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Followers of Jesus, she and her family participated in the Dutch resistance during World War II and hid Jews in their home. She and her sister were arrested and sent to Ravensbruck. Corrie was eventually sent home, but her sister died there.

The second, Night by Elie Wiesel. He and his family, Hungarian Jews, were deported toward the end of WWII and sent to Auschwitz and Birkeanau. Elie’s father, mother, and baby sister all died.

Both horrific accounts of the depravity to which humankind can descend. Sickening, gut-turning depravity.

I don’t make a practice of reading these kinds of books because I empathize in reading so much more than I do while watching movies, or even in real life…is that weird? But I’ve wanted to read both for a long time, since they’re both so acclaimed and their authors beloved.

I cried.

I cried at the end of both books. But…they were very different tears.

When I finished The Hiding Place, I outright wept. I wept at the beauty of God’s love and the hope in Christ that sustained Corrie and her sister Betsie in the concentration camp. All the little ways he provided in kindness. The tender and miraculous ways he began redeeming the tragedy after Corrie’s release – even during her imprisonment, as she and Betsie were able to minister to their fellow inmates.

When I finished Night, though, I felt weightily depressed.

Ten Boom’s story is about finding God’s love in the midst of horror. Wiesel’s is the opposite – it is about the loss of faith, loss of humanity, loss of identity.

Night is hopeless. There is no redemption in it. No light. Just darkness. Darkness that, I’m sure, Wiesel felt the rest of his life – his life that he called the night that started the day of his deportation.

We need both stories.