How to get Free AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping

amazonglobal

The “Free AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping” deal allows you to ship your Amazon order to Singapore for free if you buy US$125 worth of products sold by Amazon.com that are eligible for the AmazonGlobal Program. How exactly do you know upfront (without going to the check-out page to see the shipping cost) if you will get free shipping on the product(s) you want to purchase?

refineby

Amazon recently made it extremely easy to check for the eligibility of getting the free shipping by allowing you to filter your search results to display only those items that are eligible for free international shipping to Singapore. You do have to limit your search results to a single department to access this filter option.

amazonshipto

If you are in the product page, you can check the eligibility for free international shipping by first selecting your shipping address in the add to cart box. Then when you choose the specific option of the product (e.g. size, colour) that you want, eligibility for free international shipping will be indicated right next to the product price.

amazonfreeshipping

If you care to know, the most basic criteria for the eligibility to get this free shipping is that the product item must be “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com“. Many products are fulfilled by Amazon (i.e. ships from Amazon) but are sold by other merchants. You don’t get free shipping to Singapore on these products. Unfortunately, i found out that many items that i have attempted to buy, that are shipped and sold by Amazon, also turned out to be ineligible for the free shipping, for unknown reasons. It could be due to the product brand owner not wanting to allow parallel import, or complications involving some product categories, such as food.

amazonshipsg

On the “About FREE AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping” page, a guideline is given that states that “Offer does not apply to items larger than 18” x 14” x 8” or over 20 lbs.”. This is actually a very generous allowance. Imagine shipping an item that’s 9kg from the US via a courier service – it will cost you a bomb!

A point to note: the Amazon product page automatically selects the seller that offers the lowest price (inclusive of shipping fee), and this may supersede Amazon themselves. If you want to get free shipping to Singapore, you will have to buy from Amazon. Usually, the slightly higher price you pay to buy from Amazon is well worth it since you get free shipping to Singapore. See example below:

amazonexample
The item sold by Amazon ranks fourth place in terms of lowest price, but you should definitely click the “Add to Cart” button on the Amazon seller.

The shipments to Singapore are mostly handled by two courier services – UPS and i-parcel (apparently bought over by UPS as well). From experience, i-parcel delivery is faster. Unfortunately you don’t get to choose the courier service for your shipment. UPS now leaves your package at the Shell station nearest to your home in case the delivery attempt failed, which is a good idea. Anyway, there’s no reason to complain when you’re getting FREE shipping. Thank you Amazon.

iHerb product recommendation – toiletries

This may sound crazy but i often ship toiletries from the US through iHerb. I mean, why not, since, for a flat fee of US$4, you can ship up to 6.3kg worth of stuff each time? Some of these products are simply cheaper on iHerb, and some are just not available in Singapore. Take for example, Method All Purpose Natural Surface Cleaner (US$3.82 ~S$5.23) which i like to use on the dining table and kitchen countertop. The price in Singapore is $7.90.

RedmartMethod

ecover

Ecover Natural Stain Remover (US$3.80 ~S$5.20) which is very effective on my kids’ soiled clothing. Price in Singapore? $10.90.

ecoverredmart

There are plenty of choices (especially environmental friendly ones) on cleaning liquid for dish washing, kitchen and bathroom.

tomsofmaine

I also buy toothpaste from the US. I especially like Tom’s of Maine Antiplaque & Whitening Fluoride-Free Toothpaste. It leaves a very clean and refreshing feeling. The price on iHerb for this product is a little steep though, and i usually buy 4 pieces at a time to get a volume discount of 12%.

Check out iHerb.com now for products you will be using day to day.

DIY Aircond Servicing

DSC_0001
The dusty blower of my aircond fancoil

I used to pay $20 to service an aircond fancoil (the aircond unit that is installed in your room), which seems pretty cheap, but did you observe what they actually do for you for $20? Not very much really, nothing that you cannot do yourself. Not sure if this sounds familiar, but i was one of those who thought i could get away with not doing regular aircond maintenance on a newly installed aircond, until the drainage pipe became blocked with jelly-like algae and water started dripping out of one of the aircond fancoil unit. To solve this problem, you need a wet and dry vacuum cleaner (i.e. a vacuum cleaner capable of handling liquid). So finally i arranged to have aircond servicing done, got the drainage pipe cleared, and repented from not doing regular aircond maintenance. At some point in time, i started wondering if i could do aircond servicing myself. Really the only thing that stood between me and DIY aircond servicing was a wet and dry vacuum.

Until recently, you didn’t have much choice when it comes to buying a wet and dry vacuum, it would most likely be a Karcher, whose products are usually not cheap (though prices have come down). I struggled with the thought of possibly up to two years before breaking even on such an investment as compared to getting someone else to do the aircond servicing. Then comes taobao into the picture. Well, you know how good the Chinese are at reverse engineering, so it comes as no surprise that you can indeed buy a wet and dry vacuum cleaner on taobao. I finally settled on this one which costs about S$80 (the main selling point was that it was made of 304 stainless steel which will not rust). It pays for itself in just 2 rounds of servicing. A very short review on the Deerma DX135F – basically it rocks. The English tagline for this product is “It’s more powerful than you think”, which is surprisingly fitting. It also comes with various attachments that amplifies the already-powerful suction and to get to hard-to-reach corners.

DSC_0003
Vacuum cleaner attachments

There are basically 4 parts of the aircond that you need to clean regularly – the filter, the fins, the blower and the drainage pipe, as illustrated below:

1. Filter

Vacuum cleaning the filter is usually good enough. You can also wash it with water. A dirty filter blocks air flow through the heat exchanger and diminishes the cooling effect.

DSC_0004

2. Fins

DSC_0005

There are 4 methods to clean the fins – vacuum, steam, foam and chemical wash. You should vacuum the fins every time you vacuum the filter. However, vacuum cleaning may not be able to pick up the dust trapped deep within. Steam cleaning should be able to do the trick. Here’s a Youtube video that demonstrates steam cleaning. If you don’t have a steam cleaner, you can use this foam air-conditioner cleaner. I tried it and found that it did improve the cooling efficiency of my aircond. Finally, a chemical wash is basically an overhaul of your aircond fancoil where the servicing personnel dismantles the entire fancoil unit and washes it with some “chemical” liquid. The labour involved is very costly, and can be avoided if you do regular maintenance using the first 3 methods mentioned above. I would suggest doing vacuum cleaning once a month at the very least, steam cleaning (if you have a steam cleaner) every 2 or 3 months and foam cleaning every 6 to 9 months.

Foam sprayed across the fins
Foam sprayed across the fins
After a while the foam will thin out and it will seep into the fins
After a while the foam will thin out and it will seep into the fins

3. Blower

DSC_0006

Cleaning the blower is the most difficult of all since it is usually located deep within the fancoil unit, plus the fact that the blower consists of many blades that has to be cleaned individually. Don’t expect the aircond servicing personnel to do this for you, they won’t. I get very annoyed about having to deal with a moldy blower. Just like blades on a fan, the blower traps dust as it spins. Since the blower blows cold air, condensation takes place and the dust that’s gathered on the blower becomes wet, attracts even more dust and becomes fungus-infested over time. Not only does it smell, it is harmful to your health (especially to little ones). The moldy smell is most obvious when you’ve just switched on the aircond; you just need to stand near the fancoil unit to smell it. It bothered me so much that i finally took the plunge and bought a steam cleaner (S$89 after discount, comes with 2 years warranty) to deal with it. As with the wet and dry vacuum cleaner, you’ll find Karcher to be an expensive option. Note that the teapot shaped steam cleaners have a very small capacity and are less powerful and are therefore not recommended.

The only way to completely remove moldy dust on the blower is by chemical washing. I wished they made the blower easy to dismantle to allow me to do this myself. Chemical washing is prohibitively costly to do regularly, and besides, the blower doesn’t stay clean for long after the chemical wash, so it’s not practical at all. Regular DIY cleaning is the real way to tackle it – using a combination of different methods, including brushing, vacuum, brute force wiping and steam cleaning.

The pressurized hot steam from a steam cleaner is strong enough to dislodge the moldy dust, and i suppose the heat also helps to kill the fungus at the same time. Since there are so many blades on the blower, it takes a lot of care to ensure that you have blasted steam at each of them. It is not possible to completely remove the dust even with a steam cleaner (since the dust that is blown away by the steam may settle somewhere else within the blower again), but it is faster than just wiping the blades by brute force, although i actually like the brute force method because you get a sense of how much dust you managed to remove. This is what i do to clean the blower:

  • Start by vacuum cleaning the blower (use a brush to try to dislodge dust). This method is not very effective, but since you have the vacuum cleaner on hand, no harm having a go.
  • Next, do brute force wiping. This method actually removes the most dust. I wrap a wet wipe around the handle end of a spoon (or anything similar) and scrape the blades. Trust me, you will go through a few wet wipes and each of them will be dark like charcoal. It is impossible to go through each and every blade, so i only scrape those blades with visible dust.
The wet wipe will look like this any time you wipe the blower. It is impossible to wipe it clean, but every bit helps.
The wet wipe will look like this any time you wipe the blower. It is impossible to wipe it clean, but every little bit helps.
  • Next, do steam cleaning. You should be able to go through most of the blades.
  • Finally, use a hair dryer to completely dry the blades, also wiping the area around the blower as droplets of dirty water will be squirted all around. If you don’t fully dry the blades, dust might start sticking to the blower. In my case, the use of ointment in the room encouraged growth of mold, so that’s something to avoid doing if you can help it.
  • You will not be able to see the dirt once the blades get wet, so you may have to do a few rounds of this steam cleaning.
Moldy dirt blasted off blower by the steam cleaner
Moldy dirt blasted off the blower by the steam cleaner

Don’t expect dust and mold to be eliminated with just one round of cleaning. You should check the blower after a few days to see if there are spots where dust has accumulated again. If so, do brute force wiping and blow dry with hair dryer. If you take up this routine say once every 3 weeks, the blower shouldn’t get too moldy. Do this for the sake of health.

4. Clear the drainage pipe

DSC_0007
Cleaning the drainage pipe is easy, just suck using a wet and dry vacuum cleaner. If you’ve applied the foam air-conditioner cleaner, as a side effect, the foam will flow through the pipe and help to clear it as well.

I hope you can see by now that DIY aircond servicing is as much about having peace of mind as it is about saving money.

iHerb product recommendation – flour and baking needs

Believe it or not, i often ship flour from iHerb.com. They carry flour mostly from 3 brands – King Arthur Flour, Bob’s Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills. If you’re into baking, you would have come across the acronym KAF when you browse forums on baking. After a while you’d realize that KAF stands for King Arthur Flour, a highly regarded brand for flour. Naturally, you pay a premium for this branded flour, and unfortunately iHerb only offers the much-more-expensive organic variant (US$9.20 per 5 pound/2.27kg bag). The Market Place supermarket, and sometimes Cold Storage sells the non-organic 5 pound bag of Unbleached flour at S$10.30, so if you swear by KAF, the Market Place supermarket is your best bet (just for comparison sake, it’s only US$3.98 ~S$5.45 on Walmart).

BobsAP

Any self-respecting baker will recommend the use of unbleached flour. While i can’t confirm this, i presume that most, if not all the local branded non-organic flour are chemically bleached (since they do not state otherwise) Update: they now label their flour as unbleached. If you care about eating non-chemically treated flour, you could, again, buy from the Market Place/Cold Storage supermarket, or iHerb. The Market Place/Cold Storage sells Pillsbury Best (from USA) Unbleached All-Purpose (S$7.40 S$8.05 for 5 pounds) and Waitrose branded (from UK) range of flour. Update 4/3/2016: Fairprice Xtra or Finest also sell Pillsbury Best Unbleached, for only S$7.20. On the other hand, the cheapest unbleached All-Purpose flour on iHerb is this one – Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached All-Purpose White Flour (US$5.64 ~S$7.75 for 5 pounds). These unbleached flour are just slightly more expensive than the local branded flour, definitely recommended.

iHerb offers a very extensive range of Bob’s Red Mill products. While they are also sold at Cold Storage, iHerb’s is probably more comprehensive. You can have fun trying them out – whole wheat pastry flour, kamut, spelt, flax seed meal etc.

buttermilk walnutoil shortening

Other items you might be interested to get from iHerb for baking are buttermilk powder (saves you a lot of hassle from having to buy the fresh ones from the supermarket which you may not be able to use up each time), oilshortening (don’t use Crisco!), vital wheat gluten and baking powder (i find that the local brand Bake King Baking Powder has a tart taste, and more importantly, it does not state that it contains no aluminium, which poses a health risk).

Update: it appears iHerb may not ship Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour anymore. It is forever out of stock, but when you check the stock availability with your location set to the US, you will discover that it is available. I suspect it is due to exclusive distributorship agreements, whereby iHerb is no longer allowed to ship to Singapore. Anyway, since unbleached all purpose flour is now readily available from local supermarkets, and the price is reasonable, there is no need to buy from iHerb.

Update 24/3/2016: I managed to ship Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour from iHerb again. I find that it smells and taste better than the Pillsbury flour sold in local supermarkets, which is also imported from the US.

Update 16/8/2016: I think my shipment of Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour in July was the very last one. iHerb has discontinued the product, as well as most other flour products for Singapore customers.

Update 2 Mar 2017: My current favourite flour is CJ Beksul, which is sold for S$2.10 per 1kg at NTUC Fairprice. I have no idea whether it is unbleached, but it tastes pretty good to me and is actually cheaper than those local branded flour. Anyway, here’s an interesting experiment on comparing KAF and Beksul.

CJ Beksul

Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.

iHerb product recommendation – spices and foodstuff

If you’re ordering stuff on iHerb.com and have spare capacity for the shipment (up to 6.3kg), you might want to consider getting herbs and seasoning. There are plenty for you to choose from. Even if you don’t have anything in mind to get, you could try searching for the best rated or best selling herbs to see if anything piques your interest. That was how i ended up getting the Drogheria & Alimentari Organic Provence Herbs Mill which is made up of some of the commonly used herbs in French and Italian cooking. It works great in pasta. The pricing on iHerb is competitive (or cheaper in some cases) with what is found in local supermarkets, so if you want to try products from a different brand than those commonly found here, you can do so through iHerb.

A sample of other herbs i have gotten from iHerb:

chives
Frontier Natural Chopped Chives US$3.87 (4g), tastes close to fresh chives, handy and probably a lot cheaper to have it in dried form.

nutmeg

Drogheria & Alimentari Nutmeg Mill US$3.29 (40g), cheaper than what is found in the supermarket. Going to try making steak marinade with this.

taco

Frontier Natural Taco Seasoning, Salt-Free Blend US$2.93 (66g), for a Mexican/Spanish taste occasionally.

If you’re a health freak (i’m somewhat one), try Himalayan Pink Salt. The pricing on iHerb doesn’t compare favourably with what you find on Amazon (still within reasonable range though), but Amazon doesn’t ship Himalayan Pink Salt to Singapore, so iHerb is still your best bet (definitely cheaper than what’s available in Singapore). The best value Himalayan Pink Salt are Aloha Bay Himalayan Crystal Salt, Coarse US$5.90 (510g), which requires the use of a salt mill, and Fun Fresh Foods Himalayan Pink Sea Salt US$10.70 (909g) which comes in fine crystal form.

alohabayhimalayan funfreshhimalayan

Or try Celtic Sea Salt, which is “Doctor Recommended Since 1976”. I buy the ‘Light Grey Celtic’ version which is coarse and i grind it directly onto food for seasoning. You do have to bake the crystals to dry it before use because it comes in a slightly moist form.

celticseasalt

The other food product i recommend getting is Y.S. Eco Bee Farms Raw Honey US$17.86 (1.36kg). This is an organic, true raw honey. It isn’t the best honey available out there, but it is probably the best value. It is super thick and creamy, doesn’t smell nor taste so good on its own actually, but great when made into a drink, with lemon for example. Once you’ve gotten used to this you may not want to go back to those processed and watery honey.

rawhoney

These are just a small sample of herbs and foodstuff on iHerb. Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.

iHerb product recommendation – kids and babies products

brownriceceral

Baby products are easily available in any departmental store, where they usually devote a large section to housing baby products (lucrative business), i know. So why buy online from iHerb.com? Well, for me it’s the convenience factor, plus the availability of brands that are not generally found here.

iHerb.com carries supplements, snacks and toiletries for kids and babies. In my previous post, i have mentioned fish oil as being a good buy from iHerb. Besides that, you may want to get baby’s first solid food, like Happybellies Brown Rice Baby Cereal (US$4.99 198g). I have the impression that the baby’s food found in the local supermarket have a tendency to be sweeter, and they are expensive, given that i normally expect products sold in the supermarket to have a more “mass market” pricing. Just for comparison, here is a comparable brown rice cereal product from a local supermarket:

ntucbrownriceceral

iHerb sells this product as well, for US$4.99 ~S$6.83, but due to regulations, it cannot be shipped to Singapore. As you can see, for the price you pay here, you can get a superior product from iHerb.

earthsbestoatmeal

Another healthy baby snack i like to get from iHerb is Earth’s Best Organic Whole Grain Oatmeal Cereal ($US 4.13 227g). It promises no added salt and sugar, nor Artificial flavors, Colors or Preservatives.

Other items i recommend from iHerb are Weleda Children’s Tooth Gel (US$6.14 50ml) and RADIUS Pure Baby Toothbrush (US$3.59). Weleda is a very reputable brand which is not widely available here. The RADIUS baby toothbrush is made of 100% Vegetable Based Bristles, which just sounds so safe to me.

weledatoothgel  radiustoothbrush

Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.

iHerb product recommendation – fish oil

Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA. This was the first product i bought on iHerb.com. It was while searching for fish oil for my then pregnant wife that I came across someone recommending to get this product, from iHerb.com. We opted for this instead of the one from the gynae as this seemed better quality. If my memory doesn’t fail me, the fish oil sold by the gynae was extracted from tuna. This one is from anchovies and sardines. To be honest i don’t know if that makes it much better, but anchovies and sardines do have much lower levels of mercury than tuna. Anyway, as the name suggests, Nordic Naturals was founded by a Norwegian (from the land of salmon and cod fishes), and focuses on making fish oil. I think the products can’t be worse than those from typical large pharmaceutical companies.

While nobody can make a conclusive statement about the benefits of consuming fish oil for young children, a lot of people would err on the side of caution, as did we. And so we bought Nordic Naturals Baby’s DHA, which we dutifully fed our first child, but by the second child we got lazy, and of course my second child displays absolutely no sign of being inferior in any way. If you’re thinking of fish oil for your baby, you can give it a try.

I personally take fish oil as a supplement as well, after being diagnosed with having borderline high level of cholesterol (since years ago actually and i did nothing about it). I decided to do a little experiment by taking fish oil for 3 months and do a lipid screening at the end of 3 months to see if things improved. To my amazement my cholesterol level fell within the normal range. Again, i can’t conclude that this is fully attributed to taking fish oil, as i also consciously avoided high cholesterol food during that period, but i’m inclined to think that it did play a part. The fish oil product i used was Now Foods Super Omega 3-6-9.

There are many fish oil products on iHerb.com. Among the cheapest are Now Foods Omega 3 Cardiovascular Support (US$9.95 for 200 Softgels) and Madre Labs Omega-3 Premium Fish Oil (US$4.95 for 100 Softgels). At this kind of pricing, i think everyone can afford to take fish oil as a daily supplement.

Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.

Further cash rebate on top of credit card cash rebate

ebates

When you’re getting 5.5% – 7% of credit card cash rebate on online transactions, you’re probably folding your arms and telling yourself, “well done”. But wait, there’s more! You can get further cash rebate with Ebates for your online shopping. The merchants include popular online stores, hotel booking (virtually all the hotel chains are there) and car rental, so before you make any online transaction on a US site, it pays (literally) to search if the merchant is on Ebates. You will more likely than not find them there.

A sample of the rebates you can get:

MerchantCash Back
ebayUp to 5%
AmazonUp to 3%
booking.com2%
Agoda3%
hotels.com6%
REI2.5%
Oshkosh B'gosh2.5%
Gap4%
Newegg1%

So how do you get paid? You can choose to be paid via cheque or PayPal. You’ll only get paid every quarter if you have accumulated US$5.01 or more of cash back. I opted to be paid through PayPal since i do use PayPal to pay for online shopping.

In order to receive the cash back, one must first go to ebates.com, search for the merchant and get redirected to the merchant site from there. This is how they link your transaction with the merchant to your Ebates account. You must perform your transaction within that same browser tab in which you were redirected to the merchant site. This presents a problem when the merchant site launches new tabs upon your selection (e.g. this happens on booking.com – when you select a hotel, a new tab is launched to show you the hotel reservation details). To get around this, copy the url in the newly launched tab and paste it back into the original Ebates enabled tab.

Before you get used to using Ebates, i can tell you from experience that you will keep forgetting to activate Ebates first before you do anything else. Ebates provides you a tool to help remind you – the Ebates cash back button, which works on Chrome, Safari and Firefox.

So what are you waiting for? Start using Ebates.

Update 14/11/2015: Shopback is fast becoming my favourite cashback site, now that almost all the online merchants i patronize can be found on Shopback. I’ll likely continue to use ebates for ebay purchases though.

Get S$5 when you sign up for Shopback!

A guide to maximising cash rebates from credit cards

What makes you decide on using a credit card over another? it’s the benefits you get out of the card right? Don’t know about you, but the one thing I want from a credit card is cash rebate. Fanciful marketing does nothing to move me and i believe this is also true for most people. I’m sure banks noticed that, as there are now more cards that give you high cash rebate (>0.5%) than ever before. So the next question is, which credit cards give you the most cash rebate?

Before I continue, standard disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated to any company mentioned in this article and opinions expressed are solely my own. The accuracy of the content below is subject to change and is on a best effort basis. Alright, let’s get straight to the point – i use Bank of China’s (BOC) Shop!, Standard Chartered’s (SCB) Manhattan, Maybank’s Family and Friends and POSB’s Everyday cards. I did a search to see what others have to say about the best credit cards with high cash rebate in the market and found a few other popular cards – OCBC’s Frank, Citibank’s SMRT, Standard Chartered’s SingPost and UOB’s One. There is also another recently introduced card that looks promising – ANZ Optimum. Now, that’s 9 credit cards to compare and consider. (Update 28 Jan 2016: please see my survey of Singapore credit cards for a more updated review on the best credit cards)

These cards can be divided into two general groups – blanket (all spending count towards the high cash rebate) and category specific (only one or two categories of spending, such as online purchases, groceries, dining etc. give you the high cash rebate). The SCB Manhattan and UOB One fall under the ‘blanket’ group. Here’s how they compare:

SCB Manhattan

Maximum rebate of $200 per quarter
3% rebate provided you spend more than $3000 in a single month, otherwise 1% for above $1000 spend and 0.5% for above $500
Cash rebates also awarded on payment of recurring charges (e.g. insurance installment)
Pros: $200 per quarter is the highest rebate amount available in the market
Cons: Only useful when you know you are going to spend above $3000 (up to $6667) in a particular month to earn the 3% rebate, otherwise getting 1% or 0.5% rebate is not attractive

UOB One

Maximum rebate of $150 per quarter
3.33% rebate. Either $150, $80 or $30 rebate provided you spend $1500, $800 or $300 respectively per month for 3 months consecutively
Minimum 3 transactions per month
Cash rebates also awarded on payment of recurring charges (e.g. insurance installment)
Additional 2% awarded on foreign currency spending overseas (spending capped at $5000 per year)
Pros: Decent rebates for $300 spending per month which should be easy to hit for most people especially when recurring charges are allowed.
Cons: All spending above $300 (or $800 or $1500) does not earn you any further rebate, so you have to switch to using another card once you exceed $300 (or $800 or $1500).

Winner: It depends on how much you spend. UOB One is good for recurring charges while SCB Manhattan is good for the occasional over $3000 spending.

Under the ‘category specific’ group, for online transactions we have

BOC Shop!

Maximum rebate of $50 per month with 5.5% rebate for the first $1000 spent on online transactions or Departmental store transactions, thereafter 1%
Minimum spending of $500 per month required
0.5% rebate for other spend
Pros: No restriction on type of online transaction which makes it easy to hit the $500 minimum spending (e.g. telco bills paid online, HDB parking)
Cons: None

Update 29 July 2016: The cashback associated with online transaction is revoked with effect from 1 Aug 2016.

OCBC Frank

Maximum rebate of $60 per month with 6% rebate on online transactions
Minimum spending of $500 per month required
3% rebate on entertainment spending (5% during weekends)
Also awards 3% rebate (capped at $6) on first two NETS Flashpay Auto Top up transactions
0.3% rebate for other spend
Pros: 0.5% higher rebate compared to BOC Shop! card
Cons: Long list of online transactions that do not earn you rebate, quoted from OCBC Frank’s terms and conditions – (a) Payments made via telephone or mail order; (b) Subscription and recurring payments; (c) Payments to government institutions; (d) Payments to financial institutions (including banks and brokerages); (e) Payments to insurance companies; (f) Utility bill payments; (g) Donations; h) Payment of funds to prepaid accounts and merchants who are categorised as “payment service providers”; (i) Payments to schools, hospitals, professional services providers and payments for parking lots (j) Payments of membership fees to clubs and associations; (k) Payments made via online banking;

SCB SingPost

Maximum rebate of $60 per month with 7% rebate on online transactions
Minimum spending $600 required
Also rewards 2% on Supermarket transactions (as good as useless)
0.25% rebate for other spend
Pros: Highest rebate for online transactions
Cons: Excludes insurance premium payments, utilities, EZ-link transactions and online bill payment

Winner: OCBC Frank is likely to be more useful with the rebates given on entertainment.

For groceries, we have

Maybank Family and Friends

Maximum rebate of $600 per year
Minimum spending of $500 per month required
5% rebate at Fairprice and Cold Storage, plus leading petrol stations and hypermarts in Malaysia
0.3% rebate for other spend
Additional 3% rebate if $1000 spent in that month
Pros: Cash rebate is automatically credited into the account, no need to do redemption. Good for occasional trips to Malaysia for those who drive. Maximum rebate calculated on a per year basis which is better than on a per month basis. Additional 3% rebate is actually useful for those months you have to spend on items that don’t otherwise give you any rebate (e.g. medical bill).
Cons: No rebate if $500 minimum requirement not met

Citibank SMRT

Maximum rebate of $280 per year
Minimum spending of $600 per month required, otherwise rebate will be 0.3% less
5% rebate at FairPrice, Giant and Sheng Siong, 5% for Town Council conservancy charge, 2% for EZ Reload Auto Top-up, 15% at selected Coffee joints, 1% for telco and selected insurance bills
0.3% rebate for other spend
Pros: If the $600 minimum spend is not met, the rebate is merely 0.3% less, which is insignificant, so one need not bother about it
Cons: You might easily hit the $280 annual cap on rebates without knowing it. If you do the math, you can only spend $466 per month! The “minimum spend of $600 to get the full rebate” clause is really just a psychological trick. Also, you need to do redemption of vouchers which is a hassle, and there’s always the risk that you forget to do the redemption or use the vouchers before their expiry.

Winner: If you are able to chalk up $500 of spending every month, Maybank Family and Friends seems to be the better deal. Plus, it gives you the flexibility earn additional 3% rebate when you spend more than $1000. Otherwise, you “fall back” on Citibank SMRT.

Next we have 2 other cards that are each unique in it’s own right:

POSB Everyday

The only card that allows you to make recurring payments to SP Services (i.e. utilities bills) and earn 1% rebate at the same time. There is also 5% rebate (capped at $50 per month) at Sheng Siong with no minimum monthly spend required.

ANZ Optimum

5% rebate on dining (restaurants, hotels, bars and cinemas), travel (airlines, travel agencies, and online travel portals), Shopping (fashion boutiques and online fashion stores) or groceries (supermarkets). 1% on all other spend (as a comparison, you have to spend a minimum of $1000 in a month on SCB Manhattan to get 1%). There is no limit on your cash rebate earnings, but there is a maximum of 30 Optimum$ (each equivalent to S$1 currently) awarded per transaction, which allows spending up to $600 per transaction (may not be enough when buying flight tickets for example). No minimum spend is required, which is a good thing. Note that the cash rebate isn’t credited into your account automatically and you have to make a minimum redemption of $50 each time (which can take some time to accumulate). As with all rewards redemption programme, there is an expiry date on the accumulated cash rebate, which is 3 years from account opening. In case you are not able to accumulate $50 worth of rebate before the expiry date, you will lose it all. There is another catch (they’re a bank afterall.. all out for your money): in order to receive the 5% rebate, you are supposed to select your preferred category before the start of every calendar quarter (i.e. Jan, Apr, Jul, Oct), failing which you will not get the 5% rebate (just 1% instead) for the whole quarter. There is also a nasty clause in the terms and conditions that states that the Optimum$ accumulated may be deducted automatically to offset the annual fee. Even with all these conditions in place, i think the careful consumer still stands to benefit from this card.

Here’s the strategy that works for me:

Accumulate $500 worth of online transactions in a month (telco bills and HDB parking payment help, especially when you can pay for a few months of HDB parking at one go to make up for the shortfall to $500) and pay them using BOC Shop! card.

Accumulate >$350 worth of recurring payments in a month (insurance premium payment) and pay them with Maybank Family and Friends card. Usually the groceries spending in a month will be more than $150 and that will take me beyond the $500 minimum required to get the 5% rebate on groceries at FairPrice.

Pay recurring SP Services bill through POSB Everyday card. i also use this card to pump petrol at SPC stations.

Use the newly launched ANZ Optimum card for rebates on dining. This used to be the only category of spending i don’t get much rebates on. Also, use this card for all other spend to get 1% rebate (including online transactions).

If i know i am going to spend more than $3000 in a month (excluding dining), then i will use the SCB Manhattan to get 3% rebate.

I guess everyone has a different pattern of spending, but i’m sure you’ll be able to formulate a winning combination using some of the above mentioned cards.

Update: please see the follow up post ANZ Optimum World credit card test drive results for more on the 5% cash rebate.

Cut out the middleman – reap savings from online shopping

onlinesites

We all know the way to buy cheap goods is to go to the source, or close to the source. The internet made this possible by enabling the manufacturer to sell directly to end customers. You can just about find anything online these days, to the point that fresh food is about the only thing i buy from a store now.

There are 4 websites from which i buy stuff regularly – iHerb.com, taobao.com, amazon.com and ebay.com. iherb.com mainly sells supplements but also includes toiletries, beauty products and foodstuff. What makes it attractive to buy from iHerb.com is the super low delivery fee to Singapore, at US$4 for a package that weighs up to 6.3kg! The packages are always delivered within a week, you can’t beat that! While their prices are usually not cheap (vs Amazon), they are still very reasonable, and if you factor in the low delivery fee, it’s worthwhile buying from them. As a first time customer on iherb.com, if you use the coupon code FFH116 during check out, you’ll save US$10 (on orders above US$40)!

taobao.com lets you buy things from the source, i.e. China, the “world’s factory”. You can find just about anything on the site. There is just one important requirement for you to be able to buy from taobao – you guessed it, you have to know Chinese. Obviously, taobao.com is purely in Chinese, and you have to be pretty good at knowing the exact keyword to search to find what you want, though the suggestions given as you type in the keyword does help a lot. The English version of taobao.com is aliexpress.com, but the goods offered are a much smaller subset of what’s available on taobao, and the prices are also much higher (but still enticing). taobao.com currently offers international air shipment to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. For bulky items, you can arrange for sea freight shipment. So what should you buy from taobao? Basically everything excluding branded goods and food (some food items are not allowed to be imported). Often times, you can find factory overrun authentic branded items (e.g. kitchen wares) at a fraction of the actual retail cost. These are truly the best buys.

When Amazon.com introduced their AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping, offering free shipping to Singapore, they made it exceedingly compelling to buy from them. That’s right, you can buy items at US prices and enjoy free shipping to Singapore if your order is above US$125. Not all items qualify for the free shipping though, but many electronic goods and apparels are eligible, and these are typically the things you want to buy.

ebay.com offers goods from individual sellers. You will find niche product offerings, such as collector items, and items that are not for retail sales. I regularly buy beauty products in sample sizes on behalf of my wife, at a fraction of the price of the retail product. You should know that beauty products are damn expensive and you can save A LOT when you do this.

I always wonder about what is going to happen to retailers, if i can almost always find what they sell cheaper online. A departmental store offers me the convenience of trying out shoes, for example, which i then buy online. My guess is that shops that bring in big-ticket items to sell will die off. While i don’t think shopping malls in Singapore will be closing down the way they do in the US, i think they will or have become largely places for social gathering and for obtaining services. Adapt or perish, as they say.