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.

Spend-thrift

The word “spendthrift” has always been confusing to me. It describes a person who is the exact opposite of “thrifty”. Without further investigation one would not know that the meaning of “thrift”, as used in the word “spendthrift”, was prosperity or wealth, which is to say that a spendthrift is someone who spends all his wealth.

I’m going to hijack this word for my blog to share what i spend money on, and how i try to be thrifty while spending. You get double the thrill when you spend, while being convinced you’ve spent the least amount possible, right? It sounds ironic, but, spend to save!