1-Month Gluten-Free Trial

That nerve issue I wrote about at the end of last year never went away.  It’s pretty much a permanent thing at this point, so I kinda have to learn to deal with it.  But hey, there could be worse things!

Anyway, I’ve been to a lot of doctors and done a lot of research on the Internet, and out of desperation, I decided to try going gluten-free for a month, since at this point, the doctors don’t know what’s wrong and just want me to go to pain management clinics.  For the record, if you don’t have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance (which, yes, some people do have), going gluten-free is a total bullshit fad, but that fad has actually helped out people that suffer from gluten-related problems.  There are lots more options for those people on the market now, which I guess is the point of this post.

I went full blown gluten-free for a month, because gluten can cause inflammation (which can cause nerve issues) if you have a gluten intolerance.  This meant I basically acted like I had celiac disease for a month: no wheat, rye, or barley; no foods that shared processing equipment with gluten, and no foods that shared preparation equipment with gluten.  In the past, that might’ve been difficult to do, but these days, it actually wasn’t so bad.

Going gluten-free seems to be more annoying than it is difficult, especially if you have celiac disease.  If you’re just intolerant, you can probably handle cross-contamination a lot better than someone with celiac, but if you have celiac, eating out is almost definitely an ordeal.  Lots of things that should be naturally gluten-free can come into contact with equipment that processes gluten-containing items, which can make things difficult.  For example, Dominos has a gluten-free pizza, but they prepare and bake it in with the same kitchen equipment as their regular pizza, so it is almost certainly contaminated.  Pizza Hut, on the other hand, has their gluten-free pizza and the process they use to store and prepare it certified gluten-free, so theirs is probably safe.  There’s a lot of research that has to go into every decision you make involving anything that goes anywhere near your mouth.

If your significant other just ate a slice of bread, you better not kiss them.  Is your lip balm gluten-free?  Do you share hand-towels with someone that might’ve touched gluten-containing items and then wiped their hands or mouth?  That’s really the most annoying part of the whole process.  I only did it for a month and it ended up not helping me, but for someone that has to do it forever…that could be daunting.

Luckily in Baton Rouge, there is a bakery/restaurant specifically for people that follow diets that eliminate certain food allergens.  They have gluten-free “donuts,” cupcakes, and other pastries, as well as a menu of items that are gluten-free.  And almost every store I went to had a gluten-free section with some pretty interesting options.  The biggest issue, though, is that even when you can find alternatives to things you thought you may never be able to eat again, all of it ends up being pretty expensive.  That restaurant and all of the groceries I bought were probably 25-50% more expensive than comparable gluten-containing options.  As much as that sucks though, at least there are options.

Rice pasta, for example, is such a good imitation of wheat pasta that if it weren’t for the price tag, I wouldn’t care which one you served me.  Trader Joe’s brown rice pasta is $2 for a 16oz bag, whereas wheat pasta is almost half that price.  $2 for a bag of pasta isn’t that much, but a loaf of the best gluten-free bread I could find is EIGHT bucks.  And gluten-free bread is just straight up bleh unless you toast it, which only makes it less bleh.

So, it was an interesting experiment to step into those shoes for an entire month.  Unless you have celiac disease or an intolerance to gluten though, I’m pretty sure you’re crazy if you’re on a gluten-free diet.

The Two Most Useful Credit Cards for the Average Person

Disclaimer: If you don’t pay off your credit card every month, rewards cards are useless.  This post is targeted to people that responsibly use credit and pay their statement balance in full, every month.  I know I say this a lot, but if this isn’t how you use your credit card, you should cut it up into pieces and throw it away unless you are jobless and require it for food.  Also, I am not a financial adviser, yadda yadda.

Without further ado, here are the two most useful credit cards for the average person in terms of benefits they offer.

The SallieMae MasterCard is the most used and most useful card in my wallet.  This card offers the most lucrative cashback options for me and probably for most people.  It is structured as follows:

  • 5% cashback on gasoline purchases, up to $250/month
  • 5% cashback on grocery store purchases, up to $250/month
  • 5% cashback on bookstore purchases, up to $750/month

How businesses are categorized (for all credit cards) is based on their Merchant Category Code.  Many cards that offer cashback on groceries have specific exclusions for stores like Target and Walmart.  This card does not, and it is based solely on the MCC.  This means that most Walmart Supercenters and Super Targets count for 5% cashback under the grocery MCC.  It also means that Amazon.com purchases count as 5% cashback under the bookstore MCC.

Most of my purchases are groceries, Amazon, and gas, probably in that order.  That means as long as I fall within those monthly limits, I always get 5% cashback on the majority of my purchases.

The points can be redeemed as statement credit, and they post pretty quickly to your account.  You don’t need to have a SallieMae student loan or to be a student or anything like that.  All you need is good FICO score, around 690 according to Doctor of Credit.  There are no annual fees.

The second most useful card in my wallet is the Citi Double Cash Card.  This card offers 1% cashback on all purchases and 1% cashback on all on-time payments, which means, effectively, this card gives you 2% cashback.  To boot, there are no limits to how much cashback you can earn every month/year.  There are very few cards out that that offer this level of cashback (only one other personal card that I know of).   The biggest downside to this card is that there is no sign up bonus at all, and you need to have excellent credit, the safest bet is probably in the mid 700s, but I’ve seen people get approved in the lower 700s as long as the rest of the credit report is pretty decent.

Most cashback cards – and probably most reward cards in general – come with benefits like extended warranties on things you purchase, so besides that and the cashback, this card comes with some additional great perks.  My personal favorite perk is Price Rewind, which basically lets you get reimbursed up to a certain amount (I think it’s like $300) if something you bought goes on sale within 60 days.  They even have a feature that can track prices for you and automatically/easily submit the claim, but it’s admittedly not very good at finding lower prices (you can submit prices yourself, though, so it’s all good).  Still, I’ve gotten an $8 credit from it.  And no annual fee.

Citi also offers damage and theft protection on your purchases for up to 120 days, so if you buy an iPhone, break it three weeks later, and don’t have AppleCare+, you can just submit a claim to Citi.  I haven’t used that benefit yet, or many of the others, but it’s nice to know they’re there.

So, those are the two best personal credit cards (for most people) in my opinion.  These are both, however, MasterCards, so I’d like to mention some runner-ups.  American Express Blue Cash Everyday is decent on rewards, but the real reason to consider this card is for AMEX offers.  I’ve only had this card for a few months and so far it’s saved me $180 in AMEX offers on things I was already purchasing, and gotten me about $25 in other random AMEX promotions.  AMEX also has accident protection for purchases up to 90 days.  My second runner up is the Discover IT card, mostly because they usually have pretty good 5% rotating categories, they have a great shopping portal where you can earn additional cashback at certain stores pretty easily, and their customer service is great.  I’ve gotten around $220 back with their Price Protection benefit, which is similar to Citi’s Price Rewind except there’s no automatic tracker, and it’s for 90 days instead of 60.

Shameless self-promotion: SallieMae and Citi don’t do referral bonuses, but if you happen to be interested in the AMEX or Discover cards I mentioned, comment below or Tweet/email/message me somehow and I’ll get you a referral link.  It would get me like $50 and you’d still get your regular signup bonus if one is available.

10-7-2015 edit:  Barclay stopped offering the Sallie Mae MasterCard.  They’ll probably remove the reward categories as well, but no movement on that yet as of this date.  It’s a real tragedy in the credit card world, but life goes on.