Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chari-Tea Bunco Cause Party

Recently multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, Ashanti teamed up with Johnson's Body Care to launch a new charitable program that enables real women across the country to support local charities through simply hosting get-togethers with friends.

I was given the opportunity to host one of these "cause parties" where I could kick back with my girlfriends, pamper ourselves with Johnson's new line of lotions and body washes and help raise money for a local charity.

Lucky for me, it happened to be my turn to host our monthly Bunco so I decided to partner these opportunities together and host a Chari-Tea Bunco night at my house.

My guests were asked to bring monetary and/or food donations to support the St Joseph County Food Bank. Everyone also agreed that the winnings would be given to the food bank instead of divided among ourselves for the event and Johnson's gave us $100 to start the charitable pot for our charity.

By hosting this event with Johnson's they gave us the money to put towards the food and drinks for our event so I truly got to pamper my girlfriends in style because no one had to bring a single dish to share.
I still kept to a thrifty budget, but tried to add some special touches for our group. Our centerpiece was a bouquet of flowers displayed in a teapot with a variety of special teas in my china teacups for our table. These beautiful bouquets of flowers were purchased at Sam's Club for less than $5.

Here are some pictures of the great food that we got to eat. I wanted to stick with the tea party food and dishes that would be easy to handle while playing our game.

I got a huge croissant sandwich tray that served 18 for $32 at Sam's Club. I cut these sandwiches in half and then added colored toothpicks to hold them together so people could sample different varieties of sandwiches and to make them a little more bite-sized.

For side dishes, I purchased two huge vegetable trays for $9.87 each that were prepared by Sam's Club. I made a delicous pesto pasta salad from my new favorite cookbook, "The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen," which you must check out! I then bought a variety of fruit and made fruit kabobs by skewering them for our guests out of pineapple, grapes, and strawberries. These fruit kabobs were thrown into a pretty wine bucket for everyone to grab.

For dessert, I purchased two boxes of mini creme puffs that I served on cake platters with a decaf coffee to finish out the meal.

The star of the party though was the Bunco punch that I made that was a delicious summery drink to go with our food. We also had a box of the Black Box Cabernet which was another surprising hit with many of my friends who had not had the pleasure of trying boxed wines before. Sam's Club had the best price on this with a box that was equivalent to four bottles for only $18.32. I have to say, these boxed wines are an affordable way to entertain on a budget.

On my lower level, we had a little welcome desk where my guests could sign in and my coffee table got taken over by all of the great food donations.

Each guest got to take home a really cute reusable bag filled with Johnson's products to sample and share with their friends as a thank you for their charitable efforts. Each bag contained their 24 Hour Moisturizer, 24 Hour Moisturizing Body Wash, & their Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotions. These products were just for us, not for our kiddos, and they smell and feel great. My favorite is definitely the Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotion- it smells divine!

We had the biggest turn out for Bunco ever with seventeen great women in attendance and we were so excited about all we could do for our community. With the donation made by Johnson's plus our own donations, we were able to donate $205 to the St Joseph County Food Bank and an entire car full of food donations for the cause.

With the job loss in our area, our food banks and shelters are in critical need right now and if you are able to give anything at all, I encourage you to take the time to do it.

Here are some of the items the Food Bank of Northern Indiana critically needs:

Cereal -- hot and cold
Meat, chicken or tuna
Mac/cheese, dry pasta
Potato flakes
Spaghetti O's, stews
Pork & Beans
Chicken Helper
Family-sized soups
Dry soup mixes
Juice boxes
Beans -- baked, refried
Pancake, waffle mix
Plastic containers

Individuals, clubs, churches, civic groups and local businesses can all conduct food drives. Donated food is a much needed commodity in their fight against hunger. They accept donated food between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday, at their location on 702 S. Chapin Street, South Bend, IN. If this location is not convenient to you, there are many other drop off points including all of the Martin's Supermarket grocery stores. For more information please visit The Food Bank of Northern Indiana to find out how you can help.

Throwing a cause party was such a fun girl's night out and I encourage you to do the same with your girlfriends! It is a fun and easy way to give back to charities in your community and I am so thankful that Johnson's helped us support such a great cause in our own community!

Here are the star recipes from our fabulous Chari-Tea Bunco night that you could replicate for a charity night at your house!

Pesto Pasta Salad (courtesy of "The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen") and you can visit The Farm Chicks Blog too!

3 cups bowtie pasta (about 8 oz)
1/4 cup pesto (Sam's Club has pesto for really cheap, if your garden isn't ready for pesto-making yet)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (about two medium)
1/2 cup halved pitted black olives
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)

Cook pasta as directed. Drain and rinse under cold running water and let cool. Place in a salad bowl. In another bowl, mix the pesto and sour cream together and add to the pasta, tossing to coat. Add the tomatoes, olives, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts and toss to mix. Serve.

Bunco Punch

Orange slices
Lemon slices
Lime slices
Maraschino cherries
Cherry juice or red food coloring
Metal ring mold

SIMPLE SYRUP (Prepare ahead) :
3 c. water
3 c. sugar
Combine, boil and cool.

Simple syrup, chilled
4 c. chilled cranberry juice
3 c. chilled bottled lemon juice
2 c. chilled orange juice
2 c. chilled unsweetened pineapple juice
2 qt. chilled ginger ale
16 oz. rum or vodka or wine or champagne

Create your ice ring by throwing in the citrus fruit slices and then pouring in the jar of cherries (juice and all) Top the bundt pan off with water and then freeze overnight.

To serve: Unmold ice ring into punch bowl; add juices and liquor; add ginger ale.

This makes approximately 30 (6 ounce) servings.

What are some fun charitable activities you do with your friends and/or family? I would love for you to share how you make charity a priority in your house?

Related Links:

Good Cheap Fun: Bunco

Retro Housewife Bunco

Kentucky Derby Bunco

'70's Bunco Style

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day Old Bread Gets A Makeover...Or Four

One of our favorite sandwich shops in town is Jimmy John's. If you haven't sampled one of their yummy gourmet subs, you must run out and get one. My husband loves these so much that this is where he wanted to meet us for his birthday lunch. The two of us spent many a late night over their subs at Purdue University. Now as parents, our children love them just as much as we do!

When chatting with my friend Jessica, whose husband happens to own and operate our local Jimmy John's, she shared with me that they offer their "day old" bread for a deeply discounted price. Day old simply means that the bread is more than five hours old and so they can no longer use it to make the sandwiches. I never realized that they offered this and was anxious to find out the price and if they would have any the next time I went.

After church on Sunday, we headed over to the restaurant to grab some lunch and I asked if they had any day old bread to spare. Stacked high on the counter were many loaves of bread offered at a discounted rate. For $.48 a loaf, I grabbed four loaves to see what I could invent in the kitchen with this inexpensive bread. That is right, only $.48 a loaf, far cheaper than even the discounted bakery cart at Walmart!

That evening, I worked on a beautiful roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and baby peas for a delicious Sunday dinner. The chicken had a yummy lemon sauce and we used the bread to mop up the sauce. We quickly polished off the first loaf that night. No need to change anything when the bread is fresh and a perfect side to any dinner hour.

I called my mother-in-law to see if she would like to come over for dinner the following night. For $.48 a loaf, I can afford to entertain! The second loaf of bread is reinvented into my favorite overnight breakfast casserole. We served this with orange juice, coffee, and a fresh loaf of my banana oat bread. Everyone left the table will full bellies and smiles on their face.

That evening, I cut the last two loaves into squares, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled them with garlic salt and threw them in the oven to make homemade croutons. The bread was still soft, but a little stale so this was a great way to use up what was left.

The next morning we had a playgroup to attend and we had to pack our lunches. My yummy lunch was a grilled chicken salad topped with those homemade croutons and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

When I got home that night, I still had to make our dinner. Lucky for me, I have plenty of croutons so I gave them a spin in my food processor.

Poured them into my favorite thrifted tin platter.

I gave my chicken a little dip in some egg and then the breadcrumbs.

They were baked into my new new favorite Chicken Parmesan recipe, served with pasta, and a little wine. As everyone happily munched away, I brought up the bread that we had bought several days before. "This is the best you have ever made!" my husband proclaimed. I batted my eyes and said, "It must be that day old bread from Jimmy John's that makes it so good." His look of surprise was priceless.

I still have enough leftover to make a batch of meatballs and bread our pork chops this week.

As a frugal homemaker, I don't think I reinvent the wheel of frugality... but I sure know how to beat a dead horse!

What are some of your proudest money-saving moments? Do you have a "beat the dead horse" approach towards using what you have?

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

At-Home Hair Coloring Savings

I have been coloring my hair at home for years now, but only in the last year has it started to become more necessary. I will peek at my hair in the mirror or my hair will catch the light in the sun and I see those wiry gray hairs coming through. Ah, the signs of old age are upon me.

Hair color in the box has come a long way though and I have experimented with different brands and products that have come out when I have a coupon to go with them.

I have found though that I rarely have to pay for the regular price on my hair color though and let me share why:

1. Hair color is always on sale. If you look in CVS or the Walgreens flier, you will find that on almost any given week, they are running a special on hair color. Walgreens & CVS often will either give you a rebate on these products or some type of register reward. Wait for the sales on your favorite brands and try to stock up in conjunction with these.

2. Hair color coupons abound. Make sure to check your Sunday coupon inserts for coupons and cut these out to apply towards your purchase. If you can combine those coupons with a rebate/Extra Care Buck reward, you can often get your hair color for less than $5 a box.

3. Sign up for mailing lists. Sign up for the mailing lists for coupons and tips on coloring your hair. Clairol, for example, offers the Color Source Club where they send an email newsletter out with coupon savings towards your purchases and updates on their new products. By visiting the Garnier website, you will find they offer a newsletter with updates on free samples and special offers. Likewise, Revlon offers a website where you can sign up for a similar type of program and be notified of savings and samples.

4. Look inside & outside the box for savings. Often on the directions page, there is a coupon to take off money on your next purchase. Make sure to scan all over the outside and inside of the box for coupons and use these on your next color purchase.

5. Don't forget savings in unlikely places. One week my hair color was not on sale and I was not stocked on any extra boxes. Our local Bed Bath & Beyond though recently added a beauty section that is fully stocked on all of my drugstore needs. I walked in with a manufacturer coupon and combined that with the 20% off a purchase coupon and was still able to score my favorite hair color for about $5.00. I don't know if all of the stores offer this, but this is another option for coupon savings.

6. Check eBay for coupons. Coupons abound for the products that you use and it is a great resource for savings on the things you use most. When my children were babies, I often used eBay to get coupons for savings off our baby food. Now that they are getting older, I am now looking for hair color coupons. My, how the circle of life continues!

I recently happened upon a product though that has had me shouting it's praises from the mountain tops and I doubt I will use anything else since I have become so spoiled. It is the Clairol Perfect 10 Hair Color.

I had a coupon for this product and since I have used it, I can never picture using anything else ever again. There are two reasons why I love it.

1. The applicator makes it a lot less messy. I am one of those people that is a constant disaster and I can't tell you how many things I have ruined while trying to get hair color on my head. It almost became a joke because every time I would color my hair, we would have to buy a new shower curtain because I had slopped color on it.

2. It is done in ten minutes. That is it. By the time I get it on, it is time to rinse it off. It colors my hair that quickly.

It is not the most frugal choice always, but regularly priced at $12.99, it is still a huge cost-savings over the $50-100 charge that is being charged at most salons. If you can apply the cost-savings above, you can still get this hair color for the $5-8 price.

Too scared to color your hair at home? Don't be! It is really hard to fail at at-home hair coloring unless you are trying to color your hair drastically. If the look is drastic, go to the salon and have them do it, but for just covering a few grays, it can be easy to do at home.

What if you fail or you get a bad color job at the salon? I have found the best product for you for that too!
I once had a botched color job at the salon and I was desperate to tone down my bright hair. I found this great product that you can buy at Walgreens called Color Oops. Within five to ten minutes of putting this on your hair, it will tone down your color. If you leave it on too long though, it will strip your hair down to your baby hair. I would be very careful using a product like this, but desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures and this will work in a pinch.

Your best bet if you get a botched job at the salon? Going back to the salon and asking them to put a little toner on it. They should do this for free for you and guarantee their color services so make sure you ask this before getting your hair done somewhere how long their color-guarantee is.

Don't forget that no matter where you choose to color you hair, that the most important thing to do to maintain it is to use color-safe shampoos afterward. The same tips for savings on hair color apply to those hair color shampoos too. It has been a long time since I have paid full price for any hair care items by taking advantage of coupons and savings at the drugstore. If you are looking for an affordable brand option, Suave corners the market on inexpensive hair products. They have an arsenal of hair products that won't put a dent in your wallet. For example, Nexxus shampoo would cost roughly $8.79 for 14.5 ounces. Suave makes a knock off of this same shampoo for $1.92-2.49 for 14.5 ounces. Combine that with a coupon, and you have practically free shampoo that will keep your hair looking great!

I hope these at-home hair color tips will help keep your lovely locks looking great for a lot less!

(Photo Source: Compact Collection)

Related Links:

Overcoming My Fears: Cutting Hair

Open Your Own Beauty Shop

Do you color your hair at home? What products do you love? How do you maximize your color savings?

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Boxed Wines: An Eco & Wallet Friendly Choice

I feel hesitant posting my personal thoughts on wine. After all, I am the girl who thought that Arbor Mist was the best you could buy for your money for years. Through the years though, my husband and I have become adventurous with trying new wines, I have been to countless wine tastings, and I love nothing better than a good glass of wine at the end of a long day with the kids.

While we both love wine, we don't necessarily desire the same kind of wine. I am a girl that gravitates more towards a good Chardonnay while my husband is a Merlot fan. Considering we are the only two wine drinkers in the house, the wine would sometimes go to waste because it was not used in the time span it should have. To me, there is nothing worse than throwing money down the drain so I have been looking into other options.

A few months ago though, I was watching the Today Show and they had a wine expert on to discuss the comeback of the boxed wine. "Boxed wine? Blech!" I thought. The expert continued on though to point out that these wines have come a long way and are a great affordable option for families.

We decided to put this theory to the test and began buying and sampling boxed wines instead. I even had the good fortune to receive a few boxes for my review from a couple of great wine companies, which helped add perspective on the different varieties that are available for families.

Why are boxed wines a better value and better for the environment?

Your Wine Lasts Longer- Remember the scenario that I shared about where I was dumping wine down the drain? Well, that doesn't usually happen when you buy boxed wine. The wine is stored in a Mylar bag with a spout attached. When you pour from the spout the bag acts as a vacuum, which means the wine doesn't oxidize. An opened box can last for four weeks rather than spoiling in just a day or two.

Boxed Wine is Better for the Environment- Top wine producers are trying to reduce their carbon footprint — that is, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the transportation of wine —and selling the beverage in alternative, lighter packaging instead of heavier glass is one way that they can make that change.These boxes of wine are ideal with some boxes reducing waste by nearly 90 percent of the equivalent bottle.

It Saves Space & Is a Hit at Parties- I took a box of wine to my Bunco night and it was the first thing to go on the table of wines. While some might consider it tacky, that pour spout is quite handy and makes filling your wine glass a breeze. These boxes can hold four bottles or more, but take up a lot less room. If you are short on space or you need something to bring to your next party, I highly recommend the boxed wine alternative.

Wine for Cooking Is Right at Your Fingertips- Many of the dishes I make call for wine in them and these boxes of wine are a cook's best friend. I no longer have to open a bottle for a dish and let it go to waste, I can now just pour it right out of the box and it costs a lot less than the wine I was buying to cook with.

Boxed Wine is Much More Affordable- You can get a box of wine for a far lower cost than you could get in a bottle. Check the side of the box to see how many bottles are contained within it and then divide that to get your cost per bottle. Some of the best boxed wines I sampled cost roughly $5-6 a bottle, making it much more affordable than even the sale prices on bottled wines.

Now that I have hopefully convinced you that it is a better deal, here are my top picks for best boxed wines on the market. I am happy to report that Epicurious also agrees with a couple of my choices!

Of all of the wines that I sampled, the Black Box wines were consistently the best of the best. The Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot are the best that they offer and they are elegantly packaged. The Cabernet Sauvignon has received a Double Gold award and the Merlot was listed in the Top Ten Best Buys by Wine Enthusiast. Best of all, this one was available at our local Walmart and I have also heard that Sam's Club members can get it for an even lower price. If I was just venturing into the world of boxed wines, the Black Box wines would be a great place to start.

Banrock Station Chardonnay is one of the best bangs for the buck and they now offer their wine in a 3L (the equivalent of four bottles) box. This Chardonnay is an excellent deal for the money and is recommended as a great budget-friendly wine by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Of all of the wines that Banrock Station offers, their Chardonnay is by far the best and is a great wine to bring to parties and a night in with friends. Even someone who is not a wine expert will recognize the hint of green apple and the crisp taste that comes through in the Chardonnay. This wine is particularly great for Pinot fans because this wine seems to mimic many of the flavors you would find in a good Pinot.

When they would run a sale on this wine, we would buy it in the six bottle quantity to get a discount at our local grocery store. I never knew that they offered this wine in a box and I will now be looking for this eco-friendly alternative to my bottles. It really is that good!

Hardys Stamp offers a variety of great tasting budget-friendly boxed wines. While we were not a fan at all of their boxed Riesling, I can say that I truly loved the Merlot. Hardys Stamp Shiraz is also well-known for offering a rich and full flavor. Epicurious shares that the Shiraz, "evokes warm blueberry pie, with hints of vanilla ice cream and toasty American oak, and just enough tannin to balance the ripe berries." Overall, I would definitely recommend sampling the red wines that are offered by Hardys Stamp because the flavor was such a great surprise and will now be added to my top list of the best of the best in the boxed wine market.

One wine that I really wanted to pass the test was the Target Wine Cubes. We tried several different wines from Target and I just was left feeling disappointed. I loved the chic packaging and I certainly spend enough time in Target to want to pick it up there, but these wines were definitely not my favorite. If you are going to pick up a box of wine at Target, go for the Pinot Grigio because it is the best that they offer. In 2007, the Wine Cube Pinot Grigio won a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Again, I love the packaging on the product, but the wines just weren't my favorite.

If you are a wine drinker, I would definitely recommend giving boxed wines a try! Once I started sampling boxed wines, we have never gone back to the wines in the bottle. I can't wait to continue our adventures in tasting and I look forward to more boxed wine products from future companies. I believe that more boxed wines are going to be offered as wineries begin to recognize that even the best wine drinkers love a good wine bargain!

(Photo credit: Paul Olson)

Have you ever given boxed wines a try? Please feel free to offer your recommendations for a great box of wine!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Cost of a Homemade Happy Meal

I admitted to you that we had a problem eating out too much and one of the places that I have felt we spent far too many dollars over the years is McDonald's. It is just down the road, it is inexpensive, and it is quick. I will say that it is also not good for me, not always warm, and I never feel that great after eating it.

I wanted to show you the cost difference on a store-bought Happy Meal versus the cost on a homemade Happy Meal. I do use the term "homemade" quite loosely because I am purchasing the chicken nuggets so if you wanted to save even more, you could definitely make a batch instead.

McDonald's Happy Meal

4-Piece Chicken Nuggets
Reduced Fat Milk
Small Toy

Total Cost of Store-Bought Happy Meal- $3.19 plus tax (this is in Indiana, costs may vary depending on location)

Here is my homemade version for my children that I made for them. I have included exactly what would be included in the meal, but made at home.

Tyson 100% All Natural Chicken Nuggets- 45 per package, cost $6.55 (at our local supermarket, price may vary- I had a great coupon that I will not include in the total!)
4 Piece Nugget Equivalent- .15 each x 4= $.60

1 Gallon of Milk- 16 cups in 1 gallon, cost $1.99 (current price at our local Aldi)
1 Cup of Milk Equivalent- $.12

Apple Slices- 3 pounds for $2.99 (current price at our local Aldi)
Apple Slices- $.25 (generous amount considering how few are in the package)

Total Cost of Homemade Happy Meal- $.97

While $2.22 difference might not seem like much, if you times that by the amount of children that you have in your family plus the amount that you spend on your own meals, there is a huge cost savings to making even your own fast food at home. We try to stick to the $1 Double Cheeseburgers, but Trent, at The Simple Dollar, breaks down the cost of making those double cheeseburgers at home and found that even that price could be beat.

For me, it is hard to get out of the mindset that I shouldn't have prepackaged foods in my house. We keep our grocery budget low by making things at home. If I am out of commission or we have had a hectic night, I am often wishing that we had a few more convenience foods in our house.

A couple of bags of chicken nuggets in the freezer for these nights would still be more cost-effective than running out to McDonald's.

And to my poor math teacher that had to tutor me every single day after math class, I would like to thank you for believing in me and working with me over those difficult years in high school. Who would have ever dreamed that I would be putting together a story problem daily that makes my husband shake his head and roll his eyes at me? I have become obsessed with the subject I hated the most so thank you, Mr. Rossi, for never giving up on me! Thanks to your thoughtful tutoring, I have become a human calculator and can crunch numbers on diapers, price per ounces on cans, and dare I say it...even Happy Meals that would make you so proud.

Related Posts:

Boo to McDonald's
Cracking the McDonald's Coffee Code

Is anyone else plagued with the human calculator syndrome? What has surprised that is more cost-effective to your household budget?

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Monday, March 09, 2009

CVS & Walgreen's Deals 03.08.09

I have been taking a break from my CVS shopping because I was fully stocked on everything and because of our No Spend Challenge. I wanted to hop back in the game with the hot Huggie's Diapers deal this week and because I was running low on a few essentials.

Here is what I stocked up on this week for our family!


Huggies Jumbo Pack Diapers- $10 per package
Buy $25 of participating products, receive $10 in Register Rewards
Printable Coupon (can print 2)- $5 off Gentle Care
Printable Coupon (can print 2, used 1)- $3 off Natural Fit
Total Cost (minus $10 Register Rewards & $13 Coupons)= $7.00 or $2.33 per package

Garnier Fructis Hair Care- $2.99 each
$2 Easy Saver Coupon
$1/1 Garnier Style Product, exp. 3-15-09 (in 2/8/09 paper)
$1/1 Garnier Shampoo, Conditioner or Treatment (in 2/8/09 paper)
Total Cost (minus coupons)- Overage of $.01

Garnier Fructis Hair Color- $5.99
$2 Easy Saver Coupon
$2/1 Garnier Hair Color Product (in 2/8/09 paper)
Total Cost (minus coupons)- $1.99

Colgate Total Whitening Toothpaste- $3.49
$2.50 Easy Saver Coupon
$1.50/1 Coupon (March All You Magazine)
$.75/1 coupon (from newspaper)
Total Cost (minus coupons)- Overage of $.27

Coffee-mate Creamers- $2.49 each
On Sale B1G1 Free, Making them $1.25 each

Total Savings- $37.71
Total Spent- $25.62, $10 in Register Rewards
Final Total- $15.62


Diet Dr. Pepper (2 liter) $.74
Coupon for Free 2 Liter- $.74 (found in February issue of Maxim)
Total Cost- FREE

Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste- $2.99
Coupon $1/1 Crest Pro Health, exp. 3-31-09 (P&G 2/8/09)
$2 back in ECB
Total Cost- Overage of $.01

Secret Flawless Deodorant- $3.99
$1 back in ECB
$2/1 Secret Flawless or Flawless Touch, exp. 4-30-09 (V 2/22/09)
Total Cost- $.99

Vaseline Lotion (10 oz- look for packages that say 30% more)- $3.69
$2 back in ECB (limit of 5 total)
Vaseline Printable Coupon
$1.25/1 Vaseline Lotion Product, exp. 4-26-09 (V 3/1/09)
Total Cost- $1.13 for two or $56 each

Schick Quattro Razor- $8.99
$5 back in ECB
Total Cost- $3.99 (note: there is a coupon, but I did not have it)

Palmolive Dish Soap- $1.49
$1 back in ECB (limit of 2)
Total Cost- $.98 or $.49 each (note: there is a coupon, but I did not have it)

Coke 12-Packs 4 for $13
$3 back in ECB (limit 1 per household)
Total Cost- $10 or $2.50 per 12 pack

Total Savings- $25.95
Total Spent- $41.67, $17 back in ECB
Final Total- $24.67



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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Teens & Tweens

I am having the best time putting together these little budget-friendly gift guides for families and I hope you are finding things that are useful in these lists. I have looked through a lot of magazine lists and website lists and none of them really struck a chord with me so I am hoping things on mine are providing ideas for you.

I have been getting some very nice thank-you's from some of the Etsy sellers so that really warms my heart to know that these lists are serving a double purpose and are helping crafters out too!

In case you missed it, here are the lists that we have on here so far:

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Young Children
My Christmas Wish List
Great Budget-Friendly Gifts for Men

Teen gifts are a tough category for me to cover since I don't have any children in this stage. I think I am a pretty hip and young mom though so hopefully some of my ideas will work and please feel free to chime in on this category.

As a teenager, my favorite gift was getting money to spend for the after-Christmas sales. My parents knew that our money would go a lot farther if we shopped after Christmas and, at this age, that was just as exciting as getting a bunch of stuff under the tree.

Here are a few notes about teens:

1. Give them the gift of an experience. Even if it doesn't include you in the picture and one of their friends instead, they will love getting to do something fun. Take your teen daughter to the beauty school and get manicures with her. Hit the makeup counter with her at the mall and buy her a little something out of the case that is flattering. Go tubing with your son and take him somewhere fun for dinner. Give him a couple of tickets to see a movie and a little spending money for the concession stand. Go as a family to see his favorite baseball team play. These are just a few ideas for gift-giving experiences rather than just things under the tree.

2. Remember that at this stage, kids are a little more aware of the value of the dollar and you are now able to have discussions with them about your financial situation. Be honest with them if something is out of your price range, but also try to keep the wonderfully magical aspect of the holiday by doing activities together as a family.

3. Include them in the shopping, the wrapping, or the baking. Even if it is just your son sitting at the kitchen table devouring the holiday cookies and you chatting with him. Even if it is watching your daughter's favorite television show while you wrap gifts. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, but I promise you that they will remember those special times and what a great parent you are...even if they don't realize it until ten years down the road.

4. Gift cards are great. Although these aren't always the budget-friendly option, teens love getting cards to use towards what they want. The key with gift cards that makes them still budget-friendly is that the money can be applied towards the things they really want. Let's face it, you and your son might not have the same style or taste in music, so if you buy them a gift and they hate it...well, that is money down the drain. If you give them a gift card and they put towards something they really love though...well, that is money that is well spent!

5. Subscriptions always score. You can't go wrong with a magazine subscription and it is a gift that keeps on giving. Visit eBay to find your teens favorite magazines and buy them a year or two at a discounted price. Other subscriptions that rock? Netflix or Blockbuster subscriptions so they can watch their favorite movies or rent their favorite games at home. For gamers, a subscription to Gametap would be a fun gift to give. Don't forget that subscriptions to stream music can also be a wonderful gift. I have recently become acquainted with the joys of Napster and last.fm. Just make sure that the subscription is compatible with their mp3 player or that they have a computer that they can access for their music. Timing free trials with the gift-giving season will help extend the life of the subscription just a little bit longer.

6. Give them gifts based on their hobbies. For the artistic son, get him sketch pads, canvas, or drawing tools. For the daughter who loves to cook, sign her up for a cake decorating class or a cooking course at a continuing education center. For the child that is into sports, try and find some equipment or offer to pay for a program at the local park's department. Anything that shows that you care and are interested in what they are doing is going to be a gift that they will appreciate.

Here are a few of my budget-friendly ideas:

Wristlets are great for a teen girl on the go because they can carry around their cell phone, iPod, and what they need for a fun night out with their friends. I love these little wristlets in fun patterns from Janine King Designs and they are currently on sale for $19.99. This one is the Ginseng Butterfly pattern, but you could find one that fits well with your teen's style. You could also attempt making one and I love this little wristlet tutorial for my sewing-readers!

You would have to be hiding under a rock to not know about the Twilight series from Stephenie Meyers. If your teen is a super-fan of the Twilight books, she would love this four piece set of Twilight tile necklaces. This four piece set from Candy Tiles is only $20. You would need to purchase a chain or she could hang these on a silver chain that she already has. The ambitious parent could make her own tile pendant necklaces and custom design them for her daughter! Another thrifty idea to make this cute would be to have different colors of ribbon that she could string these on that you could include in your gift. How cute would that be?

I adore these little pink gum drop bobbies from Button Boutique- aren't they adorable? This set of seven is only $9.90! Again, my crafty mommas could whip some of these up by following this tutorial!

Another goodie for a tween/teen girl would be this cool Jonas Brothers bag that would resonate with any super fan. It reminds me of my obsession with New Kids on the Block and the super cool fan gear that I was always sporting. I understand about obsessions with boy bands, I truly do. This says you do to and is available from rocknrecycle for $26.95.
Gaming chairs are great for girls or for boys who are really into playing video games. If you watch for next year, they do discount these around the time that the kids are heading back to college. Our beanbag chairs are certainly not as nice as this one, but they only cost us $20 each. After doing some browsing online, this one came up as one of the lower priced ones at $49.99 called the Boompod. This chair can link up to all the gadgets- iPods, mp3 players, game systems, etc.. It would be a fun additon to your son's room and is great when he has friends over to play.

Electric razors are a great gift to give and come in some very budget-friendly options. If you don't want to order one online, I often see some really great prices at the outlet malls on shavers. This razor from Panasonic can be used wet or dry and is priced at $29.99. If your family does a lot of traveling, a pocket electric razor might be a great option too. This one from Braun is only $19.99 and rivals the larger and more expensive models in performance.

It doesn't matter what kind of clunker your kid has, every guy has a desire to make upgrades to their car. Upgrading their headlights is just one inexpensive idea that you could do. Other ideas would be tokens to get their ride washed, getting them supplies to shine up the car themselves, getting a holder for their cell phone, even upgrading their speakers or audio equipment on a small scale would be great. These GE bulbs are priced at $30.99, but Amazon is running a buy one get one free deal on these. You could give one to your son and one to your husband or some other great guy in your life!

Is your son really into gaming? jamjamtees sells this funny "geek" shirt that any gamer would love. If you browse this seller's shop you will find everything from t-shirts for gamers, cyclists, and even lacrosse. This t-shirt is only $12.99.

Look for ideas in the next coming weeks for hostess gifts and stocking stuffers!

What are your favorite gifts to give kids in the teen/tween category? What gifts have really scored with your teenager?

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Younger Kids

One of the things that people wanted to see on our site were some ideas for giving gifts on a budget for children. I can cover the younger kid category quite easy, but will have to put some thought in for the teen and tween categories.

I know I am not the only parent who sat in amazement when my child became fixated on a box rather than the gift itself. Yes, young children are easier to please than what we might think so remember that when choosing gifts for kids. Don't add unnecessary stress to your life because chances are that our children will just be entertained and happy with the opening of the gifts and a fabulous spread of holiday food.

Things that I have discovered with choosing gifts for younger children are:

1. Thrifted gifts will be just as loved. Younger children are not at a stage where they are going to be disappointed that a gift did not come in a shiny new box. No, they will just be excited to see whatever it is you have wrapped for them so don't feel like you are disappointing them if you don't have a brand new gift for them.

2. Art supplies always make an excellent gift. In my house, you can never have too many crayons, drawing paper, or fun things to keep the kids entertained for hours. When out-of-town relatives send money for the kids, I always apply the money to a big bin of art supplies or goodies for our ornament-making station. I also usually give this gift a little early so that they can be entertained during those hectic days right before Christmas.

3. Giving gifts of traditions are always the best kind of gifts. We try to focus more on traditions rather than what is wrapped under the tree. Try incorporating a Christmas Jar or an Advent Calendar of goodies. Do a countdown to Christmas with items found at thrift stores or wrap each year a set of Christmas books that the children can look forward to every year.

4. Don't feel guilty about what isn't under the tree. In this tough economy and with so many job losses and higher prices plaguing families, please do not feel bad if you can't get your children everything that is their heart's desire. Remember that young children are impressionable and you can offer gentle guidance towards budget-friendly gifts at this stage in the game. When my son asked for Spike the T-Rex ($130), I showed him some other great dinosaurs that I thought he would really like that were less than $20. With a little guidance and an explanation that Spike was a little out of Santa's budget, we were able to steer him towards some more budget-friendly options.

Here are some examples of some of my favorite gifts for young children:
One of our favorite gifts that we have received is the Leapfrog Magnet sets. My daughter loves this farm animal set ($14.99) and also loves the alphabet set. The farm animal set is great for young children because they can just put two magnets together to make the animal and then it sings a little song about what the animal says and does. The alphabet set will grow with children more and will be used longer, but does comes at a little higher price ($16.99). When your child is a beginning reader, like mine, the set can be used to begin spelling words, which is really fun.

Both sets have been loved for years and years in our house and it keeps my kids entertained in the kitchen while I prepare supper. I will say that I hated this farm animal set when I was pregnant and would bump it with my belly and it would say things about cows. Um, thanks, LeapFrog!
My children love blocks and last Christmas we got them each a box of these for the holidays. My daughter is two and my son is six and they both love these blocks and play with them for hours. We gave them this gift early (one of our activities in our Christmas Jar) and they had the best time with these. I have a wicker basket that is the centerpiece on our coffee table in the playroom so that the kids can build and create with these anytime they want. This set is $18.99 for 100 blocks. If you get one for each kid, they can build a fortress out of them!

One of the most beloved gifts for both the kids was a sock monkey that I bought my daughter. She carried it around a lot and I have found him hiding underneath the covers in my son's bed too. My Mommy's Place has these for only $14. If you are ambitious, you could make a sock monkey yourself and make it entirely unique for your children. I think these guys look so cute popping out of the stockings.

My son is really into the superhero thing right now so I am planning to get him one of these superhero capes to fight off the bad guys in our house. This cape is reversible so he could decide which hero he wanted to be and is available from kidzescapes for $24.

Not to be outdone by the boys, every good princess needs a cape too and kidzescapes has that covered too. You can get this reversible cape for $25. The ambitious momma could tackle this project herself and come up with a wonderfully unique cape for their child.

I swear I don't work for Leapfrog, even though it might seem like it! I have to say that the best DVD's we have EVER bought our children are from Leapfrog. We actually bought the entire set of these and they are one of the best teaching tools that I have ever seen. It taught my two year old all of her letter sounds and gave my son an advantage in kindergarten. He was one of the only ones in his pre-K class that could recite every single letter sound. These movies build on beginning letter sounds, word sounds, and even work on math skills. If you are going to add to your movie collection, I highly recommend these. The Letter Factory is priced at only $8.99.
My son is six and his favorite book is definitely the Dangerous Book for Boys (priced at $16.17) We also have a sparkly Dangerous Book for Girls book (priced at $17.79) for my daughter when she gets a little older. These Things to Do editions are only $10.17 (here is a link to the girl's edition). In it are great activities to keep your kids entertained for hours and hours. Include some supplies to complete one of the dangerous activities and you will be the coolest parent on the block.

If your child is in the beginning stages of reading, they will love Mia's Reading Adventure. This computer software has been an incredible addition to our collection. Your child learns reading through games and story activities to help them learn word recognition. The characters are 3D and the storyline is really good so it has kept our son really entertained and engaged in it. We have tried other software from the company, but so far Mia has been the biggest hit. This is priced at $24.99.

If your children like to move and groove to the music, I can guarantee that both you and they will absolutely love the new They Might Be Giants, "Here Come the 123s" The CD comes with a DVD that has all of the songs on the CD with a music video to accompany it. The lyrics are hilarious, the movies will make you laugh out loud, and the kids will learn something. The DVD is just as good as the CD so you can get something for your car and to keep the kids educationally entertained in front of the television. This is priced at just $14.99.

One of our favorite things that has been loved literally until the color wore off and we had only two magnets left because we had lost them all is this School Zone Preschool Magnetic Set. We have taken this set with us whenever we travel or are at a restaurant waiting endlessly for food. The set comes with different heavy-duty backgrounds and comes with an entire farm of animals & magnetic letters that can be stuck to the different backgrounds. The different storyboards have different activities on them or if you have younger children who aren't reading, they can make up their own stories. These are magnets though so make sure you are supervising younger children or give this gift at an age where you can trust them.

The case is metal so if you have a rambunctious toddler like me, it can get warped from standing on it, but the kids have loved this so much that I plan to get them each a new one. They have a kindergarten and preschool version. Best of all, they only cost $9.99.

These are just a handful of my ideas for gift-giving and I hope it helps a little with your holiday shopping.

What are some of your favorite gifts to give for younger kids? Do you have any special presents that your children are requesting this year? Please feel free to share!

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Monday, December 01, 2008

A Perfectly Cozy Gift

I have finished my snowy day scarf and it turned out beautifully! I loved how this scarf turned out so much that I decided to make it for a few more gifts for holiday-giving this year. I was planning to finish it with some tassels, but after tying some tassels to the edges, I decided to take them out because I liked it without them more.

Ethan liked this scarf so much that he now wants me to make one of these for his teacher. We headed over to Michael's and he picked out a soft icy blue for the scarf to be knitted out of. It was so fun to see him think so hard about what color he wanted to give to her. He truly loves his teacher. In fact, on his report card it said, "Ethan tells me he loves me every single day." I hope he is always this tender and sweet.

I am saving those tubes that my Crystal Light drink mix comes in to use for my holiday drink mixes this year. I wrapped this one in some holiday gift wrap and wrapped it around the tube, sealing with a little Elmer's glue to hold it in place. I used my handy little circle punch to make a gift tag to label the drink mix and tied it off with a little raffia. I thought it turned out so cute and, best of all, it was something that would have gone into my recycling.

The scarf is wrapped in ribbon I bought at the end of season last year on clearance. I think it looks so pretty and festive with this bow on it.

Total cost with ingredients, yarn, and wrapping- approximately $5!

Back to the knitting needles to replicate this a couple of more times- once for my postal worker who has worked so hard helping deliver boxes to my house all year long and another for our special teacher. If I can squeeze another one in, it will be for one of his bus drivers and the other (a gentleman) will get a special goody box delivery.

What teacher gifts do you have planned this year? What do you do for those special helpers in your life (the mail carrier, the bus driver, the hair dresser, etc..)?

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

5 Tips for Great Photography Straight From A Pro

I was excited to have found an old friend of mine from high school through Facebook. As I paged through my friend Daniel's info and pictures, I couldn't believe how incredible his photography was and had to find out what he was up to. It was no surprise, after seeing his amazing photography, that he was running his own business and doing quite well with it.

I asked if I could interview him for our website so I could share tips for great photography with our moms and was so thrilled when he accepted. He was happy to share with our readers just a little glimpse into the world of great photography and I hope that this information will help you as you venture into taking pictures of your children.

Best of all, he shares his secrets for getting that perfect family photo and just in time for those fun holiday pictures for those photo cards!

Can you offer some insight on choosing the best photography equipment for a young family? What is one good investment that is totally worth the splurge?

Sure! I can talk cameras and gear all day and night, but I'll try to keep it brief. The main thing to keep in mind is that expensive gear doesn't make great photographs. Expensive tools are nice, but more important is the knowledge of how and when to use the tools you've got. With that in mind, remember that digital photography equipment is very rapidly evolving. For example, the big camera manufacturers have a history of announcing new SLR camera bodies every 18 months or less! So the one solid investment to make in digital photography is in glass (lenses). Spend your money on the best glass you can afford, keep it forever, and then look for a camera body within your remaining budget.

If the SLR world of bodies and interchangable lenses is entirely out of your budget from the start, then don't forget that truly great photographs are made every single day with cameras in the Point & Shoot (P&S) category. In general, P&S cameras will range from being completely automatic to having the ability to shoot fully manual. An automatic camera can be convenient and may serve your purposes well. However, in my experience, most people taking photographs of their kids will eventually want at least some amount of manual control over their camera's settings. The danger in letting an auto-camera do all the thinking for you is that there will be situations involving lighting, motion, white balance and selective focus that will require at least some amount of manual control to capture. I don't want to get too much into recommending specific brands or models, but the P&S camera I take with me when I scuba dive is a Canon G9, which can be as "auto" or as "manual" as I need it to be. I use 2 SLR bodies and a variety of lenses when shooting above the water!

If readers would like more specific recommendations with regard to brand/model, they are more than welcome to contact me directly. I'm happy to help! So, quick re-cap: spend your money on good lenses first if going the SLR route or spend your money on getting some manual control if going with a P&S camera.

When trying to capture pictures of children, what are a few quick tips for good photography?

First, remember that photography is about light and without good light on your children, their smiles, laughs and actions will likely go uncaptured! So, position yourself in relation to your children so that their faces are well lit and worry about lighting in other areas of the frame as secondary importance. With that in mind, harsh sunlight isn't very flattering in most situations and finding some shade under an overhang or next to a building will generally improve the quality of your light. Think about light in at least two different ways; there is a quantity of light and also a quality of light, which are very different from one another. Try to avoid shooting under tree leaves as you'll end up with "broken light" on your children from the sun shooting between the leaves of the tree. You'll end up with bright spots and shadow areas right next to one another on their faces, creating a "giraffe skin effect" on your kiddos!

Of course, with kids, the harder you try to pose them, the worse the situation becomes, and very quickly! Most parents with younger children would have no trouble agreeing with that! So, let children be children. Don't impose too much, hang around close enough to capture your photographs, gently inserting mild directives when possible, but try not to intrude. If you do need to pose children in a more formal manner, do it quickly, with lots of praise and by showing them examples of what you want, etc. Get the shot immediately and then set them free to go play! In general, I try not to keep the little ones 'posing' for me any longer than 30 seconds to a minute before giving them a play break. Of course, during their play break, I'm still shooting from a distance!

Young children are constantly in motion, what settings work best for energetic toddlers?

Great question! I tend to think of child photography as being similar to sports photography in many ways. Two things have to happen; 1. your shutter speed has to be fast enough to 'freeze' the child's motion and 2. your focus must be constantly adjusting as the child moves and the distance changes between the child and your camera. A slower shutter speed will let in more light of course, but motion will also be blurred (which can be a cool effect). However, I find that a sharp, crisp, and in-focus photo of a moving toddler will typically require a shutter speed of 1/80s or faster depending on how fast they are moving and depending on the lens you are using. A longer (telephoto) lens requires faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake. Many cameras have several focusing modes. If your camera has a mode that allows you to track movement, sometimes called AI Servo or AI Focus among other names, this usually works better than pre-focusing and trying to anticipate a child's movement. So, quick shutter and tracking focus for kids on the go!

What editing software would you recommend for a mom who is just starting out with photo editing?

Well, there are just so many good options for editing photos anymore, many of them free and I'd be happy to recommend a few of my favorites. However, I want to emphasize how important it is that good photographs be made in-camera, not 'fixed' in post processing. With tools like Photoshop we can do some really amazing things to a digital image, but it's always obvious when a photograph has been 'saved' in photoshop. There's a saying to this effect amongst many photographers, "garbage in, garbage out." My point being that you should spend more of your time working on getting great photos with your camera than working on trying to edit them into great photos .

However, in my opinion all digital photos do require at least a little post-processing in the way of white balance, saturation, curves and sharpness and one of my favorite tools for, say a mom just starting out, is Google's Picasa. It's free, has a very easy interface, offers many web and sharing options and likely isn't going away any time soon! Honestly, my 6 year old uses Picasa with her digital photos. It's very user-friendly. For those who may be ready to get into a little more serious editing, but want to maintain the 'free' aspect, I'd recommend the application, Gimp.

There are also many free web-based applications for those times when you might not be at your own computer, but need to quickly upload and edit a handful of images: Picnik, Pixenate, Fotoflexer, LunaPic, flauntr, picture2life, phixr, and easyphotoresize. Personally, I do the majority of my editing for the weddings and portraits I that I shoot in Adobe Lightroom and a little bit still in Photoshop.

When getting family portraits done, I am always stumped how to dress the family. Do you have any suggestions for getting that perfect family picture?

Sure! In general, I like families to feel comfortable above all else. Good photographs are about capturing a family's personality and it's always very obvious when subjects are uncomfortable in their own clothing. Additionally, I tend to like solid colors on top and either jeans or khaki pants. In the Fall, I prefer solid black or white tops. In the Spring and Summer, I really like bright bold solid colors on top. Bright, bold colors in the snow for winter portraits can really be fun too! It's usually best to avoid busy patterns, horizontal stripes, and clothes that have never been worn before. So, be comfy, be yourselves and do your best to NOT stress out about getting your family portraits done. One thing I can say for sure, is that stress always shows in photographs and stiff, posed portraits are just not my style at all. So, when considering getting your own family portraits done keep comfort and personality in mind. In general, you want your family to look like your family in your portraits, not a stiff, posed and stressed version of your family!

I have to ask, what is your favorite photograph that you have ever taken and why is it special to you?

Definitely the hardest question to answer, Amy! It's so tough to say. On one hand, there are so many photographs that I am really pleased with and on the other hand, one is always very critical of his own work.

One thing I do every year in December is put together a collection of what I feel are some of my best photographs for that calendar year and publish them as a free video podcast, which can be found in iTunes by doing a search for "dgmphotography" or "Daniel G. McNulty" in the iTunes store. Subscribing to this video podcast portfolio is free of course. I also regularly put many of my personal favorites on my blog in more of an informal format. That said, I think I'd have to choose a favorite in multiple categories (weddings, children, families, landscape, etc), but if I were forced to choose one photograph to keep for the rest of my life and never look at another, it would probably be this one, mostly because they are my daughters and loving the beach and loving each other as I do!

General Info
About Daniel G. McNulty Photography:
Website: www.dgmphotography.net
email: [email protected]
Blog: www.dgmphotography.blogspot.com/
iTunes Link

A big round of applause to Daniel for helping us with this piece. What is your biggest dilemma with capturing pictures and what would you like us to feature more of in this category?

Please be sure to leave a comment and thank Daniel for his time in helping us supply these amazing tips!

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Monday, November 24, 2008

My Christmas Wish List This Year

Reader Q: What is on your Christmas list this year?

I love making Christmas lists for my children, but I dread making them for myself. I feel like I have so much that I don't really need anything. I know how fun it is to see other people's holiday lists though because it can help you in creating your own lists. Without further adieu, here is my wish list for this year!

The first thing on my list is that people make a donation to our Big Give this year. I have been working so hard on this and want to really give our local homeless shelter a really great Christmas this year. Our family does charitable giving in lieu of gift exchanges so I look forward to putting money in for good causes this year. I encourage you all to do the same or request that charitable gifts be made instead of getting something on your Christmas list.

One of the gifts that I received as an early Christmas gift was a Kindle. I get to do some traveling with my work and I am an avid reader. On my last trip, I was toting four library books to keep me entertained. While I was out of town, Oprah had the Kindle on her show and my husband ordered one for me at the special discount price. It was the best gift he could have ever got me, although a little extravagant for our usual "only buy for the kids" Christmas. I absolutely love it and am asking for Amazon gift cards so I can download books on it for reading. I am a gadget girl and the convenience of having all of my books on this little reader is such a special treat. You can download newspapers, books, and blogs into it and keep your reading in one little spot.

As a Christmas gift to my husband, this Mighty Bright clip-on light would be great so he could sleep at night while I am reading. I drive him crazy reading in bed so this would be a great gift for both of us. This gift would be only $13, but would add a lot of sleep value for my husband.
A makeup brush set is top priority on my list this year. This set from Ulta is only $19.99. Why might I ask for this? Well, my daughter managed to find a lemonade packet from our kitchen and decided to mix up a batch of lemonade in the toilet. With no spoons within toddler-level, mommy's make-up bag came in handy and she used my brushes as her official stirrers. Nothing like swiping a damp brush across your face to make you wonder how it got so wet? Evidence of pink residue and other fine handiwork led me to the conclusion that I should get a fresh set of brushes.

Another item on my list was the Apples to Apples game. Our family loves board games and this is one that I would really like to add to our family collection. I absolutely love this game and it is a great game to play when we have friends over.

I have a wine opener on our list because ours has kicked the can. I prefer the Rabbit style of wine opener. I am not into the wine opening sets because they require more space in my limited kitchen cupboard space. This Houdini Lever Style Wine Opener is a steal in the black color for a little over $20!

I would like to get a dry erase calendar with a set of colored markers to get our family organized for the new year. This jumbo calendar is what I have in mind for our kitchen so we can get everyone's schedule in one spot. This calendar is only $14.99 through the Container Store.
One thing that I have not bought for myself in years and years is perfume. A little known fact about my husband is that he has no sense of smell. I seem to not make the extra effort with things like this because I know it is wasted, but I love a good perfume so I would love to have some even if it is for only my own benefit. One of my favorites is Clinique Happy perfume. Just a teeny bottle would be great for those special occasions.

I would love one of these mother's necklaces with my kid's names on it. I can already see this necklace around my neck. This one is sold by Moppets Closets and is $27. I love that it says blessed on it with the names surrounding it because that is exactly how I feel as a mom.

I love bamboo placemats and we have had these on our table for years. They are easy to clean and can be rolled up and stored when we want to throw a tablecloth on our table. After eight years though,they are showing their age and are falling apart. I love these bamboo placemats in black because they wouldn't show any food stains. These are $14.90 for four.

I really would love an oilcloth tablecloth for my table and I think this color would be perfect in my kitchen:

Chalkydoodles makes custom ones with a gingham border that would be a wonderful and useful splurge in my kitchen. If I get holiday money this year, I am putting it towards this. For my table size it is a splurge at $44, but would be used for a long time. Oilcloth appeals to me with two messy kids so I would love to have one of these in my kitchen.

My French Press broke so I would love to get another one to replace it. I found my first one at a thrift store, but is rare you find one with all the working parts on it. This Bonjour Hugo accommodates three cups of coffee (or one Amy cup) and is unbreakable. You have to be careful with the glass ones and this one could stand my abuse a little more. Best of all, it is priced at $12.90.

I got the first Digital Photography book by Scott Kelby last year for Christmas and absolutely fell in love with this book. I would love to get this Digital Photography 2 book as a holiday gift. I would recommend these books to anyone who is trying to understand photography without a lot of mumbo jumbo language. These books are absolutely great for beginners.

Other things that will always make the list are-

  • Michael's or Hobby Lobby gift cards to help feed my crafting addictions. I was also thinking I would like to take the next level to cake decorating so those could also go towards my supplies.
  • Candles, but they have to be food-related scents and I love holiday-ish scented stuff.
  • Starbuck's gift cards to splurge on my favorite coffee drinks.
  • Babysitting- We love anyone who offers to help us with the kids so we can have a date night. Even the gift of time during the day so I can whip the house back into shape is always a hit!
  • A maid- If I can't get the babysitter, I could really use a maid to help me with my house.
What is on your holiday wish list this year?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Inspiring Moms: Alli from Mrs. Fussypants Guide to Life

Thank you all for entering our contest! I had to do the random number generator to choose our winner this time because all of the entries were so worthy. I would like to congratulate our winner, Andrea from Mommy Snacks, and we hope that this little gift will make her family's holiday a little brighter. Andrea said this:

"I would give this to my mom. My father passed 3 years ago and there is a beautiful pic of the two of them that she keeps around - you can immediately sense his personality when you see that picture. Mom hasn't taken off her wedding ring, not sure she will, not sure that's easy to do. But, with this necklace, this pic will be close to her heart everyday and she'll know - ring or not - he is with her :-)"

Thank you again to everyone who entered and check back each week for new giveaways!

I am such a fan of you, Alli, why did you decide to start blogging over at Mrs. Fussypants Guide to Life?

Thank you, Amy. And I, of you. I discovered blogs about a year and a half ago when I researching homeschool resources. I fell in love with blogs instantly. I wanted a site that would reflect me and be a collection of little bits of my personality. What I didn't know is how blogging would change my life through all the amazing women I have met and grown to love through their words.

I try to keep in mind that my site is my time capsule. My sons, my grandchildren, and 25 generations to come will know of me through what I write. Hopefully someone will say, "Ol' Great Granny Alli, she sure was a funny lady back then." I love that thought.

I am the editor for your Family Bliss Channel for Blissfully Domestic so you know I am already a super fan. Can you tell our readers a little bit about what Blissfully Domestic is and what you hope to provide with your site?

Blissfully Domestic is an wonderful group of talented women who have joined together as the 'Domestic Divas'. There are 14 channels and over 250 women who contribute.

My vision for Blissfully Domestic was to provide a platform for women to show off their wisdom. As a mother of little kids, I used to get lost in that role. It wasn't until I discovered blogging and began sharing my thoughts with the world, that I realized I had more and more wisdom to share. I believe every woman has knowledge to share with the world!

Blissfully Domestic is different than most online magazines because we are 100% real women. I founded the site with $27 and a few friends sharing their wisdom in weekly articles. The success has been humbling and I am very honored to be at the helm of a magazine that is packed with meaningful, useful articles. I hope we are a blessing to all who write for the site and who read.

You threw your first blogger bash, Blissdom '08 recently and are planning another event in February. What are you hoping to offer with this event and what makes it unique?

BlissDom was a celebration of the power and wonderful voice of female bloggers. We shared our secrets, our tips and our motivation. It was an amazing experience.

In February, I hope to bring more aspects of Blissfully Domestic in to BlissDom. My vision is a retreat weekend for women. I hope to incorporate Blissful Style, Blissful Home, Inspired Bliss, Family Bliss and more.

You know, I hear Family Bliss is a huge hit. {winks}

As a mother of a zillion children (just kidding), how do you balance motherhood with running your site?

I do have a whole bunch of boys! I have 5 sons, the youngest is 5 months and the oldest is 10. Balancing motherhood and my sites is a constant challenge. This year, after homeschooling my sons for years, I enrolled them in a small church school. I knew it was time to focus on my sites as a business and make sure the boys were getting what they needed. Now I work with a two year old playing cars around me and nursing the baby. Thank goodness for my wireless laptop.

Can you share one tip for a blogger who is just getting started?

Join Twitter and meet new friends. Keep your writing pithy, your pictures pretty and never use auto music.

Blogging, just like life is not a zero-sum game. Supporting the successes of others is very important. It is important to treat others in a respectful way and never be underhanded or cruel online. Online reputations are of utmost importance. Our circles are small and every single thing we do is public.

When building a blog, a brand or a large network- you will get back what you give. When you work with a passion and make it your goal to support others as well as yourself, others will be drawn for the right reasons.

In her free time, Alli works very hard at Fussypants Designs creating beautiful photo heirloom jewelry. Browse around her site and look at all of the beautiful choices and find out how to order them here for the holidays. Remember, it is always good to support our fabulous work-at-home mommas!

Alli has generously offered our readers the chance to win one of her amazing pieces of work. We will be giving one winner one of these beautiful necklaces. To enter, please leave a comment here by Wednesday (11/26) at 8PM (EST) and tell me who you would give this necklace to and why. The best answer to this question will win so please be creative with your responses. Be sure to sign in to your Blogger account so your name is clickable or leave your email address in the comments if you are signing in anonymously. I will need to be able to contact you if you win! Good luck, everyone!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Great Budget-Friendly Gifts for Men

(Image Credit: Craig)

I don't know what it is about men, but it seems that people are always looking for gift ideas for them. I have never really had a problem with buying for guys, in particular, but struggle more for those people in my life who seem to have everything. Buying gifts for the guys in your life doesn't have to be difficult and I want to arm you with some of my favorite gifts for guys that are always a hit.

Give the Gift of Music- I am a big music-lover and the men in my life are music lovers too. Music is always a great gift to give because it is something that can be enjoyed for a very long time. I love to make a "mixed tape" of great music and then follow these instructions for making a very personalized CD cover with pictures that I know the recipient would like. Print the covers on heavy card stock and add a personal message to the recipient.

If the man in your life is more into the digital music, why not give him an iTunes gift card that can be redeemed for picking his own favorite music? These gift cards start at just $15, which would make a great gift for any music lover.

Give the Gift of Movies- One of the best gifts I have ever given has to be the gift of movies. Netflix offers a wide range of plans that you can choose from and you can purchase a month or two for your recipient for very little money. Their plans start at $4.99 and you can present the subscription in a fun way or even tuck the gift in with a popcorn tub and and some movie theater snacks.

Give the Gift of Reading- Guys love magazine subscriptions and I have found that magazine subscriptions can be bought very inexpensively off of eBay. Make your own card and tell your guy that the gift is redeemable for any magazine of his choice (except those filthy magazines which will never be purchased for your guy thankyouverymuch) and that you will get him a gift subscription. I have found subscriptions to magazines for $3 or $4 for an entire year versus the newsstand prices. If it is in your budget, you could subscribe to two or three without breaking the bank and let him think you spent a mint on him.

Give the Gift of Food & Drink- They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach and I have found this is absolutely true. Whip up a special batch of his favorite snack and pair it with some of his favorite coffee. You could make him a batch of these sugar and spice nuts and pair it with a little bucket of his favorite beer. By pairing your homemade specialty with a store-bought favorite drink, you have a great combination for a perfectly budget-friendly gift.

If you want to extend the gift further, wrap up his favorite snack and give him coupons to redeem the snacks for later. This is especially effective with college-aged guys and we have made more than a few college students happy with our boxes of goodies. You can download and print our free college coupon template and mount these to card stock for holiday gift-giving.

Give the Gift of Accessories- Just like women love a good handbag, a pretty scarf, or a hot pair of shoes, men have a desire for accessories too... just not the same kind as us. If your man is into gadgets and already has them, why not supply him with some accessories for the items he already has? For example, if he has a Nintendo Wii, you could give him some Wii points to put towards one of his favorite old Mario Brothers games. Likewise, if he uses any other game system, you could buy an extra controller or a different style of controller so he could play with more of his friends. If he has a Kindle you could give him a gift certificate to Amazon to buy some book downloads. Is he into computers? Why not try and find some computer software that he could put to good use by taking advantage of those rebate offers from the office supplies stores. We often forget to reload the tech gadgets we already have so this is a cost-effective way of building upon investments that have already been made.

There are the other accessories in life too so take a peek at his belt, his wallet, his hat, his scarf, his planner. While not maybe as much fun as some of the other gifts on the list, upgrading your man's accessories can be very thoughtful and will be used for years to come. I love to go to stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall's to find these accessories because they are so deeply discounted and you can get some really great brand-names for an affordable price.

Give the Gift of Believing In Your Man- I know how much I appreciate it when someone believes in me and what I do so why not try and make that into a gift for someone you love? Are they self-employed or trying to start their own side business? Why not place an order for business cards for them? VistaPrint offers very affordable prices on business cards and think how much that would mean to someone who is trying to start their own business. You could pair that with a business card case that has been engraved with his initials which would make the gift even more personal.

Does the man in your life have a hobby that he is passionate about? Why not get him a book, a tool, or some items off of his wish list to support that hobby. Make these gifts more personal with a note that tells them that you are proud of them and give him a free pass to watch the children so he can go and pursue his hobby for the day... with no flack from you. Men value their alone time just as much as women so give him permission to go hit a few of those golf balls that are wrapped under the tree and enjoy some of your own quality time alone with the kids.

Give the Gift of Memories- Do you know something about the man in your life that you could use as a creative gift? Think of their favorite book as a child or think of a gift that he said he always wanted, but never got when he was young. Try and find those items on eBay and write a personal message to them about how you always remembered that this was special to them. You don't have to pay to get a first-edition of the item, remember that the thought is there and he will appreciate that you remembered that about him.

Another way to capture those memories is by finding an old picture that would have significant memories for him and have it printed up through a photo place and frame it for his desk at work. Maybe it is a picture of you with your father? Maybe it is a picture of you and your spouse on your honeymoon? Maybe it is a picture of your grandfather with his grandkids? Frame it and give it to them as a way of remembering all of those wonderful memories.

Whatever you do, just remember to make the gift as personal as you can. Wrap your gift creatively and tuck in a letter of what that person means to you. Everyone wants to feel loved and appreciated and nothing says appreciation like a little time invested into a personal gift. Don't just give him the supplies to wash the car, give him a coupon that says it is good for one car wash done by you. Don't just give him a magazine subscription. Buy one magazine to wrap that says that it is good for the subscription and then tag the magazine with sticky notes with funny notes from yourself. Don't give him a generic coffee mug, have the children create one with you and fill it with his favorite snack. Make it as personal as possible and your gift will say a lot more than any expensive gift that is wrapped under the tree.

I hope these ideas have helped since this was a topic our readers really wanted to see!

Please share-what do you like to give to the men in your life? Have you done any of these ideas from this list?

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Holiday Photo Cards: Who Has the Best Deals?

We love to give photo cards for the holidays because the card itself feels like giving a gift. We have family all over and loved ones who don't see our children regularly so photo cards just made sense for us.

Photo cards can be expensive though and when you are doing mass quantities of something, you need to really make sure you are getting the best deal possible. Shopping around and utilizing coupon codes are your best bet when it comes to purchasing your cards online.

Here is some general information on pricing for this year's photo cards. To keep it simple, I am sticking to a basic 4x8 card with a single photo. There are many different variations on the cards now that can add to the cost of your cards so be sure to check the pricing when shopping around and remember all of those extra frills often end up in someone's trash or recycle bin. Splurge on the things that really count!


I was surprised to see the current pricing for Winkflash on their cards, but in a totally good way. They offer a one day turnaround and a money-back guarantee on their cards. Best of all, this online store requires no minimum order and a flat $.23 per card for their current sale. No sneaky pricing deals and you gotta love that! It does say to take advantage of the $.23 rate you need to use the coupon code GREATCARD8 and the offer ends November 16th! That is 40% off their normal pricing listed, but even with the normal prices it is still a great deal!

I bet you can guess where I will be ordering from this year!

Pricing on 50- $11.50 (sale price)
Pricing on 100- $23.00 (sale price)

Sam's Club-

Of all the brick and mortar places I have explored, Sam's Club wins on price overall. I have ordered through them for a couple of years now and I have yet to be disappointed by the quality of the cards. One downfall with shopping through them is that they are going to be more limited on the backgrounds, but if you take a really great picture of your kids, that is all that really matters in the end.

Pricing on 50- $14.50
Pricing on 100- $25.00


If you don't have access to a Sam's Club, Walmart also offers photo cards for a great price. They also have more backgrounds available. The nice thing about Walmart is that you don't have to make a large quantity commitment, as many websites do require you to buy a minimum of 25. If you just wanted to do photo cards for close family members, you could order your cards individually. They also offer more templates to pick from so you do have more of a variety than you would through Sam's Club.

Pricing on 50- $16.50
Pricing on 100- $33.00

One advantage of shopping through an online resource is that you can cash in on great coupon codes that aren't often available with the brick and mortar stores. Shutterfly also takes you through a fun three question "card style finder" process where you can pick pictures that have represented the holidays to you and helps you chose a template that fits you best. The templates are amazing,but the prices are going to range widely because they have so many options. The pricing we have pulled is for one of their more basic templates.

Pricing on 50- $26.00
Pricing on 100- $44.00


Walgreens offers their card quantities in twenty to a box for your ordering needs. They offer a wide range on selection and are rewarding their early bird customers (ordering before November 15th) using coupon code WRAP33 with a 33% discount on your photo order.

Pricing on 40- $19.98
Pricing on 60- $29.97
Pricing on 100- $49.95


Snapfish is one of the more affordable online retailers for photo cards and offer a wide selection of holiday backgrounds. Pricing is said to be around $.29, but that is only if a quantity of 240 cards is ordered. I used the basic paper, standard 4x8, with no frills for this pricing scenario. Pricing will vary based on the extras.

Pricing on 40- $22.00
Pricing on 60- $33.00
Pricing on 100- $45.00

CVS Photo Center-

CVS offers a larger selection with 94 holiday backgrounds to choose from. These cards come in boxes of twenty and can be ordered online and can be picked up at your local CVS location. The pricing, however, is not as good as the superstores, but they do tend to offer coupon codes that can be redeemed towards your order.

Pricing on 40- $26.99
Pricing on 60- $35.99
Pricing on 100- $53.99


Photoworks is a little sneakier with the pricing system. When you click on a card that says it is $.36, that number is really only acheived by ordering nine or more boxes of 25 cards. I may be in the minority, but I doubt I would need that many cards for one holiday mailing. I picked a basic card with one basic picture and came up with this rough pricing amount.

Pricing on 50- $33.00
Pricing on 100- $66.00

How do you save on those photo cards?

- Order early- Now is the time to start jumping on early bird specials. Online stores tend to reward their early customers with really great coupon codes so take advantage of those lower prices and stage a photo session with your kids that will work for the holiday season.

- Look for coupon codes- Try to cash in on those discounts and take advantage of things like free shipping or companies that are offering a free photo gift that could be use for the holiday gift-giving season.

- Buy larger quantities to redeem the bigger discounts on card pricing, but only if you will be able to use the cards that you are ordering. Make your card list first to decide quantities and then order your cards to make it the most cost-effective for your family.

- Try buying a template and then having them printed at an inexpensive printing place or printing them yourself, if you have a photo printer. You can still have a very personalized design, but pay a flat fee for the template. My friend, Simple Mom, is offering a discount to those who order early at Chickpea Designs.

- Shop through a rewards shopping site like Ebates. I am a huge fan of the company and try to do the majority of my shopping through them. You can sign up and get $5 automatically in your account and companies like Shutterfly, for example, offer 8% back on your shopping order. The site will also list coupon codes that you can use towards your order. I would love if you used this referral link because those sign-ups help with our Christmas shopping for the year.

(Photo Source: Eszter Hargittai)

Do you do photo cards? Where do you order from and how do you keep the cost low on your cards? Another fun question- how many cards do you send out? I am always curious about that!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Play it Again, Momma: Fun Family Game Nights

Our family loves to play board games and after we had children, we began to play them a lot more. We are usually home more in the evening, so we pop some popcorn and catch up on our television shows while we play.

I try to get our board games at our local thrift store because it is a great way for me to try them out without making a huge investment. Sometimes I buy games and we discover that it isn't something we would want to play over and over again. When they cost us only $1.50, it makes it much easier to donate it back and try something else out.

You might be able to do this without even making a small investment by checking with your local library. Our library actually has games and toys that you can rent for your children. We were able to try some games out for our son and found that he either didn't like them or they were way too advanced by just checking them out for a week. We were able to return them and then try them at a later date with him, when they were more age-appropriate.

Starting your own game collection does not have to be expensive. If you don't have somewhere that you can buy them secondhand, ask for these as a family Christmas gift or ask for them for your children as birthday gifts. Some of the best childhood games are Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, Memory, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Life, and Clue.

Games are a great way to bond with your family and are a inexpensive "date night" with your spouse. We try and devote (at least) one night a week towards playing a game together and enjoy playing these games on the weekend.

These are a few of our favorite games:

1. Rummikub: This is a game that my husband loved to play when he was growing up, and now he has me addicted to it too! The game is intended for ages eight and up and can be played with two or more players. With rules similar to gin rummy, Rummikub is a classic tile game that's guaranteed to get at least a million kid-hours of use in any family. Players take 14 numbered tiles and try to get rid of them as fast as possible by creating runs (for example, 7-8-9) and sets (7-7-7). The link provided is for their deluxe edition (which we do not have). This deluxe edition is cleverly designed so that the four plastic tile racks fit together to form a carrying case for the game.

2. Scrabble- What is not to love about this game? Intended for two players or more and recommended for ages eight to ninety-nine, you can play this game for years with your children. The game has been improved with a swivel board (less stretching required!), raised holders to rest the tiles into, and a bag to store all of the tiles. This is one of my personal favorites and we play this a lot in our house. Don't forget to purchase a copy of the Scrabble Dictionary and store it with your game board. Take some time to study some words and really beat your opponents! Want to see what Scrabble obsession looks like? Rent the movie, "Word Wars." It is all about the Scrabble championships that are held and people who attempt to make a living from this sport.

3. Upwords- Along the same vein, this is another fabulous word puzzle game, but with a twist. You build words just like Scrabble, but you can build up and up (five letters high) to change words into new words. The more you stack, the more points you earn. I think it is more challenging than Scrabble, but the scoring is much easier to do. This game is for two players or more and recommended for ages eight and up. This game can be a powerful tool when your children are beginning to read because it can help teach them how to change words using different letters. Consider it a cheap version of "Hooked on Phonics" and a game that they can enjoy for years after they have learned to read!

4. Skipbo- This was my favorite game growing up and my sister & I would play this for hours and hours. Created by the makers of UNO, this card game is a delight for anyone of all ages. The game is a sequencing game of skill and strategy intended for two players or more and ages seven and up. Players create sequential stacks with cards on the board, the first player to use all the cards in their stack wins. The deluxe edition has a board with placeholders for all of the stacks of cards and score sheets to keep tabs of the winners. I love this game because it is easy to still have conversations while playing, making it a great game to socialize with other couples.

5. Yahtzee- A classic game of dice that has been around since 1956 and is still played in millions of homes today. You can play alone (which I don't think would be as much fun) or with more players. The ultimate in this game is to actually get Yahtzee or five of a kind. This game is so much fun and also a great teaching tool for children. Children can learn basic addition and subtraction, as well as sequential ordering.

6. Monopoly- I had never played this game until high school, and I can honestly say that my husband is always the winner, which is why we don't play it as much! This game is a great teaching tool in money-management and in buying real estate. We have a couple of different versions of this game, but my favorite is the Dot Com Monopoly, which we purchased when Dot Coms were ruling the world. Few of the companies on the board exist anymore, which makes for interesting conversation and fond memories before the dot com bomb hit for computer nerds and geeks alike!

We have many more games in our collection and the last time I hit the thrift store, I picked up another stack of new ones. Our collection keeps growing and we hope to have a game collection that our kids will enjoy someday with their friends. In a day of technological bliss, game nights now seem "retro." Why play on a board when you can just grab your game system or play a computer game online? I hope that board games will last the test of time because they can be an essential part of family bonding and creating a family night to remember!

What are your favorite games? Any games that I should be adding to our collection?

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Redbox Code & Sam's Club Membership Deal

Today's free code for a Redbox movie is PK66H8. This code is good for one free movie and you can use it until midnight tonight. Enjoy a free family movie together!

Side Notes:

- If you want to rent more than one movie for free, bring more than one credit/debit card. You can use the same promotional code, you just will need different cards to charge it to. The charge will be zero as long as you return your movie on time for the next day.

- When entering in your free movie code, you need to enter it FIRST before picking the movie. On the very first screen, click the, "Rent with Promo." Enter in the above code and then make your selection- the amount should then total zero.

Here is an updated list of new releases:

You Don't Mess With the Zohan
Former Israeli assassin who fakes his own death so he can move to New York and pursue his dream of styling hair in gratuitously short jean cutoffs? That's Adam Sandler for you, who you can always count on to deliver the goods in totally absurd ways. Rob Schneider and John Turturro co-star in this whacky comedy.

The Happening
If they rated movies based purely on their otherworldly eeriness, every M. Night Shyamalan movie would be rated X. Surprisingly, this thriller – starring Mark Wahlberg as a science teacher in the midst of a mysterious psychological force threatening all humans – is M. Night's first Rated R movie. Find out why.

The Visitor
Richard Jenkins (the deceased father on Six Feet Under) stars as a widowed college professor who's simply going through the motions. But on a trip home to New York, he discovers two lively immigrants have moved into his apartment, and the friendship he forms with them might just open his future right up.

Kill Switch
You knew that Steven Seagal could act (and break pool cues over your head), but here he stars AND wrote the screenplay. Seagal plays as a famous homicide detective who follows a demented serial killer's trail to Memphis, where he must negotiate a seedy underworld of sex and violence.

Iron Man
The unfairly cool Robert Downey Jr. takes on the role he just might have made for: a superhero with a sense of style. Here, he plays Tony Stark, a billionaire war profiteer who becomes a do-gooder/world-saver after escaping captivity with the help of a hand-built flying iron suit. Gwyneth Paltrow co-stars.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Jason Segal, Kristin Bell and Russell Brand star in this hilarious (and frequently uber-embarrassing) comedy about a heartbroken slob who travels to a Hawaiian resort. There's pretty much no one there – except for his ex-girlfriend, her new boyfriend, and tons of awkward laughs.


I just wanted to let you guys know that Sam's Club is offering a special offer on their memberships to show people how they can save with a wholesale club membership. I spoke with a gentleman at our store & they said that they are offering these memberships on the weekends, but I am posting the official press release that states that you can sign up all week long. I believe they have set-ups only on weekends with computers displaying the savings, but you can visit your membership services desk to take advantage of the promotional membership. If you aren't sure about which club to go with or if wholesale club shopping is right for your family, please visit our EXTENSIVE article on wholesale club shopping that breaks down the ins and outs of the wholesale club membership. Regardless, this promotional deal would be helpful for a family who is trying to save money for their holiday shopping.

Cost of a membership versus this ten dollar deal, makes this a higher cost membership if you were considering signing up for a year, but for ten dollars you can decide if a wholesale club membership is the best deal for your family.

We only have a Sam's Club in our area so this is the only club that we can choose from. We do use our wholesale club for diapers, baking supplies, and frozen food purchases. For us, it does make sense, but each family needs to decide for their own individual needs.

Here is the official scoop:

For the first time in its history, Sam’s Club is offering a $10 membership good for 10 weeks --through the end of the year --for families and businesses not currently members. Beginning Oct. 17 through Oct. 26 consumers can visit any Sam’s Club to sign up.

Sam’s Club launched a national radio campaign this week and plans newspaper advertising to support the $10 for 10 weeks campaign, which features 10 reasons for joining. USDA choice meats and $4 generics along with generous food demos at Sam’s Club were called out in advertising. Seasonal merchandise and all the decorations required to trim a tree for less than $100 as well as holiday photo cards as low as 35 cents a piece also made the list.

“We know we can easily demonstrate the value at Sam’s Club in just one shopping trip, said Mike Turner, Vice President, Membership at Sam’s Club. ‘With a temporary 10 week membership we’ll be able to give those who sign up a good chance to see what we can do for them everyday, and through the holidays.”

In addition to the radio campaign, Yahoo! Finance columnist Laura Rowley, author of Money and Happiness, visited Sam’s Club locations in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix this week and suggests consumers should consider five things when looking for ways to save or cut expenses.

1. Start with the Basics - Housing and utilities, food, transportation and medicine.

-According to the government’s survey of costs, these are the top four budget categories for Americans and there are some easy ways to save big money over time without reducing quality of life.

2. Household Overhead – Take a few hours on a Sunday afternoon and review monthly income, outline a household budget and look for ways to “trim around the edges” – from cable to utilities to a cleaning or lawn service.

3. Hungry for a Deal – Plan ahead and create a menu for the whole week, which will allow bulk food purchases (which saves significantly off the regular grocery bill).

-When planning a meal, double the recipe and freeze the leftovers, or consider setting up a meal swap with friends.

-Crunched for time? Shop online. Sam’s Club has a service called “Click ‘n’ Pull” where members can shop online and pick up the assembled order 24 hours later.

4. Transportation Savings - Start by re-examining the families’ auto insurance plan.

-Comparison shop, raise the deductible, eliminate collision coverage on older cars, fill up at a warehouse club gas station; use gas websites

5. Cut Health Care Costs – Only about one-third of prescription drug buys are mostly or fully covered by insurance, according to a recent survey by Consumer Reports.

-Always ask the physician for a generic equivalent of any prescription and comparison shop online.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Clay Cookery: A Frugal Chef's Dream Come True

A long time ago, I read a post from Meredith, at Like Merchant Ships, about her clay cooker. Since her post, I have been on the lookout for a clay baker of my own, but have not seen one on any trip to the thrift shops. I am sure that I probably passed a million, not knowing what the heck they were, but when I finally figured it out...there were none to be found.

Until last week, that is! I actually spotted two of them sitting together on a shelf. I lunged to grab one and took home the one that was in the best condition. It was marked for six dollars, a bit more than I usually spend on a single item in housewares. After months and months of waiting though, I was willing to fork over the six dollars.

The lid was tightly taped shut and, I prayed that there was nothing wrong inside of it. What I discovered was that the clay cooker had never been used and all of the information packets were neatly tucked inside waiting for the next owner.

Today we roasted a chicken for our family in it. A good old Aldi chicken was stuffed with rosemary from my garden and seasoned with a little salt and pepper. I slid the chicken into the cold oven, after soaking my baker in water, and baked it at 450 degrees for 85 minutes.

I had read the packets cover to cover, praying that I wouldn't screw it up. Would the chicken really be moist and flavorful? Would it be brown or would it be light in color like my slow cooker chickens? Was it really true that it didn't require liquids?

We held our breaths as I lifted the lid...

What was unveiled was better than I had imagined. A juicy and flavorful chicken- full of color and just as good as any chicken I have bought in a store.

After we were all done applauding... well, maybe that didn't really happen, but I will say that we were all really impressed with just how good that chicken tasted.

I can't wait to try other things in the clay cooker and, just in case your thrift store find does not come with a booklet, here are a few of the tips that were provided for using your clay baker:

  • Soak it in water- Completely immerse the top and bottom in water for ten to fifteen minutes before each use.
  • Place in a cold oven- After adding the ingredients, place your clay baker in the center of the cold oven.
  • Time cooking according to your own preferences and oven- tastes and ovens vary. Time your dishes according to the way you want them and don't hesitate to vary the recipe slightly. Recipes usually can be converted for clay pots by increasing the cooking temperature by 100 degrees and deducting a 1/2 hour of cooking time.
  • Put the clay cooker on a cloth when you remove it from the oven- Sudden changes in temperature should be avoided. When the clay baker is removed from a hot oven, place it on a towel, hot pad, or wooden board rather than a cold surface.
  • Clay bakers are ideal for the microwave- Because microwaves vary to such a great degree, it is impossible to state any rules for converting recipes for the microwave. Use the oven manufacturer's guidelines for cooking times.
  • Clean with a hot water and a brush- Use hot water and a stiff brush to clean your clay baker. A little baking soda will cut any grease. Translation: NO SOAP! Never scour with a scouring powder or metal scouring pad. It can block some of the pores of the clay, reducing the water absorption.
  • Don't use it on an open flame- It is designed only for the oven.
  • Place the lid upside down on top of base when storing- When the clay baker is not in use, keep it in a place where the air circulates. Place the lid upside down on top of the base, so the air can reach inside the bottom.
But, why is a clay baker helpful for a frugal cook? Here are a few reasons I think this can be a good addition to the kitchen:

  • Cooking food in a cooker requires no additional liquids. It pulls all the natural juices out of your dishes so no need to add cans of chicken stock or extra ingredients to make your food flavorful.
  • Clay bakers allow you to prepare quick, healthy, high quality meals that cost less and taste better. My Aldi chicken looked and tasted better than any other preparation I have tried before and it browned the chicken beautifully without any extra steps at all!
  • You can cook very nutritiously. You can cook all kinds of foods without adding any fat. Due to the low cooking temperature the aroma, vitamins and minerals are preserved within your food. As someone who is trying to eat well, this is an important feature for me!
I can't wait to try other things in this clay baker and I hope you can score one of your own for your kitchen!

Have you ever tried cooking in a clay baker before? If not, what are some items you use in your kitchen that may seem unconventional to others, but have saved you time or money?

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Play it Again, Momma: Pumpkin Spice Lattes

With the Pumpkin Spice Latte season upon me, I thought it would be great to bring this little entry back for your viewing pleasure! After all, I can't be the only one with a Pumpkin Spice Latte addiction!

My absolute favorite drink at Starbucks is their Pumpkin Spice Latte. Each year, I look forward to them adding this onto their menu and this year was no exception. Unfortunately, my wallet can’t handle the frequent trips to get coffee so I have had to get creative this year.

My girlfriend, Christina, had this amazing little gadget called the Cocomotion. If you haven’t seen one of these, check it out and put it on your Christmas list. I decided to go with the Back to Basics Cocoa-Latte Maker (similar, but it has a dispenser to dispense the drink) and I have yet to be disappointed with it. It is so nice because it stirs and heats everything up, just like a blender. When it is hot, it will stop stirring and you can hit the Dispense button. As it comes out, it will come out with a beautiful froth on top, just like the coffee shops. I think the best part about it is no cocoa or coffee goes to waste. I hate when you get the bottom of your glass and there is all this cocoa that fell to the bottom and didn’t get mixed properly. With this machine, you don’t have that problem.

We have had our little cocoa machine humming every single night. As soon as I flip it on, it is like I have Pavlov’s dog in our house. Everyone runs up the stairs to wait impatiently for the cocoa to be ready.

Well, my handy little gadget makes the absolute BEST Pumpkin Spice Lattes and after trying several combinations, I finally have a recipe that I am happy with. This recipe will make two large lattes and I hope you can enjoy it as much as we have.

To save on cost, store your morning’s coffee in the fridge to be used for the lattes. You can also save on the cost of these by making a batch of powdered milk for your drinks.

If you want to splurge a bit, make sure to have whipped cream on hand to top with a dusting of cinnamon.

Let me know if you get a chance to try this recipe! Adjustments can be made according to your own taste! This is the perfect post-Thanksgiving Day treat!

Amy’s Version of Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte

2 cups milk
1 cup very strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons sugar (or one packet of Splenda)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (plus extra for dusting)
2 heaping spoonfuls of pumpkin

Pour all of the ingredients into a pot and heat over medium-high heat until the coffee is steaming hot. Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream & cinnamon. Enjoy!

If you are interested in purchasing a Cocoa-Latte Machine, check out Ebates and order from there. They have the Cocoa-Latte Machine (just go under Search in the left hand corner) for $30 with four percent cash back through the Ebates program.

Not an Ebates member? You can sign up today. You get five bucks in your account and so do I for referring you. It is THE place to Christmas shop! Please be sure the use the link provided so that we get credit for our referral & thank you so much! (Originally Aired: November 13, 2006)

(Photo Source:Dalboz17)

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Monday, August 25, 2008

CVS Shopping & Savings 08.25.08

I did pretty good at CVS this week because of my frequent visits to the in-store coupon machine. By combining the coupons from the machine with the manufacturer coupons, I have been scoring some great deals. I zipped by there on my way to pick up my goodies for the week and managed to print out a $1.00 off coupon for the Kotex Pantiliners deal.

I was planning to use my $2 off of $10 purchase, but was told that my coupon was denied because I had used the maximum amount of CVS coupons that I could use during one transaction. Has anyone ever heard of this before? This was news to me, and I was a little disappointed since I was hoping to get out there for about $5.

From this week's flier:

2 Colgate Toothpastes at $3.29 each. CVS Sale for B1G1 Free and used $1.00 off coupon in the paper combined with a $1.00 off CVS coupon (from in-store machine), Total price $1.29 or $.65 each.

1 Kotex Light Days Pads $1.49 each. Used coupon for $.75 off (from paper or print coupon here) & an in-store coupon for $1.00 off and received $1.49 in ECB back. Credit of $1.75

1 Playskool Wipes (160 count). Used $2 off coupon (in this week's paper) and $2.00 coupon from CVS in-store machine. Total cost $1.79.

1 Schick Intuition 3-ct cartridge at $9.49. Received $5 in ECB back. Total cost $4.49. This wasn't a great deal, but I thought I had a coupon for another $3 off, but it applied to another style of cartridge. I still needed the cartridges though so I went ahead and bought it.

All in all, I spent $10.08 for this week's purchases. Total savings was $15.04 and $6.49 back in ECB.

Be sure to visit Money Saving Mom for a CVS round-up of savings!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CVS Shopping or Getting Stuff for Free

Yesterday I headed over to WSBT and shared my experience with CVS shopping. I have been working on this for the past three weeks, trying to gather all that I could to show how great CVS is for families and how much you can save with very little effort.

We talked a little bit about charitable giving, so I did want to provide these links for the charitable giving challenges! This is a fun and easy way to give back within your communities.

BeCentsable Charity Challenge
Coupon Cravings Charity Challenge

I hope that everyone can understand how it all works- it is difficult when you have a two minute time limit for discussing an easy (but complex) shopping process!

I also have posted my deals for the week! Enjoy!

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Monday, August 18, 2008

CVS Shopping & Savings 08.18.08

Here is what I decided to purchase from the CVS flier this week-

Transaction #1:

1 Dove SkinVitalizer $9.99, get $3 ECB, used coupon (from this week's paper or available for printing here) for $3.50 off= $3.49
2 Sunsilk Products (one shampoo or conditioner & one styling aid item), $4.49 each, on sale for BOGO Free, used 2 coupons (from this week's paper) for $1.50 off one item= $1.40 for two or $.75 each
Then I used the $2 off $10 coupon
Total Spent OOP (out of pocket)= $6.85
Extra Care Bucks Credit- $3
Actual Cost- $3.85

Transaction #2:

Pepsi Products on Sale Buy Four (for $11), Get One Free

3 12-packs of Mt Dew
2 12-packs of Diet Cherry Pepsi
Total Cost= $11
Then I used the $2 off $10 coupon
Total Cost= $9, Total Cost Per 12-Pack= $1.80 each
For this transaction, I also used my ECB from last week's diapers purchase (and some ECB overage from the previous transaction) and they ended up owning me $.45. I grabbed a 3 Musketeers and we called it pretty much even!

Be sure to check Money Saving Mom this week for other scenarios. She is going to have the links up sometime later this week!

I did two separate transactions, but only made one trip. Do you guys do more than one trip or just ask them to ring it up separately? I just want to be respectful of the employee so I wondered how you guys do it?

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Monday, August 11, 2008

CVS Shopping & Savings 08.11.08

I used to do a lot of CVS shopping, but with a fortress of toothpaste, deodorant, and toothbrushes in my closet, I took the summer off to enjoy the rewards from my past shopping. We were trying to enjoy being home more and saving on gas at the same time so CVS shopping took a backseat this summer.

I have been slowly whittling down my supply though so last week I started picking the shopping back up and am ready to get back in the CVS game again!

Here is what I bought this week and how I saved:

1 Alavert Allergy Tablets- $5.99, get $3 ECB, used printable coupon for $4 off= $1.01 credit
2 CVS SPF 50 Sunscreens- $4.99, on sale for $2.99, two minus $1 coupons (printed from CVS coupon machine in store) & $2 off 1 CVS Beauty Product =1. 98 for two or $.99 each
2 Right Guard Deodorants, $3.29 each, on sale for BOGO Free, $1 off & $.75 coupons in paper= $1.54 for two or $.77 each
2 Colgate Total White Toothpaste- $2.79 each, on sale for BOGO Free, used printable coupon for $1.50 off= $1.29 for two or $.65 each
1 CVS Ibuprofen- $3.19 each, CVS coupon on end of last week's receipt for a free box= FREE
4 Oxy Daily Wash & Spot Treatment Products- $5.79 each, used $1 off coupon in paper, printable coupons here & here, got $6 ECB ($3 ECB when you buy two)= $8.87 for four or $2.22 each
Then I used the $2 off $10 coupon

After I used my ECB that I had from last week, I ended up paying $2.27 for my purchases & have $9 in ECB for next time. Total savings for this week's purchases... $57.90!

I plan to head back this week to buy diapers. CVS is running a sale on Huggies Jumbo Packs for $8.99 each. In front of the diapers are $1.00 off coupons in a little SmartSource Coupon Machine so you can take $1 off each package, print out the $2 off $10 coupon, and get $5 back in ECB. Total spent on 3 Jumbo Packs of Huggies $16.97 or $5.66 per pack. Check Baby Cheapskate for a complete list of diaper & formula stock-up opportunities.

Be sure to visit Money Saving Mom for a complete list of ways you can save money on your CVS purchases!



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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Me On You Tube: Choosing a Coffee Maker

One of our most popular articles on our site is the Frugal Mom's Guide to Coffee so I thought it would be great to do a segment on coffee as a You Tube clip. This segment breaks down the cost comparison between a drip coffee maker and a pod brew system. I tried to share some of the features that I love on my coffee maker and how to care for your coffee maker so you always have a fresh cup.

If you are in the market for a new coffee maker, I did find the best price on my Cuisinart Brew Central Coffee Maker at Sam's Club. My local price is listed as $54.86. In the departments stores I have seen this model range between $80-129, but if you know of anywhere else that carries it cheaper, please leave a comment!

I got the opportunity to plug my experience with my coffee maker for an article in Woman's World Magazine. The article is set to hit the newsstands on August 18th with a cover date of August 25th. They found me when looking for a frugal mom who was a self-confessed coffee fanatic and I guess they thought I fit that bill perfectly!

As I had discussed before, I will be working with Wal-Mart to provide content for a new You Tube channel. I wanted to include a list of the participants because they are all so great and I am excited to see what each of them comes up with! I look forward to working with each of them and please check their sites out for more money-saving tips!

GeekMommy's WebLife
The Domestic Diva
Jessica Knows
Classy Mommy
Being Frugal
Deal Seeking Mom
Frugal Upstate
Keeping the Kingdom First
Coupon Cravings
The "Cent"sible Sawyer

How many coffee drinkers are in your family and what coffee maker works well for you?

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Monday, June 09, 2008

My Little Treat

I can't help it! I have wanted these shoes ever since I read Emily's entry to her husband and now they are mine, all mine! I grumbled an excuse to my husband that Ethan & I had to run to Payless Shoes, after our church service, to get Ethan some sandals. As we marched into the store, I tapped my shoe on the floor waiting impatiently for Ethan to make a decision. After trying on a zillion pairs of shoes, he finally settled on the perfect pair and ran up and down the aisles as I searched the boxes for the pair of shoes that I had been dreaming of.

One pair left in my size, I clutched the box to my heart and practically kissed the $16.99 tag that was hanging off the side of the box. Yeah, it was a love like that.

The girl gushed over the shoes and said she had women coming in with pictures of these shoes asking for them, but they only had a couple of pairs left. And one of them walked out with me.

I had a hard time walking out with just one pair and my son (the perfect little boy he is) kept telling me, "Oh, mommy! You have to get those shoes! Those are perfect!" And then I would blink my long lashes and say, "Can you tell Daddy that when we get home?" After clutching four boxes, I returned three of them back to their spots. Aren't you proud? You know me and shoes- it was tough!

Alas, we left with one lone pair, but all of the rest of those sweet summer prints will just have to be in my heart for now...or until the next BOGO sale!



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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Deals from Hubby: Cheap Bread Machine

My husband is just as good at spotting a deal as me. He often sends emails to me throughout the day about things he has found on sale. This is the message I received yesterday:

"I know you prefer growing your own grain, harvesting it with an ox, and baking your bread in an adobe oven in the hot summer sun, but this could work as a backup on rainy days."

$35.99 for a bread machine- pretty sweet deal! It looks like free shipping on this item too.

You could buy this... or you could just do what I am doing, which my husband enjoys making fun of while stuffing his face with homemade bread!

If you are at a loss as to what the heck to do with that old bread machine, make sure to check out my post on the ins and outs of making bread in the machine!



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Monday, May 05, 2008

Working Out On a Budget

(Ring, Ring)

Me: Hello?
Voice: Hi, it's 1997 calling
Me: 1997? Wow, that was such a great year for me. How is 1997?
Voice: Good, except they want their workout clothes back
Me: What? No, those are perfectly good pants and shirts. I am just working out in them, I don't understand what the big deal is.
Voice: Yeah, and those pants you wore through your pregnancy? You know, the ones with the bleach stains on the butt?
Me: No. Please. Those pants have been good to me.
Voice: Please throw them away
Me: But I don't want to spend money...I could still get another ten years out of them.
Voice: (interrupting) NO! They are finished. Throw them away- you are embarrassing yourself.
Me: But...
Voice: And about those socks from junior high...
Me: One thing at a time, dude.

Our discussion last week about exercise really struck a chord with me. My family suffers from many health problems that I hope to not replicate, but if I am sitting on the couch (or in front of the computer), I may suffer from the same ailments.

As always, the budget comes into play and if I was going to work out, I knew that I needed to do it inexpensively. I am not one of those people that is disciplined enough to motivate myself to work out on my own and I know that I am better motivated in a gym-type setting. Let's face it though, gym memberships aren't cheap.

In a moment of Divine Intervention, my girlfriend called and said that they had an opening for babysitting at her gym. For one hour a week, I could babysit the other client's children and get a free membership. This works out to be four hours a month and my membership is paid for. I did think about the value of my time versus the value of the free membership and it would work out to be about $10 per hour of my time. I think that is a good return on investment and the highlight for me is that they offer the childcare in the first place. I can workout and take classes at the gym and Emily can go with me and play with some other kids. It is a total win-win situation for us.

The next dilemma was getting some things that would be appropriate to work out in. Since I was used to working out at home, I needed to update my wardrobe a bit. I decided to purchase two pairs of yoga pants ($19.50 each) and two new sports bras ($15 each) from Old Navy. I also got a stainless steel water bottle ($6.99) from our local Meijer.

My tennis shoes were looking really worn and needed some attention. I slipped the laces off of them and threw them in our washer (a big thanks to my sister for that tip!). I washed them on a warm setting with a little laundry detergent. When I pulled them out, they looked a thousand times better from such a good scrubbing. I took newspaper and stuffed the interior of the shoe (to help hold its shape and also to absorb any lingering odors) and let them dry outside in the sunshine. When they were dry, they looked like brand new shoes, and acceptable enough to wear to the gym.

While I did make an investment in workout gear, I did save on my membership and on new running shoes. I am proud to say that I have already hit the gym three times and am dedicated to getting in back in shape. It is such a treat to workout in such a nice place and to be able to do it for only one hour of my time each week.

Sound Off: Where do you purchase your workout clothes from? How is the progress going for you with your own exercise routine?

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

$10 Tripod

Editor's Note: SORRY! This offer has expired!

I have been wanting to get a tripod for my camera, and told my husband to be on the lookout for any good deals. He happened upon this tripod, normally priced at $49.99, now marked at $10.00.

If you have not signed up for Google Checkout yet, you can get a $10.00 credit, making this free (only had to pay for shipping which was $7.09). Look for the Google Checkout button below to process through this. You do have to pay shipping through this option, but it is less than the $10 you would have had to pay for the tripod itself.

Just thought I would post, in case anyone else was looking for a tripod!

Note from a Reader: If you switch the shipping time frame you can get it for FREE!!! I just ordered mine with shipping in 7-9 days. Thanks for sharing this!



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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Deal Alert- Vitamin Shoppe & Starbucks

I had to run over to the Vitamin Shoppe today to restock up on my vitamins. As I have discussed before, I made the decision to switch to herbal supplements versus my prescription drugs to help with some of my health issues, and I am having great success with it. I do try to buy good quality vitamins though and have found that the the store brand from the Vitamin Shoppe really has worked well for my needs. I had run out of the vitamins I took so I headed over there to stock up. Lucky me, they are running their semi-annual sale on their store brand vitamins. There are four days left to stock up. It is a buy one get one 50% off deal and they have a huge selection to choose from. I just thought I would share in case anyone else takes a lot of supplements- it is an excellent deal for the money. I might go back to get more and take advantage of their promotion. Online orders have free shipping if you spend $99 or more. I don't get a cut, I promise, just wanted to help out some other families!

Another thing that I noticed today, as I was getting our Starbucks card ordered for our winner, is that Starbucks is offering new features for registered gift card users. When you use a registered card you can now- get free milk or syrup options, brewed coffee refills at no charge, and they will give you a free tall coffee beverage with the purchase of a bag of their whole bean coffee. If you have a card, somewhere deep in that wallet, it might be worth your time to register it to take advantage of some member perks. I was not aware that they were offering these things so I wanted to share!

Now no mommies on here can complain about lack of energy with coffee perks and vitamin deals- you will have all the energy you need...maybe just for today.



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Friday, April 11, 2008

Kid's Summer Movie Club

Cinemark has a program this summer for a fun movie club for kids! I was so thrilled to see that our area (Mishawaka- Movies 6) is participating. For us, this program is running at our second-run theater, which is normally a $2 admission. For $5 though, we could get into ten movies this summer- what a deal! Lucky for us, this movie theater is just a few blocks down from our house so it would be a great way to entertain the kids and keep cool this summer.

Here are the details from the website:

• 10 Weeks Of Fun Films For Kids •
• A Different Movie Every Week •
• Weekday Mornings This Summer •

All 10 movies can be purchased in advance for $5.00, or can be
purchased separately at the box office for $1.00 per show.

$5 Series punch cards are limited and are available while supplies last.
Admission with a series punch card is limited to one person per card per movie.

The films that have been selected are rated either G or PG

For more details and to see if your area is participating, check this list!

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Target- How Do I Love Thee?

It is cold and dark outside so I have to use my flash for these pictures which makes them hideous looking, but bear with me! When I went to Target, I happened upon these sweet little things. Aren't they so cute? They are about the size of a wallet and have pretty Target trees on them with little birds. They are super compact and I can fit three of them easily in my purse.

Unzip and unfold... behold their glory! A full size grocery bag. Say what? How cool is that? Did I mention that three of these will easily fit in my purse.

And...let's say that you went on a trip and you didn't want to carry a purse, but you had some unmentionable items that you had to carry with you. You could tuck these inside with it all folded up and no one would be the wiser (just remember to remove the stuff before grocery shopping). Oh, and did I mention that these are $.99? Heaven!

Let's just say that you are one of THOSE KINDS OF PEOPLE, and you like everything to be all matchy-matchy in your life. Maybe you thought to yourself that carrying these cute grocery bags would look super cute with your red shoes?

And then you thought about that amazing red coat you purchased with the amazing lining that would match perfectly with your red Target bags and you were like, "OH MY GOSH! How cute am I going to look with all my matchy-match stuff!" And your husband and family totally didn't get it AT ALL, but you knew someone out there in the internet world thought, "Wow, won't that look cute with her red shoes and red coat!" And you happened to pat yourself on the back because you knew you had such great girlfriends who would understand.

I also found over in the housewares section, they had these cute placemats for $.99 for TWO placemats. They wipe off and they look so cute and modern in my kitchen. I have a thing for red these days and these make me happy. I got six of them for my kitchen table (less than $3 in all!) I just love this print!

And then I thought how cute these would look with a basket of red apples with just a few green in there to bring out the green in the placement. And then I thought, "Wouldn't it look just like a pretty portrait if I sat in a chair and ate my red apples with the hint of green that I removed from my cute red bag and sat down at that table with the cute placemat and kicked up my red shoes with my red coat draped behind me?" I think that sounds like a portrait, don't you?

Or am I taking this too far? Maybe I need a label on my blog for dork moments? Hmm...

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Baby Steps: Being Frugally Fashionable

One of the requests for our Baby Steps series was discussing ways that you can still be a fashionable mommy without spending a lot of money. I admit that I wish I was more fashionable, but I do the best I can with time constraints and a tight budget. I love to stay on top of the trends though and do indulge in a little shopping at "real stores" on occasion. I have to limit most of my shopping though to the thrift stores, but it is nice to get a couple of cute pieces to keep up with the trends and keep myself a little fashionable.

Here are a few stores that I have found to be reasonable for fashionable steals:

Old Navy- This store is great for everyday basics. T-shirts for layering, yoga pants, even their jeans are an excellent deal. I think of all the discount merchandise out there, Old Navy is probably the best for workmanship. I have only had a couple of things that have shown any issues (stitching coming undone in the shirts). Check this store for getting a nice basic wardrobe and some trendier pieces for the season.

(Navy Flutter Sleeve Wrap Top for $17.50, Old Navy)

Bitten- This line is carried over at Steve & Barry's, designed by the very stylish Sarah Jessica Parker. This past summer I got some really cute things from there. The prices can't be beat (for example, only $15 for jeans), but watch this line for workmanship and check what the materials are made from. My cute jean purchase turned out to be 100% cotton jeans so I should have went with a size higher. I do have to be more careful with these clothes when laundering them, but this is a great place to visit to stay up on the trends, without forking over an arm and a leg. Check this store for fashionable accessories (purses, shoes, hair accessories, & jewelry) and excellent deals on jackets and coats.

(Twill Trench Coat in Desert Sand for $8.98, Bitten)

Forever 21- This store seems geared towards a younger crowd, but they do offer some really great wardrobe pieces for a lot less than other stores. I recently purchased my spring coat there and love it, however, I did discover that their return policy is a little lacking. You will want to make sure to check these clothes very carefully before buying them. Check your buttons, check interior linings on jackets, and check the stitching on the legs and the insides of the shirts. Make sure to always try things on, otherwise, you are stuck with the merchandise if the tags have been removed. This is a great spot though to get a few trendy pieces without blowing your budget. Also, don't overlook this store if you have a cocktail party or a function to go to for your spouse. They have some cute party dresses for $20-30 that would be perfect for those types of occasions. I love this little black dress and think it would be a wonderful addition to any girl's wardrobe!

Crossover Capsleeve Dress in Black for $19.50, Forever 21)

Target- I used to snub my nose at their clothing because they did not offer very much, but times have changed. Target even offers great lines from designers that rival items you would get at those more expensive stores. Check this store for wardrobe basics, swimsuits, coats, handbags, and shoes. Visit their clearance racks often because they discount merchandise frequently. Take a pointer from Wisebread, and be sure to shop for your clothing based on their markdown schedules (women's clothing is marked down on Tuesdays). Freshly marked down clearance will offer the best selection at the best price!

(Short-Sleeve Stand-Up Collar Swing Jacket in Yellow for $24.99, Xhilaration)

Payless Shoes- I visit this store, just about every season, to keep up with the latest shoe trends. Payless carries American Eagle shoes that are super cheap, while keeping you looking like a trendy mom. I try to only shop when they run their BOGO sales and sometimes you can find a coupon lurking on the internet.

(Ava Mary Jane in Red for $17.99, Payless Shoes)

Other Stores- I did want to say a few words about more expensive stores and how they can still be a viable option, even when funds are more limited.

Although you might be on a budget, it never hurts to drop into a store and check their clearance racks. More than once, I have become pleasantly surprised by a store that I thought was out of my budget, but had more than a few items tucked in the back of their store. It always is such a happy surprise when you find they have plenty of great items on clearance that are right within my budget's sweet spot.

White House Black Market offers great items on their clearance rack and it has become one of my first stops when shopping for a special occasion dress. They deeply clearance their items and I have been able to walk out of their store with dresses that were 65% off of their original price and $80 shoes for only $19!

Whisp Chiffon Chemise in Black for $29.99 marked down from $78, White House Black Market)

Department stores can be a great place to find some really great deals. Watch your local paper for coupons and pair the coupons with the sales that they are running. Zoom over to the clearance racks and try on items from those racks first. The departments stores are trying to compete in the fashion world for their own spot so now you will find lines from Vera Wang (offered at Kohl's), a new line called American Living at JC Penney (which rivals the Ralph Lauren line of clothing), and Sears offers the Lands End line!

(Bisou Bisou Pant in White $29.99 marked down from $44, JC Penney)

Don't overlook those great discount stores like TJ Maxx & Marshalls for your clothes. You will want to check your items carefully as many of these items are "irregular" or may have some minor issue in the material. Try your items on and make sure they fit you well... and enjoy some extremely fashionable clothing for half or more off!

Finally, as I discussed last week, shopping through a rewards program, like Ebates, can save you even more money. Many stores are signed up with the program so you can get 2% or more cash back on your purchases and then apply your cash rewards to more pieces for your wardrobe. Consider it to be like the CVS rebates program, but the money gets put towards a prescription for your wardrobe needs!

Here are some hot spots to check for great fashion advice & deals:

The Budget Fashionista
The Space Between My Peers
Pennies In My Pocket
The Fashionable Housewife

Sound Off: Share what you would like to talk about next week (any topic on saving money is fair game for discussion!) What are some stores that you frequent for great deals on clothing and shoes?

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Staying Fashionable Through Ebates

I have had an obsession with Ebates for a long time and lemme tell you that I am doing the happy dance every single time I get my check from them. Each person I refer, I get a $5 referral fee and, in turn, the person who signs up also gets a $5 credit into their account. I won't go on and on about it (you can read my experience here if you are interested or just sign up for one of your own accounts- [email protected] for the referral id), but I have been really happy with the program. This is one of the rare times where I really appreciate the referral programs because it is truly rewarding for me.

A few days ago, I got an email letting me know that another big fat check was on its way. This is my fun money that I get to spend on stuff I want, but don't necessarily need (To date, I have received almost $250 with the company!) . As soon as that check hit the mailbox, it was deposited and spent within two days. Yup, that is how I roll!

What does a girl like me spend her fun money on? SHOES! Oh yeah! And a new SPRING COAT! Neither were necessarily needed, but they really make me happy.

I found this coat at Forever 21. I am not impressed with the quality of the clothes usually, but I inspected this coat throughly before purchasing it. You can usually tell if a company backs the work that they do up with a good return policy. They don't take returns- they will only exchange the merchandise with the tags still on it and they will never ever refund your money. Just to make sure I didn't miss this, the girl circled the return policy on the receipt. This is a red flag to me about companies, so just a warning...check your loot before you leave that store, otherwise you are stuck with it. I will be discussing this option more next week when I share tips for being fashionable in our Baby Steps series.

This coat covers my less-than-desirable assets, as it hits about mid-thigh. It has an empire waist, but doesn't balloon like a maternity top. The arms are the cutest part about it as it they flare out a bit. I also love the cute lining (not that anyone sees the lining), but I adore details like that.

A company that gets an A++ for great quality is Payless Shoes and their styles out for spring are super cute. If it has been awhile since you have been in there, it is worth the trip. They carry a line of American Eagle shoes that are so cute, I can hardly stand it. Try and go when they have their buy-one-get one sales and you can come out with some amazing deals.
I needed to replace my black flats from last year and I loved this style with a little side buckle. They are almost identical to my flats last year, but I couldn't resist another pair. They go good with everything and they are super comfy too.

These shoes are the cutest shoes ever. Red flats, cute ribbon, suede toe...what's not to love? They make me so happy and are my one pair of fun shoes for spring....oh, and they match my coat too! Gotta love that!

These are my "Sporty Spice" shoes. My husband says they look like the first pair, but CLEARLY these are entirely different, and only resemble the first pair because they are the same color. These are my momma-had-a-hard-day-and-is-running-children-everywhere shoes. They have a rubber heel on the bottom and offer great momma-had-a-hard-day support.

All these were free thanks to Ebates and my big fat check. I thank them for keeping me fashionable and keeping me on budget.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Huggies Diaper Sale- CVS

There are some great deals at CVS this week and I ran over today to cash in. CVS is running a sale- $15 back when you spend $30 on selected Kimberly Clark products. Included in that deal are the Huggies jumbo packs of diapers and wipes.

To take advantage of the deal here is what you can get:

3 Huggies Jumbo Packs of diapers @ $8.99 each
1 package of Huggies Baby Wipes @ $4.99
Total Amount Spent- $31.96
CVS Extra Care Bucks (printed out on receipt) $15.00
Total Spent- $16.96

There are other great products that you can score, but I wanted to mention the diaper deal, in particular. If you have coupons, there are even more savings to be had on that deal! Be sure to visit Baby Cheapskate to stay on top of all of the latest diaper and formula deals!

The other great CVS deal, is their deal on Colgate toothpaste and toothbrushes. These are on sale for $2.39 and you can get $2 back in Extra Care Bucks, making these $.39 each. They had kid's toothbrushes included in this deal so I was able to get some cute Sponge Bob Squarepants toothbrushes for my son and stock up on our toothpaste. There is a limit of 5 on these!

Money Saving Mom is also reporting that the Jane Cosmetics deal is back again. I cashed in a few times on this and it is so worth it! I have some really great make-up and hardly paid anything for it!



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Friday, January 25, 2008

Red Hot Momma on a Budget

I would like to give a big thanks to Money Saving Mom for sharing the best deal on Jane Cosmetics. I just hit our local Walgreens and got twelve products- eyeliners, blushes, concealers, powder, and lip glosses for stupid cheap.

How stupid cheap? Well, I bought twelve products and a Diet Coke (just because I deserved it, after getting us all ready to go out in that cold today) and I paid $2.54. Total savings- $46.54. Read Crystal's post on how to get your cosmetics for free and be sure to leave her a little thank-you for all of her hard work!

Being a Red Hot Momma is a hot topic on blogs these days. I guess everyone is feeling the frumpy mom syndrome and many have resolutions to improve it.

I get super frumpy in the winter- how can you not? It is so brutal cold and I have hard time looking pretty when I have to dress like an Eskimo. Stupid Indiana weather! Brrrrr...

When spring comes though...you better watch out! I am going to be walking the runways...or the um, the hallways in my house. Whatever!

So slap on some lip gloss and your giant parka, ladies!

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now!

Is the song stuck in your head? I know! I am horrible!

Head over to The MotherLoot and enter my giveaway for a personalized set of Valentine's Day cards from Pose Prints. These are adorable and all you have to do is share your favorite Valentine's Day memory to enter.

I can't wait to read the entries. Go there now!!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Giving & Getting Recap

I wish I could have shared some of my gift-giving ideas before the holidays, but I didn't want to give away any surprises for family members who might be reading the blog. I tried to really be thoughtful about choosing gifts this year and I hope it showed!

Here are some of the gifts that I chose for giving:

Fashion-Conscious Sis: My sister-in-law loves buying new clothes, but just doesn't have the funds to be buying as often as she would like. She is always so complimentary of the clothes that I have and I have to tell her that nine times out of ten the item was bought on really reduced clearance or I buy my clothes from the thrift store. To help teach her the knack for finding a really good deal, I got her a copy of, "How to Be a Budget Fashionista." Along with the book, we included a gift card to Target. In the memo it said, "To help you be a budget fashionista!" She was excited about both purchases and I hope the book will help her as much as it helped me!

Forward-Thinking Mom: My mother-in-law has been admiring my cloth grocery bags since I bought them and I had always had in the back of my mind that I would need to get her some of these. She is an avid reader, like me, and I know how handy these bags have come in when I just did my library runs. I knew these would be used and loved by her as much as they are by my family. I got her three bags and was able to locate a coupon code for my purchase, which took twenty percent off of my total order.

Music-Loving Dad: Buying gifts for a music lover can be really easy, especially when you can find their musical niche. We got my father-in-law the new Eagles CD and the new John Mayer CD. He was thrilled and already listening to the albums before we even left their house.

Glowing Grandparents: I have to say that the best gift of all seemed to be my grandparent brag books that I created for each set of grandparents. I was so excited to give these out and the reactions were priceless, especially for our family who lived out of town. The photo albums had plenty of room in them at the end, so a big stack of pictures will make great gifts for them to add to their books to show off. Everyone seemed so impressed with how beautiful the album itself was, and the giant bows on the outside were saved and slipped back on carefully, which tickled me to death. One thing I know how to do is make a pretty bow!

Another hit was our first family Christmas photo that we took. I had hoped to buy some frames, but we got the flu and just gave the prints themselves out.

We also received lots of excellent gifts this Christmas, although our families were FAR too generous! I felt guilty with all of our loot making our car sag in the back on our trip home. The kids have completely new wardrobes and loads of really cool toys to keep them busy over the winter.

The biggest hits for our family were:

Despite agreeing to the pact that my husband & I would not exchange gifts this year, my husband did end up buying me one small gift that was a complete unexpected and happy surprise. "The Digital Photography Book" by Scott Kelby was all wrapped up for me and given to me this year. This book is SO excellent and a great book for anyone trying to figure out how to work all of those settings on their camera. I started reading last night and could not stop. I finally passed out after midnight, but not after getting all the tips I could out of it. Ryan is trying to help me accomplish one of my resolutions this year and I thought that was so thoughtful of him!
Emily & Ethan both are loving these pyramid blocks from Janod. They are carrying this toymaker at Target, but only just a few select toys. These pyramid blocks were on my list for Emily and none of us could believe how beautiful and sturdy they were. The kids are having a ball stacking these and filling them with all of their toys and dumping them out. They are just beautiful to look at and they all nest into one another. I don't know how long Target will have them, but I couldn't resist adding them to our list. I think these were a crowd favorite everywhere and I am sure they will be a hit when we have our friends over too!

The kids received a set of these Imaginarium cardboard brick blocks and they have been a huge hit over here. The kids have been making walls out of them and knocking them over. These are such a cool gift and so durable too! I don't know where I am going to keep this 45 piece set, but we will find a home for these so the kids can keep occupied!

Some other great gifts we got was a gift card to the gas station, gift cards to Starbucks (of course!), sewing supplies (to accomplish my other New Years resolution!), Leapster games for Ethan, and two great games for our Wii system.

Sound Off: What are some great gifts you gave or got in your family? I love to make lists of ideas for next year!

**Visit Scribbit's Winter Bazaar for more great ideas for the winter season***

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Good News for Wii Shoppers

Although I admit the Wii is not necessarily the most frugal purchase, people are definitely on the lookout for them this holiday season. Unfortunately, people are forking over hundreds and hundreds of dollars for their game systems and it makes an expensive system even more expensive than it should be.

GameStop & Nintendo are teaming up to make sure shoppers get their Wii game system and are now offering rain checks on the systems. This means, instead of you standing in line for hours on end only to find out the store has run out of systems, you can take your raincheck and go home to be with your family.

The rain check program—available only through GameStop stores—will "guarantee" that consumers can get a Wii after Christmas. On December 20 and 21, consumers can purchase a Wii rain check ("while supplies last") for the full $249 price. The Wii systems must be picked up by January 29.

Of course, these will not be ready for the holidays, but a promise of a Wii could be all wrapped and tucked under the tree. How great is that?

**Special thanks to my hubby for the tip**



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More Great Shopping Deals

I am trying to post these as I run across them for holiday shopping! I hope these are helping and let me know if you would like me to continue posting them.

This Webkinz Chihuahua is marked down to only $5.95, originally priced at $19.99. I hear it is the latest craze, although I don't know anything about these since my kids aren't old enough yet.

This retro Radio Flyer Rocket was originally $74.99 and the price is now listed at $35.00. Apparently it dipped just a tiny bit below that, but I didn't catch it when it did that. It is still a great deal though.

I am not sure if the orders will be here by Christmas or not, without paying extra to ship it, but some of us are probably already stockpiling for next Christmas (or birthdays!)

Happy holidays everyone and I hope you are scoring all of the best deals for your holiday shopping!



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Monday, December 17, 2007

Shopping Deal for Tween Mommies

Barbie Girl MP3 Players were extremely marked down on Amazon.com. Normally priced at $79.99 on their site, these are now $19.99 plus they are eligible for free shipping!

If you are looking for an MP3 player with more holding power, the 1GB version is marked down to $29.99 (versus the original $99.99 price tag).

Apparently, these are running for at least $50 in the stores, so it sounds like a great deal for tween moms everywhere.

I hope this helps someone out there!!



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Monday, December 03, 2007

Camera Recommendations?

I am looking to purchase a new digital camera and was hoping to get some recommendations! My camera is great for capturing still objects, but not for crazy kids and all of their busyness.

I would prefer one with image stabilization and that can take photos quickly, but I think I want to stick with a point-and-click camera. I love the fancier models, but just can't justify the price tag.

So with those things in mind, do you have any camera recommendations or any tips for shopping for this big purchase?

Thanks for your input!



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Thursday, November 29, 2007

$5 Magazine Subscriptions

I buy a lot of magazine subscriptions to give as gifts and primarily go through Ebay to make my purchases. I love giving subscriptions as gifts because it is a gift that continues giving long after people have become tired of the items they got for Christmas gifts. In addition, it gives them something fun to look forward to in their mailbox, rather than just the regular old bills!

I ran across this great special through Hearst Magazine for $5 subscriptions. There are tons of titles to choose from including Marie Claire, SmartMoney, Good Housekeeping, Town & Country, House Beautiful, & Popular Mechanics. If you go on their homepage, however, these deals aren't offered so be sure to go through that provided link.

What excellent gifts these will make! I am not sure how long this offer will last so I am going to order some today. I hope this helps someone else with some of their holiday shopping!

Side Note: Be sure to look how many issues are being offered for your money. Some of the nicer subscriptions, like O Magazine, only offer four issues for this price. Still an excellent deal, but won't last as long as the twelve issue subscriptions!

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Frugal Hacks: What Will You Be Doing On Black Friday?

Guess what I won't be doing on Black Friday?

You can read my post on Frugal Hacks and discuss your Black Friday routines!

I hope you will share freely and don't let my lack of shopping get you down!

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Big Lots Deals

I hit Big Lots this week and I am so glad I did. They had beautiful bolts of grosgrain ribbon (5 yard rolls) marked for $1 each. I bought 22 rolls for my ribbon stash. This might sound excessive, but it will be a great investment for making bows for my daughter and for my little side business. Thanks to Meredith for the mention on her blog because now I am filling a few out-of-town orders too! (Note: For all my local friends, I have just started back up since my mom was sick so if you are still wanting to place orders with me, just shoot me an email at [email protected]. I apologize that I had to take a break, but am hoping to get the ball rolling again).

I bought all the red and greens that I could find, in anticipation of the holiday season, and also bought some pretty autumn colors for my daughter. The ribbon bolts were hidden away in a small box by the gift wrap and gift bags.

Another steal of a deal were the boxes of hair color. Since I run my own beauty parlor over here, $2 for a warm fall shade seems like a reasonable investment to me. They had all different brands marked between $2-5 a box.

It looks like I will have some fun projects this weekend-hair bows and hair color!

The stores are putting their holiday decorations and goodies out this week. They had lots of holiday linens, mugs, gift sets, and lots of other fun treats.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out, Martha: Bubbly Magnets

Today I wanted to share a little holiday craft that I have been working on. I have been making some bubbly magnets to go in stockings and as small gifts for those special people in our life.

Remember, I am no Martha Stewart, so any craft that I share is something that a child can do. I am trying to share some little ideas for things that you can make to give for the holidays. Last week I shared my homemade spiced nut mixture and this week I am sharing my magnet craft. Crafting can be expensive, but this craft is affordable and highly addictive!

Supplies Needed:

Flat marbles (These can be purchased at the dollar store or in the floral section of your local craft store)

1/2" or 3/4" Round magnets (These are the most expensive purchase. I believe they are $6.99 for 50 magnets, but you can use the Michael's 40% off coupon in your paper towards this tab)

Modge Podge Adhesive Glue

A small paintbrush

Hot glue gun and glue sticks


Pictures for your magnets (you can use photographs, wrapping paper, magazine pictures, scrapbooking paper- anything with a fun design)


Take your marbles and center it over your desired design, just to make sure it will fit perfectly under your marble. Dip your brush into the Mod Podge glue and brush the glue onto your design. Center your marble over the design and stick it to the pattern. Allow the glue to dry for fifteen to twenty minutes. If you are doing more than one magnet, on the same sheet, repeat the process on the paper or move on to your next sheet of paper.

Once your glue has dried, cut around the marbles, as close to the edges as possible. Now take your glue gun and dab a bit of glue on the magnet and attach your marble over the magnet piece. Allow these to dry completely.

Ta-Da! Cute new magnets for your fridge!

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Product Review: Play Along Dolls

As a mother of a daughter, I would like to throw some interesting facts out to you:

- In a recent survey, 1010 mothers with preteen daughters expressed their feelings about the array of inappropriate dolls invading their kids' playrooms. 90% of these mothers expressed a desire for a wider section of dolls that were positive role models for young girls. 85% of the mothers said that they are fed up with the "sex pot" playthings available (USA Today).

- "Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girl or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed for 4-8 year olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality"(American Psychological Association).

- "We usually have a great time checking out new toys, but we were totally put off by many of the doll lines for 2007- trash's the word that comes to mind. And it's not just us. The American Psychological Association found that all these sexualized images of young girls are seriously harmful to a girl's self esteem and healthy development" (Parents Magazine)

I guess I am not alone in believing that these dolls are highly inappropriate and am discouraged by the choices that are offered. This is not a RELIGIOUS thing, this is a MOM thing!

I received a package from the Play Along company and was so encouraged by what I found. This is a company that is going against the popular trashy dolls and taking a stand to work towards bringing back good old-fashioned dolls.

These dolls still enjoy fashion, but it is modest and they resemble a modern version of the Cabbage Patch dolls. The dolls are poseable and come with different outfits and something fun that you can do with your doll (shoelaces to make bracelets, chalk to play hopscotch, etc...) Currently they offer three cute little girl characters and accessory packs that you can purchase separately. The "Olivia Reese" doll is sporty and loves nature. The "Sophie Kate" doll is an artsy girlie girl." Finally, the "Zoe Madison" doll is hip & trendy. All of the dolls have a suggested retail price of $19.99.

The accessory packs (purchased separately) can build on the wardrobes and things that you can do with your doll. The packs include a trendy outfit, an interactive themed activity, and a poseable Play Along Club pet. The suggested retail price on these accessory kits are $12.99.

The dolls are very well made and are just the type of dolls that I grew up with. I love the idea of returning to the good old-fashioned fun things in life and dolls that my daughter can relate to and will have a positive influence in her life.

We thank the Play Along company for sharing their dolls with our family! We stand behind their choice to offer fun & positive role models for our girls! They will be launching their new website for the dolls this fall.

Sound Off: What do you think about the dolls on the market today? Do you buy these dolls on the shelves or do you not buy them? What are some positive dolls that you have bought for your daughters?

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Product Review: Signing Time! Products

The Signing Time! company sent us some of their products for review for the website. Included in my box of goodies were Signing Time videos and music.

Let me preface by saying that we have incorporated signing with our children since my son was around eighteen months old. Ethan had a speech delay and it was a very frustrating time for him and for myself. He made no audible sounds and would not even turn towards me when I would say his name.

We started speech therapy with him and the speech therapist encouraged us to sign with Ethan. She gave me a book on signing and asked us to start implementing sign language in our home. We were open to anything, but I had big reservations that he would rely on signing instead of talking to us. I was worried that this would delay the process longer, but within a week we noticed a remarkable difference in our son.

The tantrums stopped and he began to sign and tell us what he needed. Gradually, he began saying the words with the signs. Then he stopped signing and began just speaking. Who would have thought this is what we needed for him?

Since then, I have been a big believer in signing with your kids. Emily seems to have a speech delay, but we know how to use signing with her and I feel like I have a better idea of what I am doing this time.

Our family really loved these movies from Signing Times! Rachel Coleman, the star behind the series, sings beautiful songs and teaches children through her music how to sign. She wanted to do the series because she had a deaf child and then a daughter born with spina bifida & cerebral palsy. Both of her children struggled with communication and she began the series to try and teach them (and later other children) how to communicate through sign language.

These videos are an invaluable teaching tool and are used widely by educators, pediatricians, homeschoolers, speech therapists, public schools, daycares, libraries and families. They offer a wide array of products from babies until eight years old.

Rachel's hopes come from a personal goal, "My hope is that everyone will know a little sign, just as most people know a little Spanish- so when your child seems my child at the park, there would be no awkwardness, no communication barrier- just three signs... 'Hi-Friend-Play' that is all it would take to change her world."

We thank the Signing Time! company for giving us the opportunity to review their products. We would highly recommend their products to any family who would like to begin incorporating sign language in their homes.

Sound Off: Have you used sign language in your house? What have been your favorite teaching tools?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Deceptively Delicious- A MUST For Healthy Eating

I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of the new cookbook, "Deceptively Delicious" and I would recommend either checking this book out from the library or buying a copy when the book is released (set release date of October 5th).

If you haven't heard the buzz about this book, author Jessica Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld's better half) shares smart ways to sneak veggies and fruit into your children's diet. As a mother of three children, she knows how difficult it is to get your kids to eat their fruits & veggies so she shares a technique for pureeing these foods and mixing them into fun recipes. Everything from dip to breads to donuts...all of her dishes contain an element of healthy eating with sneak attacks from the four food groups.

It is smartly written and beautifully designed. Included are tips for creating all of your purees, how to stock a healthy pantry, and easy nutritional guidelines for children. She even shares her family's opinion on the dishes with cute little retro pictures of each of them (even Jerry!)

The idea is very simple- fill your children's foods with the good things in life so that they can live a long and healthy life!

I am looking forward to adding some of her recipes to my next menu planner and am looking forward to trying some of her puree techniques on my children. My kids are pretty smart, but maybe I can fool them! If the pictures are any indication of how good these dishes taste, I know they will enjoy them throughly.

Many thanks to Harper Collins and Jessica for giving us this sneak peek into such a cool cookbook! We wish Mrs. Sienfeld much luck with the launch of her book and look forward to trying her dishes in our kitchen!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Day 29: Get Rewarded For Your Shopping

I love shopper rewards, but not the kind that require me to take out a credit card. Yes, I know there are tons of personal finance gurus that would disagree with me on this, but I do not feel comfortable using a credit card. Call it lack of discipline, call it sheer fear...heck, you could call it pure laziness, but I am trying to avoid using credit cards for any reason.

No, the rewards that I like come from shopping that I am already doing. You can find great shopper rewards from places you are probably already visiting- your grocery store, the gas station, or doing your online shopping for the holiday season.

As someone who is frugal, I tend to overlook signs that advertise reward cards because I automatically associate them with credit cards. For example, our local Speedway had advertisements that were hanging over their pumps, advertising gas savings and I immediately got that glazed over look and would ignore them. There was no way I would sign up for a gas card, nope, not me!

Fast forward to a day trip with my sister and she whips out her Speedy Rewards Card, which credits her three cents per gallon and then gives her an additional savings on other items in their store. She explained that you could get points for buying your gas there and then you could credit those towards gift cards. This was an opportunity that I would have lost out on if she had not explained that this was not a credit card, but just a reward card. Now I happily swipe my free card and get my three cents back on each gallon. Yes, it is a drop in the bucket, but why not take advantage of it? Many of my frugal endeavors might only save me pennies, but pennies do eventually add up to dollars, and I am looking forward to putting some of that money in my secret account.

There are also rewards at grocery stores. Many grocery stores offer gas savings or savings on your groceries, just for using their free card. There could also be rewards available for your child's school, as many grocery stores offer a percentage back on your spending for non-profit organizations and schools.

Finally, there are great rewards programs for doing your online shopping. I have always been a fan of MyPoints because I could do my shopping and use my points on gift cards for myself. I also love Ebates and enjoy getting my big fat check every now and then. I won't go into detail, but these are two shopper programs that have some great benefits IF you are already planning to shop online, not shopping just to get points & rewards.

Since I often have that glazed over look when it comes to reward cards, what are some of the cards in your wallet that you find have been beneficial to your family? What rewards do you cash in on?

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Monday, September 10, 2007

A His & Hers Gift to Remember

We went to a beautiful wedding this weekend for a dear family friend. I wanted to give her something special, but funds are tight this month.

One of my favorite gifts to give is a small wine rack, filled with a couple of bottles of wine for their honeymoon. I found some cute gift tags at Wal-Mart and labeled them "His & "Hers" tied to each bottle with a strand of raffia. The wine rack was purchased for $1 at our local thrift store.

To make this gift more special though, I tucked a note from my husband and then a note from myself on each side of the wine rack. My husband came up with a list of "HIS advice" and I came up with a list of "HER advice."

We had a great time coming up with tips for marriage and it was a fun way to pass the time on the trip to the wedding. My husband's list included buying your wife flowers and never cutting your spouse down in public, but always bragging on them, particularly at your work! My list included never going to bed angry and always remembering to date your spouse, even after you have children.

I hope that they will enjoy the gift as much as we enjoyed creating it for them!

The wine chosen was a new favorite of ours called Banrock Station and it is an excellent wine for the price. It has been featured in the Wine Spectator for years now as a great buy for your money. They sell a crate of this wine, with six bottles in it, for a little over $21 at our wholesale club. Unfortunately, they only carry the wine in bulk (at least at our Sam's Club) in the Chardonnay. I have bought the reds on sale though, at our local supermarket, in a case of six bottles to get our ten percent off of the purchase. I can usually get the bottles for under $4 each, which is a great buy for good wine.

Sound Off: Do you have any great advice for a newlywed couple? What advice would you include?

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Day 27: Save on Clothing

There are so many great ways that you can save on your clothing and there is no reason in the world that you should ever have to pay full price for anything. I have gotten some of the best clothing for my children and most of it has been purchased secondhand. I would also say that ninety percent of my own clothing is bought from our local Goodwill store. Rarely would I ever pay more than five dollars for an item and I still maintain my snobbery towards the name brands that I love. Here are some easy ways that you can save on your clothes:

1. If you shop used, ask if they offer half off days or any special discounts. Most stores offer a deal, at least one day of the week, and those are the best times to shop. I always try and come as soon as the store opens for special discount days because you will have the most to choose from when making your selections.

2. You can be a brand name snob, but just because it is a certain brand doesn't mean you should necessarily buy it. This is something that I had really struggled with in the beginning because I was focusing too much on the label name, rather than if I truly liked the item itself. A beautiful Ann Taylor dress that is not your color or style is better left at the store instead of taking up space in your closet.

3. Know your brands when you go to a store and know them well. I loved Meredith's post on recognizing name brands because many of the brands that she has referred to were not ones that I was familiar with. Read the fashion magazines (from the library, of course!) and familiarize yourself with the quality labels. It is not only good for you to do this for your own wardrobe, but if something is not your size/style, but you know it is worth a lot, you could sell it to the highest bidder on an auction site.

4. Try and hold the items up in good lighting and really look at them. I do an armpit check, hem checks, underarm stain checks, seam checks and take an overall look at the item to make sure there are no rips or tears. Make sure you really look at the item closely before buying it. It has always been such a disappointment to me to bring home something that I am really crazy about and find out exactly why it had been donated in the first place.

5. Try on sizes that aren't necessarily your size because many times they have been donated because the item was shrunk in the wash. I might try on sizes that are two up from my normal size and find something that fits me absolutely perfectly.

6. If you are petite, you can check in the girl's sizes (sizes 14 & 16). I am really short and I have found a 16 in girls fits me perfectly lengthwise. Items with elastic waists, like jog pants, can be bought in these smaller sizes for petite adult women. The bonus, of course, is that the children's clothing is cheaper than the adult clothing so I can get the item for even less money than I would have paid in the adult sizes.

7. Finding clothing can be time consuming so make sure that you have a good block of time to work with, especially if you are hunting for something in particular. I think thrifting gets easier as you get in the groove of doing this. Well-trained eyes seem to gravitate towards the good items and I have found items start to jump out at me a little easier because I know where to look and how to navigate the stores quickly.

8. Know that it is fine to leave with nothing in your hands. I think this is one of the hardest things for me because I want a good deal so bad. There are days that I spend a half hour in the store and come up with nothing. I know there are other days though where ten items jump out at me at once so I look forward to those days and understand that there are dry times too. Patience and waiting are difficult, but you will be glad you waited when that item finally appears!

Potential Monthly Savings: $30 or more

Sound: Off: What are your tips for saving on clothing?

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Thrifty Treasures: Hello Kitty Lunch Accessories

I found these super cute Hello Kitty containers for my daughter's lunches. The sandwich container has two compartments and the smaller container is actually two smaller boxes that fit together. These would even be cute for holding hair accessories! They were $1 each at our Dollar Tree and are available in pink, blue, and green.

Our Dollar Tree was stocked with lots of great hardback books, lots of pretty furry yarn, and they were starting to put the Halloween stuff out. Thought I would share, in case anyone was still looking for cute lunch containers.



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Friday, August 31, 2007

Product Review: BusyBodyBook Organizers & Fridge Sheets

I have been seeing these organizers everywhere and was so excited when the About Our Time Company contacted us to see if we would be interested in reviewing their BusyBodyBook products. Considering they have been featured in everything, from Redbook Magazine to Parenting Magazine, I was very anxious to get a chance to see what all of the fuss was about.

These organizers are made for moms and come in two different formats and four different chic designs. They offer an Aug '07-Sept '08 (for the mom who wants to be on track for the school year) and they offer an organizer from Jan-Dec 2008 (for the mom who has made it her New Year's resolution to be organized).

These organizers are roomy and have a weekly grid format with a spacious side by side view of your schedule. Each family member can get their own column of activities, making it easy to see who needs to be where (Side Note: The column accommodates up to five family members on each page).

In addition to your standard calendar, the organizer offers extras like a planning calendar for birthdays and anniversaries, another calendar for the next year's appointments, shopping lists, pockets to store items, a bookmark to mark what week you are on, and plenty of places to leave extra notes. This organizer is priced at $16.95.

While I loved the organizer, I was even more psyched about the fridge sheets they offered. No more questions about who was going to be gone on the evening. This seven column organizer makes it easy to see exactly where everyone will be for the day. It also includes a roomy area on the side to leave notes to each other. This is magnetic and is priced at $11.95.

We thank the About Your Time company for giving us the opportunity to review their great organizational tools for moms.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Product Review: Snack & Play Travel Tray

The Family Travel Gear company contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing one of their most popular products, a Snack & Play Travel Tray. I am always interested in trying out any product for our children so my daughter Emily was the happy recipient of this awesome product.

This tray is very versatile because it will fit on your car seat, the stroller, or it can be used on an airplane. It is made of all nylon with a foam core, so it would not injure a child in an accident. It has handy mesh pockets on the side to store anything you would like to bring along with you on your travels. The pockets would easily accommodate books, crayons, sippy cups, and any snacks that you would like to bring along for your child.

The tray simply has a plastic fastener that belts around the place they are sitting. It hooks together just like my daughter's booster seat and can easily be adjusted to fit perfectly with your child.

I think the best part about this tray is that it has a lip around the outer edge so that all of your child's items will stay in place when you are moving. Snacks and toy cars won't fall off of the tray making the trip much smoother for you. I can't tell you how many times I have almost wrecked our car trying to reach for a tiny toy that has been thrown overboard by my daughter.

So far we have used the tray while waiting for my son to get out of school, used it on our stroller during a hospital visit to see a family member, and I have whipped it out during long errand days. My daughter enjoys coloring and reading her books in the car, and this makes the perfect surface to do that!

This company offers a variety of products for all of your travel needs and they have extended a special discount to our readers. You can receive ten percent off of your order by using the coupon code welcome.

We thank the Family Travel Gear company for giving us the opportunity to test their product. Both my daughter and I give your product two thumbs up!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day 16: Bulk It Up

For our Month of Savings, I want to share with you the benefits of using a wholesale club membership. Whether you are a family of two or a family of seven, there are many benefits to being part of a wholesale club.

First, if you haven't read my small book on wholesale club shopping, I would highly recommend this article. It does a good price comparison of what the clubs offer and the cost for your membership. I did this a couple of years ago and it is still one of our most popular articles.

In our area, the only wholesale club that we have is Sam's Club. When we lived in other states, we have had two or more choices, but this is the only choice now for us. Therefore, I can only really provide experience with this wholesale club, but all of them are excellent and have their own great benefits.

When I first began using my wholesale club membership, I just bought in bulk. I really didn't think about prices and I just assumed that buying bigger meant that I was getting a better deal. I know I have come a long way since that time, but I am still learning every day.

Here are some of my tips for good deals in the wholesale clubs:

1. Make sure to carry a price book with you and take the time to really crunch the numbers before you make your purchases. We have a free price book sheet that you can print off on our website!

On my first visit with my price book, I simply wrote down the quantities and prices of the items that I buy most often. I brought all of my research home with me and then plugged it into my calculator. I was able to really sit down and see who had the best deals.

If you have choices for wholesale clubs, see if you can go to all of them (with a friend who is a member or check into one day passes at the stores) and compare prices between the items that you buy most frequently. Some of these stores have their pricing available online too so check out their websites for additional pricing information. Choose the club that is going to give you the most bang for your buck.

2. Don't overlook the extra perks of your wholesale club membership. These clubs offer great savings on optical wear, prescription drugs, photo services and other insurance benefits. Check each website to see what benefits you can take advantage of and don't forget to flash that card- you might be surprised where you can get some discounts (like here or here).

3. If you don't think you will be using your membership that often, try sharing the membership fee with a good friend or family member. Schedule your shopping day together and split the cost of the membership.

4. If you have a Sam's Club, look into their Click N Pull shopping option. This is the best thing in the world for impulse shoppers and for moms with screaming children who hate shopping (like myself!) I use this feature almost every single time we go because it saves me lots of time and money. You can read my personal and in-depth review here on how this feature works.

5. Gas prices can be much lower at the wholesale clubs than your gas stations. Make sure to understand what types of payments are required before you go to the pump though. Costco, for example, will not accept cash at their pump.

I also received a great reader tip today that just so happened to fit our theme today!


Our family loves shopping at Costco and we wind up there at least once a week to buy salad, milk, and fruit.
I send my digital pictures there to be printed at .19 cents per picture in only an hour. You can add borders and special effects at no extra cost!
We also chose to buy their Executive Membership for $100 per year. This is the way to go if you spend a lot of $$ there each year. We get our clothes for the kids, gifts for family, and large food buying done there so it works well for us. If you have the Executive membership you get a cash back reward each year that you can use to pay for the membership. We got a check back for $89 so we only paid $11 for our normally $100 membership!!!!
Thanks again for all of your ideas!


Consumer Reports also offers these great tips for smart wholesale club shopping:
  • Make a list and stick to it.

  • Know how to identify super-bargains. At Costco, “.97” at the end of a price generally indicates discontinued or slow-moving products. At Sam’s, a “C” at the end of the item number denotes a canceled item.

  • Compare the club’s unit prices to those at your supermarket for heavily discounted staples. Supermarkets might be less expensive.

  • For big-ticket items, compare the club price to that of other retailers by going to sites such as PriceGrabber.com or BizRate.

  • Consider splitting large buys with friends. Otherwise, don’t buy in bulk perishables or medications with a short shelf life (check the expiration dates). You’ll end up tossing a lot away.

  • Try unfamiliar products judiciously. You don’t want to get stuck with, say, a gallon of Brand X Vidalia onion salad dressing.

  • Pay with cash; it’s a reality check on how much you’re spending.

  • Shop on weekdays, preferably when the store opens or in midafternoon. That’s when crowds tend to be lighter.

  • Not sure about joining? In many states you can request a day pass at Sam's Club and pay a surcharge, typically 10 percent over what members pay. Costco used to have a similar program, but discontinued it. Now, only members can purchase there.
Finally, I have been able to pay for my wholesale club membership by just the savings I have received from my baking supplies. You can read all about my adventures in making bread and my discoveries on their cheap baking supplies.

Potential Monthly Savings: $30 or more

Sound Off: Do you have a wholesale club membership? What do you ALWAYS try to buy when you are at your wholesale club?

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Product Review: Silly Billyz Bibs

The Live Love Dream company sent me one of their Silly Billyz Bibs to try for my daughter. I explained that our Emily was a very messy eater and that I would welcome any bib that could keep her well covered and mess free.

In response, the company sent us their Silly Billyz Long Sleeved Bib in a pretty pink. I knew my daughter could put this bib through some rigorous testing and she did not fail me.

When I got the product I was impressed with how lightweight it was. My first concern was that she would be hot, but the sleeves and neck are both made of a very light nylon. The front of the bib is made of a fleece material that does not pill or stain. The bib attaches with Velcro in the back, but is open to keep your baby nice and cool.

Emily ate pizza in it, smashed up some peas into it, and smeared her peanut butter and jelly all over this bib. With a quick swipe of my washcloth, I was able to take all of the food off of it, with no staining left on the fabric. The bib has also survived several rounds through our washer and is showing no signs of wear or tear.

I would highly recommend this product to any mom who is looking for a bib that will cover their entire baby and especially for any mom suffering through those beginning stages of self-feeding. These bibs are great when you are out and about because they will tuck neatly inside of your diaper bag. They are also great when you have baby all dressed up for church or pictures and want to keep them looking clean and fresh.

The bib is priced at $12 and can be ordered through their website or at one of their listed boutiques. They come in large or small sizes and can be ordered in a variety of colors.

We thank the Live Love Dream company for giving us the opportunity to review their product!

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Product Review: Family Life Organizer & Planner

I have a lot of scraps of paper laying around our house with things that I really need to remember, but I rarely can find them. Our fridge is overflowing with appointment cards and important phone numbers, but sometimes those can get misplaced. Luckily, Pam Socolow, an organizer on HGTV's "Mission: Organization" came up with a family organizer that can contain all my messy piles and transform them into a very organized format. She offers a Family Life Organizer & Planner that can contain even my giant messes.

Honestly, I was surprised at the quality of it and the thoughtfulness that went into this product. There is a section for everything from health care to carpool schedules. It contains a three year calendar with large boxes that offer ample room for writing down everything you need to accomplish for the day. There are over one hundred sheets that you can fill in with information like the house and car details, kids' information, household repairs, and insurance information. There are also fun sections where you can write down books you would like to read or wines you want to try. It also contains a pocket folder for each general section and pouches for tucking receipt. In the back is a business card organizer to store all of those important cards that seem to get lost in the shuffle.

I got this calendar a couple of weeks ago and since we had so many car troubles these past few weeks, I was so proud to be able to whip out the receipts and information that we would need at a moments notice. The pockets have also been great storage for keeping track of my rebate receipts and checkbook.

This Life book is huge so it is not intended for you to carry it around, but just something that you can keep in your house to contain the mess and track the activities going in your house. It would be a great addition to the kitchen and a useful resource for babysitters

The only thing that is missing from the Life organizer is a menu planner, but I noticed on their website that you can purchase additional sections for an additional cost.

You can also print out your own free binder through Organized Home, which is something that I have done in the past. In fact, I might print out some of those printables to add to this

This book is available through Barnes and Noble or through Pam Socolow's website for $19.95. We thank Pam for sharing her organizer with us and giving us the opportunity to share it with our readers!

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Day 6: Take Advantage of Rebates

Rebates can be a great way to save money for your family and no one does it better than the office supplies stores and drugstores. Unfortunately, four out of ten people never even apply for their entitled rebate. Maybe this is why these companies offer them?

Consumer Reports
offers the following tips to better your chance of successfully completing a rebate and getting your money back:

Rebate Tips

  • Read and understand rebate requirements, including deadlines, before making a purchase.

  • Make copies of all rebate materials and put everything in a file folder, in case the company rejects your rebate claim or loses your submission. A paper trail is critical if anything goes wrong. Write down on the cover of the folder in big letters the date when the refund is due.

  • Act quickly. If the rebate form is available online, be sure to print it out immediately after you buy the product. While you may have a few weeks to submit the claim, the official form may be removed from the Web site after the promotional period ends.

  • Submit rebate requests promptly. Don’t wait until the filing deadline. If the company informs you that something’s missing, the extra time will be necessary to gather the requested documentation before the clock runs out. It may sound silly, but also remember to put enough stamps on the envelope, in case the enveloped is oversized.

  • Keep a careful eye out for your rebate check, as it sometimes resembles junk mail.

  • If the rebate doesn’t arrive when promised or at all, contact the company and jot down the name of anyone you speak with. If the matter isn’t resolved to your satisfaction, file a complaint with the state’s Attorney General where the company is based or the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or 877-382-4357.
I used to take advantage of rebates more regularly, but have fallen off the bandwagon this summer. I checked my paper on Sunday though and the rebates were too good to pass up. I clipped my coupons, grabbed the rebates flier in the store and came armed with that week's advertisement.

CVS was running a great rebates deal this week. Buy $20 worth of Post & Kraft company products, get $20 back in refunds. They also are offering their Aquafresh toothpaste for $2.99 with a $2.99 rebate (limit of three).

I hit the store, when we got home from church, and was able to get the following:

10 boxes of Post cereal
3 boxes Kotex pads
3 Aquafresh toothpastes
1 Colgate Total
2 Colgate Advanced (with bonus free toothbrushes)
1 box Revlon Hair Color
1 Schick Silk Effects Razor
Grand Total Before Savings: $60.28
Coupon Savings: $8.75
Rebate Savings: $35.97
Total Savings: $44.72
Final Total: $15.56

Walgreens also offers a similar rebates program and they run some pretty stellar deals themselves. You can check their EasySaver catalog online or pick a copy up when you get to the store. From what I understand, these rebates do have to be mailed in and take up to three weeks to clear.

CVS offers instant rebates that print out on your receipt. Bring in your Extra Care Bucks and they will scan them to put these savings towards your purchases. You also do receive 2% back on all of your purchases in the store or online.

Potential Monthly Savings: $40 or more

Sound Off: Do you utilize rebate programs? How do you stay on top of getting your rebates in on time? What is the best rebate you have received?

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Product Review: Febreze Candles

What does a little apple spice & delight smell like? Well, it smells just like a freshly baked apple pie in the new candles from Febreze.

Like all of the products from the Febreze company, these candles are meant to eliminate odor and offer a fresh scent alternative to your home. The candles come in a variety of scents which include meadows & rain, spring & renewal, linen & sky, vanilla & refresh, and the apple spice & delight scent. All candles offer thirty hours of burn time and come in an attractive glass jar.

You know when you walk by the Yankee candle store and can smell the strong candles throughout the entire mall? People pay for that strong scent because you can actually smell them versus some of the cheaper brands on the market. These Febreze candles are just as strong as the Yankee candles and can take out any foul odors in your home.

I have been lighting my candle in the evening to eliminate the lingering smells of dinner or the smell of smoke coming into the house after we have had a bonfire outside. It definitely clears the air, but the scent can be overpowering at times. To eliminate odors quickly though, I would highly recommend these candles.

The suggested retail price is between $7-8, making it less pricey than the Yankee candles, but higher than the other drugstore brands. Possibly combined with a Sunday flier coupon, this would be an affordable alternative.

We would like to thank Procter & Gamble for being among the first to review this great product! As someone who formerly worked in a marketing department, I have to just say that your presentation was GREAT! The packaging and information included made for a very fun review!

Sound Off: What is your favorite brand of candle and your favorite candle scent?

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ebates Makes Shopping More Rewarding

I am a HUGE fan of Ebates and have received almost two hundred dollars back in checks for shopping and referrals. In fact, I just had to purchase some new appliances and I decided to order through Ebates to receive a 2% cash back bonus from Sears. Doing the in-store delivery gave me free shipping to our local store, so I didn't even have to pay for shipping. Why not get a little reward for your purchases if you have to make them anyway? If you want to read all about my experience with the company you can read my entry here. I promise that I only promote companies on my blog that really work for me and I think this company is truly a winner.

Just when I think that Ebates can't get any better, they have added a new Coupons On Demand feature. This is an excerpt from their website explaining all about this new feature:

We post thousands of offers on our Coupons and Specials page but there are bound to be a few that we miss. Can’t find the one you’re looking for? Request it here and we'll do the work for you!

How it works:

1. Check the Coupons and Specials page to see if your coupon is available. We only provide coupons for Ebates' merchant partners. To see if your store is on that list, visit our All Stores page.

2. Use this post on the blog. You can click on the "Coupons on Demand" link on the Blog Homepage to link back to this post.

3. Leave a comment here requesting a coupon. Free Shipping? Money Off? Free Gifts? You name it, we’ll try to find it. Important:

4. Wait for our response. Monday through Friday, we will reply via email within 24 hours if you provide your email address when you comment. Otherwise, check the comments section for our response! We can only post coupons approved to be used on Ebates.

If you do decide to sign up with Ebates, I would love if you used this link to sign up because I do receive a $5 bonus for each person who signs up. But better than that, you receive $5 too!

Don't forget to sign into your Ebates account when doing your school shopping for uniforms, school supplies, and all of the other stuff those darn kids need to get started! I noticed that they have a Back-to-School section on their blog now, highlighting really great deals for the fall season.



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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Spending Money Like We Got It!

This weekend, my husband and I had a date night. We went to a very nice restaurant in town. We ordered fancy drinks, an appetizer, two delicious dinners, a dessert, and then we shared more drinks after the meal was over. We didn't really glance at the prices and we spent about seventy dollars on dinner.

You must be wondering how someone who preaches frugality to the masses could be dining out like she has money to spend? If I saw people eating the way we did, clutching our bellies because we were so darn full, I would wonder how they could afford all those "extras" during their meal.

Lucky for me, I was able to mystery shop this restaurant and was reimbursed for my dinner out. In return for paying for my meal, I had to complete a short survey on the service that I received there. It took me about a half hour to fill out so for a sixty dollar reimbursement, that was a pretty good time investment.

Mystery shopping is a legitimate work-at-home opportunity. I personally never relied on it for income purposes, but I did rely on it for meals out or small cash rewards for taking the time to fill out surveys. In fact, before the site started to take up a lot of my time, we only went out to eat or had date nights when I had a mystery shopping opportunity.

Don't think this is for you? Well, you can still spend money like you got it by using gift certificates from Restaurant.com. This has been the latest way that we have been able to afford dinner out. Our favorite restaurant recently dropped out of the program, but there are still a few restaurants in our area to chose from.

They are currently running an awesome promotion, that won't last long, where you can get $25 gift certificates for only $3 using the coupon code PRESENT when checking out. This is a 70% savings and you can stock up on these as holiday gifts or for your family. The gift certificates are good for an entire year! The coupon code is good from July 24-31.

If you do decide to get these, I would love if you used this link provided because I do make a small bit of money from the affiliation. I promise I would only promote something that I absolutely loved and these gift certificates have funded many of our fun nights out.

Related Readings:

Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping
A Real Review of Restaurant.com
Don't Throw Out Those Take-Out Menus
Holiday Bling Without a Bling Budget

Sound Off: How do you save money when dining out?

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Product Review: OxiClean Products

The OxiClean company sent to me a big box of their products to try. They included their detergent as well as several different types of stain removers. Most notably, in the box, was their new pocket-sized stain remover, OxiClean Spray-A-Way Instant Stain Remover. This product is intended for moms on the go. The stain remover would be perfect to stick in your purse or diaper bag for all of those emergency stains that seem to come up when your family is out and about.

OxiClean also offers great products targeted towards moms who have to endure numerous baby stains. They offer Baby Stain Soaker and their Baby Stain Remover. A couple of my other favorite products are their Carpet Spot and Stain Remover and the Outdoor Professional Stain Remover.

I love all of the OxiClean products and have had great success using them on new and old stains alike. The price is a bit more than some of the other stain removers on the market, but I don't have to use as much of the product to accomplish the tasks for cleaning items. I was most impressed with their Baby Stain Remover that they offer. I love to keep a bottle of this handy near our hampers so that I can spray items before they are thrown into the hamper for wash day. I also love to keep the small pocket-sized removers with my bibs and other feeding items for my daughter, so when a stain arises, I can get right to it and not waste any time letting the stain set in.

The only drawback I have found with the baby stain remover and laundry stain remover products is the trigger that is on these bottles. I love a spray that uses more of a spritzer action, rather than the soaker action that is on these bottles. It would be nice if you had the choice between a straight spray and a spritz.

These stain removers are great, but they are much more powerful than many of the traditional stain removers on the market. Make sure you read the directions carefully, to preserve the beauty of your clothing and the color in your items.

Many thanks to the OxiClean Family for sharing their products with me and giving us the opportunity to share our experience with our readers!

Sound Off: While we are on the subject of stain removers, what is your favorite stain removing product? Do you have your own secret formula for removing stains?

Related Readings:

How to Construct an Airing Rack

Should You Buy Brand Name Detergent?

The World's Greatest Stain Remover

Demystifying the Great Laundry Detergent Dilemma

Washing Your Child's Lovie

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bitten: A Cheap Mom's Dream

Unfortunately, Sarah Jessica Parker and her PR crew have not emailed me yet, but I am doing a free plug for this awesome clothing line.

I had mentioned that I was excited to actually see the new Bitten line from Sarah Jessica Parker (carried at Steve & Barry's). I had been meaning to head over there, but it is on the other side of town and life had gotten in the way.

Fast forward to my last mom's group meeting, when one of the gal's walks in looking like a true fashionista with the cutest shoes, jean capris and a cute tank. I told her how cute she looked and she says two words, that makes me head on the other side of town the very next day: Cheap & Bitten.

I headed there and got myself some of the cutest clothes. I got four shirts, a pair of ballet flats, and a pair of jeans for a little less than sixty bucks. While it is more than I typically spend over at my local Goodwill, the pieces could be used with the things I already had in my closet and I had gotten some money from a recent sale of my hair bows.

Here are the positives AND the negatives of this line of clothes. Note: Keep in mind that I am not all that fashionable. I am just a mom who likes to look a little bit current, but am also very traditional in my style choices:


- It is cheap as heck! The clothing is cheaper than Old Navy and even cheaper than H&M (which we don't have in our area, but I have shopped the Ft Wayne, IN location). The shoe prices rival Payless Shoes too!

- They carry a broad range of sizes, all the way up to size 22. More importantly, they carry jeans for the petite girl. I have a long torso and really short legs. It is nearly impossible for me to get a pair of pants that do not require altering. They did carry the shorter lengths though and they also carried long lengths for you leggy gals (whom I secretly envy!)

- The store was clean and nice in our area. I am sure they maintain the same type of store all over, but I was actually really impressed with the style of the store and the staff at our location. It reminded me a lot of The Gap (but more affordable).


- I did not realize until I got the jeans home, and bought the size that fit justright (and I know you know what I am talking about when I say justright) and discovered that the jeans were made from 98% cotton. That was a big bummer, as I realized that I will have to care very well for these or have to forfeit them to the thrift store.

- The clothes are made about as good as any other deep discount line. I saw some strings coming loose on the sides of the seam of the jeans. The shirts seem to be better made than the pair of jeans I purchased, but you can tell that you are getting what you pay for. I have high hopes that these will last me until the clothing is no longer trendy, and I would feel comfortable donating them if I got a year or two out of them, due to the low cost of the clothing line.

There you have it! Hope this helps in making another fashion decision!

Sound Off: What brands are you willing to splurge for? If someone gave you a huge gift card (with no strings attached, of course!) what store would you pick?

Related Readings:

The Fashion Savvy Shopper
How to Be a Budget Fashionista
Me Time

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Product Review: Munchkin Fun

The Munchkin company sent me a package of some of their products to try for review. All I can say is, "WOW!" They offer some really great products and I find them to be very affordable. Included within the box were the following products:

TravelWare Re-usables-Munchkin’s re-usable cups, bowls, spoons, and meal time sets have stepped it up a notch with improved Dora Diego and SpongeBob graphics that will fascinate your child and encourage them to play favorites. Ideal for meals on-the-go, they are durable enough to wash and re-use, yet affordable enough to lose. Bowls include snap-tight lids to prevent spills and cups are perfect for home-made juices.

Snack Catcher Available in four bright colors, the new and award-winning Snack Catcher cup keeps bite-sized snacks inside the container until little fingers pull them out, even if it tips over so less spills in the car or plan! The soft flaps make it easy to access and the little finger cleaning bumps are a special plus for keeping nearby surfaces cleaner. This is one snack holder that will catch mom’s attention and keep messes to a minimum while traveling.

Bling Pacifiers- Your baby’s eyes will sparkle at the sight of glittering BLING™ pacifiers. Besides looking cool, they feature a silicone orthodontic nipple and breathable shield that reduces skin irritation. These sparkly, fun pacifiers are oh-so-fitting for your little prince or princess! Check out all the available styles!

iCrib Sound System- A 2006 JPMA Innovation Award Winner! The iCrib™ is a compact crib sound system that lets you choose the music that soothes your baby to sleep - because some kids are a little bit country, and others a little bit of rock 'n roll.

Of all of the products, I loved the iCrib Sound System and the Snack Catcher the most! All of the products were really neat, but the snack catcher was a great item that we use a lot with my daughter. The snack catcher is the perfect size for little hands and gives her the opportunity to have snacks, just like her brother, somewhere other than the table. We take this with us a lot of places because of the convenience of the size and how much our daughter likes it.

The iCrib Sound System is very cool for the hip parents. You can download lullabies onto your iPod and it attaches via a small cord inside to make a small baby sound system that can be attached to your baby's crib. The Munchkin website also offers Baby Mozart downloads to get your collection started.

We want to thank the Munchkin company for giving us the opportunity to try the products and hope that you have the opportunity to check them out at your local stores! They are neat and innovative products for parents today!

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happa What?

I was so excited to finally get a chance to head over to Michael's and check out the new Martha Stewart line that they are carrying. All of the trademark colors and quality crafts were there. The price was better than some of her other lines, but a bit steep compared to some of the other items that the store offers.

We are combining a Fourth of July family get together with my son's fifth birthday. It was an easy way to still get together for the holiday and also enjoy a birthday party with our family. I hunted through the birthday goodies at Michael's and found this beautiful birthday garland and some fun puppet crafts (no glue required!) for my nephew and son to do.

When I brought up our purchases to the cashier, I asked that the coupon be applied to a Martha Stewart rubber stamp set that I wanted to use for my thank you notes & invitations. The girl informed me that the store is not allowed to use the store coupons on the Martha Stewart line. She said that Martha had made a stipulation that she would carry the line on the condition that none of the items go on sale and none of the store coupons could be applied to the purchase. Then, muttered quietly under her breath, "She is SO greedy!" Disappointment set in, as I had many things from the line that I had planned to purchase utilizing the coupon. The quality on these items was there...or so I thought!

This morning, I was bustling around trying to get ready for our big event, I went to put the birthday garland together. The ribbon to the garland was already frayed and falling apart and the garland didn't even have the right letters in it.

Would a five year old notice that his big banner said, "HAPPA BIRTHDAY" or would he be content with how it looked? Considering the purchase was made to be used more than once, I marched back in there and showed the girl what had happened. She told me that I could replace it and as I was walking away, I heard her say, "This is from the MARTHA line! I guess even she makes mistakes!"

I doubt I will buy anything else from the line, if this is a taste of the quality and craftsmanship that will be going into these pieces.

Regardless, HAPPA BIRTHDAY, Ethan! You are loved more than words and we hope to make your day extra special!

And for the rest of you have a HAPPA FOURTH!

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Too Cool for School Momma Tees

With a tag line like, "Motherhood doesn't define us. We define it" what is not to love? PeaceLoveMom is a great t-shirt company that offers fun phrases of motherhood on their t-shirts, which have made them a popular choice among the celebrity mommies.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a mad obsession for funny t-shirts. Among my favorite in my collection are my Martha is My Homegirl (with Martha Stewart surrounded by pretty spoons), my Drop It Like It's Hot (with a waitress holding a heavy tray), & my Hip Hop You Don't Stop (with a bouncing kangaroo) shirt. The funnier the t-shirt, the better.

PeaceLoveMom has great trendy mommy t-shirts that are still tasteful, but show that you have a witty and fun personality. The offer a variety of choices that express motherhood in a fun way.

The company sent two of the cutest shirts to add to my collection. I now have a "Happy Mom" t-shirt, which THE Cindy Crawford has been seen wearing around town & a "Carpool Candy" tank. Their shirts are made out of the softest cotton, making it a quick favorite in your wardrobe, and the sizing is made for women and not teens. That means no post-baby body hanging out the sides of your jeans and we love that!

Not only is the sizing spot on, but the phrases are too. They let people know that you are not just another mom thankyouverymuch, but that you are a super fun and super cool mom so TAKE THAT. You might be driving around in your minivan, but that doesn't mean you can't still be too cool for school.

PeaceLoveMom has generously offered our customers free shipping utilizing the promo code, "momadvice" on any order that you place.

Thanks so much to PeaceLoveMom for giving us an opportunity to review their products and to add such fun t-shirts to add to my collection!

Want to see your name in lights? Email me at [email protected] and tell me about your company. We would love to try and review your product for our growing readership!

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Product Review: Fruity Cheerios

I got the opportunity to try a newer product from General Mills called Fruity Cheerios. Yup, it is the same old favorite that you grew up with as a kid, but now with a fruity kick! I was so excited to try these because one of my favorite cereals is Fruit Loops and I was hoping that these would be a similar (but healthier) version of this.

These are absolutely delicious! They still have the original Cheerios flavor, but have a fruity coating on the outside. I would eat these every day of the week if I could!

The children loved these too, but I hid them away and was stingy with them because as a mom, there are few things in life that are just for me. I now see why my mom was always hiding food around our house for herself because nothing is just for you when you have little ones constantly wanting whatever you are eating.

I would highly recommend this cereal to anyone who is a Cheerios lover, or a Fruit Loops lover. They are sweet, but not too sweet. They are still healthy, but a bit more sugary then their original version.

Your kids will love these, so be sure to hide a box for yourself!

As a side note: Modern Mom is currently running a Fruity Cheerios photo contest and they have picked their ten finalists. The winner is chosen based on the number of votes, so please head over there and help to pick the winning picture.

Many thanks to General Mills for this product review opportunity!

Sound Off: What was your favorite cereal growing up? Are you currently hiding anything in your cupboards or fridge? Shhhhh...we won't tell!

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Friday, May 18, 2007

The HP TouchSmart Computer: The Best Family Organizer Ever

I have been in absolute heaven this past week, literally floating on air, since we received the HP TouchSmart PC to review. It is the ultimate mommy organizer and has everything that a mom could ever want included on it. I am not technical and I have a hard time figuring out things like this, but this computer was the easiest gadget I have ever used, as everything is clearly labeled and easy to use.

Here are some features that I would like to highlight:

Touchable Screen- The computer comes with a remote, a stylus pen, & a mouse (all wireless) that you can use to make your selections, but the ultimate tool is using just your finger to select anything on the screen. This makes it user-friendly for the little ones in the house, who aren’t able to master a mouse yet, but want to feel like a big kid using the computer themselves. They can use their finger to draw pictures or pick the music that they would like to listen to. This makes it a great selling feature for families of small children.

Family Calendar- The family calendar is very user-friendly and you can organize the calendar for the entire family or by each family member. On your calendar, there is a feature where you can leave post-it notes to each other, which can be written using your finger, the pen, or typed into the computer. The kids can draw a picture for daddy or you can just leave your hubby a sweet note like, “Put the trash out TODAY or else!” You can record notes to each other, as well, which can be a great feature when you don’t have time to write out a note.

Music Library-
The music library was the biggest selling point for me. Our family has a huge music collection and you can find discs scattered and scratched up all over our house. When I thought I had money, I was buying music for myself all of the time so we have over three hundred discs missing their cases, tossed in the car, or stuck in random players all over the house. I can never find the music I am looking for and I can’t remember the names of the any of the songs. The TouchSmart Computer allows you to quickly copy the disc onto the drive and then stores it in a library for you. You can scroll through the covers of all of your discs and pick the one you would like to listen to. You can cue the disc to go along with family photos or utilize the visualization feature on the computer. You can make playlists for entertaining or make fabulous dinner music. The screen is beautiful to watch and makes it a great feature for having the best parties in town. It is flat screen and high definition, what could be better than that?

Don’t like your music collection? The PC comes with the wires needed to listen to the radio too. The sound is clear and tuning is easy.

Television/DVD Player-
We did not want to pay for another satellite box or for cable in our kitchen, but an HDTV antennae (for approximately $30) is a great way to utilize this feature and be able to enjoy watching live television. It has built in DVR, so you can tape and watch all of your favorite shows just like your DVR or TiVo box. You can play all of your movies through it, although I wouldn’t recommend doing this at the dinner table, which can be fun for a mom who likes to watch chick flicks by herself while she is making the family dinner.

Family Photos-
Your family photos can be quickly organized, edited, and printed all in one place. The touch screen feature makes it feel like you are at a kiosk at your grocery store and you can do this all from your home. Unfortunately, the printer is not included with the PC, but needs to be purchased separately.

My only complaint about the product is that the touch screen can be difficult to maneuver, as you need your finger is just the perfect spot in order for it to do what you need it to do. At times, using the mouse or stylus pen is easier than utilizing the touch feature.

The design is sleek, and the keyboard fits neatly underneath the monitor in a little stowaway spot. The printer, can be set in the back where it is not even visible, making this very streamlined and elegant looking. It looks more like a television than a computer, but you have all the function of a computer.

I can’t rave about this product enough! The price tag is $1,849.99, so it is not the most affordable option for most families. If you needed a new television, a new computer, a DVD player, and a stereo, this would be a good bang for your buck and keep the clutter in your home under control. No more stacks of discs, no need to have fourteen appliances, and no more missing your appointments.

The best price listed online is currently through Amazon.

We thank HP for giving us the opportunity to share about their product and allowing us to express our opinions on it. It is a fabulous piece of equipment that would make a wonderful addition in any home!

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sneak Peek- HP Touchsmart PC

Guess what I am going to be reviewing? An HP Touchsmart PC! I can hardly believe it!

The HP company contacted us to see if we would be willing to give it a test drive in our house, and of course we said yes! You can imagine how much my husband (the computer guy) is geeking out about this right now. He keeps trying to explain how awesome it is going to be for me, but I am anxious to try it to see for myself.

If you would like to try this out and are in the Las Vegas area, the HP Touchsmart is currently on display at the 2007 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show. Please visit the link for more information about this show!

Here is some of the information about the product, courtesy of HP...

The Internet Home Alliance Research Council (IHARC), which includes Hewlett-Packard (HP), recently conducted a survey to determine what new products/services homeowners would like to add to their future kitchens. Study results were used to create a prototype of an ideal digital kitchen, which is currently on display at the 2007 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas. Conveniently installed in the kitchen is the HP TouchSmart PC – this placement supports findings for consumer interest in a digital calendar and access to weather updates in the kitchen. Why the kitchen? Well, as you’re probably aware, it’s one of the busiest and most social rooms in the house.

The HP TouchSmart PC helps simplify family life by providing one-touch access to entertainment, communication and information. It also comes equipped with programs that allow busy families to keep track of schedules/appointments, view real-time weather updates, watch live/recorded TV and/or leave digital post-it notes or voice recordings for family members — all possible by the PC’s unique touch-enabled screen

We are looking forward to sharing our product experience with you all! Stay tuned for an in-depth look at what the HP Touchsmart system offers!

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

For the Mom Who Has Everything: Exclusive iPod Gift Set

What could be better than a brand spanking new iPod? How about an iPod and some chocolates to go with it? Best Buy is offering an exclusive gift set for Mother’s Day that will be available starting May 6th and will only be available for a limited time with limited quantities available.

The gift set includes the following:

- A pink or silver 4GB Apple iPod nano, slim enough to fit in mom's pocket, purse or palm

- A variety of pink-foiled milk chocolate meltaways

- It is packaged in a mod polka-dot-patterned box inspired by the prism of iPod nano colors and this spring's hottest accessory: dots!

I got the opportunity to review this lovely gift set and all I can say is that if your sweetheart gets you this gift, he will be the man of the year! The iPod makes such a fabulous present and the chocolates are a great bonus to satisfy any mom’s sweet tooth.

This iPod has 4GB versus the 2GB that were previously available in the first generation of iPods. The battery is twice the size of the original and Apple boasts that it can go play twenty-four hours of music or five hours of photo slideshows before needing a charge. It has an aluminum exterior, which makes it resistant to scratches, and comes in a fun hot pink color or a striking silver shade.

I have never owned an iPod before so this is my first experience with the Apple Company. Since I have never had one of these, I really had no expectations going into it. I was really surprised though how much I love this gadget, as the sound on it is absolutely incredible and is far superior to other mp3 players out on the market.

The iPod also includes lots of other fun little gadgets like games, a calendar, a stopwatch, and a small screen to view your pictures.

The difference between the iPod & other mp3 players is that iPods do not have a radio available on it and all of the music needs to be converted into iTunes before it is playable in this player. Fortunately, iTunes is easy to install and the process is not tedious, but just an extra step towards having a player with incredible sound. The radio feature can be added by purchasing additional accessories, but it is not a necessary item for most people who would just like to listen to the music of their own choice.

The retail cost for this gift set is $214.99 and is available at your local Best Buy store. Feel free to point your husband and children towards this review to really give them a hint of what you want this year! I am wishing you all whatever you are dreaming of for your special day and hope you all have a fabulous Mother’s Day!

Many thanks to the Best Buy company for giving me the opportunity to review this product!

While I am on the subject of iPods & mp3 players, here is my question for today...Who is currently on your playlist? I am sure we can all use some ideas for new artists and give me some of your good old favorites. I am always looking for a little creative inspiration!

On Amy's Playlist:

Norah Jones
Jack Johnson
Amy Winehouse
Paolo Nutini
Regina Spektor
The Killers
The Fray
The Shins
Matt Kearney
Justin Timberlake (no comments please!)

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Product Review: Philips Digital Picture Frame

Philips contacted us and gave us the opportunity to review their 9" Digital Picture Frame, which we were extremely excited to try out. A digital picture frame has been on my Mother's Day gift list for a long time so we were excited to receive one of these.

Philips is a fabulous company and one thing that I really appreciate about them is their knack for design. This photo frame is sleek looking and has nice clean lines. The stand is made to to lock into the two positions depending on how you want to stand it. Overall, it is just an amazing looking frame.

Unfortunately, I am technically challenged and I was very anxious to begin loading our pictures onto it when I received it, but the software was extremely confusing for me. I waited until my tech-savvy husband got home and had him try his hand at it. I had resolved it was due to my poor technical skills, but he was in agreement that transferring photos was confusing and the software that is included was not user-friendly. We had a lot of trouble figuring out how to transfer the photos from our PC. An easier option would be to transfer your photos to a memory card, which can then be stuck in the back of the frame, which simplifies the process compared to utilizing their software.

Once we figured out how to load the pictures, we could plug it in and begin displaying them. I was extremely impressed with the quality of the picture and how vivid the colors were on the screen. Not only were the colors extremely bright, but the transitions between photos were well done and did not have too long of pauses between photos or any hokey transitions between the photos.

This frame will store up to sixty photos on it, which can reduce a lot of cluttered frames in your home without taking up too much space. You can keep the frame running on a provided AC cable or on the rechargeable battery that is included with each frame. The frame also includes a very smart feature that will allow you to only run the frame at certain times of the day, like only when you are home, to save on electricity.

The Philips digital picture frame would make a fabulous gift for the grandparents, a wonderful Mother's Day or Father's Day gift, or a gift for a special graduate in your life. The frame is currently on sale for $199.04 with free shipping through the provided link above.

Many thanks to Philips for giving us the opportunity to review such a wonderful product. We were not disappointed!

If you would like us to review a product for your company, please send inquiries to [email protected]. We look forward to reviewing products that mothers would love to hear more about!

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Cheap Date Night

Restaurant.com is running a 60% off coupon from April 23-30th of the month. The 60% off code is APRIL and can be applied at check out. In addition, they are offering a free $10 certificate with your order. This discount makes the $25 value dining certificates that normally sell at their store for $10, a mere $4 each. What a savings!

These would make a great inexpensive Mother's Day gift or a gift to a graduate.

We use these on all of our date nights and save a ton of money. We get to eat at places we could never otherwise afford and for a fraction of the cost that everyone around us is paying. We have never had an issue using these anywhere or poor service because we were using these certificates.

For a review of our first experience using these, you can visit this past entry.

Note: We do receive a small credit for being affiliated with this program, but I only highlight things like this if they really are a good deal- I promise!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Gift Closet Part Two: Thrifty Graduation Gift Ideas

It has been awhile since I talked about my gift closet, but with the graduation season upon us, I thought this might be a good time to chat again about it.

The first part in my gift closet series included information on how to wrap your gifts and explained how a gift closet worked. Gift closets are such a fantastic way to take advantage of clearance and thrift store opportunities, and will make gift-giving a lot cheaper when planned out this way. Be sure to read that entry for the information you need to get started.
Today, for the second part in this series, I would like to share with you a list of great gifts you can give to a high school graduate. Please be sure to share a favorite gift you received or gave for graduation.

Thrifty Graduation Gifts:

1. College Coupons- One of my favorite things to ever get in the mail, when I was in college, was a care package…from ANYONE! Giving the graduate coupons for care packages can be a very frugal gift and one that they can enjoy throughout their first year in college. Coupons can be assembled with a self-addressed stamped envelope. I like to provide a menu of choices and let them write on the coupon what they would specifically like. I include simple family favorites that can easily be packaged and enjoyed by them. Cookies can be shipped to them in empty Pringles containers or in Christmas tins. Bar cookies are very good choices for your menu options because they hold up well in the shipping process. You can download a template for creating your own college coupons by visiting the download section on MomAdvice.com, and create any kind of coupon that you would like to give. I mount these coupons on cardstock and tie them together with ribbon. They are a fun & creative gift and it is a gift that the graduate can look forward to throughout their school year.

2. Gift Cards- Gift cards, while not the most inexpensive choice, are something that a broke graduate can truly appreciate. I love to give gift cards to their local supermarket so that they can stock up on food while they are at school. Other good choices for gift cards are the gas station (if they have a car while they are at school), the local salon, the campus bookstore, local eateries, or the movie theatre.

3. Useful Gifts- Try and think of the things that the graduate will need to take with them when beginning college. Some of the things that come to mind are a backpack, an umbrella, alarm clock, a shower tote (filled with things they need), a small lamp, bed linens, towels & washcloths, school supplies (cheap during the beginning of the school season), luggage, or zip drives & disks.

4. Food Kit- My food kit is all put together inside of a dish tub. Within the dish tub, I provide a set of four place settings (plastic forks, knifes, spoons, bowls, & plates) and a sponge & dish soap for doing their dishes. I also put in Ramen Noodles, Cup of Noodles, and any other food that I can find that can easily be prepared in their room. Just tie a bow on the outside and know that this is a gift that they will actually use.

5. Laundry Kit- This is one of my favorite gifts for a graduate. Just assemble everything in a laundry basket and tie a bow on the handles of the basket. Inside stick a roll of quarters, a mesh laundry bag, detergent, fabric softener sheets, a Downy Ball and you can put together a tutorial for them on how to treat stains and easy directions on how to do their laundry. Step-by-step instructions, for the newbie to doing laundry, (as many graduates are!) can be found here and ten tips for the perfect wash can also be given to them too. If you are even more ambitious than that, you can put these things in a binder for the graduate and include your own tips and recipes for getting stains out or you can laminate these.

6. First Aid Kit- What graduate is actually going to remember to stock a first aid kit before they leave? Put together a container of items for their medicine cabinet so that they are prepared when they leave home. Fill it up with aspirin, band aids, stomach medications, ointments, cotton balls, tweezers, and sun block. Include anything & everything they might need for an emergency.

7. Journals & Address Books- Gifts for a graduate who is not planning on attending college or who will be attending a community college can be a challenge. Many of the gifts, traditionally given to a graduate, are made for those who are going away to school. For these graduates an organizer or a journal can be a wonderful and thoughtful gift option. Address books, so that the graduate can record where all of their friends are going, are also nice for them. These can be purchased at your local dollar store or found at local card retailers.

The important thing, in my opinion, is to offer a gift that they can actually use. I can’t tell you how many books I got for my graduation- the infamous Dr. Suess book, Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and coffee table books. These are nice, but are usually read once and put away. I rarely reread them and they ended up collecting dust on my shelf. I am disappointed when gifts I give are not used because, to me, it is like money going down the drain. Don’t be afraid to ask your graduate what they are in need of so that your gift is actually used!

If you are the mother of a graduate, I wish you congratulations on making it this far with your child. It is an accomplishment for you both and you should be very proud!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reynold's Slow Cooker Liners

The Reynold's company contacted me and asked if I would be game to review their Slow Cooker Liners that are now part of their product line. As someone who uses her slow cooker regularly, I was very anxious to give this product a try and see what I thought about it.

Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners are made of heat resistant nylon and designed to make slow cooker cleanup fast and easy. The liners help you avoid all that soaking and scrubbing that is associated with slow cooking. All you have to do is place the liner in the slow cooker bowl, add ingredients, and cook as you normally would. After cooking, remove meal from the lined-slow cooker, allow to cool, and simply toss the liner. It’s that easy!

Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners are 13"X21" liners, optimally-sized to fit 3 to 6.5 quart round or oval slow cookers. There are 4 liners in each carton.

For my review, I decided to roast a chicken in the slow cooker. This is one of those messier meals that I don't enjoy cleaning up at all. I wanted to really put these bags to the test and cleaning up after roasting a chicken is one of my least favorite tasks.

I was not disappointed at all, as the product actually did contain my entire dinner in the bag with no mess on the outside for me to clean up. I was able to easily take the chicken out and pour the drippings into a pan to make gravy.

To be honest, I don't usually mind cleaning out my slow cooker so this is not a product that I would buy regularly. This would be a great investment for entertaining though or for really messy dishes (like red sauces),where cleaning up can be more time consuming.

Be sure to visit our One Month with Your Slow Cooker article, where you can get an entire month's worth of yummy recipes for your family. You can also visit the Reynold's website where they have a special section dedicated to slow cooker recipes.

For step-by-step directions on how to use these liners, you will find a picture tutorial on the Reynold's site.

Much thanks to Reynold's for giving us this opportunity and encouraging families to eat together at the dinner table!

Try to stop over at the Reynolds No Scrub RV Club site and enter their current sweepstakes! They are offering several freebies for the first entries and gift certificates for a photo contest that they are running.

Feel free to share your own personal experience with this product- I am sure that the company would appreciate the feedback.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Reducing Plastic Bag Consumption

Is your home littered with plastic bags? Yes, I know that the frugal side of us can find many ways to use these, but does anyone else feel bogged down by these?

Since I do our grocery shopping at Aldi, I have always brought my own bags to the grocery store. I have had many a bag bust on me. Frankly, I find the plastic bags flimsy and not well-equipped to hold the loads that I put in them. I am not a grocery bagger so I am sure that I overload these, but I usually have a handle or bottom break on these when I take them to the store.

On the flip side of me, we shall call this part of myself the environmentally aware portion, has felt really bad about all of the plastic bags that we have been tossing out. Apparently, other people feel the same way as San Francisco has banned the use of them in supermarkets, large retailers, & pharmacies. IKEA also made the move to charge customers five cents per bag, in hopes of encouraging the public to bring their own bag.
ReusableBags.com offers some surprising statistics on plastic bag consumption:

Top Facts - Consumption

 Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.
 According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.
 According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion)
 According to the American Forest and Paper Association, in 1999 the U.S. alone used 10 billion paper grocery bags, requiring 14 million trees to be cut down.
 According to the industry publication Modern Plastics, Taiwan consumes 20 billion bags a year—900 per person.
 According to Australia’s Department of Environment, Australians consume 6.9 billion plastic bags each year—326 per person. An estimated .7% or 49,600,000 end up as litter each year.

Top Facts - Environmental Impact

 Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.
 Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.
 As part of Clean Up Australia Day, in one day nearly 500,000 plastic bags were collected.
 Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group harvests 30,000 per month.
 According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone "from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere from Spitsbergen 78° North [latitude] to Falklands 51° South [latitude].
 Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.

There are frugal ways that you can reduce your use of plastic consumption. If you can sew, try sewing some canvas bags for yourself to use in lieu of the plastic bag. Visit this site for a free pattern (use the grocery bag dimensions) on how to sew grocery bags.

Reuse the bags that you already have for anything and everything. Use them to line wastebaskets, take them to the grocery store with you, or tote them around with you while you clean up the yard.

You can also purchase bags that can be reused for your grocery day. I decided to take a less frugal approach towards reducing my plastic bag consumption, but this saved me time and helps me feel like I am doing my part to help the world. This set of bags was found through Everyday Happenings of a Frugal Mom, a blog that I recently ran across, and I loved the look of these! I purchased this set of bags from Reusable Bags.com and have been using them for the past couple of days.

These bags are amazing and I am so pleased with them. They are made just like a grocery bag and are flat on the bottom so that they naturally stand upright. They have handles on them to make toting them around very easy and they hold tons of stuff. I was able to fit all of our groceries into four bags with ease. The set came with fabric drawstring bags for my produce and I used these for that purpose and for storing my eggs in.

I also went to Dollar Tree and got two plastic totes to put my canned goods in because it is easier when I am bagging the groceries myself for me to put them in the car and carry them inside.

I can’t rave enough about these and how pleased I am with my purchase. It has made my shopping day so much easier and I feel like I am doing my part to help the environment.

The shipping time is so unbelievably quick that I could hardly believe it. I literally had my order in my hand twenty-four hours after I placed it.

I have been toting my bags around since they came and taking them everywhere we go. These work great for all of my shopping, but also our frequent trips to the library. I also can’t wait to tote these bags to our Farmer’s Market this summer.

Being frugal and being environmentally aware, in my opinion, seem to go hand in hand. I cloth diaper because I want to save money, but I also make a positive impact on our environment. I do not use paper towels or napkins because I think they waste valuable grocery dollars, and I reduce the waste in our house. I choose not to buy paper plates because I don’t like using things only once and tossing them so I use the plates we already have to serve our lunch on.

Being a mom and being environmentally aware should go hand in hand too. You love your kids so you want them to have as beautiful of a world as we have. How do we accomplish that? By caring for the world so that our children can enjoy it.

What are some frugal things that you do that have a positive impact on our environment? Do you find helping the environment and your frugal endeavors seem to go hand in hand?

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Raising Healthy Children Book Giveway Results

I have five copies of the “Good Kids Bad Habits”, by Jennifer Trachtenberg, book to offer up to those of you who entered our book giveaway contest.

If your tips were chosen for the entry and I have not received your mailing address, I will be emailing you today to get that from you. I am planning to ship these out this week to each of you.

Thank you to everyone who entered and much thanks to HarperCollins for shipping us enough copies that I can now keep my own!

I was asked myself how we teach our own children to be healthy individuals. Part of it is my background in studying nutrition in school, part of it is wanting to incorporate a healthy lifestyle in our children, and part of it is just pure luck.

My children love their veggies and I have never had any problems getting them to eat anything green. It has become a running joke among some of my girlfriends that I have taken my son to McDonald’s and brought him a peanut butter & jelly with carrot sticks in lieu of a Happy Meal. People were asking me how I do that and the fact was that my son just preferred that over the Happy Meal and asked me to make his lunch. Who can argue with that?

We always try to offer fruits and vegetables at every meal. Carrot sticks, apple slices, dried fruits & nut trail mixes, broccoli hearts, green peas, bananas- these are just a few of our children’s favorite treats.

For those who need to be more inventive, be sure to visit my Picky Eater article and Picky Eater recipes for tips on getting your little one in the fresh fruits & veggies mode.

Many thanks again to all of our participants. You all are a wealth of knowledge and I look forward to offering more giveaways in the future!

Winning Entry #1:
I believe that raising healthy children starts with quality time. I choose to be home with my children.

I can limit television time and encourage active playtime using their imagination.

I can teach them about healthy eating habits by teaching them to choose healthy foods. These might include fresh fruit and veggies, yogurt, etc.

I can encourage them to be healthy and fit by doing so myself. Remember the old saying,

"Teach what you preach"? If they see Mom and Dad as healthy individuals they will want to choose that as well. Exercise, run, walk and play with them outside. Go to the playground and park.

I think the #1 key to a healthy child is encourage and being a role model yourself.

Winning Entry #2:
Instead of having your kids in front of the TV or video game machine, take them to the library and let them have their own library card. Also, let them pick a subject to research, such as a certain bug or animal. You could even let them research cultures or habitats. Help them learn how to look for the books. Then when it comes time to check out their books, help them do the self check out. Have them also be responsible for returning books. Have a weekly library day scheduled. Spend 30 minutes a night reading these books with your child. If they are old enough, they can spend time drawing pictures etc. of the things they like in the books they are reading.

Also, a lot of communities have organic fruits and veggies delivered to a central location for a weekly fee. The boxes contain a variety of new and different products. The boxes in our community give us all different recipes to try with the variety of fruits and veggies. The cost is only 28.00 every other week. The kids like to see what is new in the box. This also supports local agriculture. The recipe ideas help the children try new things.

Winning Entry #3
I have seven children, ranging from age 9 to 28. We are all very healthy, although I can’t totally take credit for it. Obviously, our genes play a part. I have made it a priority to incorporate healthful habits into our way of life, and am happy to share what works for us. Some of my "tips" may be unexpected, but I believe the following all contribute to some extent:

1) Mental and moral health affects our physical bodies. Our immune system gets weakened when we carry bitterness or guilt. A clear conscience is a tremendous asset.

2) Good oral hygiene prevents germs from spreading though our circulatory system. Regular flossing and brushing should be incorporated into our schedule.

3) Good sleep gives our bodies the opportunity to rest and recover from the demands of the day. People who chronically burn the candle at both ends compromise the body's ability to repair itself.

4) Obviously, good nutrition helps. This means different things to different people. I have a friend who never gives her children sweets, while I allow mine to eat some. On the other hand, I eschew fast food, both because I can't control what's in it, and because it's more expensive than homemade. Our kids get soda, for example, about once a month. That way, they don't feel deprived, and I'm not worried the empty calories will affect them too much, since they also eat good food. My daughter takes the time to make yogurt for her family, which is very nutritious. I have always made our own bread, using whole wheat flour, because I believe it's worth the time and effort. I have tried to use beans at least once a week and tuna likewise, for their health benefits. Minestrone is one of the cheapest, most nutritious and easy entrees to make. I just soak my beans overnight, start crocking in the morning, then add lentils, barley, carrots, onions, garlic, meat, and tomato sauce in the middle. I rarely use convenience foods, preferring to make our own pizza, macaroni and cheese, chili, chicken vegetable soup, etc., from scratch. My kids can help make these!

5) Although I realize there are circumstances when mothers cannot breastfeed their babies, it is the best first food. Formulas try to duplicate it, but there's nothing like the real thing for the right balance of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Additionally, mother's milk does contain specific antibodies for extra protection.

6) Hydration is important to help the body digest food properly and get rid of waste materials. I make a point of drinking plenty of water during the day, and encourage my children to do likewise. Although I do drink coffee and milk, I limit our sodas and even fruit juices. Whole fruit is better.

7) Exercise plays a vital role in maintaining health. I have always walked at least an hour a day, and often exhort my children to go play outside. We watch maybe five hours of television a year, and a video every month or so, to minimize the couch potato tendencies so prevalent today. Any activity, whether walking, bicycling, swimming, or jumping on the trampoline, helps the immune system.

8) Maintain a good weight. I weigh a little less than when I got married, and work hard to keep it that way. None of my kids is obese, and they've never had to diet.

9) Make sure your kids realize smoking and drugs are bad habits to start. I homeschool my children, so they aren't exposed to a lot of the pressure many other kids experience, but I feel a good parent-child relationship will make children less likely to be tempted to go with the flow of their peers.

It does take time and effort to do the above, but I'd rather have an ounce of prevention than a pound of cure. Aside from the few emergency room visits we've had to make for broken bones, we rarely have to go to the doctor. We do have the usual annual checkups, but that's about it.

Winning Entry #4
We've been going to the YMCA for a while now and in the past I've just put all of my kids in childcare and gone to the cardio room to do machines by myself. Lately, though, I've been taking at least the older ones (and by older I'm talking 8 and 6 - the 5 year old has also asked to go) to the gym and running on the track with them. They think it's a lot of fun and they see me exercise (which is not something I love, but something I'm working on)- so we're learning to fit this into our family together.

Another thing I recently did was to buy (gasp) a bag of shredded carrots (there was a good reason I bought them that way - I was in a hurry to take a nutritious meal to a family at the hospital that night - in the future I will just shred them myself). They are the perfect munching size and my kids really liked them, liked their texture because they were matchstick size. This is going to be a good snack for them as opposed to the basket of chocolate Easter eggs that I'm usually tempted to let them dip into for a snack... We're trying to make changes as a family, so when I let them have input into that process (choose your favorite fruit for me to put on the grocery list, etc), they are more likely to participate in the eating of said healthier things. Megan

Winning Entry #5
Here is my list of suggestions, or we could call them lessons learned because I became a mother at 18, a child myself. One of my goals is to encourage mothers, most especially young, single mothers and share with them that their life isn’t over, and there is hope to give their child a good life. It takes prayer and a lot of hard work and determination!

I think the most important part of motherhood is love and caring. Being there in a way that makes a child feel secure and loved - hugs, kisses and ILUs go a long way towards raising a child that doesn't need to look elsewhere for comfort (drugs, sex, food, etc). Trust your child and believe they are capable of the best. Expect them to do the smart thing, the right thing and don't always assume because they are kids, they won't get it right. I asked my twelve year old daughter not long ago why and she said that I'm a great Mom, and she said "because you trust us and treat us like we're not stupid kids" I talk to my kids and tell them the truth. Sometimes that's hard, but I don't hide things unless it's something they really can't handle as a child. Children know when we're hiding things from them and it's scary. The explanation doesn't have to be detailed, but just an acknowledgement and reassurance makes all the difference.

Other than that, here's a short list I'd swear by:

1. Children need a lot of sleep. 8 hours is a minimum, more is better. Set a bed time and stick to it. Allowing your kids to stay up until 11 or 12 because they are difficult to get to bed leads to children who can't concentrate in school.

2. Don't do everything for your kids. It handicaps them and makes them feel worthless. Give them chores, allow them to think and work through problems. Don't fix all of their problems. Comfort them when they're sad, but allow them to be sad. They'll know how to deal with their emotions when they're grown if you allow them to work through it in a safe environment when they're young.

3. Find out what your kids are interested in and help them develop that. Steer them toward an interest of yours, but don't be disappointed if they don't want to be a sports nut, a ballerina, etc. It's THEIR life. Allow them to find themselves and make their own mistakes. My S20 hates sports. DH loves them. Our son tried to be good at baseball to please his Dad. He wasn't good at it and was always falling short. He walked off the field at 10 years old and refused to play again. His Dad was disappointed. It took awhile, but Dad finally realized that his son is interested in diving and robotics. He's pretty proud now... not of those few baseball trophys, but of the son that will be a college honor grad with a degree in engineering next year.. and, he earned scholarships that entirely paid his way through school. Allowing our children to devote their energy to their dreams and not ours create adults who know how and what to be passionate about.

4. Don't try to treat your kids equally and make everything the same. Acknowledge that they are individuals with individual needs as they're growing. Kids that think things have to always be equal and fair will likely turn into jealous people. Sometimes one of my children will get more attention and love than another. If they do, it's because right then, they need that. If I see one of their siblings feeling left out, I talk to them about it and explain what's going on so they'll understand. I also explain the when they need their parents, we'll be there in the same way for them. I can honestly say that we've never had a case of sibling rivalry and jealousy between our four kids.

5. Have weekly family meetings where everyone gets a chance to talk and resolve problems. Share the good things and bad things about the week. Celebrate when someone changes an annoying habit, or progress is made on problems. This give the whole family a chance to vent, be supportive and understand what each other is thinking. Make it fun, but serious.

6. Don't fight with your kids teachers. Support them unless they are doing things that harm your child. Kids need to know that their teachers have their parents respect and support. It's just a bad idea to create conflict with the person who has so much of your child's time every day. If there is a disagreement with a teacher, don't say bad things about the teacher in front of the child. Meet with the principle and work it out like adults.

7. Be consistent. Have rules and enforce them. Don't threaten a punishment you're not willing to follow through on. Be firm, kind and forgiving.

Thanks for giving me a chance to share Amy! Our kids aren't perfect, but I think they're turning out pretty good :) Our family motto is: Live Simply, Love generously, Care deeply, Speak kindly, Laugh freely and Leave the rest to God.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Good Kids Bad Habits Book Contest

I am holding in my hands a copy of the new book, "Good Kids Bad Habits" by Jennifer Trachtenberg, M.D., and it is ready to go to the person who offers the best suggestions for raising healthy children.

This book is a guide to raising healthy children and it offers suggestions to parents on ways they can help their children avoid problems such as childhood obesity and chronic adult diseases. Ms. Trachtenburg is a pediatrician and also the mother of three children. She has authored this book to encourage parents to help their children make healthy choices and she shows how problems such as sleeplessness and video-game addictions can be avoided by guiding our children towards healthy options.

Please email to me at [email protected], your suggestion for raising healthy children. Do you have a special snack? Do you have a way you encourage your children to be active? What are healthy choices you teach your children? Please email your suggestion, along with your name & mailing address, and I will post the results next Friday with our freebies.

For more information on this book, please visit their website. Many thanks to HaperCollins for giving us the opportunity to run this contest with our readers!

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Bellazandra Custom Designed Jewelry: A Mother's Gift You'll Remember

I was contacted by the owner and designer of Bellazandra jewelry to see if I would be interested in doing a product review of her custom designed jewelry. One look at her website, and I knew that I would be more than happy to be able to share about her product, particularly because she is a work-at-home mom who is doing what she can to remain home with her daughter.

Zandra was an interior designer and was born and raised in Sweden. She moved to the United States in 1999 and was looking for a way to be able to stay home with her daughter Bella. She wanted to implement her creative background in some way, and decided to apply her background as a mother and as a designer towards designing jewelry.

Zandra offers bracelets for mothers, birthstone bracelets, children's bracelets, fathers bracelets, necklaces, & earrings. Most importantly, she also makes awareness bracelets, in which part of her proceeds are donated towards great causes such as St Jude's Hospital, breast cancer awareness, and Operation Smile.

Because all of her jewelry is made for each individual, you get the opportunity to pick anything and everything that goes into making your piece. You can choose the charms, the style of clasp, the birthstones, and the size of your bracelet.

I received my bracelet this afternoon and I am in utter delight & awe at just how pretty it is. My bracelet has my son & daughter's names on it with each of their birthstones surrounding their name. I chose a toggle clasp, which is easy for me to open and shut myself, and a small charm that says happiness on it. The happiness charm is to remind me of just how lucky I am to have these two kids in my life.

The best part about it, for me, is that the bracelet is made to fit me. You are able to provide the measurements of your wrist to the company and they will make the bracelet the proper size for you. I have tiny wrists and usually bracelets end up looking like the size of necklaces on my wrist. It was so nice to have one that fit perfectly for me!

There is so much thoughtfulness that has went into this product. The bracelet was packaged in a small brown pouch and placed in a Tiffany blue box with a brown bow. She also includes a thank you note and instructions with each piece detailing how to care for your jewelry.

I can't rave enough about how nice this product is and how much I admire moms who are able to create a niche for themselves in the work-at-home world, doing something they love while having the benefits of being home with their children.
This bracelet would make a lovely Mother's Day gift (hint, hint to the male readers out there!) and you can place orders for Mother's Day up until April 26 to insure that your bracelet arrives on your special day.

Many thanks to Bellazandra for giving us this opportunity to share our opinion on such a beautiful product! Please visit Zandra's site to view all of the great choices that she offers.
*If you are a mommy inventor and would like to see your product showcased on our blog, please email me at [email protected]*

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Product Review: FruitaBu Twirls

We recently got the opportunity to review the new FruitaBu Twirls. As my son loves anything that tastes like a fruit snack, he was more than happy to oblige and do his own personal taste test.

The FruitaBu Twirls look exactly like a fruit roll-up. Miles of smooshed fruit in various flavors are available. What kid could resist this kind of product?

Ethan was not disappointed and has been enjoying the Grape flavor most of all. As the smooshed fruits before, these contain minimal sugar, no artificial flavor, and no preservatives. Because the fruit is in a format that kids love, this product is ideal for those picky eaters who aren't getting enough from the food groups. These make a great snack or can be part of any lunchtime meal.

Much thanks to FruitaBu for giving us the opportunity to sample their new products. We have become big fans of this company and their endeavors to enable us to eat more healthy. The best part about this company is that they do not sacrifice the taste factor in the process.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dressing Your Kid Like a Celebrity...Or Die Trying

I love to look at pictures of celebrity babies and see what stylish ensembles they are wearing. It provides inspiration to a small-town girl who wants her kid to look cute. I wish I had the money they had to spend on those cute clothes, but I am a woman working on a Goodwill budget so those items have to come second-hand or have to be invented by me.

Here are a few ideas for dressing your kids like stylish stars.. or at least getting them to the fashionable point where they don't stand out.

- I love iron-on transfers. I scored a great deal at Michael's where I got some really cute iron-on transfers for my son to be placed on t-shirts. The black t-shirt was $2.50 at the craft store and the iron-on was $1.00. Super cool, "Rock Star" t-shirt cost me $3.50. If you have a knack for design, you could actually design the transfer yourself and then get the transfer paper from the craft store. Same idea, except an "original" that no celebrity baby will ever have.

The t-shirt pictured here was a hit with my son and his mom & dad. He said he can't be a rock star until he is ten or a hundred though. At least he can look like one in the meantime.

- Check your thrift stores and try and buy when they run sales on specific items. I keep a closet of clothes that actually don't fit our son...just yet. Look for basic items that will never go out of style and start stocking up for the years ahead. Make sure to thoroughly check the items before purchasing them though. Items that are donated could be donated for a reason. Check under the arms of shirts, the seams on the item, the knees of the pants, the bottoms of the pants, make sure the zippers zip, and buttons and clasps are intact. Nothing is more disappointing than bringing home a "deal" and then finding out is, in fact, a dud.

- Make old items new again by embellishing them. Boys jeans can be quickly converted into a little girl pair with a cute heart applique or a little beading or pink buttons sewn on the pockets. A little boys shirt can be made into a girls shirt with a sweet pink shirt underneath it. Try to think outside of the box.

- Work out a deal with friends. I have a great friend who shares her bounty of clothes with me before taking them to resale. I am able to get quality name-brand clothing without having to hunt for it. She sells it to me dirt-cheap and she avoids the consignment shops while I avoid the hassle of running from store to store. Don't hesitate to ask if one of your girlfriends has children that are bigger than yours what they do with their clothing. You might be surprised that they just donate the items and would be willing to pass them off to you or could sell them to you.

- Outlet shop, but make sure it really is an outlet. Have you ever been to an outlet store that had the same or higher prices than the regular store? I have and what a disappointment that is. Know what regular pricing is versus the factory store before doing your shopping.

- Shop the end of seasons, but hold out until the bitter end for the really good deals. At the end of the season, I purchase winter coats for the following year. I never fail to have an amazing jacket for our son, but rarely do I pay more than twenty dollars for it. Check stores that you don't normally shop and hit the clearance section to get a quality jacket for a fraction of the price.

- Garage sales are great for scoring cute clothes for your children. We hit the garage sales all summer and stock up on clothing for our kids. No one knows that the Baby Gap shirt my daughter wore once was purchased in a garage.

How do you make your kid look like a star? Any tips to share with our readers?

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mommy Inventor Interview: Dwink Drink Holder

I always find mommy inventors so inspiring and am amazed by their creativity. That is why it brings me great joy to feature this mommy inventor and her ingenious product- the "dwink box holder."

Yvonne Huang decided to launch her own business marketing a juice box holder that could fit all juice boxes, not just the standard size. For any mom who has battled with squirting juice boxes and hasn't been able to find a product that could accommodate their odd sizes, this product is for you.

At first glance, this juice box holder (although much cuter than most) appears to be the same as any other juice box holder. When held in your hand though, you begin to notice the flexibility of the container (to accommodate all drink box sizes) and the thoughtful details in it, like the no slip bottom and soft handles of the holder. It is just the type of invention that you think, "A mom must have thought of that!"

We got the opportunity to speak with Yvonne and learn more about herself and her product!

How many children do you have and where are you located?
I have 2 boys. Joshua (5 yrs old) and Jacob (4 yrs old). We live in Southern California.

How did you get the idea for your product?
My kids were squeezing their juice boxes and Capri Suns all over the place. I bought several different juice box holders but none of them could fit all of the different juice boxes and pouches. I didn't want to limit myself to buying only one kind of juice box, and I didn't want to keep track of which holder could fit which type of drink. So I decided to design my own "universal" drink box holder.

What would be your advice to someone just starting out?
Make sure you are fully committed and prepared - emotionally and financially - to go through with it. Because it's going to take a lot longer and it's going to be a lot harder than you thought. I also have a very supportive and encouraging husband.

What do you think makes your product unique versus your competitors?
It's the only holder that fits all drink boxes and pouches SNUGGLY, including soy milk boxes and extra-small juice boxes... AND I think it's super cute!

How do you juggle your children and your business?
I make my kids work for me- they are the ones who pack up the dwink boxes. Just kidding! My 2 boys are more work than a full-time job, even with the help of my husband. But they are in school every day from 9am-2pm so those hours are "my" time. I try to do what I need to do during those hours. If I have to do something work-related while the kids are home, I take them with me or ask my mother-in-law to help me for a little while. I often do work in the evenings when my husband is back from work. Basically, we take it a day at a time and help each other where we can.

The universal "dwink" box holders can be purchased for $4.99. Please visit www.mydwinkbox.com for more information on how to purchase this product.

We wish Yvonne and her company much success!

*If you are a mommy inventor and would like to see your product showcased on our blog, please email me at [email protected]*

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cloth Diapering Mommas- Diapers for Sale

Our daughter is moving up a size in diapers. Anyone who is interested in taking these off my hands is welcome to them. I accept PayPal payments to [email protected]. Please just send me your name and address and I will calculate shipping for you.

Fuzzi Bunz Size MEDIUM

9 White Fuzzi Bunz. All are in good condition- normal pilling from regular use, but they were used in a large rotation. One of the Fuzzi Bunz has a label that is only halfway attached and one has some light staining. All diapers are $10 each.

1 White Fuzzi Bunz that is in good condition- normal pilling from regular use. The stitching is coming loose on the back of it though so I am only asking $8 for this one.

2 Periwinkle blue Fuzzi Bunz that are in good condition- normal pilling from regular use. One has no staining the other has a small stain that could be sunned out. Both are $10

3 Pink Fuzzi Bunz in good condition- normal pilling from regular use. Asking $10 each.

2 Butter Yellow Fuzzi Bunz. Good used condition- normal pilling from regular use. Asking $10 each.

1 Sage Green Fuzzi Bunz. Good used condition- normal pilling from regular use. Asking $10 each.

5 Purple Fuzzi Bunz. Good used condition- normal pilling from regular use. Asking $10 each.

Bumkins Medium Diaper Covers

1 Pink Nova Print (see Bumkins.com for the pictures) in EUC asking $8

1 Pink Fish (Dr Suess) print in EUC asking $8

Bummis Medium Super Whisper Wrap

1 White Bummis Super Whisper Wrap in EUC asking $8

Hemparoo Inserts Medium

I will include these with the purchase of a Fuzzi Bunz for an additional two dollars. These have staining on them, but are in good condition.

Happy Shopping!!



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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Thrill of the Hunt

I am passionate about getting good deals, which makes me extremely passionate about going to garage sales and visiting our local thrift stores. There is nothing that thrills me more than to get to spend an hour hunting through all of the "junk" to find that one memorable treasure to bring home with me. I have always been this way, even when we had much more money than we do now. Thrifting has always been an outlet for me and now that we are eating at home more, I am able to use our dining out allowance to score some really great thrift store finds, without busting the budget.

It is hard to explain this passion to someone who doesn't experience it...like my husband, for example. He loves me and patiently nods as I go through each deal I found, but I don't see the passion for it although he does appreciate the things that I find that are just for him.

This weekend our parents kindly offered to watch the children for New Year's Eve. They came and picked the kids up at one in the afternoon and we had an entire day to do whatever we wanted. Guess what I begged my husband to go and do with me? Yup, hit the local Goodwill and he wasn't exactly jumping for joy.

He tried to be a good sport about it, but I could see that this and the craft store were not how he planned to spend the day. I told him how much fun it would be and about the people that work there, how nice it is...basically, anything to convince the poor guy that this was worth doing.

Imagine my surprise when my husband enjoyed going to Goodwill with me. He hunted through books and browsed the housewares with me. We pointed out things that we had when we were little and laughed at some of the more vintage pieces. We honestly had the best time.

When we walked out of there with two enormous bags full of goodies for only twenty bucks, he looked at me and told me he finally understood why I love to do this type of shopping. It is a cheap thrill that allows me to escape. Sometimes I might find some great deals, some days I leave with nothing. The point is, it is the thrill of the hunt and knowing that I am not blowing our budget in the process.

On this occasion, here are some of the highlights that we managed to leave with.
Two pictures for the walls in our kitchen ($1.50 each).

A vintage set of wooden dominoes (one of my favorite purchases and only $5)

A Liz Claiborne Purse (which my husband shook his head at me and told me he didn't like it because he said I already have enough purses- $2)

A Pampered Chef apple slicer, peeler, corer with wooden stand (which I had planned on having a party just for this item because it is so pricey- $5)

12 Little Golden Books (which I am saving to give for the countdown to Christmas that I give to my son to countdown the days of December- $6)

I also left with a husband who understands my need to thrift. Now that, my friends, is PRICELESS!

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Product Review: Innovative Electronic Soundbooks for the Budget-Minded Parent

Publications, International Ltd has released a new set of electronic books for children, appealing to the budget-minded parent. These electronic books include a book, but also an electronic gadget for children.

The company contacted us to see what we thought about their product and sent us three wonderful books to get our opinion on them for their company.

These books are hardback and durable. As a mother of a child who enjoys chewing things and tearing paper, I find board books are the best bang for our buck right now. These books are durable and will last through several of my child’s beatings, but also include handy gadgets that mimic those of their parents that are also durable and made with a child in mind. Things like cell phones and digital music players are attached to the book in lieu of the push button sounds that usually are accompanied on the side of these types of books.

They have many types of books to choose from including all of your child’s favorite characters. Some of the ones you can choose from are Elmo, The Wiggles, SpongeBob Squarepants and Strawberry Shortcake.

To be honest, I love just a plain good old-fashioned book, but it seems to be the craze to release electronically formatted types of entertainment, rather than the plain paper books of my youth. I have been known, however, to spend a pretty penny on the LeapFrog books & cartridges because I knew how much it would interest my child and I want to foster loads of learning in our home.

The bottom line is that no matter what format you present these books to your children, the one thing you want them to walk away with is a desire to read. Publications, International Ltd seems to know this and they have come up with some creative books to help instill the love of reading within your child.

While LeapFrog products will run you twenty bucks and up (just for the books, not the media to make them work), these books are made for the budget-minded consumer and are priced under twenty dollars, perfect for a parent that wants to give this type of book to their child but doesn’t have the funds to do so.

Out of all of the books, our personal favorites were the Fold & Go Car Books. What little boy would not love to create a vehicle and then have it make sounds as they push it along? This was an instant favorite in our house.

Here are some of the options available:
Cell Phone Book (Ages 3-8)

The Cell Phone Book features a removable cordless flip phone with working number buttons and an LCD screen that simulates a real camera/video-phone by featuring both still and moving visual images. Fifteen number and function buttons (including camera, movie, on/off and voicemail), allow the child to view and “call” different characters shown in the book. The camera button mimics cell-phone photography with a flash of light and a pixilated image related to the 10 different spreads in the book, while the movie button plays one of 10 different animated sequences related to the book.

An envelope symbol on the phone screen prompts the child to “check voice mail.” When the child does so by pressing the corresponding button, he/she hears a character’s message. The Cell Phone Book also features a cradle for storing the cordless phone, a volume control, and a speaker located on the back of the phone to ensure safe use by little ears. The Cell Phone Book titles will include Elmo and Dora the Explorer and will sell for around $20.

Digital Music Player Book (Ages 3-8)

Also new for 2006 is the Digital Music Player Book, a portable-music-player-and-book combination that blends the learning aspects of reading with the entertainment of music. The 11”x11”, fully illustrated, hardcover board book features a detachable music player that looks and plays like an MP3 player. The technology allows kids to “download” up to nine melodies by pressing the player’s code reader against carbon barcodes on one of five spreads in the book. The music player features an on/off switch, shuffle mode, forward/back arrow buttons and nine light-up, colored icons that correspond with illustrations in the book. The player can be stored in a holster mounted on the book cover. The Digital Music Player Book titles will include The Wiggles, SpongeBob Squarepants and Strawberry Shortcake, and will sell for around $16.99.

Fold and Go Cars Book (Ages 3-6)
The new Fold and Go Cars Book is an interactive soundbook featuring a built-in electronic “chassis,” complete with sound effects that correspond to cars in the book. Kids can pop out five perforated cars from pages of the book, fold them along scored lines and slide them – one at a time – onto the chassis mounted on the front cover. When the wheels trigger a mechanism in the chassis, the book makes sounds specific to the vehicle. The Fold and Go Cars Book is filled with vehicle facts and stories and will sell for around $12.99. NASCAR, Scooby Doo and Tonka versions will be available.

ActiveMinds® Bilingual 30-Button Book (Ages 3-8)
The ActiveMinds® Bilingual 30-Button Book offers kids aged three to eight the unique opportunity to learn and read in two languages, with added sound effects to enhance the learning experience. Ten spreads in this colorful, educational book feature icons that correspond with a 30-button sound module to the right of the text, which is shown in both English and Spanish. Kids can flip a switch to hear the word in either language for a total of 60 sound triggers, and after each word a meaningful sound effect plays to reinforce the word used. Four titles of the ActiveMinds Bilingual 30-Button Book, “Let’s Go to School,” “My First Words,” “I Can Count” and “The Magic Book” will be available and sell for around $12.99.

For more information on these books, and other books offered by this company, please visit their website.

We want to express many thanks to Publications International for giving us the opportunity to review their wonderful product.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

The Rules of Savings on Diapers

My dear blogging friend, over at Baby Cheapskate, has compiled a list of the top five rules for getting the best deal possible on disposable diapers. Her rules are great and definitely worth checking out if you have a little one in diapers. After researching for an entire year, she presents the facts on who runs the best sales, which size of diaper packages you should buy, and how to work the coupon system. Hurry over and read her great post!

If you are not going the disposable route, be sure to see our article on cloth diapering, which shares everything you need to know to get started!

And if you have no children in diapers, I have one word for you... "Lucky!"

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Product Review: Insignia 2GB MP3 Player

We have been in the market for an MP3 player for quite some time. I had been checking Ebay, the Apple website, and comparison shopping for months now. I was trying to find an affordable MP3 player that actually had some bells and whistles on it. Unfortunately, an MP3 player with the features that I wanted was going to cost us a lot of money, and we just did not have it.

As luck would have it, Insignia contacted me and gave us the opportunity to review their 2GB MP3 player. This player actually has all of the bells and whistles and is just over the hundred dollar mark. In the MP3 player world, that is quite a bargain! If you are looking for an MP3 player, but don’t have a lot of Christmas cash, I would highly recommend this player.

This player, in all honesty, is everything I could want out of an MP3 player. It is super light, weighing in at only 2.4 ounces, and has a nice sleek design to it. 2GB of storage translates into approximately 500 songs, 2,000 photos, 25 audiobooks, or 7 movies. It also has a spot for a memory card, should 2GB of storage not be enough for you.

This player is well-designed and adding music to it was as simple as downloading a CD of software and attaching the USB cable to our computer. Within minutes, I had uploaded a good portion of my music collection and it was ready to go.

As a mom, who rarely has any quiet time to myself, I had to create times for myself to actually be able to listen to it. I figured that while I was out battling the crowds, doing my holiday shopping, would be a great time for me to actually have some peace & quiet. It was perfect and I was able to tune out all of the chaos, making waiting in lines at Walmart much more pleasurable for me. I admit, I did receive some funny looks, but I held back the need to burst into song out in public.

My husband may not agree that he has enjoyed the player as much because he bears witness to my theatrical singing (which is truly a treat, I am sure!), but he doesn’t complain. Only a fool would complain when I am trying to make scrubbing pots or washing kid’s clothing enjoyable.

The Insignia 2GB MP3 player is a great bargain and a wonderful treat for any mom. For more information on this product, please visit this link to get the full scoop. It does many more cool things, but the main thing for me was to be able to listen to my music collection. Those looking for other features, like being able to watch movies or view pictures, will not be disappointed with this player. These are just added bonuses for this mom!

Many thanks to Insignia for allowing us to have the opportunity to enjoy such a great product!

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Every Post You Need for the Holiday Season

Since I have over two hundred posts, I thought I would pull together a list of posts that might help you during this holiday season.


Say No to Hand Cramps (when doing your holiday cards!)

Getting the Cheapest Shipping


Saving More on Christmas Shopping

Simon Mall Kidgits Program (since you have to be at the mall anyway!)

Sam’s Club Click N Pull (something worth checking out when you are battling long lines at the wholesale club)

Avoiding Holiday Debt

Thirteen Easy Ways to Save Your Family Money

Frugal Gift Ideas:

Restaurants.com Gift Certificates

Holiday Bling Without a Bling Budget

Weeding Through Your Child’s Artwork Creatively (use some of those art projects for gifts this year!)

Frugal Teacher Gifts

Frugal College Student Gifts

Simplifying Gift Giving

Giving the Gift of Magazines Frugally

Babes in Toyland


Homemade Microwave Popcorn & Caramel Corn

Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Aldi Fall/Winter Menu Planner


Schedule of Christmas Television Programs

Creating Holiday Traditions

Me Time

The Christmas Jar

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Black Friday 2006

Black Friday is quickly approaching so start resting up! Most of the store advertisements are posted and ready for your viewing pleasure. If you want to view scanned versions of the advertisements, discuss deals with others, join a mailing list, and comparison shop visit this Black Friday 2006 website. The comparison shopping, in particular, is a great tool. Just search under the specific item you are looking for and they will pull the information from each advertisement for you and tell you the best deals.

Click the comments and share what deal you have found and how you plan to do your holiday shopping this year. Are you shopping on Black Friday or holding out until the crowds die down? Waking up at the crack of dawn or holding out until ten in the morning?

Happy shopping and enjoy paging through those advertisements!

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Pumpkin Spice Lattes

My absolute favorite drink at Starbucks is their Pumpkin Spice Latte. Each year, I look forward to them adding this onto their menu and this year was no exception. Unfortunately, my wallet can’t handle the frequent trips to get coffee so I have had to get creative this year.

My girlfriend, Christina, had this amazing little gadget called the Cocomotion. If you haven’t seen one of these, check it out and put it on your Christmas list. I decided to go with the Back to Basics Cocoa-Latte Maker (similar, but it has a dispenser to dispense the drink) and I have yet to be disappointed with it. It is so nice because it stirs and heats everything up, just like a blender. When it is hot, it will stop stirring and you can hit the Dispense button. As it comes out, it will come out with a beautiful froth on top, just like the coffee shops. I think the best part about it is no cocoa or coffee goes to waste. I hate when you get the bottom of your glass and there is all this cocoa that fell to the bottom and didn’t get mixed properly. With this machine, you don’t have that problem.

We have had our little cocoa machine humming every single night. As soon as I flip it on, it is like I have Pavlov’s dog in our house. Everyone runs up the stairs to wait impatiently for the cocoa to be ready.

Well, my handy little gadget makes the absolute BEST Pumpkin Spice Lattes and after trying several combinations, I finally have a recipe that I am happy with. This recipe will make two large lattes and I hope you can enjoy it as much as we have.

To save on cost, store your morning’s coffee in the fridge to be used for the lattes. You can also save on the cost of these by making a batch of powdered milk for your drinks.

If you want to splurge a bit, make sure to have whipped cream on hand to top with a dusting of cinnamon.

Let me know if you get a chance to try this recipe! Adjustments can be made according to your own taste! This is the perfect post-Thanksgiving Day treat!

Amy’s Version of Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte

2 cups milk
1 cup very strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons sugar (or one packet of Splenda)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (plus extra for dusting)
2 heaping spoonfuls of pumpkin

Pour all of the ingredients into a pot and heat over medium-high heat until the coffee is steaming hot. Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream & cinnamon. Enjoy!

If you are interested in purchasing a Cocoa-Latte Machine, check out Ebates and order from there. They have the Cocoa-Latte Machine (just go under Search in the left hand corner) for $29.99 with four percent cash back through the Ebates program.

Not an Ebates member? Read my short sermons on why you should join and sign up today. You get five bucks in your account and so do I for referring you. It is THE place to Christmas shop! Please be sure the use the link provided so that we get credit for our referral!

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Saving More on Your Christmas Shopping

This entry is really more of a, "Play It Again, Momma!" type entry, but I did want to add a couple of things to entice you to sign up for an Ebates account. I also wanted to remind people about this program, since many of us have begun our holiday shopping.

I absolutely love Ebates and it has greatly simplified my holiday shopping. I can go to their website and click under their Special Offers link. The offers are listed alphabetically so I can see quickly at a glance if Children's Place is running a sale this week or not. Scroll down or click through under the letter of the place you are looking for. You can also sort these offers by type. Say that you don't want to pay shipping or you are looking for money off coupons, and the offers will be sorted this way. Categories are available too!

I frequently search just under a keyword search. If I am looking for a new coffee machine, I can search under that. I then sort this by price lowest to highest (you are shopping with me, remember?) and then I can see quickly who has the best deals and how much I would get back with the cash back rewards. It even calculates the exact amount you would get back, down to the penny, so you can see quickly how much you could potentially put into your check.

Recently, in an Ebates blog entry, they highlighted the top three cash savings tricks for Ebates. The suggestions that they came up with were:

1. Deal Layering: The deal with Ebates is that you usually get cash back on your purchases. For example, if you bought a shirt from the Gap (clearanced out, of course!), you would get 5% back through a cash back reward. When searching for the Gap under the Special Offers Link, you can look for a coupon to go along with your cash back reward and you can credit the savings towards your purchase and also receive cash back on your purchase. That equals more money in your wallet!

2. Each Tuesday Ebates has a deal with one company where they promise to double your cash back. A few weeks ago it was Fossil and this company doubled their normal eight percent to sixteen percent. That is a huge cash back return! You can check each Tuesday to see who the offer is with. Choose to shop with that company, when doing your holiday shopping, and you will receive more money back in your cash back checks.

3. Finally, be sure to sign up with their Ebates Reminder Tool. Don't you hate it when you order something, pay for it, and then realize later that you could have gotten a reward for purchasing it? Thanks to their little Moe Money Maker program, a little pop-up will come up when you are shopping with an Ebates merchant. It basically redirects the page to shop through the Ebates site. Now I will admit, that I started to get a little annoyed with this feature when I just wanted to go to BabyCenter because my kid was sick and I was trying to look up what to give him and it kept redirecting me to shop. We have two browsers installed though (Firefox & IE- because our family is techy like that!) and so I only use one browser to shop with. This software is optional, but it is certainly handy when you forget to cash in on your rewards.

I received my first Ebates check, this past week, just so you know that the offer is legitimate. Many rebates programs never actually pay out, but I can tell you that this one does.

If you want to read more about Ebates, please check my past blog entry. I also share how smoothly my first purchase went with Ebates when I purchased my little French Press insulated coffee mug. (I am still using this every single day and I have only been to Starbucks twice in the past two months!)

If you would like to sign up with Ebates, you can use this provided link. I do get a $5 check if you sign up (just didn't want to be sneaky about that!), but you will get a five dollar credit in your account if you sign up too. Basically, this is a win-win situation. The five dollars is credited to your account upon your first Ebates purchase.

Happy holiday shopping!

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Saturday Sales

The sales are flying since we are quickly approaching the end of summer. Take advantage of all those summer clearance racks before the items are gone!

Here are some hot places to show this week...

Bluefly (should directly link you to their clearance section). You can use Coupon Code AFF15 to receive $15 off of a $100 purchase. This coupon code is valid only for new customers.
*Ebates members receive an additional four percent cashback bonus*

Ebags buy two items, receive a 20% discount. Good for gearing up for the back-to-school season. Lots of great backpacks to choose from. Sort your prices from low to high and there should be some great choices (in an affordable range).
*Ebates members receive an additional six percent cashback bonus*

Snapfish offers free shipping on your first thirty prints. Use coupon code HPFREESHIP (expires 07/31). You can also get thirty free prints & save twenty percent on photo gifts using coupon code AFFMEM2006 (exp 10/01)
*Ebates members receive an additional ten percent cashback bonus*

Etoys has a great Christmas in July sale, currently running. If you sort by price, you will see a ton of stuff under five dollars. These would make great gifts to keep stashed for all of those children's birthday parties. I also noticed a great Bunco Party Game set (for the mommies in your life!) for only $4.49!
*Ebates members receive an additional three percent cashback bonus*

123InkJets offers free shipping & 5% off with the coupon code SAVES. These are SO much cheaper than in the store- you really can't compare their prices to any of your local retailers.
*Ebates members receive an additional sixteen percent cashback bonus*

Netflix offers a free trial for one month on their movie subscription plan. If you are a movie buff, this is worth the money. When we had time to watch movies, we used this service. They offer plans now (starting at) $5.99 per month.
*Ebates members receive an $18 cashback bonus*

The Children's Place is currently running their Back to School specials. Use coupon code FA76, now through September 4th, for an additional fifteen percent off of their already low prices.

If you are interested in learning more about the Ebates program, please follow this link for more information. An additonal $5 is applied to your account, upon making your first purchase.

For current Ebate members, they have recently added a blog to their site, where you can catch up on the latest & greatest in good deals!

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

My First Purchase (Using Ebates)

In May, I blogged about using the Ebates Rewards program to get cash back on your purchases. When you join the program, you automatically get five dollars (upon making your first purchase). I had the opportunity to finally activate my membership (and get my five bucks) because my mother's birthday is coming up (Note: Mom if for some reason you are reading my blog, please stop here or you will find out what your gift is).

In past entries I have discussed my single cup coffee maker. I have had some mixed feelings about the coffee maker. My husband got me it as a gift (because I make REALLY bad coffee!) and it is really great, but the pods are so dang expensive. As soon as I got it, I looked up how to make my own pods, but the process was a little too extensive (even for this frugal diva!) I then decided to purchase a MyPod, which is a great idea, but was somehow horribly flawed. It resulted in an overflowing cup of coffee that was one part coffee to ten parts water. I then tried to remedy this by only putting enough water in to just make one cup, but then this resulted in sputtering and explosives coming from the coffee maker. Then my coffee maker was just plain not working, then I called Senseo to complain (customer service, in short, said that it would be weeks or months before I would actually get a new unit). Then the dang thing started working again....but the pods are too expensive.

Any-who, I decided to look into some less expensive options that would work for the coffee-impaired. I read that the French Press is the way to go if you want a good cup of coffee, with minimal effort (or hopefully brains!) I figured I could use one of these ,and still use my single cup coffee maker, to save on the cost of the pods.

My mother is a big tea drinker and she works during the day so I ran across this travel French Press that you could use while you are on the road. Isn't it so *cute*? I decided to get her one and one for myself (read above paragraph about why I truly deserve this or some of my past entries on some rough times with the kids, in case you thought the coffee incident wasn't enough, which it was!). Because I downloaded that little Moe Money dude (I think he is a former rapper?), that told me that there was a fifteen percent discount for first time customers of HSN (use coupon code: C56574 exp 08/31/2006), that there was an Ebates two percent cash back discount, and I also pocketed my five dollars (from initially setting up the account). How cool is that? The cost worked out to be $19.03 (per mug), which included the shipping and handling for each of them! Not too shabby!

This will be my official Christmas gift, if it turns out to be a hit, for all of the coffee drinkers in my life!

My Ebates account has already been credited and I am looking forward to my Big Fat Check! Whoohooo!

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Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Freebie: Simon Mall Kidgits Program

Today I wanted to discuss the Simon Mall Kidgits program. If you have a Simon Mall, this is definitely a program to take advantage of. For a mere five dollars you receive a child's t-shirt, family-friendly & money-saving coupons from mall retailers, birthday club & gift redemption for kids, a mailed newsletter publication with games & educational elements, & other membership exclusives. Each mall offers something different (as do their retailers), but I will share with you what we receive each month for our five dollar membership.

Each month, we head to the customer service desk and pick up that month's worth of coupons. In our packet is a free Chickfila kid's meal & a 1/4 pound of jelly beans from the South Bend Chocolate Factory. We take these coupons and get our son's meal with them (he eats free) and my husband and I get something to eat. After we eat that, we go pick up his jelly beans (these get hidden for a treat the next day). We then head over to our mall play area and he plays his little heart out with the other kids. On our way out, we then head over to the DQ, located within our food court, and get him his fifty cent kiddy cone. He has the best time and eats for free once a month.

In our packet are additional discounts for other retailers. There is usually a five dollar off coupon for Stride Rite (which can be used for his back-to-school shoes), a free 8x10 for the Picture People (no sitting fee), buy one pretzel get one free coupon, and twenty percent off cookies at the little cookie place. Each month they change, but I can usually expect to see these coupons pretty regularly in my packet.

You can apply to be part of this program online or request an application at the Customer Service desk at your mall. If you would like to see what coupons are offered in your area, just visit this link and it will bring up the month's current offer.

Many thanks go to my girlfriends who finally convinced me that it really was worth five dollars a year!

If you are interested in more freebies, please visit the following links for even more great offers!

Free Samples
Free Money
Starbucks Coffee
Baby Freebies
Free Baby Goodies

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Friday Freebie: Free Money

Last week I shared a simple way you can earn free Starbucks Coffee through MyPoints. This week I want to share another great way you can earn a little extra while doing your regular online shopping.

Just last week I ran across Ebates. I have absolutely no idea how I have not run across this site before. This has got to be one of the best deals out there for reward shopping that I have seen yet.

With Ebates they will pay you cash back whenever you shop online (up to 25%). They have tons of stores that I already shop at, including Barnes & Noble, the Gap, and Target. They actually have over 800 places you can shop, so there should be something for everyone in this rewards program.

They also list tons of great coupons, free shipping deals, and sales from these stores so you can stay on top of ways to save even more. You can check them out on Ebates.com or sign up for their weekly newsletter to have them alert you to any new deals.

The best part is they have a sign-up bonus that'll pay you $5 for joining (this is pending after you make one online purchase). After you sign up and buy something, they'll put the $5 in your account and include it in your next "Big Fat Check".

They send out their "Big Fat Check," every three months as long as you have earned over $5.01. You can receive this money in the form of a check or it can be moved right into your PayPal account. They also offer an opportunity for you to donate your "Big Fat Check" to charity where you can give back to deserving organizations.

The main thing that I really appreciate about this site is that they also have a download that can help alert you when you are shopping. They call him the Moe Money Maker and it just basically has a pop-up that lets you know if you are on a site that could reward you. It will pop up at the bottom of the screen and it gives you the opportunity to link through Ebates to help make sure you get every reward opportunity you can.

I love MyPoints, but the thing that always bums me out with them is that half the time I am shopping and just completely forget to even check there. They also add new stores and deals and I don't take advantage of them because I am not aware of them.

Take advantage of the free money and the great savings when doing your online shopping. This is not an excuse to shop..I repeat, this is NOT an excuse to shop...But if you need to shop for something- it is there!

Please stop by our poll and share your favorite summertime activity with the kids!

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Friday Freebie: Starbucks Coffee

If you have been reading my blog at all, you will know that I have an extremely bad coffee addiction. I can’t live without my coffee and my favorite coffee in the world is Starbucks. There is nothing better than their Peppermint Mochas and I swear that I could drink one of these every single day. It is unfortunate that these are over three dollars (for a small!) so I have to find a way to feed the addiction without breaking the bank.

I have been a part of MyPoints forever and last year they started offering Starbucks gift cards in exchange for the points that you earn. MyPoints is basically a website where you can earn points for shopping, taking surveys, and opening emails from their sponsors. These points can then be used towards a gift card of your choice. They offer gift cards to just about anywhere, and these can be used on yourself or can be given as a gift to a family member.

I don’t use the points as an excuse to shop, but I do shop where I can earn points. I do a lot of my holiday shopping through this site and find it neat to be able to shop while working towards a goal of free coffee. I try to aim for gifts that reward you with the most points.

Be sure to sign up to receive their emails because each one you open is worth five points! These points add up quickly and all you have to do is open your email box to receive the points.

I hope you can enjoy a coffee on MyPoints too- gotta love your Freebie Friday!

Tomorrow our poll will be closing- be sure to cast your vote!

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