From the category archives:

living on less

How To Start A Gift Closet + $50 GoodNites Giveaway!

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 22, 2014 · 41 comments

Gifts on short notice can be a total budget buster, and it's something that happens frequently around here. Last minute birthday party invites, dinner invitations and baby showers seem to pop up at the most inconvenient times, but with a little planning, unexpected gifting no longer needs to be a source of anxiety.

Okay, so you might be wondering how exactly you can plan for the unexpected... Well, my friends, that's the beauty of a gift closet!

How To Start A Gift Closet

By creating a stockpile of gifts, you can simply "shop at home" when you need a gift at a moment's notice -- or even when you have adequate notice. A well-stocked gift closet will save you both time and money.

Do I really need a whole closet?
First things first, a gift closet doesn't necessarily have to be a closet dedicated only to gifts. It's anywhere in your home where you can store pre-purchased gifts while still being easily accessible. Get creative -- you can store them under a bed, in the front of the basement crawl space, or a high shelf in a bedroom closet. We've even been known to tuck gifts away in our suitcases when we know we won't be traveling anytime soon to keep them away from little eyes and hands.

How do I remember what I have on hand?
You'll definite want to keep a running list of gift items you've purchased. For those of you that are digitally-minded (like myself), keeping a list on your smartphone is ideal. You can add and delete items as necessary. However, a spreadsheet on your computer, or even a simple pencil and paper work just as well, so go with whatever you're most comfortable with.

What kind of items should I keep in my gift closet?
The items you stockpile in your gift closet will look a bit different for each of us. It greatly depends on the stage of life we're in. If you have little ones that are constantly getting birthday party invites, then you'll want to keep an eye out for age appropriate toys, games, puzzles and/or art supplies. If you get invited to a lot of dinner parties, you may want to keep a few bottles of red and white wine, pretty towels, and/or scented candles on hand. If you know a lot of expectant moms, you might keep your eyes peeled for baby toys and layettes in gender neutral colors.

How do I save money with a gift closet?
As I've already mentioned, a gift closet will save you both time and money. By picking up a few items each month, you can stockpile gifts without crimping your budget, especially when you shop the clearance aisles. After holiday and end of season events are also ideal times to find gifts. When you find a really great item, don't be afraid to buy multiples! And while you're at it, be sure to stock up on wrapping paper, gift bags, and blank cards so you have everything you need for the perfect last-minute gift on hand.

What are your thoughts on regifting?
My oldest daughter is the queen of regifting. Shortly before Christmas a few years back, I thought I was losing my mind, as I kept losing small items around the house. So imagine my surprise on Christmas Eve when my daughter presented me with an array of carefully wrapped gifts. As I opened each box, I "found" all of those missing items. It's one of my favorite memories, but while I adore her giving spirit and ingenuity, I don't typically recommend regifting used items. But unused or unopened items? I say they're totally fair game as long as you don't accidentally gift them back to the original giver -- and that's where a little note on your tracking list comes in really handy.

Using a gift closet strategy has saved me SO many headaches over the years. While I won't say that I always have the perfect occasion-appropriate gift on hand, most of the time I do, and that makes it more than worth the minimal time I've invested.

Do you have a gift closet, and if so, what are some of the items in it right now? Share in the comments and you could win a GoodNites prize package valued at $50!

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Today, one lucky Deal Seeking Mom reader will win his or her choice of $50 in GoodNites products!!! Follow the instructions in the widget below to be entered to win...



Be sure to check out the Pick Up The Values website for more valuable printable coupons, including savings on GoodNites products!

This post is brought to you by Kimberly-Clark. All opinions are 100% mine.

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It's no secret that I LOVE my slow cooker -- actually, let's make that slow cookers, because I have several different models to fit any occasion.

Let's see... there's the basic 5-quart Stainless Steel Crock-Pot (my tried and true fave). There's also the Crock-Pot Little Dipper, which is perfect for keeping dips, sauces and gravies warm, and my Programmable 4-Quart Oval Crock-Pot. Oh, and I almost forgot my Crock-Pot Triple Dipper that's perfect for walking tacos on game day!

Yes, my husband's been on me to get rid of one or two, but I can't bear to part with any of them. In fact, I just added one more to my collection (shhhh...) -- the new Crock-Pot Casserole Crock. If you've ever been frustrated with the way your slow cooker enchiladas, casseroles, or lasagna turn out, you need one of these new crocks! The rectangular stoneware is the perfect size and shape for cooking these dishes, and the lids locks on securely for easy transport on the go.



It's also perfect for my family's favorite slow cooker chex mix recipe. Though I did have to halve the recipe in order to make it fit in the smaller format, the wide flat bottom speeds up the cooking time to about 60 minutes, instead of the 90 minutes in the original recipe. Plus, you can turn it off and serve it right in the crock. You really should try this recipe for your next game day get together -- it's always a hit!

Enter The Ultimate Crock-Pot #CrockStars Contest

As I mentioned in the video, if you're a savvy slow cooking fan, the Crock-Pot brand is kicking off its annual Ultimate Crock-Pot CrockStar Contest. Your original slow cooker recipe could earn you the title of "2014 Ultimate Crock-Pot Crock-Star," plus $5,000 and be featured on Crock-Pot.com!

Here's how to enter:

  • Upload a 1-2 minute video prepping your favorite original slow cooker recipe using a Crock-Pot Slow Cooker on CrockStars.com.
  • Submit your original slow cooker recipe text.
  • Entries will be accepted through October 31, 2014.

If you enter the contest, please be sure to come back and leave a comment with your name. I'd love to vote for your recipe!

Walmart Moms Disclosure

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Cleaning For A Reason with Swiffer And Walmart

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 16, 2014 · 0 comments

You've probably been seeing a lot of pink in stores recently since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Swiffer is one of these brands -- they recently released a limited edition pink Swiffer Sweeper and Swiffer Duster, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting breast cancer research.

Added bonus, they're really cute. I ran across a large pallet of them at Walmart yesterday, so look for them in stores now!

I've had a number of friends touched by this terrible disease recently, so I'm thrilled to see brands partnering with various organizations to fund research. Every little bit helps, right?

But what about the women that are already battling this disease right now? Fighting cancer is difficult enough, but living with it is even tougher... and that’s where Cleaning For A Reason steps in. Cleaning For A Reason is a non-profit organization that partners with maid services to offer free professional house cleanings to improve the lives of women undergoing cancer treatment.

To date, they've provided more than 17,000 cleanings for women with cancer with a value of more than $4.5 million. Isn't that incredible? I mean, what an amazing gift for these women -- allowing them to focus on getting well.

Swiffer, in collaboration with Walmart, is helping Cleaning For A Reason go one step further by providing care packages filled with a variety of products for the recipients of these free cleaning services for the month of October. The package includes Olay Regenerist Microsculpting cream, Crest Pro Health Clinical Gum Protection toothpaste, Oral B Pro Health Clinical Pro Flex toothbrush, Swiffer Duster 360, Pantene Beautiful Lengths shampoo and conditioner and Bounty paper towels.

Cleaning for a Reason was recently named by Reader's Digest as one of the 25 Best Things to Happen In America, and I couldn't agree more. If you use a maid service or have friends that work in the industry, please ask them if they've heard of the Cleaning For A Reason foundation. As the demand for services increases, they're always looking for new partners.

If you know a woman that's currently battling breast cancer, please point her to Cleaning For A Reason at http://www.cleaningforareason.org.

Walmart Moms Disclosure

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I've touted the time-saving benefits of freezer cooking many times. It's a great way to simplify the age-old "What's for dinner???" question on busy weeknights. Sometimes referred to as "once a month cooking," freezer cooking will also help you save money, as well.

Saving Money with Freezer Cooking

Save by buying in bulk.
While shopping at warehouse clubs isn't an issue for my larger-than-average family, those of you with fewer or younger children might find that the huge packages you take home from a Sam's Club or Costco are simply too much to use up before the item spoils. Planning a large freezer cooking session will allow you to use up these large packages in one fell swoop, allowing you to enjoy that savings that buying in bulk provides.

Save by grocery shopping less.
I don't know about you, but even when I go to the grocery store with a list, I often end up coming home with items that weren't on the list -- especially when shopping at superstores like Walmart or Target. When you have a month's worth of ready-made meals waiting in your freezer, you may only need to pick up milk and some fresh produce each week. Shopping less frequently helps you to avoid the temptation to grab unnecessary items altogether.

Save by limiting eating out.
It's just a no brainer that cooking at home is going to save money over ordering takeout or eating out on any given night. My family enjoys eating out together, and sometimes it's a necessity when we're traveling for sports, but balancing those splurges with eating at home as often as possible the rest of the time helps us stay within our budget.

How To Freeze Cookie Dough



I know freezer cooking might seem a little overwhelming to some of you, and that's okay. You know how they say there's more than one way to skin a cat? Well, there's more than one way to do freezer cooking. Maybe you're ambitious and want to do a weekend spree to cook for an entire month -- good for you! If you have less time, try a smaller 4-5 hour session.

Or if you're really pinched for time (and this is my favorite method), simply double whatever you're preparing for dinner on a given night. Finish one batch for dinner, and pop the other into the freezer for later.

And who says freezer cooking has to be limited to dinners? I love to make a double batch of cookie dough and freeze half to bake a few here and there. You can find instructions on how to freezer cookie dough on Unsophisticook.

Some other recipes that I often prepare for my freezer are:

:: Recommended Resources

If you're thinking about trying freezer cooking yourself, I wholeheartedly endorse the following resources. They'll guide you through the process step by step, from creating a meal plan, shopping and prepping, to tips for keeping your meals as fresh as possible!

What is your favorite meal or recipe to keep in the freezer? Share in the comments and you could win a Scott Towels prize package valued at $50!

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Today, one lucky Deal Seeking Mom reader will win his or her choice of $50 in Scott Towels products!!! Follow the instructions in the widget below to be entered to win...



Be sure to check out the Pick Up The Values website for more valuable printable coupons, including savings on Scott Towels products!

This post is brought to you by Kimberly-Clark. All opinions are 100% mine.

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Clean Refrigerator Challenge + $50 Viva Towels Giveaway!

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 7, 2014 · 92 comments

This is slightly embarrassing, but I have a confession to make... You guys know I'm all about saving time and money, right? And I've shared before how a clean refrigerator can help save both.

Well, the truth is I honestly cannot remember the last time I've deep cleaned my refrigerator. I can't even begin to describe the terrible state it had reached, so I'll show you a photo:

Everything stuffed in haphazardly, crumbs, stickiness -- who knows what's lurking in the back?!? But the worst of it wasn't even revealed until I removed the long snack drawer on the bottom...

Apparently at some point several months ago (at least), my kids spilled a significant amount of milk inside the fridge. While they must have thought they wiped up the mess, they clearly did not realize that most of it ran down under the snack drawer. I'm gagging just thinking about it. I will have nightmares about scrubbing that funk out for the next year!

It took a good 45 minutes and a lot of elbow grease, but I turned on some music and started scrubbing. Several Viva Towels later I had this:

Much better, isn't it?!? I took everything out, checking expiration dates as I went and tossing anything that was past its prime. Surprisingly, there wasn't much to get rid of -- I mostly just needed to organize everything better.

After pulling it all out, I was easily able to pull out the drawers (this is when I discovered the milk, blech), which made wiping the shelves and drawers down an easy task. Putting everything back into the fridge in an organized manner was much easier since I had a clean slate to work with.

Now the trick is to maintain it! Since we receive our weekly produce bins on Fridays, I'm pencilling in a quick once-over for Friday mornings with a deep-cleaning once a month.

Are You Ready To Take The Clean Refrigerator Challenge?

Now it's your turn -- I'm challenging you to whip your refrigerator into tip-top shape at some point over the next week. What's the oldest item you had to toss or the worst mess you had to clean up in your refrigerator? Share in the comments and you could win a Viva Towels prize package valued at $50!

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Today, one lucky Deal Seeking Mom reader will win $50 in Viva products!!! Follow the instructions in the widget below to be entered to win...



Be sure to check out the Pick Up The Values website for more valuable printable coupons, including savings on Viva products!

This post is brought to you by Kimberly-Clark. All opinions are 100% mine.

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