From the category archives:

living on less


My girls were big fans of Dora the Explorer when they were little. In fact, even my older boys picked up some basic Spanish just from having it on while playing, even though they weren't particularly engaged in watching it.

Because my girls are a bit older now, I guess I missed the news that Dora has a new series out -- Dora and Friends! Actually, it's a spin-off of the original cartoon and features Dora as a pre-teen with a new group of friends and new adventures.

Though I haven't watched this new series with my girls yet, it's my understanding that the Spanish vocabulary in it has been expanded to include phrases and commands, along with the basic vocabulary built through the preschool series.

In conjunction with the new Dora and Friends series, a new line of Dora and Friends toys have been released. Pictured above is the new Talking Dora Doll with Smartphone. Yes, Dora now has her very own smartphone, and she now uses her "Map App" to find her way around Playa Verde, the town that she lives in! The Dora doll can interact with the smartphone by responding to her friends' phone calls, or the phone is a fun toy to play with all on its own.

In addition, you'll find a large assortment of play sets, individual dolls, charm bracelets with interchangeable charms, and more -- all featuring Dora and her multicultural array of friends. Take a look at this video my girls helped put together to get a better look at some of the fun toys in this line.



As I mentioned in the video, this line of Dora and Friends toys is geared toward children ages 3 years and up. Sadly, my girls aren't really into dolls at this point, so I didn't want to open up all of the toys knowing they probably wouldn't play with them much beyond the video.

I think if they were a few years younger, though, they would have played for hours upon hours with the play sets. These are exactly the kind of imaginative, free play-type toys they always enjoyed playing with the most. In any case, they both agreed that everything in the Dora and Friends line is really cute and would make fantastic Christmas gifts!

Find the Dora and Friends line in stores and online at Walmart now! Be sure to check out the quick purchase links below as many of these fun toys are on rollback currently.

Quick purchase links:

Now, we'll be taking these Dora and Friends toys to our local Walmart to place in the Fill the Truck box to hopefully make some deserving girls and boys in our area very, very happy this Christmas...

Walmart Moms Disclosure

{ 0 comments }

Walmart Top 20 Toy: SpinMaster Zoomer Dino {Hours of Fun!}

by Tara Kuczykowski on December 12, 2014 · 0 comments

I'm so excited to be sharing my perspective on some of the amazing toys that made Wamart's Top 20 Toy List over the next few weeks! The coolest thing about Walmart's Top 20 Toys, is that they were actually chosen by kids...

For the second year, Walmart gathered hundreds of children ages 18 months to 12 years and turned them loose. They played with the hottest new toys from Hasbro, Mattel, Spin Master and Zing to get their thoughts and stamps of approval.

The result? Wamart's Top 20 Toy List -- and these are toys that are sure to knock your kids' socks off Christmas morning!

SpinMaster Zoomer Dino Review

This week's focus is on kids that love interactive toys, and SpinMaster's Zoomer Dino is just about as cool as they come! Not surprisingly, this amazing spinning, chomping and roaming dinosaur is at the top of my 6-year-old's Christmas list. He's known as "Dino Drew" around here, and I really think he could give Dino Dan a run for his money when it comes to dinosaur trivia.

I once made the mistake of identifying a dinosaur in a puzzle we were putting together as a velociraptor... He totally rolled his eyes at me and said in his most exasperated voice, "Mom, that's NOT a velociraptor. THAT's an ornithomimus! Don't you see the crest on its head?!?" Um, okay, little man -- whatever you say. Suffice it to say that if this dino is all that's under the tree on Christmas morning, he will be one happy boy!

Priced at a low $79.88, the Zoomer Dino features some pretty amazing technology. Highlights include:

  • Real dinosaur movements, sounds and incredible dino-sense abilities
  • Boomer can detect when you're nearby and interacting with him
  • Zoomer Dino Toy can get angry, spin around, chomp and roar
  • Using True Balance Technology, Boomer perfectly balances on 2 wheels as he roams freely, exploring your home
  • Use hands or included controller to tame his Dino nature and build your friendship
  • He might even let out dino-sized burps and farts
  • Requires 3 AAA batteries (not included with this kids toy)

Kids Verdict? I let my older boys check Boomer out to give me their opinion since I knew he would be a gift for my youngest, and I have to say, they're pretty smitten with him! This is one lifelike dino, and they were amazed at how well he interacted with them, even without the controller. They particularly enjoyed making him angry, because his eyes turn red and he chomps and roars. Kind of makes me wonder if that's why they enjoy testing my patience, too!

Mom's Verdict? I cannot wait for Drew to open the Zoomer Dino on Christmas morning. I'm fairly certain this is one toy that is going to live up to all of his expectations and more. I'd venture to say that Boomer is the coolest toy out there right now! Don't rule him out for girls, either -- he also comes in purple...

Quick purchase links:

More Top Interactive Toys

If you're looking for more interactive toys at every price point, Walmart's got something for every wish list and budget. Here are just a few other tops toys in this category:

Get the Top Toys at the Best Price

Walmart is committed to bringing you all of the hottest toys at the lowest prices. Get the most for your money with these savings tools:

  • Savings Catcher: If Savings Catcher finds an advertised price that’s lower than what you paid for the same exact item, you'll get a Walmart eGift Card for the difference!
  • Layaway: Customers taking advantage of Walmart’s holiday layaway with no opening fee can stretch dollars further by paying at their own pace through Dec. 15.
  • Ad Match: Walmart’s great prices are backed by its Ad Match Guarantee. Stores will match the price of any local competitor’s printed ad for an identical product.

Is your child hoping to find a Zoomer Dino under the tree on Christmas morning, too?

Walmart Moms Disclosure

{ 0 comments }

I'm so excited to be sharing my perspective on some of the amazing toys that made Wamart's Top 20 Toy List over the next few weeks! The coolest thing about Walmart's Top 20 Toys, is that they were actually chosen by kids...

For the second year, Walmart gathered hundreds of children ages 18 months to 12 years and turned them loose. They played with the hottest new toys from Hasbro, Mattel, Spin Master and Zing to get their thoughts and stamps of approval.

The result? Wamart's Top 20 Toy List -- and these are toys that are sure to knock your kids' socks off Christmas morning!

Razor A Kick Scooter Review

This week's focus is on active kids, featuring scooters, ride-ons, racing cars, and more. This is the first year that Walmart has added these kinds of toys to their annual holiday focus group and the kids have spoken! They voted the Razor A Kick Scooter as the hottest ride on this season.

Priced at a low $22.70, the Razor A Kick Scooter is the perfect toy for allowing kids and teens alike to burn off a little excess energy. The handlebar can be adjusted to three different heights, and it's lightweight (only 6 pounds!) and folds up super compact. Features include:

  • Crafted from aircraft-grade aluminum for sturdiness and durability
  • Folds up for storage or for carrying in a bag
  • Lightweight: approximately 6 lbs.
  • 98mm inline-style urethane wheels
  • ABEC 5 bearings
  • Patented rear fender brake
  • Requires no assembly
  • Weight capacity: 143 lbs.

The Razor A Kick Scooter is appropriate for ages 5 and up, although, to be honest, I'm pretty sure my youngest used one at an earlier age, being around his older brothers and sisters. I'd recommend picking up a bike helmet to go along with this gift, as I know my kids have all taken a spill on theirs at one time or another.

Kids Verdict? My kids are all big fans of their Razor Scooters, and Razor definitely makes the best scooters. We've tried others with licensed characters on them in the past, and they've not held up as well. It's a great toy for keeping their active, especially at this low price point!

Mom's Verdict? I love toys that encourage my kids to get outside and play, and a Razor A Kick Scooter totally does this. I appreciate how small and compact it is when folded up and that it's lightweight, as well. We hang our kids' bikes from the ceiling in our garage, since we have minimal storage room, and I'm unable to get them down by myself. But we can hang the scooters on the wall without taking up much space, and the kids can get them out all by themselves!

Quick purchase links:

More Top Toys for Active Kids

If you're looking for more toys for active kids at every price point, Walmart's got something for every wish list and budget. Here are just a few other tops toys in this category:

  • BouncePro 14' Trampoline with Enclosure and Game, $249 -- the perfect addition to any backyard area, features bonus Electron Shooter target which attaches easily to the enclosure ring, creating extra play value for kids!
  • Razor Crazy Cart, $299 -- allows your child to drive, spin or drift like a pro, can be driven like a go cart, or simply lift the drift bar to kick into Crazy Cart mode!
  • Disney Frozen Convertible Car 6-Volt Battery-Powered Ride-On, $129.97 -- this 6-volt princess convertible car features Frozen graphics on a light blue car and has one forward speed plus a reverse speed, both with a maximum speed of 2.5-miles-per-hour!

Get the Top Toys at the Best Price

Walmart is committed to bringing you all of the hottest toys at the lowest prices. Get the most for your money with these savings tools:

  • Savings Catcher: If Savings Catcher finds an advertised price that’s lower than what you paid for the same exact item, you'll get a Walmart eGift Card for the difference!
  • Layaway: Customers taking advantage of Walmart’s holiday layaway with no opening fee can stretch dollars further by paying at their own pace through Dec. 15.
  • Ad Match: Walmart’s great prices are backed by its Ad Match Guarantee. Stores will match the price of any local competitor’s printed ad for an identical product.

Is the Razor A Kick Scooter on your child's Christmas wish list?

Walmart Moms Disclosure

{ 0 comments }

Why We’re Not Saving For College #MyFinancialElephant

by Tara Kuczykowski on December 9, 2014 · 1 comment

Growing up, it was always a given that I would go to college. However, I'm not sure that there was ever a lot of thought put into just how exactly we were going to pay for my education. I guess you could say it was the elephant in the room, always lurking but never mentioned...

My parents didn't actively save for college, and there was no such thing as a 529 college savings plan or Upromise at that time. Things were further complicated when my stepfather had a stroke the summer before my junior year of high school. Anything extra went toward paying medical bills and to offset his lost wages while recovering.

Taking Matters Into My Own Hands

When I learned about a special plan offered through a branch of The Ohio State University, I decided to take matters into my own hands. During my senior year of high school, I could apply to take college courses for both college and high school credit. The program was state funded, right down to my textbooks and any other necessary supplies, and I took full advantage of it.

I took all of the courses that I could at OSU, along with AP History and Newspaper in the afternoons at my high school. When I graduated from high school, I had already completed enough college coursework to enroll as a sophomore at the school of my choice -- all FREE of charge!

I decided to stay at my local OSU branch for another year to save money, and then my junior year I enrolled at Ashland University, a private Ohio university, to complete my education. I sought out any financial aid I could find, and I was rewarded with numerous academic and art scholarships. But it wasn't nearly enough, so I took a job working third shift to contribute more... and it still wasn't enough.

Hard Work Pays Off

In May of 1997, I was the first in my family to graduate from college -- with a whopping $20k in student loans! That's a heavy burden to carry at barely 21 years old. I took advantage of the deferment plan a few times, and my mom and dad worked out an arrangement to split the debt three ways.

While that arrangement didn't quite end up being executed to plan (I estimate that I paid around 2/3 of the total when all was said and done), over time the total balance due decreased, albeit slowly.

It took 13 years to pay off my student loans, but I can't even put into words the satisfaction I felt writing out that final payment in January 2010. It was such an amazing feeling!

Upromise recently launched its "Financial Elephant in the Room Campaign" aimed at encouraging an open and honest conversation among families to address common financial worries and face them head on. According to a recent survey by Sallie Mae, one of the most common financial "elephants" is that families struggle to save for college.

Is this a conversation that you've had as a family, yet?

Why We're Not Saving College

Given my experience and the fact that we have five children who will all be entering college within a 6-year period, you'd probably guess that my husband and I would have savings accounts set up for each of them and that we'd be diligently saving for their college educations. So does it surprise you to learn that we don't, and we have no plans to? Coincidentally, we do have a free to join Upromise account, but beyond that, we're not actively saving...

You see, I learned a lot from my experience. Unlike many of my peers who viewed college as one big party, I was personally invested in my education and saw it as a privilege. Many of my friends whose parents were footing the bill had an air of entitlement about them, and I can tell you that many of them weren't there to receive their diplomas with me on graduation day, having either dropped out or not completed the required number of credits.

And that's not to say that we don't have a savings account, because we do. It's just not specifically earmarked for education. Our expectation is that all five of our children will be actively involved in paying for their college educations -- or whatever it is they decide to pursue after high school. The educational landscape is changing daily, and with the sheer amount of free resources online now, who knows what higher education will look like six years down the road when my oldest graduates from high school?

Regardless, we want them to have that personal accountability and to feel like they're investing in themselves, and we talk about our expectations often around the dinner table. There is no elephant in the room in our household -- we've been open and honest from day one. That's not to say that we won't assist them at all, because we will, but want them to learn the value of hard work and to value themselves starting now.

Of course, the decision on whether or not to save for college is highly personal. It's a decision that affects the entire family, and it's important to consider how saving for college will impact your family down the road. As such, I'd encourage you to start having a thoughtful and open discourse on it with your children from an early age. Don't let it become your "elephant in the room!"

If you're not familiar with Upromise, I want to introduce you to this great way to save a little extra. Upromise by Sallie Mae is a cash back rewards program. When you shop through Upromise, you'll receive a small percentage back (up to 5% back on eligible purchases) as a deposit into your Upromise account. However, instead of just receiving actual cash back, members can allocate their cash back earnings in several ways to help plan, save and pay for college.

Upromise members can:

  • Transfer earnings to eligible 529 plans or high-yield savings accounts
  • Apply earnings to eligible student loan repayment
  • Request a check for cash for books and other expenses
  • Split up earnings across multiple beneficiaries

If you haven't already registered for a Upromise account, I highly recommend it! It's a simple and easy way to save for college without drastically changing your spending habits, and you can even set it up so that family and friends can make contributions.

Join the #MyFinancialElephant Discussion

Upromise would love to hear your perspective on saving for college, as would I -- even if you vehemently disagree with our decisions. Share your financial "elephant in the room" with us on Facebook at bit.ly/UpromiseElephant, or on Twitter @Upromise, using the #MyFinancialElephant hashtag!

So let's hear it -- are you saving to foot the bill for college, or do you expect your children to actively contribute financially (some or all) to their higher education? And is this a topic that you discuss with your kids regularly?

This post is brought to you by Upromise. All opinions are 100% mine.

{ 1 comment }

I'm so excited to be sharing my perspective on some of the amazing toys that made Wamart's Top 20 Toy List over the next few weeks! The coolest thing about Walmart's Top 20 Toys, is that they were actually chosen by kids...

For the second year, Walmart gathered hundreds of children ages 18 months to 12 years and turned them loose. They played with the hottest new toys from Hasbro, Mattel, Spin Master and Zing to get their thoughts and stamps of approval.

The result? Wamart's Top 20 Toy List -- and these are toys that are sure to knock your kids' socks off Christmas morning!

Disney Palace Pets Magic Dance Pumpkin Review

This week's focus is for movie/TV fans, and I was sent the Disney Palace Pets Magic Dance Pumpkin, which ranked among the most popular licensed toys on the Chosen by Kids Top 20 Toys List.

Priced at $49.97, the Disney Palace Pets Magic Dance Pumpkin is an adorable and interactive toy that children can play with and control it using light-up "magic wand" remote controller. Features include:

  • Remote-control puppy toy
  • Adorable and interactive
  • Speaks over a dozen phrases and sounds
  • Follows movement commands
  • Performs 2 pre-programmed dance sequences
  • Light-up magic wand controller
  • Soft fabric ears

The Magic Dance Pumpkin is appropriate for ages 4 and up, and I would say that age 7 is probably about the high end of the age range that would be appropriate for this toy. It's very cute and fluffy, and will definitely appeal to little girls that are in love with all things Disney Princess. Controlling her is fairly easy, although the forward and reverse buttons don't seem very logical to me personally -- you push up to go backward and down to go forward.

Kids Verdict? Both of my girls agreed that the Disney Palace Pets Magic Dance Pumpkin is totally adorable. My 10-year-old wasn't really interested in it -- not surprising since she's not too terribly interested in toys anymore. However, I was surprised that my 8-year-old wasn't too interested, either. She's very much a Disney Princess fan, but she played with it a few times and then it sat. I definitely think that this is a toy that will appeal more to the younger age range, as I mentioned above.

Mom's Verdict? This is a cute toy, and it seems like it would be fairly easy for a child to control -- although the forward and reverse buttons don't seem very logical to me personally. You push up to go backward and down to go forward. I definitely appreciate the fact that this toy has batteries included, since it requires four AA and two AAA batteries to operate.

Quick purchase links:

More Top Toys for Movie and TV Fans

If you're looking for more toys for movie and TV fans at every price point, Walmart's got something for every wish list and budget. Here are just a few other tops toys in this category:

Get the Top Toys at the Best Price

Walmart is committed to bringing you all of the hottest toys at the lowest prices. Get the most for your money with these savings tools:

  • Savings Catcher: If Savings Catcher finds an advertised price that’s lower than what you paid for the same exact item, you'll get a Walmart eGift Card for the difference!
  • Layaway: Customers taking advantage of Walmart’s holiday layaway with no opening fee can stretch dollars further by paying at their own pace through Dec. 15.
  • Ad Match: Walmart’s great prices are backed by its Ad Match Guarantee. Stores will match the price of any local competitor’s printed ad for an identical product.

Is the Magic Dance Pumpkin on your child's Christmas wish list?

Walmart Moms Disclosure

{ 0 comments }