From the category archives:

living on less

5 Tips For Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner On A Budget

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 29, 2014 · 0 comments

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. I mean, what’s not to love? A special day filled with day with friends and family and, of course, lots of delicious food… I can't think of a better way to spend a day.

On the flip side, Thanksgiving dinner can also put a serious dent in your budget if you're not careful. But never fear, I've got some great tips for how you can have a fabulous and delicious Thanksgiving meal -- without breaking the bank!

5 Tips For Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner On A Budget

Though my family has never had to forgo Thanksgiving dinner completely, there were definitely years when a scaled down dinner was a necessity due to budget constraints. But truthfully, I doubt that our guests even noticed, because I was a careful shopper and pulled items from all around the house to save on setting an inviting table. And you can do the same with these five simple tips:

1Set a budget. It's important to set your limit before you start shopping! Once you hit the store, it's all too easy to get caught up in tossing those little extras in your cart. I mean, there's a reason all of those cute holiday decor items are on every end cap. Having a firm spending limit in place, will prevent you from emptying your wallet. Still worried about blowing your budget? Leave the credit and debit cards at home and shop with cash -- you can't spend more than you have with you!

2Stick to the classics. Planning a traditional Thanksgiving dinner means that, not only will you be able to find all of your ingredients easily, but these are also the items that grocery stores most heavily discount this time of year. Plus you really can't go wrong with the basics, like a turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry salad, crescent rolls, and of course, pumpkin pie. These are simple, no-fail recipes that all of your guests are sure to love.

3Clip coupons and watch the sales. As I mentioned, the ingredients for classic Thanksgiving recipes are heavily promoted and discounted this time of year, starting as early as November 1st. Manufacturers often offer coupons for these same items that will allow you to save even more, so be sure to search the coupon database for printable coupons for your favorite brands before you shop. Pair them with a good sale and you've got a quick and easy way to save a little extra cash! Plus when you start picking up nonperishable items early in the month, it helps you spread your budget out so you're not spending a ton all at once.

4Don't forget about those turkey promotions. The turkey will likely eat up about 40% of your budget, so the free turkey promotions that many grocery stores offer can really pay off! If a store in your area is offering this deal, you should definitely consider doing all of your grocery and Thanksgiving meal shopping there to meet the minimum requirement. Another alternative for saving on the turkey is to buy just a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. This option works particularly well for small gatherings and/or guests that prefer the white meat only.

5Shop the dollar store, craft stores, and/or discount stores for decor. Decor doesn't have to be a budget breaker -- or even an afterthought these days. With so many wonderful and inexpensive ideas on Pinterest, you can create a beautiful table setting on a dime. Discounted table runners, centerpieces, and garlands abound at these stores, and when they're packed carefully away after your gathering, they can be reused for many years. Another great way to add ambience (when there aren't a lot of little ones running around) is with lots and lots of simple white candles in all shapes and sizes.

While my family has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, I know that there are 49 million Americans that struggle to put a meal on their table on a daily basis, let alone on Thanksgiving. So I’m thrilled to support the J.M. Smucker Company in their efforts to provide up to six million meals to Feeding America in support of local member food banks. Food banks rely heavily on donations like these to serve the community, so this is an amazing blessing that J.M. Smucker Company is providing.

How can you help needy families this Thanksgiving?

Look for special coupons for savings on Crisco and Pillsbury products in national newspapers on November 2nd that will help you share the goodness this season and make every meal matter! For every Crisco and Pillsbury coupon redeemed, The J.M. Smucker Company will donate the equivalent of three meals to Feeding America, with a minimum donation of 4.5 million meals (a $450,000 donation) and up to six million meals ($600,000 donation). And you get to save some cash on your holiday dinner, a win for everyone!

This post is brought to you by The J.M. Smucker Company and Feeding America. All opinions are 100% mine.

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The ultra-low prices, the oversize carts, the free samples... Warehouse clubs are innately designed to get you to part with your hard-earned money. Can you really save money by buying in bulk at your local Sam's Club, Costco or BJ's???

The truth is, yes, shopping warehouse clubs can be a great way to save money, BUT you're going to have to do some smart shopping and have some serious willpower. So before you ever step foot in your local Costco, et al, learn these rules for shopping and take them to heart.

7 Rules for Shopping at Warehouse Clubs

Start with a list.
Wandering aimlessly through a warehouse club is a surefire way to empty your wallet. Even if your list isn't super specific (I know at first you may not be familiar with exactly what products they carry), at least having a general plan of attack will help you keep more cash in your wallet. At the very least, you should have a firm spending limit in mind before you walk through the door.

Know your limits.
Sure, those huge bulk packages can save you a lot of money, but if you can't use the quantity before the items spoils, you're probably wasting more money than you saved. If you're doing a large freezer cooking session, sure, you can probably use up that massive bag of onions. If not, well, you should probably skip that purchase -- or consider going in with a friend to split the bounty while still saving.

Compare prices.
Price out your grocery bulk buys per item and compare the unit price to your local grocery store to ensure that you're really saving. The larger packaging can make the unit price very deceiving, so keeping a calculator handy is a must. If you keep a price book, you already have a head start on this, but if not, grab a small memo pad and just jot down the items you buy most frequently along with the prices every so often to verify that you're really getting the most for your money. The same goes for big ticket items -- always do a price check for the exact make and model to ensure that you're really getting a stellar price.

Avoid the middle of the store.
While I usually avoid the middle of the store at grocery stores because I'm trying to steer clear of processed foods, I also avoid them at warehouse stores -- but for a different reason. Warehouse clubs typically stock the middle of the store with their biggest impulse buys, so if you're lacking in willpower, just avoid that section all together.

Don't forget your coupons.
While only BJ's accepts manufacturer's coupons, both Sam's Club and Costco offer store coupons. If you're not using them, you're missing out on additional savings that could turn a so-so price into a stellar deal!

Understand the pricing.
Merchandise moves fast at warehouse clubs, and it's a roll of the dice as to whether a particular item will be available on your next visit. Luckily, these insider tips can help you make an educated guess. At Costco, prices that end in a 7 indicate a clearance item. Also, an asterisk on a sign means that the item is limited to the stock in the store and won't be reordered (a good indicator whether or not that tempting buy will be available on your next trip). Sam's Club's clearance prices end in a penny (ex. $7.91) and/or the signs are marked with a "C". Sales prices at BJ's are clearly marked.

Gift cards are the hidden gems. Though the brands turn over frequently, you can frequent purchase top-tier gift cards for less than face value at warehouse clubs. The catch is you often have to spend upwards of $50 to get the savings, but with the savings often being close to 20%, you can save a bundle if they're establishments visit often.

I realize that many of these strategies are comparable to those that we use in our everyday grocery shopping, but they can also help you shop wisely at warehouse clubs!

Do you have a warehouse club membership, and if so, what are favorite items to purchase there? Share in the comments and you could win a Huggies 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 Huggies 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 Huggies products!

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

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

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 22, 2014 · 46 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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