From the category archives:

living on less

Walmart Top 20 Toy: The Sew Cool Sewing Machine Is SO Cool!

by Tara Kuczykowski on December 1, 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!

Sew Cool Machine Review

This week I'll be focusing on creative toys, specifically the Spin Master Sew Cool Sewing Machine. I've got some crafty little girls, so they were super excited to give this highly-rated toy a test drive.

Priced at $29.97, the Sew Cool Machine comes with an impressive selection of projects to get your little seamstress started. Included with the "sewing machine: are:

  • 8 sheets of Sew Cool fabric
  • 3 Sew Cool pre-cut featured projects
  • 1 Sew Cool strap
  • 14 pre-cute decorative pieces
  • 8 plastic buttons
  • 1 bag of loose stuffing
  • 6 extra project patterns
  • 1 instruction guide for machine

The Sew Cool Machine is appropriate for ages 6 and up, because there are no worries about little fingers and needles! It works by "felting" the fabric together, so there's no need for thread, and the felting needles are enclosed in a plastic guard for safety.

If your girls fly through the fabric and pre-cut projects (and I assure you they will!), you can pick up Sew Cool fabric kits and refills. Or you can actually "sew" any kind of felt or fleece. In fact, my girls made blankets for their American Girl dolls with leftover fleece scraps from a no-sew blanket that I made recently.

Kids Verdict? It's safe to say that my girls LOVED the Sew Cool Machine! So much that my 8-year-old, Addie, asked me if she could make a video demonstrating how to make the cute cupcake project for you all. It's a little long, even though I tried to speed it up during the sewing parts, but I know it would make her day if you'd take 3 minutes to watch it!

Mom's Verdict? This is a toy that I'd highly recommend. It kept my girls engaged for hours, and not only with the pre-cut project and patterns. It really sparked their imaginations, and they created their own projects using scrap fabric. One special note -- this item does require (4) AA batteries, so make sure to stock up on those before giving this as a gift!

Quick purchase links:

More Top Toys for the Creative Child

If you're looking for more creative toys at every price point, Walmart's got something for every wish list and budget. Here are just a few other toys that my kids have been eyeing:

  • Moose Toys Beados Quick Dry Design Station, $17.76 -- make a bright, colorful world of beads with this fun kit that features pod storage, a design tray, scoop pen and 500 Beados!
  • Make Your Case Case Maker, $22.20 -- the first-ever kit for making your own cell phone sleeves and customizing them to your style and taste, allowing you to personalize, customize and accessorize your own designer cell phone case!
  • Crayola Virtual Design Pro Fashion Collection, $29.97 -- bring your fashion designs to life with a full range of high-quality, colorful design tools and special iOS and Android software that brings your fashions to life on a virtual runway!

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 Sew Cool Sewing Machine on your child's Christmas wish list?

Walmart Moms Disclosure


Our Quintessential Thanksgiving Dinner With A Twist

by Tara Kuczykowski on November 26, 2014 · 1 comment

Thanksgiving is a big deal in our family -- we have much to be thankful for, so we relish celebrating this day with friends and family and, of course, lots of amazing food.

We typically celebrate with a classic Thanksgiving meal: turkey, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry salad, and of course, pumpkin pie to finish it all off. However, my favorite recipes are anything but typical… Each has a bit of a twist that makes it unique to my family and/or simplifies our meal in some way, and I’d love to share them with you!

Deep Fried Turkey – I have to admit that I’m not really a fan of turkey, so there have been many years when we opted for a ham instead. Until we tried this deep fried turkey recipe… Now my turkey turns out tender, juicy and flavorful every time, and the cooking time is trimmed to under an hour!

Crescent Rolls with Fresh Herbs -- fresh chopped herbs turn the mundane crescent roll into an upscale side worthy of special occasion status. These crescent rolls with fresh herbs are an elegant roll for dinner parties and holiday gatherings!

Green Bean Casserole – I know that green bean casserole is one of those dishes that everyone seems to either love or hate. I happen to fall firmly in the LOVE category, and this is seriously the easiest green bean casserole recipe ever. It’s made with just three simple ingredients!

Mashed Potatoes – Our dinner plates just wouldn’t be complete without a heaping helping of mashed potatoes, especially my very favorite creamy make ahead mashed potatoes. Filled with sour cream and cream cheese, they don’t even need gravy, and you can make up them a day or two in advance, so all you have to do it bake them before the big meal!

Stuffing – Of course, stuffing is a requirement at Thanksgiving, but when you deep-fry your turkey, you can’t bake your stuffing in it. These cute little stuffing muffins are the perfect solution, and the perfectly sized portions make them easy to serve!

Cranberry Salad – This is definitely not your average cranberry salad recipe, but it’s an absolute must on our Thanksgiving table. Truthfully it’s more like a dessert, but we serve it right alongside our main meal!

Pumpkin Pie – And last, but certainly not least, our table would not be complete without a couple of homemade pumpkin pies. I make my pumpkin pies from scratch using the classic Crisco pie crust recipe, filling them with the homemade pumpkin pie filling recipe that was passed down from my mom. Don't forget the homemade whipped cream!

Traditional or not, I’m looking forward to sharing this special day and delicious meal with my family. Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!

{ 1 comment }

Getting the Best Black Friday Prices with #LessStress

by Tara Kuczykowski on November 21, 2014 · 1 comment

We've seen a number of store release their Black Friday ads this week... Have you started planning your Black Friday shopping trip, yet?

I actually have a very short list of items that we're considering braving the crowds for this year, but I'll be honest, it's been many years since we've done the whole shop-till-you-drop Black Friday thing. I've witnessed some crazy behavior, including a couple of grown women fighting over some Fisher-Price toys that, in my opinion, weren't even that spectacular of a deal...

To be fair, I've also seen incredible kindness from perfect strangers. But the thing is, the retail landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years, and I'm not convinced that hitting the stores on Black Friday is necessarily going to net you the biggest discount in all cases.

So what's changed that can help us all save money while avoiding some of the craziness???

Stores are offering Black Friday prices earlier.

Many stores are choosing to start offering Black Friday-esque pricing well before the day after Thanksgiving -- and many are continuing the deals on through Cyber Monday. For instance, Staples is offering two full weeks of Black Friday deals this year, starting on November 16th. You'll also find many stores are opening the evening of Thanksgiving Day to give shoppers an early start on their shopping.

Create your own pre-Black Friday deals with these just-released Staples coupons:

  • 20% off everything you can fit in the bag, in-store only. Exclusions apply. Valid Nov. 23- Nov. 25.
  • 25% one full priced item, in-store only. Valid only on Nov. 26.

Stores are offering Black Friday pricing online.

If you can’t find the time to get out, you can always shop online! If you're using this strategy, be sure to search for free shipping codes and discount promo codes on Google! And if you're a member of any cashback sites, check them as well to see if you can earn an extra discount. Another little known tip -- some stores allow you to purchase online and pick the item up in stores, allowing you to skip those long checkout lines!

Shop these hot Staples deals both in-stores and online:

  • Kaspersky Internet Security (1 user) $0.01 after Easy Rebate (reg. $59.99, customer pays $45.01, Easy Rebate for $45)
  • $79 APPLE TV (reg. $99.99)
  • $39.99 Android 7-inch tablet from JLab, 8GB (save $30)
  • $99.99 Samsung Galaxy Tablet Lite (save $40)
  • $25 Visa Prepaid Card by mail with purchase of wearable tech (including Fitbit and Jawbone)

Stores are extending Black Friday pricing through the weekend.

I know many of you prefer to be able to actually see and feel products in person, so shopping online might not be for you. Or maybe you just really want to be able to talk with a knowledgeable associate to assist you in making an informed decision. Many stores will be extending Black Friday pricing or introducing new sales all weekend long, and you might have better luck in being able to get some personal assistance if you skip the big day and head into stores then!

I'm not sharing any of this to discourage you from shopping on Black Friday -- there are definitely some big savings on the agenda. But if you're looking for a less stressful approach to Black Friday shopping, consider some of these alternative strategies that will help you stretch your holiday budget while saving your sanity!

I'm so pleased to be partnering with Staples again this holiday season as part of the Staples Holiday Council! Their ultimate goal this holiday season is to "make less stress, more savings happen." Staples will be offering great deals (including exclusive offers!) throughout the holiday season, helping you get more for less!

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

{ 1 comment }

Empowering Girls with CoverGirl and Walmart #GirlsCan

by Tara Kuczykowski on November 20, 2014 · 0 comments

Let me tell you a little story... Shortly after graduating from college, I took a position as an account manager with a company that produced resume databases for university MBA programs to sell to recruiters. We're talking top notch programs -- Harvard, Yale, and Cornell among them. Schools that turn down more applicants than they accept and command a hefty price tag for enrollment.

One of my responsibilities was to proof the scanned resumes of graduating students to ensure that the formatting was preserved during the conversion process. In doing so, I learned a great deal about what comprises an appealing resume, and I also learned a lot about what not to include -- like details on your extensive baseball hat collection (true story).

But the one thing that I noticed that really bothered me was that the vast majority of the women in these programs, obviously brilliant, hardworking, and deserving women, used only their first and middle initials on their resumes. Because it's a sad fact that even in this day and age, there are still recruiters that will automatically screen a woman out of the running for a position based solely on the fact that she's female, without even considering her qualifications.

Though I wasn't ready to have a family at that time, I remember thinking that there's no way any future daughters I might have would ever have to hide behind their initials for any reason. And so when I did eventually have two girls, I gave them both names that are pretty gender neutral.

I don't ever want them to be told that they can't do whatever it is they want to achieve simply because they were born a female.

That's why I adore the #GirlsCan campaign that Walmart and CoverGirl are collaborating on! If you haven't seen the commercial, you can watch it above. It's all about promoting the empowerment of women and is packed with strong women that I would totally encourage my girls to look up to as role models, women who have stood up in the face of adversity and said, "I can do that!" Together, we all need to encourage girls to break down barriers and turn "can’t" into "can."

But the program is actually about more than that. Both Walmart and CoverGirl have committed to donating $50k each to Dress for Success, a not-for profit organization that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help. Since their start in 1997, Dress for Success has helped more than 775,000 women worldwide! Learn more about Dress for Success, at

So how can you help support this movement? Look for specially marked limited edition packages of COVERGIRL Flamed Out Mascara and Pro Mascara on the #GirlsCan tower at your local Walmart, and share your #GirlsCan moments on social media!

Has anyone ever told you that you couldn't do something just because you’re a girl?

Walmart Moms Disclosure


This holiday season you can pick up FREE holiday cards while you're shopping Staples' amazing Black Friday deals! All part of Staples' Make Less Stress, More Savings Happen commitment, they're definitely taking Black Friday to a new level this year...

Staples FREE Holiday Cards w/ Purchase

Make any in-store purchase on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday, and you'll receive a voucher for 25 FREE 5x7 matte holiday photo cards! You'll receive a voucher for your free cards at checkout, which can be redeemed through December 13th.

Need more than 25 cards? Of course, you can count on Staples to have you covered! Customers will also receive an additional 30 percent off any orders over 25 cards, and you'll receive your photo card order the same day when you order in stores.

If you haven't had a chance to take a peek at Staples' new holiday card designs, you should do so now. They have a seriously impressive and beautiful selection of cards just waiting to be customized.

Staples Black Friday Deals

Staples is launching an unprecedented two weeks of Black Friday deals! The first-ever Black Friday Week for Business starts on November 16 with amazing deals in store and online. Deals for the week of November 16 (while supplies last) include:

  • $499.99 after easy rebate HP 14” touch screen laptop with i3 Intel Processor (save $150), and in-store.
  • $399.99 Dell Inspiron Windows 7 Desktop with i3 Intel Processor (save $150), and in-store.
  • $89.99 2 TB Toshiba Hard Drive (save $20), and in-store.
  • $21.99 after easy rebate case of Hammermill Copy Paper (save $32), in-store only.

For those of you who are really just here for the Staples Black Friday deals, I won't make you wait any longer... Check out these hot deals that will be available November 27-28 in stores and/or on, while supplies last:

  • Kaspersky Internet Security (1 user) $0.01 after Easy Rebate (reg. $59.99, customer pays $45.01, Easy Rebate for $45), and in-store
  • $79 APPLE TV (reg. $99.99), and in-store
  • $99.99 Asus laptop with Intel Inside Processor (save $150), in-store only
  • Free Kindle e-reader after easy rebate (reg. $79) with any laptop purchase over $399, in-store only
  • $39.99 Android 7-inch tablet from JLab, 8GB (save $30), and in-store
  • $99.99 Samsung Galaxy Tablet Lite (save $40), and in-store
  • $25 Visa Prepaid Card by mail with purchase of wearable tech (including Fitbit and Jawbone), and in-store

Check out the Staples Black Friday ad for dozens more incredible deals on laptops, tablets and more!

Not sure what time you need to be in line to snag these awesome savings? Visit for local store listings and hours.

Staples Beyond Black Friday

Even after Black Friday is in the books, Staples will be helping you make less stress happen every day with:

  • Extended holiday hours in most locations. Visit for listings and hours.
  • Price Match Guarantee both in-store and online.
  • Risk Free Purchase with an extended holiday return policy.
  • New Staples Mobile App is faster with redesigned Weekly Ad page to showcase the best in-store deals and ability to view deals by category.
  • Daily Deals on the online storefront.
  • Free Shipping from for Staples Rewards members plus up to 5 percent back in Staples Rewards on everything including technology.
  • Ship 7 Days a Week with package drop off and associate assistance.
  • Shop from kiosk for items not found in store.

So which deal is going to have you lining up bright and early to shop at Staples this year?

I'm so pleased to be partnering with Staples again this holiday season as part of the Staples Holiday Council! Their ultimate goal this holiday season is to "make less stress, more savings happen." Staples will be offering great deals (including exclusive offers!) throughout the holiday season, helping you get more for less!

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