From the category archives:

living on less

Virgin Custom Mobile: Parental Controls That Work

by Tara Kuczykowski on November 12, 2014 · 1 comment

I got my first cell phone when I was 20 years old... And do you know what I did with it? Well, besides playing Snake when I was bored -- I called people. That's it. There was no such thing as instant access to the World Wide Web. I couldn't text message 24/7 with my friends. Heck, it barely got voice service most of the time!

What it boils down to is times have changed dramatically in a very short period of time, and the average age that kids start getting cell phones these days is decreasing rapidly. I swore that my kids wouldn't get phones until they were at least 13 years old, but then we moved to a new neighborhood and the walkie-talkies we had used previously weren't cutting it anymore. So all but my 6 year old have them, and not one of them is 13 yet...

Cell phones are powerful gadgets, and getting one for a child should not be taken lightly. Ground rules must be set on everything from when they have permission to use it, who they can interact with, how much data/messaging they can use, and on and on. Thankfully, many cell phone providers have been listening and are now providing parents with tools they can use to manage their children's devices.

One such provider is Virgin Mobile, who recently sent me the LG Unify phone, which has their parental control software preinstalled. The LG Unify is an Android smartphone, available exclusively at Walmart. Reasonably priced at $129.99, it runs on the Sprint Virgin Mobile prepaid network.

What I really like about the Virgin Custom Mobile service, is that it's truly customizable. While most prepaid plans offer a package deal, with Virgin's plan, you load the phone with a prepaid card, known as a Top-Up card, and you're then given the option to build a monthly plan by choosing your minutes, text messages, and data separately.

The Virgin Custom Mobile base plan starts at $6.98 and includes 20 minutes of talk and 20 text messages. Adding talk minutes and text messages is pretty reasonable -- 250 minutes is an additional $3 per month and unlimited text messaging is only an additional $10. Data is where you'll take a hit, with a 3GB plan coming in at $34, although this is competitive with other carriers.

By installing the Virgin Custom Mobile app on your phone, the primary user has complete control over each member's plan usage. Change it throughout the month as your needs change, and you can even create a monthly shared plan that can cover up to a total of five members. And you don't even have to be a Virgin Mobile user yourself! I have an iPhone with a plan through AT&T, and I was able to download and manage the LG Unify phone via the app, which is available for both iOS and Android.

In addition to managing your plan, what I found to be particularly compelling is the parental controls section. Virgin has really given parents a ton of flexibility here, allowing you to set a curfew or restricted hours for usage, determine who can call or text your child, and even drill down to the app level, allowing you to to set which apps can be used and when.

Parental controls are no substitute for having an ongoing open dialog with your kids about Internet safety and limits, but they definitely provide a little extra peace of mind!

Virgin Custom Mobile currently offers parental controls preinstalled on the LG Unify, LG Pulse, and ZTE Emblem, and all of these devices are currently available exclusively at Walmart. You can also purchase Top-Up cards starting at $6.98 (the cost of a Virgin Custom Mobile base plan).

So what's the bottom line? If you're in the market for a good starter phone with stellar parental controls or just a decent budget-friendly phone with a customizable plan, these offerings from Virgin Custom Mobile are an excellent choice!

Does your child have a cell phone? And if so, how are you currently monitoring their usage?

Quick purchase links:

Walmart Moms Disclosure

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Thank a Veteran Today on the Walmart Wall of Honor

by Tara Kuczykowski on November 11, 2014 · 0 comments

Do you have a veteran you'd like to thank today? Last year, Walmart created an online Wall of Honor to support and share about the veterans in their lives. They've continued the Wall of Honor this year, and it is now the largest virtual community of its kind!

If you'd like to thank a veteran today, Walmart has made posting photos, videos or text to honor your favorite veteran really easy. Simply tag Facebook, Twitter or Instagram posts with the hashtag #WallofHonor and it will automatically aggregate on the site: walmart.com/wallofhonor.

But don't worry if you don't have one of these social media accounts! You can also navigate directly to the Wall of Honor site and upload a photo or submit text directly. There's no need to create an account or jump through any hoops!

If you haven't heard about Walmart's Welcome Home Commitment, it's a great complement to the Wall of Honor. Walmart will hire any honorably discharged veteran who wants a job with them in his or her first 12 months off active duty. In addition, they've stated that they intend to hire 100,000 veterans by 2018. That's a pretty amazing number, isn't it?

But even more amazing is that, in the past year since this initiative was announced on Memorial Day of 2013, Walmart has already hired 67,000+ veterans, putting them on the path to reaching that target number in 2015! And in addition, over 5,000 of those veterans that have been hired have already been promoted to higher positions.

Keep in mind that Walmart isn't just about being a retail associate! They're offering positions in transportation, logistics, management and more, so if you know a qualified veteran who's searching for a position with long-term potential, please point them to the Careers With A Mission page and follow on Twitter @WalmartVeterans.

Have you thanked your favorite veteran for Veterans Day today?

Walmart Moms Disclosure

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While my kids are counting down the days to Christmas (47 to be exact), I'm sticking my fingers in my ears and singing, "Fa-la-la-la-la," while willing the days to strrrreeeetttccchhhh out somehow. I'm woefully behind on my holiday shopping, but the good news is there's still quite a bit of time and I have a plan.

Well, maybe that's not exactly true... Let's just say that I know what I need to do to get back on track -- because having a plan in place makes less stress, and that's when more savings happen! It looks a little something like this:

5 Strategies For Saving On Holiday Gifts

These tips for saving on holiday shopping may just be a refresher for some of you, while for others some or all may be something they haven't tried previously. Either way, I find that, for me personally, it helps to have a plan laid out in black and white, so I don't have to try and mentally check items off and worry that I'm forgetting something. So let's just start with step one and go from there...

1Start with a written budget.
Yes, I do mean a written budget... I know my faults -- I'm easily tempted and somewhat impulsive, so I know that it's all too easy to slip up and overspend without a well-thought out budget in place.

I love that this Christmas budget worksheet divides your budget into areas beyond just gifts, including food, decor, charity, and more, for a more complete view of your overall projected expenditures.

2Make a combination gift/shopping list.
Talk about a way to minimize stress... Having a list that includes everyone that you intend to buy for, along with a few gift ideas for each, makes shopping a much simpler task.

Be sure to leave extra space to allow your gift list to double as your shopping list! Just write down any deals you plan to take advantage of next to the recipient. I know I often come across unadvertised sales that are perfect for someone else on my list, and having a combination gift/shopping list allows me to quickly and easily see if I've already made a purchase for that recipient.

At the end of the season, if you still find that you missed a person or two on your list, don't throw this year's list away! Save it for next year to give you a head start on seeing who you need to buy for.

3Carry the sale ads with you when shopping.
I know, I know... hauling the sales ads around with you is a giant pain in the you know what, but they can be a huge help in a pinch. Say you're planning to buy a new iPad Mini 3 at a specific store, but it's sold out when you arrive. With a hard copy sales ad, many stores will honor a competitor's sale pricing!

Or you might come across a deal that wasn't listed in a particular store's ad and want to compare the price to the sale prices at other stores to make sure it's a good deal. Having the sales ads with you will save you both time and money, creating less stress overall. I like to make sure my savings are worth the time I've invested in obtaining them!

Smart phone users can also access the weekly ads for most stores directly from their phones while shopping. How convenient is it to just pull up, for example, the Staples weekly ad, to cross check prices and compare features while you're out and about? I keep the apps for the stores I shop at most frequently in a folder on my iPhone -- a total stress minimizer!

4Research current prices.
Prices fluctuate throughout the season, so research pricing beyond the current weekly flyer to be sure you're getting the very best price. Also, be aware that not all advertised deals are as great as they seem. Sometimes retailers over inflate the suggested retail price of a product to make the sale price seem more impressive. Spend some time researching the low prices of any items you're hoping to score, so that you know what's really a deal and what's not.

Be sure to follow the daily deals for your favorite retailers. Many merchants, like Staples, feature online daily deals, hot gift items at a deeper than usual discount, sometimes in limited quantities.

5Know the price matching and receipt adjustment policies.
It's so incredibly disappointing to leave a store thinking you got a fabulous deal only to see your item at an even lower price mere days later. Many stores offer price adjustments when you bring your receipt back in along with proof of the lower price.

I keep an envelope with all of my holiday gift purchase receipts in my purse, so I can easily ask for an adjustment if I spot a better price while I'm out and about. Another stress saver, because I definitely do not want to be making multiple trips back and forth.

Even better, some stores, like Staples, will price match Amazon and other competitors' websites up front this holiday season -- allowing you to score rock bottom online prices in stores, minus the shipping fees!

Have you started making your holiday shopping list and checking it twice, yet? What's your favorite money-saving tip for the holidays?

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.

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FREE Storytelling Daily with Cooberry.com

by Tara Kuczykowski on November 4, 2014 · 0 comments


I'm a firm believer that one can never have too many free educational websites bookmarked, and I just discovered a new one to add to our list! Designed to stimulate a child's interest in reading and vivid imagination, Cooberry.com is a new free educational website where children ages 4 to 12 can be entertained for 5 minutes each day through storytelling, eBooks, animations and fun facts.

I don't believe I've shared this before, but last March, after months of testing, my oldest daughter was diagnosed with a tracking issue. Reading has always been a struggle for her, but we never suspected that it was anything more than a short attention span until her very observant third grade teacher suggested that we get her tested. After receiving her diagnosis, we weren't sure how to move forward. With the new Ohio 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee, we were terrified that she was going to be held back a year.

Thankfully, through some extra reading help at school and some special computer programs designed to strengthen her eye muscles, her tracking issue is now mostly under control -- and she was promoted to 4th grade! However, her comprehension is still very much lagging behind. When she reads for long periods, her eyes tend to tire out and she reverts back to some of her previous issues, so I'm really excited to share the Cooberry.com site with her.

We watched the first episode, Magic Keys 1, together, and she loved it! This video introduces us to Wendy, the storyteller, and the mystical island of Cooberry. Cooberry Island is named after a special fruit that grows on the island. The episode ends with a cliffhanger, so we'll have to check back to learn what happens next.

Cooberry offers storytelling, eBooks, animations and fun facts in one destination and is updated daily. Kids can choose to spend about 5 minutes per day on the site enjoying the new content, or watch an entire week's worth of episodes on the weekends, helping to eliminate too much TV time. Personally, I love the 5-minutes-a-day concept -- it's so easy to squeeze into our busy evenings!

Just a few of the benefits that kids will derive from this wonderful website each day are:

• It is a great way to educate pre-readers and enhance the length of their attention span for learning.
• It enhances memory and imagination.
• It teaches morals and positive behavior – right from wrong.
• It helps connect concepts and ideas and their relationship to past, present and future.
• It helps children to open up and feel more confident and relaxed.
• Storytelling enables kids to think about telling or writing their own stories – thereby encouraging reading and writing.
• Repeated stories help children remember better -- and they find familiarity with any repeated story comforting in times of stress.

As I mentioned, Coobery.com is a free resource... You don't even need to register to use the site, so visit Cooberry with your kids each day at http://www.cooberry.com!

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

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When I was four years old, I looked forward to my Saturday morning ballet class with Madame Battin all week long. Madame Battin fascinated me because a) she was French, and b) I knew that she had been a Rockette when she was younger. So naturally I daydreamed about someday taking the stage in a gorgeous costume to perform their famous high leg kick sequence...

I continued to take ballet for another eight years, but as I'm sure you've guessed, I never had my moment in the spotlight. But I've never lost my fascination with The Rockettes, and finally on Thanksgiving two years ago, I had the chance to see them perform in person. My family and I got up before crack of dawn to snag a spot right by Radio City Music Hall to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and then we also got tickets to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular later that day.

They were amazing, simply everything I'd imagined as a child! If you ever have the chance to watch them perform in person, their precision is nothing short of breathtaking.

As you know, I've been working with POND's for the past several months to simplify my skincare routine. I can't tell you how excited I was to hear that POND's and the Rockettes are teaming up! Their high energy routines and heavy stage makeup require hard-working skincare products that will remove their makeup and help prepare their skin for tomorrow's routine.

POND's Cold Cream Cleanser and Wet Cleansing Towelettes do just that by removing every last trace of makeup and dirt, PLUS leaving skin moisturized, soft and glowing. They're Rockettes tested and approved!



Here's a fun fact that I wasn't aware of... The Rockettes performers are actually responsible for their own hair and makeup prior to each show -- so these women know a thing or two about beauty products!

Enter the POND’S + The Rockettes NYC Holiday Getaway Sweepstakes

And now for the most exciting news -- you could win a two-day Manhattan getaway to meet the Rockettes and attend the Radio City Christmas Spectacular this December! I have to say I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a teensy bit jealous of the lucky duck that wins this...

Visit Ponds.com/Rockettes to enter, and good luck!!!



I'm thrilled to announce that I'm partnering with POND'S for the year as part of the POND'S Beauty Brigade to share how I've been able to PLUS UP my beauty routine with their timeless products!

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