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pick up the values

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

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 22, 2014 · 42 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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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.

{ 92 comments }

My October Weeknight Meal Plan + $50 Cottonelle Giveaway!

by Tara Kuczykowski on September 29, 2014 · 104 comments

Chicken and Dumplings Recipe

While I've shared in the past that sticking with a meal plan isn't one of my virtues, I'm going to give it an honest go for October. We've got a busy month coming up with three weekend soccer tournaments and a business trip for me mid-month, so hopefully having a plan in place will help alleviate some of the stress!

Two things before we get to my plan... Weekends are almost always up in the air for us until the last minute, so I'm only going to plan out our weeknights. Also, we rotate through a number of different side dishes, so I'll just list a specific side when it makes sense and share some of our other faves apart from the main dishes after the plan.

One Pot Cilantro Lime Chicken

:: Week One (9/29-10/3)

Snacks
chocolate chip coffee muffins
freezer smoothies

Dinners
grilled honey lime chicken, coconut milk rice
dinner out
one pot cilantro lime chicken w/ corn & blackbeans, leftover coconut milk rice
grilled lemon basil pork chops, lemony basil orzo pasta salad
homemade pizza night

Cilantro Chipotle Barbecue Chicken Thighs

:: Week Two (10/6-10/10)

Snacks
crunchy homemade granola bars
apple muffins

Dinners
cilantro chipotle barbecue grilled chicken thighs
Italian wedding soup, bread machine sourdough bread
leftovers (business trip)
pizza carryout (business trip)
dinner out (soccer tournament)

Banana Bread Recipe

:: Week Three (10/13-10/17)

Snacks
no bake peanut butter bars
banana bread

Dinners
beef barbacoa burrito bowls, coconut milk rice, Mexican sweet corn cake (if I'm feeling ambitious)
leftovers
creamy tomato basil soup, grilled cheese sandwiches
4-ingredient mini chicken pot pies
dinner out (soccer tournament)

Mango Bread Recipe

:: Week Four (10/20-10/24)

Snacks
mango bread
pumpkin bread

Dinners
homemade chicken and dumplings
zuppa toscana soup, homemade breadsticks
leftovers
walking tacos
homemade pizza night

Easy Chili Recipe

:: Week Five (10/27-10/31)

Snacks
apples with homemade caramel sauce
chocolate-covered pumpkin pretzels

Dinners
slow cooker chili
leftovers
slow cooker cola pulled pork sliders
leftovers (Trick-or-Treat night)
dinner out (soccer tournament)

Roasted Sesame Asparagus

As I mentioned, we're pretty laid back when it comes to side dishes. Usually I can throw together at least one of the sides below with whatever comes in our weekly produce box and/or what's in my pantry -- and my family is fine with that!

Now it's your turn to share... What's on your menu this week or month? Share in the comments or leave a link to your menu plan post and you could win a Cottonelle prize package valued at $50!

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Today, one lucky Deal Seeking Mom reader will win $50 in Cottonelle 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 Cottonelle products!

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

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My 5 Favorite FREE Money-Saving Apps + $50 Pull-Ups Giveaway

by Tara Kuczykowski on September 24, 2014 · 36 comments

I'll just be completely honest, there have been many shopping trips recently where I haven't used a single paper coupon... Are you a bit shocked? I'm guessing maybe some of you are, but I'm also betting that there are a good number of you out there saying, "Yeah, I'm going through one of those stages, too."

It makes me laugh to remember how I used to think that when my kids were just a little older, we'd have it made. No, we didn't plan to have 5 kids in the span of less than 6 years (and I wouldn't change it for the world), but the thing about those babies and toddlers and preschoolers growing up is... they grow up.

As they get older they don't need the same kind of constant physical attention for feeding and bathing and napping, etc... BUT they do need shuttled here and there for school and activities, as well as help with homework that I don't even understand myself sometimes. And they still need fed amidst all of that! And reminded to shower, and on and on.

So, yeah, that's the stage we're at now. And finding the time to clip and sort coupons just may be the task that tips me over the edge from slightly frazzled soccer mom to that crazy-insane mom that we need to steer clear of at all costs. And I don't wanna be that mom!

5 FREE Money-Saving Apps

But the good news is that there are still plenty of ways to save money on groceries and more that don't involve cutting a single coupon! And since my phone is my lifeline these days, it seemed only natural to look for ways to use it to save our family some cash.

Though I have a number of money-saving apps downloaded to my phone, the five below are the tried and true gems that I find myself using over and over again.

Ibotta offers cash back rebates on groceries, health & beauty, apparel, restaurants and more. I use it mainly for groceries, and it's super simple to redeem the rebates by submitting a photo of your receipt. A handful of stores offer redemption via your store loyalty card, but I haven't tried this option because it's not available in my area.

There are also opportunities to earn bonuses on your rebates based on referring friends and redeeming multiple rebates within a given month. You can cash out via Paypal when your account reaches $5, or you can choose to redeem your savings for a variety of gift cards.

What I love most about Ibotta is that, in addition to the typical product coupons we see, there are often savings on items that rarely have coupons. Currently you can save $1.00 off a gallon of milk, $0.25 off any brand of orange juice, and $0.25 off a dozen eggs -- all items that are typically on my shopping list!

Register for Ibotta


Checkout 51 is very similar to Ibotta in that you snap a photo of your receipt and submit it to receive rebates. While there aren't as many bonus opportunities for saving, they also seem very dedicated to offering rebates on fresh produce and other staples. When your account reaches $20 in savings, you can cash out by requesting a check.

My favorite offers this week include $0.25 off bananas, $0.50 off a dozen eggs (combine with the Ibotta rebate!), and $0.25 off any salad mix.

Register for Checkout 51


SavingStar rebates can actually be redeemed online, but since I mostly use the app on my phone, I included them in this list. SavingStar offers can be redeemed by submitting your receipt or there are a few stores that offer automatic redemption when you attach your store loyalty card to your account. Cash out via Paypal when your account reaches $5, or you can redeem the balance for an Amazon gift card.

They seem to have fewer offers that I'm interested in personally, but I do love their fresh produce Healthy Offer of the Week. This week's offer is 20% off loose apples! Savingstar also has a FREE deal each week that runs for three days, starting on Friday.

Register for SavingStar


The Amazon Mobile app makes my top five because I use it frequently for checking the prices in stores when I'm shopping. Now that's not to say that I check every single item I purchase, but I have a certain price point in mind that I always price check over and above. We have an Amazon Prime subscription, so if an item is available at a lower price with Prime shipping, it almost always worth the extra day or two to purchase online.

Download Amazon Mobile


The new Savings Catcher app from Walmart is the newest addition to my list, but it's quickly became one of my favorites. Simply scan your receipts to submit them after making a purchase at Walmart, and they will automatically compare the prices with competitor stores in your area. If an item you bought turns out to be price lower at another store, Walmart will refund the difference to a Walmart Rewards eGift Card.

Even better, I just noticed that if you open up a Bluebird Account, you'll receive 2X the savings back! I already have almost $15 in savings in my account, so I'm definitely going to look into the Bluebird option.

More about Savings Catcher



Sometimes I'll check out these apps before I shop, and other times I'll just scan them once I'm home to see if I can take advantage of the savings. Since I'm trying to get in the habit of only buying what my family needs, the second option eliminates the temptation to just pick up an item because it's a good deal. Simplicity is the key for me right now!

Now it's your turn to share... What is your favorite money-saving app? Share in the comments and you could win a Pull-Ups 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 Pull-Ups 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 Pull-Ups products!

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

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