Shopping

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My husband and I wouldn’t know what to do without our smart phones. They’ve become such an integrated part of our lives that it’s difficult to remember how we got stuff done before them. But the one thing I lament about our smart phones is the fact that we have them on a contract. Those two-year contracts most cell phone providers force customers to sign feel like a prison sentence.

So when Walmart asked me to try a smartphone using AT&T’s GoPhone service, I had to see whether a no-contract phone could really compare.

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I have to admit, I never really thought a prepaid smartphone could come close to a contract phone. Makes no sense now that I think about it, but I guess it’s years of indoctrination. For a very long time, you could only get very basic phones on a prepaid plan. Think flip phones with little functionality other than making phone calls and sending texts.

That is no longer the case. I received the Android-powered HTC Desire 610 to try, and it is every bit as powerful and functional as any other smartphone I’ve ever used.

The best part? All of this is available to Walmart customers for just $45 a month, which is good for unlimited talk and text and 1GB of data. With no contract. The standard $40 plan comes with just 500MB of data, so the Walmart plan gets you twice as much for just $5 more. Sounds pretty great to me.

REVIEW: HTC DESIRE 610

So what about the phone? This is what people really want to know, right? How good are the smartphones I could get without a contract?

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I have to say, I really like the Desire. It took me a few minutes to set it up. Not difficult at all. Plus, I love that we can buy refill e-cards from Walmart.com or refill using a credit card, which means I don’t even have to leave home if I don’t want to. This is much preferable to being forced to trod to the store to buy a refill card.

I LOVE the size the screen. I’ve had an iPhone for years, and I never really thought about what it would be like to have a larger screen. Turns out, it’s awesome. After activating the phone, one of the first things I did was install a bunch of my favorite apps and games: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Farm Heroes Saga (don’t judge me), Pandora and more. Viewing photos on Instagram and Pinterest on such a large screen was beautiful! The extra screen space really did make a difference on such visual apps, and on games, the extra space gave my fingers more room to maneuver.

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I also love the fact that the speakers are on the front of the device. Sounds like it wouldn’t be a big deal, but the placement there makes the sound so much louder when you’re trying to play it without headphones.

This device runs on Google Android, so if you’re familiar with that, you’ll have no problem using it. It took some getting used to, for me, since I’m more familiar with iOS, but it really is intuitive. Plus, if you already have a Google login, it takes literally seconds to sync everything in your account with this phone.

My biggest caveat? The camera is just OK. As in not terrible, but not my favorite feature of the phone. As an Instagram junkie and blogger, I take photos with my phone all the time, and it’s important that the quality be good enough to publish.

I took the following photos with the camera:

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Even holding the phone as steady as I could, the photos taken with the rear camera were still grainy, relatively dark and somewhat blurry. Even in a bright room where there should’ve been more than enough light to allow crisp photos. Baby Juliza was on the move in the first photo, so I expected some blur. However, in the second photo, Ja’Naya was perfectly still. I took several photos and they all came out about the same. The front-facing camera was worse.

Like I said, not horrible, but if photos are important to you, it’s something to consider.

Another issue is that the phone only comes with 8GB of internal storage, which can run out fast if you store a lot of photos, videos, etc. It does, however, have a Micro SD card slot, so you can easily add more memory whenever you’d like. Still, if you don’t have one on hand when you run out of space, this could be inconvenient.

Overall though, I was impressed that I could get a really robust, well-rounded smart phone without the burden of a contract. Plus, the fact that it’s on AT&T’s network means that it worked everywhere we went because they have great coverage in the Atlanta area. Also, because we use most of our data at home on wifi, that 1GB goes further than you think it might.

This experience is making me seriously consider whether to ditch our contract phones when our time is up, because at $45/month with no hidden fees, we’d be actually wind up paying a little less than we’re paying now (though we would also be getting considerably less data).

What about you? Do you have a smartphone? Would you consider getting one on a pre-paid plan?

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.

As a child of the 1980s, the following admission is pretty embarrassing: I have never solved a Rubik’s cube. Not for lack of trying, either.

I got one for Christmas from my aunt when I was a little girl, and I was so excited! That excitement quickly turned to frustration, because I couldn’t get it right. I spent months trying to solve it, and finally gave up and used it for decoration.

All of this to say that When Walmart asked me to try the new Buzzle Ball, I thought it would be an opportunity to redeem myself.

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Buzzle Ball is a three-dimensional ball with moving parts that you can align, twist and rotate. The ball starts off with one side in solid green and the other in solid blue, with a gray “halo” around the middle.

It came out of the box lined up perfectly, so I took a minute or two to mix it up.

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It took a minute to figure out how to get the parts moving. The seams have to be perfectly aligned in the direction you want to move it. So if you want to rotate the two halves, the center seam has to be aligned all the way around. If you want to rotate the narrower vertical sections, those seams have to be aligned as well.

Here’s a quick video from the Buzzle Ball YouTube channel showing how it works:

Got it? OK.

Once I messed up the pattern a bit — and I mean a little bit with just a few quick moves — I handed the ball to my daughter to try.

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She spent a solid hour working on it, to no avail. I couldn’t believe that after only a few moves, it would be so difficult to get it back to its original state. So of course, I took over, determined that I’d solve it in no time.

Yeah…that didn’t happen.

My husband was next in line, and he couldn’t solve it either. After a few days of the three of us alternately working on it, this is how close we’ve come:

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We’ve got solid blue and solid green, but we’re having the hardest time to get that gray ring to line up without messing everything up again.

But we’re determined. We can do this. It’s become a bonding experience for the family, and seriously addictive. Hopefully, we’ll be able to solve this puzzle with just a bit more effort instead of years of frustration. It really is a brain workout, and I can’t be mad at that.

I know a couple of smart aleck teenagers who need this in their lives. Let’s see how cocky they’ll be when a little plastic ball brings them to their knees. Or is that cruel… Lmao!

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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That time of year has come again: Back to school. I fully admit that I’m one of those parents who looks forward to it — probably because I work from home. Entertaining kids all summer while you’re all cooped up in the house for most of the day is — well — challenging. And with back to school season comes shopping. Lots and lots of shopping. For their basic school supplies, but also snacks, and new clothes and shoes that actually fit, among other things.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing bits and pieces of our back to school experience. First up: Shopping for school supplies.

I know there are some people who love this part. Me? Notsomuch.

My daughter went back to school last week, and before that was the tax-free shopping weekend that comes around every year about this time. Would it have been more cost-effective to shop then? Absolutely. But you couldn’t have gotten me in a store for any reason, because I knew they’d be packed and crazy. Instead, we waited until just after the sale to get our shopping done.

One great thing about shopping at Walmart for school supplies is that lists for all the schools in the area can usually be found front and center. This was especially necessary this year, since my daughter started a new school less than 2 weeks after we moved, so we really had no idea what she’d need.

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As it turns out, in addition to your typical supplies like glue sticks and notebook paper, she also needed classroom supplies, like tissue, paper towel, baby wipes and sandwich bags. All-encompassing lists like this make shopping at Walmart worth it, because I can get all of it in one place.

Thankfully, we had some of her other supplies on hand, thanks to my stockpiling throughout the year. If we’d also had to buy binders, markers, scissors, pencils, flash drives and more, that would’ve made this a costlier endeavor. As it was, even with some snacks added for good measure, we came in just under $35. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Of course, my daughter had to get all that stuff to school. Luckily, her aunt gifted her a really nice backpack for Christmas last year, and it’s still in great shape.

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Once we got all the supplies, the excitement for school really ramped up. My baby couldn’t wait to walk out the door on the first day of school.

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How is it that she’s already in fourth grade? Where did my baby go?

Anyway, I’m just glad the year has started smoothly. Soon, I’ll share some back to school style, for boys and girls, and crafts with you.

Has school started yet in your neck of the woods? Are you and your kids excited?

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.

Being self-employed means getting used to a flexible budget. There are ebbs and flows in our earnings, and they’re not always as predictable. Meaning? Sometimes, things are really tight for us. I’ve never been a big couponer, because I usually just don’t have the time necessary to not just clip and track coupons, but shop at several stores trying to get the best deals. Still, I’m always looking to shave a few dollars off every shopping trip, and that usually involves technology, typically on my smartphone. My new favorite money saver is Walmart’s brand new Savings Catcher.

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If you haven’t heard of it yet, you’re in for a treat.

How to save with Walmart‘s Saving Catcher

1. Register for the Savings Catcher website. You can do this on mobile as well, and if you already have a Walmart.com login, you can use that.

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2. Input your TC number from the bottom of the receipt, or scan the bar code. Then, the magic happens. The Walmart team will compare the items you purchased to their competitor’s advertised prices for that week. Keep in mind that you must input your receipt within 7 days of your purchase. If there’s a lower price, move to step 3…

3. Get the difference back on a Walmart e-gift card! Let me restate that. You can shop one store — Walmart — and take advantage of all their competitors advertised prices. Without having to go to a bunch of different stores. Without having to clip coupons or price match. You just get the money back on a Walmart e-gift card. It can take up to a couple of days for the price comparisons to be made, but you’ll receive an email notification once your receipt has been processed.

Each account/customer can save up to $600 a year, and you can redeem the e-gift card credit whenever you’d like. You can cash it out each time, or you can let it accumulate to save for something big.

I got a sneak peek at using the Savings Catcher, and take a look at how much I’ve saved already:

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Seriously? Almost $20 in accumulated savings and all I had to do was enter a couple of receipt numbers? I’ll be using this all the time and telling everyone I know about it.

You can all start using Savings Catcher as of August 4. So get to saving!

If for some reason, you still need convincing, check out this quick video that shows how it works.

It’s really too easy not to try.

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.

This year, my hubby and I have the best gift we could possibly get for Mother’s or Father’s Day: Baby Juliza. Still, I’ll take any excuse I can get to make him feel extra special, because he really is an awesome dad. But what do you give a man who doesn’t really need anything, and whose wants are slightly out of budget? I mean, if anyone wants to get him a sports car, I’ll be happy to let you, but mama needed to be a little more thrifty.

When Walmart challenged me to do something special for Father’s Day under $25, I was genuinely stumped for a bit. Until I remembered how much my hubby loves to grill. It may sound like a cliche, but the man genuinely enjoys getting his barbecue on. And I’m happy to stand back and let him. He’s already a master in the kitchen, but he gets really inventive with the grill and turns out delicious meals. So if I’m honest, this gift is really for both of us.

I decided to make a barbecue-themed gift basket/bowl with stuff from Walmart. Here’s how you can do the same.

What I Used:

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The bowl should be big enough to contain marinated meat or ice so it can be used as a mini cooler. With this in mind, at the last minute I decided to grab his favorite beer, Heineken. What can I say? The man likes to enjoy a cold one while he’s outside grilling.

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If I’m honest, that final addition is probably the thing he’ll most appreciate about the whole package.

Once you’ve assembled everything, simply arrange it in the bowl and tie with a ribbon.

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This is the type of thoughtful gift I love. It’s fun and speaks to his interests, and it contains stuff he will actually use rather than items that will only hold his interest for a little bit and soon be forgotten. It’s a gift that will create memories for us.

Also, this pretty much guarantees that I don’t have to cook next Sunday. Mommy FTW.

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.

When I’m shopping for big ticket baby gear, there are a few basic criteria I try to keep in mind:

  • Durability. I don’t want to spend a pretty penny on something that’s not going to last.
  • Functionality and ease of use. Because I don’t have time to waste trying to figure out how something works.
  • Affordability. Because we’re on a budget.
  • *Bonus: Fabulosity? I kid with that word, but it would be still great for anything we buy to also look fabulous. Because lets be real: Lots of baby gear is straight up hideous, and mama don’t do hideous.

When Walmart offered to let me try a baby product that would deliver on all those criteria, how could I say no?

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The Urbini Omni 3-in-1 Travel System is a lightweight stroller and car seat system with urban, contemporary styling that is designed to last through toddlerhood. For $199, it comes with an infant car seat and base, along with a stroller frame and a seat that converts from a bassinet setup for an infant to an upright toddler stroller seat.

Unlike many travel systems, the car seat doesn’t attach on top of the full sized stroller. In those cases, the car seat usually snaps right above the built-in stroller seat. Instead, you can remove the seat altogether and use the lightweight frame with just the carseat.

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This makes for a much more compact setup. Check out this video to see the Omni in action with 8 reasons I already love it:

In case you didn’t watch the video, here are those reasons, with a couple bonuses tacked on for good luck:

1. The carseat base was really easy to install in our minivan.

2. The carseat snaps in and out of the base smoothly, making car trips simple. We don’t have to jostle the baby around in the process trying to get her in and out of the car.

3. The bassinet is a great option for my baby, who is bigger than most babies her age and isn’t a fan of being in the car seat for very long. It gives her some breathing room.

4. It’s easy to switch between bassinet/seat and car seat. Just a few buttons to remove one, and the other snaps right in.

5. It’s easy to switch between rear facing and front facing configurations. So baby can look at me or turn around to see the world.

6. The stroller handle is adjustable into several positions for parents of varying heights. This means my husband and I are each able to find a setting that is comfortable for us. Nice, since he’s about 5 inches taller than I am. This is one of those features I remember wishing for on our strollers when my older daughter was a baby.

7. The stroller frame is easy to collapse and set up. Our previous stroller was a pain to collapse, even after lots of practice. This just requires pushing a few buttons on the handles, and it collapses smoothly and quickly. It pops up equally as fast.

8. The entire setup is really lightweight and considerably less bulky than the traditional car-seat-on-top-of-stroller configuration. That means it’s easier to steer and fit into smaller spaces, like a public bathroom stall, for example.

Bonus 1. It’s pretty. Forgive this style-obsessed, but that matters to me. It’s modern and sleek, and that fits right into my design sensibilities.

Bonus 2. The storage rack on the bottom of the stroller frame is easily accessible. This was a big problem with our other stroller. It was difficult to put anything in the storage basket, so I wound up always carrying stuff in my hands.

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I recently went on a trip for Walmart (more on that soon), and I took the Omni with me since baby Juliza traveled with me. I chose to travel with just the stroller frame and the car seat, and let me tell you — it made traveling a breeze. Seriously. If I wasn’t convinced about this system just from use at home, this trip offered complete confirmation about how great it is. I was able to push and steer the stroller easily with one hand and pull my suitcase with the other, collapse it easily to go through security and to check it onto the plane in the jetway, and set it up quickly on the way out of the plane.

If I have any complaints, and it’s honestly difficult to find one, it’s that I have to find a place to store the large seat attachment. While Juliza is still little enough to fit in the car set, we’ll likely use just that with the frame most of the time. So we have to keep the bassinet/seat somewhere. While the frame is relatively compact, the seat does take up a lot of space in the trunk of our van. Still, that’s a small inconvenience for what is a really versatile and functional system. Simply put, the pros very clearly outweigh the cons.

I can honestly say that I unequivocally recommend this to moms who are looking for an option that is lightweight, but still sturdy and incredibly easy to operate — a plus when you’re dealing with a fussy baby or just need to get where you’re going in a hurry. And if you’re a frequent traveler, you really can’t beat this system. We love the Omni!

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links.

As much as I wish most people would give to causes and charities without a second thought, I still love the idea of shopping for a cause. At the end of the day, I realize that, for many people, the incentive of getting something while you give is really powerful. This is one of the methods to my madness when I’m shopping for gifts. If I can find something that was made thoughtfully and helps others, but also makes a great gift, I’m easily sold. So needless to say, it didn’t take much for Walmart to sell me on their Empowering Women Together collection for Mother’s Day.

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Empowering Women Together is a selection of products that support women-owned businesses around the world. This initiative isn’t new. In fact, I’ve written about it before. But in time for Mother’s Day, Walmart will begin selling these products in 2,700 stores for the first time! This means that small women-owned businesses will now have their products in front of an estimated 100 million shoppers.

I got a firsthand look at a bunch of those products, and I think you’ll approve.

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The collection currently includes a ton of possibilities for any woman on your list, including:

  • Chocolates
  • Both ceramic and insulated plastic coffee mugs
  • Aprons
  • Infinity scarves
  • Double-walled plastic cups with straws
  • Cards
  • Gift bags

All of them feature gorgeous designs by artisans from all over the world, and many of them offer messages that will speak directly to Mom.

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They are colorful and springy, but my favorite feature? Almost every product is hand-signed by the artisan who made it. These artisans are from the U.S., Peru, Haiti and India, in collaboration with Full Circle Exchange.

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I absolutely LOVE the infinity scarves, which will help me stretch my spring wardrobe by giving basic outfits a different look.

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And as a breastfeeding mom, they’ll also work as nursing covers that my daughter won’t be able to pull off since they’ll be around my neck. The scarves and aprons would make great gift wrap, as well.

As you can see from the first photo, I’ve already picked my favorite mug and scarf, but I’m planning to do a lot of gifting to my favorite moms. The next time you’re at your local Walmart, check out the collection for yourself. You’re bound to find something affordable that mom will love, and she’ll be more than happy to know that her gift is helping other women sustain themselves and their communities.

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Occasionally, I’ll see a commercial for a product that intrigues me, but sets my spidey senses tingling. After all, the entire point of a commercial is to make a product appealing, right? When I saw the commercial for Yonanas months ago, I thought it was innovative, but I was skeptical about any machine being able to turn bananas into something resembling ice cream. So when Walmart offered me an opportunity to review Yonanas, I was crazy excited. More than I have probably been about a review in a while, in fact. And with good reason: It promised to deliver delicious frozen treats using nothing but fruit. Really.  Let me tell you firsthand: Yonanas does not disappoint!

In case you haven’t heard of it, the Yonanas frozen treat maker is a small, self-contained appliance that converts frozen fruit to the consistency of ice cream in just minutes. The key is the fruit. Bananas are the base for all of the included recipes, and you can’t use just any bananas. They need to be overripe and cheetah spotted. The machine comes with a convenient card that shows the optimal state  for your bananas.

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Personally, I cannot stand eating overripe bananas as is. There’s something about soft, mushy banana that just makes my palate revolt. So we usually put them in smoothies or use them to make banana fritters, which are sort of similar to banana pancakes. We always buy a lot of bananas, and they go past the stage at which I’d eat them within a few days, so I’m glad to have a new use for them.

Once the bananas are good and spotty, you have to peel and freeze them for at least 24 hours. When you’re ready to make your treat, take the bananas out of the freezer and let them defrost a bit. This will require a little finesse. The manufacturer recommends defrosting for 10-15 minutes, but we had to defrost ours for more like 25 minutes. If the banana goes into the machine too hard, it will start to chip off in pieces instead of creating a smooth texture. But if it’s too soft, it will come out runny.

Once you fine tune that part of the process, the rest is easy.

You need about 2 whole bananas to make a decent amount of dessert. Simply put them into the Yonanas chute one and use the plunger to push them through slowly, one at a time.

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What comes out the other end is nothing short of amazing. It really does look like ice cream!

And it tastes like magic. Because the bananas are overripe, they are sweeter than perfect green or yellow fruit. That makes for something that tastes like a sinful treat, but is really a healthy indulgence. Seriously. I LOVE the idea that I can eat this at any time because it’s just fruit. Nothing else. I know exactly what’s in it and therefore am only too happy to let my kids have at it. Plus, I am addicted to ice cream, which we all know to be sugar and calorie rich, so I’m hoping this will help me end my addiction.

After trying a bananas-only treat, we added some frozen mixed berries. This pushes the treat over the top. If you do several types of fruit, you do have to mix them together, but that’s no big deal.

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My husband and daughter each devoured a bowl, and I’m freezing some bananas as I write this so I can have a bowl of my own. The biggest problem will be keeping enough bananas on hand to feed our appetites.

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The machine is also easy to disassemble for cleaning. However, a lot of fruit does tend to stay in the machine instead of running all the way through. Not a big deal, but I did notice that when I was cleaning it.

We have a lot of small kitchen appliances, and most of them get put away when not in use.  I can already tell that the Yonanas machine is going to be awarded a permanent spot on the counter, because I know that we’ll use it a lot. And that is the best possible review I could give it.

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links.