Shopping

If there’s one gift that I know I can ALWAYS give my husband that he will never, ever complain about, it’s cologne. The man likes to smell good, and I have to say, I have greatly benefitted from this particular characteristic over the years. Honestly, he goes through a bottle of cologne pretty quickly, so as much as he loves the pricey department store stuff, it just doesn’t last long enough to justify the price most of the time.

This is why I’m a fan of the Walmart Fragrance Center. You can get great, well-known brands and celebrity fragrances for a fraction of what you’d pay elsewhere. Walmart sent me this Stetson set as an example.

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The price is just $8.98 for a bottle of cologne and a tube lotion. My husband likes musky, manly fragrances like this, and you couldn’t beat the price with a bat. But just in case you’re not convinced, it gets better. Visit the Fragrance Center at Walmart.com and take a fun quiz to help you discover your “shopping style.” For your effort, you’ll be rewarded with a coupon for $4 off any fragrance item $14.88 or higher.

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Even if you’re not into classic fragrances like Stetson or Nautica, you should still be able to find something that appeals to you at Walmart and on the Holiday Fragrance Gift Center at Walmart.com. You can grab the scents made by your favorite celebrities, from Beyonce to Celine Dion and Katy Perry, all at a price that won’t make your pockets cry.

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So, who do you plan to surprise with the gift of fragrance this year? Are you looking for a specific scent?

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.

Maybe I really have aged since Ja’Naya was a baby, but baby Juliza exhausts me daily. She started walking at just 10 months old, and I fully admit that keeping up with her is an ongoing challenge. It’s not just the fact that her sleep habits are still a bit irregular. She’s 10 months old and already walking, and therefore, getting into everything. Also, she’s not terribly interested in toys. She just wants to move, move, move! So when Walmart challenged me to share gift ideas for babies, I knew I wanted to present some ideas to help parents channel the energy of their active toddlers. Because whew!

My strategy this year has been to give her gifts that let her walk, climb and generally be active, in hopes that they’ll keep her attention and wear her out a bit:

1. Little Tikes First Slide

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This is reccomeded for kids from 18 months to 3 years old, but trust me when I say Juliza is ready. She can already climb to the second floor of our home, and she’s been doing it since she was 9 months old. The Little Tikes First Slide ($34.97) can be used outdoors or in. For now, it will take its place in our living room, much of which has already been cleared for Juliza’s benefit. She’ll be able to climb and slide to her heart’s content, and we’re hoping it will help with her balance and coordination. When warmer weather comes, we’ll likely use it in the kiddie pool we got this past summer. And hope that we don’t have a mishaps that lands us on America’s Funniest Videos.

There are a lot of other options for toddler-sized playground equipment as well.

2. Little Tikes Lil’ Shopper

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Juliza is already an excellent walker, especially given her age, but she still has her moments of being off balance and hitting the floor butt (or hands or occasionally, face) first. When Ja’Naya was a baby, she actually learned to walk in part due to a doll-sized stroller that she loved pushing around. We thought JuJu could use some similar support in her quest to stay upright, so we invested in The Little Tikes Lil’ Shopper cart ($14). She can wheel it around as she walks circles through the first floor, and hopefully, she’ll learn to pick up everything she’s left in the trail of destruction fun behind her.

3. Learning Toys

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Now that Juliza is pretty fully mobile, we’ve begun teaching her words and gestures. We’d like for any other toys we add to stimulate her mind, since her body is working overtime these days. When my mom and sister asked if we had specific gifts we wanted them to get for the baby, I pointed her to the Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Puppy ($12) and the VTech Touch and Learn Musical Bee ($15), but there are a variety of other baby learning toys they could choose from. These two particular choices offer baby an opportunity to learn, from numbers to shapes, colors and body parts, and they’re cuddly and cute. Here’s hoping that they’ll eventually be made of organic cotton and fill.

What about you? What gifts are on your list for your active toddler?

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.

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OK. I’ll admit it. I’m one of THOSE moms. I don’t believe in filling my family’s Christmas stockings with random stuff just so it’s full. In the past, when my husband and I have done that, the stockings have remained full, with the kids ignoring the small gifts and trinkets we added as the last-minute. But those last-minute stocking stuffers don’t have to go ignored. We’ve since shifted our strategy to giving two types of gifts in our stockings: Small and meaningful, or useful and needed.

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When Walmart challenged me to share some last-minute gift ideas, I chose to focused on the latter: stocking stuffers that anyone can use.

Personal care products

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My family and I use very specific types of personal care products: ones that are organic if possible, but all natural at the very least. But we always seem to run out at inconvenient times. This year, I focused on those items that I know we’ll wind up needing sooner or later: Shea Moisture soap, lotion from Gud by Burt’s Bees, and an EcoTools bath sponge for my daughter, who has been begging for one for the past several years.

Walmart also carries other natural and organic brands, including Yes To, alba botanica and more. These brands do tend to cost a bit more than their traditional counterparts, which makes them an even better gift idea. Noone will complain about saving $7-10 on lotion they needed anyway.

Hats, gloves and scarves

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Let’s be honest. Most kids don’t do a very good job of keeping track of their hats and gloves during the winter. My daughter has a habit of mixing and matching her gloves every day, so we can never find more than one of any pair at a time. Plus, she’s outgrown many of her gloves from the last several years. I snagged this awesome red, gold and green hat for my husband, in the colors of the Ethiopian flag, for less than $8, and I plan to go back for a couple hat and glove sets for Ja’Naya and baby Juliza for just $5.

Gift Cards

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There’s not a single person on this planet who will complain about getting gift cards in their stocking. Or at least not a single reasonable person. Walmart gift cards are always welcome in my house for everything from groceries and household items to toys for the kids or a new outfit or boots for mama. They’re practical, but the recipient will feel special because they get to choose their own gift. I’ll also be heading to Walmart to complete the rest of my gift list affordably. Check out all the gift ideas you can still order online and pick up in store.

What about you? How do you approach stocking stuffers and last-minute gifts?

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.

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I admit that I’m not up to date on the latest characters that kids are into these days. We don’t have cable any more, and my oldest daughter is more into crafting and gymnastics than TV. And the baby? Well. She’s still a baby. But if there’s one character I have loved ever since Ja’Naya was a toddler, it’s Dora the Explorer. First, there’s the obvious: I love multicultural characters on kids TV because it’s a great example of the diversity of real life. But also, I’ve always loved the idea that my kids could learn even a little Spanish from watching Dora.

In spite of the fact that my mother is Puerto Rican, I do not speak Spanish. Sad, but true. I speak a little and understand a little more, but I am far from bilingual. The bilingual nature of Dora and her friends and family means that kids will start to learn another language in their play, and that makes me happy.

So when I was asked to try the new Dora and Friends toy line, available at Walmart and Walmart.com, I couldn’t wait to let my girls dig in. Want to see it for yourself? Check out this video review of the toys.

Talking Dora & Smartphone

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Realistically, it’s really difficult to keep electronics out of kids’ hands these days. Even baby Juliza tries to snatch our phones whenever she spots an opportunity, and Ja’Naya even takes her phone to school to use with the “Bring Your Own Device” program. So I think it’s really cool that Dora has made some modern upgrades — and her infamous Map is now “Map App.”

The Talking Dora doll, priced at $29, talks when you push the buttons on her dress, and she actually has conversations with her friends via the phone. Dora can ask a question and the phone responds, or vice versa.

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Even Ja’Naya, who is sort of past the age for whom this toy is intended, couldn’t help playing with the phone all day. It was cool so listen to the conversations back and forth, and realistically, it’s easy to imagine playing with doll and phone separately. Because the baby loved the phone, but the doll didn’t seem quite as interesting to her.

Still, this is a great option for a kid who loves Dora, or who loves interactive toys.

Arco Iris Cafe and Playa Verde Cabana

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I’ve always been a fan of imaginative play sets that don’t necessarily DO anything, but challenge kids to play creatively. The Arco Iris Cafe, $15, and Playa Verde Cabana, $12.50, are great examples. They’re simply locations where the tiny Dora & Friends dolls can have adventures.

The two-story cafe does light up with a little music, and it comes with two chairs and a table for the dolls to use. The Playa Verde Cabana features a cute little beach shop, a lifeguard tower, beach chair and hammock. Both sets come with a tiny Dora doll, but you can purchase Dora’s friends separately. Which leads me to another cool feature of these toys.

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Each Dora doll comes with a charm bracelet and interchangeable charms based on each character’s interests. Kids can exchange the charms or switch them out, and the charms also interact with the smartphone. This is the part that will keep kids coming back for more, I think.

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While we’ll definitely have to keep the tiny charms out of baby Juliza’s reach because they’re small enough to swallow and therefore not recommended for kids under the age of 3, she’ll have a great time with Dora and her special phone, and Ja’Naya will get endless hours of play out of the smaller play sets. Plus I know she’s eager to find out which of her friends has charms so she can trade.

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.

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This year, there seems to be a trend of starting Black Friday deals more than a week in advance of the actual event, and Walmart is leading the pack. What’s that you say? Five additional days of Black Friday level sales and pricing? Sounds like a plan to me. This is an opportunity to get some holiday shopping done ahead of the crowds that Friday will inevitably bring. Plus, the fun started at 8 a.m. November 21, so you can get to it right away.

During Walmart‘s pre-Black Friday event, you’ll be able to grab deals that will be as good as or better than national competitors’ prices. The prices really are noteworthy, including:

  • Samsung 58″ Class Smart LED HDTV – $698 (special buy)
  • Samsung 40″ Class LED HDTV with “Frozen Sing-Along Edition”– $298 (special buy)
  • New iPad Air 2 16 GB, WiFi – $489 with a $100 Walmart gift card
  • Get a $75 gift card with the purchase of the iPhone 6 or 5s. The iPhone 6 is available for $179 or iPhone 5s for $79 with a two year service agreement on Sprint, AT&T or Verizon. They are available for $0 down for AT&T Next or Verizon Edge customers, with plans available in select markets.
  • 4-Pc Table Tennis Set – $79 (special buy)
  • A variety of “Frozen” special buys
  • Black & Decker 18v 2-Battery NiCad Drill – $69.88 ($20 savings)
  • Hoover High Performance Bagless Upright Vacuum – $98 (special buy)

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There are tons more deals available, so take a look at your local Walmart ad to see them all. And don’t forget, the main Black Friday events start online Thanksgiving morning, with in-store events starting at 6 and 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and 6 a.m. Friday. To stay up to date on Walmart‘s Black Friday offers, visit www.walmart.com/blackfriday.

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

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Let’s be honest. Most of us treat our smartphones like an extra appendage. We check them when we wake up and before we go to bed, and use them for everything from grocery lists to driving directions, social media, gaming and everything in between. So it’s understandable that our kids — even young ones — will want to join the fun.

But giving a pre-teen or even a teenager a smartphone for the first time can feel like handing over the keys to the kingdom. All of a sudden they’re walking around with the whole world in their pocket. My 9 year old has proven very responsible with a smart phone, but I know that’s not the case for every child. So when Walmart asked me to try Virgin Mobile Custom, a new smartphone plan that puts the control in parents’ hands, I couldn’t wait to try it.

How does Virgin Mobile Custom work?

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Having tried a variety of cell phone plans, I couldn’t help wondering what is so special about this one. Well, Virgin Mobile Custom, which is available only at Walmart, doesn’t require a contract, which means if your smartphone experiment with your child doesn’t work out, you can easily cancel without fear of huge fees. What’s more, though, you can actually customize your plan down to the last minute and text. A basic plan starts at just $6.98, which includes 20 talk minutes and 20 text messages. That doesn’t sound like much to those of us who use our phones all the time, but that’s just the starting point. The cost steps up incrementally as you add minutes, texts and data, and there is an unlimited talk option for $18 and unlimited texts for $10. Data starts at $8/month for 250 MB, and you can get up to 15 GB for $131.50. To give you an idea of the in-between cost, 2 GB of data will run you $28/month.

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In a word, this is awesome! You can really fine-tune your plan based on how you or your child will actually use it, rather than being forced into services that you might never use. Think your kid will text more than talk? Choose unlimited texts, but a small number talk minutes. If social media and online gaming will be used a lot, opt for a large data plan, but scale back on the other services. Plus, you can change those options at any time if you realize the plan isn’t working for your needs.

The Parental Controls

Once you’ve chosen a plan, the customization doesn’t stop there. Custom allows me to control not just the plan on my daughter’s phone, but also how she uses it. I can set a curfew if I don’t want her using her phone during school hours or after bedtime. I can limit who she is able to contact, block apps with the ability to allow specific ones, or turn data off altogether. For example, during the school day, my daughter can’t get on the internet or use any apps, but she can call her dad, myself, or her grandmother or aunt in case of an emergency.

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And while I can control all of this by logging into my Custom account from a computer, there is also an app for iPhone and Android, so I can do all of this from my own phone, in addition to making plan changes or payments.

My daughter received the Android-powered ZTE Emblem, and as smartphones go, it does what you’d expect. She can check her email, play games, text her family and friends, log into her school’s website to check on and complete assignments, and more. It’s a great first phone for a child who is learning how to be responsible, and the Virgin Mobile Custom plan will definitely give parents peace of mind when they hand over that responsibility to their child.

What do think of a smartphone plan that gives parents total control? Moreover, what do you think about giving a child a smartphone?

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.

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A few years ago, I was THAT mom: The one who was militant about making sure everything I bought had some sort of eco-friendly story behind it. It had to be organic, or made of recycled materials or FSC-certified wood, or acquired secondhand, or made by Fair Trade artisans. I’m not that mom any more. I still care deeply about the planet and look for these qualities in the products I purchase, and we’ve made some changes that we’ll never go back on, but I have relaxed my stance a bit. Part of the reason for this is that even with all my knowledge about what makes products green, it can still be difficult to find ones that meet those exacting standards. This is especially true as the holidays approach and I begin shopping for toys for my kids — particularly baby Juliza — and gifts for my family in general.

All of this is why I’m so happy to have found Wild Mint, a great online retailer that aims to help families live greener, healthier lives. When I shop there, I don’t have to worry about how things were made or what they’re made of. I can trust that they have vetted the products for me, ensuring that they provide only the best for my family.

This makes perfect sense, given that Wild Mint was started by a mom and daughter duo back in 2011 to serve folks who were looking for an easier way to buy non-toxic, eco-friendly products. While they started offering products for the kitchen and lunch products, realizing that toxic products really are everywhere, in so many things, they expanded their business to offer products for every part of our lives.

In other words, Wild Mint lets me get back to the “green” part of “Green & Gorgeous” without any added stress.

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And with an active 9-month-old baby on my hands, the last thing I need is to stress out about that new thing she’s putting in her mouth — because she’s teething, so everything goes directly in her mouth. These teething rings from Lifefactory were just what we needed.

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There are a couple of textured areas to massage baby’s gums, and — much to my delight — they’re big enough to be worn on my wrist so they’re always accessible even when we’re on the go. They’re also dishwasher safe, and we can put them in the refrigerator or freeze them for those days when the new teeth are really bugging Juliza. Best of all though, they’re made of medical grade silicone rather than potentially toxic plastic, which means that they are free of BPA, phthalates, PVC, polycarbonate, lead, and latex, and Wild Mint carries other teethers that meet the same criteria.

Check out Wild Mint’s Toxins in Toys Guide if you need a reminder of why we should all be avoiding these ingredients and materials, particularly in products we’re giving to our kids.

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And now, when the rest of my family asks what to give the kids, my husband and I for Christmas (because they know I’m picky), I can send them to a store where everything is safe and meets mama’s needs as well as baby’s. They’ll be able to find everything from organic baby toys and wooden toys to nontoxic nail polish all on one site, and I can maintain some peace of mind that I won’t have to vet every single gift that gets unwrapped on Christmas morning.

If you’d like to get started shopping for natural toys or other eco-friendly gifts, check out this great discount from Wild Mint.

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Just in case you can’t see the image, from now through 12/3/14, use coupon code “WILDMINT” to get $10 off orders over $75, plus all orders over will $49 ship free! Free shipping is for ground shipping orders only.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Green Sisterhood. As usual, all opinions are my own.

New motherhood can turn a person into a product junkie. With my oldest daughter, there was a lot of trial and error. I was a first-time mom and was learning by experience. Plus my daughter had a sensitive stomach and sensitive skin. If I could go back and do it over, I would breastfeed her for longer than 2 days — and that may have solved both problems. Since I didn’t know the value of nursing, though, we spent months trying to find the right formula, the right products to use on her skin, the right laundry detergent, etc.

That was fun. Not really. But it was expensive. So when I found out about Walmart’s new Baby Box service, the first thing I thought was how much time and money I could’ve saved trying a variety of baby products without having to fully commit right away.

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So what is Walmart‘s Baby Box? Well, given that each stage of pregnancy and new parenthood comes with different needs, you can receive samples of products sold at Walmart (or Walmart.com) that are relevant to your stage of pregnancy or your baby’s age. The best part? All you pay is shipping & handling, just $5, to get products that make sense when you need them delivered to your home. Think of is as your favorite beauty box (or hair or food), just for you and baby.

To get started, when you subscribe, you’ll have to share your current stage, based on your baby’s due or birth date: 2nd Trimester, 3rd Trimester, infant, baby or toddler.

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I received the 2nd trimester box just so I could see what the Baby Box could deliver. Here’s what I got:

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I’m glad to see that breastfeeding was given a presence in this box.  I actually use both those Lasinoh products already, so that was a great surprise. While I may not use the other products, since my baby is older, I will happily pass them on to a friend who is expecting soon.

I’m also crossing my fingers that Walmart plans to include samples of the natural products they carry, like Shea Moisture, Seventh Generations and Burt’s Bees baby products, since there are a lot of parents like myself who are either very particular about the products they use for themselves and baby, or who could benefit from a low-cost introduction to these awesome, eco-friendly brands.

So what do you think? If you’re expecting or have a baby at home, would you try the baby box? Would you give it as a gift to a friend with a baby?

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.

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