Shopping

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You may have noticed that I take a lot of photos for the blog in Baby Juliza’s room. There are reasons for that. First, it has amazing light during the daytime. Second, the decor makes it is my favorite room in the house. I love the bright, happy color palette, and Juliza seems to really like it too. So when Walmart offered to send me their Pinwheel crib bedding to try, I admit I was a little skeptical. I didn’t want to change the atmosphere of the room by introducing colors and patterns that wouldn’t work.

Lucky for me, Pinwheel’s bedding patterns are fun, trendy and modern, so it wasn’t difficult to find one that would fit right in. I chose the Sweet Tweet crib bedding set, which featured colorful flowers and birds in with pink and white as the main colors.

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Juliza was genuinely excited about getting to put new bedding in her crib. I was just hopeful that her excitement would translate to her sleeping in her own bed all night.

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The Pinwheel bedding comes in 3- or 6-piece sets from Walmart. I received the 3-piece set, which includes a crib sheet, comforter and crib skirt. I thought I would miss having a bumper pad inside the crib, but I didn’t, and neither did Juliza. However, there is a bumper available that you can buy separately.

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The sheet is a little on the thin side, but it softened up a bit after washing. By far, the hit has been the comforter. It is soft and cushy, and Juliza loves snuggling up under her new “banket.” I should explain that she loves wedging her between my husband and I and crawling under our comforter, so she was only too happy to have one of her own.

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This has made it much easier to get her into the crib during the day when she’s wide awake and in a playful mood, so cross your fingers that attitude will transfer to nap time and night time.

The Sweet Tweet crib set is on sale right now for $24.98 at Walmart.com, which makes it a thoughtful, cute, affordable gift idea for a new mom or baby. If Juliza could, she’d give it two thumbs up.

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There is only one word that can adequately describe what December is like around these parts: Chaotic. In addition to the typical family-related running around after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, there’s also the fact that my blogging workload typically skyrockets and that I’m trying to wrap up graphic design projects for the end of the year. Add to that the unfortunate fact that at least one of us usually gets sick once the weather officially shifts to “cold” (except this year, it was all of us), and December is just a recipe for stress. As a result, I tend to shop online when it comes to Christmas gift-giving, because I have neither the time nor the desire to spend hours in a store looking for a great gift when I can just do it from my computer or smartphone.

So when Walmart offered me the opportunity to try out their in-store pickup service, I knew it would fit right in to my holiday shopping habits.

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I like shopping at Walmart.com for one major reason: I can always find tons of items that aren’t available in store — or at least not in my store. This year, I wanted to get baby Juliza a puppy. Except — you know — not a real puppy because I’m not doing that again for a long time to come. I wanted to give her a Fur Real friends puppy. However, given that she’s not even 2 years old yet, I didn’t want one of the super fancy, expensive toys that she may or may not destroy. After all, her nickname is “Hurricane JuJu.” Nope. I just wanted a sufficiently cute puppy that did — well — something. Anything, really. Bark. Roll over. Pay all our bills. Sorry. Wrong list.

Anyway, Walmart.com had a bunch of Fur Real friends options, including a cute puppy that barks and bounces AND costs less than $20. So I added the puppy to my cart and choose the free in-store pickup option at my closest store. Once the order was complete, I received email confirmation and notice that I’d get another email when my order was ready for pickup.

The order wasn’t scheduled to be available until four days later, but it was actually ready in just two days — Right on time, because I was headed to Walmart to do grocery shopping anyway. I just picked up my order before I got started.

The orange in-store signs guided me back to the pickup counter in the back of the store.

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There were a few customers in front of me, but once it was my turn, the pickup process was quick and painless. I showed the associate my pickup notification email and ID, she pulled my order, I signed for it, and I left. Easy peasy.

I do wish that there was more than one person working the pickup desk, because a long line grew behind me while I waited, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for those customers to have such a long wait for what should’ve been an easy pickup. But overall, the process was simple, and you can’t beat free shipping and avoiding walking around the store to find an item that a 30-second website search could find so much more easily.

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And now, baby Juliza will have a puppy waiting for her under the tree on Christmas morning.

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I’ll be honest: I look forward to the after-Thanksgiving sales each year. I know, I know. That’s unexpected coming from someone who cares about sustainability. Still, it’s the truth. The reason is simple: I use those sales not only to get a lot of Christmas shopping done, but also to stock up on necessities while they are steeply discounted. This year, winter clothes for both my girls are on our needs list. And while I’m not above heading out into crowded stores to find some great deals, my absolute preference is just to shop online. The challenge? Finding the deals on what I want.

Alas, CyberMonday.com has come to my rescue.

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CyberMonday.com is a deal-seeker’s dream, no matter what you happen to be buying. It’s an awesome way to find deals, coupons and sales from all over the web all in one place.

I started my search for winter clothes in the “Babies, Kids & Toys” category, then clicked “Apparel.” Voila! All the best deals from online retailers, including kids specialty stores and larger stores that also sell kids’ clothes. On one page, I could find free shipping, % off discounts and more.

I was able to find some of the cutest winter and holiday pieces for both my daughters, steeply discounted AND with free shipping! Here are some of my favorite finds:

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1. Loose Knit Vented Sweater from Old Navy / 2. Faux Fur Vest from Children’s Place / 3. Floral Mesh Skirt from Children’s Place / 4. Coated Skinny Jeans from Old Navy / 5. Graphic Crew Neck Sweater from Children’s Place / 6. Patterned Skater Dress from Old Navy

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend this coming weekend at CyberMonday.com than fighting through the in-store crowds or refreshing my favorite sites. Check it out next time you’re looking for a great deal.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Disclosure: I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for American Express Serve. I applied for the Serve Cash Back card to facilitate my review and received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

It’s rare for me to have cash in my wallet. It happens on occasion when I am somewhere between the ATM and the bank, or if I get some cash back at the register so I can give my daughter a few dollars for snacks at gymnastics practice. But otherwise? I use my debit cards for everything. So when I shared with you a few weeks ago that I was going to be using the new American Express Serve Cash Back card for a few weeks , I knew it wouldn’t be too difficult to transition to it. Well, having used it for a few weeks, I can say that not only was it not difficult — it was actually really easy.

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Just to recap, American Express Serve Cash Back is a prepaid debit card that offers 1% cash back on all purchases. So whether you spend $1 or $100, you’ll get 1% of that amount added to your account, simply waiting for you to redeem it.

So what was my experience? Well, I work from home and honestly don’t go out much. As a result, my spending is generally pretty routine: Groceries, gas, eating out, bills and the occasional online purchase. Because I had never owned an American Express card, I was a little worried that it might not be accepted in all the places I frequent. Thankfully, that fear was unfounded, as every retailer and vendor accepted it. Even iTunes, when I used it to re-up on some diamonds in my favorite mobile game. Don’t judge me.

Honestly, the experience was seamless and simple, and I really appreciated being able to keep track of my spending and balance from the American Express Serve app on my smartphone. It was easy for me to see transactions go through shortly after making them, and when one transaction didn’t clear right away, I was able to track it until it finally did clear. I was just talking to my husband the other day about the fact that I don’t know anyone who keeps a written record of their individual bank transactions any more, and I think it’s because online banking has made it so easy to see transactions right away that we no longer need to write them down.

But what I really appreciated about the app was what drew me to the idea of the American Express Serve Cash Back card in the first place: The cash back. In addition to tracking my balance, the app allowed me to see what cash back was available and also to redeem it toward my next purchase. With more than $200 in spending, that means the 1% cash back promise left me with more than $2 to claim. That may not seem like much, but if I continue to use this as my primary prepaid debit account, that cash back will really begin to add up and come in handy in those moments when I’m a few dollars shy of the amount I need to make a purchase.

Overall, I’m really happy with the ease of use of the American Express Serve Cash Back card and 529, and I plan to continue to use it as a way to help me compartmentalize my saving and spending, no physical bank required.

If you’re ready to try it, it’s incredibly easy to register for an account online and receive your American Express Serve Cash Back card in the mail for free. If you’d prefer to get started in person, you could also purchase the card from a retailer for up to $3.95. Unlike a credit card, there’s no credit check, minimum balance or hidden fees. The only cost is a monthly fee of $5.95 to maintain your account.

I fully and unashamedly admit it: I am one of “those” moms. I want my daughters to play with Black dolls. My reason is simple: I am raising little Black girls in hopes of turning them into strong, empowered Black women who love themselves. And unfortunately, even in 2015, it can still be difficult to find beautiful representations of Black girls in the world around us. To counter that, I prefer to expose them to beautiful, positive reflections of blackness at home — including their dolls. This is not to say that I won’t ever let them play with dolls of other hues. But let’s be honest: Representations of other types of beauty — which look nothing like me or my daughters — are not hard to find. So I’ll always look for a Black doll first, because I know that my daughters will be able to see a little bit of themselves in the doll, and they’ll get the message that beauty comes in lots of different packages.

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As such, I love the fact that Walmart’s My Life As doll collection has something beautiful and positive to offer my daughters — dolls that look like them, with hair like them. In fact, they have dolls that represent all sorts of girls: Dark skin, light skin, curly hair and straight, blonde, brunette, redhead. My oldest daughter actually already has one My Life As doll, and she loves playing with her and dressing her up. So when Walmart offered to send us this year’s Doll of the Year, I knew she’d be excited. I don’t think either of us anticipated how excited her little sister would be, too.

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It would help to explain that the 2015 Doll of the Year is a dog walker. A pretty dog walker in a fuzzy poncho and a cute headband, but the dog walker part is what mattered to baby Juliza. Because as soon as we pulled out the box, she spotted the 3 puppies that came with the doll. Try as we might, we couldn’t get her to play with anything else. Here, you can see for yourself:

Juliza really, really likes those puppies.

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I mean, the doll is OK too, but in her 21-month-old eyes, the puppies are the best part. Ja’Naya on the other hand, was captivated by the doll and her fabulous outfit and hair. She won’t have straight hair to match her doll’s any time soon, but at least now she’ll get to play in straight hair.

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They named the new doll Melissa, and she has made a fine friend for Ja’Naya’s other My Life As doll. In fact, I’d say they’re besties since they share clothes and accessories.

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And now I know what to give Ja’Naya for Christmas — some more clothes and accessories so she can keep enjoying her new (and old) friend. There are a ton to choose from at Walmart.com.

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Disclosure: I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for American Express Serve. I applied for the Serve Cash Back card to facilitate my review and received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

This may sound unusual coming from an adult living in the 21st century, but I actually do not own a single credit card. This has it’s pros: It means that we only spend money we already have, so we’re not accumulating additional debt. But it also has its cons: There is so much these days that requires a credit card, from shopping online to renting a car, securing a hotel room or paying for gas at the pump.

Of course, debit cards fill the gap for some of those things. But there are still some areas where most debit cards just don’t compete with credit cards: The perks.

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But there are a few that are bridging that gap. I recently learned about the American Express Serve® Cash Back prepaid debit card, which is the only prepaid debit account that offers 1% cash back on your purchases. So that means whether you’re shopping for groceries, filling up at the pump, buying pizza for dinner or splurging on a new pair of shoes, you’ll get 1% back from your purchase.

So a bit more about the card: American Express Serve® Cash Back is a reloadable prepaid debit account that you can manage online. It’s super simple to register for an account online and receive a prepaid debit card in the mail for free, but you could also purchase the card from a retailer for up to $3.95. Unlike a credit card, there’s no credit check, minimum balance or hidden fees. You simply pay a monthly fee of $5.95 to maintain your account. When you’re set up, you can add money to your account by setting up your paycheck for direct deposit, depositing checks with the American Express Serve mobile app or by transferring money from another debit card.

Once you start using it, you’ll get 1% cash back for every dollar you spend anywhere American Express cards are accepted, and that cash back is added to your account soon after your purchase. You can simply log in to redeem it.

You can also withdraw cash for free from more than 24,000 MoneyPass® in-network ATMs, and you can monitor your account with the American Express Serve Mobile app, or send money to other Serve members.

A card like this is a great way to help teach a teen or college student about money, and it works even if they don’t have a traditional bank account.

I’m going to start using my American Express Serve® Cash Back card soon, and I’ll be back in a few weeks to share my thoughts.

In the meantime, you can sign up for your own American Express Serve Cash Back card for free and have it in your hands in a few days.

It may not be completely obvious from my blog, but I am a bit of a hermit. As a person who works from home, it is not unusually for me to go days at a time without leaving the house. Kind of sad, but true. The fact that I can shop online a lot of the time, even from my phone, has made it so that I can just about anything I need without leaving the house. Except, of course, for those pesky shipping costs. Not wanting to pay for shipping, on top of sales tax, is one of the things that will make me leave the house.

So Walmart’s new Shipping Pass? Yeah. I’m going to be using it a lot. Shipping Pass is a new service from Walmart.com that offers 3-day shipping on more than 1 million products for just $50 a year. The best part is that even the products for which Shipping Pass is not available, your membership will still get you free standard shipping.

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Say what?!

This makes me really happy, because there are often items available at Walmart.com that are not always available at my local store, and there are items I buy all the time that I’d love to be able to just order from home. So this works for me.

Walmart asked me to try out the service, and it was super simple to sign up and link it to my existing Walmart.com account and shipping address. Once signed up, I simply searched for the items I wanted and looked for the Shipping Pass icon. I checked out as I usually would, except — I didn’t have to pay for shipping! Nor will I have to pay for it for any order I place during the next year. Which means that I see more Walmart.com orders and fewer trips to the store in my future. I think the convenience of free 3-day shipping is more than worth the $50 price tag.

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Anyway, two days after I ordered, I received 2 of the 3 items I bought, with the third expected to arrive any day now, as it wasn’t an official Shipping Pass item. Works for me!

So, you might be wondering how you sign up for this magical, wonderful Shipping Pass. For now, you’ll have to get on the waiting list. You’ll be able to fully subscribe soon!

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When I started blogging way back in 2008, I knew right away that I wanted to do it for the long haul — that I wanted to make a business of it. I never really imagined how much it would change my life over the next several years, and how much I would learn and grow because of it. So when Walmart offered to send me some of the items from The Pioneer Woman’s new collection, exclusively at Walmart, it made me so proud to see another blogger succeed in a way that most of us aspire to.

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I’ve been following The Pioneer Woman pretty much since I started blogging. Her photography and storytelling were always amazing, and though I haven’t tried her recipes, she made everything look so, so good! Fast forward years later, and she has a cooking show and is more popular than ever. And now, all of us can have a little bit of Ree Drummond’s magic in our own homes.

The Pioneer Woman collection features cookware, dinnerware and serving pieces.

First, let’s talk about these designs. I love a little color in my kitchen, and I love all the turquoise pieces!

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The huge mason jar mug is already a favorite, and I can’t wait to make a sundae in the ice cream bowl. Normally, a cow-shaped creamer would be a little too country for my tastes, but the bright pop of color makes it a great fit for my more modern sensibilities.

The dinnerware is all handmade, and great quality. The plates are heavy and sturdy, and more importantly, they’re dishwasher safe.

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Plus, the colors and patterns in the collection are designed to mix and match with each other for an eclectic look.

The cookware is great quality as well. I received the Speckle 2-pack nonstick frying pan set, and let me tell you, the pans are truly nonstick.

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As in, not even scrambled eggs will stick. Having used these, I now have my eye on the cast-iron dutch oven, which would make a great addition to our kitchen.

Overall, I’m really impressed, and not just because I feel like I “know” The Pioneer Woman as a fellow blogger who I’ve been following for so long. The quality of the collection is really great, and the prices are affordable.

You can find the collection in Walmart stores and at Walmart.com through the end of the year, though some of the more popular pieces are already sold out online.

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