Bon-Ton: 5 quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven only $26 shipped!

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downloadI had to share this fantastic price on a 5 quart Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven at Bon-Ton. Get one for only $26 with free shipping when you enter the code FREESHIP25 at checkout. This price is lower than Black Friday so now is a great time to get one for yourself or as a gift!

Thanks, Brad’s Deals!


2016 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival: I’ll be there + Win a Trip!

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I am thrilled that I will get to experience the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival again this year! I’m making a very short trip down to Disney for opening weekend with my friend and fellow Disney junkie, Toni. She and I will share lots of pictures live from the festival on my Instagram account so follow along if you aren’t already!

Here are some basics about the annual festival which attracts foodies from all over the world. Also read on to learn how you can enter to win a trip to the festival!

2016 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

Dates: September 14th through November 14th, 2016
Times: 11 am to park closing every day
Cost: You will need a theme park ticket for admission to Epcot, but there is no extra cost for admission to the festival. Special ticketed events start at $15 (more on those later).

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Boeuf Bourguignon and Cabernet from the France booth

What: SO much happens at the festival! Here is a breakdown of the main categories of events.

Marketplace Booths: The largest element of the festival are the 30+ temporary buildings set up around Epcot called the “Marketplace Booths”. You can purchase sample-sized portions of food and beverages at each booth that range from $3-$7. The food is inspired by individual countries or regions and there are usually between four to six items to choose from at each booth. Just sampling the food and beverages (which includes wine, beer, cocktails and non-alcoholic specialties) could take you many days!

Check out Disney Food Blog’s Marketplace Booth page for complete menus for each booth.

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The dessert sampler at a previous festival

Free & Low-Cost Special Events: There are many other aspects of the festival that are free (i.e. included with Epcot admission) or low-cost. Here is an overview of those events and seminars.

  • Eat to the Beat Concert Series: Pop stars from mostly the 80’s and 90’s perform three times each night at the American Gardens Theater in World Showcase. The showtimes are 5:30, 6:45 and 8:00 pm. The concerts are very popular and have no additional cost. Starship will perform when I am there so you know I’ll be singing along to “We Built This City”!
  • Back to Basics Seminars: Top experts share their culinary tips and tricks at these free seminars. They are held at the Festival Welcome Center each Friday through Sunday of the festival at 1:15 and 3:15 pm.
  • Remy’s Hide and Squeak Scavenger Hunt: You can buy a map and stickers for $7.95 at the Festival Welcome Center and complete the scavenger hunt by finding Remy throughout World Showcase. If you bring your completed map back to the center you will be rewarded with a pin.
  • Beverage Seminars & Culinary Demonstrations: Tickets to these events cost $15 each and they are held throughout the day at the Welcome Center. The best way to find what is available during your visit is to search for a reservation on Disney’s site.
  • Marketplace Discovery Passport: This a a free souvenir you can pick up at many locations around Epcot. It lists every item at each booth and you can collect unique stamps from the booths as you visit them.

Other Festival Special Events: There are hundreds of other special events that take place around Disney World as part of the festival. These incur significant extra cost (from $40 to $600 per event) and include special ticketed evening events, meals with wine and food pairings, concierge service at the festival, and much more. Check out the details of each event at this Disney Food Blog page.

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Also take a minute to enter The Chew’s Magical Culinary Adventure Sweepstakes for a chance to win a free trip to the festival!

Anyone out there have plans to attend the festival? Please leave a comment below! Please meet up with me if you’ll be there September 18th!


Free shipping on any order at e.l.f. today only! Makeup from $1 shipped

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Today (8/23) only… get free shipping on any order at e.l.f. (eyes lips face) today only when you enter the promo code SHIPSHOP at checkout! No minimum purchase required.

2016-08-15 13_36_18-Lip Kiss Balm _ e.l.f. CosmeticsPlus, you can combine this with another promo code (SURPRISE) to get a free mystery bag full of six beauty favorites when you spend $25+. The mystery bag is valued at $20 which makes it a great deal!

 

 


Graze: Get a free box of gourmet snacks (just pay $1 shipping)

The links in the post below may be affiliate links. Read the full disclosure.

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Like to snack? Who doesn’t! Right now you can try your first sampler box of gourmet snack at Graze for free! You’ll just pay $1 shipping and you’ll be signed up for Graze’s weekly or bi-weekly subscription.  You will have to cancel if you don’t want to be charged for more boxes.

I suggest that you change the frequency to bi-weekly soon after ordering your sampler box. This will give you time to decide if you want to keep the service. I tried Graze this spring and though I liked the snacks, I decided to cancel. It was easy to cancel online (a must if I’m trying a new service) and I wasn’t ever charged for a box I didn’t want. I suggest giving it a try as a nice way to treat yourself!


Amazon: Prime Pantry Deals Under $3 + Free Shipping!

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pantryaugHere’s an updated list of Prime Pantry items under $3, some of which will get you free shipping on your entire order!

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I love how easy Amazon has made it to see if your order qualifies for free shipping. At the top of each Prime Pantry page you’ll see this green meter which shows you how many items you have to go to earn free shipping. You’ll still have to remember to entry the promo code (this month is is PANTRYAUG) at checkout, through.

Here are all of the items that will get you free shipping (if you buy five total) and here are some of the best deals in that group:

Herbal Essences Tea-Lightfully Clean Refreshing Shampoo, 10.1 Fluid Ounce

Herbal Essences Tea-Lightfully Clean Refreshing Shampoo, 10.1 Fluid Ounce – only $1.00 after clipping the $1.50 off coupon

Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap, Geranium, 12.5 Fluid Ounce

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap, Geranium, 12.5 Fluid Ounce – only $2.87

Kellogg's Disney Fairies Fruit Flavored Snacks,10 Count, 8 Ounce

Kellogg’s Disney Fairies Fruit Flavored Snacks,10 Count, 8 Ounce – $1.55 after clipping the 25% off coupon

Cheez-It Snack Mix, Baked Snack Assortment, 10.5 Ounce

Cheez-It Snack Mix, Baked Snack Assortment, 10.5 Ounce – $2.16 after clipping the 25% off coupon

Suave Essentials Body Wash, Sweet Pea and Violet 12 ounce

Suave Essentials Body Wash, Sweet Pea and Violet 12 ounce – $1.41 after clipping the 25% off coupon

Aussie Moist Shampoo 13.5 Fluid Ounce

Aussie Moist Shampoo 13.5 Fluid Ounce – only $1.17 after clipping the $1.50 off coupon

Spray 'n Wash Laundry Stain Remover, 22 fl oz

Spray ‘n Wash Laundry Stain Remover, 22 fl oz – $2.90 after clipping the $0.50 off coupon

And here are some other deals to grab after you’ve earned free shipping:

Gillette Simply Venus Pink Disposable Women's Razor, 4 Count

Gillette Simply Venus Pink Disposable Women’s Razor, 4 Count – only $2.37 after clipping the $3.00 off coupon

U by Kotex Lightdays Liners, Regular, Unscented, 22 Count

U by Kotex Lightdays Liners, Regular, Unscented, 22 Count – $0.99 after clipping the $0.25 off coupon

Chex Cereal, Gluten Free, Cinnamon, 12.1 Ounce

Chex Cereal, Gluten Free, Cinnamon, 12.1 Ounce – $2.45 after clipping the $0.50 off coupon

Nature Valley Peanut Butter Protein Bar, Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate, 5 Count

Nature Valley Peanut Butter Protein Bar, Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate, 5 Count – $2.27 after clipping the 20% off coupon

Want more coupon deals on Amazon? Click here to see all of the current coupons!


7 Creative Ways to Save Money on Walt Disney World Tickets!

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Don’t overpay for your park tickets!

When it comes to buying tickets for Walt Disney World, I have good news and bad news. First some good news: there are a bunch of ways to save money on theme park tickets!

Now some bad news: tickets are likely going to be the single biggest expense of your trip. They are downright pricey at $335 for a 5-day adult ticket. And a little more bad news…  the discounts you can get aren’t huge. But don’t worry, there is one more piece of good news. You will get incredible value from the money you spend on tickets to Walt Disney World, as there is real bang for your buck in the parks! In this post I’ll share seven different ways you can save on your tickets to the theme parks of Walt Disney World (WDW).

#1 Don’t Buy More Ticket Than You Need

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First, here are some ticket basics. A base ticket to Walt Disney World is called a “Magic Your Way” ticket. It lets you enter one park (and one park only) each day for a particular number of days. From there, you can add on the “Park Hopper” option (which allows you to visit more than one park on a single day) and/or the “Water Park Fun & More” option (which gives you a number of visits to the Disney Water Parks, DisneyQuest, or the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.)

I almost always recommend sticking with the Magic Your Way base ticket as opposed to adding on any options. Here’s why: adding the Park Hopper option to any 4-day or more ticket costs $64 ($50 for a 2 or 3 day ticket), but adding an additional day to a 3-day or more ticket costs about $10. So if you want an extra half day visit to the Magic Kingdom, just add one more day to your ticket and go for part of your arrival or departure day. Your price difference will be $54 per ticket by doing this, which adds up to a savings of $216 for a family of four, and you will get just as much time in the parks.

Alternatively, adding the Water Parks Fun & More option will set you back $64. But a one-day ticket to the Water Parks is $53-$58 (depending on the season). So unless you plan to visit a Disney Water Park for multiple days, or want to check out both a Water Park and DisneyQuest, steer clear of this add-on as well.

So, for most visitors, the base Magic Your Way ticket offers the best value and plenty of options for visiting the theme parks on your own schedule. If you were planning a 5-night, 6-day trip to Disney World, I would recommend either a 5- or 6-day Magic Your Way ticket. Not because I think you should spend 6 full days in the theme parks (goodness no!), but because it offers you the chance to visit the parks at a more leisurely pace for half days instead of trying to go commando-style, park-hopping from dusk til dawn. 

#2 Buy Discounted Tickets From a Trusted Ticket Broker

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If I am not getting tickets as part of a Disney vacation package (such as a free dining package), then I always buy tickets through
Undercover Tourist. Why? To save money, of course. 🙂

I suggest using Undercover Tourist because they are reputable and almost always offer the best ticket discounts around. I have bought tickets from one other broker in the past for a slightly lower price, but then had all kinds of problems with the email delivery of the voucher. You are better off sticking with a well-established business such as Undercover Tourist.

The prices on the Disney website for park tickets do not include tax. These prices can be misleading as the tax rate is a significant 6.5%. Prices on the Undercover Tourist site include taxes and shipping, so what you see is the total cost you’ll pay for your tickets.

If you are buying anything from a 3 day ticket to a 10 day ticket, you can save around $10 -$30 per ticket just by buying your tickets ahead of time through the Undercover Tourist website. Though this isn’t a huge savings, it can add up to over $100 for a family of four, and any little bit helps when it comes to park tickets.Order your tickets at least 3 weeks before your trip in case they take longer than usual to arrive in the mail. If you are only buying a 1 or 2 day ticket, buy them from Disney as they will be slightly cheaper. 

Alternatively, if you are a AAA member, you might be able to get a discount on certain tickets. I called my local AAA office and they confirmed that they did have discounted Disney World tickets for sale. When I compared their prices with those of Undercover Tourist, the only ticket that significantly differed in price was a 3-day base ticket. AAA offered this ticket for $8.15 less than Undercover Tourist’s prices, so a savings of $32.60 for a family of four. If that is the ticket type you want or if you prefer to get your tickets through AAA, try giving your local office a call. I have read that not every local AAA office has these tickets available, though I can’t confirm that myself.

#3 Buy Tickets Before the Annual Price Increase

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Did you know that Disney theme park tickets never expire? When you buy a ticket, you can hold onto it for years before you use it. Once you use it for the first time, you have 14 days to use up all of your “days”.

As you could probably guess, ticket prices rise reliably each year.  In recent years, Disney hasn’t even waited a year before raising prices. If you know that you will be going to Disney, a money-saving tip is to buy tickets for an upcoming trip before ticket prices increase. Most people plan a trip to Disney well in advance. If you know you are taking a trip in November, yet ticket prices are going to rise in May, buy your tickets before the price increase to save anywhere from $4 to $20 per ticket. You can stay on top of when ticket prices rise by signing up for email alerts from Undercover Tourist here. Or just follow this blog and I will be sure to let you know when ticket prices are going to increase!

#4 Consider Special Event Tickets for Shorter Trips

pumpkin mickey magic kingdomOne frustrating aspect of visiting the parks during a shorter trip is that 1-day and 2-day park tickets are so darn expensive per day. Prices don’t start to drop much below $100/day until you hit the 4-day and up mark. Obviously this is to encourage folks to make longer visits, but that’s just not possible for everyone.  If you are planning a short trip anytime from September through December, you may want to consider buying a ticket for one of the special events held at the Magic Kingdom during those months.

On select evenings in September and October, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is held at the Magic Kingdom. It is a “hard-ticketed” event, which means you need a special ticket to enter the park – these tickets start at $72. Most main attractions are open, plus the party features parades, stage shows, character meet and greets, complimentary food and more. The official time for the party is from 7 p.m. to midnight, though many folks don’t know that you can actually enter the Magic Kingdom any time after 4 pm with your special event ticket.  

So you can get a full eight hours in the magic Kingdom during the party (if you can hang until midnight) with much lower crowds than normal. Plus, with 1-day Magic Kingdom tickets now around $115 each, you’ll save over $40 per person by visiting during the party. That would save you $170 for a family of four which is pretty significant!

In November and December Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a similar hard-ticketed event, takes place in the Magic Kingdom. Tickets to this popular event start at $78. I plan on taking my daughter to one of these at some point when she is a bit older and we can make a short trip down during the fall or winter. These events are a great way to save on park admission if you are a frequent visitor, want to spend some time in the Magic Kingdom, and don’t want to cough up $115 for a 1-day pass.

#5 Take Your Kids Before They Turn Three

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Our almost-three-year-old having the time of her life at Disney World

Being the world’s #1 family vacation destination, it is not surprising that Disney World caters to families with young children. While many entertainment venues start charging admission when kids turn two years old (some even start when they turn one!), you can take your little ones to the Disney theme parks for free up until their third birthday. Many families take advantage of this policy and plan a trip right before their child turns three!

We did this ourselves and it was one of our favorite trips. You don’t have to show any proof of age when taking the little ones into the parks as Disney operates on the honor system. So if you want to take your kiddo on his/her first trip to Disney World during the toddler or preschool years, I suggest doing so just prior to junior’s third birthday to save yourself a few hundred dollars.

#6 If You Qualify, Take Advantage of the Best Discounts

military discountThe best discounts that Disney offers on park tickets are for Florida residents and members of the Armed Forces. If you are a Florida resident, check out all of the discounts available here, which include discounted Magic Your Way base tickets through discounted annual passes.

If you are an active or retired member of our military, first of all, thank you for your service. Second, you can get a fantastic discount on Disney World park tickets for yourself, your family or friends. Until 12/19/2016, military members can get up to six 4-day Park Hopper tickets for only $208 each (regularly $393). You can read all of the details here. If you have a friend or family member who qualifies for the discount, let him/her know. They may be up for a trip and may be willing to get you some discounted tickets, too!

#7 Get a slight discount on Annual Passes (and other tickets)

IMG_1941If you are going to make more than two visits to Walt Disney World within a year’s time, then investing in a Annual Pass is the way to go. Prices of Annual Passes have skyrocketed in the past few years, passes now close to $800 each. However, if you are a Florida resident or Disney Vacation Club member, the price drops to around $580.

If you don’t qualify for either of those discounts but still want to save a little on the cost of an annual pass, here is a rogue trick for you. It involves upgrading a park ticket that you bought at a discount to an annual pass, thereby holding on to the discount you received on the ticket. You see, Disney has a policy called “price bridging”, which means that if you upgrade a ticket after you use it at least one time, you will pay the difference between the gate prices of the two tickets.

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So if you buy a 3-day park hopper that is $27 off the gate price from Undercover Tourist, use it once to enter the park, then head to Guest Services and upgrade it to an annual pass, you will save $27 off the price of an annual pass. While that isn’t much (especially considering the cost of the pass), I’d rather put that money towards a nice dinner, wouldn’t you?

I have used this strategy in the past and it worked beautifully. Buy the ticket that is most discounted on Undercover Tourist, use it once, then upgrade to the ticket you really want, whether it be an annual pass or just adding extra days. 

Well, I hope you found at least one trick that you can actually use to save money on park tickets to the most magical place on Earth! Any questions? Please leave a comment below!

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My Experience with the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Part 2 {Yikes! Books & Papers}

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This is the second installment a short series on my experience with the “KonMari Method” from the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Here’s a link to part one in which I tackle my closet!

After clothing,  Marie “KonMari” Kondo suggests tidying your books and papers next. Here’s how it went:

Books

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I love to read. I’ve read many thousands of books in my life. KonMari challenged me to ask myself why I was holding onto books that I have already read and have no plan to read again. She emphasizes that reading books is an experience to be savored, but after it is over, there is little reason to hold onto books unless you need them for reference or really intend to re-read them soon.

I have limited myself to one bookcase full of books in recent years, though I would love some space on that bookshelf for displaying other items that truly bring me joy, or storing items that I use often.

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Some of the books on their way to Goodwill

KonMari insists that you handle each book individually in order to decide which books to keep, so I followed her directions. I kept my favorites (she calls them “hall of fame” books), books I will actually re-read, books from my childhood that I want to pass on to my daughter when she is old enough, and books I will use for reference (cookbooks, teaching books, etc.).

Everything else went, including a collection of modern fiction that I’ve read and enjoyed thoroughly, but that I know I will never read again. For some reason these books were the hardest to part with! I was able to pass some of them on to a friend who loves to read and the rest of my books went to Goodwill.

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Look at those empty shelves!

In the end I got rid of more than half of my book collection! Once they were out the door I felt a sense of relief, and I am confident that I will NEVER miss the books I opted not to keep.

Next I ventured up into the attic and dragged down five large boxes of my “teacher stuff”, which included loads of books. I was a classroom teacher for 8 years before I started became a work at home mom, so I had LOTS of stuff to go through.

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A bunch of teacher stuff on it’s way out

I filled another shelf on my bookshelf with binders of my best teacher materials and books (since I may return to classroom teaching one day). I added some things to my “mementos” box – which will be the absolute last thing I attempt to KonMari – and then sent three more boxes of goodies off to Goodwill.

When I look at my bookshelf it does truly bring me joy knowing that it holds only my “hall of fame” materials. And I know I will find the perfect use for my now empty shelf as I continue this process!

Papers

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The next category to tackle is papers. When I opened the first drawer in my filing cabinet, this is what I saw. Yikes! Yes, these are all receipts that I’ve just thrown into this drawer, only with a camera lens and some packing tape (makes total sense, I know).

The other drawers in the filing cabinet weren’t any better. So I had lots of work to do in this department!

I was surprised to learn from the IRS website that, in most circumstances, you are only required to keep taxes from three years prior. Just to be safe, I kept tax records from the past six years, which means I could get rid of a bunch of files. I created a special folder and file for my envelopes full of receipts from my monthly budgeting, so they are under control now, too.

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I also added to the burn pile tons of paper from grad school and even undergraduate. I kept a few noteworthy papers, but I didn’t see a need to keep syllabi and notes from courses I took so long ago! KonMari says that this kind of paperwork is what lots of her clients have a hard time letting go of.

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In the end I freed up two drawers in this ugly filing cabinet, which I dream of kicking to the curb! I am already thinking of an alternative to this cabinet, which has served its purpose and definitely DOES NOT spark joy in me.

In summary, this phase was a lot more work that I anticipated. It made my closet seem like a piece of cake.

Next I’m tackling my bathroom, kitchen, and finally this frightening mess in our storage room:

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Until then, you may be interested in this article from WideBread on 8 ways clutter keeps you poor. 

What do you think of the KonMari method so far? Would you ever attempt this in your space? Please leave a comment below and let us all know what you think!

 


Earn an easy & free 100 Swagbucks when you download the Swagbucks Local app

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2016-08-18 14_03_30-Introducing Swagbucks Local! – The Daily Swag

I earned an easy 100 Swagbucks today by downloading the new Swagbucks Local app and registering with a credit card. It took about 2 minutes of my time, so I figured it was worth sharing as a free way to boost your Swagbucks account balance. Just search for “Swagbucks Local” in the App Store on your mobile device (this app isn’t availabile for Android users yet).

If you are new to Swagbucks, sign up here to start earning giftcards!

Thanks, Money Saving Mom!


My recent favorite easy dinner recipes

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My summer salad inspired by The Proud Italian Cook

As you may know, I haven’t been meal planning lately. I shared a weekly meal plan for about a year here on the blog (you can view all of my meal plans here) and I felt like I had accumulated enough “go-to” recipes that I didn’t need a formal meal plan to guide my shopping and cooking anymore.

That said, I have found some awesome recipes lately that I’ve been wanting to share! What I love about these is that they are simple, delicious, and (of course) frugal. I’ve been doing a a lot of grocery shopping at Costco (check out my recent post for five items that make a Costco membership worth the $55 fee) and been using what I get there to make some yummy and really cheap dinners.

So here’s what we’ve been eating at my house recently:

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Loaded Chicken & Potatoes – Singing Through the Rain (this recipe is so simple and yummy… my husband’s new favorite)

Red Beans and Rice in the Slow Cooker | APinchOfHealthy.com

Red Beans & Rice in the Slow Cooker – A Pinch of Healthy (this has started a slow cooker bean revolution for me… I’ve been cooking all kinds of dried beans in the crockpot lately!)

Quick and Easy Chicken Burritos

Quick and Easy Chicken and Avocado Burritos – Gimme Delicious Food (I’ve also added bacon to the mix with excellent results)

Mini Italian sausage meatballs cooked with Bow Tie pasta in a creamy tomato sauce. Ready in 30 minutes!

Italian Sausage Bow Tie Pasta – A Dish of Daily Life (totally yummy comfort food)

The BEST Baked Fish. I made this and it was absolutely easy and delicious. I made some changes: I used thick tilapia loins and Panko Crumbs only. My recipe is basically 1/4 c mayo, 1 T. dijon mustard, 1 T. lemon juice and 1 tsp of dried dill. Stir and smear on fish. Place on parchment and press on a mixture of Panko, 2 tsp. dill and seasoned salt and pepper to taste. Bake at 450˚ for 15 min. No turning!:

Baked Tilapia with Panko Coating – About Southern Food (I’ve served this with broccoli and rice for a quick and super healthy dinner)

You can get these and lots of other yummy recipes on my Pinterest What’s for Dinner board. What have you been making for dinner lately? Please leave a comment below!


New Disney World Discount for up to 20% off this Holiday Season!

The links in the post below may be affiliate links. Read the full disclosure.

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This week Disney released an up to 20% room-only discount for select travel dates in November and December 2016. If you are contemplating a trip to Disney to enjoy the holiday magic, now is the best time to book – and always use an Orbitz discount to save an additional 15%!

Here are the dates the discount applies:

  • November 6-10
  • November 13-22
  • November 26- December 23
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Enjoying holiday decorations at Disney with my little one

And here is a breakdown of the discount (click here to read the specifics):

  • 20% at select Disney Deluxe Resorts (some Deluxe resorts are only 10% off)
  • 15% at Disney Moderate Resorts (excluding Port Orleans French Quarter)
  • 10% at Disney Value Resorts (excluding the Little Mermaid rooms at Art of Animation)

While these savings aren’t huge, if you combine them with a 15% off promo code from Orbitz (the one I’m currently using is SUMMERTIME) AND pick dates during my suggested times to travel to Disney you can get some great rates!

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Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort lobby

For example, here are some rates during the “Fall” rate season that applies from November 14-18 and November 26 – December 10. These rates include both the Disney and Orbitz discounts and all taxes:

  • Disney’s All-Star Music Resort: from $95/night
  • Disney’s Pop Century Resort: from $105/night
  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort: from $167/night

When you consider that I value the complimentary transportation that comes with all Disney resorts at $93/night, these rates look pretty good!

Have you ever been to Disney during the holidays? Please share your experience in a comment below!


Amazon: Instant Pot 6-in-1 Programmable Pressure Cooker only $69.99 (Today Only)

The links in the post below may be affiliate links. Read the full disclosure.

I know a bunch of you got a great deal on an Instant Pot on Prime Day, but if you missed that deal here is one that is just as good. Today only, get this 6 quart Instant Pot 6-in-1 Programmable Pressure Cooker for $69.99.

Now would be a good time to get one if you are thinking of giving it as a gift, too!


My totally honest review of Birchbox

The links in the post below may be affiliate links. Read the full disclosure.

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A few weeks ago I saw an offer on Swagbucks for Birchbox, a monthly beauty box subscription. My first box would be free after Swagbucks, so I decided to take a leap and try something totally outside of my comfort zone!

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Birchbox subscription costs $10 per month and each month you receive five travel-sized samples of makeup, skincare, or hair products. You can cancel at any time through the Birchbox website. You customize the samples to some degree by describing your skin, hair and beauty style when you register.

The Goods

Here’s what I got in my first box and what I thought:

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I got one fragrance sample, mascara, a face scrub, lip pencil, and makeup setting spray. I also got a larger sample of a cleanser/makeup remover with this box (I entered a promo code I saw on the Birchbox site to add that to my box for free).

I should disclose that I am definitely a minimalist when it comes to a beauty routine! I have never used products in my hair and rarely blow dry or style it. Some days I put makeup on, which consists of concealer, mascara and eye shadow. So take what I say about this stuff with a grain of salt. 😉

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That said, I liked that a little cheat sheet was sent along with the products. I personally needed some description since I’m such a novice to beauty stuff! It was also nice to know the price of the full-sized products.

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The first product I tried was the lip gloss pencil, with help from my little one, of course. As you can see, the color didn’t do much for me! While I’m sure there are some pinks that look good on a redhead, this just wasn’t one of them.

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I reluctantly let my daughter try it on and I think it looked better on her than me!

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Even though I usually use a brownish-black mascara, I tried the black mascara that came with my box anyway. I was actually pleasantly surprised with how natural it looked. I just might change my tune about black mascara on gingers!

The perfume sample was actually really nice and I’ve been putting it on every time I sit down at my computer. I tried the pore scrub and it was just too intense for my sensitive skin. The “makeup setting spray”? Prolly not ever going to use it.

Lastly, I tried the “Micellular Cleanser + Makeup Remover” a few times, and while my skin felt refreshed, it didn’t do much makeup removing. It isn’t a product I would ever buy anyway so no loss there.

Conclusion

2016-08-04 15_53_04-Refer a Friend _ BirchboxFirst of all, I usually don’t sign up for subscriptions that I don’t intend to keep because I hate the process of canceling over the phone. However, you can cancel a Birchbox subscription painlessly on their website, so that is a huge plus.

One warning, though: your credit card will get charged for the next box on the 1st of the month, regardless of when you get your first box. I would have been charged for a second box only a week after I got my first box if I wasn’t careful. So keep that in mind!

Next, a few of the products didn’t work for me because I have red hair, freckles, and sensitive skin. I’m in the small minority of women, though, so most others could likely get more use from the products.

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I thought that what was in the box represented a pretty good value for $10. I usually don’t spend $10 per month in total on beauty products, however, so this would be a “treat” for me.

As a treat, this could be REALLY FUN for someone who love to try out new beauty products. When compared to other things one could spend $10 on, I think Birchbox represents a nice bang for your buck.

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And while I’m not keeping a subscription for myself, I would consider giving Birchbox as a gift!

I can think of several friends and family members who would get a big kick out of getting a Birchbox for a few months. I think it is brilliant that they offer a gift subscription for only three months (so $30 total), since that is within our budget for a gift.

Have you ever tried Birchbox or another beauty box? Please leave a comment below!


Amazon: Deals on Annie’s Homegrown, Stretch Island, Finish Tabs and more…

The links in the post below may be affiliate links. Read the full disclosure.

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I feel like Amazon has been upping its coupon game lately, especially on Subscribe & Save items. I can’t keep track of paper coupons but I CAN click a button to save money on Amazon! 😉

All of the prices below include the  15% Subscribe & Save discount for having 5 or more items in your next delivery. Here are some great deals I found today:

Planters Deluxe Whole Cashew, 18.25 Ounce

Planters Deluxe Whole Cashew, 18.25 Ounce – as low as $5.66 (regularly $9.44) after clipping this 25% off coupon

Stretch Island Fruit Co. 48 Count Fruit Strip Variety Pack – as low as $12.20 (that’s $0.25 per fruit strip!)

Finish All in 1 Powerball Mega Pack, 90 Tablets, Super Charged Automatic Dishwasher Detergent, Fresh Scent

Finish All in 1 Powerball Mega Pack, 90 Tablets, Fresh Scent – as low as $8.76  after clipping the 20% off coupon

Annie's Chewy Gluten Free Granola Bars, Double Chocolate Chip, .98 oz, 5 Count

Annie’s Chewy Gluten Free Granola Bars, Double Chocolate Chip, 5 Count – as low as $1.80 after clipping this 25% off coupon (check out all of the other Annie’s products that work with this coupon here)

2016-08-09 14_24_57-Babyganics CouponsCheck out all of these new 35% off Babyganics coupons, too!

Cottonelle CleanCare Family Roll Toilet Paper, Bath Tissue, 36 Rolls

Cottonelle CleanCare Family Roll Toilet Paper, Bath Tissue, 36 Rolls – as low as $13.32 after clipping the 20% off coupon

Puroast Low Acid Coffee French Roast Single Serve Coffee, 2.0 Keurig Compatible, 12 Count

Puroast Low Acid Coffee French Roast Single Serve Coffee, 2.0 Keurig Compatible, 12 Count – as low as $4.02 after clipping the 40% off coupon (would be a nice gift for a coffee lover or chance to try this coffee yourself!)

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Check out all of these nice beauty coupons available now.

Mr. Sketch Assorted Scent Markers, 12 Pack – only $4.00 (with free Prime shipping) after clipping the $1.00 off coupon


The Best Dates to Visit Walt Disney World {Updated for 2017}

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What time of year you visit Walt Disney World can have a HUGE impact on both the cost and quality of your vacation experience. The first piece of advice I usually give about planning a Disney World vacation is to choose your travel dates carefully!

In this post I’ll share the three reasons you should choose your dates carefully, my most recommended times to travel, and a handy printable calendar to help you plan a 2017 Disney World vacation.

First, the three factors to consider as you plan your trip are cost, crowds, and weather. Since I am a cheapskate at heart, I’ll start with cost. 😉

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Ready for the pool at Disney’s Pop Century Resort

The price you’ll pay for a hotel room at Walt Disney World varies wildly depending on the time of year during which you travel.

As an example, the “rack rate” for a standard room at Disney’s Pop Century Resort (read why it is one of my favorite resorts here) fluctuates from $99 to almost $200 throughout the year. Yes, that same exact room costs 100% more during peak travel season than other times of the year. So we aren’t just talking about a few extra dollars; we talking about cutting the cost of your lodging almost in half by traveling at off-peak times.

It is also important to note that resort hotel rooms are almost always cheaper Sunday through Thursday night. If you are planning a 5 night stay, and can make it happen with work schedules, go during the week to avoid the additional 10-25% cost increase of Friday and Saturday night stays.

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Avoid heinous crowds at the Magic Kingdom!

The second reason I suggest planning your travel dates carefully is to avoid horrendous crowds at the theme parks. Please just take my word for it that it can be miserable at the parks when they are ultra-crowded.

Nothing ruins a vacation like shuffling through the parks at a snail’s pace surrounded by throngs of frustrated tourists. Or seeing 2+ hour wait times for all of the popular attractions. Some people might not mind visiting the Magic Kingdom when it is at peak capacity, but I would rather… I don’t know, swim with sharks? Visit the dentist? You get the idea.

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Enjoy some amazing Florida weather

The third reason you should plan your travel carefully is weather. Don’t underestimate the heat and humidity of central Florida in the summer months. It can be downright miserable, so I strongly suggest avoiding the summer months if at all possible.

If your vacation plans include pool time, you’ll want to avoid a visit in January or February, when pool days are rare. Also, traveling to Florida in hurricane season can be dicey, so all but one of my recommended times to visit fall outside of that time of year (roughly June until the end of October).

I’ll give you my four favorite times of year to visit the parks below, but be warned: they all take place when kids are traditionally in school. Now I will tell you what I told my students and their families if they informed me they would be missing a week of school to visit Disney World (I was a public school teacher for 10 years): Your kids will learn far more during a week at Disney World than they would have in school that week.

Blasphemous, right? But honestly, your kids will get SO MUCH out of a trip to Disney World in terms of new knowledge and life experience. It is the best possible learning situation for them, so please don’t feel bad or hesitate to take your kids out of school to travel to Disney. Just ignore anyone who says otherwise and send them my way for convincing. 😉

#1 Best Time To Visit: Early November

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Desserts at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival

To me, this time of year has it all… fantastic weather, relatively low crowds, and low room rates. Plus you’ll catch the tail end of the hugely popular Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, my favorite event at Walt Disney World!

Average highs are around 80 degrees so you can likely still get plenty of time in at the pool without it being scorchingly hot when you are at the parks. Hurricane season is almost always over by now. Crowds are pretty mild (about 4-5 out of 10) and this time of year is part of the rate category Disney calls “Fall”, which is one of the lower-cost times of year to visit. For comparison, a standard room at Pop Century costs $110 during the “Fall” season, which is second only to “Value” season in January in terms of affordability (plus you can save even more by taking advantage of multiple discounts and booking on Orbitz).

PLUS, for the last few years, Disney has been releasing a “Free Dining” offer for this time of year, which could be a great deal for a family (see my Disney Dining Plan 101 post for more info). Note: There is a cost increase and surge in crowds associated with the Veteran’s Day long weekend, so avoid those few days if you can!

#2 Best Time To Visit: End of September

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Fall decorations at the Magic Kingdom

My second choice for the best time of year to visit is the last two weeks in September. I have visited Disney World this week for the last 3 out of 4 years for the following reasons:

1) Awesome pool weather (we spend loads of time at the pool)
2) Relatively low crowd levels
3) Food & Wine Festival (starting closer to mid-September in 2016) and
4) This is the cheapest time of year to stay at Disney if you are renting DVC points.

We love to rent DVC points this time of year for a stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge, our favorite resort. We pay around $125/night for a Deluxe Studio Villa which would cost almost $500 if we booked it directly through Disney (read about how you can do this too). It is pretty hot this time of year, with highs in the upper 80’s, making it sometimes unbearable in the sun. But as long as you plan for a break in the middle of the day, the heat is manageable (at least for me).

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#3 Best Time To Visit: After Easter Until Memorial Day

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Another time of year that I find excellent for a trip to Disney World is the period after Easter up until Memorial Day. The weather is the big draw this time of year. Visiting the warm and tropical lushness of Florida after a cold, grey winter is just completely incredible. Plus no chance of a hurricane ruining your well-laid plans! Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival takes place this time of year, adding even more color and beauty to your trip. And crowds stay low, with averages of 4-5 out of 10 for the whole time period.

As far as cost goes, this is a slightly more expensive time of year to visit. The rack rate at Pop Century is $122/night, still far less than peak season. If you want to rent DVC points, I suggest visiting in May as opposed to April for significant savings. May is part of “Dream Season” which has rates only slightly higher than the two cheapest seasons. You will pay about 30% more in April, so wait for May if you can!

#4 Best Time to Visit: Late November/Early December

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Holiday Lights on Cinderella’s Castle

My final suggestion for a visit to Walt Disney World is the period right after Thanksgiving through the first week in December. The main reason for a visit this time of year is to soak up the incredible Disney World holiday magic without paying any more than you would other times of year!

This is one of the most affordable times of year to visit, whether you are booking a resort room with Disney or renting DVC points. Crowds are around 4 out of 10, though they spike a little on the weekends with locals visiting for the holiday decorations and special events.

The weather starts to get unpredictable this time of year, so you could catch highs in the 70’s or you could need parkas. But as long as you pack for anything, this is such a wonderful time to visit the parks. As a special treat, get a ticket to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and spend the whole afternoon and evening at the Magic Kingdom.

Runner-Up: Value Season in January/Early February

I felt like I had to mention one more time of year to consider for a trip to Disney World. January and early February (up until President’s Day weekend) offer the lowest prices AND lowest crowd levels of the year. You’ll have to contend with “winter” in Florida, which is totally mild of course. But, if you aren’t concerned with visiting the pool and want to avoid crowds/save money, consider a trip in the first two months of the year! We love the warm weather and special events of the previously mentioned time periods, so we tend to avoid these months.

Below is a calendar with my most recommended dates to visit Disney World in 2017 highlighted in green. Click here to view this file as a pdf for easy printing.

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Another great resource is MouseSaver’s Rack Rates for Disney World Resorts 2017.

I hope this post gave you some helpful hints for planning a trip to Walt Disney World!

Do you agree or disagree with my recommendations? Please leave a comment below!

Best dates Disney World 2017 - when you travel makes all the difference - Disney vacation planning tips


Free Scoop of Ice Cream at Baskin-Robbins with App Download

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I just downloaded the Baskin-Robbins app and got my coupon for one free scoop of ice cream! It is good through October 4th, so no rush to try to use it.

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I also signed up for their birthday club for a free scoop during my birthday month. 🙂

Thanks, RetailMeNot!


Is a Costco Membership Worth the $55 Fee?

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I finally joined Costco this year and I have been wondering just how much I’m saving on the stuff I’d buy anyway, and if that savings justifies the annual membership fee. The Costco membership fee recently increased from $45 to $55, so it is a significant amount to pay just to shop somewhere for most families.

So in this post you’ll find a cost comparison of five items I buy regularly: butter, salad, shredded cheese, frozen fruit, and coffee. I’ve calculated how much I save by buying these items at Costco instead of my local grocery store, Food Lion. Will the savings on these items alone be enough to justify the annual membership fee? Read on to find out… 😉

#1 Butter

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We use a fair amount of butter because I do a lot of cooking and baking at home. Four sticks of butter equals a pound, and I estimate that I use between 4 and 6 sticks per month, depending on how much I’m baking.

Store brand unsalted butter costs $3.99 per pound at my local grocery store. Costco’s Kirkland Signature Butter is $2.37 per pound. When I buy a four-pound pack, I usually put one pound in the fridge and the other three in the freezer. Each month I save $2.43 on butter.

Total annual savings on butter: $29.16

#2 Salad Mix

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I used to buy the little 6 oz. bags of Spring Mix in my local grocery for about $2.99 each. That works out to $7.97 per pound for conventional (non-organic) salad mix.

Now I buy the large 1-pound clamshells of Organic Spring Mix at Costco for $4.49 per pound. The quality is better, the salad is organic, and the mix lasts me through 2 weeks of a lot of salad eating!

I alternate between this Spring Mix and Costco’s Organic Baby Spinach. So each month I save around $6.96 on lettuce for salads and cooking.

Total annual savings on salad mix: $83.52

#3: Shredded Cheese

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I use shredded cheese for some purpose almost daily. I had been buying 8 oz. bags of Cheddar, Mexican, and Mozzarella for around $2.50 each at Food Lion. If I caught a good sale I could get them for $2, which works out to $4 per pound, so I’ll use that price for comparison.

At Costco, the Kirkland Brand shredded cheese is usually around $2.35 per pound. I rotate among the three varieties named above and 5 pounds lasts us about 2 months. I also freeze the cheese in smaller Ziploc bags and it thaws super fast.

I end up saving $4.12 each month on shredded cheese.

Total annual savings on shredded cheese: $49.50

#4: Frozen Fruit

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We drink a LOT of smoothies in our house, so I feel like I am constantly buying bags of frozen fruit. I like to add pineapple as a natural sweetener, and put it in every smoothie I make.

I had previously been buying 16 oz. bags at Food Lion for $2.50 and we used about one each week. A four-pound bag at Costco is $6.59, which works out to $1.65 per pound. So we are saving $3.40 each month on frozen pineapple alone.

Total annual savings on frozen fruit: $40.80

#5 Ground Coffee

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We make a pot of half-caff coffee each day in our house. I previously had been buying mostly Food Lion store brand ground coffee in 12 oz. bags for $5 each. That works out to $6.66 per pound. Occasionally I would find a good deal on coffee on Amazon but rarely could I get it for much cheaper than that.

Costco’s Kirkland Signature Ground Coffee is $9.49 for 3 lbs, which works out to $3.16 per pound. I really like how this coffee tastes and think it is actually an improvement over the coffee we had been drinking!

I estimate that we go through about a pound of coffee every two weeks. Our savings per pound is $3.50, so we save about $7 each month just buying coffee at Costco.

Total annual savings: $84.00

Summary

It is likely clear that if you buy any of these items in the quantity that we do, a Costco membership will definitely pay for itself! Here is the total savings from these five items:

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These results totally surprised me, even though I suspected that the membership would pay for itself.

After you subtract the $55 membership fee, you’d save $231.86 just buying these five items at Costco as opposed to a local grocery store. That is a LOT of money to save on stuff I’d buy anyway!

I also need to add that I think the quality of the Kirkland Signature brand is excellent. I think Costco works really hard to make sure that the quality of it’s store brand surpasses that of any other store brands around.

Do you have a Costco Membership? If not, how do you save on groceries? Please share your money-saving tips for groceries below! I’d love to learn your tips and tricks. 🙂


Amazon: Ozeri Pro Digital Kitchen Scale only $8.42 shipped

The links in the post below may be affiliate links. Read the full disclosure.

Here is the lowest price I’ve seen on a kitchen scale… get this Ozeri Pro Digital Kitchen Scale for $8.42 after you clip the 40% off coupon. This item ships free with an Amazon Prime membership.

I use my kitchen scale for lots more than cooking… most commonly for weighing packages under 12 pounds that I am shipping!

 


FREE 8×10 Print at Walgreens when you pick up in-store

The links in the post below may be affiliate links. Read the full disclosure.

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Get a totally free 8 x 10 print at Walgreens when you enter the promo code FREEDEAL731 at checkout. If you select in-store pick-up you won’t pay any shipping. I’m picking mine up tomorrow. 🙂

I’m not sure how long this code will work so I suggest using it ASAP!

Thanks, Money Saving Mom!