Monday, July 14, 2014

4 Ways to Save Money on Date Night

This shop is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and BJ’s Restaurants, but all my opinions are my own. #DineInOrderAhead #pmedia

It's always nice to go on a date night with my husband.  Getting that time to reconnect with him is crucial to our marriage.  Being able to have a conversation without begging someone to eat their dinner, or stop playing with their LEGO's, is pure bliss! However, sometimes, the mere cost of the date itself can end up being more than you would like it to be, especially when factoring in babysitting fees.  That's why I've come up with 4 tips to help you save money on your next date night.

  1. Have a lunch date, if a dinner date is just not budget-friendly: The majority of the major chain restaurants (and many non-franchise restaurants, as well) have Lunch Menus, which have slightly smaller portions and the cost is incredibly reasonable.
  2. Hunt/Tweet/Post and beg for coupons:  With technology, it is possible to be sitting in a restaurant and then search for a coupon of that place while you wait for your server to take your order.  In fact, I did it just two weeks ago when we took my husband's grandmother to lunch.  I ran a search of the name of the restaurant along with the word "coupon" and found a few coupons I could use.  We picked the best one we could find and showed it to the server.  Boom!  Instant savings!  You might also be able to uncover coupons when checking in on a social media platform.  Ask your server if there are any deals or discounts when giving social media mentions.
  3. Swap babysitting services with your friends/neighbors:  A while back, my girlfriends and I started a babysitting swap.  When we are in a bind, we ask each other for  a babysitting favor.  That same day that the favor is "cashed in", you book that friend for a babysitting date.  It's very simple!  And that way no one "feels bad" for asking a friend to watch your two crazy kids!  You'll be watching theirs soon, also!
  4. If you want to skip #1, #2 and #3, go on a date to BJ's Restaurant and use their new Mobile App, to take advantage of their "Dine In Order Ahead" feature.  You'll save time and babysitting fees!:  Not only can you head to BJ's Restaurant for amazing pizza, pasta and pizookie, but now you can go confidently knowing that you'll save money in babysitting fees, because you'll be saving a ton of time!  How, you ask?  With this new feature, you are able to Order Ahead from your phone, while at home, still giving your sitter last minute instructions.  You specify the time you'll arrive at the restaurant.  Once you check in at BJ's Restaurant to Dine In, your order is immediately queued in the kitchen.  Placing an order through the Dine In Order Ahead feature, in the Mobile App, automatically places you on a wait list, so your actual wait for a table at the restaurant is very minimal.  

If you're a frequent BJ's Restaurant customer, then you realize how valuable this Mobile App truly is!  My husband and I have already used it three times since we downloaded it less than a month ago and the amount of time saved is immense!  We used it last week when we hired a sitter, and we were back in less than two hours!  Not to mention, we made two pits stops during our "mini-date".  We took the hassle out of the ordering process, we got our drinks immediately, and we even saved time by paying for our meal without having to wait for the bill.  I used the Mobile Pay feature in the app and we were in and out of the restaurant in less than 40 minutes!

On Father's Day, we also used the BJ's Restaurant Mobile App, while we had our kids in tow.  On this day, we used the Dine In Order Ahead feature, as well as the Mobile Pay feature.  If you have kids, you know very well how torturous waiting for your food could be when you have antsy, hungry and cranky children.  Not to mention waiting for the check!  On this day, we didn't wait at all! I paid for the bill directly from my phone and then had the receipt emailed to me.  There was no waiting to get the server's attention or for the doom of a bill that never comes when you want it to.  Instead, I paid from my phone and we were on our way home!  It saved my sanity, my mood and my husband's Father's Day!

For my husband and I, we have been using the BJ's Restaurant Mobile App as a time and money-saving tool.  Paying for less than two hours of babysitting fees because we are saving at least an hour of time is huge!  And the fact that BJ's Restaurant realizes that our time is valuable makes me want to give them my business for being a conscious and thoughtful restaurant.  So, do yourself a favor (seriously) and download the BJ's Restaurant Mobile App NOW!  It's available in both iPhone and Android.  And on your first use, you save $5 on a $20 order AND you get a free pizookie!!!  Yes, free pizookie!  Now, if that's not a good motivator, I don't know what is!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Rent the Runway is my new best friend!

If you have ever stood in front of a closet full of one-time worn cocktail dresses and fancy gowns, right before a wedding, and have actually thought, "I have NOTHING to wear!  What am I going to wear?!", then you'll know very well the feeling I had a few weeks back when I realized I had back-to-back weddings coming up.  While this certainly isn't the most tragic fashion problem to have (see-through dresses a la Rihanna would be more tragic) it is a stressful problem in terms of your wallet!

While my pre-children self would have thought buying a dress for each of the weddings I was attending was a prefect way to spend an entire weekend, my post-children self thinks it's an incredibly useless expense that could be better spent on maintaining my Starbucks habit or signing my kids up for swim lessons this summer. That is why when I saw one of those Facebook side ads for Rent the Runway (RTR) I decided to check it out. (Who knew?!  Apparently, those ads work because people like me click on them.)  That was the single, best ad click I've ever made!  I discovered the most brilliant site and one that would have been SO useful back in high school during prom and winter formal season: a place where you can rent designer gowns at the most insane prices!  BRILLIANT!!!

I quickly created a couple of "SHORTLISTS", which are basically lists that you create for each event you are attending, and I then placed dresses that I loved into those lists for those particular events.  For my brother in law's wedding I was looking for a cute, short length dress that would be perfect for a church wedding, but still appropriate for a garden reception.  I didn't want it too fancy, but I also didn't want to be underdressed.  Quickly I found dresses that fit my search criteria and saved them into my Shortlist titled "Marc's Wedding".  Once I had picked a few dresses, I went back and read the reviews of each dress, which then helped me eliminate dresses.  The review feature is the key to a successful rental because you get to see height, weight, size and bra size of other renters.  Based on this, you then decide whether this dress is right for you or not, by following the recommendations of other ladies who are your size.  Once I narrowed down my choices, I decided on the blue, Issa "Spray Paint" dress.  The retail value of this dress is $620, and I was able to rent it for four days at a cost of just $30.

My cousin's wedding was a little more formal, but the weather was predicted to be quite hot, so I wanted a short length dress that still gave me a more formal look.  After a few options selected, and then going in and reading the reviews to narrow down my choice, I chose the Karla dress by designer Nha Khanh.  This dress retails at $650, however I was able to rent it for four days at just $40.  I needed accessories with this dress so I also rented the Southern Plantation Earrings by Nicole Miller for just $5 and the matching bracelet, the Star Light Star Bright bracelet by Nicole Miller, at just $15.  I really could not be happier about my experience with RTR.

Hair & Makeup by Abril Perez (@abril_lizette)
And finally, another cousin got married and her wedding was more of a formal affair.  I rented the Badgley Mishka "Award Winner" gown, along with an Elizabeth Cole Crystal Navettee Bloom cocktail ring, as well as the same Nicole Miller Southern Plantation Earrings from the wedding above.  This dress was a show stopper!  I got compliments at this wedding from perfect strangers who kept telling me the dress was "stunning", "amazing" and "just gorgeous"! I can't say that I disagree and I am so glad I wore this one!  And at just $70 to rent, it just can't be beat!

Now, you might be thinking, "Wendy, this all sounds so great, but how do I know if the dress will fit?!"  Well, you don't know if the dress will fit. I have to trust the reviewers in this area. However, as a safety net I ordered a second dress (same dress) in a different size, both times.  Of course, a second dress comes at a cost. However, in order to save myself some money, and because I knew I'd be renting three times this year, I paid for the RTR Pro membership. This membership is a $29.95 fee which covers you for one year. It includes some very important features that allow you to maximize your experience with RTR. With the membership you receive free shipping on every rental, free insurance which covers you in case you ruin the dress in anyway, a free $50 dress rental on your birthday and a free second dress with every rental. Right there the membership pays for itself if you'll be renting more than once. For me, it was a no-brainer! AND, if you're renting for the first time they give you $25 off your rental! Buying a dress no longer makes sense.   You can understand why my husband thinks this is one of the best ideas I've ever had.  You're welcome, honey!

*This is a review of my experience with RTR. I was not paid or compensated in any way for this post.*

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What I'm Watching Right Now...

In our house we have one TV.  Just one.  It was a conscious choice we made when we first got married, 8 years ago.  We had read somewhere that couples who had televisions in their bedrooms were more likely to grow apart as time went on, than those that left the bedroom solely for sleeping (and other activities of leisure….ahem!).  Now that we have children, we still have not found a true need for another TV.  We’ll see how long this all lasts!

That being said, my husband complains that once the kids go to bed, I like to hijack the TV and watch “dumb television” in order to recharge.  To him, that means reality shows, which in turn means he’s only able to watch what he wants to watch, which is Breaking Bad, while he’s at the gym on the Stair Master.  Years ago, I used to produce reality television and so my reality TV habits were justified by the fact that I was doing “research”.  However, he says that now I have no excuse and that I “continue to kill brain cells for no reason”.  Well, in an attempt to watch something he would like (he’s a former History teacher) I thought it would be fun to suggest we watch “House of Cards”, the new Netflix political drama series, together.  Guess what?!  Best idea EVER!!! 

We are five episodes in and we are hooked!  The show is a little dark, but the conniving politics illustrated throughout the series is SO good!  Kevin Spacey is outstanding in his role as politician Francis Underwood and Robin Wright is fierce as his ruthless and determined wife, Claire. His attempt to put himself in a position of power, after being overlooked for Secretary of State, leads Frank down a dark road of lies and manipulation.  This stuff is way better than tables being flipped and drinks being thrown on “The Real Housewives”!  (Do not tell my husband I just admitted that!).  

Once we’re done with House of Cards, my mission will be to get him hooked on Scandal.  I’ve managed to get a few of my friends on the Olivia Pope train and they are so grateful they did! All the hubs will need is a steamy Olivia and Fitz scene and he’ll be addicted.  (Choo! Choo!)   Come on, admit it!  It’s SO good!

I am so excited for the content currently available on Netflix!  This list of shows is excellent!

  • Orange is the New Black
  • Scandal
  • Pretty Little Liars
  • Sherlock
  • Breaking Bad
  • Parenthood
If none of these seem to fit your viewing pleasure, try one of these sleeper hits:

  • Weeds
  • Call the Midwife
  • Freaks & Geeks
  • Shameless
  • Top of the Lake
What shows are you streaming right now?  Any you recommend?  I hear Orange is the New Black is excellent, so that’s next on my list!  

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Summer Bucket List

The opinions in this article are my own. I do not work for, or with, any brand mentioned in this article, nor do I have any official relationship with them.  I have a relationship with GigaSavvy, for whom I create original editorial content.

Now that my boys are getting a little older, we no longer require a giant diaper bag to go anywhere and they can actually appreciate our family outings, it is my mission to make sure they have fun and memorable summers.  Since my husband and I work in education, we have flexible summers, so I've already jam packed our summer to include a few of the following activities.  I'm hoping we cross them all off of our list, but #3 is a non-negotiable:

  1. Spend at least 2 days a week at the pool:  My kids don't know how to swim just yet.  We're working on it, but boy do they love to be in the water!  They're like little fish! Aside from making them extra tan, spending a couple days a week at the pool is sure to make them two very happy little boys!
  2. Make one dinner on the BBQ grill at least once a week:  We recently moved into a larger home, to celebrate, my husband got himself a new grill.  We have been using that thing a lot on the weekends (and even during the week), so our gaol this summer is just to keep that up!  The kids devour their dinner when it comes off the grill, so we'll continue to encourage that.  
  3. Go to Knott's Berry Farm to ride the newly re-opened Calico Mine Co. ride:  Knott's Berry Farm is a popular Southern California theme park and they have recently made some new upgrades and redesigns to the park.  Among the many things they've remodeled is the ever popular Calico Mine Co. ride, which is a Knott's Berry Farm staple.  It's been a ride at Knott's since 1960!  Among the upgrades are numerous animated figures, high tech lighting and audio, as well as new special effects to highlight a truly authentic 8-minute long, mining journey.  If you go this summer, look for me on the Calico Mine Co. train ride!  I'll be the one with the two handsome boys screaming their heads off with happiness!
  4. Go hiking as a family:  Like I said before, we recently moved, and the community we moved into has an awesome hiking trail.  Naturally, we plan on becoming regulars on that trail.
  5. Take a stay-cation to Palm Springs:  We want to take the boys on a vacation, but I am currently working on my husband.  You see, I am trying to convince him that we need to take a cruise with the kids in 2015.  So in order to make that happen, we have to downsize on this year's vacation.  My idea was a trip to Palm Springs.  BRILLIANT!  (And since it's the desert, we will also be working on item #1. Two birds, one stone! Double BRILLIANT!)
  6. Have individual date days/nights with each of our boys:  I really have been wanting to take each of my boys on an individual date, so that quality time could be spent with each of them individually.  I think it's important to let each of them have time alone with us and vice versa.  This summer is the time to make this happen.
  7. Take the kids to the zoo:  My boys love going to the zoo and we haven't been since the days when we used double strollers and diaper bags.  A trip there now that they're older is sure to be a fun learning experience.
  8. Take more pictures…with a REAL camera:  I need to take more pictures with a real camera, instead of just my phone.  The phone pictures typically just end up staying in the deep abyss of my Camera Roll, or in my laptop, never to be printed or seen again.  I'd like to change that and this bucket list is the perfect way to do it!
 What are you planning to do this summer?  What family activities should I add to my bucket list?

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Kid-Friendly Yogurt Bar the Whole Family Will Love

In our house, yogurt is a staple we cannot live without.  We have yogurt of the frozen variety; in a
tube and easily accessible to the kids.  Then we have the the drinkable yogurts, that are common snacks around here, and for the adults of this family, we have regular, greek yogurt.  Clearly it's a snack and breakfast food we just can't live without.

Much like our yogurt, Netflix is also a staple of our household.  Recently, our weekends have involved new movies, shows and cartoons that the boys are discovering.  One of those new movies is Shrek the Musical!  I was inspired by Andrea Lynn's Shrek Parfait post, to create a Yogurt Bar for my boys, this past weekend, that would give them the opportunity to decide what they'd actually eat without me arguing with them.  Typically, every meal requires an argument of some sort, or an "I don't like THAT!!" even though they've eaten "that" in the past and by their own free will.  With the Yogurt Bar idea I figured it would be a filling, healthy snack (or breakfast), that they'd eat without arguments.  And since it was Mother's Day weekend, I was desperate for an argument-free meal.  Based on how clean their bowls were, I'd call this a WIN!  If I would have let them lick the bowls, they would have!

Yogurt Bar Ingredients:

  • Plain yogurt
  • sliced strawberries
  • raspberries 
  • dices mangoes
  • red seedless grapes
  • shredded coconut
  • granola
  • sprinkles (just for fun!)
  • 100% honey
  • condensed milk

Have all the ingredients presented neatly and let them feel they are at their local Frozen Yogurt shop!  Since they were responsible for choosing the ingredients in their bowls, they are bound to finish it, down to the very last bite!

Wishing you an argument-free meal, friends….

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