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I love, love, love shopping at consignment stores! It’s like going on an expedition only instead of searching for ancient artifacts you’re on a quest to find the best buys on gently-used, quality apparel, shoes, handbags, and jewelry. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Well at least it is to shopaholics like me! Imagine getting stylish designer fashions and accessories at a fraction of the original price – a leather Coach wristlet for $18… a casual Calvin Klein tee for less than $10… a silk Jones New York dress for under $20… a pair of embellished Anne Klein flats for around $19… it’s a bargain hunter’s dream!

Over the years I’ve learned to master the art of thrifting, so I thought I’d share a few insider secrets to make your consignment shop excursions a success.

Where to shop. Check local directories or visit sites like TheThriftShopper.com for a listing of stores in your area. Ask savvy thrifters you know for recommendations too.  HINT: I try to hit stores in more affluent neighborhoods as they have a better selection of high-end merchandise.

When to shop. Find out what day of the week stores display new arrivals and try to shop the next day or two to take advantage of the latest deals. Also, check store hours and if you’re going on a Saturday or Sunday, get there early as they tend to be busier late in the morning to mid-afternoon on weekends. If you plan to visit more than one place in a day, you’ll need at least a few hours to browse (it usually takes me four hours or more). In other words, go when you have ample time to shop.

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I tend to go for unique, eye-catching tops likes these. They’re so fun to wear!

How to shop. Keep an open mind. You may be looking for a patterned blouse to match a favorite skirt or a fancy dress for an upcoming event, but you could wind up with a groovy boho tunic or a colorful sundress instead. Take time to sort through the racks ‘cuz you never know what gems you’ll find. Also consider what you already have in your closet and take photos with your camera phone. Then look for pieces to fill out your wardrobe.

Try it on for size. Let’s face it: some things look better on the hanger! Plus, sizes can vary from brand to brand. So, always try on clothes in the store to make sure they fit properly and look flattering on you. Take a walk in those shoes you have your eye on too. The style may be irresistible, but if they’re the least bit uncomfortable, don’t buy them!

 Give it the once-over. Even if stores are meticulous about what they’ll accept, they may overlook a small spot, rip, a broken clasp, or a loose heel. So inspect each item thoroughly. A missing button is no big deal, but unless you’re a magician you may have trouble making a stubborn stain disappear!

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I got these adorable, like-new clothes for my granddaughter last month for less than $26!

Kids’ Stuff. Now that I have a sweet little granddaughter, I’ve been frequenting secondhand stores that carry children’s clothes and such. If you’re looking for unbelievable deals on apparel, shoes, hats, baby gear, toys, and other items for infants and toddlers, you’ll find a virtual goldmine in these places. Everything looks practically brand new because most youngsters outgrow everything before they wear out.

Sign up for store mailing lists or follow them on social media. That way you’ll be among the first to know about special sales events. Some stores offer discount coupons to help you save even more.

Another great thing about consignments shops: You can bring in items you no longer want and as long as they’re still in style and in good condition, you could get credit for any sold items. Some places even give you cash upfront!

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Look at all the fabulous jewelry pieces I found on some of my shopping excursions!

Don’t have any consignment stores nearby? No worries! Just go online and shop at places like these:

ThredUP. Choose from thousands of like-new clothing items for women, girls and boys, all hand-selected and certified for quality. You’ll find popular brands discounted up to 90% off!

The Attic. This site features a huge selection of women’s designer clothing & vintage clothing, accessories, modern & retro jewelry, and more at deep discounts.

Swap.com . Considered the largest online consignment store, Swap.com offers a ginormous selection of pre-owned baby, kids’, maternity, and women’s apparel & accessories.

Happy Shopping!

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. can’t wait for her next shopping adventure. Her mission: find some hot deals on cool styles for summer.

Photos by Mary Haehn

New Year, New You

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Who, me? Blogger Katie agrees with Calvin! © Bill Waterson

Come mid-December, we start wrapping up the previous year and looking forward to the upcoming one. During this holiday season, as we sit around with friends and family, recounting the trials and tribulations of 2015 – we end up eating cheese plates and cheesecake, drinking beer and wine and soda, maybe capping the long nights with a cigar and heading to bed way past our bedtimes. But while this type of over-indulgence is what the holidays are about, the New Year is always about the New You!

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Cupcakes and champagne – I’m about that life!

That is, until it’s February and you realized you didn’t even keep your New Year’s resolutions for a month. And you wouldn’t be alone. According to Franklin Covey, a time management firm, 30% of New Year’s resolutions are broken by the end of January. The thing is though that when you start to backslide, you think, “Well, I already got off on the wrong foot, might as well try again…later!” and get discouraged, and give up.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can successfully set and keep – and even exceed! – your New Year’s resolutions if you keep three things in mind.

  • Set Realistic Goals
  • Think Short-Term, Dream Long-Term
  • Plan It Out

All too often we think of our resolutions as make or break it. Trying to commit to huge changes like, “I’m going to write a book in 2016!” when you haven’t so much as written a paragraph in 2015, sets yourself up for failure. Instead, we outline the three most common New Year’s resolutions and small ways you can make big changes, leading to a happier, healthier you!

Fat to Fit Before After Diet Weight Loss Success

1. Lose Weight

Ah, the most common resolution we make. Who doesn’t want to lose a few? Actually, according to some estimates, between 30% and 40% of us vow to shed some lbs annually. If your plan is to incorporate more veggies in your diet or hit the gym more, this might just work. But science says setting a goal to lose 30 pounds is most likely not going to work. Why? For the same reason that agreeing with your aunt you’ll meet her coworker’s friends’ daughter’s boyfriend for coffee in three months: you’re making vague, faraway promises you can’t (or won’t) keep.

The best way to lose weight is to make small lifestyle changes that can lead to you losing those 30 pounds. For example, set the goal of determining your ideal daily caloric intake and then logging your calories each day with a site like http://www.caloriecount.com/. At the same time, start a workout routine that’s appropriate for your lifestyle and level of current fitness; again, it’s all about moderation! Throwing yourself into a new rigorous workout is a good way to throw out your back.

Are you a person that’s worried they’ll judge you at the gym, and you’re just not cut out for running miles and miles outside in the snowy January weather? All the more power to you if you can, but if that’s just not you, check out SmartPerks’ solution: The Total Gym machine. It offers complex workouts, utilizing all of your muscles that need to firm up, but without putting too much strain on your body. I know a huge factor that keeps me from working out as often as I should is the struggle to drag myself to the gym, so getting a full-body exercise in my own home is a huge plus. If it’s good enough for Christie Brinkley, it’s definitely good enough for me.

Losing weight is a commendably healthy goal to set for 2016, so we don’t want you to let yourself down. Just go slow!

2. Eat This, Not That

Similar to the losing weight resolution, but not fully, because you can be at a totally fine weight, but still eat too much chips and guac or French fries. Most of us could stand to eat better, even if we think we’re really on top of our diet. And while the SmartPerks office is a great place to work, there is one downside: the abundance of snacks. Between the homemade toffee, apple pie bars, caramel popcorn, and bowls of Hershey’s kisses, it’s a sweet tooth-owner’s dream. Tasty though these treats might be, they’re certainly not good for my thighs.

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How could anyone say no to a handful of these?

So, one of my personal 2016 resolutions is to cut back on the daytime snacks. When my blood sugar levels are dipping around 10:30 am and 3 pm, I need to turn to something wholesome like a piece of fruit or dried soybeans, not those delicious, mouthwatering, scrumptious apple bars… dang it, Mary!

Of course, it might be obvious to cut down on the sodas and sweets, but often our biggest issue is our main meals themselves. Oversized, low on fiber, or high in sugar, we might be able to fool ourselves into thinking our veggie burrito is healthy, but we’re not fooling the scale. Even something like salad dressing can be a shockingly caloric addition to an otherwise healthy salad. For example, Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian, a vinaigrette-style dressing, is loaded with unhealthy ingredients – two tablespoons is 130 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 320 milligrams of sodium. Certainly not a good option with which to top your greens. Something I do to cut down on calories but not on flavor is I make my own dressing.

Katie’s Apple Cider Vinegar Dressing:

Salad dressingThis dressing is excellent on kale salads, roasted vegetables, or any kitchen sink salad. This makes ¾ cup, and after using you can keep in a Mason jar or Tupperware in the fridge.

 

  • 1 small shallot, diced small
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar – I often use closer to ½ cup to thin out the dressing
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey (or maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or any citrus – grapefruit works great!)
  • Pinch each of salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine ingredients in mini Mason jar, and shake until your preferred consistently! Store in tightly closed jar for up to two weeks. Upon use, shake jar to re-emulsify ingredients.

Two tablespoons of this dressing equated to 14 calories, .5 grams of fat, and 214 milligrams of sodium, without losing out on any flavor.

Another way of managing your eating habits? Subscribing to a food delivery service like Blue Apron or Home Chef (Pro Tip: Use the SmartPerks promo code “SP30FREE” to receive $30 off your first order.) The best thing about weekly meal kits is they’re chef-curated so they’re probably more inventive than anything you whip up. You can also pick and choose which weeks you want based on the meal plans listed online. Also, since they’re specifically portioned, you know exactly what nutritional value (including calorie content!) your meals have.

On top of that, they are usually very balanced, representative of the good parts of the food pyramid, so you know you’re getting your veggies, too. For example, one of the available meals for Home Chef is “Winter Quinoa and Arugula Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Walnuts, and Apricots.” Now, doesn’t that sound healthy and yummy?

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Home Chef’s winter salad

If your New Year’s Resolution is to eat healthier in 2016, know that you can do it, it just takes some planning, self-control and motivation. And for your coworkers to not bring in treats.

3. Break the Habit

Always Late

Whether it’s smoking cigarettes, biting your nails, being perennially late, or procrastinating on the job or elsewhere, make 2016 the year to break the bad habit.

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We’ve all got something we do that we shouldn’t, right? If your resolution is to finally learn some healthier habits, we encourage you to get to it! Though some are worse for you than others, anything that negatively impacts your life should be stopped. For example, I’m a nail-biter, guilty as charged. Whenever I’m nervous, bored or tired, I gnaw on my nails like there’s no tomorrow. So far, nothing has helped…though I hold out for next year! I’ve heard no-bite nail polishes can really help, but I’m not so optimistic about me actually taking the time to paint my nails.

Another issue I face – like an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans – is sleeping problems. Sometimes, even after getting 7 hours of seemingly restful sleep, I’ll wake up groggy and exhausted. There are plenty of tips out there for getting a better night’s rest, including avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine (go figure), consistent sleep scheduling (“catching up on sleep” on the weekends is a big no-no), and regular exercising (perhaps a New Year’s resolution double-whammy!).

In addition, setting up your bedroom as a sleep sanctuary can help get you in a relaxed mindset. Just recently, I bought some black-out curtains for my bedroom windows to keep out light and a new cozy throw blanket to stay warm during winter. I also light lavender candles in my room about an hour before bed for aromatherapy. I have found that buying a new set of really soft sheets, a fun duvet, or a great pillow help to make your bed the most inviting place for you to unwind from a long day and catch some z’s.

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How cozy does this look? From MessageNote’s Pinterest

To help you in The Pursuit of Sleep, check out SmartPerks’ deal for My Pillow, a machine-washable, always-cool foam pillow that cradles your neck and head, helping to guarantee a sound night of sleep. Use promo code “smart2” for 50% off your first order! Saving money and sleeping better? Say no more!

Whatever your New Year’s resolution is, whether it’s specific or vague, big or small, a lifestyle change or a daily tweak, SmartPerks wishes you the best of luck in accomplishing your goals for the new year. And as we head into 2016, don’t forget to enjoy the remaining days of 2015!

Blogger Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, bit her nails the whole time she was writing this blog post. 

Holiday Gift Ideas for The Hard-To-Buy-For

Picture it: the twinkling lights blinking off fresh snow, a heady evergreen-and-sugar-cookie scent in the air, a table laden with delicious treats…and no gifts under the Christmas tree due to poor planning.  Uh-oh!

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Disappointed kids on Christmas do not a merry day make.

 

Though the winter holidays are typically a time of great joy, this busy time of year is not without its trials and tribulations. Whether it is perfectly planning a five course meal with family or friends or remembering to buy gifts for said cherished ones, there are certain holiday stressors everyone is affected by. Luckily for you, we’re here to guide you with suggestions of gift ideas for the trickiest of cases, so no one in your circle gets forgotten.

Got a gadget-obsessed great uncle but you’re kind of a Luddite? A friend’s daughter who is obsessed with some trendy toy you’ve never heard of? Help is on the way! Spanning price ranges and generations, we’ve got you covered.

For Preteens Who “Just Hate Everything”:

Groovy Coloring Books

We were all in that stage once: you’re 11 and everything is the worst and no one understands me. Well, they might not know it yet but they need to chill out. And what better way to relax with a coloring book! You may have heard that coloring books are making a big comeback – and are totally not just for little kids anymore. Now, there are numerous options for the hip preteens in your life, including our favorite: Oodles of Doodles: Over 200 Pictures to Complete and Create. This coloring book inspires creativity with a few drawings here and there, encouraging the artist to finish the page themselves. Another great one is the Creative Haven Fanciful Faces Coloring Book, a crowd favorite which has detailed outlines of psychedelic portraits.

Coloring BookFanciful Faces

For older kids (and preteens with great taste in music) there’s also the Indie Rock Coloring Book which has illustrations dedicated to some of the most popular indie musicians, such as Iron and Wine or Hot Chip. Bonus? A portion of the proceeds goes to music-related charities, so you’re (in a good way!) double-gifting.

Alternate Ideas: Emily + Meritt Animal Headphones, Gameband Minecraft, Classic Chuck Taylors

For Your Best Friend’s Young Kid:

A Gaming Toothbrush

We’ve all noticed how into gaming and technology kids are these days, but this gift combines those things…with hygiene. Confused? So were we! But the Grush Gaming Toothbrush is a genius way to get kids to enjoy brushing their teeth, helping them visualize their brushing in a fun, healthy way. Instead of getting your BFF’s baby a game that will rot their brain or something noisy like drums that will rot your friend’s brain, this interactive toothbrush is giving them the best of both worlds.

 

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Grush works by displaying a personalized game on a handheld device and guiding the child with the moves to perfectly brush each quadrant of the mouth for 30 seconds. The results can even be sent to the parent, helping them track their child’s progress.

Don’t be worried about seeming like a weirdo getting a kid a toothbrush; kids really do like the darndest things. For instance, at the age of 8 one of my favorite gifts was a suction-cup magnifying mirror. (Note: the staff of SmartPerks doesn’t recommend buying this for your niece or nephew, no matter how weird they are.)

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Monster Hoodie, $39 at BustedTees

Alternate Ideas: Monster Hoodie, FurReal Friends, Imaginext Ultra T-Rex

 

For Gadget Heads:

Futuristic Wireless Device

The Amazon Echo is a wireless speaker and voice command device brought to you by Amazon. Voiced by “Alexa,” consider the Echo a pseudo-assistant. As it’s designed around your voice, think of Echo like a tabletop version of the iPhone’s Siri – but more advanced. It can make to do lists, set your alarms, give real-time info like traffic and weather, and of course also play music from a variety of sources. Amazon Echo

At $179.99, it is definitely a splurge, and maybe more of a gift for a family or a super special friend, but any tech-y person would be ecstatic to get this gadget they might not have bought themselves. Functional but fun, tiny but mighty, the Amazon Echo would be welcome in any savvy smart home.

Alternate Ideas:  UP4 by Jawbone, Perfect Drink App-Controlled Smart Bartending, Tile Dongle

For Your Uncle (or adult brother, boyfriend, husband or dad):

A Gift-of-the-Month Club

Sure, you’ve thought of a gift-of-the-month club before for a special man in your life, but then decided it wasn’t personal enough. That’s all changed. No matter how specific the interests of your male loved one are, there’s a gift-of-the-month club for them.

Do you have a forgetful, quirky male relative always wearing socks so holey they seem biblical? Check out Sock Club, which delivers American made socks directly to your door.

Know an adorkable dude who refuses to grow up? Look into LootCrate, which has an assortment of gamer-related gifts.

Sophisticated cigar connoisseur, always looking for the next trend? SmartPerks has an awesome discount with Cigars International! Just use promo code SA4360 to send your loved one four new cigars a month!

Are there some big foodies in your family? There are gift-of-the-month clubs for hot sauce, a variety of meats and cheeses, and even alcohol! Our favorite is the long standby Club W, which personalizes your wine delivery based on your tastes.

There are plenty more exotic ones, so look around! Get creative. Everyone likes a fun, free surprise each month. Gift-of-the-month clubs fulfill that without you even having to run to the store.

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The Great Deal Company’s Stainless Steel Bar Set, only $39.99

Alternate Ideas: Smart Control Remote, Whiskey StonesStainless Steel Bar Set

 

 

For the Picky Mother-in-Law:

You’ve screwed up one too many times with your persnickety MIL. The baking supplies you happily gifted her last year were met with a snarky comment about how she already owns five whisks; what does she need with another? And so it’s gone for years.

But not this year. This year, you’ll get her something the whole family will appreciate; a one-two punch of a gift. Organize a time all of your extended family can get together, and hire a professional photographer to take family photographs. That’s not it. Also, have them each write a letter or note (kids can draw pictures) of what this matriarch means to them. Then, gather all of the photos in a personalized scrapbook/photo album with the notes and drawings. Sit back, relax, and smugly watch as your MIL is blown away by the thoughtfulness of this gift. It’s personal, sweet and endearing. She’ll never look at you the same way again! Warning: you’ll be setting a high standard for all future gifts, but worry about that next year.

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Bluetooth Activity Tracker, $49.99 from the Great Deal Company

Alternate Ideas: Bluetooth Activity Tracker, Crafting Classes, Restaurant Gift Cards

The holidays are the happiest time of the year. Hopefully, with our gift suggestions, even your hardest-to-please loved ones will share in your joy. Have more ideas? Shout them out in the comments!

Blogger Katie U, a Smart Perks employee, would like all of these gifts herself, especially the cheese-of-the-month box.

 

Smart Perks State of the State: The Heat is On!

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No colony collapse in my garden! Lots of fuzzy bumblebees.

Greetings & Salutations, Friends!

We’re in the thick of summer and our Smart Perks HQ team is all abuzz with activity.  We just sent our fabulous fall money-saving offers to the printer (look for them in your mailbox mid-August,) and now our creative department is busy giving the Smart Perks website its fall makeover.

The next Smart Perks mailing includes some amazing offers for refreshing your home for the new fall season from leading brands like 3-Day Blinds, Wayfair, The Company Store, DirectTV (NFL Sunday Ticket – YES!) and many others. If you’re not on the Smart Perks mailing list, you’ll want to sign up for the next mailing.

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Loved these books!

In-between gardening, reading some great books, filling my bird-feeders (lots of hungry hummingbirds and ravenous woodpeckers,) and enjoying some time ON the lake and IN the lake, I’ve been having a lot of fun taking photos of all the new puppies in our neighborhood.

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Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota

My husband just built a new front porch. He’s quite the handyman. So while sitting out in my new rocker, (oh my gosh, I’m in my early 40s!) I have to stop anyone who passes by with a dog to visit. That’s how I met the  5-month old Bernese Mountain Dog from across the street, and the 6-month old Siberian Husky from around the corner.

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Enter the Summer Caption contest! http://on.fb.me/1JexQsX.

The darling husky puppy, Kash, is so cute, that he was chosen for the Smart Perks Hot Dog Caption contest running this month on our Facebook page. The prizes include Best Buy® and restaurant.com gift cards, along with a darling heart bracelet and a 27-piece tool kit. Get creative and enter your caption today. Share it and encourage your friends to vote, too! Winners will be announced on Friday, July 31st.

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Sweet Martha’s Cookies – A perennial MN State Fair Favorite

Next up, it’s fair time. For us here in Minnesota, The Great Minnesota Get-Together, or Sweat-Together, to be more accurate. Whatever you have planned, stay cool and enjoy. Summers are way too short, so be sure to make time to really enjoy your favorite summertime traditions.

Next up in the blog, some great tips for laptops versus tablets from our Smart Perks Electronics expert, Karl. Stay tuned.