How to Choose the Perfect Athletic Shoes

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Walking is my favorite form of exercise. It doesn’t require a certain skill, you can do it almost anywhere, and all you need are a good pair of comfortable shoes. Yeah, about that… I’ve discovered over the years that finding suitable athletic shoes that are stylish, fit well, and don’t cost an arm and a leg isn’t always easy. For example, I’ll see a style I like but unfortunately it’s made for running instead of walking. Or, I’ll love the way the shoes feel on my feet, but they look like those ugly orthopedic clodhoppers my great aunt wore!

I know some of you can relate to my dilemma. I mean, there are so many brands and types of footwear to choose from nowadays, where do you begin? It’s a bit overwhelming to say the least.

My objective today is to cut through all the confusion and help women like me find athletic shoes that fit their needs, lifestyle, and budget.

Athletic shoes are usually grouped into three main categories: Running (or Jogging), Walking, and Cross-Training.  Here’s a little info on each, plus recommended brands/styles in various price ranges (to make it simple, I’m sending you to Amazon.com).

Running/Jogging 
You’ll want extra cushioning, maximum shock absorption, and good heel support, as well as decent traction for optimum performance on pavement or dirt. Visit Runner’s World for advice on buying the right running shoes.

Good Picks:
Asics Women’s Gel-Nimbus              $$$$
Nike Women’s Air Zoom Pegasus    $$$$
Saucony Women’s Cohesion                  $$

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The Asics Gel-Nimbus Running Shoe is a big contender in this category!

 

Walking
The soles on walking shoes are slightly rounded and flexible so the foot can roll easily from heel to toe. The best ones are lightweight and breathable, and also have some shock absorption in the heel. Go to verywell.com for help picking the perfect walking shoes.

Good Picks:
Asics Women’s GEL-Tech Neo
        $$$
New Balance Women’s WW1065     $$
Ryka Women’s Devotion                     $$

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This cool-looking Ryka Walking Shoe is a winner in every way!

 

Cross-Training
Cross-trainers are great for people who do a variety of workouts, like weight lifting, yoga, kickboxing, and aerobics. You can also use them for light jogging on the treadmill or hiking. Look for ones with a firm heel, ample support, and some flexibility to accommodate a range of activities. Go to crosstrainingshoe.net for tips on selecting quality cross-trainers.

Good Picks
Nike Women’s Flex Supreme TR 3
        $$$
Asics Women’s GEL-Blur33 TR                   $$
New Balance Women’s WX608V3               $

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Women are raving about this Nike Flex Trainer!

 

NOTE:  If you participate in a particular activity on a regular basis (e.g., you’re an avid golfer, tennis player, runner, or cyclist), you’re better off going with shoes that are designed specifically for that sport.

Some things to consider when shopping for athletic shoes:

  • Go to a specialty store where the staff can offer expert advice and assistance. Nothing’s worse than shopping at a department store and having someone who is completely clueless wait on you!
  • Have your feet measured at the store – don’t just go by size as it can vary by brand and style.
  • Try them on at the end of the day or after a workout when your feet are larger.
  • Wear socks you usually wear when working out.
  • Walk around, jump up and down, and run in place to make sure there’s enough wiggle room in the toe area and also that your heels don’t slip out of the shoes.
  • Make sure they fit and feel comfortable right away. You shouldn’t have to break them in.
  • Bring an old pair of shoes with you so the salesperson can check the wear and determine your gait.
  • Don’t go by looks alone. Focus on fit, comfort, and performance first.
  • Mention if you have high arches, flat feet, bunions, weak ankles, or conditions like plantar fasciitis, or Achilles tendonitis as these things will determine the types of shoes you can wear. In some cases, you may need to get special insoles.

Once you settle on a brand, style, and size that’s right for you, see if you can get those shoes online for less! Check out these online specialty stores:
Sportshoes.com
Footlocker.com
Finishline.com

Finally, if you want your nice new athletic shoes to last longer, try to use them solely for exercising or a specific sport. In other words, don’t wear them for knocking around. Have a pair or two of fun sneakers on hand for shopping, running errands, and other everyday activities.

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Happy Feet, Warner Bros. Pictures

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. finally got a decent pair of walking shoes after wearing the wrong ones for years, and her feet are very happy she did!

 

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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

Gifts Inspired by Nature for Mom

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Artwork by Cindy Hendricks of Woodfield Press

“Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.”  Hans Christian Andersen

On a chilly April morning, with such a deceptively brilliant blue in the sky, my desire to get outside and do something overwhelmed my common sense knowledge that we had at least a couple more sub-freezing degree nights ahead of us. But, I couldn’t stop myself. Our local farmer’s market doesn’t open until April 16th, however my determination to surround myself with the joys of springtime in the backyard was overwhelming.

Once inside the hothouse oasis of the local nursery, my senses ran amok. Being that my husband has expressly forbidden overcrowding our house and yard, I came up with the brilliant idea that Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and no one could deny me the right to buy gifts for mothers – mine, his and anyone else’s mother.

So, I put together a selection of some gifts that are a little different from the traditional chocolates and delivered arrangements. I think there’s something for all the moms who enjoy a little sunshine, bird chirping and digging in the dirt.

Mary Enblebreit

Beloved Artist Mary Englebreit has created a magical collection of garden fairies for her Merriment collection, featuring delightful little sprites from reading fairies to artist fairies, and all the darling accessories to brighten up a miniature garden this summer. All can be found at  http://www.maryengelbreit.com/collections/garden.

Pots

Pops of color will enhance every flower garden and landscape, attracting butterflies, hummingbirds and bumble bees. Mom will enjoy hours watching an endless array of bathing beauties – blue jays, chickadees and woodpeckers, fluttering their wings at her bath.

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Two things Mom can use at the beginning of every gardening season, are a good pair of flower sheers for deadheading her flowers and a nice pair of garden gloves, like these cheerful pink polka dot models. They’re neoprene and thin, so they give you the necessary practicality you need for planting seedlings, and they wash up nicely when covered with mud.

DSC01608Placing bright flowers and hummingbird feeders near windows Mom frequents is a great way to enjoy a summer full of cheerful winged feeders. The simple syrup used to fill hummingbird feeders is very easy to make. No need to add red food coloring, as the birds are equally attracted to clear syrups.

DSC01605Another meaningful gift that mom doesn’t always think of herself is planting a memorial garden. I myself have found them to be very healing.

 

Not only do I feel a spirituality when I’m outdoors, reflecting on the tranquility of nature, but there is a gentle reminder of the cycles of life, that provide us with solace. One of the best memorials I was ever given – an apple tree – was when my grandfather died. Thirteen years later, I think of him every springtime when it blooms. The idea has become so popular that many garden centers carry memorial stones or lights, along with companion flowers.

After mom is done in the garden, she’ll want to pamper and soothe herself with relaxing gifts she can enjoy in a nice steamy, hot shower or a luxurious bath, filled with the luscious scent of garden botanicals.

Soap

Or you can treat her to a little pot of sunshine she can enjoy indoors on a cold and rainy day.

And finally, Papersource has some amazing flower print wrapping paper that’s almost too pretty to use.

I hope you found a couple of good ideas to welcome the season of getting outdoors, if not for mom, then for a friend or  even yourself. As Henry James once said, “Summer afternoon; summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” Get out and enjoy one while you can!

Blogger Melanie Bisson, a Smart Perks employee, enjoys vegetable and flowering gardening, bird-watching, and SHOPPING!

Roman Holiday: A Trip to A Local Italian Market

Food is the stuff of life, right?

A good meal not only sustains us, it’s the heart of so many holidays, celebrations, and family get-togethers. The dinner date. Catching up with old friends. The client lunch. Meals are where we make memories, toast to health and happiness, and delight in the most tantalizing of flavors, as well as the fruits of someone’s labor, be it family or a professional chef.

Food reminds me of my heritage and family traditions. I am Serbian, and grew up with my Grandma baking potica, a traditional Serbian sweet bread made with walnuts and honey in a flaky brown and cream-colored spiral, and sarmas, a meat mixture wrapped in cabbage leaves boiled with tomato sauce, sauerkraut and Polish sausage for hours, at every Christmas dinner.

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My family came from a small iron ore-mining town with a large immigrant population and lots of different cultural delicacies. So we enjoyed baklava, spanokopita, porchetta, antipasto, fresh crusty Italian bread, spaetzle, hard salami and delicious salty cheeses.

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Foccacia

Now that my grandparents are gone, and I am living in a different city, I don’t eat the foods of my childhood every day. However, we still make our Serbian sarmas every other Christmas. It’s a big production, but luckily my Grandpa taught us all the little tips and tricks before he passed (like freezing the cabbage beforehand and then boiling the whole head, so the leaves peel off easily and whole).

When my husband and I are both so busy with work, and life is hectic, we just don’t always have the time or energy to shop for fresh ingredients, or spend a lot of time in preparing authentic ethnic cuisine on a weeknight. It’s much easier when a meal comes in a box, and you can just pop it in the oven or microwave. But so much of the heart, soul and emotional symbolism of eating a good meal is lost with this lifestyle.

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As much as I love grocery shopping (I always shop when hungry…gasp…so taboo) at a big chain grocery store, whenever I have the time, I visit my all-time favorite, family-owned, authentic Italian grocer – Cossetta’s. It’s more than a mere grocery run. It’s a full-sensory adventure. 12047167_1229474950412007_5034716741244026546_nThe smells, the bright colors…you’re transported from the neutral palettes of most everyday life.

In the late 1800’s a young man named Michael Cossetta came to St. Paul, Minnesota from Calabria, Italy, and settled in a little Italian neighborhood in St. Paul called the Upper Levee. By 1911, he opened a tiny food market called Cossetta’s, which drew customers from everywhere who appreciated his quality foods and genuine hospitality.11930928_1229474957078673_2699722492694218449_o

Since 1984, Cossetta’s has been known for its award-winning pizza, homemade sauces, handmade Italian sausages and welcoming staff.  Cossetta’s recently celebrated it’s 100-year anniversary, and the fourth-generation family decided to expand the tradition to include all the Old World sensations and offerings a customer could experience in Italy without actually traveling there.

It’s about an hour from my house, but well worth the trip. Since I don’t get to Cossetta’s frequently, I like to stock up, and freeze some things. Because everything is so fresh, I can’t help but buy all of the ingredients for at least three nights of Italian meals in a row.

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“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” The Godfather

Since most people (like me, with little self-discipline) are too busy devouring their meal to remember to save room for dessert, Cossetta’s has smartly located the impressive Pasticceria — their pastry shop, where you can purchase an authentic cannoli pastry like you would in Sicily— in front of the regular market.

Only after I’ve filled a box with all of my favorite cookies and splurged on a cake, I head to Cossetta’s full Italian Market , featuring everything you need to make an authentic Italian meal, from antipasti to pizza, bracciole to parmigiana, masterpieces with only the best imported or home-grown ingredients. 11998952_1229965397029629_5135466810060602391_nMost of the time, I take shortcuts by buying Cossetta’s freshly made dough and thick, spicy pizza sauce, and then topping with their chewy, salty fresh shredded mozzarella (pronounced Moot-za-relle by my Italian friend from Long Island), which I buy by the quart.12004140_1229474900412012_9185852308898427024_n

It’s so good that sometimes we can’t resist digging in to the shredded cheese before we get home. If I’m not up for cooking, I might take home a chef-prepared meal.

The meat market is full of the freshest cuts of meats with romantic Italian names, straight from Carmela Soprano’s kitchen. I always buy Cossetta’s meatball mix in bulk, pepperoni for our pizzas and sandwiches, hard salami, spicy sausage links for my pasta and gravy (Sauce? What’s that?) several porchettas (a pork roast covered in Italian spices and seasonings), Italian beef roasts, veal cutlets, and thinly cut and rolled bracciole.

12019778_1229475070411995_6510653163129296253_nWe love meatball subs on crusty, demi-baguettes, baked fresh that morning. It’s our first night meal. Meatballs on our baguette, covered in marinara and heaped with mozzarella, with parmesan sprinkled liberally on top, then placed under the broiler. Yummo!

Second night is pizza night.

The first Sunday is a roast. Because Sundays were always the day my Grandma made a roast for the family. And a spicy hot porchetta sandwich with pepperoncini peppers tastes great with a cold beverage and a football game on TV.

I know that Cossetta’s is our own local gem, but if you haven’t found a local ethnic grocer in your area, it’s probably because you haven’t looked. Whether it’s Greek, Mexican, Asian, or Ethiopian, I guarantee you will find a grocery store that will transport you to another place, a vacation destination in your own backyard. Fall is the perfect time to start stocking up for the winter ahead, when you’ll be so glad you have some delicious meals to look forward to.

So go, already! Mangia!

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Blogger Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee,  gained 10 pounds just writing this post.

Back-to-School Shopping: It’s not just for kids anymore

 

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Target sells black chalk board tape! Love it. Here it’s used with chalk markers.

It’s Back-to-School Time!!! The most wonderful time of the year!

Yes, I know that this kind of enthusiasm is typically reserved for that OTHER best time of the year, which believe me, I go nuts for, too.

Here I am, a married adult woman. No kids. It’s the middle of August, and I’m giddy like the proverbial school girl.

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August 1982 B-T-S issue of Seventeen – The memories!

I still remember the summer when I was twelve years old, and my mom bought me my first Seventeen magazine. It was the Back-to-School issue, and I was sure all of the mysteries and wonders of being a cool teenage girl were contained inside those smooth and shiny, uncreased pages. Along with my new Seventeen, she handed me a shiny, marbled hard-plastic compact in navy blue, with Bonne Bell printed in silver on the top. I opened it gingerly, and inside, I remember so vividly, were a rainbow of six eye shadows, three lip glosses (in colors!!!) and a blush, with a mirror on the top of course. My first make-up! I think I may have cried a little. Bonne Belle was the Coco Chanel of my childhood.

My tastes have changed a little since then. Instead of Seventeen magazine, now it’s the Fall of issue of Vogue I anxiously wait for, all 500-plus pages of it. One thing that hasn’t changed however, is the thrill I get from school supplies. Fresh notebooks. Clean white, college-ruled pages, in a colorful new three-ring binder. A virgin, fine-tipped pen. A number two pencil sharpened to an exquisite point.

Why should kids get to have all the fun? So I did some school-supply shopping and thought I’d share some of the goodies I found, in hopes that it will inspire you to let your inner kid out to play, and perk up your desk or office.

11885079_1199219460104223_5621247479853338702_nNo plain old Trapper Keepers for this girl. Notebooks and folders are inspired by textiles with bold prints and vibrant colors, with color-coordinated accessories to match. Summer might be over but I want to keep the hot colors and floral prints throughout cool fall months.

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Washi tape is a huge trend that doesn’t show any sign of slowing down any time soon. I use it to customize my file folders and journal. No manila folders for me.

I visited a couple of local paper boutiques and book stores and found some new takes on classic items, mixing humor and technology, with some great retro flair.

11887846_1199218216771014_4565567492953652332_nHey preschoolers! Nana-nana boo-boo! Adult coloring is cool. We’ve got the coloring books to prove it. Who doesn’t want to color the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?

Kids these days! No puffy stickers or scratch n’ sniffs for them. Now it’s all about emojis. But they still use Number Two pencils! 😉

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I like to have a flash drive handy at all times. So Clark Kent is always at the ready on my key chain or in my drawer at work, for those quick Power Points in the conference room.

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I’d like to say I was giving this new paperback version of The Outsiders to one of the teenagers in my family. But I have to admit, I’m rereading this one by S.E. Hinton. I’ve read everything she’s ever written. Maybe I’ll pass it along to cousin Isabelle after I’m done. “Stay gold, Ponyboy!”

And because I’m not a complete scrooge, as long as I was out shopping, I picked up a few things for the neighbor girls, as well as to donate to schools in my neighborhood.

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Check with your local school or businesses to see if they host school-supply drives. I like to think every kid deserves to start the new school year fresh and excited, with a clean slate and endless possibilities, like the blank pages of my brand new Mead notebook.

College-ruled, of course.

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Blogger Mel B, a Smart Perks employee, refuses to grow up and still buys Dr. Pepper-flavored Bonne Bell Lip Smackers.

“The Best & the Brightest in the Surprise Box World: From Beauty Products to Bowties for your Boxer

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Ipsy Glam Bag – May 2015

My heart flutters as I approach the magical portal at the end of the driveway. Opening that small hinged door has the power to transport me to pure, unadulterated, retail nirvana. Hooray! A package for me! You see, I am a surprise box junkie. My mail carrier and I are on a first name basis. He knows my dogs’ names. Yes, it’s that bad.

If the post office ever does go out of business, as they keep threatening (for Pete’s sake give them whatever they want…I need Saturday delivery) I will be completely inconsolable.

For the past year and a half I have been on a retail odyssey that has seen me sign up for virtually any and all curated, surprise boxes available in the marketplace.

If there is a club out there that sticks surprise stuff into a box, chosen just for you and delivers it to your door, I’ve tried it. I will never be able to afford a personal shopper, but curated box programs are the next best thing.

Here’s how they work: In most cases, you fill out a profile, telling the company a few things about yourself, your pet, your child, whomever the box is intended for. If it’s makeup, they may ask you for your skin type, your hair color, your style (i.e. preppy, romantic, classic, edgy, etc.) Some programs will even scour your Pinterest board or Instagram account to get a better idea of who you are. Then a stylist or curator selects products that she thinks would best fit your personal style.

Here’s a quick summary of just a few of the boxes I’ve tried:

Birchbox

Category: Makeup & beauty

Frequency: Monthly or special Limited Edition one-time boxes

Bottom Line: At $10 a month, it’s an awesome value. However, I decided I needed to choose between Birchbox and Ipsy,  and this program felt heavy on skincare and hair products. Those are both consumables that I don’t change up every month. Birchbox does feature high quality brands (Benefit!) and occasionally some mass-market products are thrown in. I still shop from the Birchbox online store. I would recommend it.

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Ipsy Glam Bag

Category: Makeup & beauty + a cute bag

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: I’ve been an Ipsy subscriber for over a year at $10 a month, which is a bargain. I would give Ipsy as a gift to every teenage girl I know, but there is a wait list and last time I checked they had disabled the gifting option. Each month you receive a cute little makeup bag, customized for Ipsy, and the designs are darling. Ipsy does do some skincare, but is more makeup focused than Birchbox. They send some great products from brands like Urban Decay, Dr. Brandt and Pacifica, as well as some unusual brands that I never would have tried, like Kat Von D. Tremendous value and the bag really pushes them over the top.

JewelMint Box

Category: Jewelry

Frequency: Monthly or one-time

Bottom Line: Jewelry preference is really subjective. The pieces they send are very trendy and are not going to hold up to years of wear. However, you do receive some really cute items and the presentation and packaging are fabulous. It’s a fun little pick-me-up for yourself or as a gift. The JewelMint online store is fabulous, too. You’ll find low prices on the same on-trend jewelry included in their mystery boxes. Sign up for emails and receive notice about special sales!

NatureBox

Category: Healthy snacks

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: Do you love Trader Joe’s? Then you will love NatureBox. They give you some choice in what you will receive, but you can also let them choose for you too. You receive 5 snacks a month, but you can order separately, if you find something you love. I’m more of a “cupcakes and donuts snacker,” but my healthier friends really like Nature Box. Cost is $19.95 a month.

Stitch Fix

Category: On-trend clothing & accessories

Frequency: As frequently as you wish

Bottom Line: You pay $25 to have a Personal Stylist choose 5 different clothing or accessory items based on your profile. Whatever you buy, the $25 is deducted. You’re under no obligation to buy. Return shipping is free and packaging provided.  I always found at least two or three items I wanted, but usually could afford one or two. It’s REALLY fun to try. They encourage you to snap a selfie wearing their clothes and post, even if you plan to return. The clothes are cute, boutiquey, on trend, and give you a chance to play Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Another great retail therapy experience.

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FabFitFub Club

Category: Fitness, beauty, fashion & more

Frequency: Quarterly

Bottom Line: This is Entertainment TV personality Giuliana Rancic’s program. Being as it’s quarterly, it’s more expensive than others. $49.99 per box. However, you can typically get $10 off your first box through a pop-up when you go to the site, which makes it a great deal. I loved the items in this box, which felt very boutiquey, indulgent, L.A. princessy (I live in Minnesota.) Items are full-size and range from: a fitness DVD, a Sonia Dakar skincare product, an exercise ball, a fabulously funky headband, a cool retro apron, delicious Kai roll-on perfume, and then there were always a couple mass-market freebies thrown in that made no sense, like pantiliners. But the quality of the overall box made up for it. I stuck with it for three boxes.

Candy Club

Category: Retro candy in cute packaging

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: Darling, colorful, unique and out of the ordinary candies. If you want to simply photograph your box for Instagram to show your friends, and your money is burning a hole in your pocket…this is for you. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you can run to the grocery store and for $10 buy yourself some M&Ms, a Kit Kat, some Jolly Ranchers, and a Hershey Bar, and call it good. The monthly box is $27.99.

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Luxury Beauty Box from O’s Circle of Friends

Oprah’s Circle of Friends

Category: It’s from Oprah. I don’t care what it is. Just give it to me!

Frequency: Annual fee and surprise Items throughout the year, including subscriptions for yourself and two friends

Bottom Line: There are three levels. Don’t tell my husband, I bought the Premier Level for $199. I had to do it. I thought Oprah might send me to Australia, or give me a car. Or at the very least, invite me to her house in Hawaii to spend some time with her and Gayle. So far I got a luxury beauty box. One of the items, a thermal face mask containing 24kt gold is valued at $298. I’ll get back to you on this one. But I’m holding out hope for my surprise gift from The O List! C’mon trip to Australia!

BarkBox

Category: Dog toys & treats

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: If you’re not a dog lover, I generally don’t talk to you much. So basically all of my friends subscribe to BarkBox and think nothing of spending the $19 a month or more to indulge their furry family members. Treats and toys are made in the U.S. and all the pups I know give BarkBox four paws up. Money well spent.

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Wagdrobe Curated Dog Couture

Wagdrobe

Category: Canine couture & accessories

Frequency: As frequently as you wish

Bottom Line: This is like Stitch Fix for dogs. Wagdrobe is a newer company, and so I hope their customer service continues to be as AWESOME as my recent experience was! Super fast shipping, darling customized packaging and FUN, FUN, FUN for pet parents and pooches alike. Well, that is if your pup likes to get lots of treats for dressing up and posing for ADORABLE pics. I bought boxes for all three of my dogs. Beanie got the Hipster Box, Eloise got the Spoiled Princess and Bacon got the Trendsetter Box. The value compared to finding these darling outfits and accessories in stores is awesome!

Okay, I could go on…but here are a few tips if you want to try some boxes on your own.

  1. Don’t do too many at one time. You can only wear so much moisturizer.
  2. Set a reminder for yourself to cancel before your next ship date if you want to try a recurring program.
  3. Keep track of how many of the items you actually use/wear/eat to determine value. Don’t get caught up in the fun.
  4. Share with others. Take pics and share on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Check out the items others receive in their boxes before you order, too. You can get a feel for whether or not it’s product you’ll like.
  5. Most importantly FILL OUT YOUR PROFILES and GIVE FEEDBACK. That’s the best way to ensure you’re going to love what’s inside the box, as much as you did receiving the bright, shiny package in the mail.
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Beanie sporting one of his Wagdrobe ensembles from the Hipster Hound collection.

– Blogger Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee, enjoys dogs, cupcakes and shopping, and considers herself an expert on all three.