The 2014 BC Guide to Choosing a Play Kitchen [And Buy-It-Now Prices, Too]

The 2014 BC Guide to Choosing a Play Kitchen [And Buy-It-Now Prices, Too]Play kitchens are on our all star toys list. They’re hits for both girls and boys from about age two to age five. With all the models out there, how can you pick the best play kitchen for your home?

This guide will help. It’s even got buy-it-now prices so you know when you’re getting a great deal. Enjoy!

Considerations

  • Consider your space carefully. How much room do you have? Would a corner kitchen work better than a straight one? Take time to measure your available width and depth before your shop.
  • Consider your budget before you buy so that you won’t be tempted to spend more than you should. Kitchens list from about $60 to $300 and up.
  • Consider checking your favorite second-hand sources for a gently used kitchen.
  • Does then kitchen need to allow room for more than one kid to play at once? A larger kitchen or a kitchen with two-sided play can help avoid squabbles.
  • Do you care if the kitchen you choose requires batteries? Most of the plastic kitchens need them to power lights, bells, whistles, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to get a “simple” kitchen. Kids are creative and will fill in for the missing bells and whistles with their imaginations. Electronic bells and whistles can get annoying for grownups, too.
  • Allow plenty of time for assembly. The wooden kitchens generally take longer to put together than the plastic kitchens.
  • Does the kitchen offer room for play food and utensil storage? If not, think about how you’ll corral those small pieces.
  • Be prepared to secure the kitchen to the wall if you think there’s any possibility of tipping.

Popular Kitchens and Buy-It-Now Prices

All of these kitchens are top sellers with great ratings. I’ve linked to these kitchens at Amazon so that you can learn more and read customer reviews. Unless otherwise noted, the appropriate age for these kitchens is 3 and up.

“Buy It Now” prices are what I consider “very good” prices on the item. They’re the best sale prices you can expect to find fairly regularly, based on records of previous sales. Don’t confuse these with the “lowest price ever” price. You may be able to  beat this price if you happen onto a unusually great sale.

Note that the buy-it-now prices may be up to 45% of the list prices. Expect to see lots of deals on play kitchens in the weeks starting after Halloween.

See the kitchens after the jump.

[Read more...]

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Holiday Shopping Lessons Learned Last Year [That You'll Want to Remember Now]

Holiday Shopping Lessons Learned Last Year [That You'll Want to Remember Now]Last year I asked Baby Cheapskate readers the following questions and told you I’d remind you of your responses as this holiday shopping season approached:

Did you learn any shopping lessons or make any shopping discoveries during this year’s holiday shopping season? What are you going to try to remember for next year?

Here’s what you said:

Shop Early

“ Learned the early bird gets the worm. By getting up when stores just open I never fought any crowds. I also fought [no crowds] yesterday for returns at six stores. I got some great deals by being up early. I got some Amazon deals, American girl dolls, and more. I gave up sleep to save big bucks, crowds, and grief.”

“Shop early in the day. Except for Black Friday, few people hit the stores early during the week. Just the way our schedule worked this year, I did almost all shopping around 8 am and I always had plenty of selection, got the best deals, and enjoyed quiet stores.”

“For seasonal apparel (kids christmas outfits, pajamas, winter wear, esp from stores like Carters with mailers sent to homes) don’t wait if you really want something. Retailers rarely restock them once sold out- stores will always have more toys, they won’t always have your size clothing item. (So mark this under early bird advice).”

“I learned not to assume that a toy will be easy to find. My son vaguely asked for “Ninja Turtles” and with all the different ones out there I thought they would be easy and put them off to the end. But they were sold out everywhere! I could have saved myself a lot of time, worry, and gas money if I’d paid more attention.”

“Shop earlier online! Some of my items that had guaranteed Christmas delivery didn’t make it because UPS was overloaded. It was terrible!”

Or Don’t Shop Early

“Wait until close to Christmas to buy because kids change their minds a lot. Amazon Prime is an excellent investment. Black Friday sales are great, but usually the same deals can be had later. Not always, though. I did get a lot of good deals at Kohls for Black Friday online, and I think they only did the $15 Kohls cash and 20% off any order then.”

“I made the mistake of buying gifts for my family starting back in Sept so our budget wouldn’t be hit so hard come Thanksgiving/Christmas time. However, there were often better deals on the items I purchased as the weeks got closer to Christmas”

“i like to shop ahead because I hate crowded stores and last minute shopping. BUT, the prices were a lot better closer to Christmas, I noticed.”

Less is More

“I committed to three gifts per kid back in the summer but by the time mid dec rolled around, I thought it was too skimpy. My husband reassured me they would be fine with out gifts and stockings and relative gifts and he was right! I could have skipped stocking presents and they would not care. Three is correct amount for kids who are 1 and 3!! Just choose those 3 wisely!”

“I learned to buy fewer gifts, but quality ones. I wish I had saved some of the deals I found for birthdays and other special occasions instead of wrapping them all up for the tree.”

“Also when asking the kids what’s their favorite part of Christmas they gave answers that were all about the things we do together in Dec. Give the gift of memories not stuff. Need that reminder a lot in life.”

“Narrow kids gifts to Want/Need/Wear/Read (+ stocking) only … it focused my shopping, made for a more appreciative kid, and less random “stuff”

“Start earlier and enjoy the simple joys. Keep to the budget. When you’re done you’re done.”

Regarding Wrapping and Assembling

“Wrap as you buy  I say I’ll do this every year, but I never do. I’m tired of being up until the wee hours of morning on Christmas Eve.”

“Don’t wait til Xmas eve to assemble. We were missing a key part.”

Shop Online

“I learned too that shopping online saved me much grief. It also helped me stick to my budget.”

“Keep a list of online purchases and expected delivery dates.”

“I shopped online and didn’t miss the stores at all! It was so easy and saved a lot of money! I will do this next year now!”

“I did 99% of my shopping online. I may never go back.”

And Shop the Stores

“Shop online AND offline. I found some good offline details closer to Christmas, especially stocking stuffers. If I came across something in store I liked, I scanned it with Amazon app to see how prices compared before buying – Amazon wasn’t always better.”

“If you do the majority of your shopping online, you might be less stressed, but you’ll miss that hectic holiday-shopping feeling.”

And Other Smart Tips

“It’s a total gamble. Either you wait for a deal which might not come, or you buy it before it’s gone. There are things I could have saved money on if I had waited, and others that were gone by mid-November. So if you’re really set on something… don’t wait for a deal, IMO.”

“I have The Better Christmas List app on my iphone & it was a lifesaver!! Keeps track of who I need to shop for, how much I’ve spent (total and per person), what store each gift was purchased at & even a photo of the gift. I could never remember what I’ve purchased once it’s wrapped or hidden away, so that app was worth every penny”

“We paid cash. No credit cards. Much happier. We bought less. But no yuck bills in January.”

“Many stores will price match. Ask!”

“Homemade gifts are greatly valued. I make some of my gifts and have my daughter make gifts for the family when I can. Instead of giving your kid a few bucks a person, take time with a homemade gift (Pinterest inspiration) to save on your total Christmas bill. There’s plenty of homemade gifts that are way more valued than those you can just buy. I want to do more next year – so need to start them sooner!”

“When your husband says you have more than enough wrapping paper, don’t believe him” ;)

See the original Facebook posts from 2012 and 2013 to see all the responses.

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6 Great Video Baby Monitor Picks [Plus Buy-It-Now Prices]

 Great Video Baby Monitor Picks [Plus Buy-It-Now Prices]

There are a ton of baby video monitors out there. Which one is right for you? And do you even really need one?

While a video monitor is certainly not a “need” in the truest sense, many parents–especially first timers–enjoy the peace of mind they get from being able to keep an eye on their kiddo when they’re not in the room. A monitor can also tell you whether you need to go into the nursery to comfort/change/feed your child or if she’s just turning over or making noises in her sleep.

Video monitors are pricey, though, so don’t feel like you must have one from day one. Put one on your registry, perhaps, or wait until after the baby’s been here for a while to see if you really feel like you want one. Monitors generally go on sale often, so there’s rarely a need to pay full price.

When choosing a video baby monitor, it’s important to think about what features you need based on your particular living situation:

  • You’ll probably want night vision if you plan on using the monitor after dark.
  • How many cameras do you need? If you think you’ll want to keep an eye on more than one room, make sure the monitor you get has more than one camera or is expandable.
  • If the nursery is located at a distance from where you’ll be using the monitor, make sure you get one with a good range.

Top Rated Monitors

Below you’ll find my six top video baby monitor picks. I’ve linked to the monitors at Amazon so that you can learn more about them. I’ma also including buy-it-now prices so you’ll know what price you should pay for the monitor you choose. Read on!

Note: “Buy It Now” (BIN) prices are what I consider “very good” prices on the item. They’re the best sale prices you can expect to find fairly regularly, based on records of previous sales. Don’t confuse these with the “lowest price ever” price. You may be able to  beat this price if you happen onto a unusually great sale.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 9.49.17 AMInfant Optics DXR-8 Pan/Tilt/Zoom 3.5″ Video Baby Monitor With Interchangeable Optical Lens

  • Best rated monitor at Amazon– 4.5/5 stars from over 400 users
  • Interchangeable optical lens lets you customize viewing angle and zoom
  • 3.5″ screen
  • Sound-activated LED display
  • Remote pan, tilt, digital zoom
  • 10-hour battery life on power-saving mode.

List price; $230 | Buy-It-Now Price: $190

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 9.48.34 AMMotorola MBP36S Remote Wireless Video Baby Monitor with 3.5-Inch Color LCD Screen, Remote Camera Pan, Tilt, and Zoom

List price; $250 | Buy-It-Now Price: $240 Currently at BIN price

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 9.44.59 AMLevana Lila Digital Baby Video Monitor with Night Vision and Talk to Baby Intercom 32000

  • Highest rated monitor at Walmart.com – 4.6/5 stars from over 70 users.
  • Exapandable up to 4 cameras
  • Invisible night vision LEDs
  • Adjustable brightness
  • 12-ft night vision
  • Talk-to-Baby Intercom

List price; $140 | Buy-It-Now Price: $90 Currently at BIN price

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 9.41.45 AMDropcam Pro Wi-Fi Wireless Video Monitoring Camera

  • Amazon’s #1 best seller in surveillance and security cameras. 4.5 stars from over 1,000 reviewers
  • While not truly a baby monitor, it’s often used as one (as you’ll see from the reviews at Amazon)
  • Connects to Wi-Fi via computer or iOS mobile device’
  • 130 degree diagonal field of view plus Zoom and Night Vision
  • Talk-to-Baby Intercom
  • Cloud video recording: Review footage and make clips with optional secure offsite recording (extra cost)

List price; $200 | Buy-It-Now Price: $200 Currently at BIN price

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 10.01.52 AMLevana Jena Digital Baby Video Monitor with 8 Hour Rechargeable Battery and Talk to Baby Intercom

  • 8+ Hour Battery Life
  • 100% Private Signal with up to 500ft Range
  • 15 ft night vision
  • Talk-to-Baby Intercom
  • Temperature monitoring
  • Expandable up to 4 cameras
  • On camera nightlight
  • 5 lullabies

List price; $250 | Buy-It-Now Price: $80 Currently below BIN price

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 10.03.36 AMLorex BB2411 2.4″ Sweet Peek Video Baby Monitor with IR Night Vision and Zoom

  • Night vision
  • Digital zoom
  • Talk-to-Baby Intercom
  • On camera nightlight
  • Expandable up to 4 cameras
  • Up to 450 ft outdoor wireless range
  • Lullabies

List price; $180 | Buy-It-Now Price: $87

Read more:

What’s your favorite video baby monitor? Why do you like it?

This post may contain affiliate links. See BC's disclosure policy for more info.

Dollhouse Shopping Guide [Top Picks and Buy-it-Now Prices]

Because dollhouses are so good at fostering the open-ended play that keeps kids interested, they always make BC’s Toys that Get Played With lists. They’re fabulous toys, but choosing a dollhouse for your child can be overwhelming. There are over 400 dollhouses and accessories on Amazon alone! How can you choose the one that’s best for your child?

This guide will help. It will also clue you in on what price you should pay for the one you choose. Read on!Dollhouse Shopping Guide [Top Picks and Buy-it-Now Prices]

Choosing the Best Dollhouse for your Child, Home and Lifestyle

When choosing a dollhouse, think about the following:

  • Consider your space. Where will you keep it? Where will your child play with it? How much room do you have in your chosen location? Big dollhouses can span four feet wide or more, whereas the smallest can easily fit on a tabletop. If you’re short on space, consider a folding dollhouse or a corner dollhouse.
  • Consider your budget. The prime ages for playing with dolhouses are from about three to age six. That’s a pretty long span for a toy. How much do you want to spend? If the house you want costs more than you want to spend, check consignment sales, consignment stores, Craigslist. etc. for a gently used model.
  • Does the house come with furniture and/or dolls? If the house you choose isn’t furnished, you’ll end up spending more on those little tiny sofas and chairs. Be sure to take the extra cost into consideration.
  • Will it fit dolls your child already has? Little People? Barbie? American Girl? There are dollhouses to fit all sizes. You may want choose a dollhouse that will work with your child’s cherished pals.
  • Do you want plastic or wood? Plastic can be wiped down, but may parents prefer the aesthetics of wood. You may also be able to repair wooden items if they break.

Top Dollhouses

Here are my top dollhouse picks, taking into consideration a variety of needs and wants. I’ve also listed the Buy-it-Now price for each house, and I’ve linked to the item at Amazon so that you can learn more.

If you’re new to my Buy-It-Now price lists, here’s what you need to know: “Buy It Now” (BIN) prices are what I consider “very good” prices on the item. They’re the best sale prices you can expect to find fairly regularly, based on records of previous sales. Don’t confuse these with the current price (although they may be the same) or the “lowest price ever” price. You may be able to beat this price if you happen onto a unusually great sale.

The picks:

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 2.54.33 PMBest deluxe wooden dollhouseKidKraft Majestic Mansion: Top selling dollhouse at both Amazon and Walmart. Assembly required.

  • Dimensions: 51.0 x 14.0 x 52.75
  • Rooms, etc: 4 stories with 8 rooms
  • Furniture and dolls included: 33 pieces of furniture. Dolls sold separately.
  • Additional accessories available? Yes
  • Fits Barbies

List price: $246.99. Buy-it-Now price: $145

Note: You really can’t go wrong with a KidKraft dollhouse. If buying for the holidays, be sure not to wait until the last minute to assemble the house. Some of them can take a while. For extra savings, check out the very similar Imaginarium dollhouses.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 2.55.41 PMBest if you’re short on space: Melissa and Doug Folding Princess Castle

  • Dimensions: 27″ x 15.25″ x 17.5″
  • Rooms, etc: 2 stories, 5 rooms
  • Furniture & dolls included: 6 pieces of furniture, princess, prince, 2 horses
  • Additional accessories available? Yes

List price: $49.99. Buy-it-Now price: $35 (Currently at BIN price at Amazon)

Note: Also comes in gender-neutral gray.

See also: Fisher-Price Loving Family Dollhouse. It also folds.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 2.56.34 PMBest for toddlers: Fisher-Price My First Dollhouse. Ages 2 and up

  • Dimensions: 22.25″ x 9.125″ x 16.0″
  • Rooms, etc: 3 stories, 5 rooms
  • Furniture & dolls included: mom, dad and baby figures and a few interior items–kitchen, table, chairs, etc.
  • Additional accessories available? Yes

List price: $40. Buy-it-Now price: $35

See also: Fisher-Price Little People Happy Sounds Home

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 2.57.03 PMBest eco-friendly: Hape All Season Dollhouse. Solid wood construction with child-safe paint finish. Gender neutral.

  • Dimensions: 23.6″ x 11.8″ x 28.9″
  • Rooms, etc: 3 stories, 6 rooms
  • Furniture & dolls included: four room sets: Master Bedroom, Family Bathroom, Media Room and Kitchen. Dolls sold separately
  • Additional accessories available? Yes

List price: $199.99. Buy-it-Now price: $125 (Currently at BIN price at Amazon)

See alsoPlan Toys The Green Dollhouse with Furniture

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 2.57.56 PMBest Plastic: Fisher-Price Loving Family Dollhouse

  • Dimensions:  25.6″ x 9″ x 16″
  • Rooms, etc: 4 stories, 6 rooms
  • Furniture & dolls included: Mom, Dad, Baby, sofa and baby seat
  • Additional accessories available? Yes
  • Requires 2 AA batteries
  • Folds for storage

List price: $69.90. Buy-it-Now price: $49

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 2.58.47 PMBest for 18″ Dolls (American Girl, etc.): KidKraft Elegant Doll Manor with Furniture for 18″ Dolls

  • Dimensions:  47.7″ x 19.5″ x 65.5″
  • Rooms, etc: 4 stories, 4 rooms
  • Furniture & dolls included: 12 pieces of furniture
  • Additional accessories available? Yes

List price: $338.99. Buy-it-Now price: $210

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 2.59.56 PMBest Gender-Neutral: Kidkraft Deluxe Fire Rescue Set

  • Dimensions:  30″ x 17.5″ x 25″
  • Rooms, etc: 4 stories, 4 rooms
  • Furniture & dolls included: 22 pieces of furniture, 3 firefighters, helipad and helicopter, Garage with ambulance and fire truck
  • Additional accessories available? No

List price: $150.99. Buy-it-Now price: $100

See also: Hape All Season Dollhouse

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.03.12 PMBest Dollhouses with a twist:

Like to DIY? You can also make your own dollhouse from boxes, bookcases and more. See my DIY Dollhouses Pinterest board for inspiration?

This post may contain affiliate links. See BC's disclosure policy for more info.

Shopping Secrets: Saving Big on Kids’ Jackets and Coats

Shopping Secrets: Kids' Jackets and Coats | BabyCheapskate.comWant to know how, when and where to find the best deals on kids’ jackets, parkas and coats? 

Full-priced jackets for kids will run you $20 and up (and up, and up, and up…), but believe it or not, you can find parkas for $5 or less if you time it just right. When it comes to outerwear shopping, I like to make sure I’m getting a discount of at least 40% off the regular price. For tips on how to do just that, read on:

While Black Friday and post-holiday clearance sales offer the deepest discounts, you may need a coat now. If you can’t wait until Black Friday or Winter Clearance, try these tips:

  • Seasonal consignment sales have started nationwide. Check them for huge savings on second hand kids’ jackets and coats and other cool weather clothing. You can find sales at sites like ConsignmentMommies.com.
  • Prices in store can be surprisingly decent in late September. The reason? It’s not cold yet and the demand isn’t high. Try your luck at local stores: Walmart is a particularly inexpensive place to find them. Other places to try include Target, JCPenney and Kmart. You may find outerwear online before you find it in stores, as online shoppers are just as likely to live in Maine or Vermont as they are some place where it’s warm through Thanksgiving.
  • If you’re looking for name brands, try Sierra Trading Post. They offer big discounts and usually have a coupon code to make the deals even better (just Google “Sierra Trading Post coupon” to find them). This is a great place to find snowsuits, hats, gloves and ski pants as well.

Black Friday (November 28 this year) also brings some of the hottest deals on kids’ outerwear that you’ll see until February or so. Old Navy had Performance Fleece hoodies for as little as $5 on Black Friday, for example. Keep an eye on BF sale announcements to plan your day. Expect the selection to be fairly depleted by mid-morning.

While they won’t be as numerous as on BF, deep discounts on coats and jackets will continue throughout the holiday shopping season. Last year on December 12 you could score kids’ winter coats at Crazy8.com for up to 74% off, for example.

Again, expect the best deals on kids’ winter wear just after the holidays and continuing through March. This is a great time to stock up for the following season. Several big post-holiday sales actually started a few days before Christmas last year. Here are a couple of highlights:

  • The Children’s Place marked its puffer jackets down just after Christmas to $13.99 less coupon code.
  • Lands End put their coats on clearance a couple of days after Christma last year. They were 50% off or more.
  • REI’s January sale offers opportunities for savings on higher-end brands.
  • The Children’s Place has been known to mark down their fleece jackets to $2.99 in late February.
  • Winter clearance sales at consignment stores should start in February. Call your local store to find out exact dates.

Tip: Keep track of what you buy so you don’t end up buying double. I box up my winter clearance bargains, label the outside of the box with what’s in there, and pop the box in the top of my son’s closet. As fall approaches, I’ll take it down and go through it to remind myself of what I have before I buy anything else.

What are your best tips for buying kids’ winter outerwear?

See more Shopping Secrets posts at Baby Cheapskate.

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Finding Scary-Good Deals on Second-Hand Halloween Costumes

Halloween costumes don’t get a lot of wear, so it’s pretty easy to find great deals on gently used costumes on the second-hand market, especially if you start looking NOW. In fact, you may be able to get your child’s costume for free!

Here are my best tips for saving 50% or more on Halloween costumes for babies, kids and toddlers:

  • Costumes often don’t change much from year to year. Start your search by browsing new costumes online and choosing a few favorites to hunt for on the second hand market.
  • The Baby Cheapskate Baby Gear, Toy and Coupon Exchange (nearly 5,000 members strong!) is a great place to hunt for gently used costumes and unload outgrown ones. Type “Halloween” and/or “costume” into the search function to bring up all costume-related posts.
  • Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 9.44.04 AMCheck your local Freecycle board for freebies. Mine had a few when I looked this morning. If you don’t see anything, post a “wanted” message and see if anyone responds.
  • Find local swap events near you by Googling the name of your town or county and “costume swap”. by Googling the name of your town or county and “costume swap
  • Finding Scary-Good Deals on Second-Hand Halloween CostumesYou might also organize a costume swap with friends, your neighborhood, church, or preschool. You could do it via email or get together in real life.
  • If you don’t mind a little hunting, thrift stores and consignment sales are great places to score costumes on the cheap. Start shopping thrift stores now for the best selection. There are probably some consignment sales near you this weekend. Find them at sites like Kids Consignment Sales or Consignment Mommies.
  • Call your local consignment stores to see if they have any in stock. They might cost a little more there, but they’ve been checked over more carefully than some of the other second-hand sources.
  • There are lots of costumes on Craigslist right now. eBay.com is a great place to look, too. Each has its plusses and minuses. With Craigslist, you’ll have to arrange to pick up the costume from the seller. On eBay you’ll have to contend with bidding or buy it now and possibly pay a higher price. I searched for  two popular toddler costumes– the bumblebee and the dragon– on Craigslist and eBay to see what I could scare up: The Bumblebee was as low as $8 on my local Craigslist. On eBay, it was as low as $12.99 in the Buy it Now section. The Dragon was as low as $15 on Craigslist and as low as $8.95 on eBay.

Keep in mind that you can also use these sources after Halloween to recoup some of your costume costs.

Related posts:

This post may contain affiliate links. See BC's disclosure policy for more info.

The Early Shopper’s Guide to Halloween Costume Savings

The Early Shopper's Guide to Halloween Costume SavingsIt’s early September, and you’ve probably noticed that the Halloween costumes are already out at many stores. Should you buy now? Wait until later? When can you expect the best deals?

Here’s an early shopper’s guide to Halloween costume savings. Enjoy!

  • If you like the idea of a handmade costume but don’t think you can do it yourself, check Etsy.com for handmade costumes for less. Etsy also offers lots of accessories to spice up costumes that you may be making or buying. Search for “Halloween Costumes” to find thousands of offerings. Order early.
  • Start watching your local Freecycle.org board now for costume freebies.
  • Try ebay.com for good deals on second-hand costumes.
  • Start shopping consignment stores and thrift stores now for the best selection. Checking in at your local Craigslist board’s not a bad idea either. Used costumes are a great savings. After all, most kids only wear them once or twice.
  • Want a new costume? Do your research now, but wait until you can save at least 30% to buy (25% off if you’re shopping at DisneyStore). Start by making a list of possibilities and scout out a few retailers that carry your top picks. Write down the prices, and make your target price about 70% of full price (or less). Then keep an eye out for sales
  • If you like shopping flash sale sites like Zulily, keep an eye out there for costumes there. I’ve already started seeing them. Be sure to take shipping charges and shipping dates into consideration.
  • When should you buy? We should start seeing deeper discounts on costumes soon. Look for 25% to 40% off online. Retailers will also offer shipping deals and extra savings via coupon codes to help move their wares.
  • Procrastination means better prices, but less selection. Wait until mid-October to buy a costume and you’ll find prices of around 40% off.

Readers, Share your advice below! Do you make your own costumes? If so, what are some easy ones to make? Do you buy your child’s costume? How much do you pay? Where do you find the best deals?

This post may contain affiliate links. See BC's disclosure policy for more info.

Best Backpacks for Back to School [Shopping Secrets]

A year ago I asked BC readers to tell me which backpacks they preferred for their kids. Over 100 readers responded. Here are the top five brands:Best Backpacks for Back to School | Baby Cheapskate

Reader Faves:

  • LLBean: Kids four to seven can choose from Jr. Original, Original, Original Plus, Discovery, Explorer and Rolling. Prices range from $25 to $50 or so. The Deluxe bookpack (aimed at kids ten and up) is 25% off right now. Free shipping.
  • Lands End: Choose from My First Backpack (toddlers), ClassMate (small through extra large), Featherlight (small through extra large), or Wheeled (medium).
  • Pottery Barn Kids: Available in Mini, Small, Large and Rolling. Non-sale prices range from around $25 to $70 with free shipping.
  • Jansport: Superbreak is a popular model for kids (around $35) and comes in over 50 colors/patterns. Available at Target, Kohls, eBags.com and other retailers.

Shopping Tips:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lightweight packs with two wide, padded straps and a padded back.
  • Use the weight and height charts at the websites to find the bag that will work best for your child.
  • Mosts in pre-K and up will need a pack that is large enough to hold a standard sized folder. Some schools have rules against wheeled backpacks, so check before buying.
  • Other extras to look for include reflective fabric and water-resistant or waterproof fabric.
  • Expect to see deals on backpacks right up through Labor Day. Last year we saw PBK packs at up to 60% off around the 21st of August, and they were 40% off last week. Look for 25% to 35% off at Lands End and 25% off at Lands End.

I’ll be posting the best deals on backpacks throughout the next couple of months. Stay tuned!

Readers, what brands would YOU add to this list?

Related: Top 6 Lunch Boxes for Back-to-School [BC Reader Faves]

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Blackout Shades for Helping Little Ones Sleep Longer: BC Reader Picks and Tips

Blackout Shades: Picks and Tips from BabyCheapskate.com ReadersThe longest days of the year. are so wonderful…unless you’re trying to get a baby to nap or sleep later. For many parents, blackout shades or curtains are a must for preventing those extra early rays of sun from signaling to their kiddos that it’s time to wake up.

I asked Baby Cheapskate readers whether they use blackout curtains and/or shades, and if so, which ones they like best.  Their picks and tips were enlightening (get it?). Take a look:

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 9.39.37 AMStore-Bought Options

  • Several readers like the Eclipse thermal blackout curtains (right) that you can find  at Target and Kohls. Walmart’s blackout curtains are another inexpensive choice
  • Another inexpensive option (just over $5 each!) is the cut-to-fit paper shades from stores like Home Depot. This is what we used when my son was little, to

DIY Options

  • Jessica shared a great travel tip for keeping hotel rooms and guest rooms dark: “When we go on vacation, we cover kids windows using black contractor trash bags and painters tape (the blue stuff). And you can re-use them!”
  • One reader got by for a while by draping a blanket over the window.
  • Another innovative reader says she tapes thick cardboard over the blinds during the summer. She also plans to cover the cardboard with pretty wrapping paper for a decorative touch.
  • One industrious reader even made her own curtains from blackout drapery lining she found at a fabric store.

How about you? Do you use blackout curtains or shades? If so, which ones?

This post may contain affiliate links. See BC's disclosure policy for more info.

Updated: How to Save Big on Safer Sunscreens

I’ve updated this popular BC post for 2014.

We’re approaching the sunniest season (yay!), and many of us will be buying sunscreen for our tots. Safer sunscreens for babies and kids can be pricey, though. Here’s a little help minimizing costs:

Prices on safer sunscreens tend not to vary too much over the course of a year. Unfortunately, some of the best prices on these products sometimes occur when few people are buying them– during the colder months. With a little luck, though, you should be able to save 20% or so off list price and even more if you’re lucky.

More Savings Tips

  • Watch for vouchers on sites like Groupon, Plum District and Living Social.
  • Scout for daily deals on sunscreens at sites like BabySteals and BabyHalfOff.
  • Sunscreen may be an allowed FSA expense. Check the details of your plan to find out.
  • Watch for site-wide sales and coupons at CVS.com, Walgreens.com and others.
  • Look for “Save when you join our mailing list” offers to save up to 20% or so.
  • Follow the brands’ Facebook pages for the scoop on sales and deals.
Online Retailers to Check

Amazon | Vitacost | The Vitamin Shoppe | Lovely Skin | Green Cupboards | Lucky Vitamin | Vitamins.org | Drugstore.com | Abe’s Market

Tip: Follow their Facebook pages or sign up for emails to be notified of sales and coupons.

The Sunscreens

How to Save on Safer Sunscreens | BabyCheapskate.com

All of the sunscreens below appear on SafeMama’s fabulous 2013 Safer Sunscreen Cheat Sheet (look for the 2014 list to be posted in a month or so). I chose the 12 sunscreens for this list based on her reviews, on price per ounce, and on how easy they were to find online.

To learn more about safer sunscreens and what makes them that way, do take a look at SafeMama’s list.

  • Badger Active SPF 30 for Kids
  • Badger Baby Sunscreen, Chamomile & Calendula, SPF 30+
  • Badger Balm SPF 30+ Sunscreen All Season Face Stick
  • Elemental Herbs Kids Sunscreen 33 SPF
  • TruKid Sunny Days Daily SPF 30
  • All Terrain KidSport Sunscreen Spray
  • The Honest Company – Honest Sunscreen SPF 30
  • ThinkBaby (ThinkSport) SPF 50+ Sunscreen for Kids
  • Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen SPF 30
  • Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sports Stick
  • Dolphin Organics Mineral Sunscreen SPF 32
  • True Natural Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Baby & Family

Have you tried any of these? What did you think?

This post may contain affiliate links. See BC's disclosure policy for more info.