Why I will buy 24c over Vitamin Water from now on

The folks over at Jones Soda recently gave us the opportunity to try several of their 24c Multi-Vitamin Water from Jones Soda flavours along with similar flavours of the popular Vitamin Water beverage to see which we preferred.

Neither of my two teenagers nor I had every tried either the 24c beverages or the Vitamin Water before so we were excited at the opportunity to try them. The first thing that we noticed was that both the 24c and the Vitamin Water had very bland plain looking labels. Nothing exactly eye-catching here. We were all a bit disappointed about the look of the product labels – being a Jones Soda beverage, we expected 24c to have unique and funky labels like their sodas have.

We decided that the kids would try the beverages in a “blind taste test” format where they didn’t know which cup held the 24c and which held the Vitamin Water. My 19 year old daughter, having watched many episodes of Wine Library TV over the year, suggested we do a “sniffy sniff” and discuss the colour before tasting. In all five flavours it was agreed that 24c had a more appealing colour and scent and an overall better “presentation” than Vitamin Water.

Next came the taste test. We had five flavours to compare which we did over 5 days. Overall we all preferred the taste of the 24c over the taste of the Vitamin Water. The 24c just seemed to have more overall flavour than the Vitamin Water. My daughter wasn’t a fan of either of the 24c Cranberry Apple or the Vitamin Water Defense but she loved the 24c Tropical Citrus and 24c Berry Pomegranate. My son and I both liked the 24c Tropical Citrus and 24c Mandarin Orange best.

The flavours compared were:

  • 24C Tropical Citrus VS Vitamin Water Energy
  • 24C Peach Mango VS Vitamin Water Endurance
  • 24C Cranberry Apple VS Vitamin Water Defense
  • 24C Berry Pomegranate VS Vitamin Water XXX
  • 24C Mandarin Orange VS Vitamin Water Cranberry Grapefruit

Was the flavour alone enough to make me choose 24c over Vitamin Water? I just don’t know. Yes, we did prefer the 24c flavours when tasted side by side but it wasn’t a huge difference. What about the vitamin and health factor? How does 24c stack up against Vitamin Water? Turns out that 24c hits it out the park on this point.

How much Vitamin Water does it take to equal one bottle of Jones 24c?

It would take 10 bottles of Vitamin Water to equal one bottle of 24c. Jones 24c also contains Vitamin A, E, B2, and Folic Acid which cannot be found in Vitamin Water.

And if that wasn’t enough reason to reach for 24c? Jones Soda has teamed up with Vitamin Angels with a goal to help 1,000,000 children from going blind this year. Vitamin Angels is a non-profit organization that provides vital nutrition in the form of supplements to developing countries, communities and individuals in need.

When I buy beverages for my kids (and myself!) from now on I’ll be looking for 24c Multi-Vitamin Water from Jones Soda More vitamins. More value. Vitamin Angels. Makes cents to me ;)

Frugal Holiday: 8 Frugal Yet Fun Holiday Entertaining Ideas

The holiday season is in full swing, money’s tight but you want to get together with your friends and family. After all that’s what the holidays are all about – good times with the people you love. I’ve come up with a list of ideas for parties and get togethers that won’t break the bank.

  1. Tree trimming party – gather your friends and family around to help you decorate your tree. Serve hot apple cider and cookies and make sure you load up a bunch of great Christmas Carols on your stereo.
  2. Sledding or skating party – invite the gang to meet you at your favourite sledding hill or ice skating pond for a couple of hours of fun. Have a snowball fight, make snow angels, remember how much fun snow can be.
  3. Tree-cutting party – instead of buying your tree from a tree lot this year head out to the country to a Christmas tree farm and cut your own. Pack thermoses of hot chocolate and sandwiches and have a winter picnic while you’re out. This is especially fun if you have several families rounded up to go.
  4. Board game night – invite a group of friends over to play some of those old favourites like Monopoly, Scattergories or Rumoli. A tray of cookies or sandwiches within easy reach and you’re all set.
  5. Have a neighbourhood potluck – assign each household a course: appetizer, salad, soup, side dish, main dish, dessert.
  6. Craft night – for those of you who love to craft and are trying to make last minute holiday gifts, get together with your like-minded friends to share few hours of crafting while you catch up with your friends.
  7. Cookie exchange – gather up a bunch of friends, assign each a type of cookie (you don’t want everyone to make Snickerdoodles do you…. hmmm… or do you?), everyone makes enough of one type of cookie to swap with the others. This is a great frugal practise. Instead of buying ingredients for several types of cookies you only buy ingredients for lots of one.
  8. Food exchange party- Why limit yourself to just cookies? Why not gather with friends and batch cook cabbage rolls, lasagana, stew, chili and other freezable make-aheads.

Feel free to add any of your own frugal yet fabulous holiday entertaining ideas in the comments below!

8 Ways to Stick to a Frugal Holiday Gift Budget

The holiday season is the time of year when even the most frugalous of the frugal have difficulty sticking to budgets. Here are 8 ways to to stick to a frugal holiday gift budget without losing your marbles:

  1. Always shop with a list of names, spending limit, and ideas. Stick to your list and don’t be dazzled into impulse spending by store displays.
  2. Stick to your budget. If you’ve budgeted $25 for Cousin Joe and you can’t find a sweater under $30, move over to accessories and maybe grab him some gloves. If you go even $5 off your budget per person it will add up quickly!
  3. If you shop early in the season and discover later that an item you bought has been discounted, take it back to the store. As long as you have the receipt, chances are they’ll refund you the difference.
  4. Buy gift cards for the hard to shop for people in your life. Teens, grandparents, and even cranky uncles can always find a way to use the gift card in their favourite stores.
  5. If your budget is really tight this year, give a homemade gift like cookies or a gift of your time, such as volunteering to babysit or mow an elderly neighbour’s lawn.
  6. A family photo album or your family history on dvd is a great and invaluable present for a elderly, housebound or out of town relative
  7. For large or extended families put everyone’s name in a hate and have each family member draw a name and buy a gift for that one person.
  8. Limit your gift list. If you prefer not to exchange gifts with a friend, neighbour, or co-worker this year, just say so. It’s very likely that she’s trying to pare down her Christmas list too!

Frugal Holiday: Chocolate Carrot Cake

Today is day two of Frugal Upstate’s Thanksgiving Mini Series and today’s topic is desserts.

This simple cake is the most requested recipe I’ve ever made. Family and friends rave about it and it’s not only simple to make but frugal as well. Even people who don’t like carrot cake love this moist, luscious cake.

Chocolate Carrot Cake

2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup of sugar
1 cup of salad oil*
1/2 cup of orange juice
1/4 cup of cocoa
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
4 eggs
2 cups of  shredded carrots
1 cup flaked or shredded coconut
1/2 cup crushed walnuts (optional)

*I usually substitute 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce in place of the oil. It significantly reduces the fat but keeps the cake moist.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour Bundt pan. In large bowl, mix 10 ingredients at low speed until well blended, constantly scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Increase speed to high, beat 2 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl. Add in carrots, coconut, and walnuts. Spoon batter into pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes; remove cake from pan. Cool completely.

The cake can be made up to 2 days ahead. Wrap well with cling wrap to keep it moist. It can also be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Drizzle Icing

1/2 cup sifted icing sugar
1 tsp orange juice
1/4 tsp vanilla

In a small bowl sugar, juice, and vanilla. Stir in enough additional juice to make a drizzling consistency. Drizzle icing from the back of the spoon onto the cake and allow to run down the sides.

You can garnish the cake with a sprinkle of icing sugar on top, or well drained mandarin orange slices.

Frugal Holiday: Strawberry Peach Trifle

Strawberry Peach Trifle

Originally uploaded by Merlene

Fresh strawberry and peach trifle.

4 peaches, halved, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch pieces or thinly sliced
2 1-pint baskets strawberries, halved or quartered (if large)
2 1/2-pint baskets raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups custard

48 purchased sponge-cake-type ladyfingers
1 cup cream sherry
3 cups chilled whipping cream
Additional whole strawberries (optional)

Mix first 5 ingredients in large bowl and toss to blend; let stand 10 minutes. Beat chilled cream in another large bowl until stiff peaks form.

Arrange 16 ladyfingers in 10- to 12-cup glass bowl or trifle dish to cover bottom. Using a pastry brush, generously brush ladyfingers with sherry. Top with 2 cups fruit mixture, then 1 cup custard. Repeat layering 2 more times with ladyfingers, sherry, fruit mixture and custard. Top with 3 cups whipped cream. Garnish with whole strawberries, raspberries and peach slices.

Mascarpone cheese or vanilla pudding may be substituted for custard.

Frugal Holiday: Beautiful Beet Soup

My friend Jenn over at Frugal Upstate is doing a week long mini-series “Thanksgiving – the Frugal Mini-Series” and while I’m Canadian and my Thanksgiving was a few weeks ago I decided to add a favourite fall soup for today’s topic of Thanksgiving side dishes. Be sure to visit Frugal Upstate every day this week to find more great Thanksgiving recipes, ideas for decorating and more.

This is a gorgeous beet soup. Full of colour and flavour.

It can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated or up to a month ahead and frozen to be reheated in a Crock-Pot or on stove before serving.

6-8 large beets (1.5 lb), peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 yellow flesh potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 onion, chopped fine
2 celery stalks, chopped fine
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp curry powder
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
salt & pepper
1/4 cup sour cream

In a large, heavy saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Cook beets, potato, onion, celery, and curry for 8-10 minutes, stirring often, until onion is soft and translucent.

Add stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. You might find it easier to work in small batches rather than all at once, returning puree to a clean saucepan.

For a velvety smooth soup you could then take an extra step and pass the puree through a fine mesh strainer but it’s not required.

At this point the soup can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

To serve, reheat on stove until hot throughout or in a Crock-Pot for 1-2 hrs on low, ladle into soup bowls, top with a spoonful of sour cream.

Makes 8 servings and can easily be doubled.

Frugal Kids – Host a Used Skate Exchange

Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, Canada I learned to skate almost as early as I learned to walk. Skating was a daily activity on local ponds, lakes and the arena in town.

Each year the parents at our school would organize a “used skate exchange” day. Everyone brought in last year’s skates, which were now too small, and found skates just the right size.

Volunteers coordinated tables by size so it was easy to find where to drop off your old skates and find your “new” skates.

At the same time there would usually be a bake sale, hot chocolate or cider to buy and at times even a craft sale.

Not only was it a great way to get new skates without having to buy new it was a great way to raise funds for school projects.

These days we’re often too quick to throw out the old and buy new. This year why not organize a skate exchange instead? This could work great for schools, community centers, churches, etc.

What are you waiting for?

Frugal Holiday – Wrap Gifts as you Go to Save Time

photo by MicheKerr If you’re anything like me you’ve likely started, or perhaps even finished, shopping for the holidays. One of things I dislike most is being faced with a mountain of gifts to wrap all at once. It takes any pleasure from wrapping and decorating package when you’ve a dozen or more to do at once.

When my kids were young I began wrapping the gifts as I bought them and stacking them on a closet shelf.  No ribbons, gift tags or other decoration. I’d just wrap at that point. In soft pencil on or near the tape I’d put a small symbol to represent which person it was meant for. Squiggle, circle, star, square, etc. Just something easy to let you know who each gift is for when the time comes to put them out.

A week or so before Christmas, once the tree was up and decorated, I’d take down the stack of gifts and decorate with ribbon and gift tags to place under the tree which only took a few minutes.

I found my kids were less likely to snoop through the gifts if they didn’t know who they were for and the ribbons were less likely to get squashed plus it took the stress out of gift wrapping.

Sometimes it’s just as important to be frugal with your time as it is with your money. Any little tricks that preserve your sanity during the holiday season counts as frugal in my book!

Frugal Lunch: 12 Egg Salad Sandwich Recipes

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One of my favourite lunches is the often overlooked egg salad sandwich. Both of my kids have always loved egg salad and I try to keep things interesting by changing it around. Depending on where you live a dozen large eggs can be bought for anywhere from $1 to $4 which makes the humble egg salad sandwich well within our frugal budget.

Depending on how you like your egg texture (chunky or fine) you can either smash the eggs by hand with a fork, by grating on a box grater, or by pulsing 2-3 times in your food processor. I usually cook up 12 to 18 large eggs and mix up a large bowl of egg salad to keep on hand in the fridge for lunches and snacks.

To keep things interesting you can make your egg salad sandwich on multigrain bread, bagel, bun, english muffin, stuffed inside a pita pocket, wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, wrapped in a large lettuce leaf, or even stuff the egg salad into a hollowed out tomato or sweet pepper half.
I make my sandwiches with lettuce and often a thin slice of tomato or cucumber or a slice of cheese.

My basic egg salad has eggs, mayo, a dash of dijon mustard, finely diced celery and finely sliced green onion with a dash of pepper.

1. Curried egg salad – instead of dijon mustard I use a pinch or two of packaged curry powder – you can omit the celery and green onion or leave in for extra flavour 2. Carrot egg salad – I replace the celery and green onion with grated carrot and a few sunflower seeds. Omit the mustard or replace with a sweet honey mustard.
3. Cucumber egg salad – I replace the celery and green onion with finely diced cucumber and replace the mustard with a dash or two of ranch dressing.
4. Pesto egg salad – replace the mustard with a teaspoon of pesto sauce. Omit the celery and green onion.
5. Dilled egg salad – replace the mustard, celery and green onion with diced dill pickle or dill pickle relish.
6. Relish egg salad – replace the mustard, celery and green onion with your favourite relish – try a sweet corn relish or onion relish.
7. Hummus egg salad – replace the mayo and mustard with hummus
8. Olive egg salad – replace the celery and green onion with finely diced green olives
9.  Bacon and egg salad – replace celery with some crumbled bacon or bacon bits. Omit mustard.
10.  Cheesy egg salad – replace mustard and green onion with the shredded cheese of your choice: swiss, cheddar, asiago, etc.
11. Ham and egg salad – replace celery with finely diced cooked ham
12. Sundried tomato and egg salad – replace mustard, celery and green onion with finely diced sundried tomato
The variations on egg salad are virtually endless. What are some of your favourites?

Blog Action Day 2008 #bad08

It’s a word we tend to ignore all too often unless it’s affecting us directly.
It’s a word we tend to feel applies to people in third world countries and not to our own.

Even when we do think about it we feel helpless to do anything and so we turn away. Maybe we feel that we’re barely (or maybe not quite) making ends meet ourselves so how could be possibly contribute.

Maybe we donate a can of creamed corn that’s been collecting dust at the back of the cupboard during food drives and feel that we’ve done our part.

Maybe stop and think for a moment just what that would be like. And then maybe think about what you could do, even when you cannot afford to donate money, to help.

Think globally, act locally. You’ve heard the expression but what can you do?

  • Donate your used furniture. Often people who’ve been in shelters are starting from scratch with nothing. What might be thought of as a too old, too faded sofa to you could make all the difference to a family trying to get themselves back on their feet. In the Toronto area you can donate your used furniture to Furniture Bank
  • Donate winter coats. In the fall and winter many area dry cleaners will accept your donation of a winter coat which they will clean and pass on to one of the many charitable organizations in the area. All sizes from infant to XXL adult are needed and appreciated. Call area dry cleaners to find out if they participate.
  • Donate clothing, toys, household items. Contact local women’s shelters about donations of woman’s and children’s clothing, toys, household items, etc. Often the families who arrive at a women’s shelter have nothing but the clothing on their backs.

Volunteer. Mentor. Organize a drive. Help build a home.

You DO have the power to help. Take action today to make a better tomorrow.