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Greek Salad

Believe it or not, the first time I went to a Greek restaurant was when I was in my early 20s. I had just moved to Vancouver and some high school friends invited me to tag along. The restaurant we went to is Stephos, known for their large portions and reasonable prices. The lineups were, and still are, extremely long. If you visit Stephos during dinner time, you need to be there by 4pm or expect a lengthy wait. Alternatively, you can also get take out and breeze right past the lineup.

This was one of the first places my husband (then boyfriend) and I went on our dates. Greek food has always been his favorite and it is no surprise that his favorite salad is the Greek salad. The quickest way to win over my husband is to make his favourite foods: spanakopita (spinach pie) with Greek salad.

The key to a great Greek salad is having in season vegetables: ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumber, plump green pepper and a good extra virgin olive oil. It also helps if you get the pitted kalamata olives. My husband is not a fan of having to spit out the pits.

1 - 2 English cucumbers, cut into bite sized pieces
4 medium sized tomatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
1 large green pepper, cut into bite sized pieces
1/3 red onion, diced into small pieces
400g feta cheese, diced into small cubes
1 cup pitted kalamata olives, rinsed under water (can substitute with black olives)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp dried oregano (or use 3 tbsp fresh oregano)
Black pepper to taste

1. Combine cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, red onion, feta cheese, kalamata olives in a lidded container.

2. Mix lemon juice, olive oil, dried oregano in a small bowl and pour dressing over the salad.

3. Place the lid securely on the container and shake until everything is mixed.

4. Season with black pepper.

  • Add cooked pasta to make this a pasta salad.
Source: Frugal Allergy Mom


Bread Machine Sandwich Loaf

The key of successful bread machine baking lies with a great bread machine. Yes, you would pay a little more for a better brand but the savings over the long run are huge. Black and Decker makes excellent bread machines; great quality at affordable prices. We were lucky enough to inherit my mom's Black and Decker bread machine, which is only a couple years old.

Making your own bread is not only healthier, tastier, nut-free and cheaper. You control what ingredients go into the bread, and there are no preservatives or additives. For moms with nut-allergic children, baking your own bread also allows you a peace of mind knowing it is free from possible contamination. Even better yet, you save so much money by making your own bread.

A Little Home "Economics"
A homemade loaf costs $0.758 for a three-pound loaf. At my local Superstore, an one-pound loaf costs about $1.28, so a three pound loaf would be approximately $3.84. That's a savings of $3.08 each time you make your own bread. If you bought bread every week, over the course of a year, that equals to a savings of over $160, which is enough to purchase two Black and Decker Bread Machines.

Here's my cost breakdown* for a 3 lb loaf (your cost may vary). My most expensive ingredients are milk, butter and flour. You can further reduce your costs by purchasing these three items in bulk and/or on sale.

Milk - $0.265
Butter - $0.234
Flour - $0.104
Sugar - $0.07
Yeast - $0.05
Salt - $0.005
Electricity - $0.03

Now, take 5 minutes and go bake your own bread.

Freshly baked!

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Makes: 3 lb bread loaf
Ready In: 3 hours and 10 minutes

1/2 cup scalded milk (Use whole milk for a richer taste)
1-1/2 cups water (80 - 90 degrees F)
3 tbsp butter or margarine, cut into pieces
1 tsp salt
3-1/2 tbsp sugar
5-1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1-1/4 tsp active dry or bread machine yeast (I used active dry yeast)

Please note the following directions are for the Black and Decker bread machines which can make 3 pound loafs. If you are using a different brand of bread machine, please follow the manufacturer's instructions on your machine.

1. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the milk to a slight boil. As soon as it boils (bubbles), remove the pan from heat.

Scalded milk: you should see small bubbles. Do not burn or let the milk boil over.

2. Gradually add in 1 cup of cold water and measure the liquid with a food thermometer. Add in the remaining water so the liquid is between 80 to 90 degrees F.

I prefer to have my liquid mixture a little warmer as it will cool off as you get the other ingredients.

3. Measure the ingredients into the bread pan in the order listed.

Ready for the bread machine.

4. Insert bread pan securely into unit and close the lid. Plug unit into wall outlet.

5. Select Sandwich setting and appropriate loaf size (3 lb).

6. Press Start button.

7. The Complete Signal will sound when the bread is done.

8. Using oven mitts, remove bread pan from the unit and carefully invert the bread pan to remove.  (Kneading blade may remain in bread. Remove blade once the bread has cooled).

9. Allow bread to cool on a wire rack until ready to serve (at least 10 to 15 minutes).

A slice of soft, fluffy and warm bread. Yum!

  • In lieu of dry skim milk powder, which can be quite expensive, substitute 3 tbsp of dry skim milk powder (generally called for in bread machine recipes) with 1/2 cup of milk. Make sure to reduce the liquid by 1/2 cup.
  • Store yeast in a mason jar in a dark corner of your fridge to increase shelf life and prevent spoilage. 
  • Place cut bread sliced side down on a cutting board to prevent the bread from drying out.
  • Use crusts or leftover bread to make homemade croutons or fresh breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs can be frozen in the freezer for later use. 
  • Storage: wrap bread tightly in plastic wrap and store on the counter for 1 or 2 days or in the fridge for up to a week.
  • To freeze: Slice bread and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in a Ziploc bag.
  • If you have a bread machine (inherited or bought second hand) and cannot find the instruction manual, here is a link that contains an archive of different brands of bread machine manuals (free PDF download as of this post).

*Prices based on:
Flour - 10 kg all purpose flour @ $4.00
Milk - 4 litres whole milk @ $4.50
Butter - 1 lb package @ $2.50
Sugar - 4 lb @ $3.00
Salt - 1 kg @ $0.87
Yeast - 2 lb (Costco) @ $4.50

Source: Black and Decker

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.


Kale Chips

I first heard about kale chips in 2009, when I read about it on a food blog. I have made it twice: once right after I read about kale chips and once this year. I made the kale chips according to the instructions on the food blog and found my kale chips were either burnt or soggy. The little man refused to eat them. I refused to eat them too.

My mother-in-law recently made kale chips and brought some over for us. Her kale chips were green, crisp and simply delicious. Everyone, including the little man could not get enough of it.

The two secrets to great kale chips are:
  1. Make sure the kale leaves are completely dry after washing
  2. Bake on a lower temperature for a longer period of time. 
Oven temperatures vary and you should test one batch to see if you need to adjust the oven temperature and/or time.

1 bunch of kale
Olive oil to taste
Garlic powder to taste
Onion powder to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

2. Wash the kale and take off the stem (discard or use it in a smoothie or soup). Tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces.

Wash, and spin dry. OXO Softworks salad spinner does a great job.
3. Dry the kale thoroughly in a salad spinner or pat dry using paper towels. It is important to make sure the kale is completely dry so that it will crisp up nicely in the oven.

4. Spread kale pieces on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, ensuring they have enough room in between. Separate into a few batches if necessary.

Give them some breathing room and do not overcrowd them.

5. Drizzle olive oil over kale chips.

6. Bake for 12 - 25 minutes. Check the kale chips at the 12 minute mark. The kale chips should be green and crisp (not soggy or brown and burnt).

7. Sprinkle with garlic powder and onion powder and transfer to a container with a lid.

Green, crisp and tasty!

  • Keep the kale chips in a lidded container and cool before closing the lid.
Source: Frugal Allergy Mom

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.


2 Cineplex General Admission + 2 Boxes of Cheerios for $5.98

One of the first foods we introduced to the little man is Cheerios. He recognizes the trademark yellow box anywhere and says "Chh". That is his way of telling me he wants Cheerios. We bring Cheerios everywhere with us as it is a healthy snack and nut free*. Naturally, we go through boxes of Cheerios like no tomorrow.

While shopping at Superstore, I bought two boxes of Cheerios for $2.99 which also had a Free Summer Movie Ticket offer. The free movie offer on the box of Cheerios that I had purchased gives one free general (adult) admission to a movie from Sunday to Thursday in August at participating Cineplex theatres. Alternatively, you can also use the coupon for a buy-one-get-one movie offer for July, September and October**.

This was the first time I have seen the Free Summer Movie Ticket offer. In past years, the free movie was offered in April, with other concession or movie offers in February, March and May. One year, we purchased 8 boxes of General Mills cereal and managed to see four academy award winners in April. This April, my husband and I saw Captain America with the General Mills Free Movie offer.

To redeem the offer, you would need to enter the code (found inside the box) online at Once you have completed the online ticket order, you can either print your tickets at home or pick up your ticket at the theatre. For more detailed instructions on how to redeem tickets, click here.

NOTE: The movie offer is only valid for general admission and not for 3D, UltraAVX, IMAX or VIP 19.

*The ingredients in Cheerios may change at any time. Please always read the labels and contact General Mills at 1-800-516-7780 if you have any questions.

** There are two different movie offers: adult and child admission. Read the package to purchase the correct one.

  • The movie offer found on the cereal boxes is the best deal as it offers a free movie instead of a buy-one-get-one when you use it during specified month.


Always Check Your Receipts

Make it a habit to check your receipt before you leave the store.

Around 4 years ago, I started to pay attention to how I was spending my money. The story of my shopaholic days will have to be told another day but I admit that I was not always frugal. At one point in my life, I was a full blown shopaholic who squandered money.

This is entirely contradictory to my upbringing in a frugal household. My late maternal grandmother grew up during the depression and managed to turn every situation into a learning opportunity. When we went grocery shopping together, my grandmother always told me to pay close attention to the cash till and always check the receipt. Somehow, I shunned this skill in my teenage years until my late 20s since it was embarrassing. Now, I always look at the items scanned, check my receipts and I am not afraid to speak up if something is amiss. I'm sure I am making my grandmother proud.

Since I started checking my receipts, I managed to save myself a good amount of money. In August alone, I managed to save $20 by checking my receipts. Here is one instance how checking my receipt saved me $15.

How I saved $15

In my post, How I Saved $37.20 On My $150 Grocery Bill, I outlined how I took advantage of two PC Plus offers to save $37.20 on diapers and groceries. The PC Plus program is a digital reward program offered by Loblaws which offers registered users points which can be redeemed on future purchases. Every 10 points is worth 1 cent. In my experience, collecting points at Loblaw stores has saved me a lot on my grocery bill.

However, despite my good intentions of capitalizing on the offers, my 15,000 bonus points did not show up on my receipt. This is $15 worth of points in future purchase which is our weekly budget for produce. As the PC Plus points are awarded automatically, there is nothing they can do at the store level so I had to wait until the next work day to call PC Plus customer service.

As I waited for Monday, I was kicking myself for not taking a picture of the PC Plus offers incase I misread the expiry date. Once I got a hold of a PC Plus customer service rep, I explained that my bonus offer had suddenly disappeared. The customer service rep put me on hold and told me he will look into the missing offer. Sure enough, there was a glitch in the system which caused the offer to disappear. He told me that I will be awarded my bonus points. Happy with the outcome, I hung up the phone and went about my day.

Half an hour later, I decided to check to see if the points were added to my PC Plus account. I saw that only 5000 points was added. Confused, I looked into the details and saw that he had only given me 5000 points.

So I called PC Plus customer service again to speak with another customer service rep and explained the whole situation. After a 5 minute talk, the customer service rep told me that he had added 5000 more points to my account.

Due to a calculation error on my part, I spent $148.71 instead of the required $150 pre-tax, which meant that I was only eligible for 10,000 and not 15,000 bonus points. As the PC Plus customer service rep asked me if there was anything else he can help, I asked him politely if there was anything I can do to make up for the $1.29 difference to get the extra 5000 bonus points. I was fully expecting him to say no. But as luck would have it, because of the glitch in their program combined with the error of the previous customer service rep, I was told that I would be awarded the extra 5000 points for my troubles. He told me that this is a one-time thing and that it was situation dependent.

What did I learn from this situation?

1) Always check your receipts 

Make sure the receipt:
  • Lists the correct price for the item purchased
  • Lists the correct quantity purchased
  • Deducts all your coupons
  • Awards the correct loyalty points

2) Know the prices of items purchased and offers

  • Use the calculator on your phone (or bring a small calculator) to add up your total bill. If the amount rung in is different than what you had calculated, it will be easily caught before you pay or leave the store.

3) If possible, print or save the online offers

  • This is not necessary but good for your own reference. It will help remind you what offers to take advantage of and the expiry dates.

4) Check that the original error was corrected properly

  • People make mistakes so it's always good to double check to make sure the mistake is corrected.

5) Politeness is key

  • Be polite when you are dealing with store staff (in person or over the phone). Remember that you attract more flies with honey than vinegar.

6) Never hurts to ask

  • Missed a deal or missed using a coupon? Be polite and ask. You might be surprised!

Happy receipt checking! :)


How I Saved $37.20 On My $150 Grocery Bill

I signed up for PC Plus program in 2013 when the point-based loyalty card was launched by Presidents Choice. The PC Plus card has been my best tool at saving money on groceries that I buy on a weekly basis. Offers are tailored to your past purchases, and when combined with sale items, this provides huge savings.

Every Thursday at 12:01 am, new offers are loaded to PC Plus cards showing weekly offers for certain products. Every 10 PC Plus points is worth 1 cent, so 20,000 points is worth $20 cash back (which can be redeemed on a subsequent purchase). Points can be redeemed at participating stores including Superstore (where I shop frequently), Extra Foods, Independent, Loblaws, and other participating stores. You can also earn PC Plus points at participating Gas Bars (this would essentially replace Superbucks).

How I saved $37.20

In early August, Superstore offered PC Plus points for purchase of Pampers diapers. For every $25 I spent on Pampers, I received 5,000 PC Plus points (worth $5 in future purchase). In addition, I received a bonus offer which gave me 5,000 points for every $50 I spent.

I combined the two PC Plus offers with a sale on Pampers at $30.19/box and rounded out my purchase with some groceries. In total, I was able to receive 37,200 points (worth $37.20 in future purchase) on top of already on sale items.

Here's how I got my 37,200 points:

4 boxes of Pampers (Size 4 - 156 count) - 20,000 points (5,000 points for every $20 spent)
Zucchini - 2000 points (400 points for every $1 spent)
Cucumber (3 pack) - 200 points (200 points for every purchase)
Bonus offer - 15,000 points (5,000 points for every $50 spent, not shown)

Scan your PC Plus card when you are at the till. You should see "Welcome Card #" at the top.

If you are interested in signing up to start saving, go to PC Plus.

  • Once you have signed up, you need to make sure you click on a button that says "Load All Offers To My Card". You need to load the offers each week before you go shopping. Otherwise, your purchases will not earn you any PC Plus points.
TIP: Make sure to load your offers every Thursday!

  • Click on each offer to read the fine print on the details of each offer (size, count or purchase required and the offer expiry). Make sure you buy the right product as the points are awarded automatically based on the specific product code.
600 PC Plus points ($0.60 off) for purchase towards Palmolive dish soap (Size restriction: offer only for 1.1 litres)
  • Check your points on your receipt before you leave the store. If you are missing any PC Plus points, and you have purchased the correct item, call PC Plus at 1-855-6PC-PLUS (672-7587) or use the points inquiry on the PC Plus page. (I was missing my 15,000 bonus points which was added on afterwards by PC Plus customer service. More on this in my next post).

Here is what the weekly offers look like (these offers are only valid for your card):
Once you load your offers, it will have a check mark next to the word "Loaded". Click on the offer to see specific details.

I may have a caffeine problem with all these offers on coffee.

  • Download the PC Plus app to your smartphone (not required but nice to have when you go shopping)
  • Load your offers each Thursday morning. PC Plus sends out an email every Thursday to remind you to load your offers.
  • Check your local flyers and combine PC Plus offers with sale items (when possible)
  • Most PC Plus offers do not have a quantity restrictions. However, at the store level, there may be quantity restrictions on certain sale items
  • Shop frequently at participating stores to get the best selection of offers
  • Shop earlier in the day to get the best selection of sale items
  • Look for in-store point offers (which are available to all PC Plus card holders)
  • Use the offers frequently as it becomes more tailored to your purchases (I get PC Plus offers on bananas every week)
  • The best is to combine PC Plus points with other coupons (in-store, manufacturer, Checkout 51, SnapSave, coupons from Websaver and - more on this on a subsequent post)
  • PC Financial customers can link their PC Plus card to their PC credit card to earn even more points. Did you know you get 50 points (5 cents back) for every reusable bag you bring in?

For more information about the PC Plus program, visit the PC Plus FAQ page.

Disclosure: I was not compensated or asked by Presidents Choice or its affiliates to write this post. All opinions are my own.


Lazy Loco Moco

While vacationing in Honolulu in 2010, my husband and I stumbled across this Hawaiian dish called Loco Moco. Supposedly, the 44th President of the United States is a huge fan.

We were naturally curious as the restaurant in our hotel, Hula Grill Waikiki, offered an upscale take on this dish. We tried it and fell in love with their amazing Loco Moco, which featured a decadent shiitake mushroom gravy. What's not to love about juicy hamburger patties on top of a bed of fluffy white rice, topped with rich mushroom gravy and a runny egg?

As we couldn't get enough of this dish, we also tried the Loco Moco at Rainbow Drive-in; the purported restaurant President Obama frequents when he is in town. Let me tell you, we could barely fit into our pants at the end of our seven day vacation.

In the four years since our Hawaiian escape, we have recreated this dish many times in our own kitchen.

This recipe below is not the Loco Moco we had in Hawaii. I was too busy lazy to shape the patties and make a mushroom gravy from scratch. I will have to do a post on Loco Moco with mushroom gravy another time. Don't worry, we have Loco Moco at least once every few months.

This recipe is a quick and easy meal to pull together on a night when you have too many things to do and not enough time to do it all. I served this with white rice, blanched green peas and a runny egg. It's an easier and quicker version of the Loco Moco we had in Hawaii but just as tasty.

2 lb lean ground beef
2 tbsp dried onion powder (or 1/4 medium onion, fine dice)
2 tbsp dried garlic powder (or 3 cloves of garlic, minced)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp beef bouillon
2 tsp black pepper
2-1/4 cups milk
1/2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce

Serve with:
Pan-fried eggs
Green peas (optional)
Hot sauce (optional)


1. Brown ground beef in a large skillet with onion powder and garlic powder over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink. Drain any excess fat.

2. Add in flour, bouillon and black pepper.

3. Stir until the flour, the bouillon and black pepper has been mixed in.

4. Gradually stir in milk and Worcestershire sauce. Using a wooden spoon, scrape any fond (browned food bits) at the bottom of the pan.

5. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly.

6. Cook until the beef mixture is thickened.

7. Serve with a sunny side egg and green peas over rice.

Source: Adapted from Allrecipes


Playground and Water Park Area at Confederation Park

The playground and water park area at Confederation Park is located in North Burnaby, next to the running tracks north of McGill Library. The water park and playgrounds are newly constructed, and officially opened to the public in late July 2014. It has already proved to be popular with kids and adults of all ages as it was very busy when we went on a sunny Friday afternoon.

What is at Confederation Park? 

Water Park

  • It features a water park with water table, push-button spray fountains and many gates and weirs which allows water to travel throughout the 400 square meter water play area.

  • The little man toddled through the water park splashing on the water table (pictured below), lifting the gates and watching the water flow through the water park. 
The water table which is a popular gathering place for kids: splashing, filling water buckets and lifting gates.


Playground for big kids, climbing rock and swing sets

  • Two playgrounds (one for toddlers and one for older kids), with different swing sets, see-saws, spinner bowls, climbing rock, just to name a few.
  •  The 700 square meter rubber-surfaced playground is easier on the joints and a lot softer than concrete.

Benches for parents to sit on while watching the kids play.
  • I enjoyed sitting on the spinner bowls but the little man seemed to prefer the slides.

Playground for toddlers with a picnic table (left).

Picnic Area
  • 33 picnic areas including two sheltered picnic areas, can be reserved for your picnic or BBQ. Alternatively, bring your own blanket for a relaxing picnic on the lawn.
The trees provide nice cool shade for a picnic or BBQ.

Tennis Courts

Set, game, match.

Running Track

  • 401 meter track made out of rubber which allows you to walk or run at your own pace.


Nearby Attractions

Dog Off-Leash Trail

  • For those with four-legged friends, there is a dog walking trail to keep your canine friend(s) happy. 

Model Steam Railway

  • You can ride a miniature train around a 2 mile track. The Burnaby Central Railway is open every weekend or statutory holiday between Good Friday and second Monday in October. The ride lasts 10 - 15 minutes and costs a nominal $2.50/ride or $25 (for 12 rides). Children under 3 years old ride free.
  • Little man and I will be visiting the miniature railway soon. Check back to read about our adventure.



There are two parking lots next to Confederation Park on Beta, north of Albert Street.

I enjoyed visiting Confederation Park as there are many activities to keep my little man interested and happy. There are many areas throughout the park that provides shade on a sunny day, ideal for those who have little ones. The water park and playgrounds are great for toddlers who just learned to walk and older kids who seem to have boundless energy. The picnic area is great for packing a lunch while enjoying the beautiful weather. There are so many different activities at Confederation Park to entertain kids and adults alike.

Go check out Confederation Park before the summer is over. Bring a blanket, picnic basket, swim suits for the kids, and some sunscreen. We simply cannot wait to go back!


Freezing Blueberries

British Columbia grows delicious blueberries. We are very lucky to live within an hour drive to some local farms which grow and sell these blueberries. About 4 years ago, my husband and I went to a couple of the local farms which had U-Pick blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. Though it was hard work, it was nice to see where my food came from and meet the farmers who grow these delicious fruits.

Since the little man is still young, we have not been berry picking these last two years. Instead, we purchase already picked berries from local farms who carry locally grown blueberries. Last year, I purchased 50 lbs of blueberries, and flash froze them to eat throughout the year. This year, the lack of freezer space combined with mommy brain, I completely forgot to buy blueberries altogether. Luckily, we were passing by the Richmond Country Farms and they were selling blueberries by the box. At $18 for a 10 lb box, I thought it was a good deal for already picked berries (U-picks are generally $1.70/lb).

When we got home, I tried some and were they ever sweet and plump! I only wished I had bought a few more boxes.

We've been eating most of the blueberries as part of our breakfasts and snacks. The little man can single-handedly eat a big bowl of blueberries! However, I managed to save some blueberries which we can freeze for later enjoyment.

Here's how to freeze blueberries.

1) Pick through the blueberries for any mushy, moldy or squished blueberries and discard any stems. Discard any moldy blueberries and separate out any mushy or squished blueberries.

2) In a salad spinner (I love my OXO salad spinner which I purchased from Costco for $22), add the blueberries and fill with water. Using your hands, gently swish the blueberries around. Repeat until the water runs clear.

My most used gadget. I use my OXO salad spinner to wash most veggies and fruits: salads, grapes, berries, etc.
3) Drain the water from the salad spinner and spin the berries dry. Drain any water and repeat as necessary.

4) In a rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper and pour the blueberries onto the baking sheet. Make sure the blueberries are all in a single layer.

5) Place baking sheet in the freezer for an hour or two until the berries have frozen.

Frozen and ready to be bagged. Or if you are me, you would eat a few while you bag them. Oops.
6) Place frozen blueberries in a Ziplock bag and label with the contents and the date. Freeze and enjoy!
Frozen berries can keep for up to 6 months in the deep freezer. Great for smoothies, baked goods, or snacking on their own.

  • Look over the mushy or squished blueberries and determine if they are edible (most times they are edible depending if you have any moldly blueberries in the batch). It is a personal decision and most of the blueberries I found were okay to eat (as I had no moldy blueberries in my 10 lb box). You can use these mushy or squished berries in a smoothie or eat them right away.
Source: Frugal Allergy Mom


Cineplex Mystery Shopping and VIP Cinemas

As former DINKs (Double Income No Kids), we went to the movies at least once a month. Now that we are SIOK (Single Income One Kid), we have been to the movies precisely four times, which is a far cry from the monthly visits as DINKs. Thank goodness for DVDs and Netflix so we could get our movie fix!

One of the few traditions we have kept since having the little man was my participation in the Cineplex Mystery Shopping program. I have been a mystery shopper for Cineplex since 2006. For an annual fee of $50 (plus taxes), I receive 8 general admission movie tickets and $40 in Cineplex gift cards. This is mailed to me over the course of the year, in 4 instalments (2 tickets and $10 gift card each time).

The total value of the Mystery Shopping package far exceeds the $50 I paid. General admission for adults, if purchased without any discounts is $12.25. Multiply that by 8 general admission tickets plus the $40 you receive in gift cards (good towards food or admission), this equals to a $138 value.

In return for this great deal, you need to purchase food from the concession (mmm...popcorn) and complete a short 5 minute online survey to provide feedback. Easy stuff!

Over the course of my involvement with the mystery shopping program, they have implemented many of the recommendations provided by mystery shoppers, such as myself. They have renovated the seats in the auditoriums, added new food items and implemented a new movie experience through their Cineplex VIP Cinema, to name a few. It's nice to see a company actually implement the changes you suggest.

My sister-in-law is also a Cineplex mystery shopper. She recently visited the Cineplex VIP Cinemas and raved about her phenomenal experience. On my date with my husband, we decided to check out the VIP Cinemas to see what the fuss is all about.

Yes, it even has a separate entry to the VIP Cinemas.

The Cineplex VIP Cinemas is a luxurious experience targeted at the 19 year old and older crowd who want a more enjoyable movie experience. The perks include a separate line for ticket purchase, reserved seating and an amazing lounge to hangout in prior to the show (you can order food and alcoholic drinks here).

First class movie experience: wider seats, table service, and more leg room.

The theatre itself features extra-wide seats, each with trays that pivot and a deep drink holder. The seats are paired (think love seat) with an adjustable arm rest that you can raise so you can snuggle next to your companion. The space between each row is wider, giving you more room to stretch your legs. To top this off, you can order food and drinks from the wait staff without having the leave the comfort of your seat. This is truly a first-class movie experience. Are you drooling yet?

We went to see the 10:30pm showing of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" on a Friday night and the theatre was at capacity. Clearly, there is a demand for this type of movie experience and I can see why! Pure luxury, free of rowdy teenagers and seats so comfortable that my husband fell asleep for part of the movie. Honestly, I don't think I could ever go back.

If you would like more information on how to become a Cineplex mystery shopper, please leave me a comment and I would be happy to send you more details.

  • The VIP Cinemas is only available at select theatres. In BC, there are two VIP Cinemas: SilverCity Coquitlam and Cineplex Cinema Abbotsford.
  • The mystery shopping requires you to visit the same Cineplex theatre for the one year term. 
  • To earn the most points, buy each of your tickets separately (both online and in person) as Cineplex only rewards you Scene points per transaction. For example, if you bought 2 VIP tickets on ONE transaction, you would only receive 200 scene points. However, if you bought the 2 VIP tickets separately on TWO transactions, you would earn 400 scene points. There is a limit of two transactions per Scene card per day. The number of points you receive can make a big difference especially given how expensive Cineplex movie tickets have become over the years.
Disclosure: As part of my participation in the Cineplex Mystery Shopping program, I receive two tickets for my referrals.


Fun at the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition)

Main gate to Playland and PNE on Hastings Street

If you live in British Columbia, you have likely heard of the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) held annually in Vancouver, BC. The Fair at the PNE has been around since 1910 and draws over 900,000 visitors during its' 17 day run in August. Also on the PNE grounds is Playland, the 15 acre amusement park which is open from April to October.

Being a frugal mom, I took advantage of the free gate admission that is offered one day every year. This year, it was on Tuesday, August 19th from 11 am to 1 pm. The little man and I headed down to the PNE (after securing free parking in the residential neighbourhood).

Saturday, August 16, 2014 - Monday, September 1, 2014
Hours: 11am to late (usually past 10 pm based on my past visits)
Closed: Mondays, August 18 and August 25, 2014

Here are my favorites at the Fair.


1) Game of Thrones The Exhibition (This year only! Limited tickets available each day. See tip below)

Game of Thrones (GOT) Exhibition: The most popular attraction at the PNE this year.
  • Only location in the Pacific Northwest where you can see the travelling GOT exhibition.
  • Collection of over 100 artifacts (including the iron throne, original costumes, props, armour and weapons) from Seasons 1 to 4. 
  • Fully interactive virtual reality experience that transports you to the world of Westeros.
  • A photo opportunity to sit on the infamous Iron Throne.

  • To get into the exhibit, you need to pick up a free time assignment ticket from the ticket booth (across from the exhibit, near the Renfrew/Hastings entrance) which lists your scheduled time slot. Once you receive this ticket, go back at your scheduled time and line up for the exhibit.
Ticket booth where you get a free time assignment ticket. Sold out when I went at 3 pm.
  • Get there early! Tickets sell out fast and I was told to get my ticket from the ticket booth before noon. They have limited tickets each day so pick up your ticket upon arrival.
  • If you go to the exhibit right when the PNE opens at 11 am, you can walk straight in without needing to get a time assignment ticket or wait in the line outside the exhibition.

2) Presidents Choice Superdogs

The obstacle course for the amazing Superdogs
  • See the Superdogs in action as they jump, run, and weave through the obstacles
  • Great for all ages, especially families with children
  • Meet and greet with the Superdogs and trainers after the show
  • Purchase dog food, frisbees ($5) and more (after the show)
Super Trainer and Fitz (the Superdog). I was sitting in the third row!
  • To secure good seats (on the lower rows), get to the venue at least 45 minutes before the start of the show.
  • There is a VILP (Very Important Little People) stroller check-in where you receive a ticket stub for stroller pickup after the show. 
  • If you are checking in your stroller, ask someone else in your party to save you a seat. The stroller check-in does not open until 30 minutes before the show.
  • Sections V to S are the best sections to sit in as you are directly in front of the obstacle course.
  • After the show, go visit the Superdogs to avoid the huge crowds leaving the Colosseum.
  • Go to the washroom before the show, or use the washrooms elsewhere after the show to avoid the super long lineups.

3) Free Concerts
  • There are two concert stages: WestJet Concert Stage (near Playland) and Chevrolet Performance Stage (near the food concourse) 
  • WestJet Concert Stage (free with admission)
    • Shows start at 8pm nightly
    • Featured musicians such as: LeAnn Rimes, Boyz II Men, Plain White Ts and Glass Tiger
    • Stadium style bleachers
    • Stroller and wheelchair accessible (near the bottom ramp by the main Beer Garden); gates open at 6:30 pm
    • Optional: WestJet Fan Zone (reserved seating starting at $20) 
Concert listing for WestJet Concert Stage
  • Chevrolet Performance Stage
    • Shows at 7:30 pm and 9:00 pm
    • Musicians such as Spirit of the West, Prism and Alex Cuba
    • Stroller and wheelchair friendly
    • Bring a blanket to sit on the lawn as there are only a few benches available

Concert listing for Chevrolet Concert Stage
  • WestJet Concert Stage is open at 6:30 pm. I was told if you want free seats that has a good view of the stage, grab a seat right when it opens.

WestJet Concert Stage - Blue seats (reserved seating); free seating on bleachers behind (not shown)
  • Chevrolet Performance Stage has musical acts all day. Bring a blanket, have a picnic and take a nap while enjoying the music.
Chevrolet Concert Stage - great for a picnic, a nap or a break from the activities

4) Safeway Farm Country

Barn animals, live honeybees, market and much more
  • See farm animals (cows, baby chicks, ducks, lambs and horses) up close
Baby chicks
Baby ducks
  • Live honeybees exhibit
  • Watch pig races
  • Kids play area
  • Pet the dairy cows (not shown)
  • Measure your height against farm animals
Yay, I am taller than a cow! :)

  • Talk with the farmers about animal husbandry
  • Purchase honey directly from the farm

5) Playland

Wave Swinger and the famous Wooden Roller Coaster
  • Amusement rides for kids of all ages
  • Popular attractions and my personal favorites: 1958 wooden roller coaster, Hellevator, Hell's Gate, Corkscrew and Flume (water log ride)

  • Twilight Ride Pass – Save $13 on the price of a Ride Pass when you purchase a Twilight Ride Pass Tuesday through Thursday after 5pm.
  • Guardians (21 years or older) can ride FREE with a paying child under 4 feet (48”) on selected rides.

6) Jigu! Thunder Drums of China (This year only!)

Jigu! Thunder Drums of China is at the Colosseum.
  • High energy show featuring Chinese drummers, percussionists and musicians blending traditional and modern elements.
  • Grab seats at least 45 minutes before the show starts as the seats fill up quickly
  • You can grab a seat as soon as the previous show has finished
  • All members of your party must be there as you cannot save seats for this show

7) PNE Prize Home

Would love to live in this house!
  • Tour the PNE prize home
  • Lottery tickets are 5 tickets for $25 or 15 tickets for $50
  • Tickets can be purchased throughout the park, by phone (604-252-3688 / 1-877-946-4663) or online
  • Fill in your information on purchased tickets and drop off at specified drop off locations throughout the park

8) CTV and Global Booths

CTV Booth. I was hoping to see Lynda Steele but she was not there. :(
  • Meet and greet your favorite local news personalities from CTV and Global (My favorite personality/news anchor is Lynda Steele, "Steele on Your Side" at CTV)
  • Test out your skills as a news anchor
  • Your tape may be featured on CTV!
  • Visit the booths during the news hour to watch your favorite anchors and personalities in action (I am always amazed how professional they are despite the rowdy crowds).
  • Photo opportunities with your favorite personalities (I saw Colleen Christie and Perry Solkowski of CTV who were taking pictures with fans).

Food and Drinks

1) Beer Gardens

The main beer garden. 19 years and older.
  • There are two beer gardens; one is located by the WestJet Concert Stage and the other is located by the Chevrolet Concert Stage.
  • 19 years or older (we did not go in as I was with my little man who is well under 19)
  • Be prepared to show two pieces of ID

2) Free Tap Water (Metro Vancouver)

Free tap water station next to Safeway Farm Country.
  • Fill up your water bottle with fresh tap water, provided by Metro Vancouver
  • Bring your own water bottle

3) Mini Donuts

Homer Simpson says it best "mmm...donuts..."

  • Freshly fried mini donuts served plain or with cinnamon sugar
  • 1 bag for $5 or 3 bags for $10
  • Buy in multiples and share with a friend (or not share at all!)
  • Buy donuts during non-peak times (after lunch, or before dinner) to avoid the super long line ups


London Drugs Parent Room (next to Playland)

Great place to change those diapers!
  • Stroller accessible change rooms

Frugal Tips

Before you go: Tickets

  • Online/Retailer Savings – Save up to $9 when you purchase your Fair Gate or Ride passes online or at the following Lower Mainland retailers: 7-Eleven, Safeway, Save-On Foods, Pricesmart Foods, Coopers Foods, Urban Fare and Overwaitea Foods.
  • Purchase Fair Gate tickets online to save up to $3.
  • Vancity members and their friends receive $5 admission on Wednesday, August 27, 2014.
  • Free admission for Seniors (65+) on Thursday, August 21, 2014 from 11 pm - 1 pm. 

Before you go: What to bring

  • Pack drinks, a light lunch and/or snacks (but definitely buy those mini donuts and other special treats!)
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes/sandals
  • Bring a camera, blanket, sunscreen and a refillable water bottle
  • For those with little ones, bring a small, inexpensive umbrella stroller (Note: not all attractions feature stroller check-ins. Some attractions require you to leave the stroller unattended).

Getting there

  • Park in the residential areas (east of Cassiar Connector to Boundary Road) to score free parking. Make sure to read and obey any posted signs/bylaws to avoid getting towed or ticketed.
  • Consider alternative transportation: public transit (bus), walk or bike.

While you are there

Adults ride free with kids 48" or shorter on selected rides.
  • Purchase a $2 Pinwheel Deals booklet at any Guest Services location which offers over $300 in savings throughout the fair.
  • If you are leaving the park (temporarily), you can get your hand stamped for re-entry for the same day

Overall, I feel the PNE offers great value for the price of admission: GOT exhibition, free concerts, free shows (Superdogs, Jigu!), carnival games, amusement rides, and those mini donuts! There is something for everyone and with so much to do, you may need to go back for another visit!