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  • 2013 HP Ink Challenge

    HP Ink ChallengeThis fall, I was invited to join the HP Ink Challenge, which concluded last week. HP sent each participant 2 HP 3510 printers, Original HP ink, empty ink cartridges to be refilled, a ream of HP ColorLok Paper, a ream of generic printer paper, a pack of HP Brochure Paper, and a gift card to pay for the refilled cartridges.

    One printer was set up with Original HP ink, and the other printer was set up with refilled ink cartridges. The purpose of the HP Ink Challenge was to compare the experience and results of printing with Original HP ink versus printing with refilled ink cartridges.

    Going in, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the challenge. The new HP printers I received replaced an HP all-in-one that was over ten years old, and had served me extremely well. Approximately five years ago, I refilled ink cartridges at Walgreens, and had a bad experience with them. Since it was so long ago, I don’t remember the exact details, but I do know that I vowed never to take my chances with refilled cartridges again.

    So I was very interested to see what the results of the HP Ink Challenge would be.

    Right off the bat, some of the participants struggled to get their refilled cartridges. Many of them couldn’t find a store that refills cartridges – for example, Walgreens used to do it and now they don’t. Some of the participants had to order refilled cartridges online and then wait for them to arrive. Others had to drive a long way for their refilled cartridges.

    I was one of the lucky ones. I simply got both the black and tri-color cartridges refilled at Costco for less than $25. It only takes an hour, but I just went back the next day to get my refilled cartridges. Unlike some of the other participants, I had no trouble setting up my two printers, and no trouble installing both sets of ink cartridges. (Some of the participants had to end their challenge before they could do any printing comparisons, because the refilled cartridges they’d obtained just wouldn’t work!)

    My first set of printed documents didn’t reveal much difference, although the Original HP ink prints were slightly crisper and more vibrant than the refill ink prints. That trend continued throughout the five-week challenge, and my conclusion at the end of the challenge was that the refill ink is good enough for most, but not all, of my purposes. Below is a shot of the same page from each printer:

    HP Ink Challenge comparison

    I would want Original HP ink and HP ColorLok paper for printing documents when putting my best foot forward is crucial. I know it’s hard to see, but I believe there is enough of a difference in vibrancy and crispness to justify the price difference. But for everything else – especially coupons – I’d be satisfied with the refill ink.

    However – and this is a big HOWEVER – the challenge showed me that you are taking a big chance with refilled ink cartridges. If you are lucky, like I was, you’ll find a place that is reliable at refilling the cartridges at a very reasonable price, and everything will go smoothly.

    But for every person in the challenge who was satisfied with the refilled ink, it seemed there were at least four or five people who: 1) couldn’t get the refilled cartridges to install properly {possibly because they weren’t refilled correctly}; 2) couldn’t find a place to obtain refilled cartridges; or 3) had to pay nearly $50 for refilled cartridges.

    For these participants, the time/effort and/or money required to purchase refilled ink cartridges was overwhelmingly wasted. They would have been far better off just purchasing Original HP ink cartridges and being able to print without any problems {none only a couple of the participants reported having trouble with their Original HP ink cartridges}.

    The bottom line: Unless you have a reliable, reasonably priced source for refilled ink cartridges, stick with Original HP ink so you know what you’re getting.

    Review: EasyCanvasPrints.com

    I’ve seen one or two canvas prints before at friends’ houses – they’re photos that are printed out on canvas, making them more like a painting than a print. They’re pretty cool, so when EasyCanvasPrints.com asked if I wanted one to review, I said yes.

    The canvas print is incredibly easy to order. I don’t like using photo sites that require a software download, so I was pleased to see that all I had to do was upload my photo to their site. They have a lot of sizes to choose from, from 8×8 inches all the way up to 30×40 inches. Prices start at $29.99, so they aren’t exactly cheap but given the quality, I can see why. Canvas prints make a fabulous piece of artwork to display in your home or give as a gift. Plus, right now Facebook likers of Easy Canvas Prints can get 50% off plus free shipping on their first order.

    I love the way the canvas print I received looks kind of like a painting, and the canvas feels high quality – I expect this canvas print to last a long time. It’s so great that although I planned on giving it to the grandparents as a gift, I’m tempted to keep it for myself!

    Disclosure: I received a canvas print from EasyCanvasPrints.com to facilitate this review. Read the full CFO disclosure policy here.

    Review and Comparison: Britax Frontier 85 vs. Graco Nautilus

    Longtime readers might recall my last car seat odyssey, which occurred after we were rear-ended. After giving up on the Sunshine Radian, I waffled between the Britax Regent and the Graco Nautilus. I eventually ended up getting two Nautilus seats to replace a Britax Marathon and a Britax Roundabout.

    When it comes to ease of installation, nothing comes close to the Marathon, which always became immovable after a simple tug on the LATCH belt. With the Nautilus, I have to work harder to install the seat, but it goes in securely, has a “big boy” feel like a booster, and has handy toy compartments and a cup holder. (You can read my review of the Nautilus here.)

    Still, when it came time to replace our second Roundabout last fall, I couldn’t help but think I’d like a Britax model more. The Regent had been retired and replaced by the Frontier 85, which is a high-back booster with a five-point harness, accommodates children up to 85 pounds, and is apparently a little narrower than the Regent (which my friend K. complained was too wide). I was able to get a decent deal on the Frontier at Babies R Us, so we replaced the Roundabout with it.

    Unfortunately, I’ve been less than thrilled. The seat was easy enough to install (the Regent reportedly was rather difficult), and I like that the crotch strap distance is greater than the crotch strap distance on the Nautilus. But my son says the seat is not as comfortable as the Nautilus, the crotch strap protector pad always falls off, and if you can make out the area I circled in the picture to the right, there’s an elastic strap that holds the car seat cover down in that area that’s constantly coming off.

    My biggest complaint about the Frontier, though, is that the front part of the seat hangs off the back seat a tiny bit, where the seat curves. Maybe that’s not an issue in a larger car with a larger backseat, but it happens in our Nissan Altima. It doesn’t seem to be a safety issue, but I’m just not thrilled about it.

    All in all, both my son and I wish we’d just gotten a Nautilus instead of trying the Frontier. It would have saved us about $70-80 too. So needless to say, when it came time to buy our very last car seat recently (the second Marathon expired on 6/15), we got a third Nautilus.

    Review & Giveaway: EasyLunchboxes

    I’ve been packing the boys’ lunches for years now, and I’ve accumulated quite the collection of bento boxes. I’ve also been reading several bento blogs for years and I’ve picked up tricks on how to pack bentos so that the different components of the lunch stay apart. But a typical two-tier Japanese bento box has 5 pieces – two containers to form the tiers, plus three lids (there’s a gap between the two top lids for a utensil; see the photo in the middle of this page at Just Bento). Add in one or two silicone cupcake liners as dividers, and a belt to hold the two tiers together, and you’re looking at 8 pieces to corral for just one lunch.

    It was manageable when I was picking the boys up at preschool, because I was the one keeping track of all of the pieces. But once Alex started kindergarten, I realized it was too much to ask him to keep track of all of the different pieces. And he immediately broke the one perfect-sized, two-piece bento box that I had for him.

    I had seen Easy Lunchboxes mentioned as a great kids lunch box on various blogs, and Gina’s raves over at Moneywise Moms really piqued my curiosity. Looking for a better solution to my lunch packing problems, I contacted Kelly, the founder of Easy Lunchboxes, and asked if they would provide me a sample to review. I was very excited when she said yes, and I’ve been working them hard for the last few months.

    The lunchbox is a simple two-piece with a divided bottom container, and a fitted lid that meets the dividers at the top. In the lunch pictured below, I’ve packed some cold cuts, cheese, crackers, fruit and cookies. I did find that while the items stay divided, a five-year-old isn’t quite capable of fitting the lid on firmly enough to keep the fruit juice from leaking out:


    Here’s another example, which contains some chicken nuggets, a ketchup packet and sweet & sour sauce, green beans, and crackers and dried fruit. This is a lunch for preschool, where they’ll heat up the chicken before serving it.


    After using Easy Lunchboxes for several months, I have quite the list of observations:

    • The section dividers reach all the way to the top of the container, so food doesn’t mingle. This is unlike the Japanese bento containers I have, where the dividers don’t reach the lid so I have to worry about foods sliding into a different compartment.
    • The plastic is durable and BPA-free.
    • Easy Lunchboxes are dishwasher-safe (although I keep reading that you shouldn’t put any plastics in the dishwasher).
    • Easy Lunchboxes are microwave-safe (although I keep reading that you shouldn’t microwave any plastics).
    • They come with a durable cooler bag that’s perfectly sized to hold the container.
    • The cooler bag has a short strap that’s easier for a child to carry.
    • The plastic is very easy to clean.
    • Easy Lunchboxes are very easy to pack in the morning because it’s easy to designate each section for a type of food (big section for “main course”, medium or small section for fruit/veggie, and the remaining section for dessert/chips/etc.).
    • The big section is perfectly sized for holding a sandwich.
    • Because they’re reusable, they’re eco-friendly.
    • Alex has had some trouble getting the lid off. It’s because the lid can get “stuck” coming off, and you have to tug at a different angle, but that can be a difficult concept for a young child to grasp.
    • The container is a little big for a child (perfectly sized for an adult, though).

    My Conclusion:
    I wanted these for Alex’s lunch, but I think he’s got to be a little older before they’re really right for him. However, they are incredibly convenient, and I still use them every day for the preschool lunch (where the staff re-plates the food). In fact, I’d be using them for myself if I were brown-bagging my own lunch!

    WIN IT!

    Easy Lunchboxes wants to give one lucky CFO reader the chance to try out their waste-free lunchboxes – the winner will receive a container set and one lunch bag in the color of their choice.

    To enter this giveaway, visit EasyLunchboxes.com and then come back and tell me something you learned and which color cooler bag you would like if you win. Email and RSS subscribers may need to click through to the blog in order to see the form. If you’re having trouble with your entry, you can go directly to the published form.

    For a second entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you’ve done so. You’ll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your favorite feed aggregator or inbox. If you’re already a subscriber, just fill out the form to let me know (and thanks!).

    For a third entry, follow me on Twitter and tweet about the giveaway. Then fill out the form to let me know you’ve done so (include the link to your update).

    For a fourth entry, blog about the giveaway on your own blog or mention it on Facebook. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again with the link to your post.

    You can enter up to four times (one for each type), and you must complete the form once per entry. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I’ll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. Winners must respond within 24 hours, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected. Additionally, these guidelines apply to all giveaways here at CFO.

    The giveaway ends at noon PST on Friday, February 18, and is offered to US and Canadian residents only. Please do not enter this giveaway if you have won or received free product from EasyLunchboxes within the past 3 months. Good luck!


    Disclosure: I received a set of Easy Lunchboxes to facilitate this review. All opinions are honest and my own. Read the full CFO disclosure policy here.

    Review & Giveaway: Bob Evans Wildfire Sauce + Grill Kit

    The folks at Bob Evans sent me a bottle of their Wildfire BBQ Sauce to try, so I did one of my favorite things to do with barbeque sauce: I poured some in the slow cooker over frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts and let it cook for five hours on high. Then I shredded it and served it on grilled pizza. (I know, I could have grilled the chicken too, but the slow cooker was easier – and we prefer shredded chicken to chunks of chicken around here.)

    The verdict? Delicious! The Wildfire BBQ Sauce has a wonderful sweetness and very mild kick to it. Unfortunately, it’s enough of a kick that the kids didn’t like it but Marc and I liked it a lot. I would put it on my short list of preferred barbeque sauces, but it doesn’t seem to be available in my area. The restaurants are all in the eastern half of the U.S., so I’m guessing that’s where it’s available.

    But good news! You don’t have to live in the eastern half of the country to win your own bottle of Wildfire BBQ Sauce and set of grilling tools.

    To enter this giveaway, tell me your favorite way to use barbeque sauce in the form below. If you’re having trouble with the form, you can go directly to the published form. This entry is mandatory and must be completed before the additional entries below.

    For a second entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you’ve done so.
    You’ll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your favorite feed aggregator or inbox. If you’re already a subscriber, just fill out the form to let me know.

    For a third entry, follow me on Twitter and tweet about the giveaway. Then fill out the form to let me know you’ve done so (include the link to your update).

    For a fourth entry, blog about the giveaway on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again with the link to your post.

    You can enter up to four times (one for each type), and you must complete the form once per entry. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I’ll select the winners using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. Winners must respond within 24 hours, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

    The giveaway ends at 9:00 p.m. PDT on July 20, and is open to U.S. residents only. Good luck, and thanks for reading CFO!


    Disclosure: I received a bottle of Wildfire BBQ Sauce and a grill kit to try. All opinions are my own. Read the full CFO disclosure policy.

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