Check E-bay and the reconditioned Vitamixes -- we got ours reconditioned and it saved us a bundle. My VM is worth every penny and more than we paid, though. I use it a couple of times a day and not only do I make everything the pp mentioned, I make soups, velvety smooth sauces, pudding, ice cream, floofy coffee drinks, smoothies that really merit the name
, and killer frozen margaritas. I also chop veggies and herbs, grind grains, shred cheese. You can use a VM to make nut butters and grind your own meat.
I don't know about the destruction of nutrients, but I do know that we eat better with the Vitamix b/c we use it more than we ever did a blender -- it's easier and makes superior juices/smoothies. I also like to make veggie soups (gazpacho) and juices, which I never would have done with the regular blender. And I can puree all kinds of veggies into sauces, for Stealth Nutrition...murhahhahah!
Anyway, save your pennies, ask for it for birthday/Christmas/Hannukah/Guy Fawkes Day presents, sell blood if necessary. They're worth it.