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This is How You Get Repeat Customers – Incanto Italian Cafe

A new Italian place called Incanto Italian Café just opened up near me a couple of month’s ago.  I only noticed them about 2 weeks ago.  And I’ve already been back 4 times.  :-D

First Experiences at Incanto Italian Café

It was amazing! The bread they bring to the table is made fresh, soft and delicious. I ordered the $7.99 Calzone and I swear the thing was bigger than my head. The dough was stellar, the marinara sauce is simply tasty, and the four cheeses and fresh spinach inside were oh-so-good.  My bill was really $8.  To top it off, the waitress and probable family member of the business, Lucy, was friendly and professional.

Incanto Italian Cafe Calzone

This is the actual calzone they served me the first time at Incanto Italian Café. I’m hungry just writing this post…

My second visit 3 days later was uneventful since I ordered a Calzone again for pickup.  It was just as yummy as before (that’s called quality control testing, hahaha).  About a week after that, I tried a personal Margherita pizza for $6 that was EVEN BETTER than the calzone!  Wow! 

All three times, I also interacted with Lucy.  It was always pleasant.     

Yesterday’s Experience

It gets better!  I took my grandparents to Incanto yesterday afternoon for coffee (well, coffee for them and lemonade for me, haha) after they popped up spontaneously.  They had a difficult afternoon dealing with a car dealership for silly issues that shouldn’t cost as much as they were quoted.  That sort of explains how coffee turned into them ordering cheesy potato soup too.

They loved it all.  Plus, Lucy came in from picking up her kids as we were getting done, came over to our table to say hi, AND stayed to listen to a few of our back-in-the-day stories for 5-10 minutes before her shift started.  It made their afternoon.  :-D

Delicious food, fair prices, and amazing people.  That is how you turn into one of my favorite places ever.

How did you find your favorite restaurant or business?

Just Started Using Checkout 51 – The Grocery App for Everybody! Really!

I’m not an avid coupon clipper.  In fact, I sort of suck at maximizing store specials, buying seasonally, or any of the other methods that truly help keep grocery shopping cheap.  My regular readers know that I’m not a classic “frugal blogger”.  But I do like easy money.

My friend, Anne, told me about this phone app about a week ago, Checkout 51, and I’ve already earned $3.00 of free money.  Really.  The links in this post are my affiliate links, but I only signed up to be an affiliate after I’d been using this app and then noticed that I told 5 friends about it in 2 days, lol.  This is a grocery store application that everybody can use.  Let me explain…

How It Works

1.  Download the app and sign up.
2.  Shop like normal (all grocery stores or even places like Wal-Mart or Target) and keep your receipt.
3.  Check the app’s current, weekly list for qualifying items after you have that receipt in hand.
4.  Claim free money if something you buy is on their list by submitting a picture of your receipt (super easy).
5.  Get sent money after you hit $20.

Checkout 51

Like I said, I am already at $3.00 in about a week.  And you don’t need to buy anything extra, just claim what matches anyway.  No need to change your spending habits or anything like that.  Oh, and if you use coupons to buy whatever it is that you are claiming, that’s fine.  They only care about what items make it to your receipts that are also on their weekly list.

Sample List

Here’s a sample list of qualifying items that are valid until 11:59 PM on Wednesday, July 9 2014.  Their lists change every week.

Pepsi
20 fl oz or more. Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Burger patties
Any frozen or fresh variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Hamburger buns
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Bell peppers
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Amy’s Organic Soups
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Earth Balance natural buttery spreads
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Wyman’s of Maine frozen fruit
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Select Ken’s Vinaigrette Dressings
Valid on Blue Cheese Vinaigrette, Lite Strawberry Vinaigrette, or Lite Apple Cider Vinaigrette.
Cash back: $0.60

McCormick® Grill Mates® Steak Sauce
Any variety.
Cash back: $1.00

Carmex Lip Balm
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.30

World Peas
Any variety.
Cash back: $1.00

Buy 2: Nongshim Noodle Soups
Any variety. Excludes Bowl Noodles. Items must appear on the same receipt.
Cash back: $0.50

Buy 2: Blue Dragon Products
Any variety. Items must appear on the same receipt.
Cash back: $1.50

HALLS Drops Bags
Bags 17 count or higher, any variety.
Cash back: $0.50

Glade® PlugIns® Scented Oil Customizables™ Starter Kit
Any Glade® Customizables™ Starter Kit.
Cash back: $2.00

Glade Jar® Candle
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.50

Glade® Wax Melts
Any variety. Excludes Glade® Wax Melt Warmer.
Cash back: $1.00

Try It Out

Overall, it’s just a simple extra way to save a few bucks overall.  I think it’s ingenious!  Let me know what you think!

Have You Used Care.com? Not Hearing or Experiencing Good Things…

I was looking at other ways to grow my side hustle, Crystal’s Cozy Care Pet Sitting, and came across Care.com.  I decided to try the free version, spent a few hours over a few days to create a solid profile, and splurged $10 on a background check.  Now I am slightly worried.  Here is what I’ve heard so far…

Thumbs Down

Care.com Feedback from Others

  • One of my current pet sitting gigs is with a lady that tried to find help through Care.com, but she found out AFTER submitting her needs that if you don’t join all the way for $40 a month, you can’t reply to anybody’s applications or see their contact details.  She only needed one visit on one day (a $25 job), so paying $40 upfront just wouldn’t make sense for her.  That means that everyone I’ve answered on their site so far couldn’t even get back to me if they wanted to if they aren’t fully subscribed – even if I was!  So I am really happy that I didn’t pay $40 a month myself.  None of this would annoy me if Care.com would have explained that before I spent about 8 hours trying to create a great profile page.  I had to go to one small part of their FAQ’s after the fact to find that fun fact.  I’m glad this lady found me on Craigslist instead.  :-)
  • The comments on this review scared the poop out of me.  They span from 2008-April 2014 so far and they all seem to be awful!  The ones that worry me the most are the ones that say that they keep getting charged after cancelling.  I didn’t pay for their service yet, but they do have my info for the background check.

My Own Experience Over the Last Week

  • Parts of my profile, like my picture and references were rejected the first time I tried adding them.  But the reasons they stated didn’t make any sense.  For example, I was trying to use the picture that is in my right sidebar right now (just me sitting down) and they said it “may not look like you or isn’t a view of just your face”.  Or my references “need a full name and phone number” when they had both.  So I just deleted what I had and resubmitted the exact same stuff again…then it wasn’t rejected.  Weird and a waste of time.
  • I keep changing my profile to read that I am a foster parent with SMART Animal Rescue.  Yet, it keeps getting changed back to “foster for an animal rescue” without any explanation on their part.  Yet they let the sentence about my past volunteer work at the Houston SPCA and Pughearts stay just the way it is…
  • No one has replied to any of my dozen applications so far.  And now I know it’s because they would have to pay $40 a month or $140 a year to get any of my contact info at all.  I’d highly suggest using a search engine to find more info based on what you can see in this situation…

I will be monitoring my credit card for any odd charges.  I probably won’t bother to delete my Care.com profile at this point, but I will never upgrade and will remove myself from their emailing list for all the stuff they keep sending me 2-3 times a day.

Good News

Even without Care.com, I’ve been busy.  I’ve made $1570 so far with 9 different sets of pets (8 of which I’d want to pet sit for again, lol).  I have spent $360 total on pet sitting insurance ($305), business cards ($20), car magnets ($25), and a background check ($10).  I also have $600 of jobs lined up already for May and June.  I actually think I may stop trying so hard to promote Crystal’s Cozy Care and just see what Craigslist continues to do for me.  You can check out my tips to starting a service business if you’d like to see how I started this one.

Have you ever heard about or used Care.com?  Do you agree that it’s not worth it?

Book Review and Giveaway – The Five Years Before You Retire

The following review is of The Five Years Before You Retire by my blogging buddy, Emily Guy Birken.  She is a freelance writer and blogger specializing in personal finance. She is a regular contributor to Wise Bread, Money Ning, and PT Money, and writes the Live Like a Mensch column for The Dollar Stretcher.  You can visit Emily at http://sahmnambulist.blogspot.com.

Review

I am asked to review dozens of books a year, but I generally can only get around to those by friends.  So when Emily sent her first ever book my way, I just had to read it!  I was not expecting how full and informative that The Five Years Before You Retire would be.  It’s packed and very useful for that little period before you call it quits!

Seriously, just check out the Content Page for this 200+ page book:

Contents for The Five Years Before You Retire

Introduction
Part One: The Nitty-Gritty of Retirement Finances
Chapter 1: How Far Away Are You?
Chapter 2: Saving and Budgeting for the Next Five Years
Chapter 3: Income in Retirement
Chapter 4: Find the Right Financial Planner
Part Two: The Government Giveth (and Taketh Away)
Chapter 5: What to Expect from Social Security
Chapter 6: Taxes and Your Retirement Income
Chapter 7: What to Expect from Medicare
Chapter 8: Planning for Health-Care Expenses in Retirement
Part Three: Home, Family, and Other Considerations
Chapter 9: Housing in Retirement
Chapter 10: The Family Fortunes
Chapter 11: Creating a Budget on a Retirement Income
Chapter 12: Common Retirement Pitfalls
Chapter 13: If You Don’t Have Enough Saved
Appendix: Retirement Syllabus
Bibliography
Index

Breakdown

The Five Years Before You Retire was written so you could either read all 238 pages straight through, OR you can skip to the chapters that you have questions about.  Each one is fully fleshed out.  You can really use this book to make your plans and ensure that you are staying on track.

For example, if you are within 5 years of retirement but don’t have enough saved, there is a Chapter 13 just for you.  And it actually walks you through all of your options in an easy to understand way.  That one chapter is 15 pages long, explains your options fully, and then gives you a plan.  It even includes a 5 year count down of when things should be done to help you reach your retirement goals.

From the beginning to end, I felt like Emily is taking the reader by the hand and leading them to their retirement dreams.  I seriously want to just hand this book to my in-laws since they are 1-2 years out and may appreciate it.

Giveaway

Okay, enough talk.  You can buy The Five Years Before You Retire by clicking on that affiliate link to Amazon OR you may be able to win a copy right here!

All you need to do to do for a chance to win is leave your answer below by February 10, 2014 to this question:

“What are you doing right now that is preparing you for retirement?”

Just leave your answer below!  One answer/comment/entry per person!

The official stuff:

1) Contest ends February 10, 2014 at 11:59pm CST. 
2) ONLY ONE COMMENT/ENTRY PER PERSON.
3) The winner will be selected randomly and notified by email.

4) The prize will be held for 2 calendar days. If it isn’t claimed, a new winner will be randomly picked and contacted.
5) I reserve the right to reject comments that I consider spam or invalid entries.
6) An invalid or incorrect email address automatically disqualifies you from the drawing…it’s hard to contact a fake email…
7) Local laws, rules, and regulations apply.

Unique Natural Products Review for Our Dirty Dogs

Our Dirty Dogs

Mr. BFS and I own (or “are owned by” as the case may be) two dogs.  Miss Doxie is a 15 year old dachshund mutt that likes to shred any food containers that she can find while we’re out of a room.  Oh, and as she is getting older, she is prone to getting bladder infections and having a few accidents.  Mr. Pug is a 10 year old pure-bred Pug that is allergic to life, and he occasionally pees on random things around the house if he thinks his territory was invaded or he is being ignored.  And they both will go Number 2 in secret if they can’t get our attention or just feel like sneaking off.

This is why all of our doors are usually closed and these pups are in the room with us at all given times.  Just being in our presence keeps them from being little sh*ts.  Yep, yay dog ownership.  ;-)

Just so you know, they are very loving, sweet dogs 95% of the time…wouldn’t want to paint a completely crappy picture…

Unique Natural Products

ANYWAY, when I was asked to write an honest review of Unique Natural Products, I jumped on the chance.  They have a bunch of products to choose from, and I will be trying out a total of 5 of them, but here is the one that I have used so far:

Pet Odor and Stain Eliminator

Over the last 2 months, we’ve had two dog-urine-on-carpet issues to clean up (at least, I’ve found two…).  The first one was still a puddle on our cream carpet (probably Miss Doxie), and the second was a dried up section near the wall that I assume was just marked by Mr. Pug.  I broke out the Pet Odor and Stain Eliminator bottle each time.

First I sponged up what I could of the “fresh” accident with paper towels.  Since I was only treating one small area each time, I then mixed the appropriate cleaner-to-warm-water ratio in a bowl.  Then I actually poured the bowl of cleaner onto the areas directly and used a white face cloth to sponge up the excess.  I didn’t worry too much about making sure either area was completely dry.

Once the cleaner was sponged up each time, I already could smell how much fresher the carpet was…and I did the nose-to-the-area check of someone who really wanted to make sure their new house didn’t keep smelling like pee.  By the next day on each occasion, the carpet was perfectly cream-colored like it should be, the whole area smelled nicer, and I still can’t see either spot where there was a problem.

Conclusion

To me, this a HUGE win and I’ll totally keep using this for all doggy problems on the carpet.  I actually am looking forward to using these other products that I have like the Wine Stain Remover and the Carpet Cleaner.  If they work as advertised too, Unique Natural Products will have a customer for life.

Have you ever used these cleaners?  What did you think?

Beyond Grain & Dairy eBook Flash Sale – Ends Tomorrow!!!

Hi!  Last week I reviewed a new recipe eBook, Beyond Grain & Dairy, that helps anyone who wants/needs to avoid grains, dairy, gluten, soy, corn, or processed sugars.  The feedback seemed good, so I just wanted anybody interested to know that there is a Flash Sale for it going on right now!  It’s normally $17 and can be purchased right now for $12.99 if you use the code FLASH1212!

Flash Sale

Thank you for allowing this interruption, lol.  Go back to your holiday feasts.  :-)

Beyond Grain & Dairy Recipe eBook Review

Do you like yummy recipes?  Or anybody out there trying to avoid grains, dairy, gluten, soy, corn, or processed sugar?  I know I am supposed to be cutting back on processed sugars and two of my close friends have to avoid wheat and gluten, so I was super excited to get to review the new eBook, Beyond Grain & Dairy by Starlene Stewart over at GAPS Diet Journey.  In case you don’t win her giveaway, here’s the rundown to see if you would be interested in purchasing it outright (discount code below).

What is GAPS?

In short, GAPS is Gut and Psychology Syndrome, which is a condition that establishes a connection between the functions of the digestive system and the brain.  The GAPS diet was developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a neurologist and nutritionist.  It was created to help heal issues like autism spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia and schizophrenia by treating the root cause of many of these disorders: compromised gut health.

Even if you aren’t 100% convinced that your gut and your brain are super connected, the GAPS diet is great for anybody that needs to cut grains, dairy, gluten, soy, corn, or processed sugar out of their daily meals.

Why Do I Like this eBook?

Honestly, I was just really interested to see if there would be any recipes at all out of these 100+ that would make a junk food addict (like myself) drool.  And there were quite a few!  Here are the ones that I will be trying myself over the next few months since they sound delicious and should help me with my latest Crystal Light Challenge:

  • David’s Quick Chicken Soup (I love all chicken soup)
  • Ham Wrap Breakfast Tacos (the picture looks devine)
  • Cauliflower Crust Pizza (again, the picture grabbed my attention and the ingredients should all taste amazing together)
  • Crock Pot Stuffed Bell Peppers (yum…I love all stuffed bell peppers)
  • Hamburgers on Leaf Lettuce (sounds yummy and we can do this with turkey burgers)
  • Mom’s Salmon Patties an/or Pork Roast Croquettes (who doesn’t like a great croquette?)
  • Shepherd’s Pie (with cauliflower mash)
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs (zucchini squash in the recipe, souds great and I would even go as far as using ground turkey for the meatballs…)
  • Butternut Squash French Fries (I’ve been looking for good substitutes here…)
  • Taco Salad (again, great with ground turkey too)
  • Cantaloupe Smoothie (yum and looks low points)
  • Rasberry Coconut Milk Smoothie (diddo)
  • Coconut Flour Sandwich Bread (just sounds interesting)
  • Fudge Babies:  Banana Bread Style (looks yummy and easy)

Interested?  Here’s Your Discount Code

Be honest with yourself, do you need to avoid processed sugars or do you have an allergy to wheat or gluten?  I was not expecting to be so tempted, but some of these recipes are in my head now and I will have to try them.  If zucchini squash is as fantastic a substitute as I think it will be, my lower carb days will be much easier to obtain.

If you are as enticed as me, head on over to buy Beyond Grain & Dairy (that’s my affiliate link*) and remember to use the code “BFS201″ to receive a 20% discount that will be good until January 31st, 2013.

How do some of these recipes sound to you?  Feel free to ask any questions as well and I’ll beg Starlene to stop by with answers.  :-)

*I am an affiliate for this eBook, BUT I reviewed it for several reasons.  At first, it was because I knew the author, Starlene.  But after looking over the recipes, I was honestly super intrigued.  AND if that recipe for Butternut Squash French Fries works out as well as I’m expecting, I will have to hug Starlene personally.  In short, this review is my super honest point of view.  I do not personally care if these are GAPS recipes or not – I am honestly looking forward to playing with a lot of them and building up my healthy recipe stash.  If they help my gut or my brain, that’s just the icing on the wheat and gluten-free cake.  :-)