ScoreCard Research C. Blythe Pack - The Penny Hoarder

When you’re broke, there are many things you can absolutely do without. You can skip a night out on the town, delay that vacation you’ve been longing for and wait to purchase the hottest new handbag at your favorite boutique. However, food is up there with air and water. It’s a necessity.

What can you do when your tummy is growling, you’re low on cash and you’re sick of trolling grocery store aisles for free samples? Try these four socially responsible ways to lower your food expenses.

1. Volunteer

A few years ago, I was interning at The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan for my Master of Social Work degree. I worked in the special needs programs with social workers and volunteers. Not only did we get to take fun trips with nice people to local attractions like the aquarium in Coney Island, Victorian Gardens in Central Park and the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the Hudson River, but everything was paid for in full, including food and beverages.

Some nights, I took the adult groups to the local watering hole for happy hour to practice social skills while sipping on free wine and enjoying appetizers. Some afternoons, I took the teens to Shake Shack where we feasted on burgers, fries and frozen custard. The experience was rewarding in so many ways.

Next time you’re broke and hungry, pick a population you’d like to work with, reach out to a local organization and ask if they could use some helping hands. There’s a good chance you’ll get fed, meet interesting people, gain valuable experiences and change lives. You never know who you’ll meet, how it will impact your life, and what opportunities will come from it.

2. Rescue Otherwise Wasted Food

While 50 million Americans are food insecure, 40% of all food produced in the United States goes to waste. These are hard statistics to wrap your head around. Dana Frasz is the Founder and Director of Food Shift, an organization that develops innovative solutions to ensure good food is captured and redistributed to people in need before it’s wasted.

“We need to bring back the value of food and people in our society, because our current food system is allowing both to fall through the cracks,” she explains. “Food Shift is working to connect the dots between the two with solutions that go beyond food banks, looking toward sustainable models that provide economic empowerment and better distribution of food to vulnerable populations.” Additionally, Food Shift is a valuable resource, educating people on how to properly store their food and reduce food waste, which saves you money.

In 2003, Frasz launched a food recovery program at Sarah Lawrence College, and in 2008, she began dumpster diving and has been on at least 50 “food rescue missions” since. Dana and her boyfriend used to go once a month when they first moved to California, but because they’ve learned how to preserve their food, they now go about once every two months.

Their grocery list is small -- often only including ginger, garlic, onions, oils, nuts, beans and cheese. Everything else they want or need for their vegetarian diet is provided by the dumpsters they visit. Many nights, they bring home between 300 and 500 pounds of food, discards from a few local grocery stores. They find everything from produce to bread to meat to prepared foods and sushi. They wear gloves, wash everything and have never gotten sick.

“Combined, we may spend $50 a month on food,” says Frasz.We eat almost every meal at home, make our own lunches and we have saved thousands of dollars over the past few years, allowing us to invest our money instead into travel and experiences.” They even share the wealth by hosting big dinner parties with the food they rescue.

Frasz also started a listserv that’s comprised of about 40 strangers who come to her house to pick up food from their rescued bounty. She also uses The Freecycle Network as a platform for giving away food. Everyone agrees that it’s crazy to throw food away and people are very appreciative. “From a personal perspective, finding food in the trash is bittersweet, like finding a hidden treasure. It's a surprise, it’s nourishing and it saves us lots of money, but beyond that, it's infuriating to know how much of it is being thrown away across the country, and that's why Food Shift is doing what we do to change the system,” she shares.

3. Forage

Foraging for edible plants, weeds and mushrooms has become the hottest new trend in cooking these days. Turn your TV to your favorite foodie show, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a segment on searching for wild herbs to compliment your favorite dish. There are a few good reasons for this: It’s the ultimate in taking advantage of your natural resources, it’s free and it’s good for you!

However, it’s important to learn what’s safe to eat, and what you should stay away from because not everything is edible. Summer is the perfect time to explore and learn. Steve Brill’s Foraging in Prospect Park Tour is a great place to start.

For a suggested donation of $20, Wild Man Steve Brill will take you around Brooklyn’s beautiful Prospect Park and teach you how to forage for wood sorrel, Asiatic dayflower, hedge mustard, burdock, sassafras, black raspberries and more. If you’re not in the New York City area, you can check out Brill’s informative blog posts on the topic.

4. Practice Homesteading

Living a lifestyle of self sufficiency takes a little bit of practice and dedication, but can be very rewarding. I asked holistic artist and homesteader extraordinaire, BethKaya, to share some helpful tips on what it takes to become self sustaining.

BethKaya shares, “It’s not just about being this maven gardener or canning wizard because something as simple as buying in bulk and portioning out your needs is just as effective when it comes to saving money.” Plenty of online resources can help you begin your quest. In fact, she started a facebook group called The Homesteader's Craft Coalition where the primary focus is to support women by sharing ideas, recipes and techniques.

Getting started requires finding a problem to solve. For instance, do you have an apple tree that is producing so much fruit it's going to waste? Bring those apples inside and make applesauce. Change the mentality to avoid waste. Start viewing waste and problems as things you can solve, and should solve with minimal impact.

Saving money via homesteading doesn't happen quickly at first. You never want to go in over your head. That’s when money is wasted and morale gets low. She advises you start small and work your way up. Begin with what interests you as it will bring joy to the process and help with the mentality shift required to make such lifestyle changes. Do research. Identify what’s costing you excessively. Find a way to do it cheaper without a quality reduction.

There is some overhead when becoming self sustainable. There are start-up costs. BethKaya suggests starting with your cleaning products, “Vinegar is your best friend!” Browse the internet for tons of DIY recipes that will allow you to clean without using expensive and harmful chemicals. Also, if you have the space for a recycled wooden pallet, it can be an instant raised bed for filling in soil to plant herbs, tomatoes or peppers. These are great plants to start with when first nurturing a garden.

When it comes to canning and preserving, she recommends you stick with what you eat, pay attention to what's in season at the market, and shop local. A great place to begin canning is making apple butter. You can look up that recipe and many others, from apothecary to preserving, on BethKaya’s Pinterest board.

Your Turn: Have you tried any of these strategies to reduce your food expenses

Blythe Pack is a professional writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the College of William & Mary, and a Master of Social Work from Fordham University.

 

Live music has always been an addiction of mine. I love congregating with like-minded people, losing myself on the dance floor, entranced by lyrics that touch the soul and rhythms that hypnotize. There was a time when I went to four or five shows a week, sometimes hitting up a few different venues in one night.

However, the fun started to add up. Not going to clubs and shows wasn’t an option for me, but how was I going to manage to afford it?

Then, an opportunity presented itself. I pounced on it, one thing led to another and I found myself becoming heavily involved in various aspects of the music industry. If your passion for live music is bigger than your budget, you can do the same.

Read on for four ways to gain VIP access in the music scene without spending a dime.

1. Become a Member of the Street Team

Once upon a time, I fell in love with a band. Everything they played resonated with me and I couldn’t stop singing their praises. Plus, they made me dance like crazy. Every time they came to town, I was there. I signed up for their listserv and newsletter so I could stay in the know.

I saw an announcement looking for fans to join their street team, a group of people willing to help spread the word. Without thinking twice, I emailed them and offered my services.

In the following weeks, I was guestlisted to attend various shows around the city that I probably would have paid to see anyway. In return, I passed out fliers for my favorite band’s next show as music lovers exited the venues. It’s really easy to promote something that you genuinely love, especially when you’re in your element.

Finally, my favorite band came to town, and I received a complimentary ticket to the show where they asked to meet me and thanked me for my help. I continued working their street team for several years, which gave me many fun opportunities like visiting the musicians backstage, seeing them play big festivals and dancing on stage during the shows.

Want to be involved in your favorite band’s street team? Sign up for their newsletter, join their message board and follow them on social media to keep an eye out for opportunities. It never hurts to reach out to their manager or publicist to inquire for ways to get involved in promotions. Keep in mind, this strategy works best with artists who are underground or just starting out -- Kanye doesn’t need a street team.

2. Work at a Venue

A great way to make some extra cash and get to know all the right people is by working a few shifts at your favorite venue. I worked coat check gigs at my favorite clubs in New York City for a few years and met tons of party promoters, DJs, agents and managers.

In addition to coat check, you could work any of the following positions: door staff, security, cashier, cocktail waitress, bartender, busser and promoter. Not only will you get to see shows at your workplace without paying a cover charge, but you’ll make the connections to get guestlisted at other hotspots, too.

It’s hard work, but highly rewarding. There’s also the potential to make quite a bit of money in tips, and you never know who you’ll meet. One slow Monday night, I found myself chatting with Kraftwerk! They were super nice and invited me to see them perform later that week. It was pretty neat to be on Ralf Hütter’s guest list, and the show was phenomenal.

These jobs are highly coveted and sometimes hard to come by, so it helps to be outgoing and tactfully persistent. Many clubs post openings on Twitter, which is how I got one of my gigs. In addition, it always helps to know someone who works there.

3. Write for a Music Publication

Bands and musicians are always looking for extra press. If you love to write about music, it’s easy and fun to reach out to club owners, DJs, publicists and promoters to request to cover an event and conduct interviews. You’ll gain free access to the show or party. And, you may get a few drink tickets out of it, too.

If you’ve never been published, consider starting your own music blog. It’s a great place to begin and build up your portfolio. Then, when you’re ready to pitch story ideas to big press outlets, you’ll have writing samples to show them.

I’ve interviewed famous artists (A-Trak, Dennis Ferrer, Claude VonStroke, Rusko) and covered music festivals like Electric Zoo and Sensation for publications like URB and High Times Magazine, which got me free tickets, drinks, snacks and VIP access. Sometimes, I could even negotiate an extra ticket so that I could bring along a friend to keep me company.

4. Intern for a Record Label, Artist Management and Booking Agency or Music Public Relations Firm

One of the fastest ways to get on the inside is to intern for music industry companies like record labels, public relations firms, and artist management and booking agencies. Sure, you may be fetching coffee and making copies at first, but eventually, you’ll graduate to more meaningful tasks. Don’t forget you’ll be reaping the benefits of certain perks right off the bat like guest list and backstage passes.

Not to mention, behind the scenes can be very exciting. You’ll have opportunities to meet some of your biggest influences. There’s nothing quite like standing face to face with an artist who’s had a major impact on your life in such a magical way.

Be sure to do the research and reach out to companies who represent the type of music you are into and the artists you adore. That’s important. When you’re doing some of the more menial tasks, you’ll need to have good incentives to keep your head in the game.

Also, you may discover you like the music business. Interning will open up other doors down the road, leading to even more exciting times behind the velvet rope.

Your Turn: Have you managed to get VIP music experiences for free? Share your tips in the comments!

Blythe Pack is a professional writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the College of William & Mary, and a Master of Social Work from Fordham University.

 

Last year, I fell out of love with New York City. After thirteen years of living in the concrete jungle and working in various aspects of nightlife and entertainment, I decided to leave. I wanted to travel to warmer climates, reconnect with nature and bask in sunshine. You don’t see the sun much when you’re working all night long.

This seemed like the perfect opportunity to downsize, and I planned to take only one suitcase with me. This goal was pretty challenging and optimistic for someone who couldn’t even pack light for a long weekend getaway!

Many years of living in the same city allowed me to amass way too much stuff, forcing me to get serious with the decluttering process. I only had one month to sell everything I owned, and I wanted to make as much money as possible.

Whether you’re on an anti-consumerism rampage or simply moving to another city, state or country, you might be wondering how to sell your stuff. It was daunting, but I did it -- and made $7,000 in the process.

Clear Your Schedule

Since I was leaving New York City in a few weeks, and I wasn’t making much money working at a club’s coat check room in the middle of a very hot summer, I decided that it was in my best interest to quit my job and devote all my time to the task at hand.

You may not be in a position to do the same, but you’ll want to set aside as much time as possible. Selling all of your worldly possessions is a major time commitment. If you’ve racked up a bunch of vacation days at work, use a few of them to help you achieve this goal.

Sell Different Types of Items in Different Ways

I’ve thrown a few conventional yard sales before, and decided that I didn’t have enough time to wait for people to swing by and root through my things. Instead, I used two main platforms to sell items online: Craigslist and my personal network.

In most cases, there is no need to share everything you’re selling with both of these communities. When trying to decide what to post and where, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy by considering where an item is most likely to sell, and how you’ll get it to its new owner. After years of using Craigslist, I’ve come to realize that general items in these categories tend to sell well: furniture, kitchen items, music equipment, instruments, art, tools, and electronic devices. Other items, like clothing or jewelry, are likely better suited to sharing with your network in other ways.

Keep in mind that your personal network likely reaches across the country, or even the world. You don’t want to sell your dresser to your friend in LA if you live in NYC! However, small items are easy (and cheap!) enough to mail with minimal hassle.

How to Sell Your Stuff on Craigslist

Craigslist works best if you live in a big city. If you’re in a smaller town or community, I wouldn’t bother using it. Instead, I would organize a neighborhood garage sale or group sale at a local church or community center, or try using local Facebook garage sale groups. Involving more people could help you boost visitor numbers and increases your sales.

To prepare my listings, I took photos of everything and wrote out detailed descriptions of each item. These strategies help capture the interest of more potential buyers, leading to more replies to your posting -- and you want a lot of replies because people often flake out. If I wasn’t sure how much to charge for an item, I looked it up on Craigslist and eBay to get an idea of what others were charging.

Get creative with your listings to boost your chances of making each sale. Rather than posting all of my artwork separately, I made one post that included photos and descriptions of all my art. I titled it something fun like “Beautiful Art for Your White Walls.” It caught people’s attention, and helped me sell all the pieces. I did the same thing for my massive CD collection, and sold it for $500!

Be clear that you’re selling on a first-come, first-served basis. I wouldn’t promise anyone that I would hold on to an item for a few days, because I could lose another potential buyer. But if an item didn’t sell right away, I wasn’t shy about following up with people who had expressed interest to let them know it was still available. This strategy worked, and many people bought items once I followed up by email or text. Make sure to keep contact information for anyone who expresses interest in your items so you can follow up for the sale.

Remember to re-list your items after a few days to maximize the number of people who see it, and get back to the top of your area’s listings. Every time I re-listed my items, I tweaked the price points to see whether a lower -- or even higher -- price made a difference. Sometimes, a higher asking price helped an item to sell!

Sell Your Stuff to Your Network

It can often be easier to sell to people you know. They trust you, and know that you wouldn’t sell them something low quality. Trust is big, and it can be hard for strangers to trust you enough to buy certain items. Plus, you know what your network likes and wants! My friends are really into music equipment, instruments, sparkly sequined clothing and funky jewelry, so I was selective and pitched these items to my network via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and email.

People will want to see clothing and jewelry on you, rather than on a hanger, so I took selfies standing near a window in natural sunlight. I added an informative and witty description of each item and posted each photo to Instagram, automatically sharing it with Twitter and Facebook.

In the description, I included my asking price plus postage, and asked people to leave an email address so that I could send an invoice via PayPal or Google Wallet. When a buyer chose PayPal, I added a few extra dollars to cover their fee. I also included some descriptive hashtags to help the post catch on with people outside my network. The whole process took only a few minutes for each item.

By selling my clothes and jewelry to friends directly rather than through a consignment store or website, I kept 100% of my selling price. To save time, I waited until I’d sold several items before making a trip to the post office.

What to Do With What’s Leftover

Once you’ve shared items with your network and Craigslist, you’ll still probably have a few things leftover.

I took my books to a local bookshop, where they gave me a dollar each. I sold music memorabilia items on eBay. I sold a few broken gold earrings and necklaces to one of those “Cash for Gold” places.

I packed up a suitcase full of everything that was left and took it to the vintage and consignment shops in my neighborhood, who gave me cash on the spot in exchange for quite a few items. Anything that was left, I donated to my favorite charity, Green Tree Textiles, in exchange for a tax deduction.

Remember the Little Things

Don’t assume that small items are worthless -- people want the strangest things! On Craigslist, I sold my bathroom garbage can for $10 and a box of empty wine bottles for $12. I made $30 selling old concert ticket stubs on Instagram.

In the end, I only had a few leftover items that I happily gifted to friends and neighbors in the few days before I moved. Now, I’m living light.

Your Turn: Have you ever sold most of your possessions like this? Share your best strategies for selling your items for the best prices!

C. Blythe Pack is a professional writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the College of William & Mary, and a Master of Social Work from Fordham University.

Wine is a passion of mine. My wine story begins quite young: My mother used to share little sips with me as a child.

Then, one of my first jobs in college was working for a fine dining restaurant where I was required to regularly participate in wine tastings. That’s when I started picking up the vocabulary, learning how to identify tasting notes, appreciating the differences between varietals, studying appellations and becoming hooked on the culture of wine.

Over the years, drinking wine became a fun but expensive habit. I struggled to afford the fine wines I had become accustomed to enjoying.

Then I became friends with a woman who said she could get me a job representing French wines. That gig changed my life and opened up many doors into the wine world. And, the biggest bonus of all was that I learned how to drink fine wine for free!

Here are my favorite strategies for drinking wine for free:

1. Become a Wine Rep

Every year, a group of businesses from Southern France throw a festival in several major cities around the world called Sud de France. For two years in a row, I represented wines from this region in wine shops all over New York City by giving out samples, educating people about the vineyards and grapes, talking about the events associated with the festival and giving out wine tools and other fun freebies.

What’s not to love about that kind of job? I tried new wines that got me excited. I shared that excitement with other people who got excited about wine. I gave away free gifts (who doesn’t love free gifts?). I made $20 an hour, I gained more wine knowledge and experience, and I got to bring the leftover wine home with me to share with my boyfriend that evening over dinner.

Want to try your hand at being a wine rep? Look out for wine tastings and festivals in your city and ask the reps about the agencies they work with. I really enjoyed working with GC Marketing Services in New York City, and highly recommend them.

2. Work in a Wine Shop

Another perk from conducting wine tastings at shops all over New York City was that I met a lot of people in the wine industry. If I enjoyed someone’s vibe, I would ask for their contact information and stay in touch with them, building up my wine network.

So when I wanted a job at a wine shop, I reached out to my network. I got a job working in a lovely wine shop in no time. One of my responsibilities was to taste the wines and help the owner decide which ones he should carry.

If I made a lot of sales in a given day, I could take home a bottle of wine as my reward. I was required to attend our distributors’ portfolio tastings, where I was able to sample some of the best and most expensive wines in the world.

Oftentimes, wine reps would come in to the shop and give me a bottle or two of their product for free. After all, how could I sell a wine if I hadn’t had a chance to sit down and really enjoy it? I received discounts on wine at the shop, too.

Even if you haven’t established a wine-focused network, try asking your favorite wine shop’s owner if she could use an extra hand.

3. Volunteer at a Wine Distributor’s Portfolio Tasting

Once you’re immersed in the wine business, it’s easy to find out who the distributors are and when their portfolio tastings are being held.

On several occasions, I was invited to volunteer at portfolio tastings in exchange for a case of fine wine -- and more great opportunities to network. One time, I was stationed next to Robert Kamen, creator of The Karate Kid, who was representing his estate, Kamen Wines.

Look around, and you’ll find portfolio tastings happening all year long, giving you plenty of volunteering and networking opportunities.

4. Join a Wine Club

When you start looking for wine clubs, you’ll see hundreds of options with different rules, costs and packages. What they all have in common is that wine clubs save you money, compared to the cost of buying wine from a wine shop or liquor store.

For example, I’m a member of WSJwine, which is free. The introductory package gave me a chance to try 15 bottles of wine (red, white or a mix) for $69.99. That comes to $4.67 a bottle -- so I saved $170 compared to what those wines would cost in a store.

And the quality of these wines is way better than Two-Buck Chuck. My favorite part is that, if I don’t like the wine for whatever reason, I don’t have to pay for it. It’s free. So there’s no risk in trying a new bottle I haven’t tasted before.

5. Tweet About Wine

If you’re like me, you like to turn your friends on to the things you enjoy. So when I find myself really enjoying a particular bottle of wine, I tweet about it.

I’ll talk about the tasting notes or the food I’m pairing it with that evening. I use hashtags like #wine #vino #winelovers #Languedoc #Picpoul as descriptors.

One day, I received a Twitter message from a local public relations agency who represents several wines asking for my address. They sent me a few cases of wine for free. And in return, I tweeted my thoughts on their selections. It was my pleasure.

Cheers!

Your Turn: Have you ever enjoyed free wine? What’s your strategy?

C. Blythe Pack is a professional writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the College of William & Mary, and a Master of Social Work from Fordham University.