ScoreCard Research Jamie Cattanach - The Penny Hoarder

The first time I had Parmesan cheese, I was 26 years old.

No, I wasn’t raised by wolves. In fact, my parents fed me a lot of pasta when I was growing up.

I’m just a victim of America’s lax labelling laws -- and more than likely, you are, too.

Let me explain.

Your Cheese Might Be an Imposter. Here’s Why

“Parmigiano-Reggiano” -- that is, the original, real Parmesan cheese, as it’s called in its native Italian -- “is allowed to contain only three very simple ingredients: milk (produced in the Parma/Reggio region and less than 20 hours from cow to cheese), salt, and rennet (a natural enzyme from calf intestine).”

So writes Larry Olmsted at Forbes, where he begins to chronicle the rampant food fraudulence he fully explores in his (fascinating) book, “Real Food/Fake Food.”

Overseas, foods must meet stringent guidelines to earn the privilege of printing place-derived names like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Champagne on their labels.

But it’s not just about location. The government also controls the intricate details of how these products are made -- sometimes down to the species of cattle allowed to produce the milk or, as Olmsted points out, the maximum distance between the cows and the creamery.

These guidelines are based on an item’s history, concretizing the way things have been done for hundreds, or even thousands, of years.

This means that when you purchase these foods in their native lands, you know a whole lot about the product you’re getting. The name is a heuristic for quality.

But here in the U.S., companies can get away with using ancient names without following ancient practices. Our labeling laws favor the manufacturer, erring on the side of marketability over clarity. This is why many oft-used labeling terms, like “natural,” actually mean nothing.

In “Real Food/Fake Food,” Olmsted reveals how such labeling loopholes have robbed Americans of experiencing the best versions of a host of seemingly common foods, including honey, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and more.

Case in point: Perhaps the most familiar version of “Parmesan” cheese in America, Kraft’s pre-grated, green-can iteration.

This cheese includes additives, like cellulose powder and potassium sorbate, which are “completely illegal” in the production of real Parmigiano-Reggiano, as Olmsted points out.

The result? A whole country that has no idea what real Parmesan is supposed to taste like.

“It’s far enough from the real thing that Kraft was legally forced to stop selling its cheese labeled Parmesan in Europe.”

Why Does Getting the Real Thing Matter?

So, why am I going on about other countries’ labeling laws? What on earth is the difference between cheese from cows in France and cheese from cows in Wisconsin?

It’s not about the place, so much, as it is about the process. And about honesty in marketing. And getting what you pay for.

Here’s why you should care if your cheese is an imposter.

1. The Real Thing Is a Lot Better

If you genuinely believe Parmesan is sawdust in a green can or know Swiss cheese only as the plasticy, hole-filled block sliced at the deli, you are missing out on an experience I firmly believe to be a birthright: eating real cheese.

Trust me on this one. It is so good. SO GOOD.

2. It Might Also Be a Lot Better for You

Maybe you’re satisfied with your Kraft American singles and non-refrigerated “cheese food.”

And goodness knows, these processed, domestic products are a whole lot cheaper than shopping the gourmet cheese bin. Why spoil yourself and ruin a good thing for your pocketbook?

Well, if you care about the health of your body as well as your bank account, there is another motivator.

For one thing, that stuff you sprinkle on your spaghetti may have actual wood shavings in it. (Hey, at least it tastes like what it is.)

When you buy a genuine product, you know exactly what’s in it and how it’s made.

And that means you likely won’t end up accidentally ingesting foreign objects, fillers or questionable synthetic chemicals.

3. You Get What You’re Paying for

Buying so-so cheese because it’s cheap and good enough is one thing, and there’s no shame in it. If you make that decision intentionally and know what you’re getting, I’m 100% on board. This is The Penny Hoarder, after all.

The tricky thing -- and the one that bothers me -- is when you’re willing to pay more for “the good stuff” and end up, through no fault of your own, shelling out extra bucks on what turns out to be a fraud.

If you’re going to spend the extra cheddar on fancy cheese, you should be able to feel confident that you’re getting the authentic article.

Otherwise, it’s a total waste -- to say nothing of the fact it’s false advertising, plain and simple.

You’re spending money for a product that’s promising you an experience you don’t even know you’re missing. You should be outraged!

How to Tell if These Gourmet Cheeses Are Authentic

So, ready to learn how to identify the real deal next time you’re in the market for some dairy?

Let’s dig in.


[caption id="attachment_72641" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]parmesan cheese next to a block of feta cheese Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

I start with Parmigiano-Reggiano because this cheese was my own real-food wakeup call. And what a wakeup!

As it turns out, Parmigiano-Reggiano has nothing to do with the crap I put on my penne growing up. But even the hunk of solid, plastic-wrapped “Parmesan” you get at the market might pale in comparison to the real deal.

Here’s how to get the actual stuff.

What to look for:

  • Parmigiano-Reggiano is spelled out on the rind. That’s right, authentic versions of this cheese are a dead giveaway, as every single wheel created in Parma, Italy has its name emblazoned into the rind like this one.

    Depending on the size of the wedge you purchase, you may not be able to see either word in its entirety… but if the rind spells out a different name, or is unmarked entirely, you can rest assured it’s not real Parmigiano-Reggiano. Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano are frequent substitutes and good cheeses, but neither has earned authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano’s moniker, “The King of Cheeses.”


[caption id="attachment_72638" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]sliced mozzarella on a cutting board Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

First things first: It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll get real buffalo mozzarella, or Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, in an American supermarket.

Historically, mozzarella, which is more acidic and has a totally different flavor profile than what you’re used to in your lasagna, is made from actual buffalo milk in the marshes between Rome and Naples. It’s also best to consume it fresh and close to the source.

But you can still do better than the shredded stuff you find in pizza Lunchables.

What to look for:

  • Avoid low-moisture, part-skim, 2% and other qualifications. These recipe changes are made to increase the product’s shelf life. This sounds like a good thing, but you’re more likely to get lunch box string cheese than soft, pillowy mozzarella deliciousness.


[caption id="attachment_72637" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]manchego cheese on a cutting board Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

If you’ve so much as walked by a tapas restaurant in the last decade, you know that this Spanish cheese is having a serious moment.

And for good reason. With flavor characteristics ranging from toasted nuts to caramel and butterscotch, Manchego is as complex and intriguing as it is downright delicious. Not to mention the fact it’s my personal favorite.

It’s also one of the most commonly faked types of cheeses in the world, according to Deli Market News. Here’s how to get your hands on the real stuff.

What to look for:

  • Real Manchego is only made in La Mancha, Spain, from the milk of the Manchega sheep that roam there. The very first thing you need to do is check the label to see where it came from. If it isn’t sheep-milk cheese from La Mancha, it isn’t Manchego.
  • The rind ranges from yellow/beige to brown and has a distinctive herringbone pattern. This apparently dates back to when shepherds aged the cheeses in grass baskets by shepherds hundreds of years ago. Pretty neat!
  • Your cheese should resemble a wedge cut from a wheel, as that’s how these cheeses are exclusively manufactured in their place of origin. The wheels have a PDO stamp, but it’s unlikely you’ll see it on your pre-cut portion.


[caption id="attachment_72639" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]feta cheese crumbled on a cutting board Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

I know so many people who feel pretty ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ about feta cheese. If I’d only ever eaten the supermarket variety, I’d understand completely.

Authentic feta is a whole different ball game. It’s shockingly versatile and delicious enough to eat all on its own, or maybe with a simple drizzle of (real) olive oil -- which is exactly how the Greeks do it.

What to look for:

  • Real feta is not made with cow’s milk. Traditional, authentic Greek fetas are made primarily with sheep’s milk and perhaps some goat’s milk mixed in.
  • It isn’t sold pre-crumbled. At least the good stuff usually isn’t. Instead, look for a solid block or even a rounded wedge, which indicates barrel aging. The cheese’s surface should be dotted with a few holes, but it shouldn’t be falling apart.

Emmenthaler (Swiss)

[caption id="attachment_72636" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]sliced swiss cheese pictured on a cutting board Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Getting real Swiss cheese is complicated and confusing, and no surprise. We’ve taken an entire country’s long and storied cheese history and boiled it down to a single word denoting a not-anywhere-near-as-good imitation product -- namely, mild, white, domestically-made “Swiss” cheese filled with holes.

In fact, the vast majority of cheeses made in Switzerland don’t have holes in them. The notable exception is Emmentaler, which our “Swiss” cheese is based on but doesn’t hold a candle to.

If you want a real taste of Alpine bliss, you have to do some investigating.

What to look for:

  • Scope out cheeses that are actually from Switzerland without “Swiss” on the label. If something is generically branded as “Swiss” cheese, it is likely anything but.

    Instead, look for the place of origin to see if the cheese is imported from Switzerland. Swiss cheeses come in all sorts of varieties -- some common (and delicious) options include Gruyere, raclette and Appenzeller.

    Of course, there’s the danger that you’ll run into something marked Gruyere that’s actually a domestic Gruyere-style cheese. I think it’s worth the extra few bucks for the genuine, imported article, but even the Wisconsin imitation is bound to be better than the stuff you’re used to putting on your ham sandwich.

Brie and Camembert

[caption id="attachment_72640" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]brie cheese pictured on a cutting board Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Unfortunately, you’re probably not getting real French Brie or Camembert without buying a plane ticket.

That’s because each of these cheeses are traditionally made with raw, unpasteurized milk, and the FDA is not a fan. It’s had a guideline in place since 1949 that restricts the import of raw milk products aged less than 60 days -- a standard that looks like it’s about to go up, and which most of these soft cheeses don’t meet.

Producers all over the world make Brie- and Camembert-style cheeses out of pasteurized milk, however, and some of it is better than others. Although you might need to fly to France for the authentic flavor, here’s what you can do to at least ensure you get the right texture.

What to look for:

  • Soft cheeses should be soft, but not too soft. Don’t be afraid to give your round a squeeze. It should have a little give without being -- perish the thought -- squishy.
  • Buy a whole round, not a wedge. This will ensure that the creamy, gooey center has dried out as little as possible, whether the cheese is an import or a domestic product.

Phew! Who knew shopping for cheese was so complicated?

Fortunately, you’ve made it to the fun and (all too) easy part: Actually eating it.

Bon appetit!

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) has written for SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, VinePair, The Write Life, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive and other outlets. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel and frugality.

Can you remember the worst interview you’ve ever had?

Interviews can be intimidating (and weird), even under the best circumstances. But sometimes, things go straight-up wrong.

Maybe your interviewer is rude or behaves inappropriately -- or unexpectedly turns out to be someone you know a lot more about than you’d like.

Maybe it’s a misunderstanding, or lack of preparation on your part -- followed by the sudden, terrible feeling of knowing you’re in way over your head.

Either way, it might make you feel a little better to know that it happens to the best of us. And in a lot of cases, it probably could have been a lot worse.

Here are six mortifying bad job interview stories that will make you cringe, smile, laugh…

… and mostly be glad they’re not yours!

A Rejected Handshake

After the workplace she’d called home for almost a decade put pressure on Amanda for taking maternity leave, she knew she couldn’t return as she’d initially planned.

She found herself job-hunting, for the first time since college, in her mid-30s -- and unfortunately, one of her interviewers did a particularly bad job of rolling out the welcome mat.

“She was 25 minutes late collecting me from the lobby and she didn’t apologize,” Amanda writes to Forbes’s Liz Ryan.

“She just said my name (like it was the Department of Motor Vehicles or a courtroom) and stood there,” Amanda explains. “I stood up awkwardly, walked towards her and extended my hand and she didn’t shake it.”

Talk about awkward, right?

She goes on to say her would-be colleague didn’t even smile and that her very first question was the infamous “What is your greatest weakness?”

Although she never imagined she’d have the gumption to do so, Amanda was so (rightly) upset by her interviewer’s behavior that she got up and walked out -- a move that would cue witness applause, at least in my case.

A Very Familiar Face

It’s always nerve-wracking to meet your interviewer for the first time.

But GreenPal co-founder Gene Caballero faced a particularly awkward set of niceties when he showed up to an interview for an IT position in Tennessee.

One of the interviewing managers turned out being his ex-girlfriend, whom he’d dated for three years in college.

Last he’d heard, she’d moved back to her home state of Texas to take a job with an IT company there. Looks like they still share some compatibility, since they both wound up in the same state!

So, how did Caballero fare after his initial shock?

“I actually did get the position and stayed with the company for about eight years before starting my business,” he writes.

“Needless to say, never burn any bridges.”

Stranded -- Three Times Over!

Tech entrepreneur Phil Petree might have a slightly disappointing superpower: being invisible to interviewers.

He’s been forced to wait for hours for them to acknowledge him -- and even found himself stranded after traveling long distances for the meeting.

In one instance, he was scheduled for an interview at 9 a.m. at a location about an hour from his home.

“They called and confirmed the evening before,” he writes.

“I got up extra early, drove up ahead of traffic, sat at Starbucks until 8:50 and showed up exactly on time,” Petree explains. “I was promptly seated in the waiting room, where I sat for two hours.”

When he finally got up to walk out, the receptionist said the interviewer had “made time to see [Petree],” and invited him into his office…

…for a ten-minute lecture on his “rude behavior.” What?

At another company in the same area, it happened to Petree again: He sat for two hours in the lobby before his depleted cell phone battery (and hopes) had him heading for the door.

“The receptionist asked me how it went,” he says. He told her no one had even stuck their head in the door to check on him -- the recruiter had forgotten about the meeting.

“Not one manager ever called to apologize, but that recruiting company has called me three times asking to come in.” Needless to say, he politely refuses.

Finally, the real kicker. This story makes the others look like practice runs.

“I was being flown to Houston from Miami,” Petree writes.

“It was a high-flying tech company that had just been acquired by Cisco. I had been through four different phone screens,” he says, and knew he was one of the top candidates.

All his travel arrangements had been made for him. He was excited for what seemed like the start of a new opportunity.

“I arrived on time, took their pre-arranged car to the hotel and was dropped at the front door. The hotel then told me I didn’t have a room,” as they’d given it to someone else due to his late arrival, which the company apparently didn’t confirm with the hotel.

Inconvenient and unprofessional, but livable… until he learned a convention in the area meant all the hotels close by were completely booked.

“I spent hours trying to find another room,” he says. “It was almost 3 a.m. when a Holiday Inn 15 miles away took me in. I had to pay for the room out of my own pocket. The interview started at 9 a.m.” He had to take a taxi to the office, which he also paid for himself.

Unfortunately, the interview itself didn’t justify the botched trip.

He knew after meeting with the third manager that it wasn’t a fit. The company refused to call him a car to return to the airport, and told him he could wait for the 5 p.m. airport shuttle… from the original hotel.

That’s how Petree ended up on a “two-mile walk to that hotel, in a suit, at noon, in July.” The company also didn’t cover his hotel, cab fares or anything else because he “didn’t stay at an approved vendor.”

An Inappropriate Seating Arrangement

TPH reader and Facebook commenter Terry Boblet faced a terrifying situation during one of her very first interviews as a young woman.

“A man who interviewed me sat me down on his lap,” she says. “He later kissed me goodbye when I left.”

Although his behavior was over-the-top inappropriate, Boblet was understandably stunned and scared. She didn’t know what to do.

And apparently, neither would anyone else: Although she’s asked career counselors and others what she should have done for years since, none of them have an answer.

Obviously, the interaction has made interviewing an even more stressful process for Boblet. She’s had some good ones but says she’s selective about which she agrees to go to -- and we don’t blame her one bit.

A Fundamental Misunderstanding

Kathleen Garvin, an editor and marketing strategist here at The Penny Hoarder, had a pretty serious mix-up while she was still on the job hunt. Since she also occasionally cycles in the “fantastic writer” hat, I’ll let her tell the tale in her own words here:

“About four years ago, I had an interview with a large, local media company. The print and online news giant was looking to hire a Multimedia Content Producer. It was my dream role, and with nearly three years of online editing, social media and WordPress experience, it seemed like the perfect fit.”

“During the interview (which had been previously canceled the day of after I'd already rearranged my work schedule and took the train downtown -- an omen?), I sat across from my would-be boss. She offered a limp handshake and then sat there... just staring at me.”

“She made it clear she was not interested in the interview. Undeterred, I started making small talk and talking about my past job experience.”

"‘Do you have a portfolio to show me?’ she interrupted.”

“I'm not a photographer, so I replied no. That's when she informed me her department was looking for an image and video producer for the web -- Not a writer. Not a WordPress pro. Not an editor.”

“I essentially went in to interview for a job that didn't exist.”

“There was obviously a major communication breakdown between her and human resources when cobbling together a job description. Still, there was no sympathy on her end.”

“I explained the situation to the HR woman before I left, and then emailed both women after the interview. Thankfully, I received a job offer from a different company a couple months later.”

You Have to Be Kitten Me Right Meow

Lisa McGreevy, a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder, once had a job interview that left her feeling less than paw-some.

“Several years ago I applied for a job that involved caring for cats at a privately owned no-kill shelter.

“The owner gave me a tour of the place and introduced me to the 75 or so cats living there.

“Everything went well and as we wrapped up the interview, he told me he’d get back to me ‘after they had a chance to talk.’ Thinking he wanted me to meet a business partner or something, I asked if I would be having a second interview.

“When he asked what I meant, I explained, ‘You said you’d be discussing this with someone and get back to me?’

“‘Oh, no, no,’ said the owner. ‘You’ve already met everyone. I’ll be discussing this with the cats to get their opinion of you. Naturally, I need their input before I make a decision.

“‘Of course,’ I choked out with a straight face.

“He called me a few days later to tell me they decided to give the job to someone else.

“I don’t know what upset me more: not getting a surprisingly well-paying job caring for kitties or the fact that 75 cats rejected me.”

Jamie Cattanach is a freelance writer who gets really, really nervous before interviews. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.

As Hurricane Irma churns in the Atlantic Ocean, now is a great time to evaluate -- or create -- your emergency kit.

Are you ready for the worst if disaster strikes? Preparing doesn’t have to be expensive.

How to Build Your Emergency Kit for Less

Sure, you could plunk down more than $200 on a one-size-fits-all emergency kit filled with stuff you probably won’t need.

Or, try the budget-friendly option: build your own customized, cost-effective kit. Here’s how.

1. Decide What You Need

First of all, know what you need.

The Red Cross suggests keeping these bare essentials on hand. They include mostly common-sense items: food, water, extra clothes and medicine.

You definitely need a stash of those. But what other goods make sense for where you live?

In my part of Florida, I can’t think of a disaster scenario that would necessitate the hand chain saw or rope in the $200 kit I mentioned, but maybe I’d feel differently if I had to deal with tornadoes or earthquakes, or if I lived in a wooded area.

Figure out what your kit needs and prioritize those items. And don’t get carried away -- you probably just need to be able to feed yourself for a week or so, not build a shelter on a desert island.

2. Prep for Free

Some of your preparation won’t cost you a dime. It’s all about gathering stuff you already have, like important documents, cell phone chargers, maps and spare emergency cash.

Instead of buying it by the flat, consider bottling your own water. Use bleach-purified, leftover two-liter bottles and treated municipal water. Just don’t use milk or juice cartons, which can harbor bacteria. Date your bottles and replace them every six months, and you’re good to go.

If you’ll need water for hygienic purposes, clean your bathtub, then fill it with cold water. It won’t be potable, but you can use it to flush toilets and keep yourself clean.

Don’t forget your protein! Beef jerky is a great survival snack -- but it isn’t cheap. You could dehydrate your own and save money and sodium content. Plus, you get to make your beef jerky the way you like. Check yard sales or Craigslist to find a dehydrator on the cheap.

Whenever you’re doing your own food prep, make sure you’re meticulous. Items undergoing long-term storage can get contaminated if they’re not perfectly sanitized and sealed -- and you don’t want to discover your food stash is useless when an emergency arises.

3. DIY to Save

In my area, hurricane shutters are important, but expensive.

The good news is you can make your own out of plywood or polycarbonate from Home Depot -- just make sure to factor in the cost of waste when you’re doing your comparison. You may not be able to find much use for raw material scraps once you cut out shutters.

4. Collect Cost-Effective Items

When you have to buy items, use coupons and your penny-hoarding knowledge to your advantage: Shop on the right day, use cash-back sites to earn rebates and use hacks to get the best deals at stores like CVS and Walmart.

When you pick up batteries, hydrogen peroxide, bleach and bandages, make sure to buy generic -- they’ll work just as well as the brand name stuff. Check out the dollar store for these items, and while you’re there, pick up some emergency entertainment: crayons and coloring books for the kids and a pack of cards for adults.

You probably already know how much you can save by buying in bulk. Emergency rations of paper towels, toilet paper, canned goods, batteries and bottled water are a perfect opportunity to take advantage of those savings.

Finally, consider battery-free emergency additions, like wind-up flashlights and weather radios. If you’re going to be without electricity, you’ll definitely want a handheld cell phone charger, which you can keep charged and prepared beforehand.

5. Plan Ahead

One of the best ways to save money on disaster preparedness is to play the long game: Look for sales in your day-to-day life and stock up, way before your storm season approaches. Cans of tuna on BOGO? Put your “get-ones” into your stash.

The more you can avoid a last-minute disaster-prep rush, the better: Vendors do price gouge. Here in Florida, the price of canned goods and gallons of water goes up in June and falls steeply in December, after hurricane season ends.

In case you do need a last-minute item, include disaster prep in your savings budget. Set aside $20 a month or so, and consider it part of your emergency fund -- because that’s exactly what it is.

Stay safe, Penny Hoarders -- and don’t forget your can opener!

Disclosure: A toast to savings! Thanks for allowing us to place affiliate links in this post.

Jamie Cattanach is a freelance writer whose work has been featured at Ms. Magazine, BUST, Roads & Kingdoms, The Write Life, Nashville Review, Word Riot and elsewhere.

If you’re a spendthrift with a relentless case of wanderlust, you might already know the secret of shoulder season.

Traveling outside of a destination’s peak tourism period can mean big savings, no matter where you go.

It makes sense: Slow season arrives and visitors disappear, taking their economy-stimulating travel budgets home with them.

Members of hospitality and service industries, like hotels and rental car companies, face dwindling revenue streams.

So they respond as any good capitalist would: by decreasing prices, they incentivize more business… and save flexible travelers (like you!) a heap of money in the process.

Why You Should Take Advantage of Shoulder Season This Fall

For most North American destinations, autumn is one long shoulder season.

Parents are busy getting their kids ready for school in late August and September, and there’s little scheduled time off in October and November.

Plus, these months can be pretty unpredictable weather-wise. No one wants to spend money on a rained-out vacation, no matter how good a deal it is.

But if you’re not beholden to the public school schedule, fall is actually a fantastic time to travel. You’ll benefit from shoulder season pricing, not to mention fewer crowds. You might even get to see the leaves change.

Fall is also prime time for many local events and festivals, from crop harvests to sheep herding to Oktoberfest celebrations. You’re sure to find something fun and fall-themed at almost any destination you choose.

And although it’s impossible to knock a traditional July road trip, you might be surprised at how many popular destinations are just as wonderful -- if not more so -- after summer comes to a close.

7 Affordable Destinations Not to Miss This Fall

Ready to hit that traffic-free highway? Here are just a few fantastic autumn adventures to choose from.

1. St. Augustine, Florida

[caption id="attachment_66122" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]St. Augustine, Florida at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images[/caption]

Yes, I am totally, shamelessly plugging my hometown. But hear me out: I’ve got good reason.

Despite what you remember from history class, St. Augustine is the actual oldest city in America; it was just settled by the Spanish instead of the Brits. Its 1565 birthday means it’s got 55 years on Plymouth Rock and 42 on Jamestown, and its long and storied history means you’ll find a fascinating mishmash of architecture, artifacts and -- most importantly -- food to explore during your visit.

In fact, the town’s no longer such a well-kept secret. Its appearance on best-of travel lists like this one has tourists flocking in droves.

But that’s not the case in early fall, when families face back-to-school responsibilities and snowbirds aren’t quite ready to fly the coop.

Not only will you be able to traipse around downtown without bumping into anybody (or literally melting to death in the high summer heat), you’ll also score deals on even the nicest rooms. For instance, St. Francis Inn, one of the most popular of the tiny town’s bed and breakfasts, offers $10 off their regular prices during August and September.

If you’re not a history buff, other Florida locales offer similar seasonal savings, so long as you steer clear of places like Miami or the Keys. And the state’s big — and weird — enough to have something for everyone.

Relax on Clearwater’s award-winning beaches, or head to the center of the state to explore its beautiful springs. The water is cold year round, anyway, and you won’t have to deal with an overrun campground.

2. Bar Harbor, Maine

[caption id="attachment_66125" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]A couple sitting on Cadillac Mountain in Bar Harbor, Maine. Asaf R/Unsplash[/caption]

Despite its northerly locale, this quaint coastal town stays mild well into October. You can expect temperatures in the 60s and 70s, and although there may be cloud cover, there’s relatively little chance of rain.

I’ll be honest: Bar Harbor isn’t exactly well known as an inexpensive travel destination. And all those cutesy boutiques and spas don’t slash their prices just because it’s September.

But much of the best Bar Harbor has to offer is free of charge, or nearly so. All you have to do is go outside.

Enjoy stunning views of rocky, lighthouse-studded shoreline both in town itself and at nearby Acadia National Park, which offers ample hiking trails. Meander along the surreal, granite plateaus of Cadillac Mountain.

Skip the shopping trip and splurge instead on at least one lobster dinner. As long as you avoid tourist traps, you should find that lobster less expensive than it would be at home -- after all, it didn’t have to travel far!

3. Washington, D.C.

[caption id="attachment_66127" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]a wide view of people walking near the washington monument Jacob Creswick/Unsplash[/caption]

Looking for a culture-intensive getaway? There’s no better place than our nation’s capital. The Smithsonian complex alone will take you multiple days to explore fully, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Oh, and did I mention a shocking number of attractions are totally free to enter?)

D.C.’s a fairly affordable destination any time of year -- it even earned a spot on this year’s Backpacker Index, a favorite of thrifty globetrotters.

But September through November are some of the best months to visit, according to U.S. News and World Report. The weather’s better, the summer tourists have filtered out and if you time it right, you can nerd out even harder by attending the National Book Festival.

4. Coastal Oregon

[caption id="attachment_66130" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]3 people walking at Cannon Beach in Oregon NickJKelly/Getty Images[/caption]

The northwest has a rainy reputation for a reason, but the coast remains surprisingly temperate and dry well into October.

And if Portland’s on your radar but you’ve never heard of Newport (or Yachats, pronounced “YA-hots”), trust me: You’re in for a treat.

Go agate hunting along the boulder-strewn shore or challenge yourself by hiking up to some of the most breathtaking views in America. (I personally recommend Cascade Head and Saint Perpetua.)

Not a climber? Stay at sea level and see the incredible power of the ocean firsthand by visiting formations with names like Devil’s Churn and Thor’s Well. You’ll want to obey the posted warnings never to turn your back on the water, however -- at least because gray whales can be spotted feeding off the Oregon coast through mid-November.

As at any waterfront, you’ll find ample opportunities to waste your money on overpriced souvenirs…

….but you can also find an adorable gem of a room at seasonally-lowered prices and some of the best seafood you’ve ever had for $10 or less. It just takes a little bit of exploration. And isn’t that the point?

5. Austin, Texas

[caption id="attachment_66132" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]people walking in the lit streets of Austin, Texas at night RyanJLane/Getty Images[/caption]

The beauty of Austin, Texas is all about balance.

You can spend Friday or Saturday night meandering the streets, drinking in some of the best music you’ve ever heard -- and, let’s be honest, perhaps more booze than you should -- only to redeem yourself with a refreshing hike and a visit to the flagship Whole Foods the next morning.

Although it’s going to be warm no matter when you visit, I’ll take fall’s high 80s to summer’s 100+ degree days anytime.

And as a bonus for those who prefer to get their buzz with a side of class, October is Texas Wine Month, which means area vineyards (yes, central Texas has vineyards!) offer special tours and tastings. That means you can indulge your inner oenophile without paying Napa prices.

6. The National Parks

[caption id="attachment_66138" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]a man standing between rocks in the grand canyon Joshua Peacock/Unsplash[/caption]

Obviously, this one’s a little bit more open ended, and the weather will vary depending on which of the more than 400 (!) U.S. National Park sites you’re eyeing.

But in mid-southern parks, including the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, the weather stays pleasant through Halloween. And even as far north as Glacier, you’ll see 70-degree days well into September.

And here’s the great part: You won’t have to fight insane summer traffic, either vehicular or pedestrian. Plus, although the entrance fees stay static, lodging and other travel expenses fall off at the end of tourist season.

So you’ll have the park to yourself… and pay less for the experience. No brainer.

7. Montreal, Quebec, Canada

[caption id="attachment_66147" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]a neighborhood with trees in Montreal Lisa-Blue/Getty Images[/caption]

J’aime Montreal -- and you will, too, once you experience its unique mixture of European-style cosmopolitan living and gritty, it-gets-really-cold-here sensibilities. Where else can you get an authentic coq a vin for dinner after lunching on the very best smoked beef on rye you’ve ever tasted?

(And yes, this is where poutine comes from. You’re welcome.)

Plus, the US dollar is worth a bit more than Canada’s, which means when you get your cash exchanged, the bank will hand you back more bills than you gave them.

That’s a nice feeling any time of year, but especially in the fall, when the sun’s still shining, the leaves have begun to change and those oh-so-wanderable streets are just about devoid of tourists.

Do bring at least a light jacket, however, as the days will be in the 60s and evenings can dip as low as the high 40s.

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) has written for SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, VinePair, The Write Life, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive and other outlets. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel and frugality.

You brew a fresh pot of coffee, pour yourself a cup, flip on your favorite morning talk show and sit down at the kitchen table with your laptop. You’re still in your bathrobe, cozy after a hot shower. Your dog wags her tail happily at your feet.

You’re ready to start your work day.

Too Good to Be True?

Working from home is a dream for many of us: You save time, money and stress on your commute, and the dress code includes your favorite pajamas. Yes, the Spongebob ones.

But not all work-from-home jobs are created equal.

CBS News worked with FlexJobs and the Federal Trade Commission to put together a list of the five worst work-from-home jobs -- the most tedious, most draining and least profitable.

The jobs, which include envelope stuffing, assembly work and multi-level marketing, mostly had one thing in common: The companies ask you to invest upfront. Hopefuls find out there’s little work available only after spending hundreds of dollars.

Jobs promising high earnings to those without specific skills are most likely bogus, noted FlexJobs founder Sara Sutton Fell.

It’s the same old story: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

However, there are legitimate work-from-home jobs -- though many require training, time and effort, just like any other position.

Legit Work-From-Home Jobs to Try

Here are five suggestions for legitimate work-from-home jobs to try instead of the ones CBS recommends you avoid:

1. Instead of Stuffing Envelopes, Try Earning Passive Income

Companies often advertise earnings of up to $1,200 per week for envelope stuffing, CBS reports -- a number worthy of enduring the tedious task.

But hopefuls are asked to pay an upfront fee, and often discover afterwards that there are few envelopes to stuff -- so they won’t actually make any money.

Skip the papercuts and set up a passive income stream online. The money won’t be immediate and it’ll take some effort, but truck driver Matthew Allen of Dumb Passive Income makes thousands of dollars a month -- and he hasn’t even quit his day job.

If you took it full time, you could do even better.

2. Instead of Assembly Work, Try Crafting or Freelance Writing

Don’t fall for this one: after being asked to pay the price of parts, the creations you assemble might still be rejected as substandard.

If you’re creative, try making your own original handmade items and selling them on Etsy. This mom’s project took off and now makes her $70,000 per month.

If you have a way with words, try your hand at freelance writing. Lots of blogs pay for submissions -- including The Penny Hoarder!

3. Instead of Processing Rebates, Try Being a Call Center Representative

Did you know you could be an AppleCare representative from your couch?

In the digital age, there’s no need to crowd telephone-based workers into costly offices, so lots of companies are moving toward hiring remote customer service reps.

And assisting with a variety of individual problems is bound to be more interesting than processing rebates, even if 70% of your job is asking callers, “Did you try a reboot?”

You’ll receive technical training, but some experience in technology troubleshooting would probably be helpful.

4. Instead of Medical Billing, Try Transcription

If you’re willing to codify treatments and add up medical bills, would you listen to a TV show or phone call on repeat and type what you hear?

You could make up to $25 per hour, and no less than an hourly $15 -- a far cry from paying $6,000 for absolutely nothing in return.

If you’re familiar with medical terminology, you’ll be the perfect medical transcriptionist -- a subcategory of the job on the higher end of the pay scale.

5. Instead of Multi-level Marketing, Try Udemy

It’s a real bummer to get an unexpected, excited phone call from a friend -- only to discover she’s just trying to get you to sit in on her Arbonne webinar.

Selling Avon or Beachbody products might work for some, but it can distance you from the friends and family you need to recruit to make substantial earnings. And if you’re unsuccessful in your efforts at recruitment and sales, you’ll be stuck with a bunch of makeup or vitamins -- and none of your investment cash.

If you like working with people and want to improve their lives, teach one of your skills to others on Udemy. You’ll be selling people a viable skill instead of lip gloss -- and there’s no fee to get started.

Check out these great blogs for more information and inspiration on how to make money from home -- and don’t forget to check with your boss to see if you could take your current job to your kitchen table!

Jamie Cattanach is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.

Sure, saving for retirement sounds smart.

But we millennials know life’s all about living in the now. That’s why we trade the dignity of homeownership for the deliciousness of avocado toast and refuse to waste even a moment rinsing spent bowls of cereal.

It might seem like lack of forethought, and in extreme cases, it might even be mistaken for laziness.

But really, our unique approach to life is anything but aimless. It’s all about self-care.

That’s why these “superfluous” expenses are actually totally worthy investments. What’s a few bucks a week -- or even a few hundred -- when your wellbeing is at stake?

I mean, YOLO, right?

7 Easy Ways to Blow the Money You Could Save for Retirement

Here are a few of our favorite ways to treat yo’ self today -- future you be damned.

1. Try a New Boutique Fitness Class Every Few Months

Pure Barre, SoulCycle, Orangetheory… surely one of these catchily, binomial programs will transform you into somebody who actually enjoys exercise.

2. Keep up Your Latte-a-Day Habit

No matter what the personal-finance gurus say, there are precious few pleasures in life small and tangible enough to literally hold in your hands. The warmth of overpriced steamed milk and espresso through cardboard is one of them.

And let’s be honest, downgrading to McDonald’s or quitting the juice cold turkey are just not viable options.

Besides, how else will you get through the unnecessary, wasteful commute to a job you could totally do from home?

3. A Series of Candles or Incense Sets That Smell Like Exotic Locales You Can Never Afford to Visit

Tahitian Vanilla, Bora Bora Sea Breeze, Indonesian Coconut Verbana -- an exotic escape is just a few bucks away.
OK, like $34 at Anthropologie. Still beats airfare, am I right?

4. Keep a Fresh Mani or Pedi

As long as your nails look nice, no one needs to know you walk through life on the perpetual brink of a panic attack.

5. A Blue Apron Subscription

Sure, it’s cheaper to just go to the grocery store and buy your own ingredients. And all that packaging probably isn’t the best thing ever for the environment.

And, yes, since you’re still single, even the smallest delivery option means you’ll eat the same meal six times this week.

But the tiny little baggie of exactly three sprigs of thyme is so cute, it’s basically therapeutic. Besides, you deserve the smug satisfaction of bringing your leftover vidalia onion and kale tarts to work for lunch on Wednesday, right? You’re not even lying when you say they’re homemade.

6. Happy Hour With Your Colleagues. Again

I read somewhere that booze isn’t actually bad for you, so long as it’s imbibed in a cheerily self-deprecating social setting.

7. A Commercial-Free Hulu Subscription

Yeah, you’re already paying for Netflix and Amazon Prime, but “The Handmaid’s Tale” is just prescient, you know? Besides, keeping up with pop culture is basically a networking requirement.

It’s Really Not That Hard to Save for Retirement

In all seriousness, saving for retirement is one of the purest forms of self-care we can think of. Doing so means taking responsibility for your future -- and buying your future self a hard-earned break from working life.

Plus, if you start early, you’ll be surprised at how little it takes to build up a livable nest egg. One of our writers found 21-year-olds could look forward to a comfortable retirement by socking away just $25 per week, which is about how much each item on this list costs.

Modern technology makes the savings process itself even easier. If you open an IRA, for example, you can set up an automatic transfer in minutes, seamlessly sending a fraction of each paycheck into the account.

And if your employer offers a 401(k) plan, it’s really simple: Just opt in, and the funds will automatically be deducted from your wages. You’ll never even miss having the cash in your checking account. And in many cases, your boss will match a percentage of your contribution. (Psst: That means free money!)

No matter what kind of retirement account you use or how you fund it, just make sure you set something aside on a regular basis. Unfortunately, a shocking number of Americans never do -- and it’s no fun trying to catch up when you find yourself facing your 50th birthday.

Besides, Penny Hoarders know it’s totally possible to save money while living fully, whether that means traveling, dining, bar-hopping or splurging on a ticket to that can’t-miss game.

That’s why we hoard pennies in the first place, after all: To have money to spend on the experiences that matter most to us. Just make sure you figure your future experiences into the equation!

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) has written for SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, VinePair, The Write Life, Wonderfilled Magazine, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive and other outlets. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel and frugality.

Living alone for the first time ever.

Finally being able to stay up as late as you want, studying — at least ostensibly — between bouts of laughter with newfound friends.

Figuring out how to feed yourself without mom’s cooking to fall back on. (Hint: You cannot subsist on breakfast cereal alone. Trust me.)

These are just a few of a whole bevvy of firsts that come along with going away to college. We don’t have time to list them all here… and besides, there are a number that mom and dad would probably rather not think about.

But there’s another, potentially-less-cheerful first facing most new college students.

Spoiler alert: It’s money. College may well be the first time you’ll be expected to pay your own bills.

And for many, this first foray into financial responsibility can be crippling.

College is Already Expensive Enough

It’s certainly not breaking news that college is expensive. According to Student Loan Hero’s most recent numbers, the average student goes into more than $37,000 of debt trying to afford it.

Obviously, there’s not a whole lot you can do about the cost of tuition -- aside from filling out the FAFSA and applying your heart out to every scholarship you can find, that is. (Oh, and choosing a school with great financial aid or relatively low tuition in the first place.)

But there are other expenses you can totally avoid.

It can be easy to be sucked into the urge to buy, buy, buy a bunch of brand-new stuff to haul off to your brand-new, quasi-adult life. (Crazy going-away-to-college shopping lists, like this one, don’t help.)

But despite how it may seem, you don’t actually need to go on a giant shopping spree in order to ensure your success as a college student.

In fact, many of us who did discovered most of that stuff turned out to be a total waste of money…

… but only after we spent it.

17 Things You Actually Don’t Need to Bring to College

Want to save your cash -- and your trunk space? Strike these items off your college shopping list immediately.

1. An entire palette of Top Ramen

Listen, I’m not saying you’re not going to eat some serious noodles while you’re in college. It’s a stereotype for a reason.

But if you want to avoid the freshman 15, you’ll need to ditch your Ramen-only diet plan.

Fortunately, there are plenty of dorm-friendly meals you can make for less than $5 a serving, even if you have nothing but a microwave and a mini fridge at your disposal.

Which leads us to our next list item.

2. A mini-fridge

Want to avoid spending a hundred bucks or so on something you likely won’t ever have another use for?

Then don’t buy -- or rent -- a mini fridge. At least not without checking out your dorm setup first.

In many cases, you’ll have access to a full-sized kitchen -- or at the very least a community fridge to service the floor.

And if not? There are tons of healthy snack options that don’t require refrigeration, including protein bars to nuts to jerkey. And room-temperature water won’t kill you — promise!

3. Fancy dorm decor

As anyone who’s ever meandered absently through Target in August knows that this one can be a real budget killer.

But as tempting as that neon pink shag rug or cute succulent display might be, think twice before you indulge your nesting instinct.

“I went crazy ordering decor from Urban Outfitters before moving into my dorm,” confessed Carson Kohler, a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder and Clemson University graduate. “I also paid to get a ton of photos printed.”

“Half of it ended up being stockpiled in my closet and never seeing the light of day.”

Carrie Nowlin, who graduated from Florida College, had a similar case of buyer’s remorse.

“It was just extra stuff to move, and then a waste of money when I threw it out in May,” she explained. “It's a temporary home. Make it your space, sure. But you don't need to splurge.”

(By the way, if you’re looking for non-spendy ways to customize your dorm room, we’ve got you covered -- check out these 10 dirt cheap options.)

4. Tons of new clothes

First of all, you’re 18 years old. Your entire style is likely to change over the course of the next four years… or possibly even the next four months.

Second of all, you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re not going to live in yoga pants or basketball shorts all year. No one gets dressed up for class after the first week.

5. A heap of new school supplies, like notebooks, pens and a day planner

Listen, I was one of those crazy-nerdy kids for whom school supply shopping was Christmas-morning-level exciting.

But are you really going to use all those fresh, crisp pages?

“By senior year, I realized that as an English major I could just keep necessary notes in a single book,” said Libby Fackler, who holds an MA in creative writing from Ohio University. “The more schooling I had, the fewer notes I took.”

Other ex-students admitted to purchasing a planner every semester… only to use it for a week, at best.

6. Every single textbook you’re assigned

Your professors might not like this one, but hear me out: there are plenty of ways to read all the assigned material without paying through the nose for brand-new — or even used — textbooks.

If a book is assigned, it’s highly probable the campus library has a copy or six -- not to mention the ones other students have purchased. Borrow a friend’s book and take ample notes, or head to the copier bay at the library. Although textbooks are copyrighted, it’s likely alright to make photocopies of small portions under fair use law.

If you do purchase the book, avoid buying new by any means necessary. Here are ten more ways to save money on your college textbooks.

7. A printer

Even if some of your professors still require printed copies (who are these people?), it’s likely your school provides a certain number of printer credits per semester, allowing you to use the library machines for free.

And even if you have to pay per page, trust me: five cents a page is way better than buying replacement toner.

8. A car

Having your own set of wheels is liberating, but it can also be an unnecessary expense when you’ve got everything you need on campus or within easy walking distance. (And don’t forget about Uber and public transit!)

Not only will you have to pay for gas, insurance, registration and possibly an auto loan installment — you’ll also likely be on the hook for a parking space fee from the college. All those auto-related extras can add up quickly, and you’ll probably use your car less often than you imagine.

“I ended up spending about $500 my first semester for a parking space, plus gas, etc,” said The Penny Hoarder’s email marketing specialist, Colleen Rice. “The next semester I took my car home and didn't miss it at all.”

9. A serious calculator if you’re not a STEM major

Here’s some quick math that’s actually useful: Don’t spend $100 on something you’ll only use for one class.

Share with your classmates or make friends with a chemist instead.

10. An external hard drive

Is this even a thing anymore?

It’s definitely crucial to backup your information, but it’s a way better idea to do so on the cloud. Physical hard drives fail, and they’re still surprisingly expensive.

Many schools even offer campus-wide subscriptions to services like Dropbox at a discount or even totally free of charge.

11. Extra bedding

It might be nice to have one backup set for laundry day… but it’s a college reality: You probably won’t change your sheets that often.

That’s  alright -- for now. You’re only a fledgling adult, and regular bedding changes are a pretty pro adulting maneuver.

12. A whole set of towels

Yes, you need a bath towel or two. But any more than that just eats up valuable storage space.

If you do laundry once a week, you’ll get by just fine with only a couple.

13. A ton of cleaning supplies and other miscellaneous household items

Don’t get me wrong: you should definitely clean your dorm room or suite. Frequently. With bleach-based products.

But if you’re sharing the space, you can also share those cleaning supplies.

“You don't need four brooms in your 12x12 box,” quipped Nowlin. And “even if you don't have to share your bathroom with the whole floor, you'll probably be sharing a shower with at least one person, so you can coordinate and split the cost of things like shower hooks and curtains.”

14. Plates, bowls and cups

More often than not, you’ll be eating at the dining hall -- or, honestly, at the local Chipotle. And when you do eat at “home”?

“I just used paper ones to avoid doing dishes,” wrote University of South Florida graduate Brandee Baker.

I guess that’s why college students always have red Solo cups in their pictures...

15. A television

Um, use Netflix on your computer? It’s 2017, people.

16. The all-inclusive dining hall pass

Eating at least a few meals at your college cafeteria is all but unavoidable, but most students don’t live exclusively off dining hall food. It can get old pretty quickly.

“When I went out for orientation, the food was great,” said Florida International University graduate Matthew Borghese.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was a classic bait and switch. The food wasn't as good year-round and instead of having cash to go wherever I wanted, I was now locked into the dining hall for a lot of repetitive, crappy meals.”

Lesson learned: Think carefully about your meal plan and whether or not you’ll regret buying the “deluxe” version.

17. Tickets to every game -- unless you’re really a diehard

If you care about sports at all, you should definitely attend at least a few games. It’s a pretty iconic college experience.

But don’t pay for a package of tickets ahead of time unless you’re absolutely certain you’ll follow through.

“I bought a special ‘school spirit’ pass for home sports games with friends,” said The Penny Hoarder’s Editor & Marketing Strategist, Kathleen Garvin. “We decided we'd be all in... and only went to one game.”

Oh, well. College is supposed to be a learning experience, after all.

Disclosure: Clink! Clink! Clink! That’s the sound of pennies hitting our piggy bank, thanks to the affiliate links in this post. It’s a better savings plan than stopping traffic to pick up loose change -- and safer, too!

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) has written for SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, VinePair, The Write Life, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive and other outlets. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel and frugality.

Frankly, I don’t usually pay cover.

I’m no celebrity, and in only specific (and strange) company would I be considered “very important.”

I’m just cheap. So I avoid events and venues that require cash just to walk through the door.

But every rule has its exception. And for the dedicated cheapskate, warehouse clubs raise a conundrum.

You’ve got to pay to get in, but the deals inside are better. At least, that’s the idea.

But is it true?

Is a Sam’s Club Membership Worth it When You Can Just Shop at Walmart?

[caption id="attachment_64978" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Exterior of Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Customers shop at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Buying in bulk to save money on groceries and household items is a pretty entry-level rule of thumb for aspiring skinflints.

That’s why we’ve written so much about warehouse clubs here -- from their weird, hidden perks to their not-so-scary price hikes to their best deals for couples and parents.

I even did some quasi-scientific research to figure out which of the three biggest warehouse club chains is the cheapest. (I was also photographed lovingly cradling a loaf of bread. All in a day’s work!)

But after reading my comparison post, a reader -- hi, Jeannie! -- responded with one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” questions.

Spoiler alert: Sam’s Club won the day in our warehouse club contest.

But is it worth paying for a Sam’s Club membership when you can just shop at its free-to-enter sister store, Walmart?

“I let my membership lapse years ago… because I never felt like I was getting a better deal than I could get at Walmart,” Jeannie wrote to me in an email.

Just like that, I knew it was time to put my detective cape back on and figure out the answer.

For science. Cheap, cheap science.

Sam’s Club vs. Walmart: Store Prices

This time around, I’ll save you the nitty-gritty breakdown on individual prices. Not only is it boring, but they’re bound to vary depending on where you are.

Rest assured, however, that I spent a couple interesting afternoons painstakingly detailing and cross-referencing the per-unit price of everything from broccoli to dog food to vitamins. (To note: People look at you funny when you meander sans cart, furtively scrawling down diaper prices.)

As it turns out, Jeannie’s assessment is pretty much on the money, at least in my Jacksonville, Florida-area stores. Each location had a couple of knock-out deals -- I found grass-fed ribeyes at Walmart for a buck an ounce (!) and four-packs of spray-on sunscreen for $20 at Sam’s Club.

But the vast majority of common grocery items were priced within a few cents of each other.  

In other words, totally not worth paying a cover. Or hauling around bags of rice that look like they were made for the Jolly Green Giant, for that matter.

One caveat: Sam’s Club doesn’t accept coupons, whereas Walmart’s coupon policy is pretty open ended. So if you’re a coupon-clipper extraordinaire, your mileage may vary.

Here’s What You Can’t Get if You Don’t Have a Membership

At first, my discovery floored me. Why were people shelling out $45 to pay the same price for coffee that they could for free -- and more for tomatoes?

But there are a few key benefits you get with the cost of your Sam’s Club membership that Walmart doesn’t offer.

1. More Bulk Options.

[caption id="attachment_64964" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Renee Flowers shops for bulk items at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Renee Flowers shops for bulk items including paper towels and coffee at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

There’s no such thing as a giant bag of quinoa at (my) Walmart.

And if you’re looking for individual-serving snack packs to stick in your kid’s lunchbox, Sam’s Club’s 50-count value packages dwarf Wally World’s, which only come with 20 packs -- and cost about 5 cents more per bag.

But Walmart does have 5- and 10-pound bags of rice and dried beans at per-unit prices on par with the crazy 50-pound prepper versions at Sam’s Club.

Value-size cereals, both name and off-brand, were also comparably priced.

I will say that disposable paper items, like toilet tissue, paper towels and diapers, are actually cheaper at Sam’s Club… but only if you purchase the truly humungous package.

Even then, the discount is generally about 20 to 50 cents, which you might be able to score as an Ibotta rebate on a human-sized amount of TP from the grocery store.

2. More Fancy Food.

[caption id="attachment_64966" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Manchego and Edam cheeses at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Manchego and Edam cheeses are some of the imports available at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Yes, it’s arguable that I’m a wine snob. (It may be the only thing I’ve written about more than warehouse clubs, come to think of it.)

But Walmart’s selection of vino is just plain sad. I mean, there are multiple varieties of boxed wine and nary a bottle that isn’t mass-marketed, overpriced junk, even at $10 and under.

Sam’s, on the other hand, is an oenophile's paradise, with well-priced selections from all over the world. Plus, it just introduced its own line of house-brand wines, which, if they’re anything like the competition’s, will be tasty despite their rock-bottom prices.

Sam’s Club also offers artisanal and gourmet cheeses, including actual imports like Parmigiano Reggiano and Manchego.

They’re pricier than the two-pound bricks of sharp cheddar at Walmart, for sure… but it’s also basically criminal to put them in the same category to begin with.

3. More Non-Grocery Goods, Like Furniture, Electronics and Housewares.

[caption id="attachment_64968" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Ben Fulle reads on a sofa for sale at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., as his car which was being serviced on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Ben Fulle reads on a sofa for sale at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., as his car which was being serviced on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

If you’re furniture shopping or in the market for a laptop, Sam’s Club will likely have more options on display than Walmart.

But in today’s buy-everything-online market, this is pretty mitigatable. The selection and prices online are comparable, although Sam’s Club Plus members, who pay a $100 membership fee instead of $45, do get one extra year of coverage for free when they purchase a protection plan.

Unfortunately, that extended coverage deal excludes pretty much every electronic I can think of: smartphones, computers, tablets and cameras.

The Real Perks of Warehouse Club Membership

Even the above-mentioned items might not seem worth the price of a Sam’s Club membership. You can get fancy wine and cheese at the fancy wine and cheese store.

But the real reason to pay for a Sam’s card has less to do with the items you’ll regularly buy there and more to do with the peripheral perks.

Here are a few of them:

1. Gas

[caption id="attachment_64970" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]A truck fills up at the gas station at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sam's Club members fill up on discounted gas in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/ The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Sam’s has it, and it’s pretty freaking cheap -- some of the cheapest in the country, per GasBuddy’s 2016 study.  

And although you don’t have to be a member to fill up at certain locations, you also won’t get the discount or the sweet cash-back rewards we’ll talk about next.

2. Cash-Back Rewards

[caption id="attachment_64971" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Sam's Club employee Amber Ewing scans items at checkout in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder Sam's Club employee Amber Ewing scans items at checkout. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

All members are eligible for a Sam’s Club Mastercard, which offers a whopping 5% in cash-back rewards on gas purchases, including the club’s already-discounted fuel, in the United States and Puerto Rico.

Say you put $100 in your tank a month. That’s $60 per year straight back in your pocket on gas alone, more than paying for the cost of your basic membership.

You’ll also earn 3% cash back on dining and travel purchases, and 1% back on almost everything else. You can earn a maximum of $5,000 in cash back per calendar year.

Additionally, members who upgrade to Plus receive $10 for every $500 they spend, up to $500 annually, through Sam’s Cash Rewards program.

You can use those rewards to buy stuff at Sam’s, pay for your membership, or just have them cut you a check.

3. Pharmacy

[caption id="attachment_64973" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]The pharmacy at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

If you regularly buy prescription medication, it may very well be worth the $100 buy-in to get Sam’s Club’s Plus member pharmacy benefits. (They’re not offered to the regular $45-card holders.)

You can get five free 30-day fills of select prescriptions, and over 600 generics on Sam’s extra value drug list for $10 or less.

You may even save 8 to 30% on certain brand-name drugs -- which, of course, are almost always crazy overpriced.

4. Optical

[caption id="attachment_64974" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Prescription sunglasses on display at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Many Sam’s Club locations offer affordable eye exams, and all members get $40 off their second pair when they purchase two complete pairs of regularly priced prescription glasses without vision insurance applied.

Plus members get $50 off their first pair with the purchase of a year’s supply of contact lenses.

5. Automotive Services

[caption id="attachment_64975" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Mechanics work on cars at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder Mechanics work on cars at Sam's Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny HoarderSharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Sam’s Club members whose locations offer it can get flat tires repaired for free, even if they bought their rubber from another vendor. They also enjoy complimentary wiper blade installation and battery testing.

A Warehouse Club Membership is What You Make of it

As you can see, if you play your membership card right, you stand to gain a whole lot of value. As long as you regularly buy gas, your membership is almost certain to pay for itself.

But here’s the thing: Whether or not a warehouse club membership is worth it totally depends on how you’ll use it.

If you know you’ll forget to use your cash-back card every time you buy gas or have a bad habit of letting charges revolve and accrue interest, the rewards don’t mean a darn thing.

And if you need to buy some peanut butter, you’re not going to get rich by paying the annual membership fee to save 2 cents an ounce at Sam’s.

But if you’ll regularly take advantage of offers and discounts, and make sure you get your money’s worth, a Sam’s Club membership is absolutely justifiable -- unlike spending $10 just to walk into a bar.

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) has written for SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, VinePair, The Write Life, Wonderfilled Magazine, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive and other outlets. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel and frugality.

7-Eleven is hosting a two-day Bring Your Own Cup Day -- again.

After a successful celebration in the past, the company’s bringing back everyone’s favorite deal.

On Aug. 18-19, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time, you can fill your cup with delicious Slurpee goodness for just $1.50.

The best part of the deal? It doesn’t have to be a cup.

The Rules for 7-Eleven’s Bring Your Own Cup Day

7-Eleven will honor the #BYOCUPDAY deal for almost any vessel you can reasonably imagine filling with a Slurpee. It just has to be:

  • 10 inches in diameter or smaller
  • Food safe
  • Watertight (duh?)
  • The only one you buy -- the deal is only good for one “cup” per person.

That leaves a lot of leeway. Fishbowl? Check. One of your lucky sneakers? Not so much… but that couldn’t fit a lot of Slurpee, anyway.

Toasters are prohibited, but pineapples are totally cool.

So grab your favorite flower vase -- or secretly flush your child’s goldfish (don’t really) -- and hit your local 7-Eleven this Friday and Saturday for a sweet treat on the cheap.

You might want to check your blood sugar afterward, though.

Jamie Cattanach’s work has been featured at Roads & Kingdoms, the BUST blog, Ms. Magazine, The Write Life and elsewhere. You can learn more and wave hello on Twitter: @jamiecattanach. Kelly Smith, junior writer and engagement specialist, contributed to this post.

Although it seems like summer just started, fall is just around the corner again -- and that means it’s already time for another round of back-to-school shopping.

School supplies might not seem like they should add up to very much. You review the list without concern: some pens and pencils here, a pack of crayons and a new book or two there.

But a few days later, you find yourself walking out of an office supply store with a giant sack full of stuff and a receipt whose total is way, way higher than you’d anticipated -- especially if you’ve got several kids to shop for.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way! If you learn how to deal stack, you can save a truly ridiculous amount on school supplies -- or anything you buy.

What’s deal stacking, you ask?

We’re here to tell you. And we’ll even show you exactly how awesome it is by -- gasp -- doing math.

Plus, I wrote this post before 10 a.m. on a Friday, so it’s early-morning, almost-weekend math. That’s how much we love you, readers.

How to Save Money on School Supplies with Deal Stacking

[caption id="attachment_34285" align="aligncenter" width="772"]back-to-school shopping Skynesher/Getty Images[/caption]

Deal stacking is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Finding lots of discounts and savings hacks to apply to the same purchase, and then stacking them on top of one another to squeeze the most out of every dollar you spend.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Look for Sales, Deals and Coupons

[caption id="attachment_34293" align="aligncenter" width="634"]back-to-school shopping Aidon/Getty Images[/caption]

Friends don’t let friends pay full price. Start by optimizing where you shop, and heading for the spot that consistently has the cheapest prices.

Then, wait for the store to lower those prices even further with a sale or a great coupon. Trust us, it’s totally worth it!

2. Give Yourself the Gift of Used Gift Cards

[caption id="attachment_34097" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Ways to save money LaniElderts under Creative Commons[/caption]

So now that you’ve found a killer sale and know where you’re headed to bag your goods, you have a little bit of homework to do.

Purchase a discounted gift card ahead of time. Raise is a great place to look, and you can also check eBay and Craigslist, or just Google around.

When a card’s original owner knows they won’t use it, they’ll be willing to take a smaller amount of cash than the card’s actually worth. After all, to them it’s free money for something that’s been sitting in the back of their wallet for a while.

For you, though, it means you might get $50 worth of purchasing power for just $40. It’s instant savings on everything you buy at that store, since every dollar you spend there costs less than a dollar of your own money.

Cool, huh?

3. Get Rewarded for the Money You Do Spend

[caption id="attachment_34288" align="aligncenter" width="643"]back-to-school shopping PeopleImages/Getty Images[/caption]

If you’re spending money and not getting something in return, you’re doing it wrong.

When you buy that discounted gift card -- and every time you buy anything -- you should ensure you get at least a little bit back by using a cash-back rewards credit card.

It might be as low as 1% of every dollar you spend, but it’s still technically a discount --  everything you purchase is 1% off!

If you’ve got other money goals in mind, like travel, find a credit card that helps you earn relevant rewards, like frequent flyer miles. If you play your cards right -- literally -- you could end up traveling the world for free.

An important note: For this to be an effective way to save money, you must pay off your card in full every month. The interest you’ll pay on carrying a balance will instantaneously render any earnings you get null and void.

It adds up way more quickly than you think. Here’s how much cash you’re wasting if you just pay the minimum every month.

4. Consider Shopping Through an Online Portal

[caption id="attachment_34297" align="aligncenter" width="640"]back-to-school shopping ??smail ?çiydem/Getty Images[/caption]

We get it: Some things, you just need to purchase in-person. Maybe for you and your child, notebooks are one of those things. I know I always liked to pick them up and feel their heft (and smell their pages) before I dropped them in my mom’s cart.

Hey, I’m a writer. School supplies were a big deal to me!

But if you shop through an online portal like Ebates, you’ll earn even more cash back for your purchase.

Add this to the used gift card tactic and your cash-back credit card rewards, and you’re looking at a huge discount that just keeps getting bigger!

How Much Can You Actually Save with Deal Stacking?

[caption id="attachment_34301" align="aligncenter" width="640"]back-to-school shopping JGalione/Getty Images[/caption]

To review, here’s how many deals you’ve stacked to save as much cash as possible on your back-to-school shopping:

  • You’re already buying sale items, so you’re getting a percentage off the full retail price.
  • By purchasing a used gift card, you’ve essentially given yourself free money by paying less than the amount it’s actually worth at that store.
  • By purchasing that gift card with a cash-back or other rewards credit card, you’ve ensured you’ll get something back for the money you spend.
  • If you shop through an online portal, you might get even more cash back or other rewards.

To illustrate how quickly those savings add up, here’s an example.

Say you need to buy $30 worth of school supplies.

You choose to make your purchases at Super-Awesome School Supplies Plus, because you know its prices are generally the best in the industry.

In anticipation of doing your back-to-school shopping, you purchase a $30 gift card on Raise for $25 using your BarclayCard Rewards MasterCard, which offers 1% cash rewards for every dollar you spend.

Before you go shopping, you find a coupon for 25% off your Super-Awesome School Supplies purchase. So in-store, you only spend $22.50 from your gift card.

Here’s what you save:

Discounted gift card: $5

Cash-back rewards: $0.25

Coupon: $7.50

Total savings: $12.75, or 42.5%

And that’s when you remember you still have $7.50 left on your gift card to spend on more school supplies later.

See how awesome deal stacking is?

Want to Save Even More on Back-to-School Shopping?

[caption id="attachment_34304" align="aligncenter" width="640"]back-to-school shopping Steve Debenport/Getty Images[/caption]

Deal stacking is a great way to save on everything you purchase, but we have lots of other ideas to help you save even more this fall.

These six ways to save on school supplies might surprise you -- you can do a couple of them without even leaving your home!

Plus, here’s one mom who got both of her kids set up for their first day for just $19.05. Impressive!

Advertiser Disclosure: Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). We do not feature all available credit card offers or all credit card issuers.

Jamie Cattanach is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.

Few foods are as mighty, messy and marvelous as the simple chicken wing.

You can have ‘em traditional-style with Buffalo sauce or dress them up in sweet Thai chili. You can go as hot as possible or have them mild, because that’s just what you feel like today — no judgments!

They’re even good plain, or “naked,” as you’ll see them scandalously advertised on some menus.

So we weren’t surprised to learn there’s a whole day devoted to the simple, incomparable goodness of chicken wings. Saturday, July 29 is National Chicken Wing Day, and we found the best spots for you to get your fix on the cheap.

National Chicken Wing Day 2017: 6 Places to Get Great Deals on Wings

Done reading and ready to eat already? Here’s where to head for bargain Buffalo wings -- or any other kind you like.

Buffalo Wild Wings

Your go-to for a college-y feel with ample, sports-filled TV screens, Buffalo Wild Wings will be offering boneless wings plus fries starting at $9.99, and traditional wings plus fries starting at $12.99. This offer will be valid at participating locations while supplies last, so be sure to check with your nearest location before you head out to get your wing on.

East Coast Wings

Although you’ll have to pay for the wings you eat this Saturday at East Coast Wings, you’ll receive a coupon for five free wings on your next visit.

Which means… more wings. Soon. Yes, please.


It’s not completely free, but Hooters will offer 10 free smoked wings with the purchase of any 10 wings.

This BOGO deal not only gives you some variety, but you can also feel less guilty about chowing down on 20 wings — the smoked variety has just half the calories of Hooters original-style wings.

Hurricane Grill & Wings

This popular wing joint will offer a few deals for National Chicken Wing Day. Visit Hurricane Grill & Wings this Saturday to enjoy $1 wings all day in bundles of five, 10, 15 or 20. Plus, you can wash them all down with a free domestic draft beer or soda when you spend $20 or more on wings.

There’s your good excuse to eat 20 wings -- as if you needed one.

The WingHouse Bar & Grill

This Florida-based wing restaurant will give you five free wings when you purchase an order of 10. WingHouse restaurants have 22 sauces to choose from, so you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes this Saturday.


Select Wingstop locations will offer five free boneless wings with any wing purchase on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time. Make sure to call your nearest Wingstop location to confirm the deal is available and what time it will run.

If the deal is on, then get ready to choose from 11 different flavors, including Original Hot, Atomic, Mild, Cajun, Teriyaki, Hawaiian, Lemon Pepper, Garlic Parmesan, Louisiana Rub, Mango Habanero and Hickory Smoked BBQ. Oh boy, how will you choose?

No matter where you go -- or even if you just stay home with your very own grill -- enjoy National Chicken Wing Day!

I know I will.

Jamie Cattanach is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder and chicken wing enthusiast. Footy’s sauce is still the best, and no one beats her mom on the grill.

Jessica Gray, editorial assistant at The Penny Hoarder, contributed to this post and is taking bets on how many chicken wings she can eat this weekend.

Jessica Lawlor is good at being uncomfortable.

She hated her first yoga class, but she went back -- and fell deeply enough in love with her practice to become an instructor.

She “didn’t really plan on becoming a writer,” but the title is one in her manifold resume. (Other entries include editor, content manager, speaker, professor, consultant and CEO.)

So it makes sense that her blog, Get Gutsy, is all about finding your best self at the end of your comfort zone. It was also the key to her eventual (and surely uncomfortable) decision to quit her hard-won day job and take on the freelance life full time.

And as it turns out, discomfort is 100% worth it.

Although she’s only been in business for about a year and hasn’t yet celebrated her 30th birthday, Lawlor’s earnings now dwarf the $50,000 salary she left behind.

Here’s her story -- and her best advice if you’re looking for some lucrative discomfort of your own.

Quitting Your Job is Scary… But It Can Pay Off Big Time

Lawlor spent six years climbing the ranks in corporate public relations positions after studying the subject at Temple University.

It’s not like she didn’t like her jobs. She worked first in healthcare and later in travel, and PR itself was a blend of all her passions: writing, speaking, creativity and strategy.  

But Lawlor always knew she wanted to work for herself.

She’d been inspired by a book she’d read in college about making a living as a freelance writer. “I had no idea that was even a thing,” she said. She’d always been drawn to writing, and in her freshman year had briefly studied journalism.

Plus, she said, Temple has a reputation for churning out hard workers, hustlers and entrepreneurs. “The word ‘gritty’ is used to describe it a lot.”

Still, when she started her blog, she had no idea it would be the key to her future. It was the fall of 2012, two years after her college graduation.

Lawlor had always been very involved as a student, constantly taking on side gigs, internships and extracurriculars. So after turning the tassel, she found herself at a bit of a loss.

“All of a sudden, all I was doing was working,” Lawlor said. She’d never had so much free time. Even though she logged 40-hour workweeks, it felt like she was on vacation.

So in her free time, she found herself doing some pretty gutsy things in the pursuit of finding new passions -- like getting active, losing 40 pounds, and becoming intentional in her networking -- writing about it all the while.

One day, she found an interesting email waiting in her inbox.

Greg Galant, CEO and cofounder of Muck Rack, had noticed an article of his had been referenced in Lawlor’s blog. (She had tagged him in a Tweet.)

He wanted to say thanks and to ask if Lawlor did any freelancing -- he needed writers for his company.

After she penned a few guest posts for the company blog, Galant upped the ante, asking Lawlor to become his blog’s managing editor. Did she feel like she was up to the job?

Well, maybe not -- but remember: Lawlor’s an expert in discomfort.

“I lied and said yes,” she told me. “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

And “make it,” she did. After taking on that first gig, other opportunities began flowing her direction. (You can read more about how she landed her various clients here -- Twitter proved an invaluable tool.)

Eventually, waking up at 5 a.m. to keep up with her side hustle stopped making sense. Plus, she’d never been a morning person.

So Lawlor quit her job and took her freelance business full time in December 2015.

Fast forward: now she’s the CEO and founder of Jessica Lawlor & Company, LLC. She has one employee so far, and at one point earned $10,000 in a single month’s time.

In other words, she knocked the freelancing thing out of the park.

Want to Start Your Own Business? Here’s This CEO’s Advice

Even if your day job isn’t well-paid and cushy, it can be terrifying to let it go in pursuit of your dreams.

But if you’ve been fantasizing about starting a business of your own, Lawlor’s story might inspire you to, well, get gutsy.

“There’s more out there than sitting in a cubicle for 40 hours a week,” she promises.

Before you start drafting your resignation, however, here are a few pieces of sound advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

1. Get Hustling and Start Saving -- ASAP

Lawlor was freelancing long before she dropped her full-time job to start her business, which was key to her success for two important reasons.

First of all, she was able to save up a $40,000 backup fund in case her plans fell through.

And secondly, it helped her narrow down exactly what she wanted to spend her time doing.

Lawlor dabbled with freelance writing, social media marketing and consulting before eventually finding her main source of income in content management.

“Whatever it is you think you want your business to be, start doing it right now and save that money,” Lawlor advises.

It’s always nice to have some extra side hustle cash -- and if worst comes to worst, you’ll learn what you don’t want out of your freelance career.

2. Prioritize and Focus — You Can’t Do Everything

By the time Lawlor had the wherewithal to quit her job, she was working 16 hours almost every weekday.

Whether “work” meant freelance writing at 5 a.m., sitting in her cubicle from 9 to 5, or staying late chatting after teaching evening yoga classes, it was undeniable: Her life was too full.

“I was doing all these cool things, but I didn’t really feel fulfilled,” Lawlor said.

So she made a list of everything she was doing, and circled all the stuff she felt she couldn’t live without.

“The only one I didn’t want to keep was my full time job.”

She knew what she had to do.

Prioritizing and focusing not only helps you avoid burnout, but also enables you to strategize your business. Although Lawlor earns money in a variety of ways, she knows where she needs to spend the majority of her time and energy to continue being successful.

It’s a fact of life, after all: You just can’t do everything. So pick a few things and do them really, really well.

3. Have a Backup Plan and Eliminate Unnecessary Expenses

Lawlor didn’t even think about ditching her day job until she had some considerable savings.

“It eased my worries a ton to have this money to fall back on,” she confided.

One reason Lawlor was able to save up that $40,000 cushion in just three years? For the first six months after starting her company, she lived at home, as she had since college.  

And once she did get her own apartment, Lawlor realized just how nice it had been to have people around during her workday -- even if they weren’t actively conversing. (Work-at-home freelance writers quickly learn how isolating their career choice can be.)

“There’s no shame in it,” Lawlor said. “I actually really loved that experience.”

In fact, she still visits and works from her folks’ home on a regular basis.

4. Use, Use, Use That Network

As mentioned above, networking -- both online and in real life -- was key in the creation and growth of Lawlor’s client base. In fact, she found just about all of her clients through her network rather than via cold calls or emails.

If you’re not a natural networking guru, here’s a piece of sage advice: Use your social media feeds to promote not only your  own work but also that of others.

It’s an easy way to make new connections and strike up possible business opportunities.

5. Be Yourself

It might seem trite, but she swears it’s her secret ingredient.

Whether on Twitter, Facebook or her blog itself, Lawlor makes it a point to be transparent.

She writes about her wins, of course, but blogs about the un-sexy parts of business ownership, too. (Tellingly, the latter of those two posts is exponentially more popular.)

People like authenticity, she’s discovered. She guesses it has to do with the innate disconnect between real life and our carefully-curated online personas.

A reader might “see your Instagram post from the beach on a Monday, but they don’t see what goes into that,” she said. To counteract the dichotomy, Lawlor’s as honest and real as possible.

“We’re all human, we all have our flaws and that’s what people relate to. Being vulnerable,” she added, “has actually helped me get more clients.”

So there’s more incentive than mere authenticity to follow Lawlor’s mandate:

“Be yourself online.”

Hey -- no one said it was going to be comfortable.

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) has written for SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, VinePair, The Write Life, Wonderfilled Magazine, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive and other outlets. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel and frugality.