ScoreCard Research Natalie Gould - The Penny Hoarder

We’ve all seen them: Membership programs that have great benefits but are available only to certain, qualifying people. I recently discovered there are workarounds for some of the most popular membership clubs that are typically known for age or location requirements. One of them even offers discounts on movie tickets and popcorn combos.


Some see joining AARP as a glittering reward for reaching 50. However, if you’re like me and don’t want to wait the extra 20 years, there’s a way around it.

You won’t find this information on the website, but those under 50 can purchase an associate membership.

You won’t enjoy the insurance benefits, but AARP offers discounts on restaurants, entertainment, travel, car rentals, cell phone service, eyewear and more. For example, AARP offers 25% off Regal movie tickets and $3 popcorn combos.

You can join by calling 1-888-OUR-AARP and telling the representative you’d like an associate membership.

You’ll get a discount if you sign up for auto renewal. Don’t worry, you can cancel auto renewal at any time during the year if you don’t feel you’re getting the benefits of the membership.

In addition to your membership, you also have the option of adding a second person to your account for free. So for $12 per year, my boyfriend and I are now proud AARP members.

Federal Credit Unions

Credit unions tend to carry the stigma that they’re open only to teachers and state employees. This is wildly inaccurate. With their low APRs, high dividend rates and zero-fee checking accounts, a credit union membership is highly desirable.

While credit unions do have membership qualifiers, it’s likely you already qualify or can easily become qualified.

For example, NASA Federal Credit Union is open to NASA employees and their families, relatives of existing NASA Federal Credit Union members or employees of NASA Federal Credit Union partner companies.

Don’t meet these criteria? No worries. Simply join the National Space Society for free, and you’re now qualified to join the NASA Federal Credit Union. What’s more, you don’t need to live in a specific city to join this credit union. NASA Federal Credit Union has more than 30,000 ATMs and 5,000 credit union service centers nationwide. Easily access your account no matter where you live or travel!

What will you get? How about 7.9% APR on balance transfers for the life of the transfer. Or $0 down fixed-rate mortgage with no private mortgage insurance required. Not to mention a plethora of exclusive discounts for NASA Federal Credit Union members.

Look for the free membership during the signup process for NASA FCU.

Diners Club

You may know this as the old-timey charge card your grandparents keep in the back of their wallet, but it is actually chock-full of rewards and benefits.

Diners Club consumer cards come in two levels: premier and elite. The premier card has a $95  annual fee and the elite has a $300 annual fee. The main difference being you get three points per dollar on the elite card versus one point per dollar on the premier card.

While Diners Club used to be known for its extensive restaurant benefits and discounts, it is now a world-class travel card. For as low as $95 per year, the card gives you access to more than 700 airport lounges worldwide, which typically require $200-per-year memberships.

Participating airlines include Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Delta and British Airways. Additionally, cardholders can redeem their points at many popular hotels and with Amtrak.

Among its other key benefits are hotel room upgrades, rental car discounts, primary collision damage waiver coverage on rental cars and the ability to redeem points on a variety of airlines.

Some of the most unique benefits that set Diners Club above the rest are spa credits, free breakfast, private cooking lessons, in-room massage, and preferred access and VIP experiences at acclaimed restaurants around the world. The Diners Club wine program offers exceptional bottles of wine at up to 50% off market price.

In addition to its flexible rewards program, hotel upgrades, rental car discounts and more, this is the perfect card for anyone who wants to travel with ease.

These membership clubs are available for the taking if you know how to ask for them. Before you know it, you’ll be saving hundreds, finding exclusive deals and discounts, and being the topic of conversation when you whip out that AARP card at the movies and restaurants.

Natalie K. Gould is an Austin-based writer. She loves to garden, drink Two Buck Chuck, and flash her AARP card any chance she gets.

I’m always looking for ways to make extra money.

While working a full-time job, I’ve waitressed, babysat, been a secret shopper, participated in focus groups, answered hundreds of online surveys and been a guinea pig for online user testing.

Each of these jobs provides a decent amount of cash, but requires you to be in a certain place at a certain time. For someone already working a traditional 40-hour job, it’s sometimes not feasible -- or the $10 for taking a survey or mystery shopping just isn’t worth it.

Enter freelance writing.

In the last two years, I’ve managed to add an additional $300 to $500 (and sometimes more) per month to my full-time income.

Sound interesting? Before you start writing hundreds of pitch emails, take a moment. Here’s what you need to know to get started as a freelance writer.

1. Where to Write

If you’re already writing the next Pulitzer Prize-winning piece, take a step back.

“It’s very important to identify the right publications” before you start writing, says Lizzy Schiffman Tufano, a senior editor at a daily Chicago news site, who freelances for Popular Science, The Huffington Post and others.

“Some people make the mistake of starting with the story. You’re going to have quicker success if you start by pitching smaller publications rather than Wired right off the bat.”

I like to reach out to local or regional publications because I’m a subject matter expert in something in this area. I can look appealing to an editor in some way -- and they’re likely to hire local writers when they can.

Also, don’t ignore niche publications. If you have specialty knowledge in something, look for a related publication.

There’s a magazine or website out there for almost every topic, so do a few quick searches to identify ones you can pitch. You can even write for The Penny Hoarder!

Use Your Network

If you know even one person who’s connected to the writing industry, that person might know a publication looking for writers.

Check out Meetup groups for writers, freelancers or even young professional groups in your area and start going to events.

Remember to be genuine.

Don’t just network for the sole purpose of getting work. People will quickly pick up on your strategy and will close their doors to you faster than you can hand them your business card.

“Build connections for a lasting relationship,” Tufano says.

Use Your Extended Network

Did you graduate from college?

If so, your school likely has an online alumni directory you can search by city, job title, industry, etc. Type in some keywords and look for any alumni who work at publications that interest you.

Send an introductory email and ask if you can talk on the phone for 10 or 15 minutes.

Get an idea of how freelance submissions work at their publication. Once you develop a story idea, he or she will already know your name and hopefully pass it to the right person.

2. What to Write

After you’ve made your list of potential publications, start digging deeper into each of them and come up with one good story idea for each outlet.

Look through the archives. Make sure the topic hasn’t recently been covered. If it has, try a new angle.

Make your story idea as specific as possible, and make sure it fits with the publication’s style and focus.

Having trouble coming up with story ideas?

Writer’s Digest managing editor Tyler Moss, who also freelances for The Atlantic and Vice, says he often uses Reddit, the local news and a few Google searches for emerging studies (if you’re covering health or science topics).

It’s amazing how the local news can inspire an idea you can tailor for another publication.

It’s important to write about things you know about and enjoy. You may want to get a clip from Wired, but if you know nothing about science or technology, you’re going to hate the writing process and you’ll end up frustrated.

Adam Wren -- who freelances for POLITICO, Entrepreneur and Inc. -- says to write with the intention of building a solid portfolio.

This means writing what you’re passionate about. If you’re a master organizer, write about organization and all the topics that go along with it.

As your portfolio grows, you’ll start to become known as an expert on the subject matter. Plus, you’re writing about something you enjoy, so the process is that much easier.

3. How to Write Your First Pitch

Develop your story idea as fully as possible before even opening your email. Stick to just one idea to start.

“I’d prefer to see one pitch well detailed than five pitches,” Moss says of new writers.

Come up with a rough outline, identify a few sources you plan to talk to and present it in an organized format to the editor.

This is your time to convince the editor why this story needs to be written.

You also need to convince the editor you’re the person to do it. Include a short bio talking about your experience as it directly pertains to the potential article.

If you have any clips, even if they’re from college, include one or two. If not, triple-check your pitch email and have someone else proofread it to make sure it’s free of spelling and grammatical errors.

Nothing turns off an editor quicker than an unpolished email!

4. What to Charge

When you get your first assignment, the editor will either ask for your rate or tell you what they’re going to pay.

Most likely, they’ll tell you what they can pay. It’s your job to decide if you’re willing to write for their price.

“Calculate in your head how many hours it will take you to do it and determine if it’s worth it,” says Jeff Fleischer, a Chicago-based author, editor and journalist. “Or you may take a lower rate if it’s a good publication.”

I’d always take the first opportunity. You need to figure out if you even like freelance writing -- and you need clips. For these two reasons, I’d accept an assignment if it’s offered.

As you become more experienced in the freelance world, you can start to negotiate rates or set a rate for yourself. Maybe you don’t want to write for anything less than 30 cents per word.

When an assignment comes through, do the math on the word count and fee they’re offering and decide if it makes sense for you.

5. How to Invoice

Once you submit your article, you’ll likely need to turn in some tax paperwork, a contract and your invoice.

If you’re just trying this out to see if you like it, you can use a free invoice generator to create a nice PDF.

If you’re more serious about freelance writing, Wren suggests Freshbooks or Quickbooks (which recently introduced a free invoice creator) to keep invoices and finances in check.

Tufano, Moss and many other freelancers use a spreadsheet with organized tabs to track their pitches, works in progress, invoices, income and unresponsive clients.

Find the method that works best for you -- and don’t forget to set aside about 25% of every check for taxes. Wren suggests setting up a separate business checking account solely for freelance money.

Don’t forget to maintain boundaries between your full-time job and your freelance job.

“Serve your full-time job before you serve any other client,” Wren says.

You need to honor your employer -- so don’t use company time or property for freelance work. Structure your early mornings, nights and weekends for your side hustle.

Your Turn: Have you started a freelance writing side hustle? Share your tips in the comments!

Natalie K. Gould is the VP of Content Management at Advice Interactive Group, an award-winning digital marketing agency in Dallas, Texas. On her off hours, she’s a freelance writer and bourbon enthusiast.

I have a strict $300-a-month grocery budget. If you’re doing the math, that’s $75 a week. Believe me, it goes more quickly than you think.

I’m obsessed with budgeting, but I’m equally obsessed with eating locally and organically, even when I was in grad school at Northwestern living off a teeny, tiny student budget. Most people equate organic and local with expensive, but I’m living proof that this doesn’t have to be the case.

Here are five tactics I use to stick to my budget while enjoying local, organic food.

1. Volunteer With a Local Farm at the Farmers Market

This was my saving grace as a poor grad student. I went to the farmers market every Saturday anyway, so one day I just started asking my favorite vendors if they needed help running their stands on weekend mornings. One of them graciously accepted, and in return for my four hours of volunteer time, I received tokens to use at the market. Plus, the vendor often sent me home with extra goodies or some of the veggies that didn't sell.

Not only did I become well versed in hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, I was also introduced to myriad new vegetables and I drastically cut my grocery bill. Some weeks, I ate for nearly free. Additionally, I formed a strong relationship to a local farmer that persists to this day.

2. Volunteer on a Farm

Even if you live in an urban environment, chances are there are countless farms just outside of city limits looking for extra help here and there. I lived in Chicago, and connected with a farmer 20 minutes away who gladly put me to work once a week.

Use LocalHarvest to view all the farms near you, choose the type of farm that interests you (dairy, produce, goat, nut, etc.) and then just start emailing or calling until one takes you up on your offer. Don't get discouraged if you don't hear back right away; be patient but persistent.

Tell the farmer you'd like to lend a hand once or twice a month, but don't mention wanting to get anything in return. You may not get any goods the first time you go because farmers want to be sure you're truly vested in their mission and not just looking for a handout. Build trust with the farmer and soon you'll be overwhelmed with goods you helped grow. The farmer I worked with gladly sent me home with boxes of beautiful produce as “pay” for my time and effort. Oh yeah, and did you know a little time in the soil will make you a happier, smarter person? The benefits just keep on coming.

If you don’t want to commit to a set amount of volunteer time, you can also get some soil time while saving money on veggies by visiting you-pick farms. These are especially fun with kids, as it gives you an opportunity to teach them that food does not come in a prepackaged container. Use PickYourOwn to find you-pick farms near you!

3. Use Your Skills to Earn Free Food

If you have a creative skill, such as design or writing, use it to earn yourself free food. You can go about this in a number of ways. Try marketing yourself in person by going stand to stand at the farmers market presenting your offer, or use LocalHarvest to find a farm that looks like its website or social media could use some love.

Don't overcommit yourself, however. If you don't know how to do website design, don't offer to build a website. If the only drawing you've ever done is a stick figure, don't offer to design a logo. Stick with what you know.

Let's say your skill is writing. Offer to write a weekly blog post for the farm or post to their social media channels. You may have to do a little persuading to convince them of the value of an online presence, but it's likely the farmers know they should be active online but just don't have the time. Work out a deal that you'll commit so many hours a month to building their brand in exchange for a certain amount of goods, i.e. a dozen eggs, a box of produce, a jar of honey, etc. Now you’ve got free food as well as an awesome project to add to your portfolio.

4. Sponsor a Farm Animal

Apartment dwellers, listen up -- you don't need acres of lush, green land to own a farm animal. Many farms offer sponsorship for a cow or a chicken, where you pay a fee at the beginning of the season and then bask in the glory of free milk and eggs every week.

The sponsorship fee is usually around $25, and goes toward feeding and maintaining the animal all season. In return, you get a share of what that animal produces each week. Take it a step further and go visit the farm and your sponsored animal, and you may walk away with an extra bounty. If you ask nicely, the farmer may even let you name the animal, but don't get carried away.

Some farms list this type of program on their websites, but if not, mention it to your favorite farmer to see if he or she would be open to the agreement. Don’t be ashamed to say you’re looking to save money but are committed to supporting their farm. The farmer will likely work out a deal with you.

5. Make Your Own Cheese

Few things are more delicious than fresh mozzarella cheese, but it's pretty expensive to buy those little prepackaged circles at the grocery store. That's why it's worth your time to learn how to make it at home.

Start by finding whole milk that is deeply discounted because it's set to expire in the next week or so. Or use the milk you received from your sponsorship animal. You'll need about a gallon of whole milk. You'll also need rennet tablets and citric acid, which you can find near the canning supplies at a specialty grocery store or online. The only other thing you'll need is a stainless steel pot.

You’ll find innumerable instructions online for how to make mozzarella cheese, but New England Cheesemaking Supply has one of my favorites. The Kitchn also has an excellent, easy-to-follow tutorial. Read over the instructions several times before you start, or watch a YouTube video if you’re a visual learner. The whole process takes only 30 minutes and when you're done, you're left with an entire pound of fresh mozzarella cheese. Even if you buy a gallon of whole milk that's not discounted, the price is usually less than $5, about the same price as one of those half-pound mozzarella circles. So now you have double the cheese for your money, plus your friends and family think you're the coolest person they've ever met.

These tactics have saved me thousands of dollars over the years. No matter the balance in my bank account, I’ve always been able to eat locally and (mostly) organically by being a creative consumer and building relationships with local farmers. You’ll be amazed how quickly your fridge fills up without breaking your grocery budget.

Your Turn: How do you enjoy local or organic food without overspending?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

Natalie K. Gould is a content manager by day and freelance writer by night. She is seriously addicted to European butter and finding the perfect bottle of rosé.