5 Tips for Grocery Shopping on a Budget

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We all have to eat, but shelling out for groceries each week when your budget is already stretched thin can be excruciating. On average, American families spend $151 a week on food, according to Gallup, and that number can easily increase if you have a larger household or the cost of living in your hometown is high.

But while groceries are a major expense, they’re not necessarily a fixed one. If you’re on a tight budget, here are some tips and tricks for reducing your weekly grocery store bill.

1. CLIP THOSE COUPONS (AT LEAST DIGITALLY).

“Don’t meal plan based on what you’re craving,” Kendal Perez of Coupon Sherpa tells mental_floss. “Plan your meals based on what’s on sale at the places you shop. A site like Flipp.com makes it easy to compare circulars between stores, or find the best price for an item using their search function. You can also create a grocery list using their app.”

Once you build your grocery list, you can search for coupons for even bigger discounts. And no, you don’t have to spend hours on end clipping: Most grocery chains have store-branded apps that make couponing easy. Download the app, link your store loyalty card, and just add any coupons digitally. The coupons are loaded to your card and automatically applied at checkout.

2. BUY WHAT'S IN SEASON.

"You can save 30-50 percent on the price of produce by buying what's in season," Annette Economides, co-author of Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family, tells Money. When these foods are in abundance, grocers want to get them off their shelves before they go bad and therefore keep the prices low.

Not sure what's in season? Check out this list from the USDA, or use this interactive seasonal ingredient map from Epicurious. You can then plan your meals around these cheaper ingredients.

3. AVOID WASTING FOOD.

The average American family throws away $2275 in food every year, according to 2012 statistics from the National Resources Defense Council. Do you feel like you have an extra two grand to literally throw away?

“The single best way to avoid food waste is to invest in a small deep freezer,” says Kyle James of Rather-Be-Shopping. “You can get a good one from Costco or Lowe's for about $160. It'll allow you to freeze food before it goes bad, but more importantly, it'll allow you to stock up on proteins like chicken, pork, and beef when they go on sale. For a growing family, this savings alone can easily save you hundreds of a dollars over the course of a year.”

What’s more, many people are too quick to toss out food. A study from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that "40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten—resulting in waste of at least 160 billion pounds of food each year." The main culprit for this food waste, the study found, is the confusion caused by "best by," "use by" and "sell by" labels.

Sites like Eat By Date use information from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to offer a more accurate view of your food’s lifespan. And instead of throwing those ingredients that are indeed nearing their expiration dates into the compost bin, toss them into a stew. “One of the best uses for aging produce is in soups and sauces, because they don’t have to be perfectly crisp in these dishes which typically render them a bit soft,” Perez says. “When you notice tomatoes and bell peppers looking soft and wrinkly, consider making spaghetti sauce or soup of some kind.”

4. WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE.

The “Pantry Challenge” asks frugal shoppers to optimize the ingredients they have at home to make complete, tasty meals. “If you’re on a super tight budget or find that you’re out of funds well before payday, take the pantry challenge and try to create meals based on what you already have until your pantry is cleared out,” Perez says. “You’ll likely be surprised how many dishes you can prepare with what you already have on hand!”

Online tools like SuperCook work well for this. The site suggests recipes based on specific ingredients, so you can list the items you already have on hand, and SuperCook will come back with a handful of recipes you can make based on those items. Better yet, you can sort these recipes by specific meal types, like dinner or breakfast, and by cuisine, like Asian or Mediterranean dishes.

5. LOOK FOR VERSATILE INGREDIENTS.

In general, it’s easier to plan meals on a budget when you stick to easy recipes with a few simple ingredients. “Typically, the simpler the meal, the less costly it will be,” Perez says “When you prepare meals with multiple ingredients, spices, sauces, and other additives, you’re just adding to the cost.”

In keeping meals simple, it helps to have versatile ingredients, too. Look for inexpensive, healthy food items that can be used in a variety of recipes: lentils, eggs, sweet potatoes, and brown rice, for example. And you can get quite a bit of meal mileage out of chicken, especially an inexpensive pre-cooked rotisserie from the grocery store. “A traditional chicken dinner can easily be made into chicken sandwiches, salads, or stir-fry later in the week or for lunch,” Perez says.

If you don’t already own one, consider investing in a slow cooker. Not only do they make meal planning easy, they’re also ideal for making batch meals out of inexpensive ingredients. “Beans can be cooked in a slow cooker or in a pressure cooker, the latter of which can only take 20 minutes to prepare if you soak them in hot water and salt overnight,” Perez says. “This is probably one of the cheapest, most satisfying meals people can have.”

10 Ways To Look Professional, and Hide Your Pajamas, In a Video Conference Call

You don't need to wear full business attire to maintain a professional appearance.
You don't need to wear full business attire to maintain a professional appearance.
fizkes/iStock via Getty Images

The COVID-19 crisis has forced offices to shutter around the country, and as a result, more people are working from home than ever. That means we're seeing more of coworkers' bedrooms, pets, and pajamas than we ever imagined.

If you're navigating the dos and don'ts of working remotely for the first time, you don't necessarily need to choose between professionalism and comfortable pants. Just keep a few tips in mind to make your transition from being alone on the couch to hopping onto a last-minute Zoom video call as smooth as possible.

Just like in real life, wearing the right outfit can go a long way when it comes to looking professional for your colleagues. Standards aren't as high when you're telecommuting, so even switching out your T-shirt for a business-casual top when you expect to be on video can be enough to show you put effort into your appearance. And unless you plan on moving around on the video call, don't bother putting on pants that don't have an elastic waistband.

If you want to look good on video, there are a few things to keep in mind that don't apply to in-person meetings. Position your computer so you're eye-level with the camera, placing it on a stack of books if necessary, and find a room with good lighting so your coworkers can actually see you. And to avoid getting any unpleasant surprises when you see yourself in a group meeting, check how you look on camera privately before calling in.

You can find tips for looking professional on a video conference call below. And for more ways to optimize your telecommuting experience, check out these habits to practice.

  1. Sit facing a window for natural lighting.
  1. Wear a business-casual top.
  1. Choose clothes with neutral tones.
  1. Position your webcam so it's level with your eyes.
  1. Sit farther from the camera rather than closer.
  1. If you're having a bad hair day, pull it back with a hair tie.
  1. Keep on comfortable pants if you can avoid standing up.
  1. Find a private room to minimize background distractions.
  1. See how you look on your computer camera before joining a video call.
  1. If you have limited time to put on makeup, focus on brows and cheeks to give your face dimension.

11 Boredom-Busting Classes and Activities You Can Do at Home

A good workout is just one way to pass the time while socially isolating.
A good workout is just one way to pass the time while socially isolating.
jacoblund/iStock via Getty Images

Staying home as much as possible is the best way to stop the spread of novel coronavirus, according to health experts. If you’ve already taken this step to protect yourself and your community, you may be faced with a different problem: the crushing boredom that comes with spending all your time indoors. Fortunately, there have never been more ways to keep busy on the internet. In an effort to lift spirits and stimulate minds in isolation, businesses, artists, and institutions have found new ways to keep people connected from afar. From virtual field trips to free workout classes, here are the best boredom-busting activities to check out.

1. Take a free workout class with the YMCA.

Your local gym may be closed, but that doesn’t mean you have to postpone your workout routine for the foreseeable future. The YMCA has launched a new series of free, online fitness classes for people stuck at home. The on-demand videos include barre, bootcamp, yoga, tai chi, and weightlifting. After breaking a sweat for 30 minutes, you may even forget you’re not at the gym.

2. Meditate with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s jellyfish.

Taking care of your mental health is as important as maintaining your physical health while social distancing. If you want to start your day in a good head space, tune into the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s morning “MeditOceans” on YouTube. After closing to the public, the California aquarium started uploading 10- to 15-minute guided meditations set to soothing footage of marine life or scenes from nature. We recommend starting with their video of undulating jellyfish.

3. Take a virtual field trip to a National Park.

Combat claustrophobia by taking a virtual tour of some of the country’s most majestic national parks. The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks project from Google Arts & Culture offers virtual, 360-degree tours of five National Park System sites, all guided by real park rangers. The diverse destinations include the Kenai Fjords in Alaska; Hawai’i Volcanoes in Hawai’i; Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico; Bryce Canyon in Utah; and Dry Tortugas in Florida. You can view all the properties from your phone or computer, and if you have a virtual reality headset, you can transport yourself out of your home with an immersive experience.

4. Take an Improv Class from Second City.

Improv comedy is difficult to do alone. With Second City, you can take a class with other students and master instructors from the comfort of your home. Second City has helped launch the careers of such comedy heavyweights as Steve Carell, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey. Even though its physical theaters in Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles are closed during the coronavirus crisis, comedy classes will continue online. In addition to improv, students can take virtual lessons in comedic songwriting, pitching TV shows, stand-up, sketch comedy, and more from Second City’s pro teachers. If you’re not willing to pay $195 to $295 for a four- to eight-week online course, you can take a one-time drop-in improv or stand-up class for $25.

5. Learn about Women’s History with The New-York Historical Society.

Whether you’re teaching someone home from school or looking to educate yourself in your spare time, there are plenty of remote resources online. The New-York Historical Society is sharing its expertise in the form of a free digital curriculum on women’s history in America. The online course materials cover the period from 1920 to 1948, starting with the flappers of the Jazz Age and ending with women in the postwar era. You can view the entire unit, which includes archival photos and documents, on the NYHS’s website.

6. Join the D.C. Library’s quarantine book club.

If you already plan on reading a ton of books in isolation, you can turn the solitary activity into a social one by joining a quarantine book club. The D.C. Public Library recently announced its book club D.C. Reads is going digital, and now anyone can participate from home. This month’s pick is With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. If you have a Washington, D.C. library card, you can use it to download the e-book for free. Book club discussions will take place on March 28 and April 4 at 2 p.m. through the library’s Twitter account.

7. Draw with Wendy Macnaughton.


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Whether you consider yourself a novice or a Picasso, you can benefit from making art with others. Every weekday at 10 a.m. PST, Wendy Macnaughton (illustrator of the cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) hosts drawing classes in her Instagram Stories. All participants need is paper and a pencil. Artists of all ages can draw along, though Macnaughton states classes are just long enough to keep kids occupied for parents “to get a little work done or take a shower and take a couple deep breathes.”

8. Tour the American Museum of Natural History.

As long as you have an internet connection, the impressive halls of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City are just a few clicks away. Every day at 2 p.m. EST, the institution is sharing tours of its exhibits and collections as Facebook Lives. Some special sneak peeks published to the AMNH Facebook page so far include a tour of the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians and a look at its trilobite collection led by curator and trilobite paleontologist Melanie Hopkins.

9. Take a cooking class with Milk Street.

Not sure what to do with your quarantine food supply? Taking a cooking class is a great place to start. Through the end of April, Milk Street (from America’s Test Kitchen co-founder Christopher Kimball) is making its online culinary lessons free to everyone. Topics include baking, cooking without a recipe, and using certain kitchen tools. After a few weeks of classes, you’ll know your way around everything from a chef’s knife to an Instant Pot.

10. Get Creative with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

While it’s closed, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is using its social media to keep followers engaged with their creative sides. Every Tuesday on Instagram, the institution will post a new challenge to its Stories. This week’s challenge is finding something to read and posting about it to Instagram to help the museum compile the ultimate reading list. Past challenges have included setting aside 30 minutes to make art and sharing photos of pets wearing wigs.

11. Learn guitar with Fender.

At the risk of driving your quarantine-mates crazy, you can use isolation as an opportunity to get in touch with your inner rockstar. Fender is giving the first 100,000 users who create a new account on Fender Play three months of free online lessons. The instructional videos led by talented musicians are high-quality, and you can access them from your phone, tablet, or computer. And if you don't have a guitar at home, the program also includes lessons for bass guitars and ukuleles.

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