5 Ways to Stretch Your Quarantine Food Budget
Maybe you're recently out-of-work. Maybe school has shut down and confined you to your apartment.
Maybe you're working from home for the second consecutive week. Whatever's happened, you're likely, for the first time, needing to plan, prepare, and consume all your weekly meals from the confines of your kitchen. It's a taxing prospect, especially since grocery stores are infected zones to be avoided whenever possible. There are other options on the table, but many of us are priced out of grocery delivery services through Amazon or Peapod, or otherwise can only make it worthwhile by buying in bulk.
For those reasons, it's vital to keep fridges and pantries stocked for as long as you can, for as little money as possible, without settling for pasta so often that it plumps you up like a Christmas goose by the time this is over. So, here are five easy ways not only to stretch your money as far as possible, but also keep your meals varied, relatively healthy, and long-lasting.
1. The Ol' Slow-Cook-and-Freeze
Physically cooking requires constant focus and multitasking. But there's no cheaper and healthier way to cook than when you prepare meals yourself, using ingredients you've decided on. But cooking, while cathartic to some can be a hassle. Enter slow-cooker.
A slow-cooker, crockpot, or pressure cooker will suffice. As long as you can put food in it and then leave it alone to cook, the thing you're thinking of will be a perfect tool. Thats not just because it requires only preparatory steps—cut vegetables, thaw chicken breast, choose sauces, cover, wait—but because these things make a ton of food. Since the smallest size slow-cooker still allows six-quarts of ingredients, you're looking at a week's worth of meals (if you can make them last that long).
The freezer is your friend. Put stews in deli containers; tupperware meats indefinitely. Just as bulk-buying minimizes miscellaneous charges like delivery and service fees, bulk-cooking minimizes prep time, maximizes meal amount, and lets you cook cheap and simple ingredients like potatoes, turnips, or radishes in really interesting ways.
2. Rice (and Grains)
Let rice be your culinary staple because rice is cheap. You will find bagged rice in all sorts of uncooked varieties: brown, black, wild, forbidden, long-grain, basmati, jasmine, white. If you have a rice-cooker, you are likely already aware of the beauty freshly-cooked rice exudes. But even amateurs need no more than a pan, heat, and tap water, to cook huge amounts of rice in short amounts of time. Directions are on the bag and differ based on rice type, amount, and company, but heed them. Just two cups of rice, usually about half an average bag, will provide multiple-day's worth of sustenance.
If you're health-conscious, quinoa can be prepared and stored similarly, although at a bit more premium price point.
"Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew," says Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, describing his personal precious. Potatoes are the MVP of foods because they can take so many different forms, be prepared in so many different ways, and last forever. Small potatoes (fingerlings, butterballs, etc.) can be easily boiled in bulk and thereafter last for a week in the fridge, serving dutifully as sides or meal bases or as simple, salted snacks. Sacks of potatoes, while heavy, are low-cost, and because it's rather easy to cut them, dice them, boil them, smash them, microwave them, or bake them, you can conceivably have a different form of the world's greatest starch for every meal for a week or more.
4. Canned Foods
Buy canned vegetables. Buy canned beans. Buy canned anything. Canned foods get a bad rap because their containers are often dinged and un-lasciviously-colored, but the food inside is allowed to marinate in its own juices and keeps for years. A can of beans can be a meal all on its own, usually for somewhere close to 99 cents. Get a couple cans of beans and a bag of rice and find yourself understanding why rice and beans is a beloved culinary staple the world over.
Be careful intaking too much sodium (many canned foods will have separate low-sodium versions), but with a little bit of extra time in the aisle, you can leave the store with pounds of delicious and nutritious foods to keep around for snacks (canned corn always hits the spot and goes shockingly well in guacamoles) or as meals unto themselves.
5. Vegetable-Based Proteins
Plant-based protein options are comparable in price to meat, keep longer, require far-less preparation, and are more versatile. Whether it's veggie-or-bean-based burgers, vegan sausage crumbles, faux chicken, or garden-variety tofu, the plant-based protein industry is coming up with new ways to pique our salivary glands daily. Vegetable-based options are easily thrown into any dish for extra protein and generally require no more than a quick pan saute to show their true flavors. Freezing meat is not a bad option, but that strategy requires large amounts of meat to be cooked at once, and it's generally inadvisable to re-freeze already cooked food. In contrast, vegan food can be kept for months or more.
Looking for a job? In addition to encountering those annoying never-ending job interviews you may find yourself face-to-face with an artificial intelligence bot.
Companies worldwide increasingly use artificial intelligence tools and analytics in employment decision-making – from parsing through resumes and screening candidates to automated assessments and digital interviews. But recent studies claim that AI does more harm than good.
While AI screening tools were developed to save companies time and money, they’ve been criticized for placing women and people of color at a disadvantage. The problem is that many companies lack appreciable diversity in their data set, making it impossible for an algorithm to know how people from underrepresented groups have performed in the past. As a result, the algorithm will be biased toward the data available and compare future candidates to that archetype.
The City’s Automated Employment Decision Tools (AEDT) law is designed to offset the potential misuse of AI and protect job candidates against discrimination. It was enforced on July 5th, 2023 in New York City - with other cities and states expected to gradually follow suit. Employers must now inform applicants when and how they encounter AI. Furthermore, companies have to commission a third-party audit of the AI software used, and publish a summary of the results to prove that their systems aren’t racist or sexist. Job applicants are able to request information regarding what data is collected and analyzed by the AI. Violations of the law can result in fines of up to $1,500.
Replacing Human Hiring Decisions
However, should a job applicant want to opt-out of such impersonal judgement by a bot, the new law's scope is quite limited.
While the law specifies that instructions for requesting an alternative selection process must be included in the AI screening disclosure, companies aren't actually required to use other screening methods. Not to mention that the law only applies to AI in hiring and not any other employment decisions. It also wouldn't apply if the AI, for example, flags candidates with relevant experience, but a human then reviews all applications, making the ultimate hiring decision.
Some civil rights advocates and public interest groups argue that the law isn’t extensive enough and that it’s even unenforceable. On the other hand, businesses say that it’s impractical, costly, and burdensome, and that independent audits aren’t feasible.
Responsible use of AI in hiring
Although this law may be a good first attempt to assign more regulatory guardrails around AI, it remains to be seen if it ensures the responsible use of AI in hiring processes. At the end of the day, perhaps recruiting talent should remain a human-made decision.
The good news is that AI can help companies without harming potential job candidates in many ways – such as connecting new employees with internal organizational information and company benefits during onboarding. Or helping employees to do their jobs more effectively rather than replacing them.
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!