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.

3. Potatoes

"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.

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The Federal Reserve sets the guardrails for the federal funds rate, and through that helps control the money supply for the nation.

When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.

A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.

One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.

The Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve


The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.

This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.

The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.

Getty Images/Maria Stavreva

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