Archive for May, 2011

Real World Roundup: Grocery Shopping Secrets

I don’t care how prepared you think you are, living on your own is no walk in the park. If balancing your school-life (or brand new career) and social life isn’t hard enough, add to that all the mundane tasks that keep your world afloat (laundry, grocery shopping, remembering to buy gas before your car stops in an intersection or something). Oh, yeah–and you have to manage your finances on top of that.

I’ve been on my own for a few years now, and while I’m still no expert at being a “grown-up,” I’ve definitely lived and learned. This little series–a combo of helpful tips and links about life on your own–should give you the benefit of my experience without the headaches of learning it the hard way! Yay!

Today we’re going to talk about one of my personal favorite topics: food. ♥

You Don’t Have to Eat Ramen.

Ramen noodles as a dinner entrée is a college cliché for a reason–after all, its not only cheap but also easy to cook. But guess what? You don’t have to eat Ramen. You can eat real food. Grown up food. Food that doesn’t have half your daily recommended value of sodium in one bowl!

So, you don’t have to eat Ramen. But you do have to do a little legwork. Read on to find out how to get good food for less.

Plan Ahead

One of the best ways to save money at the grocery store is to plan ahead. If you wander aimlessly through the aisles picking up what you think you might want/need, you will probably end up with a cart full of odds and ends you don’t need, and you might forget the things you do. Here’s how to start:

  • Step 1: Make a Meal Plan. This is step one, and it is easy. Plan out the meals you want to eat for a week. You can keep it simple–cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and simple meals for dinner. Then make a grocery list based on the ingredients you need for those 7 days, and only buy those things at the grocery store.
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  • Step 2: Shop Sales. Once you’ve got the meal planning thing down, you can move on to step 2! Most grocery stores have their weekly sales fliers online, so once you’ve got the hang of meal planning (and give yourself some time if its tricky) start checking the sales fliers before you write out your dining schedule. Cooking based on in season produce and other sale items will really help reduce your food budget.
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  • Step 3: Add Coupons. Once upon a time you had to spend hours clipping coupons–not something most college students want to do. Now there are tons of blogs that tell you exactly which coupons you need (you can clip them or even print them off–so easy) and which sale items to use them on so that you can get things for cheap (or sometimes even free!). Here are some great sites to start with (I recommend just choosing one store to use coupons at, though, or it will be way too overwhelming):

Shopping Smart

  • Don’t Shop Hungry. Seriously. Have a snack before you head to the grocery store. Shopping hungry leads to impulse buys (because everything looks delicious when you’re starving) and that means spending money you weren’t planning to spend. Curb your appetite, spare your wallet.
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  • Stick to the List. Remember that list you made when you were making up your meal plan? Don’t buy anything that isn’t on that list!

Splitsville.

One more thing that is college-student specific: you can split stuff with your roommates. This is awesome if you find something cheaper in bulk, as long as you can be sure the sharing is even. To keep the peace, I’d recommend only splitting things that come in finite amounts (like veggies or prepackaged items) so nobody gets their nose out of joint when you polish off the last of the milk. 🙂

Oh and p.s. our sister site, the Pay for College Blog recently posted some more tips about saving on groceries, so don’t miss out on those great ideas!

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Add comment May 30th, 2011

Working 101: 4 Easy Ways to Get Job Experience

A few weeks before graduation, I started looking frantically for a job. Most of the listings I found had specific qualifications–they wanted 1, 2, 3, or even more years of job experience, not to mention a clear knowledge of their field. Lucky for me, I had already logged several years of job time by that point, and if you’re gearing up to go get that dream job after school, one of the best things you can do now is build up your job experience. Here are a few ways to start.

If your primary objective is just to get some work experience under your belt, you don’t need to worry too much about choosing a career field–just putting in the hours is a great place to start. You can try:

Working On Campus. College campuses are usually a great place to find a job–they work hard to hire students, and you can do anything from driving a campus mail truck to doing security detail or just working part-time in the caf. Campus jobs don’t always pay well, but they are often relatively easy to get and usually very flexible about working with your school schedule.

Working for Mom and Dad. Or a relative, family friend, or other acquaintance–whoever you know who has a business that might be in need of your skills. Ask around, and be sure to flaunt (but not exaggerate) your technical prowess, typing speed, or any other talent that will help you stand out. (But p.s. — Even if you’re working for the ‘rents, you still need to take your job seriously!)

Volunteering. Most employers don’t care if your work experience is paid or unpaid, so if you can’t find (or aren’t interested it) an entry-level job, you can always start by doing some volunteer work. This will not only get you in the habit of fitting work into your schedule, but also gives you the opportunity to secure references for future job apps.

If you already know what your long-term goals are, you might be interested in getting some experience in the field you’re pursuing. If this sounds like you, try:

Getting an Internship. Talk to your professor or the faculty advisor for your major, or stop by your college’s career center and look for internships in your area of choice. Not only will this give you some familiarity with the subject, it is also a great way to gauge whether you really want to pursue a similar career.

Looking for more work tips? Find out how to write a basic, easy resume, get the answers to your resume-writing questions, or decide–should you even get a job while you’re in college?

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Add comment May 26th, 2011

Cheap & Easy College Recipes: Slow Cooker Chicken Burritos

The crock pot is back with a vengeance today, this time whipping up some delicious burritos. Watch out–this recipe makes a TON and it is super cheap. Feed your friends or, if you have a freezer, portion it out for future meals for a quick defrostable feast.

Slow Cooker Chicken Burritos

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can Northern beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans corn, drained (frozen corn will work, too–no need to drain or defrost)
3 chicken breasts
1 cup salsa
Soft flour tortillas
Shredded cheese

1. Place corn and beans in crock pot; stir in salsa.
2. Place chicken breasts on their sides upright in the mixture.
3. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.
4. When ready to serve, shred the chicken breasts and stir them back into the mixture.
5. Serve on warm tortillas, adding cheese and any other toppings of your choice.

Tips

– Remember, don’t open the lid of the crock pot while your food is cooking! It is important to keep the moisture and temperature stable.

– I like to make this a little sweet, so I usually use a peach or pineapple salsa. The Newman’s Own brand is good and usually not a bad price at our local store.

– We use this tasty mix to make burritos–we grab 10 inch flour tortillas and top the mix with lime juice, cheese, and sour cream. You could top it with more salsa, hot sauce, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. to make a soft taco. It’s also good on top of salad or cooked into quesadillas.

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Add comment May 23rd, 2011

5 Awesome Freebies at Your Public Library (Besides Books)

You already know its the hot spot for borrowing free books (obviously), DVDs and music, but did you know about these other freebies the library has to offer?

  1. Downloadable E-Book and Audiobook Rentals. I love listening to books while I drive or work out, so I was really excited to find out that tons of libraries let you borrow audiobooks (which can cost $10-30–or more–a pop) by downloading them right to your computer or mp3 player, or download it to read on a mobile device. Its just like renting a movie from iTunes (it “expires” after a while) but you get to listen/read for free!
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  2. Classes and Workshops. If you’re curious about anything from writing a resume to learning the art of haiku, check out your library’s calendar. There are always an assortment of free or cheap courses, workshops, and seminars: this month my library has classes on search engine optimization, family history, investing, computers, and nutrition–and that is only naming a few.
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  3. The Hold System. If you want to read the newest Koontz thriller but find out it is at another branch, all you have to do is place a hold and it will get sent over to your library for free (or sometimes a very small fee–I’ve never paid more than a quarter). You can pick it up when it arrives and return it to your usual branch. Plus you don’t have to search the stacks to find it–it will be waiting for you!
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  4. Clubs and Learning Groups. Struggling in your foreign language course? My library offers a language class and several foreign language conversation clubs that allow people to meet and practice their French or Spanish in a low key environment. Looking to learn something new, or stretch your literary muscle? Look for clubs meeting at the library, too–you might join a book club or learn to knit (and you’re bound to meet a crazy assortment of people!).
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  5. Art, Music, and Media Events. Libraries strive to be a community gathering place, so they often put on free movie screenings or have guest musicians, authors, or art displays.

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1 comment May 19th, 2011

The Mid-Week Party: 5 Ideas to Help You Perk Up a Wednesday Night

Are your weeks feeling a little… flat? Nothing soothes the pain of the third consecutive hour of Chem lab or that monotonous summer job like the promise of something better waiting around the bend, so why not get your favorite people together and start a mid-week (or mid-month) tradition?

Here are a few ideas to get you started!

Dinner!

There’s not much reason to try new foods or cook a big meal when you’re dining solo, so talk your favorite people into doing a little weekly (or monthly, if you’re nervous chefs) dinner party. You can each bring something yummy, take turns cooking for each other, or make it a group activity where you all mess up the kitchen together.

Lucky for you, I’ve got some great ideas about starting a dinner club (and ideas to spice it up!).

…and a Movie

If dinner’s not your thing, why not start up a weekly movie night? It’s a great low-key activity, so you can invite anyone (handy if you’re looking for a reason to sit cozily next to your crush without being too obvious!) and you can take turns choosing the week’s film so you get a good taste of new genres, or stick to a theme like classic black and whites, the “Brat Pack” 80’s movies, or a marathon of James Bonds.

The NY Times list of the Best 1,000 Movies can help you start your list!

Be Bookish

Love books but hate textbooks? Starting up a casual book club is a fun way to make sure you fit some non-required reading into your schedule, and its kind of nice to share your opinion–good or bad–without being graded on it. Just be sure there are some comfy chairs and snacks involved.

Share your favorites and your to-read list on Goodreads and find something you can all get into!

Tube Time

Need something even easier to plan? Just get together to watch your favorite show. Pop some popcorn, secure the remote from your roomie, and enjoy the latest episode of The Voice.

Don’t worry if you missed last week’s episode, Television Without Pity can catch you up with funny, snarky reviews.

Get Creative

Still looking for more? Catch up on my previous suggestions for fun & easy get-togethers (for guys and girls), or come up with something on your own. Your mini-party can be anything from building a (legal!!) bonfire to working out en masse–just make it social, and make it fun!

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Add comment May 16th, 2011

Dorm Fit: Links to Help you Work Out & Get Healthy

Losing momentum (or have yet to find any at all) in your fitness routine? This link roundup is targeted at helping you get more out of your get-healthy goals this year!

We Can Work It Out

Looking for some easy exercise routines you can do quickly and in your teeny tiny dorm room? Give one (or all) of these a try:

Just Eat It?

Exercise is only half the battle, though, isn’t it? Food is the other half, and you need to make sure it works for you, not against you!

Don’t Be Trendy

Diets are tempting, but usually not sustainable. (Who wants to give up carbs for the rest of their life? Yeah right, Atkins.) The best way to get–and stay–healthy is to follow the regular old guidelines you’ve been learning about all along: eat a balanced, healthy diet, don’t skip meals, exercise, and get a lot of rest!

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1 comment May 12th, 2011

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