It’s scary week this week, and not just because Halloween is on Friday. It’s the week before payday, when the money’s pretty much run out and one is eagerly awaiting that paycheck, even though it might already be virtually spent because of bills and the theft that is rent. Last Thursday, however, I got a nice little surprise in the mail from my Aunt Matilda in New Mexico: a cute little Halloween card with a goth kitty on it and inside, a $25 gift card to my beloved Trader Joe’s! I don’t know how she knew it was the perfect gift at the perfect time but I knew it was also the perfect way to introduce The $25 Shopping Cart series. And in my world, there is no better place to get some bang for your buck than at Trader Joe’s. Of course, you can do this at any grocery store if you know how to shop wisely. And that’s what I’m here to teach you, with the added twist of having something a little “fancier” to eat than standard college dorm room fare (which one should always remember fondly… one gets so resourceful in college). Some may call me cheap but picky, I say I’m just a smart shopper who likes to eat something better than the $0.79 frozen burrito that you can buy in mass quantities.
The key to making your $25 shopping cart a success is to shop for options, not for convenience. There is a higher price to pay for things that are pre-made and pre-packaged, so think of what you can make with several ingredients rather than focusing on a few yummy pre-made meals. Sure, the Bertolli pastas and DiGiorno pizzas of the world can be super tasty and easy to make, but think about it: how long does that really last? One, maybe two scant meals? If you’re going to make your tiny budget stretch, you really have to think ahead and think creatively. Try to look for items that you can combine in a variety of ways, stuff from which you can squeeze 2-3 different meals. Since I speak from experience, here’s my most recent example of how to do that:
1 bag of baby spinach (which I normally get in a larger size for the same price, but they have been out of that size lately, sadly) – $1.99
1 jar of Traditional Marinara Sauce – $1.99
1 package of potato gnocchi – $1.99
1 0.64 oz block of mild cheddar cheese @ $4.49/lb – $2.87
1 container of Creamy Corn & Roasted Pepper Soup – $1.99
1 bag of large frozen cooked shrimp (~40 per package) – $5.99
1 dozen large eggs – $1.79
1 bottle Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon – $1.99
1 5-pack of roma tomatoes – $1.99
2 cans of Tuna for Cats (for the furry members of my family) – $0.49/each
Grand Total = $25.57
Now, consider your options if you had absolutely nothing else at home to augment your list:
Shrimp & Cheddar omelettes
Gnocchi with Marinara sauce & a glass of red wine
Simple salad with spinach, egg, and tomato
Spinach & tomato scramble
Gnocchi with cheddar skillet
Creamy Corn & Roasted Pepper soup with tomato & spices
And so on and so forth……
You can see that the possibilities here are endless, as long as you’re creative and open to different food pairings. I could go on but I just wanted to illustrate how shopping for options over convenience can make your life both easier and tastier during Scary Week. You can even have a glass of wine or two to make things a bit more classy every now & then – how many people can say they can do that and have a week’s worth of different meals and feed your cats on such a tiny budget?
Granted, you can make your dollar stretch a lot more at a place like Trader Joe’s, but don’t discount your regular grocery stores! A lot of the major chains have club cards or other types of sales that can make shopping for good stuff a lot more affordable (more on how to get the most of those programs in a future blog). And in a lot of places, major grocery store chains have “outlet” type stores that sell things for a lot less because they’re either sold in bulk or because they have you bag your own groceries (eg. Safeway’s Pak N Save, Raley’s Food Source, etc.). You can stretch your budget really well at these places, though you won’t get all the fancy schmancy stuff that a place like Trader Joe’s will offer. Still – and I harp on this a LOT – as long as you can break free from the standard mold & get creative, you can make anything fancy schmancy.
Next stop for the $25 Shopping Cart will probably be a major grocery store or its outlet cousin, just to break away from my Trader Joe’s obsession and show you that it can be done at other places. Hope you’ve enjoyed today’s lesson! Now for some yummy gnocchi & marinara with a spinach & tomato salad and some vino….. Bon Appetit!