The $25 Shopping Cart, version 7.0

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a $25 Shopping Cart post, hasn’t it? It’s not that I haven’t been keeping up with my little habit; I just haven’t ventured out to stores other than Safeway, Trader Joe’s or the Co-op over the past few months. Now that my ankle’s healed and that I haven’t had any more bouts with bronchitis & asthma flare-ups, not to mention the fact that the weather is finally starting to figure out that it’s spring, I have been out & about a lot more than I was over the winter. And that means finding other stores where I can challenge myself to get some great deals!
The $25 Shopping Cart, version 7.0

For those of you who are new to PGEW and haven’t read one of my $25 Shopping Cart posts, here’s a quick run-down about my little project: Because I was usually left with about $40 after paying my rent (and that’s on a good day when I’m actually current on rent and have a steady job, not a temp one like right now!), money that I had to make sure would last until the next time I got paid, I decided I really had to start reining in my grocery shopping during such scary moments. I had to make sure I stayed within a very strict budget but I also had to make sure I bought enough food to last me a couple of weeks until the next paycheck.* For me, the easiest place for me to do this without having to worry too much about price is Trader Joe’s; it’s not as expensive as a lot of folks assume it is and I feel confident that I’m buying quality food. However, Trader Joe’s do not (yet) exist everywhere, so I wanted to demonstrate that this exercise can be done at practically any grocery store you come across. With the help of some careful shopping, impulse control, and a running mental inventory of what I had left at home, I realized I could do this at places that didn’t seem possible to get such value, like Whole Foods Market. Nowadays, I like to challenge myself at different grocery stores, and this month I chose to head over to La Superior.

La Superior is a chain of Mexican/Hispanic foods markets and there are plenty of similar chains like Mi Pueblo, Vallarta, etc., strewn across the state. Part of the reason why I like venturing out to these types of stores is that one can find all sorts of authentic Latin groceries that one can’t usually find at traditional grocery stores in addition to a few conventional, national brands. But the real reason I like to visit stores like La Superior is because of the incredible deals on quality produce and meats. From cilantro regularly priced at $0.49/bunch vs. the exorbitant $1.29/bunch price, you’ll pay at places like the Co-op or Raley’s, to ridiculous deals like $0.89/lb fresh chicken drumsticks daily, it’s impossible not to find amazing prices at this type of store. And the quality is excellent! The produce is almost farmers market beautiful (read: not covered in wax & fluoridated water) and their meats, seafood, and cheeses are lovely and fresh and never covered in freezer burn.

This particular shopping trip proved quite fruitful as I was able to get a few items I wouldn’t normally be able to find at my local Safeway or even TJ’s. I scored an awesome deal on some fresh shrimp as well, which is truly fabulous because I’ve been going through some serious crustacean withdrawals lately. I made sure to take my time and look through every aisle and made some awesome discoveries like Salvadorean foods & spices, and was shocked to find they even sold random things like quail eggs! Since those are usually found only in specialty gourmet stores, it was quite a surprise. Anyway, here’s what I managed to score this time around:

~ 1 bunch cilantro – $0.49

~ 3 giant chicken leg & thigh pieces – $1.49/lb

~ 1.67 lbs medium shrimp (41-50 ct), fresh – $5.63 (!!!)

~ 1.5 lbs Roma tomatoes – $1.19/lb

~ 1 pack Guerrero “Fresquirica” tortillas – $2.19

~ 1 lb queso Oaxaca (a special kind of mozzarella; imagine giant string cheese) – $2.89

~ 1 lb fresh guavas – $1.99/lb

~ 1 head green leaf lettuce – $0.89

~ 2 bunches green onions – 2 for $0.99

~ 1 cucumber – $0.49

~ 1 2 lb. bag key limes – $2.19

~ 1 16 oz. bottle apple cider vinegar – $1.59

~ 2 large plantains – $0.99/lb

~ 3 fresh mangoes – $0.69/ea

Grand total for this trip: $26.55!

There were a couple of regular grocery items that I had considered buying but my mental math told me I was going to go way overboard if I’d gotten them, so I refrained (but I do miss my Herdez salsa casera & chipotles en adobo!). Though their deals on produce & meats are wonderful, some of their name brand items are slightly overpriced, so it pays to shop carefully at this store. I’m also a bit bummed that I never received my weekly circular with their current sales, because I would have gone yesterday! Apparently that 2 lb bag of key limes would have only cost $0.99. *sob* Still, this was a very productive little excursion and I know I’ll be set with some tasty, nutritious meals for at least a week & a half.

How do I know this? Well, one of the keys to a successful $25 Shopping Cart trip is to make sure you’ve done a running inventory of what you may already have at home. When I have plenty of produce, I try to stock up on grains and a few affordable protein sources to balance everything out. If I’m faced with an empty fridge and a cupboard full of dried legumes and healthy grains like rice, quinoa, and couscous, I make sure to get produce and meats to make different meals out of all the ingredients. By knowing what I already have at home, I decrease the risk of doubling up on items I already have enough of, which allows me to spend my small budget on items I actually need.

Here are some sample meals that I could make with tonight’s grocery run and the pantry items I already had on hand. (NOTE: Some of these are already PGEW recipes, some are potential PGEW recipes, and others are just ideas of things I could try):

~ Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas with Pico de Gallo

~ Greek Herb & Garlic Roasted Chicken and Herbed Couscous

~ Garlic-Black Pepper Shrimp & Avocado Salad

~ Fruit salad or smoothies using the mangoes & guavas with some frozen fruit

~ Pollo o Camarones con Hogao (chicken or shrimp with a traditional Colombian tomato-scallion sauce)

~ Rice w/black beans and plantains

~ Black Bean, Chicken & Mango Stew

The possibilities are endless and this isn’t an exact list of what I will do with my new purchases, just a brief overview of what one could make with these items. Since a lot of you had asked that I show what I would make with the food I buy when I go grocery shopping and I couldn’t find a good way to show this in a separate post because my menu constantly varies, I thought it would be helpful to add sample ideas of what I could make at the end of a $25 Shopping Cart run. I’ve also received a few emails asking for help with menu planning, so at some point in the next few months I will try to incorporate that onto the site as well.

I hope you all enjoyed this edition of The $25 Shopping Cart! Next stop: either the 99-cent Store or Raley’s/Bel-Air. It should be fun!

* Because I live alone and cook for myself and maybe 1 other person, I can keep my budget to $25. Obviously, those of you with larger families would need to increase your budget, but I have gotten emails from folks who have tried this exercise for their 4-6 person families and they’ve been able to get amazing results shopping with just $60! Give it a shot and see how you do!

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