The $25 Shopping Cart, v. 21.0

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I wanted to share a quick $25 Shopping Cart with you all before we get into the next recipe and tip posts. I actually went on this run last month, but it’s still a good example of how to Trader Joe’s (yes, it’s now a verb) with a fairly well-stocked Bare Bones pantry and some eggs. My last Trader Joe’s $25 SC was a little different because I needed to buy a little of both (Bare Bones staples and things to go with them), so this is a good way to see how I go about augmenting my food inventory at home.

I have to pause and thank one of my old friends from high school for making this shopping trip possible. As I mentioned in previous posts, the last 3-4 months of 2014 were spent giving nearly every paycheck to my landlords in order to avoid eviction (it was a self-imposed thing, and hard as it was, TOTALLY worth it). I had about $50 left between paychecks after purchasing transit passes, so ALL food shopping runs had to be $25 Shopping Carts. Thankfully, my mom also helped me out with a few pantry staples (she gave me a 5 lb. bag of quinoa; my mother is a saint.), which helped a lot to get me through that extremely rough patch.

Around Christmastime, I received a beautiful card from my friend, Marietta, along with a Trader Joe’s gift card (do my friends know me or what?) for exactly $25. That was a clear sign to me, and once I absolutely needed to use it (I try to hoard gift cards as much as possible for ultra lean times), I went to my Food Mecca Numero Dos to play.

There is something to be said for having such strict budgetary boundaries when you’re going shopping, especially for food. While I have taught myself to exercise serious restraint over the years, I’m an impulse shopper by nature, particularly when I’m at the grocery store. Let me walk into a Trader Joe’s and it’s even worse. Back when I had the money to spend at whim, I had no problem walking out of that store $85 later – which is ridiculous, considering I live alone (and no single person needs that many different kinds of cheese all at once). So, in a way, working with something as limiting as $25 – especially in this day and age of sky-high food prices – helps me stay focused on what I need versus what I want.

After writing out my Reverse Shopping List, I put on my proverbial blinders and went straight to where I needed to go – no meandering through aisles and looking at that end cap with the new items to lust after! I had quinoa, rice, and pasta in my cupboards, along with plenty of dried beans and a couple dozen eggs from a crazy sale at I can’t remember what store. I knew I was getting my “Me Check” (the non-rent check that isn’t really mine either, since most of it goes to utility bills, but at least I have a little left over to work with) in a few weeks after this particular shopping run, so I knew I could keep things pretty basic this time around. But because I’ve been working hard at removing the bloat from holiday carbs and meds, I wanted to keep the focus on healthy things (more so than I normally do). Here’s what I got:

  • 1 16 oz. bag baby spinach – $1.99
  • 1 16 oz. bag kale – $1.99
  • 1 2 lb. bag sweet potatoes – $1.79
  • 1 bag frozen strawberries – $1.79
  • 1 bag frozen pineapple chunks – $1.99
  • 1 bag Organic Foursome frozen mixed veggies – $1.69
  • 1 container grape tomatoes – $2.29
  • 1 tub 2% Greek yogurt – $2.79
  • 1 8 oz. pack white mushrooms – $1.69
  • 1 package firm organic tofu – $1.99
  • 3 bananas at $0.19/each –  $0.57
  • 1 pretzel stick – $0.99 (my “splurge” for this run. Totally unnecessary, delicious, comforting carbs in one handy dandy soft pretzel.)

Grand total:  $21.06! 

I don’t normally leave with such an enormous surplus on my gift cards, but I figured the extra change would be helpful for a future TJ’s run. I was just happy to get some Kimberstaples to stretch out what I already had in my cupboards – without getting stuck at the chocolate displays those jerks put right by the registers (I know, I know, that’s how stores are designed so you make a few last minute purchases. Doesn’t mean it’s not still evil, lol).

Now, a lot of you have asked for shopping lists, etc. to kind of follow along and make similar meals to mine, but I have hesitated (for nearly 7 years, lol). Why? Because as much as I love sharing my recipes with you, what I enjoy on a regular basis may not be in line with your personal tastes or needs. But for those of you who still want to know what I normally get for myself – the Kimberstaples, if you will – this is probably the best example of that. Throw in dried legumes, grains, and the occasional block (or 2) of cheese, and this is what I usually eat. (But don’t worry… I’m working on putting together some sample lists for some of the new downloadable content coming in the next few months. Hope they’re helpful!)

So, how would I pair all my “usuals”?

  • Spicy Vegetable & Quinoa Stir-fry
  • Fruit and/or green smoothies
  • Mushroom & Spinach Omelette (sadly without the gouda, but it was still good)
  • Crispy Baked Tofu Fries with Sriracha Ketchup
  • Fruity “soft serve” homemade fro-yo
  • Quinoa with Mushrooms, Tomatoes & Scallions
  • Kale with poached/fried eggs (a standard Kimberbreakfast)
  • Edamame & Veggie Fried Brown Rice 

This is pretty much what I eat on a regular basis, and how I try to eat even during the leanest of times. Because my condition requires it, I can’t slack off in the nutrition department and live on fast food or processed junk as it’s been suggested to me in the past (“It’s way cheaper and you don’t have to cook.” No.) Besides, that’s just not my style; what can I say, I like it when my food is colorful and alive as opposed to… brown or beige.

You’ll notice my protein sources for this run are vegetarian – that’s not out of personal preference or dietary restrictions. I’m a happy omnivore and love my meat and seafood; it’s just too damned expensive these days, and not something that should be purchased during a $25 Shopping Cart run unless the prices are incredible. It’s not a bad thing to go meatless more often than not, though, so I really don’t mind. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss my other protein sources! Which is why it’s nice to have that “Me Check” to look forward to – that’s the one I can use a little more freely on things like chicken, pork or fish.


This one made me a little pensive tonight. Though things are slowly starting to get better for me, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still need to do these super budgeted food runs. I not only need to, but sometimes I really enjoy it. I enjoy the exercise in restraint, as well as the extra creativity I have to bust out to make the most of what $25 can buy in 2015.

But what’s cool is that I’ve kinda come full circle. While a lot of my food shopping over the past 2-3 years has had to be in the $25-35 range because of how much I was struggling, it’s cool to go back to only needing to shop like this once or twice a month, tops. I’m back to the whole, “The first check of the month is for rent, transit passes, and $25 for food (and God forbid an emergency arises, like running out of TP); the second check is for everything else.” Which is how the $25 Shopping Cart was born to begin with. I never thought I’d be this excited to live paycheck to paycheck, but TRUST ME – it trumps living no-paycheck to no-paycheck ANY day.

Well, that wraps up this edition of the $25 Shopping Cart! The first one of 2015! I’m itching to go to some different stores soon, so I would love to hear suggestions from any Sacramento area locals. Just remember that yours truly doesn’t have a car, so the store would need to be easily reached using transit. It’s a bit far from where I live, but I already have a trip planned to KP International (more of a reconnaissance mission, though, as I’ve never been). Take a look at the other posts in the series, and if you can think of any other places I should hit, let me know! I rather like the challenge and love checking out new food stores.

‘Til next time, PGEW fam!

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