$35/Week Shopping: Week 1

  • July 16th, 2014

The purpose of this initial week’s shop was to emulate my buying patterns of the previous several weeks. It is a starting point for change and refinement – and a way to record and reflect on what are my current habits.

Outside of the initial rule of under $35, this shop was not highly choreographed. In this shop, there were no specific recipes in mind. For the past month or so, I’ve been going about a pattern like this one. Obviously though, I have kept the cost to under $35. As a frame of reference, the previous three or four week’s groceries have ended up ranging from $30 to about $75 per week.

What was useful to have in mind while shopping however was my current food inventory – which I included in the $35/Week Preface. One problem I have had in the past is buying items I already had. While I have moved to more non-perishables, it used to be the kind of thing that would cost me $5 – $20 a week – with food like expensive meats not being eaten in time.

My whole shop for this week came at Trader Joe’s – in Coolidge Corner, Brookline (to be exact). If you are not familiar with Trader Joe’s (TJ’s), their FAQ sums the franchise up quite nicely:

At Trader Joe’s, you won’t find a lot of branded items. Instead, you’ll find unconventional and interesting products in the Trader Joe’s label as well as everyday basics.

When you see our name on a label, you can be assured that the product contains:

  • √ NO artificial flavors or preservatives
  • √ NO synthetic colors
  • √ NO MSG
  • √ NO genetically modified ingredients
  • √ NO partially hydrogenated oils (artificial trans-fats)
  • √ NO “marketing” costs
  • √ YES tasting panel approval
  • √ YES quality ingredients
  • √ YES great price

As this experiment is cost-sensitive and health-conscious, TJ’s is a good starting point. When I moved from shopping at Shaw’s (regional grocery chain) to Trader Joe’s about two years ago, I cut my grocery bill by 25% – 30%. The criticism of Trader Joe’s is that they lack good produce and meat. Those are also what lacks a bit in this week’s haul.

The Haul

The Haul: Week 1

The Haul: Week 1

Cage-Free Extra Large Brown Eggs – Dozen – $3.29
Whole Grain White Bread – $2.49
Organic Cut and Peeled Carrots – $1.69
Corn on the Cob – 2 ears – $0.49/each
Organic Spinach Tomato Pizza – $4.49
Multigrain Breakfast Waffles – $1.99
Roasted Red Hummus – $2.99
Salted Pita Chips – $1.99
99% Fat-Free Beans & Rice Burritos – 2 – $2.49
Butter Lettuce – 7oz. bag – $2.49
Chunky Salted Peanut Butter – 2 jars – $2.49/each
Clif Bars, Assorted Flavors  – 5 – $0.99/each

Total: $34.82 (99.4% of $35 spent)

One mistake I made – after staring at the different colored labels for 30 seconds – was buying chunky instead of creamy peanut butter. One lives and learns.


Had to part with some Clif Bars

Parting with a few Clif Bars

Clif Bars

When I first arrived at the register, I had a dozen Clif Bars. In order to stay under $35 for this initial week, I had to pass on 7 of them. I believe this to be a good thing. I have been using them as a crutch. I am a light breakfast eater so a Clif Bar in the morning can usually do the trick. However, when you decide to skip another meal by eating 2 or 3 in a row – that’s a sheer sign of laziness.

I do believe Clif Bars to be a good food – well-balanced, packed with vitamins and nutrients, made with mostly organic ingredients, and not from animal products. I believe some flavors even qualify as vegan. At $0.99 for ~250 calories however, it would cost me around $10/day to subsist totally on Clif Bars. At a goal of $5/day, they are more of a premium item. Nonetheless, I purchased five in this shop and intend to use them as a breakfast replacement for the time being.


While the lack of vegetables can be explained by a stockpile of frozen veggies in my freezer, I have limited fresh vegetables. I will also be sure to make some fruit purchases as well. Right now I realize I have no fruit.

The absence of meat does not bother me as much. Given that I’m getting iron, I have felt well without it. I may even pass on buying chicken and use some expiring stuffing a bit more creatively.

My staple foods have always been eggs, peanut butter and bread. Those seem to get covered almost unconsciously. In college, there were weeks I would get by on $20 on those. I went through periods where I would not buy bread – which I believe made the rest of my shopping a lot more expensive. A low carb diet would not work with my current lifestyle of distance running and frugality.

Initial Reaction to the Preface

Shortly before heading off to Trader Joe’s – I posted the link to the Preface on Hacker News. By the time I returned home – the post had over 6000 visits, a dozen blog comments, and over 50 comments on the HN forum.

I look forward to combing through the recommendations, advice and websites that so many people were kind enough to provide. My next post will be my first recipe and the results. Please feel free to leave your thoughts on my grocery haul for this week. Thanks!

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4 responses to “$35/Week Shopping: Week 1”

  1. Niven says:

    Hey man, great write up! Looking forward to future posts.

    Have you thought about coupling this with your meal & workout schedules?

    Would love to know how these foods fit with your daily and post workout requirements 🙂


    • erik says:

      Hi Niven, that’s a great idea. I do tend to log breakdowns of consumption with my running schedule – I’ll figure out how to incorporate that into my posts a bit!

  2. Amanda says:

    The meals you are posting are for just one person since your single, obviously buying enough for two will cause the final bill to be higher, but I’m wondering if you think simply doubling the recipe would make enough of each meal for two people. I’m a runner as well , only at about 12 a week though. I’m so excited to have found your blog! Thank you for doing it!

    • erik says:

      Good point, I think you’re right for a lot of the meals. My rice and beans meals are usually fit for two – but I eat it all after a long run! Thanks for checking out!

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