$138 A Week For Groceries - Shopping Day 3: Something About Chaotic Shopping Experiences & Trader Joe's v. Walmart

So the other day, I asked y'all whether I should do this week's shopping at Trader Joe's or Walmart. Turns out I did both.

$69.59 at Trader Joe's

$86.99 at Walmart

Lemme tell you how that came to be, even though you overwhelmingly voted for me to shop TJ's. 

I had planned to go to Trader Joe's first thing when they open at 9am, but you know what they say about plans, and I ended up there somewhere closer to 10:30 am, when, apparently, LOTS of other people like to be there on a Saturday morning as well.

Among those lots of other people included mommies with young children, the mommies who, understandably, want to include their young children - sometimes up to 3 of them, with not only junior carts of their own but minds of their own as well - in the grocery shopping experience.

Those of you who are familiar with Trader Joe's know that it's a cozy setup, which is one of its charms if you, like I, happen to hate the whole big box shopping experience. And then you might also be familiar with the fact that that cozy setup gets crowded and clusterfucky real quick when lots of people, including the multiple young children-having mommy brigade, descend upon it at roughly the same hour that you are there.

Now no one can know for sure which of these mommies decided just yesterday morning for the first time ever to give the whole Let's Give Jimmy His Own Shopping Cart thing a go and just ended up overestimating her kids' preparedness for a thing (goddess knows I have been there) and which of them habitually like to subject everyone in Trader Joe's to the children she knows aren't quite yet ready to not run loose like wild things so she doesn't have to constantly bark loud but ineffectual disciplinary threats at them handle their own shopping cart, but whatever the individual backstories behind the members of The Mommies with Children Run Amok in a Crowded Grocery Store Brigade, whether you may have been a member at some point or not, the lesson learned:

Mommies with inappropriately unruly children (because sometimes children get to be appropriately unruly - perks of the job) who belong to the Trader Joe's demographic require just as much patience and tolerance as the mommies with unruly children who belong to the Walmart one. 

Bless all their hearts.

It probably would have been better had I gone first thing when they opened, but my point is that while we often talk about how unpleasant the shopping experience at Walmart can be because of the other people shopping there, politics and principles aside, in that vein Trader Joe's is quite capable of giving Walmart a run for its cheap, greedy, unscrupulous, rollback discount money.

I could have stayed at Trader Joe's longer than the hour I was there trying to choose those items I thought an even or exceptional value as against my other familiar shopping options, and I think I did an alright job of that, but it just kept getting more crowded as time went on, and my non-clinical claustrophobia eventually told me it was time to take a break.

Ironic, then, that I should choose to go to Walmart to do the rest of my shopping later in the day, but we had toiletries to replenish (that do not belong to the grocery budget), so it actually became an efficient opportunity to kill two birds...

For those who would tell me I should do my toiletries shopping at Target, again politics and principles aside, I have to say that I have found my local Target no more pleasant a shopping experience than my local Walmart, and it is considerably farther away. I've lived in places where the local Target was clearly preferable to Walmart, but I think we find that even with chains and franchises, there can be wide variability in quality of management, service, and to some extent, product as well.

And onto the groceries before I do the whole compare/contrast thing. I should note that I was not exactly on my game on Saturday. 

For the most part, this whole shopping thing is so old hat for me that I very rarely make a list and very rarely need to; I almost always come really close to my weekly budget without having to tally as I'm shopping even though I buy different stuff each week; and I'm generally able to keep the proportions of food categories roughly the same each week without trying.

But as you'll see, I forgot some stuff this week and overloaded on other stuff, mostly due to the discombobulated shopping in somewhat unfamiliar environments during high traffic times. I'll just have to balance things a little better over the week and my last shopping trip for this diary.

$161.58 TOTAL as follows:

BEVERAGES: 1 bottle of TJ's Blanc de Blancs Sparkling wine. $6.47, 4.0% of total.

I forgot Joey's juice pouches and will have to buy some before Wednesday when we run out. I also forgot this week's coffee (and the half and half to go with), but that just means we'll drink the tea that would never get drunk were it not for coffee outages. ;)

DAIRY: 2 gallons milk, 1 Cream Line plain whole yogurt. $9.57, 5.9% of total.

I'm pretty sure I'll have to buy another gallon of milk midweek, which I'll probably pick up when I get Joey's juice pouches, but I didn't want to cram three whole gallons of milk in my fridge at a time.

GRAINS/STARCHES: 1 loaf TJ's wheat bread, 1 loaf TJ's ciabatta, 1 lb. TJ's spaghetti, 1 box TJ's Honey Nut O's Cereal, 1 packet hot dog buns.  $10.24, 6.3% of total.

Would it surprise you to know that TJ's Honey Nut O's have pretty much the same ingredient list as Honey Nut Cheerios? (Same goes for their Cheddar Rocket Crackers and Pepperidge Farms Goldfish Crackers.) I think it would surprise a lot of people, actually...

PROTEIN: 1.25 pounds catfish fillets (I did make a quick stop at Mission Seafood), 1 whole 4.9 TJ's chicken, 1 dozen jumbo eggs, 12 oz. Sweet Italian Snausage, 1 lb. pack Oscar Mayer Hotdogs, 1.5 pounds chicken gizzards (some for us, some for Honeydew), 2.64 lb tritip roast, 2.54 pounds pork shoulder strips, 1.25 pounds chicken livers (I've been craving liver lately), 1 full rack pork spare ribs. $61.95, 38.3% of total.

Except for the spareribs and chicken livers, the rest would probably be about our usual protein haul, but the kids have been asking Dean for ribs for the longest, so he decided to smoke some on Sunday.

PANTRY: Can of pitted green olives, TJ's creamy peanut butter, shaved Parm/Romano/Asiago (I know it's technically dairy as well, but I think of it as a seasoning), 2 cans black beans, 28 oz. canned tomatoes, 5 oz. Tabasco Sauce, 17 oz. Huy Fong Sriracha, 12.7 oz. Sweet Relish. $17.82, 11.0% of total.

PRODUCE: bananas, Roma tomatoes, carrots, Persian cucumbers, red bell pepper, gala apples, artisanal lettuce pack, organic salad mix, red cabbage, cilantro, Italian parsley, yellow onions, pineapple, green onion, garlic, blueberries, ginger root, limes, zucchini, Golden Honeydew, cantaloupe, green beans. $46.05, 28.5% of total.

SNACKS/INDULGENCES: 7.5 oz bag TJ's root vegetable chips (like Terra chips), 7.05 box TJ's Cheddar Rocket Crackers, TJ's frozen chocolate croissants 4 pack. $9.47, 5.9% of total.

MISC: Still no Misc. purchases, but we are dangerously low on TP. It'll be interesting to see if we make it to Saturday with three rolls in the house. Next month will see me replenishing stuff like dishwasher detergent, bleach, and laundry detergent, but I'm pretty sure I won't need to buy them before this little project is over.

If you'd like to see exact quantities and unit or per pound pricing for each item and/or spreadsheets just turn you on, THE SPREADSHEET DETAIL IS HERE.

Having shopped TJ's after a long time of not having shopped there, I'll say that I totally understand its appeal. Everything is nicely and neatly packaged and aesthetically pleasing with what appears to be overall higher quality than your average market in terms of fresh ingredients. There's a great (and fairly tempting) variety of regular ol' and unique processed and ready to eat foods and certain ethnic foods, and the alcohol selection has always been great. And just about everything I did end up buying at Trader Joe's really does stack up to, or even slightly exceeds my other options from a value standpoint. It's the rest that would probably have increased my normal grocery expenditures by about 30% or so if I chose to do all my shopping there.

If you live in a town with lots of great grocery shopping options as I do, and you explore those options, I think it's possible that that appeal diminishes anywhere from a little to a lot. But if you don't, I think the Trader Joe's value proposition increases in proportion to your lack of other options.

I do think the lore and marketing of Trader Joe's can, and often does, lure people into a false sense that they are necessarily eating more wholesome or healthful things simply by virtue of the fact that they are offered at Trader Joe's, but as I mentioned earlier, many of their processed foods are identical in makeup (and possibly also produced by the same manufacturers) as those brands some people who consider themselves to be health conscious associate with all that is unwholesome and unhealthful. But we're all big boys and girls who all choose whatever level of delusion suits us at any given time in our lives. That's not Joe's fault entirely. ;)

And I do also think that sometimes, when people say that Trader Joe's produce is better, what's really going on is that Trader Joe's does a great job of selecting the prettiest and most uniform looking produce and wrapping it up in an easy, pretty, and convenient package that takes all the hassle of selection out of your produce shopping. I've said this before, but in my many years of paying pretty close attention to the different kinds of produce offerings out there, with the possible exception of truly small scale artisanal farming, the quality - as in flavor and texture - of your market produce offerings, whether certified organic or not, largely depends on the weather and overall growing conditions shared by all the producers who grow the stuff that ends up in your market.

As for Walmart - ours happens to be one of the big ones with the full grocery section. It also happens to be a very busy one as it would seem Walmarts generally seem to be hearing anecdotes from all over the country. What that's good for, other than a crowd induced headache, is turnover. Turnover keeps things relatively fresh.

And at our particular Walmart, it's obvious they cater to the large Mexican population in our area, so I find the overall produce selection reasonably varied and interesting. While their produce prices are clearly lower than Trader Joe's, surprisingly, they're not overall lower than Sprouts.

I think it'll come as no big surprise that Walmart can't be beat pricewise for nationally and internationally recognized name brand processed foods.

What did surprise us was the quality of the pork and beef we've bought there on occasion recently. It's not organic, grass fed, free range, or anything of that general sort, and as far as I know, unless it's specifically marked otherwise, the offerings are generally what we consider to be mass produced and/or factory farmed. And yet the meat is flavorful and as well and neatly butchered as my other options including Trader Joe's (and actually quite a bit better than my local Sprouts. I love that store, but their butchering needs work.) Their meat prices are lower than TJ's, higher than the Meximart, and comparable to Sprouts, but overall, the quality is as good as or better than Sprouts. I can't compare to TJ's pork or beef because I haven't bought either in a long time, but I think I can safely say that Walmart protein - at least the stuff to be found at my local Walmart - is really a very good value compared to most of the non-organic/specialty mass market protein out there.

Given my three shopping trips so far, setting aside politics and focusing on variety and overall value for my dollar (not necessarily the lowest prices - that goes to the Meximart hands down), I'd probably settle on Sprouts for produce, Walmart for meat and brand name processed foods, and Mission Seafood for fish and seafood, and the occasional trips to various ethnic markets to fill in special pantry items that can't be gotten elsewhere.

If these proof and bake croissants turn out to be everything people are telling me they are, then I might return to TJ's every once in a while for those and booze. 


As mentioned before, Dean smoked some finger lickin' tasty ribs on Sunday that we enjoyed with a creamy version of Joey's Favorite Crunchy Soy Slaw made with the red cabbage, cilantro and green onions.

I've already made a slow cooker pasta sauce with the Italian sausage, parsley, onion, red bell pepper, and canned tomatoes (along with other things from the pantry), and I plan to top the pasta with sauteed mushrooms. 

I've also made stock and Honeydew food from the gizzards and the back from the whole chicken.

Joey and Mads already had 4 of the hot dogs last night. Every once in a while, I buy hotdogs for those can't be bothered days.

I think I'll do a Soy Lemon Rosemary Balsamic Marinade on the tritip and grill it later in the week. The leftovers will be made into a chili-type stew with the canned black beans.

Most of the pork shoulder will be boiled for Sangchu Ssahm (Korean style lettuce wraps) to have with that Artisan Lettuce Pack... 

...and the rest will probably be used to make Kimchi Bokkeum Bap (Kimchi fried rice) with some of that kimchi I made week before last.

And I think I'll just make a pan-fried catfish topped with a Meditteranean-inspired sauteed melange of the tomatoes, olives, garlic, parsley, and the eggplant I still have left from last week's shopping.

We'll see about the rest.

And that's all I got for now. I think my brain just farted its last cell. I've been up since 3:15. It's time for lunch.

Happy Monday. :)




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