Grocery Diaries

I’m a 36-Year-Old Writer Living in Utah —  Here’s What I Make with a $41 Weekly Haul from Trader Joe’s

published May 18, 2023
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Credit: Shutterstock, Sam

Name: Sam (pseudonym)
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Age: 36
Number of people in household: 1
Occupation: Freelance Writer
Salary: 20K
Where you shopped: Trader Joe’s
Weekly food budget: $50
Amount spent: $44

Credit: Sam

Where did you shop?

Trader Joe’s. I usually go early in the mornings on the weekends before the crowds show up. I shop at Trader Joe’s because the pricing is consistent, the quality is good for the price, and it’s within a half-hour walk from home. Even though another grocer is technically a bit closer to home, the quality of produce is hit or miss there. At Trader Joe’s I can usually get everything I need there in one weekly shop, which I love!

What’s your grocery strategy?

I budget $50/week for groceries and treats like going out for coffee with friends. If I spend less one week, I can use the leftovers for the next week! (Or save it.) I make a list when I go to the store, and I buy those ingredients first. I eat mostly vegetarian at home, so I always buy beans, eggs, and some kind of dairy to ensure I get enough protein. 

I try to do one big shop to get me through the week. I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s and the farmers markets in the spring/summer if I’m not working on Saturdays. Flavor-wise, you just can’t beat local peaches/strawberries/anything. 

How do you meal plan? 

I plan out three to four meals I want to make for the week and also eat leftovers. I always see what needs to be used up in the fridge, what I have on hand in the pantry, and what staples I need to stock up on (I buy bigger batches of flour and rice, to name a few). I keep a note on my phone monitoring how much I’ve spent on groceries (and everything) so I know I’m staying within budget.

Cooking for one person can be really boring, so I like to make dishes that can be repurposed into easy lunches or even breakfasts (like turning a bean and veg dish into breakfast burritos). If I make a big batch of stew I freeze half to eat later. 

What did you buy?

Trader Joe’s

  • Plain Greek yogurt, $2.99
  • Milk, $1.29
  • Chickpeas, $0.89
  • Black beans, $1.78
  • Salsa verde, $1.99
  • Pepper Jack cheese, $4.05
  • Flour tortillas, $2.49
  • Eggs, $3.69
  • Tomatoes, $3.49
  • Pasta, $0.99
  • Cilantro, $1.29
  • Olive tapenade, $3.99
  • Green bell pepper, $0.79
  • Spinach, $1.69
  • Lemons, $1.69
  • Russet potatoes, $2.37
  • Sweet potato, $0.89
  • Bananas, $0.76
  • Onions, $0.99
  • Avocado, $1.49 

Total: $40.79 (includes tax)


  • 2 ciabatta rolls, from my dad

Grand Total: $40.79

Credit: Sam

Sunday: Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie, Quesadilla, and Tortilla Española

I go grocery shopping in the early morning before the crowds hit. Today is a day of fun writing (no work, just my own projects!) so breakfast and lunch are simple. I have a peanut butter and banana protein smoothie for breakfast and a quesadilla for lunch. For dinner I make a big tortilla Española (Spanish potato and egg omelet), one of my go-to comfort foods, which usually lasts me a few meals. I pair it with a spinach salad and tomatoes. I love it hot or cold, so it’s great for an on-the-go lunch or quick breakfast too. 

Credit: Sam

Monday: Yogurt with Fruit and Peanut Butter, Leftover Tortilla, Tomatoes, Smoothie, and Black Bean and Sweet Potato Quesadillas

I get up early (around 5 a.m.) to write — I work best in the mornings. Tea and yogurt with fruit and peanut butter is one of my go-to protein-packed breakfasts to keep me from crashing too early. I work until 11:30 a.m. and then eat leftover tortilla and tomatoes for lunch. In the afternoon, I run errands and take a walk, followed by a smoothie. Dinner is black bean and sweet potato quesadillas with salsa. I love these because they are super filling, delicious, and the batch makes several meals. 

Credit: Sam

Tuesday: Smoothie, Roll, Leftover Tortilla, Tomatoes, and Black Bean and Sweet Potato Quesadillas

Today I don’t have to cook anything. I make a small smoothie (yogurt, peanut butter, banana, and milk) and eat one of the rolls for breakfast. Lunch is another thick slice of tortilla with sliced tomatoes. For dinner I have black bean and sweet potato quesadillas and salsa. I love having one or two days a week where I have enough leftovers so I don’t have to think about what to cook!

Credit: Sam

Wednesday: Hot Chocolate, Last of the Tortilla and Black Bean and Sweet Potato Quesadillas, Hard-Boiled Egg, and Smashed Chickpea Salad with Avocado

It’s cold out this morning so I have a hot chocolate to go with the last of the tortilla for breakfast. I eat the last of the black bean and sweet potato filling in a quesadilla for lunch. For an afternoon snack I eat a hard-boiled egg. Then for dinner I make smashed chickpea salad with avocado salad — one of my favorite easy meal salads. It’s just chickpeas, olives, onion, whatever herbs I have on hand with lemon juice and olive oil. Add half an avocado to it on a bed of spinach and you have a very filling meal. It’s also tasty on toast, in a wrap, or on pasta. 

Credit: Sam

Thursday: Smoothie, Leftover Chickpea Salad, and Pasta with Spinach, Olives, and Tomato

I start my writing day with a protein smoothie and then go out for coffee later at a nearby cafe (I spend $4.40, including tip). I rarely eat out for full meals, but every week or so I love to meet a friend for coffee! For lunch I eat smashed chickpea salad with spinach and then go to German class. For dinner I make pasta with tomatoes, olives, and spinach. 

Credit: Sam

Friday: Egg with Tomatoes, Yogurt and Peanut Butter, Black Beans and Rice with Veggies, Last of the Chickpea Salad, and a Deconstructed Burrito

For breakfast I’m craving warm food so I eat an over-easy egg with the last of my tomatoes. I have a cup of yogurt and a spoonful of peanut butter for a midmorning snack and work until 2 p.m. For lunch I eat the last of the smashed chickpea salad. Dinner is basically a deconstructed burrito: black beans, rice, salsa, pepper Jack, sautéed green bell pepper and onion with cilantro on top. I never get sick of this dish! 

Credit: Sam

Saturday: Scrambled Eggs with Pepper Jack and Toast, Leftover Pasta, and Black Beans and Rice

Saturday I sleep in (until a whopping 7a.m.!) and make scrambled eggs with pepper Jack and toast for breakfast. I go on a hike and when I return I eat the leftover pasta for lunch. Dinner is leftover black beans and rice. Time to go shopping again! 

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