Category Archives: Finance

Trader Joe’s Brands Uncovered

Even though I am cleansing my body and soul of packaged products, I have to admit there are still a few things I purchase from Trader Joe’s.  In my ongoing quest to a) know more about what is going in my body, b) know more about where my food is coming from and c) save money, I’ve decided to find out more about the products labeled under the Trader Joe’s brand.

Trader Joe’s is a privately held company and not required to divulge their suppliers.  They buy from high quality third-party suppliers and repackage the product for their own customers.  The product is then sold at a lower price to the consumer because of the larger scale of production.  Often, the packaging looks extremely similar to the original products and they are sometimes even sold side by side.

When I developed an incurable addiction to Strauss European Style Yogurt, I remembered reading the rumor that Strauss Family Creamery

Image found here.

supplied Trader Joe’s with their branded European Style Yogurt.  As the Trader Joe’s version of the yogurt is $2.50 when the Strauss version runs about twice that, I thought if I could confirm this hunch I could save $2.50 a week, $10 a month and about $120 a year. I also wanted to make sure my hard earned cash wasn’t going to support any companies I don’t believe in and try to avoid (including Coca -Cola).  My childhood addiction to Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew books convinced me I had the investigative skills necessary to figure this mystery out.

I started by going to my favorite Trader Joe’s items and checking the ingredients against those products I suspected it matched.  I trolled message boards, asked friends to taste test and did some extensive google research on suspected doppelgängers.

This list is hardly exhaustive so please let me know in the comments what I am missing!  I plan to keep this as a regular, updated feature and include a price savings from the original product and Trader Joe’s branded item.  For a printable list, click here.

Trader Joe’s Branded Product Supplier Branded Product
Trader Joe’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Callebaut Chocolate
TJ’s White Baking Chips Guittard  Baking Chips
Trader Joe’s Vienna Style Lager Gordon Biersch Marzen
Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale Unibroue
Trader Joe’s Mission St. Pale Ale Firestone Walker
Trader Joe’s Mission St.IPA Firestone Walker
Trader Jose Beer Tecate Brewery
Trader Jo’es Bottled Water Poland Springs
Trader Joe’s Sprouted Wheat Bread Alvarado Street Bakery
Trader Joe’s Newton’s Folly Cider Woodchuck Cider
Trader Joe’s Granny Smith Woodchuck Cider
Trader Joe’s Goddess Dressing Annie’s Naturals
Trader Joe’s Organic Ranch Dressing Earth Island Products
Trader Joe San’s Soyaki Soy Vay’s Veri Veri Teriyaki
Trader Joe’s European style Yogurt Strauss Family Creamery
Trader Joe’s Indian food Tasty Bite
Trader Joe’s Shells and Cheese Annie’s Homegrown
Trader Joe’s Frozen Spinach pizza Amy’s Kitchen
Trader Joe’s Pizza Dough Il Fornaio
Trader Joe’s Pita Chips Stacy’s Pita Chips
Trader Joe’s Pure Butter Shortbread Walker’s Shortbread
TJ’s Veggie Sticks Potato Snacks Good Health Natural Foods Veggie Stix
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Filed under Beer, Finance, Food, Grocery shopping, Lifestyle, Trader Joe's, Uncategorized

Planning a Budget Honeymoon: Affordable Luxury

Once we bought our tickets and knew the beginning and end of our honeymoon trip, we got to work on the destinations.  In looking at the map, it seemed like the best route was to stay in Cancun a few days, cross into Belize and go down to the Cayes before heading into Belizean jungle, going over to Tikkal and ending up in Antigua, Guatemala. It kind of looked like this: Roem really wanted a nice hotel room for our first few nights so I researched Cancun and was just really hesitant to stay there after reading about the touristy

Our first night in Playa del Carmen at the Casa Ticul.

nature of the area.  We decided to stay right outside of Cancun in Playa del Carmen and booked a 4 star hotel room  for about $110 on Expedia.  Our room was at Casa Ticul, a well appointed, adults-only boutique hotel that was well situated to the beach, restaurants and shopping.  It is highly rated on tripadvisor, which is our go to travel review website and we felt pretty confident that our budget accommodations would be luxurious and relaxing.

The next leg of the trip was traveling from Playa del Carmen to a destination in the Belizean Cayes.  We knew the pricey flight from Cancun to Belize City was out, but Roem was resistant to taking a long dusty bus ride that would eat into our limited vacation time.  We decided to avoid a 12 hour trip to Belize City and instead take a bus to the border town of Corozal before taking the early morning ferry to the Cayes the next day.  We chose Corozal instead of the more popular crossing at Chetumal, because most reviews seemed to agree that Corozal was a charming little town with better accommodations.  We both decided that the night’s hotel would be a budget accommodation and we chose the Mirador Hotel for its convenient location and small price tag of $40.

As for the Belizean Cayes, we had heard Ambergris Caye was beautiful, but we were craving a more off the beaten path destination for our honeymoon.  A friend of mine had traveled to Caye Caulker a few years ago and raved about this secluded, sleepy village.  I did some reading on the wikitravel site and was

Reading from a hammock on our balcony in Caye Caulker.

bewitched by the description of Caye Caulker as “popular with backpackers and budget travelers for its (relatively) cheap prices, laid-back vibe, and abundance of restaurants and bars.”  I had also heard there was a popular bakery on the island that baked fresh cinnamon rolls each morning and that lobster was reasonably priced in July, so that sealed the deal for both of us.

There are very few hotels on Caye Caulker and the one that stood out to us right away was the Seaside Cabanas for its laid back vibe, beautiful rooms and excellent reviews.  Because we saved money on our room in Corozal, we could afford the $125 price tag for three nights.  Caye Caulker was also said to have more affordable dining and recreation options, so we knew our budget would go further by staying there than one of the more pricier islands.  A comparable room in Ambegris Caye would have cost us about 60% more so we ended up with more money to put into our beer fund.

To get back onto the mainland from the Cayes, we had to take a ferry to Belize City and then another bus to our destination in the Cayo Region of Belize.  For this stop, I had dreams of a romantic hidden property that would be cut off from the rest of the world where we could enjoy each other and have some amazing food.  It was only a short search until I found the place that fit the bill and I knew I had to find money in the budget to stay at Table Rock Lodge.  The website described

Roem taking a walk at Table Rock.

Table Rock as “a sustainable lodge in a canopied rainforest setting unlike any other in the Cayo District of Belize” and it looked like the ultimate honeymoon destination.  It was about a half an hour from the main town so all-inclusive meal options were available and every review raved about the quality of the food.  There were a few other lodges that looked beautiful so I waffled on this decision for a few days but ultimately went with Table Rock Lodge because of their timely email responses and exceptional customer service.  We booked the Aracari Room for $95.00 a night and added the breakfast and dinner option for $29.00 a person.  A full review will come in a later post but if you are considering traveling to this area of the world at all, please book a few nights at Table Rock.  It was easily the highlight of our entire trip.

Upon leaving the Cayo District, we planned on heading into Guatemala to tour the Tikal ruins.  There are only two options near Tikal and both get average reviews and tend to be pricey.  We booked a room at a budget hotel in a good location called Hotel Santana because there really wasn’t one a stellar option in our price range.  The Hotel Santana was $50 and we figured our room would only be used to sleep in considering the main objective in Flores, Guatemala was to see the ruins.

Our inexpensive hotel in Flores, left us with a little extra money for the last few nights of our honeymoon in Antigua.  We were both really excited to end our trip in Antigua as we’d heard it was a magnificent city with lots of attractions.  We decided to leave our accommodations open and gauge our budget a few days ahead of time before we booked a hotel.  We did not know at the time that we were visiting this ancient town during a religious festival and most hotels had been booked for weeks.  This led to an experience that included one of the worst hostel rooms in my entire life and one of the most beautiful hotel rooms I have ever stayed in.  More on that experience in our next installment of the Booking An Affordable Honeymoon.

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Filed under Beer, Belize, Finance, Food, Guatemala, Honeymoon, Lifestyle, Marriage, Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized

Bigger is better: Buying in Bulk

Until fairly recently, I did all my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s.  At first I would just go there for a few specialty items.  Then I slowly realized that my nearest Safeway sojourns were netting me fewer and fewer items and most of my time was spend wandering the aisles, marveling at Trader Joe’s products.  I swiftly converted and did all my shopping there; grabbing my basics first and always throwing a few new curiosities into the cart.  I discovered frozen garlic naan that tasted homemade, unsweetened, dried mango that tasted like candy and marinated cannellini beans.  For years, I was content to wander, a tad self righteously, through TJ’s, picking out high quality items at affordable prices.

We don't need to add anything to this.

It was then that I began to notice how much waste our little family of two was throwing away.  At first I ignored it, I mean we were eating healthy! whole! foods!  But I had a sneaking suspicion that even though my frozen black bean and corn enchiladas were delicious they would probably be healthier and better for the environment if I made them myself.  So a few months ago, I made a commitment to cut down on packaged foods by 50 percent, including the whole foods I regularly purchased in packaging.  Because I really didn’t need the extra guilt that came with the shrink wrapped bok choy, bagged apples and microwavable butternut squash when I was trying to do the right thing..

Now your eyes may be glossing over right about now because this is sounding way too hippie for you to even consider implementing.  I’m not relying on the environmental concerns alone to sway you, because that wouldn’t work for me either.  Here at WPP we are always concerned about the environment and healthy eating, but the bottom line is it needs to be budget friendly  So I will add that it’s possible to cut your food budget in half by reducing your packaged foods.

Eliminating packaged produce was actually a welcome relief considering Trader Joe’s is a wonderful store but really has average vegetables and disappointing fruits.  We switched to a CSA called Farm Fresh to You and although my fantasies of farm visits have yet to materialize, we are very happy with the service.  We receive the medium regular basket every other week and that seems to fit our needs well and the produce is exponentially better than TJ’s even with the odd bruised or damaged item.  The best part is there is no wait list, you can opt out of those items you don’t care for and they deliver to your house.  It’s a little more expensive than other services but considering the WPP household is car-lessfree it is really convenient.

We cannot live on fruits and veggies alone so we also venture out every few weeks to the utopian wonderland known as Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.   Let’s just say it’s a really good thing that I am on borrowed Zipcar time there because  I could easily spend a whole day in what I’ve dubbed “Adult Disneyland”.   And as it’s a workers’ co-op, it’s owned by the employees so you are supporting a business that is fair and equitable.  Not sure about you, but that just makes everything taste better to me.

A usual trip will find me starting out in the spice aisle and refilling my reusable spice jars, coffee tins and tea cans.  If you love to cook or bake you will be astounded at the variety of flours, (gluten-free and regular) sugars, cereals and pasta in the bulk area.  If you aren’t in San Francisco and you want to try shopping in bulk, make sure the place you are visiting has high turnover and seems to do brisk business.  No one wants the forgotten, weeks-old granola thats been sitting in the bin forever.

Some items you should always buy in bulk are spices, beans, grains and cereals.  Spices are significantly cheaper in bulk and you can try a variety of exotic blends that will make your food taste better.  Now is the time to get a little bit of smoked paprika and hickory salt which will only set you back a few dollars and really improve the flavor of your food.  When buying in bulk, you just get the amount you need, saving you from the unfortunate discovery of the dill seed you needed for a recipe three years later for a recipe, that now has gone rancid.

If you love to bake or are following a gluten free diet, then shopping in bulk is a good fit for you.  You have access to high gluten flour for bagel making, chickpea flour to try that new recipe for socca or a gluten-free version of yogurt cake with almond flour, without committing to an entire bag that could go bad.  I purchase my cereal and granola in bulk and transfer directly to my oxo containers at the store.  Don’t miss out on the dried pasta aisle for some whole wheat pasta, rigatoni for a meat based sauce, and throw in some orecchietta just because it is  so cute.

If you love food and are trying to improve the way your dishes taste, switch to dried beas immediately  Not only do they taste SO much better, they are cheaper, healthier, and take up less space.  The selection you have when buying dried beans in seemingly endless and you can cook up your own heritage varieties like the Rancho Gordo.  Not only do they taste better, they are so easy to make.  All it takes is an overnight soak and some extended cooking for dried beans to come into their own.  I always soak at least a double batch and put half my cooked beans in the freezer.  That way I can whip up a quick chili or hummus whenever the mood strike,  Beans are a budget shopper’s dream and I implore you to give up on those cans with their mushy product and extra sodium immediately.  I promise you will never go back.

You can refill everything from your peanut butter jar, soy sauce bottle and shampoo container.  That’s right, even your personal products can be refilled at the co-op for much less than those costly salon bottles.  While you are there, make sure to pick up some Strauss Whole Milk Yogurt and organic beer after hitting the exceptional cheese department that is truly a foodie’s dream.  It’s also a great place to get rennet if you are interested in making cheese or raw milk if you’ve never tried it.

Don’t be intimated if this is your first trip to the bulk bin or food co-op.  My first time, I was nervous they would spot me as an imposter as soon as I entered the line with my shameful disposable bags.  Just remember, you are making the first step and going much further than most people do.   Next time, just bring your own containers and weigh them ahead of time when it’s empty.  Record the weight on a sticker at the bottom and fill with you desired product.   This is called the tare weight and will be subtracted from your final purchase.

See that’s not so hard!  Just beware that these little changes will slowly begin to change you and before you know it, you’ll be proselytizing too.  Your food will taste better,  your impact on the planet will decrease and you’ll be saving money on your monthly food bill.  I’m not asking you to create your own dairy products or bake your own bread, but I bet that’s not too far off.  Embrace your inner hippie!

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Filed under Family, Finance, Finance, Food, Lifestyle, San Francisco, Uncategorized

How to Make Money While Traveling Abroad

A friend asked me the other day whether we spent a lot of time “saving up” for our month in Buenos Aires.  The question caught me off guard because really the way we travel is a tad irresponsible and tends to be more haphazard.  Of course, we have a vacation savings account and we are always adding to it, in the hopes we find ourselves with the time off to escape.  But more realistically, I dream up the idea first and then find a creative way to finance  it.  If I waited to have all the money in order before dreaming big, we’d never get any further than Las Vegas.

Dreaming about a life that includes a bedroom with a door and windows that open..

As a consummate saver, I am usually plagued by self doubt right as my finger hovers over the “book it” button.  I mentally scan the empty rooms of our apartment, lament our car free lifestyle and notice the growing hole in the bottom of my shoe.  Can we really afford this?  Is this the most ridiculous decision I have ever made?  Will our unborn children suffer because of our hedonistic decisions?  But those thoughts are always crowded out by more pleasant thoughts like meandering through a local artisan market in Argentina, slurping noodles in Bangkok or hiking a volcano in Costa Rica.

Sometimes, the universe aligns with the travel gods to create a perfect storm. Maybe you find round trip tickets to Thailand for $650 to be used in November, right when you will be finishing a particularly brutal election cycle.  Or perhaps you are feeling stifled in your 350 square foot apartment, ready to move, when it occurs to you that if you put everything in storage for a month you can finance another trip.  I also follow the old adage that if you are starting another job, you always take a trip.  Period.  There is no room for discussion on this one.

It was around late September that I was hit with the inspiration for traveling to South America.  I happened to have some time on my hands after barricading myself in the bathroom to get away from Roem, who was breathing funny while working on music.  Seriously, if you are living right now with your significant other and sharing a space that could be considered a glorified dorm room, I promise it gets better.  Do whatever you have to do to upgrade to the absolute minimum of 450 square feet.

So back to South America.  I was thinking at the time about moving to a bigger apartment after the election ended and

Our apartment in BA that measured twice the size of our previous dorm room in SF.

maybe taking some time to recuperate, when it hit me.  What if we moved out of our apartment, loaded everything into storage (if you want to know how this went, read here) and used the rent money we saved to get a place in Argentina?  I knew from my previous visit that Buenos Aires is a beautiful city where one could live very frugally without much sacrifice.  Our rent in SF totaled about $1500 and I knew we could find a place in Buenos Aires for about $1,000.  By staying in one place and not moving around too much, we could keep our travel budget fairly small.  We added in a long weekend visit to Mendoza that didn’t break the bank and began to realize we could actually do this.

I used some money from our travel account to buy the cheapest tickets to Buenos Aires (around $850) that I could find.  That is a LOT more than I would normally pay for airfare, but I knew once I got there it would be worth it because the cost of living was so much less.   I factored in our usual spending money for the

Ordering the premium cuts of meat I can afford now that we are below the Equator.

month, including grocery money and other incidentals, to get our total budget for the month abroad.  Then we cut out any nonessential spending for October, leaving us with enough money to enjoy ourselves in Argentina and put a security deposit down on a new place when we got back.

It also helped that my amazing sister and brother in law let us crash at their place on our return, until we found an apartment.   They put up with our smelly laundry, messy backpacks, forwarded junk mail and all else that comes with jamming four people into a one bedroom San Francisco apartment.  This one week saved us about $500, allowing us to check a case of carefully packed wine from Mendoza, take our long suffering siblings out to dinner and put the rest in savings.

I am extremely lucky to have a very understanding boss that supported me in my request to take some time off after the election.   Roem was also able to take time off from his job as a server and still promoted his open mic from the Southern Hemisphere.  We maximized our time off by traveling during Thanksgiving and still got some family time in via skype for the holiday.  Our Christmas shopping was done for a fraction of the cost in Argentina and I handmade the rest of our gifts.

So that’s the short version of how we saved money by moving to Argentina for a month.  This is by no means the only way to do this, we have lots of friends that have found their own version of this formula.  Some rent out their apartment or house while they are gone to turn a profit or turn a business trip into a three week long road trip.  Our advice is to think creatively and look outside the box for ways to explore the world without breaking the bank.

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Filed under Adventure, Buenos Aires, Finance, Lifestyle, Mendoza, Moving, San Francisco, San Telmo, Uncategorized

Simplicity Now.

Happy New Year!

I always love January 1st because it has that back to school nostalgia I’ve seriously been missing these last few years. Pressing that giant RESET button has always appealed to me, giving me a second (more like third, fourth, fifth…but who’s counting?) chance to refocus and attempt to achieve those goals I’ve been slacking on.  My own resolutions tend to be small steps towards bigger life goals that I use as my internal barometer for success.  In the interest of self disclosure here are a few of mine.

1.  Simplify – The topic that I keep coming back to in my reading and conversations is leading a more simple life.  I want to do more with less and only have things in my life that give me pleasure.  I know it sounds a little esoteric but I use this goal to make all kinds of decisions in my life and it’s very practical.  Before buying something new I think hard whether I can repurpose something I already have or buy it used.  I want to take this ideology to the next level and create true balance in the rest of my life.  This  might include going on a digital diet and cutting our electronics for a day or two and just taking a break or truly winnowing my possessions down to 100 items.  I’m not sure where this path will lead me but I feel compelled to follow it.

2.  Health – For me, living a healthy lifestyle is more than just falling within the prescribed weight limits or working out 4 times a week.  In 2011, I want to be more proactive about my health and be a caretaker of my body.  I already eat relatively healthy but this year I am determined to keep trying to limit packaged foods and make my own products when possible.  This past year, I’ve made yogurt, cheese, beer and jam but I’ve yet to attempt my own cornflakes.   Be on the lookout for blog posts about these related (mis)adventures.

3.  Finances – I have always had difficulty  coming to grips with my finances until I realized  how empowering it is to be in control of your money.  Now that I’ve turned 30 and finally feel like a real grown up it’s time to start planning retirement.  And by planning I mean upping my contributions and really understanding my retirement goals.  I also want to really foster those people around me with their own financial goals and maybe start an investment club or find inexpensive ways to enjoy time together.

So those are a few things I will be working on this year.  I think the theme here is to simplify and increase awareness in all aspects of my life.  I want to connect with friends and family, truly giving them the attention they deserve.  I want to be more patient, kind and loving with my husband and create a life with him that’s free of constant distraction and cluttered possessions.

Oh and I really want chickens.  I’m determined to build a chicken crib from my own design and convince my parents to house them.

Here’s to 2011!  May this be your best year yet.

 

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Filed under Finance, Food, Lifestyle, Simplify