A play on the 150 minutes needed to achieve a Paceline streak, 15.0 Questions presents influencers, industry experts, and fellow Pacers with 15 rapid-fire questions. Next up, Natasha Fischer, the woman behind the infamous @traderjoeslist Instagram handle and dog mom to Boo (who makes a guest appearance in the video version of this interview on @paceline.fit).
Did you know the Paceline Card will get you up to 5% cash back at Trader Joe’s (and other grocery stores)?
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.
- Can you introduce yourself in 150 words or less?
I’m Natasha of Trader Joe’s List. I started it 12 years ago, but it wasn’t even Instagram then, it was a blog. I feature Trader Joe’s products and recipes. I put things about myself into it, but I try to keep it mostly all about Trader Joe’s.
- What inspired you to start Trader Joe’s List?
[I discovered TJ’s when] I was working in public accounting and I lived with a bunch of friends. I was the only one that shopped at Trader Joe’s, so they would go into the pantry and eat all my Trader Joe’s snacks. I couldn’t afford to feed everyone, so I was like ‘I’m going to start this blog on the side so that you guys can go figure out what to buy and get it yourself.’ It was more like a Trader Joe’s list, like a shopping list for them, and then it evolved slowly over 12 years into a shopping list for a lot of people. I also started an Instagram. It originally was My Trader Joe’s List, and then I wanted it to be broader, so I just dropped the My.
- Do you still have a day job?
No. Public accounting was the worst but the best thing that happened to me because it really carved out what I didn’t want to do with my life. From there I went into private equity, and then I was in commercial real estate for the majority of my career, like 10 years prior to COVID hitting. During COVID they let us go, but I was like ‘well, I’ll just see how [Trader Joe’s List] goes.’ And it’s been great. I always wanted to go off on my own. Now I’m just doing this and trying to put as much energy as I can into it.
- If you could develop a new TJ’s item, what would it be and why?
I’m gluten-free, just because my body doesn’t like gluten, so I want a really good gluten-free ice cream sandwich. They’ve done a pretty good job with some of the other [gluten-free products], like they came out with gluten-free ravioli. But I just think chocolate cookie on the outside, chocolate ice cream on the inside, yeah. That would be it.
- Do you have a grocery shopping strategy?
There’s a loose list because I am a creature of habit and I eat some similar meals throughout the week. And then I always get the new items, assuming I can eat them. Lately even if I can’t eat them, I’ll still buy them and I’ll sample them, and then I donate them to my friends. Then I just wander the aisles.
I played that memory game as a kid, and so I’m really good at going to Trader Joe’s and seeing what’s new and different, but sometimes they remodel the store and then that creates a whole host of confusion for me, but then I figure it out pretty quickly.
- What are some of your go-to healthy-ish meals that you like to make with your grocery haul?
I love yellow lentil and rice pasta. I think that’s a great alternative [to regular pasta] because it’s high in protein. I like to use the jicama wraps for taco nights. Those are a lower-carb option.
I don’t know if it’s because as you get older you get into cutting fruit, but I started doing it recently and I really like having little raspberries in the fridge, and then harder to cut fruits like mango and pineapple.
I’m a huge chocolate fan. I love dark chocolate. I get the 100% dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s, which arguably is very healthy, but most people don’t like it. But I do keep some chocolate chips in the fridge that I’ll get into, which I think is a healthy treat, but eating the fruit has helped me offset some of my chocolate consumption.
- You mentioned you’re gluten-free. Do you have any other nutrition philosophy or guidelines you follow?
Growing up, my mom always cooked really healthy so I’ve never been in the habit of eating super unhealthy. I do a pretty good job at getting the foods I know I’m going to eat. If you have a pantry, you’ve got to put the no-no stuff out of your eyesight. You’ve got to put it up higher or lower. When you walk into my pantry it’s usually the healthiest options [I can see] so if I’m hungry and I go in there, I’m looking at healthy items versus all the snacks and good stuff, I have to reach for them. I create a barrier to unhealthiness in my house, but I do have it.
- Do you have any hacks for shopping healthy on a budget?
Here is one example that I did yesterday: I really like to eat fish. I’ll grill it or make fish tacos, and I went to buy the cod yesterday and it was like $9.99 a pound, and then next to it they had the cod pieces, which were $4.99 a pound. If you’re making tacos, you don’t need to buy the whole filets, just buy the end bits, because it’s going to be the same. I look for little bargains like that.
Overall I think shopping at Trader Joe’s is pretty good at keeping you on a budget. I don’t necessarily do this, but I’ve seen a lot of other people plan their meals ahead. That way there’s less waste and they know what they’re eating.
- What are your favorite ways to move and be active?
Number one, I’m a huge road cyclist. I’ve been doing it for like 10 years. I ride about 100 miles a week outdoors. I do Pilates [which I count as strength training], and when I get the urge I’ll go for a run. I also do a HIIT class that’s strength training as well.
- Are you thoughtful about what you eat before and after your workouts?
Yes. For instance, on Saturdays I always go for a 40- or 50-mile bike ride, so Friday night I’m typically going to eat a lot of pasta and carbs, and then I take snacks with me when I ride to make sure I have enough food. And then after a big ride I’ll try and get my glucose levels back up so I’ll have more fruit or things of that nature. If it’s a strength training workout I’m usually not that hungry, so it’s not going to impact my shopping or how I’m going to eat before or after.
- What’s the best wellness advice you’ve ever received?
Drink water and get really good sleep. Those are two things that if I don’t do them, I’m either grumpy or I’m in a bad mood, and it impacts everything, like my willpower to not go over and binge eat something.
- What’s the best wellness-related investment you’ve ever made?
The biggest thing for me that’s impacted my health is taking probiotics. I was born by a C-section and I was born early, so the first month of my life I was in an incubator. I wasn’t exposed to the same bacteria as other kids that are vaginally birthed, and so I’ve had a lot of issues with food and food sensitivities my whole life. For me, investing in a really good probiotic has changed everything: my skin, my mood. It’s 100 bucks a month I’m spending on things that help me digest food properly and feel good.
I take a couple different probiotics and I cycle them. I take Seed for two or three months, then I’ll switch over to MegaSporeBiotic just to switch up the diversity. I don’t know if there’s any science behind that, but I just found that I feel better when I do that.
Editor’s note: Pacers can get $10 off their first Seed subscription when they hit their streak!
- What’s the best personal finance decision that you’ve ever made?
I think I read it in Rich Dad, Poor Dad when I was in college. Basically I always make sure I have more money in one pocket than what’s going out the other one, and that’s a general rule of thumb. I think I’ve been pretty blessed with the fact that I’ve always been really good with math and budgeting, so it hasn’t been a big struggle for me. Financially, my basis is always making sure I have savings and not to splurge on things unless I have the funds to do that.
- What are your thoughts on Paceline’s mission?
I do a ride down to Manhattan Beach every Wednesday with a friend, and he was like ‘oh, you got a new watch.’ I was like ‘yeah, it’s because I’m working with this brand called Paceline.’ He always starts laughing because he can tell when I’m going into one of my partner spiels. I’m like ‘no, it’s really cool because you essentially are getting paid to work out.’ He’s like ‘wait, what?’ I’m like ‘All you do is work out 150 minutes a week, and then you can get gift cards to places, and then they have this credit card that you can get up to 5% cash back on Health & Wellness things, including groceries.’ He was like ‘actually that’s really cool.’
We should be getting subsidized for working out and being healthy. I spend more money on my health and wellness now because when I’m older I don’t want to be spending money on the hospital and pills and things like that to make you feel better. There should be some sort of broader subsidy, and if it’s privatized like this, I think that’s great. Anything to get people to move the needle to work out more and create more healthy habits, I’m a huge supporter of.
- What are your thoughts on getting up to 5% cash back at TJ’s?
Inflation’s at like 8%, so [Paceline is] helping with that. I think up to 5% cash back is great. Anything you can take off people’s grocery bills is huge. Trader Joe’s doesn’t do sales, so this is the best you’re going to get.
BONUS: Is there anything that you splurge on financially when it comes to your health?
Anything that makes me feel good. I’ve gotten really into infrared saunas and cold plunges, so I have a membership to a place [where] you can do that. [I get] deep tissue massages and acupuncture. For me those are splurges because I don’t necessarily need to do them, but they actually make me feel better, so I’d rather spend my money on those healthy habits. Also, as a cyclist, it’s not a cheap sport, so buying new gear is fun and it motivates you to go on a good ride with your friends because you want to wear your new stuff. That’s a bit of a splurge.
BONUS: What do you go more frugal on when it comes to health and wellness?
I feel like I’m not too overly spendy on anything other than those things I mentioned. My advice is just be aware of what you’re spending your money on and then find creative ways to cut back on unnecessary expenses.
BONUS: What’s on the horizon for you?I really enjoy working at the Trader Joe’s List page. I have another account called Pat the Spatula (@patthespatula), which is a very happy spatula to help bring joy into the kitchen, and I want to integrate it more into teaching kids how to cook. I think a lot of kids make unhealthy decisions because they don’t know what they’re eating. If kids can learn how to cook, it’ll bring awareness at a young age and help with health problems down the road. One of my goals is to start working more with kids and getting Pat in the hands of kids.