You know how this goes.
You scoured Pinterest for the best recipes. You’ve mentally meal prepped and your shopping list is on point. Then you walk into the store and all hell breaks loose.
Who can blame you? It’s overflowing with cheery chaos, too-happy employees and people who care way too much about kombucha. Trader Joe’s is hypnotizing, and that makes it easy to rationalize extra purchases. That bouquet of sunflowers wasn’t on your list, but they’d look so happy on the kitchen table! Ooo, raviolis are featured — may as well stock up, they last a while. OK, back to the list, where are the banan—OH COFFEE SAMPLE! Yummmmmm!
Before you know it, your cart is full of things that weren’t on your list and you’re at the checkout, contemplating a personal loan for chocolate covered almonds.
If you’re like me and walk through TJ’s like you’re Bill Gates, consider these seven tips to keep you on track on your next Trader Joe’s run.
1.) Know thyself. And know thy budget.
Planning in advance where you’ll cap your grocery spend can save you both dollars and sanity. If you say, “I will only spend $60,” and then only spend $59.17 — HERO. You’ll walk out of those doors feeling like the world gets out of your way. That may have something to do with the automatic doors springing open for you. But also because you’re a hero.
Besides keeping you on track monetarily, pre-planning a budget helps prevent mindlessly grabbing every package of kettle corn you pass. Trader Joe’s is like the crack of impulse buyers. Everything is just so cute or healthy or easy or cute — it feels like everything you pass is something you didn’t know you were missing. I mean, the most adorable and unnecessary succulents tempt before you ever walk inside.
(WHO ARE WE KIDDING, succulents are never NOT necessary. They’re a simple and inexpensive way to brighten your life. BUY THEM. BUY THEM ALL.*)
Real talk: TJ’s is an insanely grabbable place — know that going in, and know how much you’re willing to pay. Then stick to it.
2.) Remember that sales aren’t really a thing.
One way to help plan your trip is to consult the Fearless Flyer, TJ’s newsletter. It’s a good way to get inspiration for your meals, and try something new. But it’s not promoting sales.
Apparently, this is a well-known fact. Don’t be like me, the one ignorant shopper that comments to the cashier that the tortellinis were too good of a sale to pass up and then try to back-pedal and play it cool when you’re corrected. Like, YES, Timothy, I did know that Trader Joe’s “has great prices everyday” and just “features” cool or seasonal items — I was just seeing if you were paying attention.
Don’t be duped by colorful chalkboards and highlighted prices — items don’t go “on sale” at Trader Joe’s.
The official word from TJ’s is this:
"Sale" is a four-letter word to us. We have low prices, every day. NO coupons. NO membership cards. NO discounts. NO glitzy promotions or couponing wars at our stores. We offer the best everyday values, every day.”
K. Thanks for the update, Timmy.
3.) Don’t go at prime time.
Do yourself and your savings account a favor and don’t hit right during rush hour. The after-work hours of 5-7 p.m seem especially heinous, and the same goes for Saturday mid-mornings. Not only do your anxiety levels rise, but you’re more likely to grab the first thing you see just to get the whole thing over with.
Not to mention that the longer you wait in line at the checkout, the longer you have to contemplate buying the PB&J chocolate bar staring at you. (Spoiler alert: you buy it.)
In ~*earth conscious*~ cities with a disposable bag tax like Los Angeles, you can save $0.10 per bag by bringing your own to carry your groceries. That probably only adds up to about a dollar per trip, but if you are still reading this blog post and not bathing in Dom Perignon, who are you to sneeze at an extra dollar?
In most locations, however, bringing your own bag could win you a weekly raffle! You are eligible to win a $25 TJ’s gift card if you a.) bring your own bags, b.) spend more than $25 and c.) have way more luck than I do. The raffle slips are typically right at the register — ask Timothy for one as you check out.
5.) Go for the organic.
Kiplinger found that while big stores like Wal-Mart beat out Trader Joe’s for fruit and veggie prices, TJ’s did have competitive prices on organic produce. The article also points out that people buying organic produce are likely to be informed (read: picky) consumers, and that Trader Joe’s delivers in both quality and price. However it doesn’t apply to all veggies — you will end up forking over more for some items like prepackaged bell peppers.
6.) Stock up on pantry non-perishables.
Unlike the prepackaged fruits and veggies, Trader Joe’s has phenomenal prices for solid pantry staples like pita chips, quinoa, peanut butter and the like. Peanut butter lasts approximately forever** — might as well get it while the price is right.
The store’s in-house brand and simple packaging helps keep prices low on many of these items — much lower than you’ll find at certain other places (we’ll just call it Shmole Shmoods).
7.) Shop the perimeter first.
This tip certainly isn’t exclusive to Trader Joe’s, but it’s still a good one. Health nuts probably already know that a trick to keeping the junk out of the cart is to go around the perimeter of the store first, loading up your buggy (yes I said buggy) with veggies, fruits, dairy and wine (yes I said wine). That way, by the time you wind your way through the cookies and crackers aisles, your cart is already looking pretty well stocked.
If you like to be an overzealous control freak like me, you might even write your list out according to geographic location and priority. Maybe it’s obnoxious, maybe it’s organized, but thinking through what all you need each section in the order that they appear minimizes the walking back and forth and keeps you close to your beloved budget.
These are only seven of probably 1,000 tips to save money at the store — what do you do to stay on budget? I want to hear — let me know in the comments below!
*Obviously, I’m still a recovering TJ’s succaholic. Don’t actually buy them all. (Do it.)
**Not an actual expiration date. (Duh.)