My Hot Tip about Budgeting for Trader Joe’s

published Dec 6, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Why is it that when you run into Trader Joe’s for some sensible groceries, you end up leaving with an extra item or seven? Admittedly, it is nearly impossible to check out without an impulse buy of Speculoos Cookie Butter or dill pickle popcorn or a new spice blend. And don’t even get me started on the “New Items” section, where you can get your hands on flavored ketchup and citrus-infused chocolates — again, things you don’t need but somehow can’t skip. 

Once upon a time, I was guilty of racking up a major tab every time I stepped foot in a Trader Joe’s. I would run in to grab some fresh veggies and frozen salmon for dinner, and leave with bagfuls of snacks, booze, and even a new plant. Sure, trying out new TJ’s items is super-fun. But filling your cart with trendy goodies can be not-so-kind to your wallet. 

How do you overcome the nearly impossible and visit a Trader Joe’s without forking over extra dough on olive tapenade and cauliflower gnocchi? As an ex-Trader-Joe’s-over-spender myself, here’s the one thing I do to stick to a set budget and still enjoy my favorite splurge items. 

Make a List, but Don’t Fill in All the Blanks

I only let myself go to a Trader Joe’s if I’m armed with a grocery list. Even if I am just running in for a few things, I commit to only buying what is on my list — with a catch. 

At the bottom of my list, I leave three blank spaces representing any three “wild card” items that I haven’t planned for but want to add to my cart. This way, I can still try new and seasonal food items — maybe a 4-pack of sparkling watermelon juice or a jar of butternut squash pasta sauce — but my cart is not overflowing with things I really don’t need and my grocery bill is no longer in the triple-digits. Because, seriously, how many new things do I need at one time?

While shopping with and sticking to a list is nothing novel, this tried-and-true step helps me avoid overspending at my beloved grocery store and still explore some new “fun” items. It also ensures I come home with my meal plan intact. With a little planning and discipline, hopefully, this simple trick can help save other people some serious coin too.

This post originally ran on Kitchn. See it there: The Best Thing I’ve Learned About Budgeting for Trader Joe’s