Once a Month Shopping at Trader Joe’s

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There are so many temptations at Trader Joe's. That's why I do Once a Month Shopping there. It's a great way to save money on groceries.

One of the best ways to save money on groceries is to go shopping less frequently. Some people are organized enough to do all their grocery shopping in one day to cover their needs for the entire month. I admire this approach of “once a month shopping,” but I don’t think I could ever achieve that level of organization. However, I have been trying to cut back on the frequency of my trips to the store for “just a few things.” Several months ago I decided to pick one store where I would only shop once a month, and Trader Joe’s was the perfect choice.

Once a Month Shopping at Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s has a relatively small, consistent inventory. I developed a master list of all the unprocessed or minimally processed food that I tend to purchase there, and I evaluated how much of each item we typically go through in a month. Before I go for my monthly shop I use this master list to guide my trip to the store. Trader Joe’s is a great place to buy nuts, dried fruit, dairy products, baking supplies, and produce. It’s also one of the most difficult stores to avoid impulse purchases because everything looks so good, which is why it’s helpful to limit your visits there. Here are my tips to help you shop efficiently at Trader Joe’s.

Healthy shopping at Trader Joe's

Maintain a Master List

Make a master list with everything you like to buy at Trader Joe’s. You can see mine below, and I regularly update it in an Excel spreadsheet. Save your receipts from a few shopping trips and use them as a starting point for your master list. Because Trader Joe’s is a relatively small grocery store, they don’t have the huge selection of a supermarket. Evaluate how much of each item you typically go through in a month and record that on your master list. It’s always good to round up because it’s helpful to have a back-up of essential items in your cabinet. In addition to the items listed here, I also buy most of my spices at Trader Joe’s because the prices are much better than what I find elsewhere.

Trader Joe's shopping list

Avoid Impulse Purchases

Working off the master list, make a unique list of what you’ll buy at your upcoming monthly shopping trip and stick to it. I highlight the items I’ll need in yellow on my computer, so it’s easy to read in the store. The processed treats look so good, but stay strong. Keep your head down as you pass the end caps and stay away from the goodies at the checkout counter. If you do want to splurge a little, decide ahead of time on how much money or how many items you’ll allow yourself to buy outside of the list. Once when I was shopping at Trader Joe’s with my children, my daughter noticed some Dark Chocolate Honey Mints in one of the aisles. I was surprised to see only three ingredients in them: chocolate liquor, honey, and peppermint oil. This was a worthwhile splurge, and we did enjoy them.

Avoid Packaged Meals

Before we changed our diet to avoid highly processed food, my family enjoyed many of the packaged frozen meals from Trader Joe’s. Pizza, spinach pie, and mini tacos were some of our favorites. Now when I shop there, I focus on getting the ingredients to make wholesome food for my family instead of buying the pre-packaged versions. The ingredient lists are often way too long for my comfort level now.

Stock Up on Produce

My Trader Joe’s has a smaller produce section than the other area grocery stores, but the prices at Trader Joe’s are often better. In my mind, produce isn’t an “impulse purchase,” so I do meander through this section and pick up a few extra things that look good. I also like to buy frozen fruit and vegetables like mangoes and peas.

Know Your Prices

Just because it’s Trader Joe’s doesn’t mean every item is cheaper than it would be at another grocery store in your area. Stay on top of the prices at various stores so you don’t buy things in your monthly visit to Trader Joe’s that you can get cheaper at another store. It can be tricky to remember so much information, which is why I also have a comprehensive price chart that covers all my local grocery stores. This may seem a bit over the top, but conscientious grocery spending helps allow my family to travel and splurge on things we enjoy doing together.

All the ingredients in my favorite snack, Apple Pie Larabars, come from Trader Joe's.
All the ingredients in my favorite snack, Apple Pie Larabars, come from Trader Joe’s.

If the prospect of going to Trader Joe’s just once a month seems too tricky for you to organize, try cutting back to once every two weeks. The less often you go, the less you’ll spend. I’d love to hear about what real food items you like to buy at Trader Joe’s, so please tell us in the comments!


  1. My sort-of-once-a-month shopping list at Trader Joe’s is really simple.

    Quick Cook Steel Cut Oats
    Whole Flax Seeds (I love their nutty, toasted flavor!)
    8 oz. bags of slivered toasted almonds
    sometimes their maple syrup, but we manage to find some fun maple syrup choices elsewhere
    even less occasionally, honey

    I used to buy their organic frozen blueberries regularly, but I’ve been reserving freezer space for fresh blueberries and I stock up when they’re on sale throughout the year.

    Oh! Almost forgot! And half a dozen cans of canned tuna cat food. It’s a bargain and our cats love it!

    Will occasionally pick up some other fun item, but it’s primarily a breakfast trip for me.

  2. Thank you for the excellent tips and list, Annemarie! I shop at TJs about once a week. I’m definitely going to go the twice a month route you suggest. Mostly, I buy fresh fruits and veggies and non-dairy milks so more frequent visits are required. Your tips will make me more organized on my visits. Thanks again!

    1. I’m glad it’s helpful, Ella! I just did my monthly trip to Trader Joe’s today. I was happy to keep the impulse purchases to a minimum. 🙂

  3. I’ve been frequenting TJs for the past year to avoid regular grocery store processed foods with chemicals, hormones and pesticides galore. But TJs has processed foods? With not so great ingredients?! I’m so upset!

    1. Brittany, there are definitely things to avoid buying at Trader Joe’s. Sadly, this is the case at just about any grocery store. Just stick to your shopping list. 🙂

  4. Good idea to shop once a month off a master list. I have my favorites from TJ: coffee, rice, quinoa, frozen fruit bars, honey, nuts, salsa, tortilla chips. We have TJs down in Maryland, but the one I initially went too has a tricky parking lot, so I haven’t been getting there much, but found one just a few more minutes further with better parking, so maybe I will aim for once a month! My new grocery obsession? Wegmans. Amazing!

    1. Rachel, we just got a Wegmans nearby, but I haven’t been there yet. I’m so curious to see what all the fuss is about!

  5. TJ’s brown rice medley is one of my favorite things to buy there. I also buy the roasted red pepper tomato soup and some of their crackers but I confess that I haven’t read the label on those. TJ’s is just a mile down the road from me so I go there pretty often and yes, it’s hard to resist some of the treats there!

    1. Thanks, Deborah. I’ll look for those items next time. I haven’t noticed the brown rice medley before.

  6. Ok, here’s my question – how big is your pantry if you can shop at TJs once a month? Do you do all of your shopping on a monthly basis? I menu plan, and stick to a budget – yet feel that I could do better if I shopped less frequently. My issue is space to store everything. Any tips?

    1. Emily, I do TJ’s once a month, but I shop weekly at other stores (Stop & Shop etc.) We live in a modest cape so there’s not that much storage (although the kitchen is a decent size). We converted a hall closet into a small pantry for overflow, and we also have an older fridge/freezer in the basement. I don’t know how I lived without the extra freezer space. We keep bread, meat, and homemade broth in the basement freezer. Having enough storage is definitely key if you want to stock up.

  7. Yes, I can imagine Boston is pretty tough for parking, too!

    I may brave the cold and crowds today with my son. I am printing out the image of your list to help me out. Did you ever think of making a printable version for your readers to print out (with you blog name on it, of course!)? I’d use it for sure 🙂 No pressure, of course, just a thought!

  8. Annemarie, I find this post so helpful! We have a TJ in Bklyn but it’s in a traffic filled area with no parking, so needless to say I don’t go often, um at all, but I know the prices can be good and this post inspires me to give it another try. I will go armed with a list like yours and steer clear of the many gluten free packaged foods!

    1. Thanks, Dana. Some of the Trader Joe’s stores here in the Boston area have challenging parking, so I definitely hear where you’re coming from. It’s worth a try if you can get yourself in and out, and with a specific list you won’t walk out with too many bags! 🙂

  9. This is a great idea! I have a master list that I use for my regular grocery store but like you, don’t live near a Trader Joe’s. However there are a few in town so when I’m in the area of one, I need to stock up! I will be making up my own TJ’s master list so that I can be more focused and not forget our favorite things. As a matter of fact, I’ll be near one this weekend so it will be a perfect time to go up and down the aisles to help me develop my list!

    1. Good luck, Brenda! It’s so frustrating to come home from TJ’s only to discover that you forgot one of your favorite items. The master list will definitely help with that.

  10. Annemarie,
    I’ve been fortunate to be reasonably close to a Trader Joes for many years now (the only one in the area happens to be about 7 minutes down the road from me!) yet I don’t go all that often, only to get my special TJs products (and yes, Candy Cane Joe Joes will be one of the treats this year, there’s something about that crunchy candy cane in the filling that really appeals).
    My kids drink a ton of milk, and one thing that has really helped me avoid running into the store for “just a gallon of milk” and coming out with a bunch of extra stuff is walking to the store.
    There’s a lovely local grocery store 1 mile from my house, and while training for a half marathon I started walking down there to get milk instead of driving to a (cheaper) store. Well, a gallon of organic milk costs the same at both stores–though I frequently get it marked down close to the sell-by date at the cheaper store–so the savings of not picking up impulse purchases coupled with the extra exercise for the dog and I just made sense.
    Now that I’ve got 2 wiener dogs in addition to Simon I thought my ‘walk to the store for milk’ days were over, but it turns out that I can manage 3 dogs plus a gallon of milk, so it’s good.
    Longwinded way of saying thank you for a great idea to organize my TJs shopping (and my ‘during sled hockey practice’ Costco shopping) more efficiently.

    1. Thanks, Kirsten! It’s great to be able to walk to the store for just a few things, so I’m glad your dogs are allowing it to work. I imagine Costco would be another good place to have a plan before you walk through the door. Let us know if you come up with a system.

  11. The only thing I would say is that u can buy really cheap corn tortillas for about 50 cents a pack (10-12 tortillas) at pretty much any big grocery store. My favorite brand is El Milagro corn tortillas. I rarely shop at trader joe’s, but when I do its to get specialty items I can’t find anywhere else. Or to get nuts or dried fruit.

    1. Katrina, I like to avoid GMO’s, which is why I buy my corn tortillas at Trader Joe’s. Their store-brand products don’t contain GMO’s, and most non-organic corn products at other stores are genetically modified.

      1. That is what they say, but they are not willing to provide proof or be verified by a third party. Methinks their food is not truly gmo free. 🙁 unless its is organic, I won’t buy it at trader joes anymore than I would somewhere else.

      2. Hopefully they’ll come through with third party verification soon. You’re right, organic is the safest bet at Trader Joe’s if you want to avoid GMO’s.

  12. Great tips! I just got back from our one and only Trader Joe’s (it opened yesterday) and I can see myself spending too much time and money there if not careful.

    1. Congrats on getting a Trader Joe’s near you, Cheryl. Have a little fun there and then you can buckle down.

  13. My husband and I were just talking about cutting back on our grocery budget. We are planning to drive to a TJs later this month. These are some great tips.

      1. I fell in love with TJ in California. Now it’s a 4 hour drive to the closest one outside Dallas. Between my neighbor and myself, we visit once a month or so. I agree that their spices are cheaper than many other places.

      2. Wow, that’s quite a drive! I guess I shouldn’t complain about my 10-minute commute to our Trader Joe’s. 🙂

      3. We make a weekend out of it. Trader Joe’s, The German Deli, Costco, Ikea, and Central Market. Definitely a fun foodie weekend. 🙂

  14. Impulse buys at Trader Joe’s are my downfall with last night being a pinnacle example. I’m definitely going to start keeping note of the what I got to trader joe’s to buy consistently and avoid shopping while hungry in the future. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Liz, you’re not the only one with that downfall. I’m still trying to get over that box of Peppermint Joe’s O’s (Oreo knockoff) that I came home with last December. They looked irresistible on the shelf, but they were the last thing we needed in our pantry.

      1. Emily, I went for my monthly TJ’s shop yesterday with my kids (never a good idea). I almost caved on the Joe-Joe’s, but I stayed strong this time! 🙂

  15. This is great, thanks! Doing this helps alot with advanced meal planning and then cuts back on grocery trips. Nice little circle 🙂

    1. Thanks, Diane! It all comes back to meal planning. I don’t love doing it, but I always feel better when I have a plan in place.

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