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!

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