Monday, June 17, 2024

I (Finally) Stopped Shopping at Trader Joe’s and Saved Money on My Grocery Bill

Must read

I still remember the first time I shopped at Trader Joe’s. I had a summer internship in Manhattan, and I was staying in dorms just up the street from the Union Square location. It was a Sunday and the line was wrapped around the cramped store. This came as no surprise to me because one of my roommates had explained the strategy of Sunday Trader Joe’s hauls: Snag a cart, get in line, and grab items from the shelves as you inch toward the cashier. Within one trip, even after braving the crowds, I understood the hype.

Two moves and nine years later, I’ve learned my lesson: Get there as soon as the store opens, come with a list, and avoid the center aisles as much as possible. But after years of loving TJ’s and defending it against those who claim it’s only good for appetizers and snacks, I’ve traded it in (no pun intended) for Walmart. Let me explain.

Shelves with products and ailes with special offers and new food items inside Trader Joe's grocery store, a American supermarket chain owned by German discount retailer Aldi

Credit: Corinna Haselmayer Credit: Corinna Haselmayer

Why I Stopped Shopping at Trader Joe’s

This all started as an experiment. I’d been a habitual Tuesday morning Trader Joe’s shopper for years now, but recently switched to Sunday morning trips with my husband. This allowed me to restructure my weekends for meal prep — I cook all the breakfasts, and two or three days’ worth of lunches when we get back from Sunday shopping.

This new system worked wonders for our physical health and gave me hours back during the week; I also realized there was still a major area of inefficiency: My loyalty to Trader Joe’s meant I was supplementing my visits with trips to Target and our local grocer to fill in the blanks.

While I will always stand by my belief that Trader Joe’s can yield all the things you need to cook great meals, there are some items it simply doesn’t have. For starters, we get all our household essentials elsewhere. Where I live, Trader Joe’s and Target share a parking lot. On an ideal day, we’d get there about 20 minutes before TJ’s opens, hit Target for things like bath tissue, cleaning products, beauty products, and the pillowy-soft bread we use for sandwiches, French toast, and more.

Then, too often, we’d get to Trader Joe’s and find it didn’t sell or was out of specialty items like miso paste, almond milk yogurt, or a block of my favorite cheddar. That meant a quick stop by Schnucks, the other grocer in our area. This three-stop rotation became all too commonplace for my liking.

Because we’d already seen success switching the day of the week, I decided we’d switch the store too — and with it, my pre-shopping planning process.

The entrance to the Walmart department store.The entrance to the Walmart department store.

Credit: Alexanderstock23 / Shutterstock Credit: Alexanderstock23 / Shutterstock

How I Changed My Grocery Shopping Strategy

Because Walmart offers both online ordering and pickup, I can see what’s in any one of its locations in real time. Now, instead of making a list and hoping everything is in stock, I actually know if Walmart has it, which aisle it’s in, and how much it costs. Because we’re on a strict budget, this is a game-changer.

Do I miss Trader Joe’s? Absolutely. And I’m not the only one. In the car on the way to our most recent Walmart run, my husband asked, “Are we ever going to shop at Trader Joe’s again?” My answer is, unequivocally, “yes.”

At the end of last year, just after making this switch, I read Becoming Trader Joe, a book by the store’s late founder, Joe Coloumbe. Friends who are new to TJ’s will tell me when they’re about to visit and still ask for recommendations. And even now, I long for the prepared foods section (I’m a huge fan of those breakfast burritos), super-fresh produce, and the unexpected gems you’re sure to find in every aisle. But during a season that’s pushing us to be strict about budgeting and meal planning, Walmart checks a few very important boxes.

What changes have you made to save money on groceries? Tell us about in the comments below.

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: I (Finally) Stopped Shopping at Trader Joe’s and Saved Money on My Grocery Bill

Latest article