9 Ways to Save Money and Stretch Your Grocery Budget, According to Frequent Trader Joe’s Shoppers

published Nov 8, 2021
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Who here hasn’t walked through the colorful aisles of Trader Joe’s and added a bunch of not-on-the-list stuff to their carts? Yeah. We’re all powerless to the new pasta offerings and fun seasonal items. Of course, that’s not great news for our grocery budgets.

Which brings me to a recent post in this Trader Joe’s-themed Facebook group. A member asked a not-so-simple question: “What is your grocery budget for food?” That person continued: “We spend about 900 a month for a family of 3 and we are trying to cut it down by at least 300 dollars. What are some tips?”

And guess what? People were eager to help! There were more than 730 comments! As a frequent Trader Joe’s shopper myself, I was very curious. I read through every single comment to find the very best tips. Surprisingly, some veered outside Trader Joe’s brightly painted walls — several members even suggested shopping elsewhere. Even so, I gathered up their advice here, and then I even added my own tip. (I’m the Grocery Editor for Kitchn, after all.) 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

1. Meal plan in tandem with sales.

Meal planning is standard practice for most of the shoppers in this group. But a few savvy members take the task a step further, scanning sales and coupons before they plan and then building out their meals for the week based on what’s on sale. One member posted about buying a package of 12 chicken thighs for less than $15 and splitting them into four meals. Of course, they also acknowledge that this can be time-consuming and is not for everyone, which is why other money-saving strategies exist! Let’s keep going.

2. Have a “seconds” strategy.

Depending on how many people you shop for and where you live, this could mean grabbing “a big pack of ground beef one week,” like one member suggests, and turning it into “spaghetti, sloppy Joes, tacos, etc.,” or making double batches of recipes, like another member who cooks two meatloaves and freezes one.

3. Get a bonus freezer.

Speaking of freezing things! Several members suggested purchasing a second freezer to take advantage of sales and prevent waste. One person even said getting a bonus freezer was a “game-changer.”

Credit: Renae Wilson

4. Make breakfast for dinner.

Some people recommended eating breakfast for dinner. Scrambled eggs with Pancake Bread? Yes, absolutely. One member also suggested eating dinner leftovers for breakfast.

5. Fill your cart … and then put a few things back.

One member scaled back their bill by first placing everything they wanted in their cart and then putting items back to get their total down to a set amount (in this case, $100). “I got very good at estimating the cost of my cart,” this member writes. 

6. Track what you don’t eat (and then stop buying it!).

While members of the group recommended tracking what you/your family “ACTUALLY eats for a week,” some took it one step further and suggested keeping a list of what you’re tossing, uneaten. “Maybe you keep buying lettuce and throwing it away half eaten (guilty),” one member pointed out. Another advised not to buy “aspirational artichokes” or “aspirational bagged spinach” if you never cook them.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

7. Embrace the slow cooker.

Whether they were toting a small, portable lunch container to work or cooking pork butt on low at home, members called out their Crock-Pot over and over (it rivaled the freezer for most mentions). One group member dubbed the Crock-Pot “a lifesaver for cooking large and relatively inexpensive meals.”

8. Opt for online ordering and in-store pick up … elsewhere.

Here’s where things get interesting. Fellow frequent TJ’s shoppers know the store does not offer online ordering or in-store pick up. So when people mentioned ordering online for pickup helped them really stick to planned meals and avoid impulse shopping, it was clear they were shopping some place(s) else. In fact, dozens of other grocers were mentioned, including discount chains (Grocery Outlet, dollar stores, Aldi), bulk stores (Costco, Sam’s Club), online subscription services (Butcher Box, Hello Fresh, Imperfect Foods), large-scale retailers (Walmart, Target, Kroger), regional favorites (Publix, Sprouts), local farms/farmers markets, and their local grocers.

9. Join an online group.

Facebook Groups like this one are a trove of grocery shopping tips and meal planning suggestions. Members often join multiple groups — I’m currently a member of five grocery store-themed groups — and will share their learnings across groups. One member in this TJ’s group learned to take apart rotisserie chicken while it’s still warm and shred it with a hand mixer from a Costco fan page. (They then separate the chicken into half-pound bags and freeze for future meals, like enchiladas and pastas.) Who doesn’t want free tips like that?

Do you have a tip on how to save money on groceries? Tell us in the comments below!