Today is kind of a fun post about why I love Trader Joe’s. When you are in the personal finance world, you’ll find all kinds of intentionality surrounding food consumption. I would say this level of intentionality only increases as you enter the financial independence community. Some may argue that Trader Joe’s may not be the most optimal choice; however, today I’ll share why it is for me…currently.
Intentional Location Living
When I got out of debt at the end of 2017 and was still living with my folks, I was very intentional about my next move. I drove about 45 minutes one way from my parent’s house to work. The first order of business was to shorten that substantially. The second order of business was to find a comfortable apartment at a relatively low cost.
My place of work is at a higher cost of living city. Keep in mind that I’m talking about the suburbs of Cleveland so comparative to the rest of the country it’s overall a low cost of living area. Anyway, the office I work at is in a great city with an excellent school district. Those things usually can command a greater price for rent but there happens to be a set of older apartment buildings quite literally down the road from my office.
I ultimately choose to rent here and furthermore chose a unit that was newly remodeled which was a nice touch in an older building. The remodeling demanded a slightly higher rent than the other units but still well within my budget.
Location, Location, Location
Not only is my apartment close enough to my office, that I can walk to work in 5 minutes, I’m also close to a whole slew of other amenities that I value:
- Trader Joe’s
- My gym
- Bike-friendly roads
- Metro parks
Most of the nearby amenities are close enough that I can walk or ride a bike. It’s been a dream of mine to shorten my life’s radius. Granted not all of my life is within a few miles but the places I visit most frequently are and so that is the key if the goal is to minimize driving and commuting costs.
Why Trader Joe’s Is My Jam…Currently
Being that Trader Joe’s is close to my place of work, I’ve frequented them for years; however, when I lived with my folks, I became more of an Aldi’s shopper. Aldi’s and Trader Joe’s have common ownership of sorts and it’s a rather interesting story that you can read about here.
Two Birds with One Stone
I like the layout, variety, and prices at both of these grocery stores. Aldi’s prices are lower and this is my preference but…I literally live across the street from Trader Joe’s. At this proximity, I’m able to walk there once a week and bring my groceries home. This includes some physical activity that I seek out as often as possible. I even like carrying heavy bags because if I can build strength while being productive, I’m all over it.
Time is Money
Being that I can walk to Trader Joe’s rather than driving to another grocery store that may be cheaper, I’m saving time. My time is valuable and I put a price stamp on it. I figure I can save about 40 minutes of my time by walking to Trader Joe’s versus driving to Aldi’s.
The TJs People are Really Nice
Okay, so if you’ve ever shopped at Trader Joe’s you know that everyone who works there is incredibly nice. I mean seriously! One day I was having a bad day and I’m sure the stress was all over my face. When the person checking me out asked me how my day was going my reply was probably short and curt. He proceeded to give me a bouquet of flowers…complementary. Who does that?? Anyway, that kind of gesture made me tear up and certainly change my perspective on my day. I mean, what girl doesn’t like flowers?
I explained to my boss what sets Trader Joe’s apart from other grocery stores and he sent me this hilarious video of an “ode to Trader Joe.” It is worth all 5 minutes of your time…
How to Shop at Trader Joe’s
This advice can really be applied to any grocery store but I’ll hone in on TJ’s. There are a lot of tempting things in the aisles of TJ’s that may not be cost effective. I’ve developed some strategies to avoid them if cost conscience shopping is your thing.
Step 1 – know what the tempting, higher-priced items are.
The key to any intentional consumption habit is to recognize how the marketers are vying for your attention. Know the enemy! I’m not saying that marketers are really the enemy but they can be. It can be helpful to learn their strategies and stay one step ahead of them.
Trader Joe’s has a lot of pre-packaged items, especially in the frozen food section. These are a little less healthy and more expensive than buying the raw ingredients and cooking your meals yourself. The pre-packaged frozen meals are particularly tempting because, let’s face it, 1.) they look good, and 2.) they are convenient.
Additionally, a lot of the packaged snacks, like dehydrated beets or kale chips, pull on your desire to snack and be healthy. Be aware these items come with a higher price tag!
Step 2 – Come with a shopping list.
A good hedge against the marketing is to come prepared with a shopping list of what you intend to buy. If you are often a sucker for marketing, discipline yourself to only buy what’s on your pre-planned list.
A great way to plan ahead is to employ meal prepping. If you do meal prepping each week, you can make your meals from scratch (healthier) and lower your grocery bill (more frugal). Moreover, you’ll get the convenience you were looking for with meal prepping. By spending a few hours on the weekend prepping my meals, I avoid cooking all week.
Step 3 – Avoid the new item section.
At the Trader Joe’s near me, or perhaps all Trader Joe’s, they have a spot at the end of one particular aisle where they feature their new items. I personally like to look at this and see what’s brewing. However, this is a great way to stray from your intentional grocery list.
A great compromise here can be to stick to your list but allow yourself one non-planned luxurious item per visit. If you do this just put a dollar cap on it!
Step 4 – Try the free samples, coffee & make conversation but stay to your list!
Trader Joe’s has a lovely counter in the back with free samples of something or other as well as coffee. Head on over and give it a try…just don’t get suckered into buying something that’s not on your list. By all means, make conversation with the awesome Trader Joe’s employees.
Step 5 – Do some cost comparison with other stores.
Some things are lower priced and others are higher so compare. I’ve found that Trader Joe’s has some relatively low prices on certain items, like nuts, cereal, wine (I don’t drink alcoholic beverages ‘cus I’m sober, but some of my readers might!), and cheese. Although, I will say that they have a fairly large variety of each of these items so be sure and look at the prices!
Step 6 – Put your blinders on when checking out.
They always have some tempting treats right near the register. Unless you had plans to get gum, just focus on making some interesting conversation with the person checking you out.
Alright, there you have my reasons for liking Trader Joe’s as well some consumerism tips. Like many things in life our choices are based on the experiences we enjoy. If you value something, find a way to do it frugally.
What do you think? Where do you like to shop? Additionally, do you have any tips to add to this list?