Shopping at Trader Joe’s a Lot? Beware of this pitfall

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For years, Trader Joe’s was one of those legendary stores I’d heard of but hadn’t shopped in because there wasn’t one nearby. Then I moved to an area with access to a Trader Joe’s, and since then my grocery shopping experience has never been the same – in a good way.

I happen to be a big fan of Trader Joe’s. First of all, I like so many products from the store. And to be clear, these are products you won’t find anywhere else.

I also think Trader Joe’s has really competitive pricing. As a mother of three, buying food can be expensive. But I don’t usually find myself gasping for my credit card tab when I leave Trader Joe’s with a cart full of food.

Finally, the people who work at Trader Joe’s are about the nicest people I have ever met. Years ago, I wasn’t sure if a given product was something my kids would enjoy – so a store clerk burst into the box and let my kids taste it, no questions asked.

But while I definitely do my share of shopping at Trader Joe’s, I admit there is one pitfall I’ve encountered over the years. And that’s something that could not only mess up your meal and snack routine, but also make it harder to budget for food.

A constant rotation of products

There are some basic items at Trader Joe’s that you will find all the time. But the store is also known for its rotation of different products. This means that an item you know and love can sit around for three or four months before being taken off the shelves for a year. Or, it could be completely discontinued.

This was the case with my kids’ favorite granola bars, Trader Joe’s. At one time, years ago, this was our go-to item for a quick and easy afternoon snack or breakfast. But then Trader Joe’s stopped doing the genre my kids loved the most, and a lot of tears and tantrums ensued.

Luckily, we’ve since found other Trader Joe’s granola bars that my kids enjoy to a reasonable degree. But even though their favorite genre hasn’t been on the shelves for about three good years, they still ask about it and miss it, to the point that they begged me to try and make my own comparable version ( not going to happen).

But discontinued and rotating products don’t just make stocking your pantry and fridge difficult. They can also complicate food budgeting.

If you can’t rely on the same items being available all the time, you may need to make different purchases to compensate. And that could mean spending a different amount each time you go to the store.

Of course, the cost of groceries can fluctuate. Items may be listed for sale and their prices may also increase. So it’s not necessarily reasonable to expect to spend the exact same amount on groceries every week or every month. But if you buy the same products over and over again, your bills should be pretty consistent. And if you constantly have to buy different products, your expenses can fluctuate to an uncomfortable degree.

Get ready to say goodbye

I’ll admit that my biggest gripe with Trader Joe’s entire product rotation is having to say goodbye to the products I love more than the budget issues. It’s entirely possible that I’ll spend $100 on food one week and $250 the next, depending on what I buy and what my household needs.

But if you’re trying to stick to a very tight grocery budget, you might find that Trader Joe’s is a tough store to shop for. And so even though it pains me to say it, you may, until your budget opens up, want to stick to a supermarket that generally stocks the same products all the time.

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Daniel C. Williams