Shop at Trader Joe's a Lot? Beware This One Pitfall

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  • Trader Joe's is known for its competitive prices and friendly employees.
  • But the store's method of stocking products might make it difficult to maintain your grocery budget.

If you love consistency, then Trader Joe's may not be the best supermarket for you.

For years, Trader Joe's was one of those mythical stores I'd heard about but had yet to shop at, since there wasn't one nearby. Then I moved to an area with access to a Trader Joe's, and since then, my grocery store experience has never been the same -- in a good way.

I happen to be a huge fan of Trader Joe's. First, I love so many of the store's products. And to be clear, those are goods you can't find anywhere else. 

I also think Trader Joe's happens to offer really competitive prices. As a mom of three kids, buying food can be expensive. But I generally don't find myself gasping at 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 just about the nicest people I've ever encountered. Years back, I was unsure as to whether a given product was something my kids would enjoy -- so a store employee busted into the box and let my children sample it, no questions asked. 

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

A constant rotation of products

There are certain staples items at Trader Joe's you'll find all the time. But the store is also known for its rotation of different products. That means an item you know and love might stick around for three or four months before being moved off the shelves for a year. Or, it might get discontinued entirely.

Such was the case with my kids' favorite Trader Joe's granola bars. At one point years back, those were our go-to item for an afternoon snack or a quick, easy breakfast. But then Trader Joe's stopped making the kind my kids liked best, and a lot of tears and tantrums ensued. 

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

But discontinued and rotating products don't just make it difficult to stock your pantry and fridge. They can also make it harder to budget for food.

If you can't count on the same items being available to you 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.

Granted, the cost of grocery store products can fluctuate. Items can go on sale and their prices can also just rise. So it's not necessarily reasonable to expect to spend the exact same amount on groceries every week or month. But if you're buying the same products over and over again, your bills should be fairly consistent. And if you're constantly having to buy different products, your spending might fluctuate to an uncomfortable degree.

Prepare to say goodbye

I'll admit that my biggest gripe with the whole Trader Joe's product rotation is having to say goodbye to the products I love more so than issues with budgeting. It's very possible for me to spend $100 on food one week and $250 the next week, depending on what I'm buying and what my household needs.

But if you're trying to stick to a very tight grocery budget, you may find that Trader Joe's is a tough store to shop at. And so even though it pains me to say this, 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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