Why Stores Like Trader Joe's Make Us Overspend -- and What to Do About It

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  • Trader Joe's is known for its unique product line and reasonable prices. 
  • There's a reason so many consumers routinely overspend in the course of shopping there.
  • Since the store routinely switches out products, customers may feel that if they don't buy something on one visit, it won't be there to buy next time. 

It's easy to bust your budget at good old Trader Joe's.

As a self-proclaimed Trader Joe's fanatic, I find myself getting excited every time I make plans to visit my closest store. Since there are other supermarkets much more conveniently located near my house than Trader Joe's, I generally only shop there about once a month. But it almost never fails -- even though I go to Trader Joe's with a specific list of items in mind (or, if I'm being smart, written down), I inevitably end up with a higher credit card tab than expected.

Now, to be clear, I blame myself for overspending at Trader Joe's on a regular basis. But there's a reason I tend to fall into that trap -- and why so many consumers inevitably land in a similar situation.

It's all about FOMO

FOMO -- fear of missing out -- can be a big driver of consumer decisions. Say you're trying to save money but your friends ask you to join them for a concert. You may be really intent on meeting your savings goal. But ultimately, you might agree to go to the concert for fear of otherwise missing out on that experience. 

Well, the same concept applies to shopping at Trader Joe's. Unlike other supermarkets, one thing Trader Joe's is known for is its seasonal, rotating product line. 

Take October's Trader Joe's lineup. Right now, if you visit your local store, you'll see that it's basically a pumpkin explosion. But come November, those fun pumpkin products may be a thing of the past. And so if you visit Trader Joe's say, this week, you may end up spending more than anticipated for fear that if you don't scoop up those pumpkin items, you'll feel bad for having missed out later on.

Making matters worse is that while Trader Joe's has products it stocks year-round, sometimes, those products can go away on a whim. That happened to us a while back and my kids are still reeling from it.

My children eat granola bars all the time. It's not only a quick breakfast, but an easy snack to grab on the go. Years back, my kids fell in love with Trader Joe's brownie granola bars. But that product is long gone, and every time I try to find a new product to replace it with, my kids bemoan the fact that they can't have their first choice.

In fact, this summer, I found another type of Trader Joe's granola bar that my kids seemed to enjoy. And you know what I did? I bought 32 boxes. That may seem excessive, but I wanted to make sure I'd have plenty of those bars on hand in case they got discontinued or phased out for the season. 

Be careful when shopping at Trader Joe's

Whenever I go way over budget at Trader Joe's, I compensate by cutting back in other spending categories. And I also bake extra room into my budget for added grocery spending because I know it's the one expense category where I'm likely to go over. 

But if you're on a tight budget, you'll need to be really careful when shopping at Trader Joe's. And if you don't trust yourself to stick to a list, shop there with cash and leave your credit cards at home so you'll force yourself to limit your spending.

A more reasonable approach, however, may be to allow yourself a maximum of three impulse buys per month at Trader Joe's. That way, you won't take all the fun out of shopping there, but you'll also eliminate the financial stress that might ensue if you go overboard and buy 17 different pumpkin products when none were originally on your list.

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