Grocery Shopping on a Budget (Trader Joe’s Edition)

As a low-income college student, it sucks that I have to worry about money all the time. My go-to grocery store is Trader Joe’s for a few reasons. They don’t have a rewards program, so prices are the same for everyone. That way, you’re not surprised by a higher total on your receipt. Even though there are lots of ways you can save money by going to Trader Joe's, you can still easily spend way more than you need to. I'm always looking at prices and trying to find what's best for me. Below, I have tips and a basic sample meal plan for one week.

These are my tips on how to save money at Trader Joe's.

  1. Try to get produce without packaging/individual produce so you can control how much you want to get.
  2. Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. You tend to buy more stuff because you're so hungry. Once you get home, you'll realize you didn't actually need it.
  3. Try the samples but you don’t always need to buy them. Usually, the samples are really good but try not to buy the products right away. Think about when you get home and see if it's really worth to get the next shopping trip.
  4. Go when it’s busy in the store so you’re not tempted to stay there for too long. 
  5. Have a budget in mind. It can be difficult to keep your groceries to a minimum if you don't have a budget.

  6. Organic? I usually tend to stay away from organic produce just because it can be more expensive. But if you're more health conscious and organic is your thing, go for it.

  7. Buy things in bulk, like oats. They are obviously more expensive but can last you a long time so you don't have to keep buying it every week.

  8. Make a list. Try to stay within that list so you don't spend over your budget. Better yet, stick exactly to it.

  9. Stay away from frozen food. It tends to be a little more expensive at TJ's. Cooking food can help save you money.

Here’s a sample grocery list for 1 week (pantry items not included):

  • Oats ($3.49)
  • Milk ($0.99 for regular and $1.29 for almond unsweetened vanilla)
  • 3 apples ($0.49 each) 1.47
  • 4 bananas ($0.19 each) .76
  • 4 sweet potatoes ($0.69 each) 2.76
  • 2 cans of black beans ($0.79 each) 1.58
  • Shredded carrots ($1.49)
  • Crushed plum tomatoes ($1.59)
  • Sour cream – omit if vegan – ($1.99)
  • Kale or spinach ($1.99)
  • Pasta ($0.99)

Total: $19.10 or $19.40 if you buy almond milk.

Meal ideas:

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal – oats, milk, banana or apple, cinnamon.
  • Lunch: Sweet potato bowl – half a sweet potato, shredded carrots, black beans, crushed plum tomatoes, sour cream (optional), preferred seasonings.
  • Dinner: Pasta – pasta w/ crushed plum tomatoes, cooked down kale, and preferred seasoning.

You don't have to be super rich to eat a little bit healthier. I know the meal plan isn't the most amazing and it definitely doesn't have the most variety, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I hope some of these tips were helpful; I know they help me quite a bit. Being on your own can be scary in college, especially if you don't really grocery shop at home. If anything, just try to remember to plan your list, cook more, and buy what you like.