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Budget Friendly Trader Joe’s Essentials (and What to Skip!) 2018

Like many others, I love Trader Joes. In fact, when one opened near (okay 45mins away from) me, I was stoked. Except, my first grocery trip was really expensive compared to what we’d usually spend. Like….I spent double and came away with what felt like half of the normal amount of groceries. Sure, the food was delicious, but was it worth that cost? Meh. Over time, my Trader Joes grocery list has gotten shorter and shorter. At this point, I feel comfortable calling it my budget friendly Trader Joe’s Essentials. But beyond that, I also what to tell you what to avoid buying at Trader Joe’s because you can save quite a few dollars.  I hardly buy anything there now! That means though, what’s on this list is the really, really good stuff. To make it on this list, these items must be at least one of the following (most are more than just one).

  • The least expensive option of this product
  • Hard/impossible to find elsewhere
  • DELICIOUS. So delicious that it’s worth a little extra $

Like I said, most items on my budget friendly trader joe’s essentials list meets more than one of those bullet points.

What’s on My Budget Friendly Trader Joe’s Essentials List:

note: all except one item (noted) are Whole30 / Paleo!

  • Coconut Aminos – these aren’t my favorite tasting brand but the price is so much better that I will still always stock up. Excellent to have on hand for paleo/Whole30/soy-free cooking! Definintely stock up too because the last time I was there they had sold out. Note: my favorite tasting brand is Coconut Secret and I buy them on Amazon {link!}
  • Salt & Pepper Pistachios – I have NEVER found pistachios that taste as good as these. The black pepper is potent and spicy, and the saltiness is there but without being too much. Everyone in my family loves these, so I always buy at least two bags.
  • Coconut Milk/Coconut Cream – where I live, these items are both hard to find and expensive. My mom can find them cheaper at local stores. So I’d say search around you, but for me I typically get several cans to have on hand. They have a great shelf life and no junk in them! These are a great addition to any Whole30/Paleo/Dairy Free sauce or soup. 
  • Grass Fed Nitrate Free Hot Dogs – These are super tasy and a great price compared to what I find elsewhere. They freeze well and make a super quick protein when needed.Our toddler also likes them. 
  • Sweet Potatoes – Before my Aldi started carrying sweet potatoes, TJ’s was hands down the least expensive option. BUT, even with Aldi carrying them, I prefer to buy them from Trader Joes. Why? Because of the size of the potatoes. You can easily cut thin slices quickly to make roasted potatoes. The ones I get from Aldi take WAY more work to actually get prepped. And the cost is still excellent.
  • Everything But the Bagel Seasoning – the hype is real and the hype is there for a reason. This seasoning is WONDERFUL. I have at least one full backup around. There is NOTHING better to season eggs with. NOTHING. It’s also the key ingredient in my Three Ingredient Roasted Carrots (click here to see that recipe)
  • Olive Oil Spray – This depends. I have been able to find at Aldi before (only very rarely), but for a 100% olive oil spray, generally the price is half what most grocery stores carry this for. I buy 2-3 bottles usually. It’s 100% Olive Oil. 
  • Steam Pork Buns – *Not Whole30/Paleo* I cannot find these ANYWHERE else around me. I grew up in Anchorage, which most people don’t know is very diverse. My dad grew up in Hawaii and much of their cuisine contains heavy Asian influences. So steam pork buns were always a treat growing up. I also had access to them easily. Here? Trader Joe’s is as good as it gets. They are frozen and aren’t the real thing, but are still really tasty and remind me of my childhood in the best way. 
  • Arugula – Sometimes my Aldi has arugula, but usually not. So I will usually grab a bag because I loooove the bite of arugula and it is cheaper at TJ’s than anywhere except Aldi.
  • Green Goddess Salad Dressing – this dressing is out of this world! The best description is simply, “fresh.” Everything about it tastes fresh and it works well with any type of green. I think this saves us money because of the current price of avocados. All of the ingredients are quite expensive on their own so buying a bottle is worth it (and this is from someone who refuses to buy Tessemae’s or any Paleo mayo or ranch!). Yes, it’s also Whole30 compliant!
  • Frozen Cauli-Rice – Trader Joe’s usually has the best prices for frozen cauli rice, though some myths say that Aldi carries them. I’ve used coupons for other brands at different stores which have made those cheaper, but in general, this is the cheapest place I’ve found since I have not yet seen them at my local Aldi(s).
  • Fresh Flowers – They make me happy and the selection is better than any other grocery store. The price point is excellent. Since I live 45minutes away I don’t get there often, and this is my favorite treat to myself.

Honorable Mention: seasonal items. I do scope out any seasonal products and occassionaly purchase. It didn’t feel fair to list any one specific item here though because these change frequently. Just know that I do ocassionally buy something seasonal.

What is NOT on My Budget Friendly Trader Joe’s Essentials

These are the items that I either think are overpriced, or just don’t taste great.

  • Coffee – I used to buy Trader Joe’s coffee….until I realized that I actually couldn’t stand any of the ones I’d gotten. I actually prefer my huge Member’s Mark (aka Sam’s Club brand!) coffee to the ones I’ve tried. The Trader Joe’s ones are just not worth it.
  • Salsa – For awhile, I liked to get salsa at TJ’s. Lately though, I’ve realized that compliant options are readily available and at better price points elsewhere. In particular, Aldi and Walmart. 
  • RX Bars – Now RX bars might be on your essentials, but I locally have Meijer which now carries them (and it’s awesome!) for the same price. Meijer also carries more flavors.  AND I also like to order directly online when there are sales. It’s easier for me to just stock up and have them available. So there just isn’t a need for me to pick them up. Since I have so many other TJ specific items, I give these a pass. These might just make your “essentials” list though if you can’t find them elsewhere!
  • Nuts (other than the one kind mentions on my list above) – Aldi and Sam’s Club generally both have nuts for a better price point than Trader Joe’s. So that’s where I go.
  • Ghee – during my first Whole30, I DID use the TJ’s ghee. Then I realized how expensive it is for so little ghee (and it is more affordable than most!).  Then I figured out how to make it at home (without cheesecloth). If you want to know how, click (here!). It’s pennies on the dollar to make it at home.
  • Spices/Seasonings – other than the “Everything but the Bagel” seasoning, the seasonings aren’t worth it to me. Spices I have all found cheaper elsewhere.
  • Treats – Trader Joe’s has a huge selection of treats. Think.. dark chocolate almond bark…. When I first was able to get into a TJ’s, I’d bring home a treat or two every time. But really, these are high cost items with little nutritional value in return. In the past 8 trips or so, I’ve bought one treat. It just doesn’t hold the same appeal as before.
  • “Junk Food” recreations – Trader Joe’s is the king of making super unhealthy foods just slightly better, and convincing people these items are actually healthy. They aren’t. They are just less bad for you. Again, high cost items with little nutritional value. To me, that isn’t the best metric, so we still avoid the processed junk. Except the steam pork buns I mention above for the reasons also listed there. 

So I’m curious, did something on my list surprise you? Did I skip over something you always get? Let me know! I always am curious to try new healthy foods.


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There are some affiliate links  within this post, but none are related to Trader Joe’s. I have no affiliation with Trader Joe’s (only in my dreams!)

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