I Created a Trader Joe's Impulse-Buy Budget and It's Saved Me Hundreds of Dollars

How I conquered the ultimate impulse-buy grocery store.

A shot of inside of a Trader Joe's
Photo: Dotdash Meredith / Sabrina Tan

Budgets are made to be broken, right? But I'm here to say that the one—just one—budget in my life that I haven't broken is…wait for it…my Trader Joe's Impulse Buy Budget. Let me explain.

When I first discovered Trader Joe's back in college—my hometown town didn't have one—I would load up my cart with every seasonal item and end up disliking or forgetting about half of them. Over the years, and especially after moving to NYC for a decade where I had to wait in a line around the store to check out and carry it up and down subway stairs to get to my apartment, I lightened my TJ's load. And, I discovered, fattened up my bank account.

Because even though TJ's saves you money on things you need, if you're buying things on impulse without any restraint, you're likely overspending. So, when I had to control my Trader Joe's haul for logistical reasons, the first thing to go was unlimited impulse buys.

The Trader Joe's Impulse Buy Budget

Here's what I did: I set a budget of $15 per trip for items not on my list. Although $15 is not a small amount of money, it also doesn't go that far in a store full of impulse buys with fun packaging and intriguing flavor combinations. It averages three or four items, and it's like playing a mini game of Supermarket Sweep with myself every time I go on the hunt to satisfy my impulsive cravings. This way I still can try new things without feeling guilty, but I have budgeted to make sure I can afford TJ's spotlight cheese of the month every month.

And the thing about managing impulse buys is that the second time around, it's not really an impulse any more. Which means I can add Crispy Crunchy Mochi Rice Nuggets to my list, or insist that Mini Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are on at least a monthly shop. I am a single person who lives alone, so I also try to stick to under $100 at Trader Joe's as an overall budget, shopping there about twice a month (I fill out the rest of my grocery shopping at H Mart, Target or Vons, and the farmers' market).

What I've Bought on My Trader Joe's Impulse Budget

How do I count the joys? Some of my memorable impulse buys of 2022, in no particular order, have been: Trail Mix Crackers (delightfully flaky texture), Garlic Bread Cheese and Pizza Cheese (loved both), Philly Cheesesteak Bao (pass), Chocolate Mochi Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting (a little too sweet but great texture), Ube Spread (50/50 on this one), and Maple Oat Beverage (meh).

For almost all of these picks, either the packaging, a TikTok, or one buzzword got me. Almost all of them delivered on flavor, and for the few that didn't, I didn't feel as guilty throwing them away knowing that I already accounted for that spending and I shouldn't force myself to eat something that wasn't satisfying.

I have yet to apply this type of impulse-curbing budgeting to the rest of my life, like getting a handle on my quick clicking "add to cart" when I get targeted ads, but at least my Trader Joe's impulses are (mostly) under control. And mochi nuggets are always in my cupboard.

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