Most Trader Joe’s shoppers know they can get great deals and save hundreds each year at the beloved grocery store and enjoy cult favorites like the peanut butter pretzels and cauliflower gnocchi, all within their budget. But you might be surprised how much the experience can improve if you know what to look for.
Trader Joe’s has been providing everyday value to grocery shoppers since 1967. The chain of more than 540 neighborhood grocery stores serves customers in 42 states and the District of Columbia and earns more than $500 million in annual revenue. They’re constantly introducing new items and bringing back old favorites worthy of stocking up on, which you can read about in the Fearless Flyer, the store’s circular.
The community of Trader Joe’s shoppers has discovered some life-changing hacks over the years, and we’re all about sharing those best-kept secrets with consumers (on-par with our Costco shopping hacks). Read on for the knowledge you need to become the savviest Trader Joe’s shopper around.
Buy those cheap bananas
While most grocery stores sell bananas by the pound, you can always grab an individual banana for just 19 cents at Trader Joe’s. You don’t have to wait for markdowns or buy in bulk to get the discount — just show up and put a banana in your cart. Trader Joe’s made the change from price by weight after an interaction between the company’s chairman and CEO and an elderly lady in Arizona, who said she might not live to eat the last banana in the package. It’s a story that proves Trader Joe’s is interested in the needs of the customer.
Have fun with your kiddos in-store
You’ll find kid-sized shopping carts in most stores, snacks and treats that kids crave, and a special surprise hidden among the aisles, Trader Joe’s is a haven for cranky kiddos. Each store has a different stuffed animal for kids to find. Will it be a bear? A lobster? A sloth? Who knows! Keep kids busy searching the store while you stock up on products that make meal prep just a bit easier.
Utilize the amazing return policy
You can bring back almost any product, opened or not, for a full refund with or without a receipt. You shouldn’t abuse the policy and return things you’ve finished, but if an item didn’t meet your expectations for any reason, you can get your money back. So don’t be concerned about the cost when trying something new — if you don’t like it, you can return it!
Sample to your heart’s content
If you don’t want the hassle of returning products you don’t like, you can also try them right in the store. You can try any product — not just those with free samples on display. Just ask a Trader Joe’s employee to open that carton of ice cream or container of sauce and take a taste. The store is your oyster as long as you have the assistance of an employee.
BYOB to win
Bring your own bag! Not only will you save trees, you’ll also be entered into your store’s weekly raffle. Each time you shop with your own reusable bag, you’ll get one entry in the weekly drawing, with a chance to win a $25 Trader Joe’s gift card. Think of all the extra cheese you could buy with that.
Know when to shop
As much as we all love Trader Joe’s, the parking lots can be a nightmare, especially if you go on the weekend. Trader Joe’s managers say the best time to shop at most stores is early in the morning on Tuesday or Wednesday. Fresh produce arrives each morning and many products sell out by the end of the day, so get in there early for the best selection.
Know which items to buy
If you want to stop overpaying for groceries, you’ll need to know which deals to look for. The Trader Joe’s private label philosophy means you can find many dupes of brand name products (like the spicy cheese crunchies) under the Trader Joe’s label for less. Trader Joe’s keeps prices consistent, so you won’t have to worry about waiting for sales or coupons.
Trader Joe’s is known for cheap deals on eggs, cheese, olive oil, cereal, frozen meals, nuts and dried fruit, coffee, ice cream, and alcohol. You can get a gluten-free pizza with a cauliflower crust for only $4.99 and a box of the Boatswain Double I.P.A. for just $4.99. Compare prices on the products your family enjoys best with similar items at other grocery stores to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
Know which items to avoid
Pricing on produce at Trader Joe’s is hit-or-miss, and many people also complain about the quality, especially on pre-packaged items. You also might want to buy meat and milk elsewhere, since you can usually find a better deal. And skip Trader Joe’s soaps, toilet paper, and other home products, which you can buy in bulk at a larger grocery store for less.
Take advantage of products for special diets
Trader Joe’s carries a plethora of products for people with special diets, including gluten-free, Kosher, vegetarian, and vegan items. Many of these items could be hard-to-find in regular grocery stores and overpriced at specialty retailers. This gluten-free and dairy-free TJ shopper loves the gluten-free pie crusts, hamburger buns, crackers, vegan cream cheese alternative, and mochi ice cream. Some of these items are seasonal, so get them while you can.
Stock up on limited-time products
Some Trader Joe’s products are seasonal or only around for certain holidays (We love the spiced cider and the holiday hams). Others pop in for a limited time and are never seen again. If you find a product you like and it’s shelf-stable, stock up. You can also ask a Trader Joe’s employee how long a product will be available, and return to the store before they’re gone for good. Just make sure you’re budgeting for the extra expense of stocking up.
Get flowers for your home (and last-minute gifts)
Trader Joe’s has flower prices that typically beat other retailers. Whether you’re getting a gift for someone special or just adding some color to your kitchen table, Trader Joe’s is the place to go. You can even get mini succulents for $2.99 each, which are great for placing on shelves or windowsills. You’d be hard-pressed to find a lower price elsewhere.
Trader Joe’s has the deals, dupes, and desserts you’re looking for, and you can maximize your savings when you enter the store armed with knowledge. These hacks will help you get the most out of your Trader Joe’s shopping trip, but our advice doesn’t end there. You should also make sure you’re using one of the best credit cards for groceries to rack up rewards and that you’re crushing your debt with the money you save. Roll up your sleeves, open up a package of Trader Joe’s Scandinavian Swimmers, and get ready to conquer your financial goals.