We’re Sharing 20 of Our Best Trader Joe’s Shopping Tips
Hip2Save may earn a small commission via affiliate links in this post. Read our full disclosure policy here.
Check out our best Trader Joe’s shopping tips before your next grocery run!
If you’ve ever set foot inside a Trader Joe’s, then you’re probably already an avid fan – and we are too! With its unique products, friendly employees, and fun atmosphere, it’s no wonder that TJ’s has surged in popularity with both bargain hunters and gourmet foodies alike. What’s not to love?!
Actually, there’s quite a bit about Trader Joe’s that can make shopping there feel like a bit of a challenge sometimes. It’s often crowded, they don’t have sales, there are no store coupons, and you can’t even get a frequent shopper card.
Thankfully, there are some tricks to saving time and money at Trader Joe’s, while having a little fun on your next grocery run too. We’ve rounded up 20 of our very best tips for shopping at Trader Joe’s, so you can make the most out of your next trip to this unconventional and quirky grocery store.
1. Read every word of Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer.
Part newsletter and part comic-book, Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer is an illustrated publication that is released every two months. It’s full of new product announcements, recipe ideas, and wacky humor.
Even though you won’t find any sales in this flyer, it’s definitely worth a read for any Trader Joe’s shopper. You’ll be among the first to know about new products that are being released, and you’ll get inspiration for how to pair TJ’s products together for easy meal ideas. You can grab a Fearless Flyer in-store or sign up to receive it via email.
2. Know when to go to Trader Joe’s.
In the pre-coronavirus era, Trader Joe’s was famous for its long checkout lines inside the store. Now, people wait outside under tents just to get inside the store. Although peak shopping times may vary from one city to the next, it’s fair to say that weekends get really busy. Traffic also picks up on weeknights after the workday ends, and during the lunchtime hours, too.
We’ve found that shopping at Trader Joe’s on Tuesdays and Wednesdays is generally best, especially if you can get there first thing in the morning. Crowds are light, the shelves are fully stocked, and there are plenty of helpful, Hawaiian shirt-clad employees to answer your questions.
Hip Tip: Due to COVID-19, Trader Joe’s has designated the first hour of operation every Wednesday and Sunday to senior shoppers (ages 60 and over) and customers with disabilities who may need extra assistance. To find the hours for your store, please visit Trader Joe’s locations page.
3. Bring your own bag (under normal circumstances).
Usually, shoppers are encouraged to bring their own reusable shopping bags to Trader Joe’s. Before COVID-19, some locations were even rewarding anyone who brought their own bags! Shoppers who spent $25 and brought their own grocery bags could be entered into a drawing for a $25 gift card.
Unfortunately, this practice has been temporarily paused due to COVID-19. For now, Trader Joe’s has suspended the use of reusable bags for bagging groceries at the registers, but customers may still use their own bags in vestibules or outside stores, as space permits.
Hip Tip: Watch for Trader Joe’s mystery bags to appear around the holidays. Sold for $2.99, they’re a blind package of three randomized reusable shopping bags celebrating TJ’s stores from all across the country. They’re cute, functional, highly collectible, and a great deal at just $1 per reusable bag!
4. Plan to go inside Trader Joe’s to shop (with a mask, for the foreseeable future).
Even in the age of COVID-19, Trader Joe’s has no plans to offer curbside pickup or delivery. Matt Sloan, TJ’s vice president of marketing, confirmed this in a recent podcast. He said that the cost of implementing these programs has been a big reason why they’ve resisted the shift toward doing business online. He went on to say,
“Over the last couple of decades, we’ve invested those resources in our people rather than build an infrastructure that eliminates the need for people. While other retailers were cutting staff and adding things like self-checkout, curbside pickup, and outsourcing delivery options, we were hiring more crew and we continue to do that.”
5. Don’t count on saving a lot with coupons.
While Trader Joe’s does accept manufacturer’s coupons on name-brand products, chances are that’s not what you’re there for. A whopping 80% of the items sold at TJ’s are in-house brands, sold exclusively at Trader Joe’s. You won’t find any coupons, discounts, or promotions on these items, so the price marked is what you’ll pay.
Hip reader Briana says: “In California, I find that I save money by going to Trader Joe’s. A list is a must, or if you’re like me you’ll end up with two carts!”
6. Don’t shop at Trader Joe’s on an empty stomach.
For obvious reasons, you don’t want to find yourself roaming the aisles of Trader Joe’s while you’re hungry. Even though TJ’s is known for selling affordable products, you’re going to go over budget if you can’t resist the temptation to buy them all. So eat before you shop, and don’t let your rumbling stomach affect your decision-making!
Hip reader Aya says: Stick to your list (which is hard to do) and never go when you’re hungry.
But if you do find yourself drooling over a new product and wondering if it’s any good…
7. Trader Joe’s lets you try before you buy!
That’s right – TJ’s liberal sampling policy is one of the chain’s best-kept secrets. While some locations may have altered or paused this practice due to COVID-19 restrictions, Trader Joe’s is happy to let you sample a new product in-store under normal circumstances. Just ask, and an employee with open the package for you!
Keep in mind that free samples are limited to TJ’s ready-to-eat foods, so you won’t be able to try anything that needs to be thawed, heated, or cooked. Alcoholic beverages are off-limits too. And speaking of that…
8. Don’t overlook Trader Joe’s award-winning selection of adult beverages.
If you’re a wine enthusiast, you should never leave TJ’s without at least one new bottle of wine to try. Trader Joe’s wines are super affordable and surprisingly good for the price. Starting at just $2.99 a bottle, you can bring home a new wine every time you go and hopefully discover some new favorites!
Hip tip: Not sure where to start? Check out our favorite wines from TJ’s and one to avoid!
Check out TJ’s selection of beer and spirits too, if you’re lucky enough to live in a state where you can buy all three different types of alcohol under one roof. Be aware that some stores are unable to take returns on alcohol though, which is one of the few exceptions to TJ’s generous return policy.
Hip reader Maggie says: Trader Joe’s Peach Bellini is delicious, and their Heffeweizen for beer drinkers is too. The list could go on, but this is a good start! I just hate it when they suddenly discontinue our favs!
9. Skip the produce, with a few notable exceptions.
We recommend buying most of your produce elsewhere unless you’re looking for hard-to-find items that may not be stocked in traditional grocery stores. Although it is possible to find a deal on organic produce at Trader Joe’s, it’s often prepackaged, making it impossible to choose the precise amount you want to buy.
A couple of exceptions are Trader Joe’s salad kits, which come highly recommended. Bananas are always a great deal, too. They’re priced at just 19¢ each, and they have been since the 1970s! TJ’s Bananas are also one of the few fruits you can buy just one at a time if you like.
Hip reader Tracey says: I buy Trader Joe’s frozen red, yellow, and orange pepper strips. It’s cheaper than buying them fresh and cutting them!
10. Don’t miss Trader Joe’s specialty cheeses!
Cheese lovers will definitely want to make time for a leisurely stroll down Trader Joe’s cheese aisle! Their specialty cheese selection includes a wide variety of unique flavors at reasonable prices.
Proceed with caution when it comes to TJ’s shredded and pre-sliced cheeses though, as they may end up costing you quite a bit more per ounce.
11. Stock up on TJ’s packaged non-perishables, including specialty snacks.
Trader Joe’s non-perishable food products are wildly popular, and you’ll definitely be tempted to try them all. They sell so many unique items that you just can’t get anywhere else (Speculoos cookie butter, anyone?), so stock up when you find a favorite.
Buying TJ’s in-house brand of more common items is a switch that can save you a lot of money, and your family may not even notice the difference. Rumor has it that many of the Trader Joe’s brand name items are made by the same companies that supply name-brand pantry staples like snacks and cereals.
12. Fill your freezer with Trader Joe’s frozen foods.
Trader Joe’s has a legendary selection of frozen foods, so leave lots of room in your cart for some of these items! You’ll find so many yummy choices, including appetizers, entrées (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), snacks, and desserts.
Most of what’s sold in the freezer section is from Trader Joe’s own reasonably-priced in-house brand, but you may even find name-brand frozen foods from companies like Annie’s for less than you’d pay at your local grocery store.
Hip tip: Trader Joe’s frozen food section is very popular with Hip2Save readers! Join our Facebook group to see some of their top recommendations.
13. Don’t miss Trader Joe’s vegan, Kosher, gluten-free, and keto options.
If you have special dietary needs or preferences, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at everything Trader Joe’s has to offer. You’re sure to discover some new items suited to your lifestyle along with hard-to-find items you just won’t see in your average grocery store!
14. Save big on greeting cards and flowers.
While you may not think of a grocery store as the best place to purchase cards and flowers, Trader Joe’s should be your first stop if you need to buy either one of these items on a budget. Where else could you get both a high-quality card and a beautiful bouquet of freshly-cut flowers for less than $5 total?! TJ’s has a wide selection of greeting cards for just 99¢, and bouquets of flowers often starting at just $3.99.
Trader Joe’s flowers change with the seasons, but we’re always so impressed with what we find there no matter what time of year it is. Their potted succulents, orchids, and seasonal centerpieces are beautiful and shockingly affordable, too!
15. Keep an eye out for Trader Joe’s seasonal products.
We love cruising the aisles at TJ’s in the weeks leading up to the next holiday or a change in the seasons. This is a great time to catch Crew members rolling out new seasonal products!
We always look forward to seeing Trader Joe’s fun Halloween items (like the yoga skeleton air plants pictured above), unique advent calendars (for both humans and pets), real mistletoe at Christmas time, and so much more. If you see something you like though, don’t wait to buy it – these seasonal products fly off the shelves!
Hip reader Sarah says: I just bought all their pumpkin stuff… I only went in for ground turkey! 😬
16. Look for the hidden stuffed animal.
Did you know that most Trader Joe’s have a stuffed animal hidden in a different location each day? It’s a fun game of hide-and-seek and a welcome distraction for kiddos who bore easily at the grocery store. Any child who tells their cashier the location of the stuffed animal can receive a small prize like a lollipop!
17. A ringing bell means help is coming.
Ever wonder what’s up with the ringing bells at Trader Joe’s? It’s a simple system of communication used by TJ’s Crew members. Three bells mean that a manager is needed and two bells mean that someone has a question at checkout.
If you’re waiting in a checkout line and you hear the bell ring once, keep your eyes open! One bell means that a new register will be opening up soon.
18. Thanks to Trader Joe’s return policy, you can shop risk-free!
In the unlikely event that you buy something you don’t like from Trader Joe’s, you’ll be happy to know that they have one of the most lenient return policies around. TJ’s allows you to return anything, no-questions-asked, even if it’s already opened and partially eaten. So go ahead – buy that Ube Ice Cream with confidence, even if you’re not 100% certain what it is!
Just keep in mind that the return policy on alcohol does vary from store to store, so check with your local TJ’s to see how they handle returns on adult beverages.
19. Enter Trader Joe’s contests.
It seems like there’s always a fun contest happening at Trader Joe’s. This past summer, shoppers could win a gift card by submitting an ice cream sandwich recipe made from five or fewer Trader Joe’s products.
Past contests have included other recipe competitions too, but you don’t always need to be a whiz in the kitchen to win. They’ve also had coloring contests for kids, Instagram photo contests, and many more. Subscribe to the Fearless Flyer or keep an eye on TJ’s Events and Contests page to be among the first to know when a new contest goes live.
20. Listen to the Trader Joe’s podcast.
If you want to hear all the best Trader Joe’s shopping tips straight from TJ’s insiders, check out the “Inside Trader Joe’s” podcast!
This entertaining podcast features stories from Trader Joe’s executives, Captains (store managers), and Crew Members as they come together to share a fascinating take on what happens behind the scenes at TJ’s. You’ll also get the inside scoop on new products that are being tested and planned for release.
Hip tip: Not a podcast person? Shoppers can also follow Trader Joe’s What’s New page on the store’s website to learn about the most recent product launches.
What are some of your favorite Trader Joe’s shopping secrets? Join our discussion over on Facebook or share your tips and recommendations in the comments below!
Follow our Trader Joe’s page for more tips and all of our favorite TJ’s finds!