How to Shop at Trader Joe’s: 20 Must-Know Tips

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Everything you need to know about how to shop at Trader Joe’s!

trader joe's shopping bag in store

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?!

shopping carts outside Trader Joe's

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 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.

Here are some tips for how to shop at Trader Joe’s:

1. Keep an eye on Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer.

holding the Fearless Flyer at Trader Joe's

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. You can sign up to get this printed newsletter, an e-newsletter, or both.

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 on how to pair TJ’s products together for easy meal ideas.

Hip Tip: The Discover page also has tons of helpful TJ news. From guides to stories and entertainment, it covers it all!

2. Know when to go to Trader Joe’s.

trader joe's storefront

Trader Joe’s is famous for its long checkout lines 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. The crowds are light, the shelves are fully stocked, and there are plenty of helpful, Hawaiian shirt-clad employees to answer your questions.

What are Trader Joe’s store hours?

Trader Joe’s is open 8 AM to 9 PM, 7 days a week! Note that holidays may change these hours.

3. Bring your own bag.

Trader Joe's Mystery Bags

Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own reusable shopping bags to Trader Joe’s. In the past, some locations even rewarded 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.

Trader Joe’s does have paper bags for anyone who doesn’t bring their own for around 10¢ a bag.

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. Don’t count on saving a lot with coupons.

woman holding 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.

“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!” – Briana, Hip reader 

5. Don’t shop at Trader Joe’s on an empty stomach.

table with Trader Joe’s Apple Cider Donuts

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!

“Stick to your list (which is hard to do) and never go when you’re hungry,” – Aya, Hip reader

But if you do find yourself drooling over a new product and wondering if it’s any good…

6. Trader Joe’s lets you try before you buy!

bakery products at Trader Joe's

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 since the pandemic began, Trader Joe’s is happy to let you sample a new product in-store depending on the 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…

7. Don’t overlook Trader Joe’s award-winning selection of adult beverages.

wine aisle at Trader Joe's

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!

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.

“Trader Joe’s Peach Bellini is delicious, and their Hefeweizen 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!” – Maggie, Hip reader

8. Skip the produce, with a few notable exceptions.

bananas for sale at Trader Joe's

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.

“I buy Trader Joe’s frozen red, yellow, and orange pepper strips. It’s cheaper than buying them fresh and cutting them!” – Tracey, Hip reader

9. Don’t miss Trader Joe’s specialty cheeses!

holding Italian truffle cheese at Trader Joe's

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.

10. Stock up on TJ’s packaged non-perishables, including specialty snacks.

trader joes cookie butter

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.

11. Fill your freezer with Trader Joe’s frozen foods.

frozen gnocchi at Trader Joe's

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 are 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.

12. Don’t miss Trader Joe’s vegan, Kosher, gluten-free, and keto options.

man holding package of jicama wraps

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!

Hip tip: Visit our sister site, Hip2Keto, for a huge roundup of our favorite keto products to buy at TJ’s!

13. Save big on greeting cards and flowers.

Trader Joe's Greeting Cards on display rack

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

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!

14. Shop with confidence since Trader Joe’s has the highest standards of food.

hand grabbing jar of jelly off store shelf

Trader Joe’s is the best way to shop on a budget for top-quality groceries. It’s not outright advertised, but every TJ product has zero MSG, no added trans fats, no artificial preservatives, no artificial flavors, and no artificial colors. The dairy products also don’t come from cows injected with hormones and are GMO-free (genetically modified ingredients). Many products are also organic!

15. Their pre-packaged meals are awesome, too!

trader joe's breaded ravioli

In addition to top-notch ingredients, you can’t beat their impressive selection of prepared meals. TJ has some of the most extensively prepared dishes and frozen foods I’ve ever seen from any supermarket. From frozen meals to already seasoned meat, when you’re short on time, you can’t beat these options.

Hip Tip: Want more simple Trader Joe’s inspired dinner ideas? We’ve tried Trader Joe’s Mexican Carnitas (a favorite of Collin’s!) and Trader Joe’s Carne Asada over on Hip2Keto!

16. Keep an eye out for Trader Joe’s seasonal products.

skeleton air planters doing yoga

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!

“I just bought all their pumpkin stuff… I only went in for ground turkey! 😬 – Sarah, Hip reader

17. Look for the hidden stuffed animal.

Stuffed Bear wearing a nametag at Trader Joe's

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!

18. A ringing bell means help is coming.

bell hanging at Trader Joe's

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.

19. 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.

20. Listen to the Trader Joe’s podcast.

reusable shopping bags at Trader Joe's

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.

Trader Joe's shopping basket

So, where’s the nearest Trader Joe’s?

Visit Trader Joe’s location page and click on your state. From there, pick your city, and you’ll be able to see all the locations closest to you. Enjoy your TJ’s trip!

What are some of your favorite Trader Joe’s shopping secrets? Join our Facebook page 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!

About the writer:

Kaitlyn has a Bachelor's Degree from St. John's University with 2 years of writing experience for LinkedIn, Celeb Magazine, and other various publications.

Join The Discussion

Comments 24

  1. chenga57

    I love Trader Joe’s! I am grateful with how they have been handling Covid-19 shopping. The ones near me are always sanitizing carts and limiting people inside where it’s still a comfortable shopping experience where you don’t feel like you’re trying to weave through crowds! I also find if you go a little after opening and during lunch hours on the weekends (10am-12pm), the wait is shorter, at least where I am at. The staff are always so friendly and my favorite part are the seasonal items – something to always look forward to throughout the year. I’ll happily drive 20-25 minutes and wait in line outside to shop there.

  2. Maureen

    I am fortunate. I live within a mile or two of a Trader Joe’s and it is rare when there is not a line of customers waiting to get inside–as of the coronavirus event. I have figured out a time when I do not have to wait too long.
    We go usually at least twice a week. Love the jicama sticks with the garlic hummus. Love most of the seasonal Fall items that are pumpkin. Their fall teas are wonderful and soothing. I could go on and on with the good points to this store.

  3. Anna Rose

    OMG I grew up on Ube ice cream in the Philippines… mango and young coconut were my other favorites.

  4. Bunny

    You should add one more to this post….

    21. Read Hip2Save daily for information about new TJ products!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Aww, Thanks for the super sweet comment, Bunny! 💖

  5. vanessashley

    I love their flower selection!! I love grabbing one bunch or eucalyptus everytime I go. I tie the bunch on my shower head so that the oils release with the hot steam making an aromatherapy shower! Perfect!

  6. Pattijhs

    I live about 80 mins away from the closest one, but will stop whenever I am in the area. Almost always get a bunch of flowers; good quality, inexpensive and last a good while. I love the cookie butter cookies, jars of cookie butter, triple ginger cookies, dark chocolate covered espresso beans and so much more! Wish there was one closer, but willing to make the drive once in a while.

  7. anna

    Always loved their products and now love them even more after hearing that TJ’s wants to invest more in their people and hiring more crew

    • Liz

      I also love hearing that they invest in their people!❤️ I have loved their products for ages and now love them even more! they are a good, well-in company, IMO. And I totally understand why they have decided they can’t offer curb-side pick up. I DO wish, however, that they’d allow shoppers from InstaCart or Shipt or a similar service to shop at their stores. I would happily pay inflated prices and the service/delivery fees (at the moment, anyway!) to get my beloved TJs items since I can’t get to the stores at the moment. I live within 15-20 minutes of 3 stores and used to go every week, but because we have 2 high risk people in my household and I also help my parents, who live next door and are both recent cancer survivors in their 70s, we are not going inside any businesses (other than doctors or dentists when necessary). I miss TJs so much. 😕

  8. akajulz

    I love TJ’s but I get the feeling the employees aren’t loving working there anymore as I encountered three employees that looked irritated during my last visit. Two of the store locations in my city were hit with positive COVID infections. I don’t recall there being any type of clear shield at the registers and maybe that is why? The employees tell you to step away from the checkout counter while you are being rung up. Maybe they are tired of telling people to step away and they wish there were shields so they didn’t have to deal with it? The only happy, friendly employee I interacted with on my last visit was the guy outside who was cleaning carts and monitoring customers in line. Usually, all of the employees are friendly and appear happy.

    • Karen

      Oh! I hope it was just a ‘bad day’ thing. In my nearest TJ’s they DO have plastic by the registers and have since the beginning of COVID. I also get the ‘step away’ from the counter on some days and not on others. Don’t know if it’s a cashier by cashier thing or a manager by manager on duty thing?

  9. Patricia Myers Singleton

    I don’t agree with the recommendation to not buy fresh vegetables at TJs. They have one of the best selections of organic produce and very fresh. I also like that you can buy individual pieces as well as bags. They are also a great place to buy spices.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Oh cool! Thanks so much for taking a moment to share your thoughts with us, Patricia! Good to know!

    • Karen

      I have SOME produce I always buy at TJ’s – either because I can get it organic there and not elsewhere; or because it’s something particular like their ‘crunchy kale’ (i think it’s called) mix; lots of places have something like this now – but Trader Joe’s has one that does not come with salad dressing etc, just the chopped up kale/brussel sprouts/etc – and it’s cheaper there. I love that stuff – in a salad, or sauteed!

    • Susan

      I agree, I purchase ALL our produce there and have never been dissapointed.

  10. Chrissy Goff

    I love Trader Joes. I shop there to get my European favorites but most of the other items I can’t afford but I do splurge on German items once a month or during the holidays. I love that a German family owns it. We were stationed in Germany and lived there from 72-96 so it is a little taste of my childhood at least until I can go home and visit my mother.

  11. Heather C

    Trader Joe’s is the best! My kids have to eat their orange chicken at least 2 times a month 😂And they have some really amazing and really cheap beauty products too. If you haven’t tried their lavender salt scrub ($5) , their dry shampoo $4, hair serum $5 and their blueberry açaí face scrub $5 you’re seriously missing out!

  12. tipaye

    Alcoholic beverage sampling is not off-limits—my husband and I were able to sample wines (at a wine stand located near that section) with a valid government ID. I am unsure if they will open wine for sampling, but they definitely have offered it before 🙂

  13. Anna W

    I am obsessed with their rose water misting spray and their hand cream. They have the standard one all the time. Occasionally they will add a different scent, like rose or ginger, depending on the season. I swear their hand cream is identical to the fancy French stuff found at upscale malls!!!!

  14. Jaci1717

    Every location charges for paper bags? I’ve never noticed.

    • Carolyn

      I haven’t paid for paper bags at our location… I just checked my last receipt to make sure. 😉 They’re nice bags and we reuse them all the time!

  15. Pat Goff

    I have gone to our Trader Joes but there are hardly any lines when I am there. Maybe one person in front of me but sometimes I just walk up to the cashier and walk out.

  16. Christine Teel

    Thankfully all the ones I have been to in the DFW area do not charge for paper bags and rarely have lines since most the checkout stations are open!!
    Also, I do find some produce is a great price there — for instance my daughter loves honey crisp apples and unless on sale I don’t buy them but Trader Joe’s all the time price is great!!

  17. Proxy Quality

    Hello.This post was really remarkable, particularly since I was investigating for thoughts on this matter last couple of days.

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