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10 shopping hacks that every Trader Joe’s shopper should know

Shop Trader Joe’s like a pro with our insider tips on pricing, products and more little-known hacks you need to know.

By Virginia Gil
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A successful shopping experience at Trader Joe’s boils down to preparedness. Did you make a list? Did you read the Fearless Flyer? Did you bring your own bag? You’ll be in over your head if you think you can just walk into the chain’s perennially busy stores without any kind of plan in place or information on hand. Before you scour the message boards, beg to be let into a TJ’s mommy group for intel (those do exist) or go down a subreddit rabbit hole, heed our compact shopping guide to Trader Joe’s. It’s filled with hacks, money-saving tips and information to get you in and out of the grocery store with everything on your list plus a few items you didn’t know you needed.

Try before you buy

Trader Joe’s has a wonderful return policy that lets customers bring back any items they don’t like—no questions asked. We’re sure this happens often with some of the more unique seasonal releases (looking at you, Cookie Butter Beer).

Call ahead if there’s something you really want.

According to comments left on Reddit from past and present employees, some Trader Joe’s’ locations will put items on hold for you if you call ahead. They can’t do it with flowers but staff members are happy to set aside any other products you’ve had your eye on.

Trader Joe's
Photograph: Shutterstock

Buy bananas!

If you’re someone who buys ‘nanners often, buy them in bulk at Trader Joe’s. They’re sold by the piece rather than by weight (You won’t find a scale at TJ’s) and priced at just $0.19, making them the least expensive item in the store. According to the Inside Trader Joe's podcast, the decision to sell individual bananas was inspired by an elderly customer who didn't think she'd live long enough to enjoy the full bunch—morbid but practical. 

BYOBag

Bringing your own bags to the grocery store is great for the environment and good for your pocket. Folks who BYOB to Trader Joe’s can enter a raffle to win a $25 gift card for the store. Drawings happen weekly so the more you shop, the more likely you are to win. There is one giant asterisk here: Trader Joe’s temporarily paused the use of reusable bags due to Covid. Customers may bring their own but they won’t be allowed in the bagging area. There’s no word yet on when TJ’s will bring back this initiative but we’re certain something is in the works. Stay tuned...

Trader Joe's bag
Photograph: Shutterstock

Find your influencer

Just as you might follow beauty bloggers and food influencers to find out what the latest trend in skincare is or what new restaurant opened in your neighborhood, following a Trader Joe’s fan account is paramount to keeping up with what’s happening in stores. The Inside Trader Joe's podcast is a great place for high-level information and behind-the-scenes looks at the company, but Instagram is where you’ll find real-time guidance at what’s in stores as well as honest reviews. It’s a great way to learn more about a product before you buy it if you’re not keen on returns.

If you love it, stock up

There’s a finite amount of product that sits in TJ’s distribution centers, and team members are frequently analyzing inventory to determine what’s selling. If a product isn’t doing well, the company will discontinue it. Trader Joe’s won’t provide advance notice of what it plans to discontinue to keep individual stores from over-ordering products, depleting the inventory for areas where it could be successful or ignoring it altogether, which could mean the product just sits in a warehouse and the last of it is never sold.

Make a booze run

We all know about TJ’s Two Buck Chuck (which is more like Four Buck Chuck but we won’t go there), but most people don’t know that Trader Joe’s also sells hard alcohol. Of the nearly 500 stores in the country, about 30 of them have a liquor license and also carry a ton of great-quality, inexpensive white-label brands. Seek one out before you blow your month’s booze budget at Total Wine again.

Shop from the hit list

Whether you’re new to Trader Joe’s or looking to try something different, the list of annual customer’s choice winners is a great place to start. These voted-in selections include frozen foods, seasonings and desserts, among others of the year’s best sellers. They’re pretty popular so there’s no guarantee the items will be available at your neighborhood store, but it’s worth a shot. Here’s a look at who won this year.

Trader Joe's Everything Seasoning
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Get vocal about the stuff you really like

Comments left via Trader Joe’s feedback forms won’t go into the ether. There are people on the receiving end who read them and take your messages into account. For example, take the mashed potatoes. So many customers wrote in about the seasonal product that TJ’s decided to sell it permanently. Ask and you shall receive.

There’s no Wi-Fi at Trader Joe’s. Plan accordingly.

Folks used to Googling products while they shop or pulling up a grocery list from their email will need to plan ahead for a shopping trip where the cell reception might not be so sharp. You see, none of the 508 Trader Joe’s in the country have Wi-Fi. If you can’t guarantee a solid connection, we have to workarounds for you. First, ask an employee. They’re known for being friendly, polite and immensely knowledgeable about everything sold in stores. It’s they’re job to sample everything and they’re more than happy to provide feedback. If it’s organization you need help with, download the Fearless Flyer’s checklist filled with the latest drops.

Figure out what to do with your haul

Trader Joe's
Photograph: Time Out/Ali Garber

Trader Joe’s fan accounts to follow on Instagram right now

News Eating

Trader Joe’s ever-evolving inventory is a lot to keep up with, even for die-hard fans of the chain. There are the seasonal drops, the stuff on its way out and the new items that seem to magically appear on shelves—not to mention the sales. Following a TJ fan account makes shopping the store much less overwhelming.

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