1. Use manufacturer coupons on name brand products.
Since Trader Joe’s cuts out the middleman on product sourcing, and they don’t spend money on marketing, most of their prices are already low. But that doesn’t mean ditching your coupons every time you shop there! Bring them with you (printable coupons included) and use them on the name-brand products they sell.
In the past we’ve seen deals on these brands and more:
- Blue Diamond
- Laughing Cow
- So Delicious
- Bob’s Red Mill
- Hansen’s Soda
- Barbara’s Products
- Lactaid Milk
- Soy Dream
2. Get high-quality products for prices lower than you’ll find at Albertsons or Whole Foods.
I often find that Trader Joe’s prices are lower than most other grocery stores—even on the staples like produce and eggs. I checked the prices of several items at a Whole Foods and Albertsons to see how much I’m actually saving by shopping at Trader Joe’s. Ultimately, I found that I save more money and get a higher quality product by shopping there. Keep in mind, prices will vary slightly from store to store.
3. 80% of the products in the store bear the Trader Joe’s name.
Most grocery stores carry over 50,000 items. Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, stocks only about 4,000 products. You can say they’re extremely picky. With so few products, and TJ’s slapping their store label on 80% on them, we should all feel confident that the products they DO have, are good…REAL good. (Speaking of real, all the products under their label have no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or GMOs.)
Store brand labels correlate to the ethnicity of the food:
- Trader Jose’s – Mexican food
- Trader Giotto’s – Italian food
- Trader Joe-San – Japanese food
- Trader Ming’s – Asian food
- Trader Jacques – French food and soaps
- Baker Josef’s – flour and bagels
- JosephsBrau – beer
- Joe’s Kids – children’s food
4. Trader Joe’s sells marked-down name-brand products under its own labels.
Trader Joe’s skips the middleman (thus the low prices) to source their food, and goes straight to local and international vendors. According to Forbes, they’re very secretive about this—however, go into a Trader Joe’s and just look at the store-brand packaging. Those Trader Joe’s pita chips look and taste pretty darn similar to Stacy’s pita chips, and that’s because they’re the same product—just repackaged—not to mention, lower priced. Cheerios are around $4 a box at supermarkets, but go into a TJ’s and find the same-quality product for just $2.
5. Trader Joe’s is not a one-stop shop.
Don’t expect to do all your shopping there. TJ’s doesn’t carry many paper products or even storage bags—you’ll have to go to Target or Walmart for that. What it does have a lot of is “luxury foods” like artisan cheese, macarons, and international specialties for surprisingly cheap.
6. All the eggs under the Trader Joe’s label come from cage-free hens.
Only 11% of the eggs sold in our country come from cage-free hens. Ten years ago, Trader Joe’s made the bold move to sell only cage-free eggs under their label. Nine years from now, 100% of the eggs they sell—store brand and name brand—will be cage-free. That’s amazing!
7. Skip the sliced cheese–go for the specialty cheese instead.
My rule of thumb is, if it’s going on a sandwich or in a weeknight dinner recipe, I buy it somewhere else. However, if it’s going on a cheese plate or I’m pairing it with wine, I stick to my favorites at Trader Joe’s.
8. Perishables are sold by unit, not weight.
Produce and perishables sold by unit instead of weight means a faster checkout experience, which is a definite plus. However, selling products this way also means higher prices. You’re better off buying your fruits and veggies at a regular supermarket where you can choose individual units by appearance, weight, and ultimately price (because not all apples were created equal).
9. Ask to sample anything in the store for free.
Trader Joe’s is known for giving out a smorgasbord of free samples, but did you know that you can try anything in the entire store for free? That’s right: you can try anything—even prepackaged food that comes in sealed containers! Just ask a store employee first.
10. Don’t expect to find clearance products. They’re all donated.
Trader Joe’s doesn’t mark down or put items on clearance, because they have a policy of donating anything that isn’t good enough to sell but is still safe for consumption. Each location has a donations coordinator who takes care of all donations locally. This means that they are involved in your local community—donating to schools, non-profit organizations, food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens. How awesome is that?!
11. Find low-cost flowers in bouquets, single-stem, and bulk.
Trader Joe’s long-lasting relationship with some of the largest flower producers in Colombia keeps their flower costs consistently low and of high quality. If you’re planning an event and need cheap high-quality flowers in bulk, consider calling your local TJ’s ahead of time and special ordering.
12. Buy the Merlot, Shiraz, or Chardonnay Two Buck Chuck.
Although Trader Joe’s has about eight different varieties of their Charles Shaw “Two Buck Chuck” (Three Buck Chuck for Trader Joe’s outside of California), a sommelier from NYC’s three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park ranked the Merlot, Shiraz, and Chardonnay wines better than the rest. If you’re over Charles Shaw, there are also some excellent wines in the $5-$10 range.
13. Don’t buy prepackaged produce–buy seasonal items, bananas, and packaged salads instead.
Most of the fruit and vegetables sold at Trader Joe’s are surprisingly not local. This means more packaging and the inability to touch, smell, and properly choose the ripest and most sweet-smelling individual piece of fruit or vegetable. Seasonal items like corn and artichokes are often a good deal and taste great, while bananas and packaged salads are well priced and of great quality.
14. Some locations hide a stuffed animal in the store for kids to find.
Keep kids occupied as you shop by having them look for the hidden stuffed animal in the store. Some stores will reward kids for finding it with a lollipop at checkout. Check your local store for details.
15. Avoid shopping Saturday through Monday.
Like most grocery stores, Trader Joe’s is busiest on the weekends, but because their stores (about 12,000 square feet) are way smaller than large supermarkets (about 50,000 square feet), you’re bound to experience something more like a war zone. Avoid the long lines and crowded aisles you’ll have to strategically make your way through, by staying away from Trader Joe’s Saturday through Monday.
16. Stock up on the 99-cent greeting cards.
TJ’s works directly with a small greeting-card producer who works directly with artists, which means quality cards for every occasion that you can’t find anywhere else.
17. Don’t buy the overpriced frozen fruit.
Frozen fruit is not something I stock up on at Trader Joe’s. It’s more expensive for a bag that’s smaller than the ones I find at other stores. This item usually ends up on my Winco or Costco grocery list. You’re better off buying the frozen microwaveable meals instead.
18. Impress friends by knowing what the bell ringing at the register is all about.
One Ring: Open a new register
Two Rings: Questions as checkout
Three Rings: Manager needed
19. Unsatisfied with a product? Return it–no questions asked.
When it comes to return policies, Trader Joe’s is like the Nordstrom of grocery stores. If, for whatever reason, you’re unsatisfied with anything at Trader Joe’s, bring it back to the store for a full refund with receipt—no questions asked. You can even return opened or expired products.