If you’ve ever been to a Trader Joe’s, you know it’s got unique in-house brands and an extensive frozen food section. Grocery shopping on a budget can be tricky at TJ’s since they don’t have sales or offer coupons.
Before you head to good old TJ’s and walk out with a cart overflowing with frozen novelty products, there are a few things you should know. To start, don’t do that. Shopping on a budget can be tricky and takes planning. Especially at a store with no coupons.
While Trader Joe’s is known for being affordable, there are things you should and shouldn’t do to save money shopping there. Let’s have a look at some of those things.
1. Think Outside the Store
When you’re shopping at Trader Joe’s you won’t find any coupons or sales. This is because they say they are already giving you the most affordable prices they can. So, if you are looking to save on purchases, you’ll need to rely on outside sources.
Consider using a credit card with reward points or cashback bonuses to save money on your Trader Joe’s trip. Since they do not offer coupons, this is a way to get discounts and money back on your items without it being directly related to the store.
Another Trader Joe’s secret is that they do take manufacturer coupons. The catch is, most of their products are from their in-house brands. While this won’t be applicable to most of the store, any little bit counts when saving money, right?
2. Check Out the Fearless Flyer
While it may not be full of coupons, utilizing the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer can help you plan out your shopping trip. If you are new to Trader Joe’s, it will be especially helpful. It can be an overwhelming experience when you don’t know what to expect!
Planning your trip to TJ’s ahead of time will save you from grabbing every single item that looks interesting. Take a minute to browse the Fearless Flyer, and make an outline for your shopping.
If you are trying to meal plan, the Trader Joe’s website also has a recipes section to help you with your shopping.
3. Go Early, And Be Ready to Adapt
When you go to Trader Joe’s, it’s important to keep in mind that items come and go quickly. The best thing you can do is go as early as possible. You can check their hours for your location on their website. Depending on the location, there will be a senior hour typically in the morning.
With social distancing protocols in place, there can be lines outside and long wait times. Going early and being prepared to wait will set you up for success on your shopping trip.
Items circulating on social media will sell out, so if that’s what you’re looking for, be prepared for that. Shopping at Trader Joe’s can take some improvising, but keeping a list and going early will keep you within budget.
4. Let’s Talk About Produce
Trader Joe’s is known for carrying quality affordable produce. With that being said, stay away from pre-cut and seasoned veggies. No matter where you shop, the prepared produce will always be more expensive. Buy fresh produce and prepare it at home.
Another way to save on produce is to buy frozen. We already know TJ’s has an excellent frozen foods section, so why not try the produce? Buying frozen will also prevent wasting produce that has gone bad if not used in time. You can check out what frozen products they have available right now, right here.
5. Try it Before You Buy it!
A little-known fact about Trader Joe’s is that the employees can open any product to allow you to sample it. This will save you hassle with an impulse buy that you end up hating, throwing out, or letting it get stale in the back of your cabinet.
Sampling also gives you time to think about the purchase. After taking the time to test the product, you might decide you don’t want to splurge on it. If you’re going to take advantage of this policy, be polite, and of course don’t overdo it! One sample per shopping trip should suffice.
6. Buy the Bananas!
We have all dealt with bananas going brown and getting mushy on the counter. If this is something you experience time and time again, fear not! Trader Joe’s sells single bananas for just $.19. No longer will you stress over finishing the bundle of bananas you were forced to purchase. At Trader Joe’s, you can choose how many bananas you buy.
There is an interesting story behind this policy. According to CNBC, the Trader Joe’s CEO, Dan Bane, asked an elderly woman why she didn’t put any bananas in her cart. She told him that she “might not live to eat the fourth banana.” Since then, the store has sold single bananas.
7. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)
Reusable bags are commonplace nowadays, but at certain Trader Joe’s locations, there’s a serious perk. Bringing your own bag and spending $25 will enter you in a raffle for a $25 gift card. This is not a heavily advertised perk, so be sure to ask an employee if your store is participating in this.
8. Buy Frozen Meat
Typically, at other grocers, you’d skip the frozen meat and go fresh. Fresh meat at TJ’s can be very expensive. To save at Trader Joe’s, head to the frozen meat section. You can buy decent frozen meats at an affordable price, and there’s no worry of them going bad like with fresh meats.
Trader Joe’s sells all kinds of meats in the frozen section. Stocking up on frozen meat is a great way to cut down on shopping trip costs later on, since you already have your proteins.
9. Check Out the Rest of the Frozen Food Aisles
Anyone that’s familiar with Trader Joe’s knows about frozen food. The store is known for exceptional frozen novelty items that are less expensive than at other stores. While not confirmed, it’s been said that their in-house brands are the same as some other brands like Amy’s.
Trader Joe’s frozen food section is so popular there are endless lists on the internet ranking the products. When you’re making your shopping list, leave some wiggle room to splurge on a few frozen items to try. Having frozen meals on hand is a good way to avoid ordering takeout on a lazy night.
10. The Cereal is a Money Saver
Trader Joe’s in-house brand cereals usually run about half the price of mainstream brands. For example, Joe’s O’s is around $2 a box and is comparable to Cheerios, which can be as much as $5 a box at other groceries. While they lack coupons, Trader Joe’s makes up for it with a lot of affordable items.
11. Browse the Wine
Wine can be expensive, but Trader Joe’s shoppers get quite a deal. The Charles Shaw wine, or ‘Two Buck Chuck’ as it’s known is a popular item. It’s not $2 anymore, but it’s still pretty cheap compared to other wines.
12. Check the Cheese
For those who enjoy gourmet cheeses, Trader Joe’s has some of the best prices out of any grocery store. They cut small wedges that can be as low as $5, and you can mix and match. It’s an upgrade from the cheese aisle at other grocery stores, and you’ll get your fancy cheese fix at a much lower price than somewhere like Whole Foods.
13. Don’t Go Shopping Hungry!
This rule applies to any grocery shopping trip, but at Trader Joe’s you are more likely to go off the rails with impulse buys. They have so many unique products and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Going shopping hungry will only make things worse! Try using the shopping list from their website to keep you on track. Take yourself to lunch before you shop, so you don’t leave with a chaotic cart of snacks and novelty impulse purchases.
14. Enter a Contest
That’s right, despite not having coupons, Trader Joe’s lists contests on their website from time to time. Last summer, there was an ice cream sandwich contest, and winners received gift cards to the store. They don’t happen too often, so be on the lookout for when they’re posted so you can try it out.
15. Don’t Buy Household Items
When you’re shopping at Trader Joe’s, skip the household products. Unless you have a specific item that they sell in mind, it’s best to shop elsewhere for paper towels and cleaning supplies. These items will be much more expensive at Trader Joe’s, and you’ll have less of a variety to choose from.
A Few Last Words
Shopping at Trader Joe’s is a fun and unique experience. There are endless products to browse, and their in-house specialty products are worth the trip alone. When you start throwing everything that sparks your interest into the cart, your total will add up quickly.
Adhering to these tips will ensure you spend a reasonable amount and save some money even without in-house sales. If you have any other tips and tricks for saving at Trader Joe’s please share them with us in the comments!