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The cheap prices at Trader Joe’s make it a popular place to shop for groceries.
But its popularity can also make Trader Joe’s an extremely stressful place to shop.
Anyone who frequents the grocery chain knows that lines to check out can often snake around half the store.
Trader Joe’s keeps its prices cheaper than many of its competitors by primarily selling its in-house brand.
We compiled some tips to navigate the often-crowded store while taking advantage of its best deals.
Mallory Schlossberg contributed reporting to an earlier version of this article.
Consult the Fearless Flyer.
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You can pick it up in stores, or it might be mailed to you, but perhaps most conveniently it’s available online. The Fearless Flyer highlights featured products, which can help you plan out your food-shopping list.
Know when to go.
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Keep track of when your local Trader Joe’s store gets crowded.
“As for the best days to shop, the pricing remains the same from day to day, so look for the days or times when the store is least crowded. My local store is a war zone from Saturday to Monday, so I try to avoid those days,” noted an editor at The Kitchn.
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While Trader Joe’s doesn’t have “sales” per se, you can use coupons for brand-name – not the Trader Joe’s in-house brand – products, notes All Natural Savings, which highlights shopping deals.
Money Saving Mom highlights weekly Trader Joe’s deals, too.
Stock up on frozen meals.
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Keeping frozen meals on hand makes it easy prepare a quick dinner, and Trader Joe’s has some of the best deals in the frozen section.
According to Kiplinger, even non-Trader Joe’s brands, like Amy’s, are up to $2 cheaper at Trader Joe’s compared to competitors.
Of course, it’s important to know which items taste the best. The blog “What’s Good at Trader Joe’s?” offers extensive reviews of Trader Joe’s products. Of course, taste is subjective, but the review for Turkey “Meatloaf Muffins” is so scathing you’ll want to stay away regardless.
Bring your own bag.
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Bargain Babe points out it could be worth it at some locations.
“At Trader Joe’s, bring your bags and spend at least $25 and you’ll be entered in their weekly raffle to win a $25 gift card,” according to the site. “I’ve gotten lucky several times, three to be exact. The $25 gift cards saved me $75 on my grocery bill. Make sure to fill out the raffle ticket and turn it in. If you don’t see them, ask the cashier.”
Don’t go to Trader Joe’s on an empty stomach.
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“Don’t shop on an empty stomach,” Jess Dang of Cook Smarts said when discussing organic grocery shopping on a budget with Business Insider. “It’s too tempting.”
Trader Joe’s has too many good looking – and affordable – items that might be unnecessary.
Don’t make Trader Joe’s your primary source for fresh produce.
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A majority of the produce at Trader Joe’s is prepackaged. That can mean the produce may not be as fresh, according to Dang.
Dang also points out that it gives you “a little bit less freedom, in terms of, ‘I only want two tomatoes, and it’s already packaged in a package of six.'” She said that “you just have to know what kind of shopper you are” when it comes to produce.
Make sure to get the specialty cheeses.
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Kiplinger has noted that the Trader Joe’s specialty cheese selection has a wide variety of choices and great prices. Trader Joe’s specialty cheeses also ranks high on Foodbeast’s list of top items.
Go to Trader Joe’s primarily for packaged non-perishables.
Trader Joe’s is best known for its signature in-house food products, like its Speculoos cookie butter. Having a stocked pantry is critical to saving money when grocery shopping.
“If you have that well-stocked pantry … you don’t have to be adding very much every additional week,” Dang told Business Insider.
Skip the almond butter — get the peanut butter instead.
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Even though almond butter is one of the most popular foods at Trader Joe’s, Kiplinger notes that the Trader Joe’s organic peanut butter offers a better deal, as the price is lower than at competitor grocery stores.
You don’t always have to buy organic.
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Cook Smarts provides a list of “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean Fifteen.”
The Dirty Dozen are items that are wise to buy organic, and the Clean Fifteen don’t need to be purchased organic.
Cook Smarts also offers a handy list showing the shelf life for various produce items.
Snag some bananas.
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They’re just $0.19 a piece, making them a savvy choice.
Do a massive trip for specialty snacks.
Dang said, “If you just need to buy the snacks, then I would go to Trader Joe’s and just stock up on that stuff, just knowing it’s not going to go bad particularly quickly, and you’re going to like and enjoy it and eat it.”
Some of the most popular snacks include dark-chocolate peanut-butter cups, popcorn with olive oil, kettle corn, and roasted seaweed snacks.
Be sure to get some wine.
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Trader Joe’s is known for its famous – or notorious – Charles Shaw wine, also famously known as Two Buck Chuck.
It’s criticized by some, as Slate has noted, but the website also notes people still buy it in droves.