7 Easy Ways to Save Time and Money at Trader Joe’s (Fans Swear By Them!)

published Aug 3, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

There’s nothing like a trip to your local Trader Joe’s. The prices are accessible, the packaging is fun and cheeky, and there are so many gems on the shelves and in the freezers, it’s almost impossible to wrap your brain around it. The grocery chain has given hungry snackers so much: Cookie Butter, enough frozen entrees to last a lifetime, Danish Kringle, Everything But the Bagel seasoning… the list goes on and on.

However, the home of flavor crisps, flatbreads, and those delicious peanut butter cups can also be a bit intimidating, whether you’re dealing with long entry lines, sensory overload from all the goodies on the shelves, or the urge to put everything that sparks your fancy into your cart. Save time and money for your next TJ’s trip with these expert tips from Trader Joe’s superfans.

Call ahead to see if they have your fave products in stock.

Did you know you can call your local Trader Joe’s and check on the status of certain popular items like cauliflower gnocchi? If you’re yearning for a cult favorite or trying to stake your claim to a seasonal item, it may be a good idea to pick up the phone and have a chat with one of TJ’s friendly employees before you head out. There’s nothing worse than seeing an empty shelf where your fave used to live!

Go during the off hours.

Trader Joe’s is a popular place, and tends to be super busy during peak hours. Reduce wait times in entry lines or checkouts by showing up to do your shopping during the off hours, like mid-week or weekend nights. “As a former TJs employee, if your TJs is insanely crowded as mine is, go on Wednesday and Thursday because they’re the slowest days,” says Alexandra Jones of Philadelphia, adding that Sunday and Monday are typically busiest. “Pre-pandemic, my favorite time to go in New York City was Friday or Saturday night, after 7 or 8,” shares TJ’s fan Dana Li. “It was so empty!” 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Shop with a plan.

If you’re trying to save time and cash, go in with a list and stick to it — even when you’re tempted by fun new products. It’s easy to make impulse purchases at Trader Joe’s, so try a sample of something you’re interested in if possible before you buy. “I tend to go in with a list of what I’m looking for and try not to stray too much, otherwise I’ll spend WAY too much,” says Julia Knox of Richmond, Virginia.

Make meal prep easier via the frozen food section.

If you’re looking to save major time as you prep your meals for the week, look no further than TJ’s frozen food section. “I use their frozen fire roasted corn in burrito bowls, tacos, salads… so many summer recipes,” says Madeline Hodgman-Korth of Cleveland. “I cook it from frozen in a dot of olive oil in a frying pan and then top whatever I’m making with it. So much easier on a weeknight than roasting an ear of corn.” 

Sidney Birnbaum of Boston is a fan of the frozen pastas and can stretch the ingredients out for a few meals. “I love the frozen pastas. They often include more sauce than is necessary, but the sauce is frozen in separate blocks so I love to pull some out and save them to sauce other meals!”

Follow TJ-centric Instagram accounts for inspiration.

There are a plethora of Trader Joe’s Instagram accounts to help you craft your list, from review accounts that give honest opinions about new items like Peri-Peri Sauce and old faves like Strawberry Yogurt-Os to meal inspiration pages that can light your culinary fire. If you’re a TJ’s newbie or trying to shop outside your comfort zone, follow a few and you may just find an item or two you can’t live without. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Think beyond the Three Buck Chuck.

Yes, they’ve got cheap house wine, but your local Trader Joe’s may be a great place to score a deal on other bottles too. “I’ve found that wine is cheaper there than any of my other local grocery stores,” says Emily Rohles of Houston, Texas. “Not just Three Buck Chuck, but  normal brands that are carried in other grocery stores are cheaper at my TJ’s.”

Look for less expensive dupes for fancy ingredients.

TJ’s is known for its accessible price points, so if there are items you like but never buy because of their price tag, like saffron, pure maple syrup, or nuts and dried fruit, keep an eye out to score a deal. Their Fearless Flyer is also a great resource — give it a quick once over when you arrive to browse specials and deals on your go-tos. There’s even an alleged dupe for some popular brand name moisturizers in the TJ’s beauty section!