15 Trader Joe's Shopping Mistakes You Should Avoid at All Costs

Avoid these "no-nos" and make your next TJ's trip hassle-free and less expensive.

Between the free samples, occasionally long lines, and rush to try new products, shopping at Trader Joe's is always an adventure. While the retailer is celebrated for its reasonable prices and inventive items, that doesn't mean shoppers can't fall into traps that may make their in-store experience tedious and more expensive. In fact, because the beloved California-based company has a penchant for constantly churning out tasty new products, it's easy to get distracted during shopping trips.

For example, how many times have you bought a shiny new offering only to discover once you get home that you don't actually like it? Luckily, you can avoid this mistake thanks to Trader Joe's flexible sampling policy.


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In addition to offering a bevy of free samples near the back of most stores, TJ's employees are permitted to open any ready-to-eat items for customers to try upon request. In other words, if you're unsure about the new Super Seedy Cheese Snack Bites, you can try it before you toss it in your cart.

Another common mistake many Trader Joe's shoppers make is not stocking up on holiday items ahead of time. This can be especially detrimental to your holiday plans if you're unaware (or neglect to remember) that last-minute jaunts to Trader Joe's during the holidays are virtually out of the question. In addition to being shuttered on Thanksgiving Day each year, Trader Joe's is also closed on Christmas and New Year's Day and has shortened hours on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

Trader Joe's Shopping Mistakes

01 of 15

You don't buy items from the Trader Joe's brand

The chain has its own in-house brand of foods, which offers everything from seasoning blends to boxed cake and cookie mixes, and everything in between.

Generally, Trader Joe's branded items tend to be (though aren't always) less expensive than their name-brand counterparts. For example, Trader Joe's cheeses are almost always a bargain (shoutout to the 7-ounce block of Unexpected Cheddar for $3.99) as are the $1 single-serve Greek yogurts, which are less expensive than similar products from Fage and Chobani.

02 of 15

You don't take advantage of the liberal taste-test policy

While you can't walk into your neighborhood grocery store and sample anything you want, that kind of behavior is actually encouraged at Trader Joe's. TJ's employees have permission to open any ready-to-eat item in the store, which means you're able to taste-test hundreds of products without buying them first. Not taking advantage of this policy when you see fit is a mistake that can end up costing you money. After all, who wants to discover they're not a truffle fan after settling down on the couch and opening a bag of TJ's Italian White Truffle Popcorn?

03 of 15

Or the free samples

Who doesn't love a free sample? Stores typically have a dedicated station near the back that cranks out little tastes of everything from Organic Naan Crackers to the new Truffle Cream Filled Gnocchi. If you're unsure about a new or existing product, head to the back of the store and see if you can score a free sample before you pull out your wallet.

04 of 15

You don't stock up on alcohol

Some, though not all, Trader Joe's locations have a nearby or adjoining Trader Joe's Wine Shop. While it may be tempting to turn your nose up at Two Buck Chuck and other TJ's wines, resist that urge! Not only is Trader Joe's wine often very affordable, but most of it actually has quite an impressive pedigree.

The TJ's Powers That Be have remained tight-lipped about exactly which California vineyards produce the brand's wine, but only because the booze sports a better price than that of many competitors, without sacrificing quality. "If we say who [the wine producers] are, and then we offer this great price, the other folks they do business with are going to want that same great price," Trader Joe's marketing director, Tara Miller, said on an episode of the Inside Trader Joe's podcast.

05 of 15

Or Know Where the Best Wine Is

Shopping for wine can be intimidating and that’s especially true at a Trader Joe's Wine Shop, where you can find a bevy of delicious, quality wines at affordable prices. If you’re in a hurry and want to pick up some of the “best” wines, look to the stacks, which are the standalone displays typically situated at the end of an aisle. As Miller explained on a recent episode of the Inside Trader Joe's podcast, this is a quick and easy way to find a great bottle of wine. “In whatever store, whatever Trader Joe's you shop in, the stacks are the wines that sell at the highest rate—at the fastest rate. So you can probably be sure those are gonna be really good,” she shared.

In other supermarkets, brands can often buy space in “the stacks” to draw attention to their products, regardless of taste or quality, but that’s not the case with Trader Joe’s. Instead, the company allows TJ’s employees to determine which products get that piece of prime real estate, and the items chosen are typically those that are “worthwhile” and “worthy of customers' attention,'' according to Miller’s podcast co-host Matt Sloan. In other words, you can rest assured that you’re picking up a solid bottle of wine when you stick to the stacks.

06 of 15

You don't purchase seasonal items while you can

If you're a fan of seasonal Trader Joe's items such as Jingle Jangle and Pumpkin Pancake Mix, not stocking up on these favorites when you see them in-store is a big no-no. Due to their seasonality, many of these items are only available for weeks at a time, and when they run out, they're likely out of stock for the better part of a year. So, what are you waiting for?

07 of 15

You don't nab pantry staples

Yes, Trader Joe's is the home of the ever-popular Mandarin Orange Chicken and Spanakopita, but the chain also sells plenty of pantry staples at prices that are hard to beat. Some of our favorites include olive oil, steamed lentils, and dried pasta, which TJ's sells for $0.99 per pound in a variety of shapes and sizes.

And if you want stock up on some spices or spice blends that you can't find everywhere else, TJ's is also a good bet. Customers consistently love items such as the Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend, the Green Goddess Seasoning Blend, and more.

08 of 15

You don't read the Fearless Flyer

If you want to know what's new at Trader Joe's, peruse the Fearless Flyer. These are published once a month and include special deals or promotions, which can be especially helpful for meal prep ideas or holiday shopping.

09 of 15

You forget your reusable grocery bags

It's totally normal to forget your reusable grocery bags at home every now and then, but try not to forget them when you're running out to Trader Joe's.

For starters, you'll pay 10 cents for every paper bag you end up using, and showing up without your own reusable bags means you won't be eligible to enter the Trader Joe's raffle.

Each week, TJ's rewards one customer with a $25 gift card, but in order to enter you need to bring your own shopping bag and spend at least $25.

10 of 15

You go bananas for bananas

Trader Joe's bananas are famously 19 cents each, but don't let that low price lull you into thinking that all TJ's produce prices are stellar. As it turns out, the bagged 365 Everyday Value brand spinach sold at Whole Foods is cheaper than similar spinach sold at Trader Joe's, while Honeycrisp apples from Kroger are less expensive than Honeycrisp apples from TJ's.

Additionally, even Trader Joe's employees have said the produce tends to be underwhelming when compared to other TJ's products. During a Reddit AMA with a TJ's employee, said employee was asked if there was a Trader Joe's product they wouldn't buy. While the team member clarified that they trusted "99 percent of [the] products," they did have one important caveat. "The 'iffy'-est is dry produce (namely tomatoes and stone fruit)—they tend to get moldy pretty quickly in the summer, but my store makes sure to check them constantly, and I still buy them (after a quick scan). It may be different at a store with lazier employees."

11 of 15

You make the trip when it's too crowded

There's nothing more frustrating than hitting up Trader Joe's when it's full and there's still a line of people waiting to get inside. This creates pressure while you're shopping and means you're more likely to forget items you need in favor of panicked impulse buys. And while it can be tricky to head into a Trader Joe's that's not bustling, employees have said that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to shop. The same is true for early in the morning, particularly during the week.

12 of 15

You shop hungry

Shopping hungry is a faux pas no matter what supermarket you're headed to, but it can be especially dangerous at Trader Joe's. Whether you're tempted by the plethora of frozen dishes that can be made in minutes, or the array of new products, it's hard to walk out of a Trader Joe's without several items you had no intention of buying if you're there hungry. And don't even get us started on the irresistible snacks and sweets that are placed along the checkout line!

13 of 15

You don't do your holiday shopping ahead of time

If you plan on doing some or all of your holiday shopping at Trader Joe's, don't count on making any last-minute trips. For starters, Trader Joe's is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day, and has limited hours on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Additionally, many seasonal items have a limited stock and may sell out quickly, so it's best to purchase them shortly after they're released in order to avoid any holiday catastrophes.

14 of 15

You ignore the flowers and plants section

Trader Joe’s is obviously a great destination for meals and snacks, but the retailer also sells a wide variety of flowers and plants that shouldn’t be missed. Whether you’re looking for a thoughtful gift or something to brighten up your own home with, TJ’s has something for everyone. Plus, since Trader Joe’s sources many of its flowers  through VeriFlora—a company that certifies only organic and Fair Trade stems—you can feel good about your purchase. 

For the freshest flowers that don’t cost a fortune, opt for the seasonal bouquets. TJ’s also has plenty of floral arrangements pegged to holidays throughout the year, and since the retailer mainly purchases its flowers in large volume, directly from the growers, flowers from Trader Joe’s typically cost less than they would elsewhere.

15 of 15

You skip the skincare aisle

While Trader Joe’s might not be a skincare destination, we encourage you to give that section of the store a visit on your next trip. After all, the retailer made headlines recently for its Daily Facial Sunscreen, which many TikTok users swear is a dupe of Supergoop's Unseen Sunscreen—a similar product that’s four times more expensive than the TJ’s option. Trader Joe’s seemingly took some delight in the comparison, writing on its website: “We’re selling each 1.7-fluid-ounce tube of TJ’s Daily Facial Sunscreen for a fraction of what we’ve seen similar formulas sell for at big-box beauty boutiques.”

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