Mistakes Everyone Makes When Shopping At Trader Joe's

Walking into a sprawling grocery store with what seems like a thousand choices for everything from peanut butter to bottled water can be overwhelming. Perhaps that's part of what's so appealing about Trader Joe's. The popular grocery chain offers fewer products than most traditional grocery stores, which can make shopping there feel simple and easy. Or maybe it's the fact that you can find a wealth of high-quality products without the Whole Foods prices. Trader Joe's quirky, trendy, millennial-friendly aesthetic certainly doesn't hurt its reputation either.

Whatever the case may be, just about everyone loves a good Trader Joe's run. But Trader Joe's isn't the average grocery store, so if you don't know what you're doing when you walk into this much-loved chain, you could be missing out on the best possible Trader Joe's experience — and some amazing deals. Avoiding the most common Trader Joe's mistakes can ensure that your next trip to this store is a grocery shopper's dream come true.

These are the mistakes everyone makes when shopping at Trader Joe's.

Not buying Trader Joe's private-label brands

If you're used to shopping at other large grocery store chains, you may have opted for the national brands in the past, even when there was a store brand available. Oftentimes, shoppers buy the same products again and again without seeing if there's a better option out there. It makes sense — why take a risk when you know what you like? At Trader Joe's, though, you'll want to try some of the private-label brands. The store stocks plenty of its own products instead of offering a wider variety of products from other companies. According to Kiplinger, about eight in ten items you'll find at Trader Joe's are from a store brand. Don't think that means you're getting a raw deal, though. The Trader Joe's private label is super popular, as it offers simple, high-quality products at a competitive price point.

These products include those with the Trader Joe's name as well as several other names, such as Trader Jose's and Trader Ming's. You can find everything from salad mixes to soy milk to frozen meals with the Trader Joe's stamp of approval. And since these products are often essentials, it's easy to fill up your cart with a wide variety of them to see which ones you like best.

Not taking advantage of new products at Trader Joe's

All too often, we go into the grocery store week after week and buy the same products we always get. After a while, those tried-and-true staples can feel like a bit of a bore, and it can make you less than motivated to be creative in the kitchen. While you'd want to avoid this at any store, it's something you definitely shouldn't do when you shop at Trader Joe's, since you have so many opportunities to switch it up and try something all new.

Most grocery chains have to establish connections with certain suppliers, which makes it more difficult for them to change up their inventories on a regular basis. This is why you pretty much always see the same products at other grocery stores. However, Trader Joe's doesn't have that problem since it carries so many of its own products. The chain brings in brand-new products from its own line regularly, giving you the chance to try out different dishes, cuisines, and ingredients.

Just keep in mind that this also means that not every product stays on the shelf forever. Your old favorites may not always be there (in fact, some our favorite Trader Joe's products have been discontinued), so make sure to stock up on the stuff you really like if you think it may not be around for much longer.

Missing out on Trader Joe's seasonal products

Of the new products that come out every so often at Trader Joe's, the seasonal products might just be the most highly anticipated. Some of these are brand new items, and some return year after year, but either way, they're items you can only find at certain times of the year. The seasonal products aren't just new items on the shelf — they're also only available for a limited time. It can make any time of year feel just a bit more special when you arrive home with a fun themed food item to share with family and friends.

You'll find these products for just about every season, so keep an eye on the shelves for new seasonal treats year-round. But perhaps the most celebrated seasonal products at Trader Joe's are the ones that come out in the fall. The pumpkin rolls can make any fall morning feel cozier, and the honey roasted pumpkin ravioli makes a quick and easy dinner. And don't forget to check out the snack section when you want something seasonal ... you don't want to miss the Candy Cane Joe-Joe's you can find at Trader Joe's in the winter.

And don't think the seasonal goodness stops with food items. The Christmas season in 2019 brought white pine soap and lotion, and summer 2020 brought watermelon face mist. Trader Joe's knows that our nose likes seasonal treats just as much as our bellies, and we thank them for that.

Shopping at Trader Joe's when it's busy

Many grocery chains out there have massive, sprawling stores that you could easily spend hours walking through. Because these stores are so big, you usually don't have to deal with too much crowding. However, since Trader Joe's stores tend to be on the smaller size, they can be difficult to navigate if everyone in your neighborhood is there at the same time. This can be an even bigger issue if you live in a city or other densely populated area.

If you want to avoid the rush, you should try shopping at Trader Joe's when it's not as busy. Generally, that means you'll want to avoid after-work hours during the weekdays, since plenty of shoppers will stop at the grocery store on their way home from work. Weekends can be busy too, especially in the middle of the day when people are running their weekly errands. If you can manage to go sometime during a weekday or early in the morning, you'll have to contend with fewer crowds, and you'll have plenty of time to browse their interesting selection of products without feeling rushed.

Forgetting to grab the free samples from Trader Joe's

Let's be honest: One of the best parts of grocery shopping is getting to try the free samples — and Costco and Sam's club aren't the only stores that hand out free samples pretty regularly. In fact, some shoppers plan to go to the store at a certain time so they can take advantage of those sweet, sweet samples. If you're looking for a little something more from your grocery shopping experience, try going to a Trader Joe's location that offers a free sample station (most of them do).

Something that sets Trader Joe's apart from other stores with free samples is the fact that you can actually try any ready-to-eat product in the store — not just what's on display at the sample station. The team members have permission to open and provide you samples of any food that's ready to eat (so nothing frozen or that needs cooked), on the spot. For those who just can't decide whether to take the leap and try a new product, this is definitely the way to go. You can't deny that Trader Joe's takes the sample game to a whole new level.

Not using the Fearless Flyer when you shop at Trader Joe's

Far too many of us waltz into a grocery store with nothing more than a vague idea of what we need for the next few days. But if you get into the habit of planning your meals for the week and then shopping accordingly, you may be able to cut down on all those shopping trips — and save some money in the meantime. One Trader Joe's tool you have to take advantage of in this situation is the Fearless Flyer.

The Fearless Flyer highlights deals and promotions that are going on in the store, which means you'll want to check it out to see which products you can get for a discount in any given month. This can help you plan your meals for the week because you can design them around what's available for the best price.

You'll find more than just info on deals, though. You can take a look to find out about new products coming into stores that month and promotions you can take advantage on in the upcoming weeks. Basically, if you want to shop smart at Trader Joe's, you should remember to consult the Fearless Flyer.

Forgetting a reusable bag at home when you shop at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's has listened to its customers when they've expressed a desire for less plastic and packaging in stores. Not only has the chain opted for biodegradable produce bags and packaging over normal plastic bags and cut its use of Styrofoam packaging, but it's also ended the use of single-use plastic carryout bags. That means you're only left with the option of paper bags at the checkout. Since these bags can be unwieldy when you're carrying heavier items (looking at you, sparkling water addicts), it's generally best to bring your own. And not only are you making things easier for yourself — you're also making an environmentally friendly choice.

There are added incentives of bringing your own bag when you shop at Trader Joe's. If you buy more than $25 worth of groceries and carry them out in your own reusable bag, you'll be entered into a weekly raffle for a $25 gift card for the store. Not a bad deal. Additionally, some stores will even charge you extra for a paper bag, so keep that in mind before you leave your reusable ones at home.

Buying frozen fruit from Trader Joe's

One of the best parts of going to Trader Joe's is wandering through the frozen food section, throwing your favorites in the cart, and dreaming of lazy weeknight dinners on the couch with no cooking required. Yes, the frozen section at Trader Joe's is glorious, but you might want to slow down and compare prices before you grab something you could easily get at another store.

According to The Penny Hoarder, frozen fruit tends to be more expensive at Trader Joe's than some other stores, so you may want to think twice before you stock up. Walmart and Aldi (which is often wrongly believed to be owned by the same company as Trader Joe's) regularly offer cheaper prices on frozen fruit.

But hey, you don't always want to make two grocery store runs — we get it. The frozen fruit prices definitely aren't over-the-top expensive, so if you don't want to make another trip, you can still pick it up at Trader Joe's — at least you know it'll be of good quality. And who doesn't love making smoothies with the Fancy Berry Medley?

Not trying the frozen meals from Trader Joe's

Okay, so you may not be going for the frozen fruit, but what about all the other frozen products at Trader Joe's? Here's where you're going to want to be adventurous and try something new. Not all of us are great in the kitchen, but many of the frozen meals available at Trader Joe's take little to no time to prepare. Plus, even the best home cooks could use a night off from time to time.

Even if you usually turn up your nose at frozen meals, you're bound to be impressed by at least some of Trader Joe's options. Opt for a meal as simple as shells with brie and asparagus or an organic three-cheese pizza, or try something different like the shiitake mushroom chicken or yellow jackfruit curry with jasmine rice. And of course, you can't miss your chance to try customer favorite: Trader Joe's mandarin orange chicken. There are a variety of different cuisines and flavors to choose from, so you're not going to feel limited by your options. Pick up a few to throw in the freezer for when you need a delicious meal fast.

Assuming that you're getting the best deal on every item at Trader Joe's

Plenty of people love Trader Joe's for its amazing prices, and you can't deny that for a store of its quality, Trader Joe's has some seriously competitive deals. But you'd be wrong to think that it has the best prices across the board. Sure, of the higher-end grocery stores out there, you're likely to walk away with some of the best prices from good old Trader Joe's. But some budget grocery store chains might have more competitive pricing on certain items, like produce and bath products. Think places like Walmart.

Fans of Trader Joe's don't just shop at the store because of the great prices, though. There's also the shopping experience, the design, the carefully curated products... none of which are too common at your average budget grocery store. If you want a more pleasant shopping experience, you may be willing to pay a bit extra for a few products here and there, and that's just one of the reason so many people love Trader Joe's.

Not using manufacturer coupons at Trader Joe's

If you're a die-hard Trader Joe's fan, then you probably already know that this store doesn't offer coupons on its own, Trader Joe's brand of products. And for those who are really into coupon-clipping, that can be a bummer. But just remember that Trader Joe's already offers competitive pricing on many products anyway, so you're probably still getting a good deal. This might actually be more convenient for those who don't like spending their weekends hunting for the best coupon deals.

However, if you can't go a single grocery trip without taking advantage of some coupons, have no fear. While Trader Joe's doesn't take coupons for its own products, you can use manufacturer coupons for other brands they carry. Sure, most of the brands they carry are their own store brand, but they do carry some name brands of popular products — and they're more than happy to take manufacturer coupons for those products. Don't leave them at home the next time you make a Trader Joe's run if you're looking for even more savings.

Shopping at Trader Joe's on an empty stomach

You've surely heard this piece of advice before. Whether you're trying to stay within a certain grocery budget, want to avoid picking up too much junk food, or just want to get out of the store with everything on your list, you should avoid shopping when you're hungry. Why? Because you will be more likely to pick up items that you don't need if your stomach is rumbling as you work your way through the aisles, and you'll have an increased chance of purchasing more higher-calorie items.

Trader Joe's can be an especially dangerous place to shop on an empty stomach if you're trying to save money. That's because there are so many grab-and-go meal items at most Trader Joe's stores. There's a good chance you may be tempted to grab one of these meal options even though it may not be something you'd buy if your stomach were full. If you're trying to skip out on the unnecessary snacks and other products, it's a good idea to grab a bite to eat before you head to the store.