20 Mistakes You're Making When Shopping At Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's opened its first store in 1967 in Pasadena, California. In the years that followed, Trader Joe's expanded across 43 states and currently has over 500 different locations. 

If you've ever been to a Trader Joe's, you'll know that it's different from your average, run-of-the-mill grocery store. It offers fewer name brands and has fewer products overall than most other grocers. However, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't shop at Trader Joe's. In fact, the opposite is true: Most loyal customers have a list of several items that they always buy at Trader Joe's, and love exploring everything else that the store has to offer. 

Regardless of whether you're a Trader Joe's regular or just contemplating your first trip to the store, there are several mistakes you'll want to avoid making. Staying away from these common errors will help you ensure that each shopping trip goes smoothly, allowing you to experience the best of what Trader Joe's has to offer.

Not trying the free samples

Keep your eyes open for the sample counter when you're in Trader Joe's. There is often an employee working there offering free samples of one or more Trader Joe's products. This is an ideal way to try something without spending money on it to see if you'll actually like it or not. It saves you the hassle of dealing with a return (or eating something just to avoid wasting it) if you buy something new without trying it. Trader Joe's does more than just offer samples of the ready-to-eat products; you'll often find one of the frozen or refrigerated meals (cooked and heated up, of course) available to try.

Not asking to taste test products you're interested in

The sample counter is great, but what if you want to try something that isn't being offered as a sample? In most other stores, you'd have to make the gamble and purchase the items to bring home to taste. But Trader Joe's is different: If you want to try something, just ask. The employees who work at the store have permission to open packages and let customers try a sample. This policy only applies to ready-to-eat items, since you obviously can't sample frozen or raw food. Now, you won't need to worry about the to-buy or not-to-buy dilemma anymore.

Not trying Trader Joe's private label brands

If you try to shop at Trader Joe's without trying any of the private label brands, you're not going to end up walking out with too many products. Most of the items Trader Joe's sells (about 80%) are made by the store's private brands. In addition to being the bulk of the items in the store, many of these products are well-loved by customers. Some of the private label names you might see include Trader Joe's, Trader Jose's (Mexican food), Trader Ming (Chinese food), Trader Giotto's (Italian), Trader Joe-San (Japanese), and Joe's Kids (children's food items). In addition to being adored by many customers, items from any of the Trader Joe's brands are made without the use of artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. It is also free of GMOs, MSG, and partially hydrogenated oils and artificial trans fats.

Not realizing that many private labels are made by national brands

In addition to being delicious and free of questionable ingredients, many of Trader Joe's private labels are actually made by national brands. Trader Joe's has worked out deals with these manufacturers to package and sell some of their products under the Trader Joe's brand name. This means that you can save money by purchasing Trader Joe's products that are really just the same as a more expensive national brand. While Trader Joe's hasn't released a list of which manufacturers make the various items in the stores, there are several rumors swirling around. For example, many believe that the pita chips are actually made by Stacy's, the green juice by Naked, and the gluten-free chocolate chip cookies by Tate's Bake Shop.

Not buying wine

As long as the state or county in which you live doesn't have laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol in grocery stores, your local Trader Joe's probably carries wine. It's easy to walk by the wine display and assume that the more expensive name brands are better. However, doing so would be a mistake. Trader Joe's wine is more than just inexpensive; it is well known for its delicious taste and actually has quite a following. Just like how many of Trader Joe's private labels are made by national brands, the wine is produced by prestigious vineyards in California. Unsurprisingly, Trader Joe's won't share which ones, likely to avoid causing an uproar and upsetting the vineyards' other customers.

Missing out on the seasonal items

Seasonal products are among the many things you don't want to simply stroll by when you're at Trader Joe's. These items are only available for a few weeks, and many have become very popular with customers over the years. For this reason, they may sell out quickly. If there is something you want when you see it, don't hold off on purchasing it until next time. Act right away — and throw a few extra items in your cart, while you're at it. If you haven't tried any of the seasonal products, there's another mistake you'll want to remedy promptly. Some of the most popular seasonal items you should grab as soon as you see them include the fan-favorite Ube Ice Cream, Candy Cane Joe-Joe's, and the rotating Kringle flavors available throughout the year.

Waiting for a favorite product to go on sale

Waiting for sales can be an effective strategy when shopping at many other grocery stores. However, it isn't going to help you when you're shopping at Trader Joe's. The store does not run any sales or special promotions for their products. Don't let that lead you into thinking that you won't find good deals when you shop at Trader Joe's, though. They offer year-round competitive pricing on all their items thanks to their smaller storefronts and more limited inventory. You may be able to save up to a third by shopping at Trader Joe's.

Not looking at the Fearless Flyer before shopping

While other stores have a basic weekly ad, Trader Joe's has the "Fearless Flyer," which comes out about once a month. The flyer is your source for news about all things Trader Joe's. Read it to learn more about new products that are being released, seasonal items that will be available for a limited time, and delicious recipe ideas you might want to try. You can grab a copy of the Fearless Flyer in store or sign up online to receive it in your inbox as soon as it is available. Getting it emailed to you ahead of your visit to Trader Joe's would be the best way to leave yourself time to read through it and add must-try items to your shopping list.

Not realizing how good the store's return policy is

Trader Joe's has an amazing return policy that really works in the customer's favor. They offer risk-free trials, which means you can buy a product to try at home and return it to the store if you decide that you don't like it. This policy even applies to alcohol (though based on the laws in some states, you may have to exchange the item rather than receive a cash refund). Another great thing about Trader Joe's return policy is that you don't even need a receipt to return an item. Because most things are labeled with the Trader Joe's name, there is no need to go through the hassle of saving your receipt. You'll just receive the lowest adjusted price if you make a return without a receipt.

Shopping during a busy time

There are times to shop at Trader Joe's, and there are times when you're better off scheduling your shopping trip at a less busy hour. We've already shared that each Trader Joe's is smaller than most standard grocery stores. When you couple this with how popular the retailer is, it should become clear that certain times are bound to be crazy busy. Staying away from peak shopping times can help get you in and out more easily. It will also make it possible to wander around a bit more and look for new items to try. Every area is different, so you may need to experiment a few times. However, generally speaking, the store will be the slowest on a weekday morning or a Friday night.

Not bringing your own bags

Bringing your own bags is a good idea, regardless of which grocery store you shop at. Reusable bags help reduce waste, and are generally sturdier and easier to carry than the paper or plastic bags from the grocery store. However, there is yet another reason to make sure you bring your reusable bags along for your trip to Trader Joe's. Every week, the store holds a raffle for customers who spend a minimum of $25 and bring their own bags. If you win the raffle, you could get a $25 Trader Joe's gift card. Moreover, depending on where you live and the local rules, your Trader Joe's may even charge extra for their paper bags. It's just a good idea all around to bring your own bags.

Staying away from the frozen aisle

Walking past the frozen aisle at Trader Joe's is a mistake you don't want to make. They offer several amazing frozen dinners, vegetables, and desserts that you won't want to miss out on. A few of these include the Mandarin Orange Chicken, Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice, Outside-In Stuffed Gnocchi, and Butter Chicken. Their frozen entrées are the perfect solution for a busy night. Most don't take long to make, so you can have dinner on the table in no time. While you don't want to skip the frozen aisles at Trader Joe's, plan to make them your last stop. You're likely going to be spending a lot of time wandering around the rest of the store, and you don't want your frozen items to thaw or melt.

Relying on Trader Joe's for all of your grocery needs

There's no doubt that Trader Joe's offers incredible deals. However, if you're looking to save as much money on groceries as you can, you shouldn't limit yourself to only shopping at Trader Joe's. It is important to compare prices and check the weekly ads from other grocers to make sure you're saving as much as possible. For example, produce and toiletries are often less expensive when purchased from Walmart or on sale at other stores. There may also be a few Trader Joe's brand items that you don't like as much as some other national brands, so you may want to schedule a few trips to another grocery store to grab the items you can't get from Trader Joe's.

Shopping when you're hungry

Shopping when you're hungry is a bad idea in general. If you go into a grocery store on an empty stomach, everything is going to sound good, and you may end up with too many different things in your cart. You might end up spending more than you were planning to on your trip, with so many different impulse buys. Worse, you might find yourself getting more than you can actually eat, or even some things that you don't really want. This is certainly likely to happen at Trader Joe's, where you're going to be bombarded with so many delicious-sounding meals and foods. To prevent this from happening, make sure you at least eat a snack before heading to the store.

Not checking the recipe section of the website before shopping for your meals

Before you start shopping at Trader Joe's for food for the week, it is important to have a plan in place regarding what meals you want to prepare and the different ingredients you will need. Visiting the recipes section on Trader Joe's website is a great way to get this plan ready before your shopping trip. You'll find quite a few different recipe ideas featuring Trader Joe's products, which can give you the inspiration you've been searching for to create an appetizing menu for the week. The various recipes can be filtered by meal type or by different categories, such as "fry it up," "feeling adventurous," "make it meatless," or "backpack ready."

Not strolling by the cheese section

The cheese section of Trader Joe's is another part of the store that you don't want to skip. Trader Joe's offers several different kinds of cheese, allowing you to purchase familiar favorites as well as new and exciting varieties to try. You'll find that there are both hard and soft cheeses that can complement your favorite salads, enhance a sauce recipe, help you create an incredible charcuterie board, and so much more. A few of the many different types of cheese that may be available at your local Trader Joe's include the Raw Milk Cave Aged Le Gruyère, New Zealand Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Madagascar Vanilla Bean Crème Fraîche, All Natural Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, Toscano Cheese with Black Pepper, Unexpected Cheddar Cheese Spread, and Chevre Goat Cheese.

Not asking the employees for product recommendations

If you're not sure what to try or are wondering whether a specific product is really good, there is always someone at Trader Joe's who can help you. Many Trader Joe's employees have been there for a long time, and have had the opportunity to try several products. They'll be able to share their recommendations and help steer you in the right direction if you tell them what your flavor preferences are. And remember, because of Trader Joe's taste testing policy, you could even ask them to open up the bagged or boxed item for you to try, right then and there (as long as it's ready to eat, of course).

Only looking at products at eye level

One of the ways Trader Joe's keeps its prices so low is the smaller size of its stores compared to larger grocery chains. As a result, there is no wasted space inside a Trader Joe's. This means that you can't simply walk through the store looking at the products at eye level. If you do this, you're certain to miss something you might want. Because space is maximized, there are often other types of products stacked on the shelves in different sections, particularly the frozen section. For example, if you're standing by the frozen entrées and look up just a bit, you might see cookies or chocolates, depending on the specific layout of the store you're in.

Not realizing what a great deal their flowers and greeting cards are

If you're ever in need of a greeting card or flowers, you'd be making a mistake if you don't shop at Trader Joe's. The store offers great deals for these items; truthfully, most grocery stores, flower shops, and greeting card stores simply can't compete. You can buy greeting cards for just 99 cents, which may seem unreal at a time when you can hardly make the most out of $5 during a grocery store trip. Trader Joe's also has some amazing deals on fresh flower bouquets. And don't let the low price tags lead you to think that you're getting low-quality products. Despite being inexpensive, the cards and flowers are certainly lovely enough to put a smile on anyone's face.

Not keeping children entertained by having them search for the hidden stuffed animal

If you've ever tried shopping with your children in tow, you know how difficult it can be at times. Whether it's because they're suddenly feeling "too tired" to walk, pointing to every item and asking you to buy it, or constantly wandering off, bringing them along can certainly put a damper on your shopping trip. Fortunately, when you shop at Trader Joe's, you'll have an opportunity to keep them busy and entertained. Most stores have a bear or special stuffed animal — typically decked out in a Trader Joe's t-shirt — hidden somewhere in the store. If children are able to spot the animal, they can tell the cashier and win a special prize.