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Top 15 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Shopping at Trader Joe's

Between free samples, sometimes long lines, and the rush to try new products, shopping at Trader Joe's is always an adventure. While the retailer is known for its reasonable prices and interesting merchandise, that doesn't mean shoppers can't fall into traps that can make their shopping experience tedious and more expensive. In fact, since the company tends to constantly release delicious new products, it's easy to get distracted while shopping. What are the most common mistakes buyers make at Trader Joe's? Real Simple.

Photo: IStock

For example, how many times have you bought something new only to find that you don't really like it when you get home? Luckily, you can avoid this mistake thanks to Trader Joe's (TJ) flexible policies.

In addition to offering many free samples, TJ employees are allowed to open any ready-to-eat products for customers to sample upon request. That is, if you are not sure about the new Super Seedy Cheese Snack Bites, you can try them before you buy.

So what are the mistakes buyers make?

1. Don't buy Trader Joe's branded products

The chain has its own brand that offers everything from seasoning mixes to cake mixes and biscuits.

As a general rule, Trader Joe branded products are usually (though not always) less expensive than their well-known brand counterparts. For example, Trader Joe's cheeses are almost always a bargain, as are $1 Greek yogurts, which are cheaper than similar products from Fage and Chobani.

2. Don't enjoy a liberal tasting policy

While you can't walk into a regular grocery store and try whatever you want, this kind of behavior is actually encouraged at Trader Joe's. TJ employees have permission to open any ready-to-eat product in the store, which means you can try hundreds of products without having to buy them first. If you do not use this policy when you see fit, it will be a mistake that will cost you money. After all, who wants to find out they're not a truffle fan after sitting on the couch and cracking open a bag of TJ's Italian white truffle popcorn?

On the subject: Employee Tip: 12 Things to Buy from Trader Joe's

3. Don't take free samples

Who doesn't love a free sample? Shops tend to have dedicated stands displaying samples of just about everything from organic Naan crackers to new truffle-cream-filled gnocchi. If you're not sure about a new or existing product, go to the back of the store and see if you can get a free sample before you buy.

4. Don't stock up on alcohol

Some, although not all, locations have a Trader Joe's Wine Shop in or near it. Wine Trader Joe's is not only very affordable, but also has a pretty impressive pedigree.

TJ's owners are still tight-lipped about which California vineyards produce the brand's wine, but only because the booze is better priced than many competitors without sacrificing quality. “If we tell who the wine makers are and then offer that great price, other people they do business with will want that same great price,” said Trader Joe marketing director Tara Miller.

5. Not interested in what wine is better

Buying wine can be intimidating, and that's especially true at Trader Joe's Wine Shop, where you can find a variety of delicious quality wines at affordable prices. If you're in a hurry and want to grab some of the "best" wines, look out for the racks, which are individual display cases usually located at the end of the aisle. As Miller explained, it's a quick and easy way to find a great bottle of wine.

“Whichever store, whatever Trader Joe's you shop at, the stacks are the wines that sell for the highest price. So rest assured that they are really good,” she assured.

In other supermarkets, brands can often buy shelf space for themselves to draw attention to their products, regardless of taste or quality, but this is not the case at Trader Joe's. The company allows TJ employees to determine which products receive this piece of "first-class real estate", and, as a rule, those products that are really worthwhile and worthy of the attention of customers are selected.

6. Don't shop for seasonal items while they can.

If you're a fan of Trader Joe's seasonal items like Jingle Jangle and Pumpkin Pancake Mix, not stocking up on them when you see them in the store is a big mistake. Due to their seasonality, many of these items are only available for a few weeks, and when they run out, they will likely be out of stock for most of the year.

7. Don't Take Basic Foods

Yes, Trader Joe's is home to the ever-popular chickens and spanakopita, but the chain also sells a host of staples at prices that are hard to beat. Some of the favorites include olive oil, lentils and pasta, which TJ sells for $0,99 a pound in a variety of shapes and sizes.

And if you want to stock up on some spices or seasoning blends that you can't find anywhere else, TJ is also a good choice.

8. Don't Read Fearless Flyer

If you want to know what's new at Trader Joe's, read the Fearless Flyer. It is published once a month and includes special offers or promotions that are especially useful for holiday cooking or shopping ideas.

9. Don't take your reusable grocery bags

It's perfectly normal to forget your reusable grocery bags at home from time to time, but try not to forget them when you run to Trader Joe's.

First, you'll be charged 10 cents for each paper bag you use, and appearing without your own reusable bags means you can't enter Trader Joe's.

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

10. Focus on bananas

Trader Joe bananas have been known to cost 19 cents a pop, but don't let that low price lull you into thinking that all TJ products are priced like that. As it turns out, 365 Everyday Value bagged spinach sold at Whole Foods is cheaper than similar spinach sold at Trader Joe's, and Kroger's Honeycrisp apples are cheaper than TJ's Honeycrisp apples.

11. They come to the store when it is too crowded.

Nothing is more frustrating than walking into Trader Joe's when it's full and people are still waiting to get in. This creates pressure during your shopping trip and means you are more likely to forget the things you need in favor of panic buying. And while it can be hard to walk into a Trader Joe's store that's quiet, employees say Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days to shop. The same is true for early mornings, especially during the week.

12. Go shopping hungry

Hungry shopping is a bad idea no matter which supermarket you head to, but it can be especially dangerous at Trader Joe's. Whether you're tempted by the many frozen meals that can be made in minutes or the plethora of new foods, it's hard to leave Trader Joe's without a few foods you wouldn't buy if you weren't hungry.

13. Don't do holiday shopping early.

If you're planning on doing some or all of your holiday shopping at Trader Joe's, don't count on being able to do it at the last minute. First, Trader Joe's is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day, with limited opening hours on Christmas Eve and New Year's Day. Also, many seasonal items have limited stock and can sell out quickly, so it's best to buy them quickly to avoid any holiday disasters.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York

14. Ignore the section of flowers and plants

Trader Joe's is definitely a great place for food and snacks, but the store has a wide range of flowers and plants not to be missed, among other things. Whether you're looking for a thoughtful gift or something to decorate your home with, TJ has something for everyone. Plus, because Trader Joe's purchases many of its flowers through VeriFlora, a company that certifies only organic stems, you can be confident in your purchase.

TJ also has a variety of flower arrangements around the holidays throughout the year, and since the retailer primarily purchases flowers in bulk directly from growers, flowers at Trader Joe's are usually cheaper than elsewhere.

15. Skip the skin care department

While Trader Joe's may not be the place to shopping for skin care products, but still visit this section of the store on your next trip. The retailer recently made headlines with a face sunscreen that many TikTok users swear is the counterpart to Supergoop Unseen sunscreen, which is four times more expensive than the TJ variant.

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