Analysis

5 Trader Joe’s Hacks That Can Save You Money

If I could change just one thing about my city, it would be to add a Trader Joe’s store. I’m about 50 miles away from the closest one, so making the time to get out there for a visit requires advanced planning — and a cooler full of ice to get perishable food home safely.

TJ’s has a lot of fans, and with good reason — this grocery chain specializes in unique products you can’t get anywhere else, sold in a friendly atmosphere by cheerful folks in bright aloha shirts. Here are a few ways to save money on your next Trader Joe’s run.

1. Use the right credit card

Groceries are the third-largest expense in my monthly budget, after my mortgage payment and my health insurance premium. Thankfully, I have a surefire way to earn 6% back on all my supermarket spending: the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (terms apply, see rates and fees; 6% cash back is limited to your first $6,000 of grocery spending per year; after that, you’ll earn 1% back).

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Last year, I earned $400 back with this credit card (most of that came from grocery spending), and I redeemed those Reward Dollars as statement credits, making my bills cheaper. If you’re a serious foodie, this card should be on your radar.

2. Stock up on items you love, before they disappear

It’s the world’s saddest story — you fall in love with a certain Trader Joe’s product, then you never find it on the shelves again. In my case, it was my cats who became obsessed with Trader Joe’s Tuna For Cats, which I haven’t been able to find in a few years. My colleague Maurie Backman’s kids were disappointed to learn that their favorite granola bars were no more. In short — if you find a Trader Joe’s product you love (especially if it’s nonperishable), stock up before it’s gone forever.

3. Frozen meals can save you time and money

Trader Joe’s takes its frozen food offerings seriously — and so should you. Have a look at the freezer section the next time you visit, and take special note of the frozen entrees. You’ll likely spot dishes you might be familiar with as restaurant takeout, like chicken tikka masala or Kung Pao chicken. These two items are priced at $4.49 (single serving) and $5.99 (four servings), respectively.

I turned to DoorDash to see what I might pay if I ordered these dishes from restaurants in my area. A single serving of takeout chicken tikka masala would cost me $16.99, and I’d pay $8.99 for a pint of Kung Pao chicken. Going with Trader Joe’s offerings instead means saving significant money — plus, dinner is just a wok or a microwave away, no DoorDash tip or long wait required.

4. Research what not to buy

Most of Trader Joe’s offerings are great, but a few products may fall short of the mark. I’ve had less-than-ideal experiences with its frozen chicken quesadillas, a cheese-based seasoning blend, and shrimp with garlic butter. But every regular TJ’s shopper has their own personal hits and misses.

I recommend reviewing the internet (Reddit is great for this) to get the inside scoop on what others have tried and disliked before you try something new. You can return something you don’t like (more on that below), but as a self-employed person, time is literally money, so I’d rather avoid buying something bad in the first place.

5. Take advantage of the return policy

Trader Joe’s has a pretty liberal return policy, which makes it easier and more cost-effective to take a chance on an unfamiliar product. Customer service is important to this retailer, so you can return just about anything you buy there. This extends to opened and partially consumed food, too (just don’t be unreasonable about it — and return perishable items sooner rather than later).

If you’ve never shopped at Trader Joe’s before, you’re in for a treat. Unique products, friendly staff, and great prices make this retailer a favorite of mine. If you want to earn money back on your Trader Joe’s buys, check out our list of the best credit cards for grocery shopping to pick a winner.

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