My husband lovingly refers to me as “Bargain Brigie” for a reason. I’m notoriously frugal, and pride myself on not overspending—especially when it comes to everyday essentials like groceries.
To ensure we maximize our disposable income, I shop carefully. I don’t just look at the price; I carefully do the math to compare units to ensure I’m getting the best price overall—even if it’s more expensive up front. For the most part, I abandon any brand loyalty in favor of value, which is part of the reason I love Trader Joe’s so much.
Trader Joe’s is great—for some things
Trader Joe’s buys large quantities direct from suppliers whenever possible and packages the products under the Trader Joe’s name. This eliminates the middleman, and generally results in quality products at much more affordable prices. Sign. Me. Up!
For the most part, I’ve found that Trader Joe’s lives up to their promise to deliver value to consumers. I do the majority of my weekly shopping at Trader Joe’s. They have a fantastic selection of dried fruit and nuts at the right price, I haven’t found cheaper olive oil at any other store, and I simply refuse to buy flowers anywhere else.
Things you should never buy at Trader Joe’s
Despite how closely my own personal agenda aligns with Trader Joe’s mission, there are some things I just can’t bring myself to buy there because I can find them cheaper elsewhere. Instead, I prefer to make two—three, if I’m buying fish—separate trips to complete my weekly grocery haul. Here’s a list of items that never make it into my cart at TJ’s.
1. Ice cream
At Trader Joe’s, if you want to go cheap, you can get a quart of plain old French Vanilla for $3.99. That flavor just doesn’t excite me—especially when I can get a 1.5-quart container of Turkey Hill Chocolate Peanut Butter or Mint Chocolate Chip for $2.50 at my local Stop & Shop.
2. Coconut oil
I used to buy my coconut oil at Trader Joe’s—it’s the sort of product that always seems so expensive, so I was sure TJ’s would have a good deal. Then one day I spotted a 27-ounce jar for $6.99 at Stop & Shop. At Trader Joe’s, their 16-ounce jar costs $4.99, so I save about 6 cents per ounce at Stop & Shop.
Despite a stint at culinary school, I find rice extremely difficult to cook. I’ll take the boil-in-a-bag version over loose grains any day. That variety of rice isn’t an option at Trader Joe’s, and while they do have some nice, fancy options (cauliflower rice, anyone?), their most basic options—jasmine or basmati—cost $2.99 for two pounds. At Stop & Shop, I can get my boil-in-a-bag rice for $2.29 or a regular two-pound bag for $2.19. Moral of the story? If you want fancy rice, like sprouted or black, TJ’s is the place to be. If you’re looking for convenience or a plain old bag of white or brown rice, look elsewhere.
4. Sliced fruit and veggies
Curveball: you honestly shouldn't buy sliced fruit and veggies anywhere. Why shell out $3.99 for sliced pineapple when I can get the entire fruit for half that price and slice it myself? It’s not only more cost-effective, but, to me, it also seems like the more sanitary option. (Studies do support my germophobic assumptions, by the way.)
5. Laundry detergent
When it comes to laundry detergent, Trader Joe’s has just one variety in two separate sizes, 53 ounces and 128 ounces. I like that it’s phosphate-free and it does smell pretty nice, but even the larger version, at $9.99, is still more expensive per ounce than the options at Stop & Shop, where I can get a similar 150-ounce product for $7.79. It’s only a savings of 2 cents per ounce, but the options are also much more plentiful.
6. Pie crust
This might sound harsh, but Trader Joe’s pie crust is terrible. It not only costs $3.99 for two pie crusts, compared to two Pillsbury pie crusts for $3.59 or two store brand pie crusts for $2.79, but it’s also incredibly difficult to work with. The one time I placed convenience over price, I instantly regretted it because both pie crusts in the package crumbled when I tried to unroll them. I haven’t had the same problem with other brands.
7. Paper goods
At Trader Joe’s, you can get three rolls of paper towels for $3.99 ($1.33 per unit). I buy my paper towels on Amazon for two reasons—I can get 24 rolls at a time, which is much more convenient, and the is just 94 cents per unit. Trader Joe’s margin on toilet paper is much closer—and sometimes beats out the price per unit I get on Amazon—but certain members of my household have very strong opinions about toilet paper. Apparently the Trader Joe’s brand isn’t soft enough for some. (We’re not alone, either.)
8. Cold brew concentrate
I stopped buying coffee at coffee shops long ago—it’s just so much more expensive than brewing your own. But during the summer, I’m a big fan of cold brew. You can make your own cold brew at home, but I prefer to buy it at the grocery store, where I’ll still spend less than buying it per cup from a barista. At TJ’s, the cold brew concentrate costs $7.99 for 32 ounces. At Stop & Shop, I get a 32-ounce container for $6.99. If I wanted to go even cheaper, they also have a 32-ounce generic version for $3.49.
9. Hot sauce
I love hot sauce—really, I put it on everything—so while I appreciate the options Trader Joe’s does have, I prefer to do my shopping elsewhere based on price. Trader Joe’s has a five-ounce bottle of chili pepper hot sauce for $1.99, but for me, it makes much more sense to buy hot sauce in bulk. I can get a 23-ounce bottle of Frank’s Hot Sauce for $3.49 at Stop & Shop. It’s a bigger upfront cost, but ultimately saves me over 24 cents per ounce.