The Trader Joe’s Shopping Strategy I Swear by When the Checkout Line Is Out the Door

updated Oct 1, 2019
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Credit: Roman Tiraspolsky

A hidden side effect that’s resulted from my employment at Kitchn is that I seem to have developed a borderline obsession with Trader Joe’s. (And that’s not a bad thing!)

In the past year, I have reviewed almost every dip in the refrigerated section, busted myths about their gel facial moisturizer, listened to their podcast, interviewed their biggest fan, eaten chocolate-flavored hummus, sacrificed my tastebuds for the sake of vegan cheese, taken their taco sauce to Taco Bell, gushed about their frozen chicken potstickers to anyone who will listen, and more. My undying passion for Trader Joe’s is no longer just part of my job — it’s a lifestyle that I’ve fully accepted.

Of course, when I inevitably bring Trader Joe’s up in conversation, the first thing that people say to me is “But the lines are soooo long.” (And they’re not wrong.) Trust me, I know the lines are long. I’ve waited in them day and night, on weekdays and weekends, rain and shine. Nobody’s perfect and my love for Trader Joe’s is not blind. But true fans (like me) have found a workaround: Shop while standing in line. Groundbreaking, right?

This strategy only works if you get to know the layout of your local Trader Joe’s like the back of your hand. At my neighborhood spot, the frozen goods are smack in the middle, so you bet your basket I’m heading there first. After I get the frozen goods I need, I carefully snake through the rest of the interior aisles for other items on my list. When my shopping list is only 25 percent checked off, I go back to the entrance of the store, and park myself in the checkout line.

It may seem counterintuitive to hop in line before you have everything you need, but if you nail the execution, you’ll save yourself at least 20 minutes in the store. While in line leisurely strolling to checkout, I pass by the entire produce, meat, cheese, prepared foods, bakery, and dairy sections, where I’ll find the rest of the items on my list. Because the line only inches forward, I have time to read labels, look for my favorite hummus flavor, and check a few egg cartons to see if any have cracked. Because my mind is occupied by the task at hand, I’ll almost forgot that I’m standing in line at all.

The best part about this strategy (other than reducing fits of rage) is that by the time I made it to the cashiers’ section, I have everything on my list — all while cutting down the number of impulse buys in my basket. It’s a win for my belly, my budget, and my state of mind!

How do you deal with the lines at Trader Joe’s?