A Broke Millennial’s Guide To Trader Joe’s

From Junior Editor, Catherine Collentine

Picture it: A college dorm kitchen, not gross but not exactly the tidiest, with parquet wood floors . Four friends sit at a round table made of dubious plastic, with empty Trader Joe’s wine bottles and dinner containers littered on the counter. One friend looks around and utters what the others were all thinking, but didn’t necessarily want to say aloud: “Who wants go back to Trader Joe’s for some pie?”

Why didn’t we just get pie the first time around so as to make only one trip? Because Trader Joe’s is like Cheers: Everybody knows your name, and – in the words of Tina Fey – you “want to go to there” 24/7. This was a common occurrence when I was in college: You’d go to class, grab your friends, go to Trader Joe’s for dinner and disturbingly affordable wine, eat and drink, then go back to Trader Joe’s for late night snacks.

I present to you a Broke Millennial’s Guide to shopping at Trader Joe’s. Recommended reading for when you’re feeling nostalgic, under twenty-five, or spent too much on shoes this month and need to save for rent…

1. Don’t buy wine with a car on the label, especially if that label is in various shades of green. It will make you sick, and no, the temporary buzz is not worth it just because it’s cheap.

2. Do not take Carrie Bradshaw’s advice: Vogue (though we love it) will not sustain you more than actual food. Even though it’s often conveniently placed by the cash registers, I never found it to be as satiating as actual grocery products (which were often less expensive than the publication itself).

3. Trader Joe’s employees are notorious for being overtly friendly. This phenomenon is known on the streets as “being joe’d.” They are bound to comment on your shopping cart contents. Try not too be an angry New Yorker about it and play along. Perhaps it will help your karma.

4. The quality difference between a $2 bottle of wine (aka Trader Joe’s Infamous Two Buck Chuck) and a $10 bottle is enormous. Consider this $8 difference an investment in your overall happiness; plus there are more antioxidants in a higher quality wine.

5. It is perfectly acceptable to get way too over-excited by the prospect of the frozen section’s potstickers. Pro-tip: You can steam them in the microwave. They sell for $1.75 and have your daily recommended serving of vegetables – what’s not to love?

6. Eating TJ’s double creme brie and raisin-rosemary crackers every night for two weeks straight will – in fact – affect your waistline. It may not when you are in college and still have four days a week to work out, but come twenty-three when you have a real job, you may want to keep tabs.

7. The jalapeño hummus containers from the pre-made section? They are not single serve, no matter how tempting it is to eat the whole thing with a bag of pita chips. And sidenote, on the matter of pita chips: The “reduced guilt” variety are nonsense, they’re too skinny and don’t have a satisfying crunch. Go with the full guilt. When in Trader Joe’s Rome, right?

8. Trader Joe’s hides stuffed animals around the store, and let’s customers find them then re-hide them as a fun little game. This is for children, not adults or tipsy college kids. I learned this the hard way. Even though you get a lollipop if you find one, if you see a stuffed animal among the chip dunkers, leave it alone.

9. You can open your bottle of TJ wine with a pen, a high heel, or a fork if you are very determined/desperate. Practice caution when doing any of the above.

10. And the most important tip of all: There is no avoiding waiting in a line at Trader Joe’s. It’s like the Bermuda Triangle: Whether it’s 2 PM on a random Tuesday or rush-hour grocery-shopping on Sunday morning, you’ll always feel like you’re waiting for Godot. My advice? Bring friends to wait with you. Misery loves company, right?

Read about this broke millennial’s obsession with coffee, then figure out what to do with all those groceries you just bought yourself. 

*Feature image by Stephen Klein, Vogue Paris, 2007.