Earlier this week I spent some time doing recon work at Whole Foods. While trying to find good deals, I stumbled across simple, yet effective methods for saving money while there.
Now, I know there are plenty of “how to save money at whole foods” types posts out there.
Believe me when I say this is not your typical “buy seasonal produce” and “use coupons” type of list. These tips, my friends, are from the trenches. They stem from my real life experience of walking the aisles at Whole Foods. Tips you’ll only get from someone who has been there, done that.
You’re welcome. 😉
9 Practical Ways to Save Money at Whole Foods
1. One item is not necessarily kept on just one shelf.
Perfect example: As I walked through the produce aisle, headed towards the bulk section, there was a small selection of bulk flavored pistachios. At $7.99/lb, they caught my eye as being comparable to Costco’s pricing. Plus these were flavored… chili and lime? YUM!
As I kept walking, I saw pistachios yet again. This time though they were in the pre-packaged, “ready to go snacks” section. The same pistachios were priced at $11.63/lb!
The same was true for salt, grains, seeds, condiments, spices, sweeteners – just about every food I saw in one aisle was found in another aisle too. Sometimes they were slightly different sizes, warranting a slightly different price. In some cases, it was a difference of brands. However, more often than not, they were the exact same item just packaged differently.
This means that as a frugal shopper, it would be in your best interest to do a full sweep of every aisle in the store at least once. And this sweep requires your full attention.
I know. Totally not possible if you have kids in tow.
But if you WANT to find a good deal at Whole Foods, that’s what it takes. Those lovely littles, phone calls with friends in distress or even checking to see the latest pin on Pinterest will distract you from your mission. And the marketing department at Whole Foods is GOOD at what they do. You need to be better. Be diligent and focus and walk through just once before you rule in, or rule out, Whole Foods.
2. Bring a calculator.
Some of the best deals are in the bulk department, but everything is measured per pound. I don’t know about you, but I measure my grains by the cup, my spices by the teaspoon and my olive oil by the ounce. If you are wondering if you have found a good deal or not, you need to be able to do the math. In general:
1/2 lb flour = approx 1 3/4 cups
1 lb spice = approx 61 Tbsp
1 oz spice = approx 2 Tbsp
1 lb olive oil = approx 16 3/4 oz
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to know roughly how much you need before you leave the house either. If it helps, bring a few empty glass jars (labels removed, of course) that are a standard size, like 16 oz. Then when you fill it up, you’ll know that about halfway is 1 cup, all the way to the top is 2 cups. Which leads me to my next point…
3. Bring your own containers if you’re shopping the bulk section.
The bulk section provides little containers, bags and even cute bottles for you if you shop in the area, which is convenient if you happen to forget your own container. However, you pay for bulk items by the pound. Which means they weigh your food when you check out. And if you use one of their containers, you pay for that too.
One simple way to save a few pennies is to bring your own container and have the customer service desk weigh it before you shop. It’s super simple and takes literally a minute per container. I thought it would be this HUGE inconvenience while shopping with kids, but it’s really not. Just put the containers on the counter and the staff takes care of the rest.
This one tiny move could really save you some money over time too, especially if you shop bulk often, and forget your containers often. If that little container weighs just half an ounce and your items costs $4.50 per pound, you’re paying 15¢ for the container. Times however many items you buy per trip, times the number of trips per month or per year… those nickels and dimes will certainly add up. And those plastic containers will just end up in the recycle bin anyway. Be green and save green by bringing your own containers.
Besides, trying to empty flour or small grains from a bag into the container at home? HUGE pain. Go ahead and skip this step too.
4. Bring your own shopping bags.
Whole Foods doesn’t charge you for bags (unlike Trader Joe’s), but they do take off 5-10¢ from your total for every reusable bag you bring and use. It’s not huge savings up front, but the change will add up over time. Especially if you’re a frequent shopper.
5. Be AWARE of the coupons.
Before you think I’m taking up coupons again, hear me out. Whole Foods releases a newsletter called “The Whole Deal” every two months and it contains coupons that are valid for three months. For example, the most recent newsletter was issue at the beginning of May and the coupons expire July 31, 2014. Knowing what coupons are available means you have twelve weeks worth of sales that might match up with the coupons, possibly resulting in massive savings for you.
So while I’m not saying stalk Whole Foods like a crazy person and spend copious amounts of time matching up coupons, I am saying that reading what coupons are available when the newsletter is issued and knowing what 2-5 items might make it to your shopping list could be helpful the next time you’re walking the aisles of Whole Foods and you see a good deal on one of those items.
The current “The Whole Deal” can be found here, and you can subscribe to have Whole Foods send you weekly emails with current sales too (super helpful).
6. Shop the Friday-only sales.
Most Fridays Whole Foods offers great sales on one item only. Once it was a whole organic chicken for just 99¢ (which would then become 7 meals for us). Another week it was grass-fed ground beef for $4.99/lb.
7. Shop other sales too.
Recently Whole Foods had a sale for 30% off all summer skin care. Combine that with some of the fair prices they already have on better-for-you skincare items and you could have scored a great deal. Again, sign up for their newsletter or “like” your local store’s Facebook page to be notified of these types of good deals.
While you’re in the store, look for bright yellow tags like in the picture above. Those are special, unadvertised deals that are usually good for just a week or two. These certainly aren’t worth a separate trip, but if you already have a short list of items you regularly buy, it doesn’t hurt to give a glance to see if there’s a bright yellow tag or not.
8. Shop the 365 brand.
Whole Foods’ house brand is the 365 Everyday Value line, which surprisingly, is competitively priced for many items. I found apple cider vinegar and walnut oil, two real foods that tend to be on the more expensive side, for pretty good deals this week. You should also know that Whole Foods has an “unacceptable ingredients list” and promises that no item on their shelves will carry any of those ingredients. This goes for the 365 Every Value line too, so there’s no high fructose corn syrup in their ketchup or hydrogenated fats in their dressings. You can always make your own, but there is peace of mind of knowing that if you’re crunched for time and take a short cut, you’re not compromising on some of the basic real food no-no’s.
9. Buy by the case full.
When you buy items by the case, most stores offer 10% off. When you’re comparing bulk bins versus packages verses sales versus coupons, this one tip can be a complete game changer.
Take for example cream cheese. This week, 8 oz packages of Organic Valley Cream cheese are priced at $2.99. “The Whole Deal” has coupons for $1 off one package. Combine that with buying in bulk and you can get them for as low as $1.79 each. Granted, this means you’ll have to find something to do with 12 packages of cream cheese. However, you can split this with a friend, freeze the cream cheese for later or just make a bunch of cheesecakes.
Ok, so maybe cream cheese isn’t the best example, but you get the point. Think of how much more you can save if you’ve already found a good deal… but at the same time, do the math and don’t buy cases full of items just because you think it’s a good deal. I was convinced that buying 12 2 oz packages of hemp hearts that were on sale $1.99, plus using $1 off coupons, would result in a better deal than buying a single 16 oz package. I was wrong. Refer back to #2 and always double check the numbers.
If you do go the case route, be sure to tell the cashier when you’re checking out though because this is a manual over-ride type of thing.
It’s Never a Good Deal if You Don’t Need It
These are really helpful tips if you’re looking to save money at Whole Foods, but remember the most important rule: It’s NEVER a good deal if you don’t need it in the first place. Don’t even bother stepping foot in the store if there’s nothing on your list, and certainly don’t buy a case full of something you’ve never tried before!
Knowing how to find a good deal is half the battle, so it’s merely my goal to show you that there ARE good deals at Whole Foods, you just have to know where to look! 😉
Looking for Specific Good Deals?
Check out this post on the best foods to buy at whole foods. It has prices on specific items that I found while walking the store. Armed with this list of tips, you’ll be a savings machine!
Do you shop at Whole Foods? Do you have any “secret” yet practical tips to share with the rest of us?
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