How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck at Whole Foods
Call me a snob, but I find myself shopping for groceries at Whole Foods the majority of the time. Supermarkets for paper towels and T.P., and Whole Foods for everything else. That said, it does take a toll on my budget, so I've found a number of ways to stretch my dollar there. Some days I'm more gung-ho and really willing to put in the work to save, and others I'd rather pay extra for convenience or to get in and out of there. In any case, even integrating a couple of my secrets into your shopping routine will help you save, so read on below.
It’s easy to point at a filet of fish or piece of meat and say “I’ll take that,” but those cuts aren’t always made for one person, depending on your appetite. If you’re planning to serve vegetables or whole grains with your protein, you can usually get away with eating just 3- to 4-oz. portions. Ask the butcher or fishmonger to cut and wrap it to that amount or to your liking.
As its name suggests, Whole Food’s in-house generic brand, 365 Everyday Value, offers really great value. The line, which includes many (but not all) organic products, includes all sorts of packaged goods, from whole grains and beans to frozen fruits and veggies. Especially with ingredients that you’ll be mixing with a lot of other flavors—say pasta or couscous—it’s really not worth it to splurge on a name brand. There are also a number of products that are straight-up just great—I prefer 365 butter to a number of other name-brand butters.
Some of the best deals at Whole Foods’ are in the bulk bins, which include nuts, grains, dried fruit, beans, and more. They tend to be much cheaper than their packaged counterparts, and you can get exactly what you need. There are usually containers of nuts, grains, and the like nearby (which are measured in ounces), so compare both to see which offers a better deal. I recommend using a calculator (if not on your phone, bring one) to figure out exactly how many ounces you need for your recipe (usually measured in cups or tablespoons, etc.), so you don’t over-purchase. That alone is an easy and oft-overlooked way to save.
I’ll never be someone who clips coupons from the newspaper (Who’s got time for that?!), but Whole Foods makes it easy for us: you can download coupons for your location directly from their website. I try to check out the list once a week before I do my big shopping to see if anything appeals to me. Whole Foods also releases a newsletter called The Whole Deal every two months with coupons that are valid for three months, so I hold onto the ones I don’t use in my first run. Better yet, many Whole Foods stores allow you to stack your coupons, so if you find multiple coupons that apply to one item, you can get a more significant discount.
In addition to posting coupons online, Whole Foods actually publishes all of the products that are on sale at a particular store in its regularly updated sales flyer. I like to browse there for key ingredients when I’m doing menu planning, so I can create a meal around something that’s already on sale.
Sometimes the promotions change in-store, or things go out of stock, so it’s also smart to browse each section of the store for sale banners and signs before you start adding anything to your cart.
That said, it’s easy tempted by a sale on a great rosé for $16 at the foot of the aisle, but often times if you bypass the sale table and head straight for the rosé section you’ll find an even greater deal on a bottle that’s equally good there.
One of the trickiest things about Whole Foods (and other grocery stores) is that the same exact product can be packaged differently, in two slightly different sizes or a containers, and it can have a drastic price variation. For example, I once saw a package of Marcona almonds that cost $14 (heartbreaking to begin with) by the cheese bar and then rounded the corner to the nuts and grains section and found the same product just half an ounce smaller available for $9. So sneaky. Especially when something seems expensive to begin with, do a sweep of a couple possible aisle’s where an item could reside to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
I didn’t think Fridays could get better until I discovered that each Friday, Whole Foods features a different item from a different department at an exceptionally low price during its Friday One Day Sale. You can stop by the demo station to see what it is and try a sample of the featured item. One time I visited and it was a whole roasted chicken for 99 cents!
You probably know that you get a discount of 10 percent when you buy a full case of wine. But that rule actually applies to basically everything in the store. If you buy a full case of Greek yogurt or canned soup or what-have-you, you’ll also get the savings. Of course, that means you’ll have to find something to do with all those items, but it’s great for products you can freeze or if you’re stocking up for a trip or a party. Just be sure to tell the cashier you’re buying the whole case, so they can punch in the discount code for you.
Bringing kids to any grocery store can be a dangerous endeavor for your wallet, but Whole Foods’ Kids Club makes it appealing. If you have little ones, sign them up for a membership, and each time they visit, they can stop by customer service and pick up a coupon for a complimentary organic apple, organic fruit leather, or natural animal crackers. Hopefully this will keep them from nagging you to buy more snacks!
In addition to bags, Whole Foods also offers 10 cents off for every reusable container that you bring and use, so you can save a little bit when you go to stock up on bulk items, rather than using their containers. On top of that, if you do use their containers, they charge you for the weight of their containers in addition to the weight of their food. So if you bring your own containers, stop by the customer service desk and have a clerk weigh your personal containers, and they’ll deduct the weight of them at checkout.
Whole Foods’ produce aisle often has some great sale items, but obviously produce expires so you can’t exactly keep it in the pantry. If a fruit or vegetable you eat regularly is on sale at a great price, or even just extra ripe and at the peak of its season, stock up. When you get home, set aside whatever you can eat within the week, and then clean, cut, and freeze the rest for the future.
Any other Whole Foods savings tips to share? Tell us in the comments.