Home Friday 5 Friday 5: Five Tips For Surviving Whole Foods, Wallet (And Paycheck) Intact

Friday 5: Five Tips For Surviving Whole Foods, Wallet (And Paycheck) Intact

by Erika Nicole Kendall

If you saw my #surviveon35 wrap up, you saw that I did all my shopping at Whole Foods – all USDA certified organic – and had to be strategic about it. Do I prefer my favorite farmer’s market? You bet. But that’s not to say that it’s always an option. If Whole Foods is where you’re venturing off to, then here are five tips I learned (or was reminded of) in order to walk out of Whole Foods with everything I needed, without my poor wallet being torn to shreds:

credit: robnguyen01

1) Stay your entire behind out of the processed food aisles. Because the items may have better quality ingredients or may not be as hyper-processed as regular supermarket fare, prices do tend to be higher, and rightfully so. When it comes to pre-packaged and processed products, flavor and quality – not just empty calories – cost money, and that has to be accepted. Since there are very few pre-packaged products that cannot be reproduced at home for cheaper, you’d be better off buying the ingredients to make whatever it if you’re wanting. At least then, you could use those ingredients to make other dishes at your leisure.

(But, if you insist on using that stuff? The store often has coupons at the front door for you to use.)

2) If you’re looking for organic produce, check the frozen foods section first. If a single organic red pepper is looking like it might cost $2, and I can get onions, red peppers and green peppers for $2.39 for a bag… you already know what time it is. Brussels sprouts, which I can rarely find for less than $4 a pound – on sale – are usually less than $3 a pound frozen. Organic yellow corn – I never buy corn that isn’t organic – often goes for $2. Like… this quickly becomes a no-brainer.

Frozen foods do sometimes have their drawbacks. If it’s frozen, chances are high that they won’t work well without being cooked. Like, you couldn’t buy organic spinach and expect it to come out looking like salad leaves. Those frozen onions? They’re not going to come out looking fresh and raw when they thaw. If your dish won’t accommodate all the displaced water in the frozen item, you’ll have to cook it.

3) Subscribe to the Whole Foods sales listings for your specific store. There’s random unimportant stuff in there like cookies and chips, but the sales for the protein are what are most important. Salmon, shrimp, ground turkey, chicken… all of these sales are prominently displayed in those weekly mailers, and that’s what I plan my meals around for the week. Not to mention, all of the greek yogurt sales on sales on sales? Mind you, I can only take but so much meat, so I have plenty of vegan dishes, too, which leads me to my next point…

4) The bulk items section is your friend. Your best friend, in fact. The bulk items section is the part of the store that “you love so much, you’d marry it.” Oats, beans, couscous, lentils, nuts, dried fruits, raisins, flours, quinoa, nutritional yeast, seeds, rices, shredded coconut, herbs, spices, teas…all of it. There’s something for everyone in the bulk section. Take advantage.

Also: if your Whole Foods doesn’t have a bulk section (or a bulk spices section) then feel free to complain. Request one! How else will they know you’re willing to spend your money on it if you don’t tell ’em?

5) Lots of the more important things – the staples – are available in Whole Foods’ own private, generic label brand, 365 (Everyday Value), and are often organic and just as high quality as the store’s other offerings. Don’t be so attached to a particular brand – that generic brand stuff is often same quality, with cheaper price. Buy the private label generic brand.

Also, as an additional point: if your Whole Foods has the wellness program, consider becoming a member. On top of cooking and nutritional classes that promote plant-based lifestyles, there’s a ten percent discount on all produce (frozen or otherwise), almost all meats, and some other thousands of items.

Now, there are also a few other tricks of the trade (bringing your own reusable bags makes a teeny, tiny difference on your bill; and buying in bulk gives you an additional 10% discount on each bulk item you’re buying, which is great if you’re a Greek yogurt hoarder like me.) And there’s also the number of things we can discuss in regards to how to start your clean eating stockpile. But as far as how to survive Whole Foods, wallet intact, I think this is a pretty good survival guide.

What are you spending to shop at Whole Foods, and if you’re living that cheap life, how are you saving your pennies?

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E July 27, 2012 - 4:24 PM

Love this……

Keisha July 27, 2012 - 5:59 PM

This is great! I love shopping at WholePaycheck, but I always leave feeling like I spent way to much and got way to little. I will keep these tips in mind next time.

Christina July 27, 2012 - 7:43 PM

I wouldn’t exclude dollar stores for dried fruit, spices, and fresh fruits/vegetables. Dollar Tree, $.99 cent stores, and etc are place that I have been able to get a ton of fresh fruit for cheap and able to go to a Whole Foods for the items I can’t find.

Lauren July 28, 2012 - 8:00 AM

Great tips! I follow most of these already, but you did a great job summarizing what I haven’t been a able to explain well. People always reference “whole paycheck” when the store comes up, and when I tell them I make out well there they never believe me! I shop sales and basics, shop seasonally (or frozen), stick to store brands, and know my prices. It is nearly impossible to find another grocery store with bulk items, hormone free meat, and organic produce.

Christi July 28, 2012 - 6:34 PM

Nice post! Since I’m primarily vegan, I can afford to eat organic, but I still try to keep my food budget in line. I shop at Whole Foods frequently, and bulk foods definitely come in handy. I love the 365 Everyday brand, especially their rice milk. I also shop at our weekly farmers market(s) and the local food co-op, both of which are as expensive (or more) than WF. Also, I have a Trader Joes close by that I use for picking up quick items, but they have so much packaging (plastic wrapping around the broccoli!!) that it just makes me sick.

Nicole August 3, 2012 - 9:17 AM

Thanks! This will help me a lot!

Aisha August 25, 2012 - 7:40 AM

I also say cut other things in your budget so you can afford better food. We downgraded our cable and internet package so that $80 can go to something else be it food or savings. Also like I said in another posts on here this week grow your own herbs.

mizree October 19, 2012 - 3:28 PM

sigh….I really need to get this under control, b/c I’m sure I’m spending well over $300/mth in whole foods 🙁

Anne November 30, 2012 - 4:51 PM

I’ve been a whole foods queen. I stick to bulk foods for my rice and spices. Get meat in the fresh meat section as I need it for recipes and get cheese and yeast. Regular grocery store yeast has stuff other than yeast in it! Your tips are on point. You could spend a grip in there EASY!!

Renee H. January 4, 2013 - 11:23 AM

Whole foods is a drive for me but we have a Wegman’s nearby. They also have a huge selection of organic produce, bulk items and herbs (including fresh mint leaves. Mojito’s anyone?!) They also sell arnica Great for the day after heavy deadlifts and cleans. On my way there today for beets!!

Erika Nicole Kendall January 4, 2013 - 12:51 PM

You know what? I’ve heard of Wegman’s, but I think that’s a DMV area thing. I’ve never seen one outside of that area, though. Someone confirm?

Milaxx September 9, 2014 - 9:35 PM

We have a Wegman’s in Cherry Hill, NJ and I think some of the Philly burbs

Brooklyn PeeWee February 21, 2013 - 11:43 PM

I’ll go to W.F. but I like Fairway. We had a wonderful one over in Red Hook before Hurricane Sandy – they’re restocking it. I think their product is just as nice and the prices are better. If you haven’t been to the one in Red Hook, check it out.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 22, 2013 - 9:34 AM

I loved the Red Hook Fairway, especially sitting out by the water and looking out at the Statue of Liberty? Man…peaceful. I love it.

Cathy March 22, 2013 - 2:24 PM

Hi, I have never been to a WF but am going to start. I’m the type of girl who likes to know everything I can about doing or going something/where before I go. I am afraid of the unknown- hence doing research on WF. Thanks for your input and your help at putting me to ease about WF.

Marcia January 13, 2014 - 5:48 PM

I started shopping at WF a couple years ago after I watched every single documentary about gmo’s and non-organic food on Netflix that I could find.
My husband and I started spending about 300 dollars a week on groceries witch we really could not afford but we made it work with two incomes, we were true rookies trying to eat better and shop organic. We got pregnant and had already previously decided that I would quit my job and be a stay at home mother. We had to decide what things we were going to sacrifice to make ends meet. The only thing I was sure about was that I did not want to give up eating healthy. I gave up my daily trips to Starbucks and even sold my car. I have gotten way better at my grocery shopping and I still shop at whole foods for most everything but my weekly bills are closer to 120-140 instead of he whopping 300 a week.
These are a few tips and info I have learned along my journey to affording Whole Foods along with the very helpful hints above.
If shopping organic is your thing then WF is generally going to be cheaper then krogers or giant eagle. Sometimes the other large grocery giants will run good sales but consistently you will find WF is cheaper especially their 365 brand. We have taken our reciepts into krogers and giant eagle and made price comparisons.
365 is my best friend. I buy almost all 365 organic and conventional. This product is cheep and if I don’t like thre price on the 365 organic then I purchase the 365 conventional. I’m not scared to buy conventional from 365 because the product is treated as purely as possible without the organic tag and it still better for us and tastes better then the big name brands you will find in the other big stores and it is most likely cheaper too.
The only thing I have tried of theirs that I did not like was the chili.
Buying organic meat can be expensive but if you look around they usually have some very good deals if you can be flexible.
On Fridays they always have a great special on one particular meat. I think this Friday is 6 bucks off sirloin steaks, and it’s very good quality meat. I buy what’s on sale and freeze it for a week that might be a bit tighter.
I don’t buy condiments at Whole Foods hardly ever. Unless I can find what I am looking for in the 365 brand, I try and avoid it, generally very expensive.
It’s easy to get distracted at Whole Foods by the fancy displays and the hoards of cheese and tantalizing beer. If you make a list and stick to it, it is easier not to get distracted, it is like you set off with a purpose and a goal leaving less room to wander.
Seasonal produce is usually very reasonable. I try and buy lots of seasonal.
Shop by the ounce on produce like clams of lettus and mushrooms. They run specials, 2 for 6 bucks on the small clams of lettus frequently but you can buy a pound in the big clams for 6 bucks always, way better deal.
They will often run deals on fish. We try and eat only wild caught fish, it’s a bit more expensive. We stopped buying the fresh because we hardly ever prepair it the day we buy so it goes into the freezer, why not just buy it frozen. Frozen is a bit cheaper and they have a lot of wild caught selection.
We discovered bulk and spices in bulk,all so cheap.
Last of all, it pays to be a regular customer there. At Christmas time we were given a half rack of lamb, some steak tub and a 15 dollar hunk of salami for free just because and my husband became the mayor on 4 square and we received a 10 dollar gift card. It is nice to be appreciated. I love Whole Foods, especially now that I know how to shop there and I know I am provoding the very best for my family that I am able to give them.
Hope you find this helpful

Erika Nicole Kendall January 13, 2014 - 10:28 PM

Excellent, EXCELLENT comment! Thank you!

Milaxx September 9, 2014 - 9:34 PM

YES! I posted on facebook I got a free bag of cherries for checking in on foursquare.

Milaxx September 9, 2014 - 9:41 PM

I stock up on my almond milk there. I make a pre gym smoothie with Greek yogurt and almond milk so I stock up on both.
Another tip is if you want to try something they will give you a generous free sample and they are goo about returns. I bought SO Delicious Almond milk instead of Almond Breeze because I had a coupon and HATED it. I called them and they had me empty the cartons, refunded me the money and I was able to buy my regular brand.
Since my store has a food court I always treat myself to the salad bar & their fresh squeeze kale lemonade. This way I’m not hungry and shopping with my stomach instead of my head.

Denice November 7, 2014 - 8:50 PM

I will be doing my bi-weekly grocery shopping next Saturday and having recently decided to eat as cleanly as possible, I will be doing half my shopping at Whole Foods and the other half at PCC (a local food co-op) so I can compare prices and selection. I am already working on my list, because I learned 2 things LONG AGO 1) ALWAYS have a list and STICK to it and 2) to avoid going grocery shopping HUNGRY!

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