Shopping at Whole Foods: 12 Smart Ways to Save

by Ashley Marcin on 30 January 2014 10 comments

A while back, I gave you a list of 25 frugal items for your vegan grocery list. As you know, writing the list is only half the battle. A lot depends on where you shop. At Whole Foods, for example, it's easy to get carried away — at least for me it is! The inviting atmosphere with bright, warm colors highlights all those goodies that just weren't in the original plan. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Groceries)

If you're strategic, though, you can get the healthy foods at Whole Foods for a great price. Here are some suggestions for before, during, and after your shopping trip. As always, we'd love to hear your budget-friendly tips, too — so be sure to leave them in the comments!

1. Clip Your Coupons

Before you grab your bags and head to the store, check out The Whole Deal, a value guide specifically written by and for Whole Foods. The website and in-store paper booklet are full of coupons to save you some major cash at the checkout. While you're writing up your grocery list for the week, try to incorporate these items for the most savings.

2. Mark Your Calendar

Along with keeping up with the latest store news and coupons, be sure to check out store events that might provide unique opportunities for savings. Many, if not all, locations offer "Value Tours" that are around an hour in length. These events cover various topics from using coupons to your advantage to sussing out the best deals to figuring out the best days to visit the market. (See also: 20+ Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill)

3. Learn Your Colors

Bright yellow tags indicate big sales, especially in the produce section. Smaller red tags indicate everyday deals. Be sure to scan the store for those cheery signs and consider making some swaps if there are like-items on your grocery list. Stores differ from location to location, but most have bi-weekly sales and Friday sales. So, choose your shopping days wisely to preserve your food funds.

4. Shop Seasonally

Along these same lines, the fruits and veggies often on sale are the ones that are in season. Whether it's local farmers who had a great yield or whatever else, you should stock up on these fresh ingredients in bulk while you can. You can always freeze, can, or otherwise preserve them for later consumption. (Here's some handy info on popular preservation techniques.)

5. Bring Your Bags

It can be hard to remember, at least for me, but bringing your own cloth grocery bags will save you around 10 cents/bag each shopping trip. It might not sound like a lot, but if you use 5 bags per trip, once each week, that adds up to $26 a year. It's something!

6. Be Social

Find your local Whole Foods on Twitter or Facebook to stay abreast of the latest insider deals. Many of these same specials can be found in The Whole Deal guide, but if you have trouble remembering to check there, like me, a little tweet might be all you need to get those mind gears going. (See also: Use Social Media to Get Coupons)

7. Shop the Perimeter

This tip isn't new or exclusive to Whole Foods, but avoid heading into those middle aisles of the store with the boxed goods. A healthy diet is made up of fruits, veggies, dairy, meat, fish, etc. — and even if it's touted as "healthy," packaged foods still involve more processing. And dollars. If you just have to get your fix, consider buying the 365 brand, which is the WF generic line of many packaged items.

8. Cook in Bulk

If you're planning to make up healthy foods to freeze for two weeks, a month, or more, be sure to contact your local Whole Foods. You can purchase cases of items, like fruits and vegetables, and earn at 10% off discount for doing so. How's that for bang for your buck?

9. Visit the Bins

For anything from nuts to dried fruit to spices to loose leaf tea, the bulk bins are where it's at to find the healthiest, cheapest foods. Not only will you save money, you'll save packaging from ending up in a landfill. While you're at it, consider bringing your own bulk containers — glass or plastic — to reuse again and again. (See also: Where to Find Free Mason Jars)

10. Fill Your Wine Cellar

If you enjoy a little vino (OK — or more than a little), you're in luck! Whole Foods boasts an impressive collection of organic wines for reasonable prices. What's better? If you buy six or more bottles at a time, you get an extra 10% discount.

11. Ask When in Doubt

Whole Foods staff are ready and waiting to help you with your experience. I've always found team members really helpful and great resources for anything from finding particular ingredients to helping find the best deals. While you're at it, ask about the Try it Out program, you can get samples and even take home certain foods for free!

12. Keep Your Receipts

The best way to track your spending and optimize savings is to read your grocery receipts. Look at them from time to time to observe trends or find particular foods/ingredients that stick out as being more costly than others. You can make a running list of these items to hold off on purchasing until you find the specials or deals through the methods listed above. And you can always ask a sales associate for a heads up on when these foods might be on sale.

Are you a regular at "Whole Paycheck"? What are your favorite saving tips?

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Guest's picture

Helpful article. More people who want to eat healthier should consider Whole Foods. Once you learn "the lay of the Land" and to tame your impulses, you can get many great deals. Their 365 brand is often a super value.

Guest's picture
Guest

Organic =/ Healthy.

If the organic really does taste better, or if it's a variety of food otherwise unavailable, then sure spend the extra money. But just because it's "organic" doesn't automatically mean it's better for you, the environment, or the local farmers.

That being said, I'm a huge fan of bulk. It's often cheaper to order it online, though. We save a ton of money by ordering our flours, rice, and oatmeal online in 50lb bags.

Guest's picture
Mandy

Good article, as always! I don't have a Whole Foods by me, but I do have a few other stores. In fact, just yesterday, I picked up cage-free eggs for $0.69 a dozen (on clearance, plus a store coupon). And I was so proud of the retailer - there were 12 dozen or so Organic Omega-3 Eggs that were a few days beyond the sell by date. I commented to the lady marking down the eggs that I did by that it was too bad I couldn't by those. She responded that it was too bad, but at least they wouldn't go to waste because they were on their way to the food bank. In Arizona, we have what it called the "Good Neighbor Law" where stores can donate food that is still perfectly good, but can't be sold to local food banks! From what I can gather, many of the major retailers around here participate.

Thanks for the advice!

Guest's picture
Lauren Bayles

Great article! Thanks.

Guest's picture

We love the 365 brand at Whole Foods. Greta prices and great taste and selection!

Guest's picture

Whole Foods can be a good choice for a healthy lunch. I have done this at a few Whole Foods locations. It's not fast-food cheap, or as inexpensive as bringing food from home, but it's a chance to make some healthy choices when eating out. I also like the free Wi-Fi - you can eat a healthy meal and get some things done.

Guest's picture
Molly

After spending lots of money on "regular" groceries for years, my son (who has a severe form of Crohn's disease) and I make all our own breads (hand kneading only) preserves- whatever we can make, we do it. Even peanut butter. That's a real eye opener compared to store bought!

But too, we do our best to only buy organic (it's a financial struggle) and we remove any and all products in plastic and transfer them to glass jars. Trying to eat healthier is actually more fun and a lot easier than people think. The television tells us "you don't have time! Open the frozen dinner!" Well, we all have the time to spend a day off or afternoon to cook meals we can freeze or bake breads...it's really fun and so rewarding and satisfying.

Controlling what actually goes into your bodies (food wise) is not difficult. It's fun, rewarding, immensely satisfying and really brings families together; there's a definite pride and happiness sitting down to eat something a family member has put together from scratch. You really do feel better to!

Guest's picture
Henna

thats good to know that we can buy organic and healthy foods too now, but i have heard that organic vegetables are a lot more expensive than normal vegetables that are grown by using fertilizers, is it true?? because affordability is the main problem these days as you know

Guest's picture

I'd also like to recommend "Whole Foods 365" line of products. I make a special trip to Whole Foods just to stock up on their bath products - each 32oz bottle of shampoo/ conditioner/ shower gel/ moisturiser is priced at $4.99!
Per ounce, that's cheaper than some drugstore brands, and smells better too!
(Available in Lavender, Grapefruit, Mint or Unscented. I recommend the Lavender - not overpowering and it has a hint of ginger in it...mmm...)

Guest's picture
Guest

Great article, and something to hopefully be applied to smaller natural food stores as well. I love Wise Bread and other money-saving sites, but the "How to feed your family of 4 on $300 a month" types of articles always scare me a bit, as I don't see enough fruits and veggies and healthy proteins in such schemes.

It's an outrage and shame that it's become so expensive to eat healthy, organic foods. I suspect that, in coming years, pesticides, fertilizer chemicals and GMO produce will go the way of asbestos - decades of repressed scientific research, slow political reform, and finally an awakening that what we've been doing has been harmful to ourselves and our world. Or maybe huge agri-bio companies will win out after all. I hope not.