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Whole Foods on a Budget: 5 Tips for Getting the Freshest Foods for Less


Whole Foods is a foodie's paradise, but their fresh high-quality groceries aren't cheap: here are some tips to shop at Whole Foods on a budget.

Imagine somebody just handed you $100 to spend on anything you want. With the crisp C-note in your pocket, you put the key in the ignition and back out of the driveway. Where will you go?

Target? The mall? Your favorite restaurant?

For me, the answer is most likely the grocery store! I don’t like to go shopping for clothes, but I’ve been a foodie since I was a kid. Food makes up the bulk of my spending. And the biggest culprit is — you guesed it — Whole Foods.

I know I’m not alone. Even if you’re not a devotee of the organic-only diet, Whole Foods sells fresh, diverse, high-quality groceries. It’s a foodie paradise. But, as anybody who has shopped there knows, the quality doesn’t come cheap. Shopping at Whole Foods is expensive. Especially on a student’s budget.

But because it brings me joy, I’m not willing to completely give up shopping at Whole Foods. (It also happens to be my closest grocery store; not a good combo!)

That’s why I’ve devised a few simple guidelines to save money when I shop at Whole Foods. (I’m also curious to hear if you have any Whole Foods shopping tricks. There are probably many I’ve missed!) Here are my top five:

1. If it doesn’t need to be special, don’t buy it at Whole Foods.

There’s a huge difference between selecting cheese for a dinner party appetizer and, say, a graham cracker. Set up your Whole Foods budget so that the bulk of your spending will be on “special” items where the increased quality really counts. Always ask yourself if shopping at Whole Foods for a particular item is really necessary, or if you could get a product of equal quality for a better price at a different grocery store.

It probably requires a little thinking ahead. But plan to make your Whole Foods trip merely a supplement to your usual grocery shopping if possible.

Here are a few items I’m willing to shell out for at Whole Foods:

  • Cheese
  • Meats from the butcher
  • Produce (sometimes … see below)
  • Salad dressing (awesome variety you can’t really find other places)
  • Seafood
  • Juice (so many exotic options)
  • Jam/jelly (same reason here … great variety and more natural options)

And a sample of items I wouldn’t:

  • Cereal
  • Sliced bread for sandwiches
  • Dry goods (rice, pasta, sugar)
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Basics (butter, milk, eggs)

2. If it doesn’t need to be organic, don’t buy it at Whole Foods.

Experts say there are a few food items that really should be grown organically. Every year the Environmental Working Group publishes a list called the “dirty dozen” that contains the most pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables. Stick to that list for your organic choices.

A good rule of thumb is usually: If it has a thick skin (like a banana, avocado or citrus fruit), it’s not as important to buy organic (although you still can and should if that’s what you like!).

3. Say “yes” to the wine section.

There is a huge wine section at Whole Foods in a variety of price ranges. I’ve even had some good luck in the $10-$15 range. And they have some organic wine varieties, too.

Since wine fits in the “needs-to-be-special” category (quality matters more), I say: Keep it on the Whole Foods shopping list.

4. Don’t be afraid to buy generic.

Whole Foods’ “generic” brands are top notch in my opinion, and usually cheaper. Whole Foods Market and 365 Everyday Value brands (both Whole Foods’ generic labels) should be your go-to choices when possible.

5. Connect with Whole Foods on social media.

Check to see if your local Whole Foods store has a Facebook page and/or Twitter account. Mine does, and it frequently alerts me of sales and deals that are coming up. It’s not enough to follow or “like” Whole Foods’ national accounts; they can’t be as specific for your store as you would want. So make the extra effort to see if your store has an account.

It probably does … Whole Foods is the most active grocery store on social media that I’ve come across.

What about you? Do you have any tips on how to make shopping at Whole Foods more affordable? Let me (and other Money Under 30 readers) know! My wallet will thank you.

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About Maria LaMagna

Maria LaMagna is a recent graduate of Northwestern University where she served as editor-in-chief of the university’s award-winning daily newspaper and studied for five months in Argentina. Before joining Money Under 30, Maria worked as a reporter for CNN and the Indianapolis Business Journal. Follow Maria on Twitter @MCLaMagna.

Comments

  1. Whole Foods also has coupons for their products on their website. :-)

  2. I’ve sort of had a personal Whole Foods boycott since I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2007. We have on one or two occasions bought cheese there but nothing else. I prefer our CSA and the farmer’s market.

  3. I feel that organic is becoming an overly used term. I have a friend who grows organic tomatoes who told me that they use nicotine as an organic pesticide. I am not entirely convinced that I like nicotine better than roundup. Jury is still out on that one.
    In the meantime, I like to pick pears and apples from parks that I know don’t have it in the budget to spray. Also I think a few bruises or worm holes is just proof that at least worms will eat it.
    Can’t say the same thing for leaving margarine outside!

  4. I pick and choose when it comes to shopping at Whole Foods. I mainly buy sauces and dressings because it is virtually impossible to find them without high fructose corn syrup in grocery stores where I live. But for most everything else, I am able to find healthy choices at local grocery stores and farmers markets.

  5. Another alternative to the Whole Foods conundrum is Trader Joe’s. I hear a lot of people-usually those who don’t shop there-say how expensive it is, when actually, it’s quite the contrary! I get everything from my special items (Gorgonzola crumbles) to my basics ( dozen eggs for $1.88, quart of almond milk $1.69) there. The key is Trader Joe’s is a no frills store. They contract quality brands to private label their items so they can bring high quality, low cost organic goods to the consumer. Try alternating between there and Whole Foods and your pockets will thank you!

    • Maria LaMagna says:

      Thanks, K. Valene! We’re getting a Trader Joe’s close to us now, and I can’t wait until it gets here.

  6. While I don’t usually buy groceries at Whole Foods (unless it’s fish or unusual cheese or something like that), I think it is very possible to eat really great tasting food on a budget. I actually feed my husband and I delicious food that is easy to prepare for about $5 per person per day. I think the trick is, like MoneyUnder30 always recommends, to be mindful about your grocery budget. Buy things with the highest nutrtional and taste value and don’t waste money on junk. And plan! I think planning is the hardest part, so I started posting my menu, grocery list, and recipes online at http://afoodieonabudget.blogspot.com/.

  7. Sprouting is a great cost-effective and nutritious method of budget eating – even if you’re not on a budget I highly recommend it. Mung beans and alfa alfa are so easy; do them in a proper sprouting tray or even on a piece of damp kitchen roll. Chick peas etc are brilliant for curries and stews. Do a google search for more info as there are loads of different thoughts on the best way to sprout!