After college I worked as a cashier at the small Whole Foods in Durham, NC, and ever since I've had a soft spot for the brand. In fact, wherever I've lived I've gone out of my way to shop at Whole Foods. When I lived in Harlem, for example, I would take the subway down to the mega store at Columbus Circle. And now I drive an hour each way to the store in Des Moines to stock up on staples that I can't find — or can only find for more money — in my small town.
But even though I'm a fan of Whole Foods, I'm well aware that it's possible to spend your entire paycheck if you're not careful. That's why when I shop I'm strategic, restrained, and focused — and I actually manage to save big.
Here's how I do it.
1. I shop the produce sales.
Compared with my two local stores, the sales on high-quality and organic produce at Whole Foods are almost always far superior. (Plus, it never seems like they are trying to use sales to clear out past-prime produce like my local stores do.)
So rather than making a specific list for produce, I wait until I get to the store and buy an assortment of the best-priced fruits and vegetables to last the week. This not only saves cash, but also motivates me to buy things I might not otherwise put into my cart.
Don't Be Afraid to Out
2. I shop the bulk bins (when it makes sense).
Raisins have always been one of my oldest daughter's favorite snacks, so they are usually on my shopping list. I regularly compare prices between packaged raisins — both in canisters and in individual boxes — with the bulk bins because there can be a big difference in cost per ounce.
This also goes for nuts, seeds, and beans, so pull out the calculator on your phone if you need help with the math. (No shame in that!) The packaged store brand often wins on price comparisons between similar items, but a sale or change in stock can impact this, so I like to double check.
3. I buy Whole Foods' 365 brand.
As much as possible, I buy pantry staples and dairy from Whole Foods' budget-friendly house brand. It includes a lot of organic options and is priced super competitively — especially the quart-sized plain whole-milk yogurt, shredded hormone-free pizza cheese, and block cheese.
I also like the store brand for low prices on organic grains, beans, tortillas, nut butters, and pastas, as well as frozen organic fruits and vegetables. (I keep track of these staples in a master excel grocery list, but you nerd out with your lists as you like.)
4. I change up my dairy.
Whole Foods has a giant selection of yogurt, cheeses, and milks, so I see what's on sale and try out at least one new thing each trip. This has an added benefit of exposing my kids to new flavors and textures and is as simple as choosing a different nut milk than the previous week or trying a different brand or flavor of kefir or yogurt.
Make your own: DIY Nut Milks: 5 Easy Recipes
5. I visit the meat counter.
Because the packaged meat display often has more per pack than we'd use in one meal — and the last thing I want to do when I get home is to repackage meat — I like to see what's on sale at the meat counter and let the butcher take over.
This works well when we want 1/2 pound of ground sausage to add to homemade pizza, or 1/4 pound of ground pork to flavor a stir-fry. The staff members behind the meat counter are also usually very knowledgeable about cuts, so they can suggest a lower-priced option if you're shopping for a specific recipe.
6. I avoid the prepared foods section.
Most of the time (unless I'm treating myself to lunch) I completely avoid the prepared foods section. I think of it like a restaurant, rather than a grocery store department, which helps me stay on track with my budget.
How do you save money at Whole Foods?