It costs a lot of money to shop at Whole Foods. The company has earned the nickname "whole paycheck" for its high prices.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
We picked up some tips from money-saving experts on how you can save.
1. Get comfortable in the kitchen first.
There's a lot of preparation needed before making an efficient trip to an organic grocery store.
"If you know how to cook and you plan ahead that grocery shopping on a budget, even organic, can be much more feasible," Jess Dang of Cook Smarts, a meal planning company that specializes in budgeting for healthy food, told Business Insider.
"The way that I think about it [...] you want to take advantage of sales [...] even if things aren't on sale — x is cheaper than y at the grocery store. I think people get really afraid about making substitutions, even if they go in with a list, because they've planned ahead with all of these recipes, and they see that 'oh, actually this is on sale, but what I need is red peppers' — they're afraid to make that swap."
"Having a good knowledge of cooking [allows you to] feel comfortable you can make a swap based on sales or based off of better prices," she said. Ultimately, it "allows you to take advantage of better deals and save money."
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2. Check your pantry before you go to Whole Foods.
"If you have that well stocked pantry [...] you actually don't have to be adding very much every additional week," Dang said, while also adding you should just be "checking what pantry things you need to replenish."
"It shouldn't be that every time you go shopping you need to buy a ton of pantry goods," she said. If you know what's in your pantry, you won't have to splurge on a ton of things you don't need, saving you money right off the bat.
3. Look for sales, and remember the importance of Wednesdays.
Looking for sales is a given, right?
But Molly Siegler, culinary content coordinator at Whole Foods, informed us there are specific days items go on sale, which is important to keep in mind when preparing a shopping trip. "New weekly sales start on Wednesday and run through the following Wednesday, so there are actually double sales every Wednesday in most regions!" She told us. "Stores regularly have one-day or weekend sales on specific items— from packaged goods to fresh produce to wine and beer."
It's also important to look for sales before you go, and then make your meal plan around the deals that will be present rather than succumb to what's in front of you. Siegler pointed us to Whole Foods sales flyers, which are readily available online, and The Whole Deal, which has ample coupons and deals.
4. Make a list.
"Don't go in without a grocery list," Dang informed Business Insider.
She also said that, "when you have a list, you can go with purpose," otherwise you "wander, you don't know." That could mean make you impulse buys (and Whole Foods certainly has plenty of samples and displays to encourage e you to do so!), and ramp up your bill.
Similarly, Siegler told Business Insider that having a meal plan is of the utmost importance.
5. Repeat, you should have a list.
It's no secret there are temptations near the checkout line. (And at Whole Foods, those temptations are cold pressed juices.)
6. Don't go hungry!
"Don't shop on an empty stomach," Dang told Business Insider. "It's too tempting."
Even Siegler agreed. "I'd say the two most common missteps people make when it comes to grocery shopping in general, are shopping when they're hungry and shopping without a plan. Shopping hungry makes it harder to stick to your grocery list because you want to try everything."
7. Know the "dirty dozen."
If you're worried about eating organic, take heed: there are only some foods you need to buy organic. On Cook Smarts, Dang advises readers and clients to buy the "dirty dozen" organic — and not to worry about the rest. (Not everything needs to be organic!) These include apples, cherries, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, celery, lettuce, spinach, kale, and collards, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes. Items like onions, cabbage, corn, and mushrooms — amongst other fruits and vegetables — known as the "clean fifteen" — will be fine if they're not organic because they have little to no pesticide traces as they are. Given the mark-up of food with the organic stamp, that will save you a lot of money!
8. Know the expiration dates for foods.
Dang also provides a list of when foods expire as a helpful resource. Using this and a well stocked pantry, people should (optimally) only make a pilgrimage to a grocery store once a week. "If you have a good understanding of shelf life, then you can actually go once a week," she said, because if you only buy groceries that expire within three days (like asparagus, spinach, and kale), you'll need to make several trips to the store in a week. "I wouldn't recommend you buying 100% of your groceries that's all the three day [category]," Dang advised. After all, some items, like sweet potatoes and whole onions, can last longer than two weeks when stored properly! She noted to keep that list handy; you'll know what to purchase.
9. Stick to the basics.
Now that you're grocery shopping, stick to basics! "When you look at Whole Foods, the actual portion of real foods isn't really very big," Dang said. "Most of it is a lot of processed stuff or now like the make-up aisle and everything. So I really do urge people to really just shop in the produce and meat section and the canned section — where it's really just 1 to 2 ingredients, like canned beans and tomatoes." And remember, the pre-made snacks are pricey!
Knowing the layout of the store helps, too. While Siegler told us that most Whole Foods are designed with the demographic of the respective neighborhoods in mind, there are some constants. "In general though, dry goods and bulk products are the in the middle of the store, while produce, meat, seafood, dairy and baked goods are around the perimeter of the store." With that in mind, you'll know what to steer clear of to avoid temptation.
10. Don't buy pre-cut vegetables.
Obviously, these are more expensive. And for those who buy pre-cut fruit because they don't want a whole entire watermelon, Siegler offers a solution.
Whole Foods will actually cut items into smaller portions for you, if you'd like.
"If you only need half a head of cabbage or a quarter of a watermelon, our team members are happy to slice them up for you so you only take home what you need. In the seafood department, if you only need a quarter of a fillet, our fishmongers are happy to custom cut and wrap it up for you to take home," Siegler said.
11. But seriously, try to avoid the salad bar, too.
"It is definitely very, very expensive," Dang said. "You have to think [it] through because it's all done by weight. Do you want to buy butternut squash at the Whole Foods salad aisle versus just learning how to chop your own butternut squash?"
12. Stay away from the pre-made food.
"I would say [avoid] a lot of the processed food aisles," Dang said, noting that snacks are "the stuff you can really spend a ton of money on."
"There's a huge mark up for any kind of organic snack and usually it's just not worth it," she says.
13. Buy in bulk.
Buying non-perishables in bulk can go a long way. Dang advises us to buy "pantry staples" in bulk — like nuts, dried beans, and grains. It's worth it compared to a name-brand.
She also notes that buying in bulk can help you if you don't want a lot of something. "Then you have much more control over the amounts you want, whether you want to buy a lot or a buy a little," she noted. " People buy bulk for both reasons."
Similarly, Siegler noted the perks of buying in bulk for packaged goods. "Whole Foods Market offers case discounts on most items for those times when you need a plethora of snacks for the soccer team or multiple bottles of wine for entertaining," she informed Business Insider. "Usually, customers will receive about 10% off when buying an entire case of something." So that justifies your case of wine, doesn't it?
14. Stick with the 365 brand — especially when buying things like beans.
It's "a really great brand and it's very affordable," Dang said. "If you actually really shop how much they have in their store brand, [you'll see] that their prices are very comparable to some of the [...] more budget-friendly stores." And for the health-conscious, Siegler clarified all of the products are organic or non-GMO.
15. Go frozen instead of fresh.
Frozen fish is a great freezer staple that will save you money in the long run — but what about in the short-term? Isn't it better to buy fresh? Not always! It can often behoove you to just go with the frozen, because, as Dang pointed out, many — but not all — of the "fresh" fish on display are just unfrozen. "The premium you're paying for was for them to defrost it for you." So here's a hack: check the label to see if it says "previously frozen!" If not, it's up to you, but, "if it's many multipliers more expensive, then I would always just go with frozen," Dang said.
16. Stay frozen.
In season vegetables are usually at a sweeter price point than their out-of-season counterparts, but what if you're craving out of season vegetables? Buy them frozen; they're cheaper. For those who think this cheaper option is less nutritious, think again. "Fresh vegetables are great but there really actually isn't much of a nutritional difference between fresh and frozen especially because the frozen stuff is picked at peak [...] it retains the same nutrition amount," Dang said. It's especially smart to buy out-of-season produce frozen if you really like a particular item.
Dang also advises people — especially those who are shopping for one or two — to think about freezing their grains, too. "I think people don't realize that starches freeze really, really well," she said. If you never go through a loaf of bread in a week, it would benefit you to freeze it (or pick it up in the freezer aisle). It'll save you buying many loaves of bread down the line.
17. Stay away from samples if you'll be tempted.
"I think it really depends on your personality type," Dang said. "If you know that you're going to be tempted, [then don't." She points out that in-house items, like cheese, are fine to pick up if it's in your budget — and Siegler told Business Insider that Whole Foods as a "try before you buy policy," so you don't have to spend money on things you may wind up not liking. Unfortunately, many of the sample tables feature products from vendors who are selling the very same products Dang urged us to avoid: the processed, pre-made stuff (which is often the priciest!).
18. Know when to go shopping.
Dang points out that in general, there are two optimal times to go food shopping: right before the store is re-stocked (things are often discounted as the store tries to get rid of it) and right when it's stocked. It's pricier, but if it's fresher, the food will have a longer shelf life, thereby saving you money since you won't have to run back to buy more as quickly. (And remember the Wednesday rule at Whole Foods!)
19. Steer clear of foods you can prepare yourself.
Dang is a huge advocate of learning to cook instead. (Also, stating the obvious, but by purchasing things pre-cut and packaged for you, you're paying a convenience fee!)
20. If you're low on canned goods and non-perishables, stock up to save for next time.
You won't need to buy as much during your next trip. It'll save you in the long run, and your next Whole Foods receipt will have a considerably cheaper number at the bottom.
21. Don't buy everything there.
Whole Foods has great options with incredibly fresh produce and meat, but Dang points out that those pre-packaged specialty snacks are way more affordable at other stores, like Trader Joe's. She advises buying those snacks that won't go bad elsewhere than Whole Foods. "If you are like,' 'I just need to buy the snacks and stuff,' then I would go to Trader Joe's and just [...] stock up on that stuff, knowing it's not going to go bad particularly quickly and you're going to like it and enjoy it and eat it."
22. Use Instacart for online shopping instead.
But Dang also advises Whole Foods fans to shop online. "I think online grocery shopping is a really great option to have," she said, noting Instacart, which has partnered with Whole Foods. While there may be a delivery, there are some perks that help you save a lot of money. She mentions that when you're shopping online, you won't be "tempted by the brownies."
Most importantly, "you see the full amount before you check out," amongst other perks. "[...]With grocery shopping online, you can easily look up recipes at the same while you're shopping for things and seeing what's on sale [and] you can see the full amount of everything before you check out," thereby avoiding the "sticker shock," as Dang puts it, when you check out. Online, you can ask yourself what you can take out and what you truly need.
You've learned how to save while shopping at Whole Foods...
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