Whole Foods On A Budget

veggies

The key to shopping at an expensive grocery store is knowing what to buy and when to buy it. Unless you are fairly wealthy, you probably don’t do all of your grocery shopping at Whole Foods. But who wouldn’t want to? Fresh meats, gorgeous vegetables, unique brand names that look tasty… when I lived in LA I went there every few months. But since moving to Tennessee, I find myself returning week after week. Maybe it’s the familiarity– it’s the only grocery store in my town that we also have in California, so I like that. Maybe it’s cheaper here than there, but it doesn’t appear that way to me. My main draw are the produce and meats, which are higher quality than the other major grocery store chains I’ve toured so far. Most vegetables here are gross. They wilt within a day of taking them home or already look like a wreck on display. It’s sad.

Awhile back I found this thread on Reddit, posted by a former Whole Foods employee who kindly listed out what products were worth buying there and what to skip. I don’t exactly follow this, because like I said, desperate times. Plus he keeps referring to Aldi, which is a chain we have here–but it’s not everywhere. I recently read SoCal is getting thirty five stores soon, so congratulations to you if you live there! They are Trader Joe’s owned, so get excited, frugalites.

If you shop around a variety of places enough, you should be able to tell who has the better deal on what. Know your stores and know them well. For example, I wanted to make chocolate chip cookies tonight, but when I went to Whole Foods today, I noticed chocolate chips were way over priced compared to other places (between $4-5). I could sacrifice this non-necessity to get a better deal and make them another time. The same thing happened a few weeks ago when I was about to grab my go-to caesar dressing and noticed the price ($5+!) and put it back. If you know you’re making a run somewhere else soon, there’s no point in shelling out an extra dollar or three. Save it. Be flexible.

Know when things go on sale and try to plan your outing for that day. At this Whole Foods, sales tend to be on Friday and weekends. I pick what I’m going to make based on what meats have a deal. So that means I have to relax my dinner plans a bit and be willing to change it up on the spot. There are plenty of frugal people who will tell you to do the opposite–plan your grocery list down to the penny and don’t stray–that is a good mindset for budgeting in general. It just depends on what you’re looking for in your food experience and if you are going for quality or quantity. You know where I stand. Happy shopping!

Weekly Tip: A Well Stocked Kitchen Is Invaluable

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Pottery Barn’s new pantry set

I have made reference once or twice to doing things on the cheap, but part of the reason it was so inexpensive is because I already had the materials I needed on hand. I know this is not the case for everyone, and therefore if you tried to make what I made, you’d be starting from scratch and the venture would be more expensive than I made it seem. The best way to overcome the problem of an empty pantry is to stock up little by little as you shop. The only reason I have as many spices or baking ingredients as I do is because I have experimented with meals and they’ve accumulated over time. If you are just starting out in cooking, you wouldn’t be in this position. A great place to begin is to make a list of what ingredients you wish you had on hand and slowly shop the sales to cross them off. There is no need for a binge shopping grocery store trip in order to stock up. Budget for a $5 investment towards this in your weekly allowance and that should do the trick.

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, corn starch, cornmeal, powdered sugar  (I’m guessing you already have most of this)
  • soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, a variety of vinegars (apple cider, red wine, white wine, rice, balsamic…)
  • Any and all spices. This could take a while. Spices are crazy expensive in California. But there are ways around this. Buy the small size unless it’s an ingredient you use A LOT. In my kitchen, chili powder comes in handy often, so I always buy the taller size. Another thing: spices expire! Did you know that? No use in buying bulk for something that may get tossed in a year. Right now Vons is having a sale where if you buy two already discounted spices, the third is free (check the expiration, they could be trying to clear the shelves). I noticed Whole Foods also sells a good selection for $2.99 a piece. That is cheap!
  • Freeze some meats. Get the manager’s special even if it’s something you know you aren’t going to cook that week and freeze that baby up! You’ll be glad you did when you’re scrounging for a meal.
  • broths, rices, pasta noodles: most of these you can find in the .99 cent range
  • peanut butter, mustard(s), ketchup, mayo, lemon and lime juices
  • Salts! Maldon is being called for more and more in recipes these days. My local butcher sells it for $7, which is the lowest price I’ve found. $10 on Amazon. Trader Joe’s sells a white truffle salt and oh my word is it good on popcorn. It’s also good to have kosher, sea salt and good old fashioned table salt (for baking). I can understand if this is not a priority in your kitchen… but just some food for thought! 😉
  • And my personal favorite and perhaps the most important of all… butter: unsalted and salted!

If you write out your version of this list and give an estimate to the cost of each (subtracting what you already have, of course), you’re probably looking at a $50 investment spread out over a couple of months. But what this price tag gets you is invaluable. The ability to whip something up out of ingredients you already have on hand is creatively fulfilling and saves you a lot in the long run. Hopefully the amount you have to buy to create a meal of your choosing is less and less with each trip. Good luck!