I moved to Washington, DC for an internship the summer after my junior year in college. Aside from coming to the realization that trying to earn actual money for a company would cause me a great deal of anxiety, I had the best time. I stayed in a dorm at George Washington University with students from around the country, went for breathtaking runs among the monuments (literally breathtaking, because the humidity did not waver from 98% the entire 12 weeks), and explored the city on the Metro.
I had two grocery shopping options within walking distance – a Trader Joe’s .6 miles away and a Whole Foods right down the street. One 95-degree day in June, I strolled to the TJ’s in a pale blue rayon top. Said top was three shades darker when I slinked back into the air-conditioned building an hour later with my heavy bags, trying to avoid acquaintances/slipping in a pool of my own sweat. Having at least some shame, I bought my groceries at Whole Foods for the remainder of the summer, despite the fact that my family calls the store Whole Paycheck and always shopped more economically when I lived at home.
While I did find it more expensive, I discovered a few tricks for shopping at Whole Foods without breaking the bank and wanted to share them today.
Take Advantage of Buying in Bulk
Whole Foods sells everything from dried herbs to trail mix out of bulk bins that allow you to take home as much or as little as you’d like. Instead of buying a five-pound bag of some ingredient that I’ll inevitably use a small fraction of, forget about, and purchase again two weeks later, buying in bulk helps me save money and avoid clutter. And although it does involve human interaction, this tip applies to having the butcher measure out your meat instead of picking up a larger package from the shelf.
Have a Plan & Avoid Doubling Up
I didn’t plan one meal in my first three years of college (unless making sure I had tortillas and cheese on hand to make quesadillas in the microwave counts), but I started thinking ahead a little more during my summer in DC. Today, I loosely plan meals that have ingredients in common before heading out to shop so that I can keep costs down. Especially if you live alone, buying multiple different proteins can really run up your bill. The Whole Foods Market app can aid in planning – it has a section devoted to recipes and a menu of sales and coupons you can scroll through to save even more.
Buy Junk Food Elsewhere
I guess this technically doesn’t count as a tip for shopping at Whole Foods, but I find that combining my junk food shopping with trips to Target for household stuff works out much better than buying ice cream and chips at Whole Foods. I’d much rather have a standard half gallon of Edy’s that will last three bowls (KIDDING, I usually get at least four or five out of those cartons) than a bag of gourmet popcorn for $7 that I can eat in one sitting without feeling satisfied.
Use a Small Cart
Choosing a small cart helps me control my shopping in the same way that pouring cereal into a smaller bowl helps control portion size. An extra stop later in the week if you don’t end up buying enough does take time, but it’s probably still more cost-effective than throwing away a bunch of wasted produce.
Look Above and Below Eye Level
Whole Foods is obviously a great option if you prefer organic foods, but I’ve never paid much attention to that sort of thing and definitely focused more on cost while completing an unpaid internship in Washington. I learned that if you want a cheaper option, you may have to search around a little bit. Sometimes the non-organic bell peppers will be on a top or bottom shelf instead of right in the middle, or the most inexpensive variety of apples will occupy the smallest section of a table.
So, there you have it…any tips you’d add to this list? Thoughts on Whole Foods in general?