Local store pride. Did I mention I got this bag for FREE?

Local store pride. Did I mention I got this bag for FREE?

Welcome to the second part of my series on saving money shopping at what most people think of as an expensive grocery store — Whole Foods, otherwise known in some circles as “Whole Paychecks.”  In Part One, I shared how behaving like an insider at your local Whole Foods store can net you savings.  Tonight’s post delves more into the strategies I use to make big-ticket items, like meats raised without antibiotics or hormones, affordable for our family.  So many people have told me they’re intimidated by the thought of purchasing meat at Whole Foods, but for many conscious shoppers, it may be the only convenient option that offers them quality choices that match up to their food values; we can’t all buy half of a grass-fed cow from our local farmers, so it’s important to know that there are other ways to buy decent meats without going into debt.

TONIGHT’S TIPS: Champagne tastes on a grape juice budget

1. Spend more to save more.

Last night, I mentioned that you should follow your local store’s social media feeds to stay on top of the best deals.  Among these deals are their limited-time “Madness Sales” and One-Day discounts.  The only problem is that these sales are popular, and they’re limited-quantity; in other words, if you wait until after work to head over there, you may find that the sale item is gone.
But this is where you get crafty and spend MORE than you think you should – stick with me here.  This is long-range thinking, not immediate weekly budget thinking. For example, many Whole Foods stores run a “Buck a burger” sale in the summertime to rid themselves of surplus beef burgers after holiday weekend shopping is through.  It’s a great sale and a cost-effective way to buy burgers, but it’s first-come, first-serve…UNLESS you’re willing to place a great, big order.  The second I see that sale come up on my Facebook feed, I call the store and ask what their threshold is to be able to hold an order for me.  Typically it’s 20 or 30 burgers.  I go for broke and order 50 or 60 for my freezer– and then I have burgers for MONTHS, for a fraction of what it would cost to buy all that meat otherwise.  (By the way, it’s worth pointing out here that I don’t always use the burgers as burgers.  They can just as easily be broken up for ground beef recipes as needed.)

2. Buy from bulk bins.

This doesn’t necessarily mean buying IN bulk – as in, buying large quantities of things.  The beauty of the bulk bins, actually, is that you can buy exactly the amount you need of whatever the item is.  At Whole Foods, there are even bulk spices, which can represent a real savings if you need just a pinch of this or a dash of that, and won’t use up a whole jar.  Plus, the whole point of bulk bin shopping is that you’re paying a lower per-unit price for whatever you’re buying, since there’s no packaging involved.  We use the bulk bins to get a deal on all of our oats, cornmeal, nuts, seeds, sea salt, and rice, as well as some dried fruits.

3. Fall in love with cheap meat. 

This is one of the things that I find most startling when I look at the way I cook and eat now, versus the way I cooked and ate when, say, J. and I first got married.  Back then, I would buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts and lean pork tenderloins, like the ones my mom cooked when I lived at home; not only did I know how to cook them, but I was only buying for two of us (and buying conventional meats, to boot – oh, the things I’ve learned), so the price wasn’t really a deterrent to me.  Now we VERY rarely eat either of those cuts, along with a host of other meats that used to be on my list.
Our staples are bone-in chicken and turkey, boneless skinless chicken THIGHS (at more than $2 less per pound than breasts, they’re a good compromise between efficiency and price), pork shoulder, grass-fed ground beef, and chuck.  You have to know how to cook most of these things in order to come out with something tasty (hint: low and slow is almost always the right answer), but they’re far less expensive than “premium” cuts of meat – and delicious, to boot.  The good news is that you can also stretch these cuts much more easily than you can with fancy meat, because so many of them benefit from being cooked with vegetables or ladled over whole grains; and since Whole Foods has great customer service, you can chat up the butcher to ask for tips if you’re feeling insecure.  For extra savings, do what I do: Buy the cheap stuff, yes, but also try whenever possible to buy it ON SALE.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be tackling some tips that have to do with knowing exactly what you should be looking for in the aisles at Whole Foods.