***UPDATE*** Whole Foods recently released a Corporate Coupon Policy! This is super good news because all stores, no matter where you are, follow the same rules. And its the most inclusive policy out of the ones they used to have. As usual, I suggest printing and having it with you when you shop.
***UPDATED*** Here is a copy of the Mid-Atlantic WF Coupon policy. I suggest printing it and having it with you when you shop. Check the comments for the North Atlantic link.
If you are like me, you’ve undoubtedly heard this quip about Whole Foods. In fact, now that I’m in grad school, I’m hearing it more and more. Fact of the matter is, most of us are in a similar position: we’ve got tens of thousands of dollars in loans (or more), we’re living off of savings or loans, and we have no or minimal steady income coming in. Yet being Public Health students, we want to live a healthy life. For many of us, that means supplementing our Farmer’s Market trips with a stop at Whole Foods, the major option for organic products in downtown Baltimore (the two Trader’s are out in the county and otherwise its Safeway).
Lucky for my classmates, and all of you, I happen to be a budget-and-couponing loving shopper who truly believes that shopping at Whole Foods can be affordable with a little work + awareness + know-how. I’ve figured out how to “work the system” to my advantage as much as possible and therefore save myself money while sticking as much as possible to my food values.
So here you are….my quick guide to making Whole Foods affordable.
Where to Find Coupons
- Whole Foods. Whole Foods has this great booklet that gets released bimonthly called The Whole Deal. You can pick them up in store (usually right near the entrance with the weekly sales flyers) or print just the coupons you want right at home. Each coupon is is good for three months. For example, the coupons in the the May/June Whole Deal don’t expire until the end of July.
- Online. My favorite sites for all natural coupons themselves are Mambo Sprouts, Common Kindness and RecycleBank. The latter two require accounts and are free to join. RecycleBank is a website that allows you to complete tasks for points and then buy coupons with these points. I was able to get Earth Friendly dish soap for $0.99 at Wegmans a while back thanks to this site. I usually visit it a couple times a month and do a ton of activities in bulk. Right now I’m also loving Earthbound Farms’ Organic Step Forward Program. Again, it’s free to join.
- Online Part II. Lots of “regular” coupon sites (Coupons.com, RedPlum, etc) also have all natural coupons. To save you time + money, there are couponing blogs that do the legwork of finding out where such coupons are for you. My favorites are Healthy Life Deals, Organic Deals, The Thrifty Mama, and The Greenbacks Gal. Hip-2-Save also has an epic coupon database where you can look forcoupons for a specific product.
- The Weekly Newspaper. Try to find a neighbor who gets the weekend newspaper and doesn’t use the coupons. In Baltimore, the coupons come Saturday for subscribers and Sunday for those who just buy it at the store. There won’t be a ton in here but hey, every dollar counts.
- VegFests, your local co-op, mom & pop natural stores. This is where I get the bulk of my really good coupons. If it is for a product I use a lot of, or can be convinced to use a lot of, I will grab a small stack. It is important, however, to always ask before just grabbing away.
- The manufacturer’s themselves. Goya lets your print coupons from their website once/month. Attune sends out a monthly newsletter that almost always includes them. Food for Life will mail them to you once every couple of months or so. E-mail the company, and check out their website and facebook page. I was impressed at what I found.
How to Use Coupons
- Stacking. Stacking coupons means that you use more than one coupon for the same item. This is usually done by using a store coupon (e.g. one from the Whole Deal) with a manufacturer’s coupon (like one you get out of the Sunday paper).
- Combing coupons + sales. I love doubling up on coupons and sales. A couple weeks ago, for example, Whole Foods had Earthbound Farms Power Greens on sale for $3.99 (save $1). Between that and my coupon, I saved a total of $1.75.
- Using both of the above. This is the best deal you can get! Not only is something on sale but you also have a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon for it, saving you the most amount of money possible. 🙂
Here’s an example to put it all together.
Nature’s Path Granola Bars: 2/$6.00 (reg. $4.69 ea) <–item on sale
-2 $2.00 Nature’s Path coupon <–manufacturer’s coupon
-$1.50/2 Whole Deal coupon <–store coupon
=$0.50 or $0.25/box <–awesome deal
Other Ways to Save
- BYOB. WF gives you $0.05 for each bag you bring to the store. This includes reusable produce bags. <–$ saver + good for the environment = big win
- Buy in bulk. If you buy a case of any item, you get a 10% discount. Products usually come in cases of 6 or 12 and you can find the exact number either by asking or looking in the lower left-hand corner of the price tag. You can use coupons with cases but you will not get the discount if you get a case of something that is already on sale. This may vary by store.
- How much time do you spend doing all this each week? I know it seems like a lot! And at first it might feel that way too. But eventually it becomes second nature. I spend between 1 and 2 hours on finding + printing coupons, meal planning, and organizing my grocery list. I tend to get lost in grocery stores and spend 4-5 hours shopping BUT when I’m not meandering the aisle I can do it in about 30 minutes. I organize my list + my coupons by the rows of the store.
- What the heck do I do with those $x.00/2 items coupons? Wait for the product to go on sale 2/$x,00 (like I did with the granola bars above). Or use them with another coupon. Or do both. 😉
- How do I know what’s on sale? Whole Foods’ sales run Wednesday to Tuesday and the flyer can be found from their homepage. There likely are more sales int he store than listed and this is where those coupon blogs come in handy again. Each does a weekly match-up.Baltimore folks: I have yet to find a good match-up for our stores. I will update this when I do! For now, I suggest using Healthy Life Deals’ Cheat Sheet.
- Are there any couponing “rules” I should know about? Here’s a crash course in Couponing etiquette. Be nice, be respectful, be honest, be fair.Do tell your cashier ahead of time that you will be using a lot of coupons andlet anyone who comes in line behind you know that it might take a while.
Do not snap at the cashier if s/he isn’t sure what to do, steal all of the sticky coupons off the x container (sometimes manufacturer’s will put coupons right onto their products), try to use one coupon for another product, etc. The grocery industry can easily pull these awesome savings out from under us at any time. Don’t contribute to a negative couponing culture.
- So I’m going to start saving $100s with this, right? Like on Extreme Couponing? Um, not so much. Consider this the part where I talk about managing expectations. Some weeks I save more than I spend. I try to do it every week but it still doesn’t happen. Have I saved several $100s since I started couponing in the spring? Undoubtedly. But some weeks I save less than $10. My thoughts are: if I want to buy x product and there’s a coupon available, why not use it? I would have bought it regardless so all I’m doing is keeping extra $$$ in my pocket. Understand that extreme couponing takes time…to learn and to dedicate to it. For now, the basics will still help you out…poor grad student or not. 😉
- Ok but sometimes the sales price isn’t the best deal for that item. What gives? So true! This is where unit prices come in. I try to think of everything in terms of pounds, gallons, rolls, etc. The 10oz package of quinoa that costs $3.99 is actually more expensive per pound than the 1lb bag that costs $4.99. I like to pay less than $6.00/gal non-dairy milk, $0.25/roll of toilet paper or paper towels, etc. You can calculate the unit price yourself or just look in the upper left-hand corner of the price tag.
There you go! I hope this guide was super helpful. I want to send a shoutout to Kristin for teaching me all she knows and opening my world to natural food couponing. Thanks girl!
Questions? Leave ’em below and I’ll do my best. 😉