My family is in the final days before our 30-Day Challenge begins. Frankly, I’m scared … I’ll be feeding the three of us spending only $491.10 for the month of January and only from food bought at Whole Foods. Can I actually do it?
I’m not so sure, but everyone around me is confident. My uncertainty comes from the math; there is going to be a lot of math! How much will each serving cost? The price of each meal needs to average $1.82 per person; that’s a total of $16.38 per day for three breakfasts, three lunches, and three dinners. Every ingredient I use must be considered and calculated for value. Every morsel will be passed under scrutiny before being deemed worthy.
Eep. Can I do that?
My family went on the “Whole Foods Value Tour” earlier this week. It was pretty great actually; we got our tour from the very lovely David Remillard, a foodie who knows his stuff! Anyone can request a Value Tour at any Whole Foods; just ask for one and you’ll get the same service I received. (It’s best to call ahead so they know you’re coming.)
Some of David’s tips:
- Check online or at the door for the weekly flyer. It will list a few dozen items on sale and comes out on Wednesdays.
- My local Whole Foods has over 35,000 items in stock and, during any given week, about 2,000 are on sale or specially priced, so check the flyers, but also check the shelves. You’ll find lots of hidden gems.
- The “365 Label” (Whole Foods’ in-house brand) is almost always the cheapest option. Check the 365 price first and see if it works for your budget. I did a 2-hour reconnaissance mission on my own and found this to be true with only one exception (apple juice).
- If you buy more than three pounds of a meat, they’ll give you an additional 50 cents off per pound. You can use some fresh and then freeze the rest for later.
- Whole Foods has weekend specials above and beyond the weekly flyer. Check to see if there’s anything good available if you’re shopping on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
- Once a month the store has a Madness Sale, which features really, really good sales on items. This is a great chance to look for things you can stock up on.
- Buying local and buying in season are always cheaper and (bonus!) better for the environment.
- Check online at the websites for brands that you like. They will often have coupons you can print out and use in the store.
I also learned some interesting factoids that I wasn’t previously aware of. For instance:
- My local Whole Foods is located very near a Trader Joe’s (less than a quarter mile away) so they compete with them head-to-head. Because of this, Whole Foods makes sure certain key items are priced the same as TJ’s. David pointed out bagged spinach and coffee as examples.
- The bins in front of the store with items like nuts, coffee, and grains aren’t always the cheapest. For instance, nuts in the pre-sealed and measured plastic bags are less expensive than the nuts in the bins, because the loose nuts are considered better quality (honestly, I can’t tell the difference and I buy both).
Whole Foods Took My Bet, and You Get Something Too!
This is the cool part. I asked Whole Foods to make a wager with me: if I can successfully feed my family for $491.10 or less over the 30 days, the store will reimburse me for all the groceries I buy. I also asked if they would be willing to give away a $125 gift card each week to a reader. They said yes to both! On January 2nd, I’ll announce how you can enter to win one of the weekly gift cards, so come back after the new year to sign up.
And, full disclosure, Whole Foods is in NO way providing any editorial input on what I have or will be writing over the course of the challenge …
Here are the rules of our 30-Day Challenge. They are entirely made up by me.
- Our family will “start” with only a few ingredients on hand: whatever spices I have, some maple syrup, and olive and canola oil. Everything else I will buy.
- All meals (and snacks) will be prepared at home. If food is purchased outside of the home, this will be factored into the total budget. And since we totally can’t afford this, it ain’t happening! This also means my son will be brown bagging it at school every day and not eating from the school cafeteria.
- No special favors from Whole Foods. I’m not, for instance, going to ask David to put chicken on sale so I can buy a ton. I will not receive the weekly flyer ahead of time to help me with menu planning. I will be trying to accomplish shopping within my budget using the same resources that anyone else would have.
- I am allowed to cry if I get totally frustrated and am completely craving filet mignon or hit a roadblock trying to figure out how to stretch the budget to make it. This also means no downing a bottle of wine, since that’s not in the budget either.
- Everyone in the family is allowed to whine, vociferously if needed, but they aren’t allowed to cheat. This means I can’t sneak out for lunch during the workday, my husband can’t have a Dunkin Donuts coffee, and my son can’t demand after school snacks at the bagel shop.
- During the month, I will share all receipts and the breakdown of the meals so you can see exactly where my money is going.
- On day 30, we will host a dinner party for eight as the final meal of the Challenge, so I must be sure that I have enough money or food left over to feed my guests.
- We are so going out to dinner on January 31st!
There you go. If you have any super-cheap recipes to share, please do! If you have any tips on meal planning, please, please share them with me. I’d love to hear everything.
Wish me luck,
Read ALL the 30-Day Whole Foods Thrifty Challenge posts.