Whole Foods 365: An Organic Bargain?

I was recently at Whole Foods, the mecca of all things "granola," and decided that I wanted to splurge on a nice botanical body lotion. So imagine my surprise when I strolled onto the personal care aisle and discovered an extensive display of 365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods' house brand) lotions, body washes, and shampoos for only $2.99!

wholefoods-lotion

So much for my splurge! There was a wide array of scents available, and the ingredients list made the same claims as the much more expensive Kiss My Face brand (which cost $11.99). I was sold, and also curious: were there other items that are bargain priced at Whole Foods? I always think of Whole Foods as expensive, but this discovery got me wondering. So I did what any self-respecting blogger would do and headed back with my trusty notebook and iPhone camera to investigate.

What I found was that there is not a 365 brand option for every item available--BUT, for items where there was an option, it tended to be a very reasonable price. My theory is that Whole Foods chose to focus on producing only those items they knew they could do well and for a fair price.

I've been impressed lately with Kroger's natural, organic line, Simple Truth, so I made a few price comparisons. Again, I did not find a Simple Truth brand option for everything, so I compared the next most reasonable option.

nut-butter-price-comparison

Whole Foods clearly wins the nut butter price wars. Neither the peanut butter nor the almond butter is organic, but they each list only nuts and salt on the ingredient list, which is pretty darn good in my book.

cereal-bars-price-comparison

Whole Foods also wins in the Nutrigrain-esque bar category...by a whopping $3.00! (Now, granted, my buy-price with coupons for this type of bar is much lower, but I was trying to compare like with like. The brands I tend to buy are not this good for you. :-))

quinoa-price-comparison

Similar differential on quinoa, the health food wonder-grain of the moment. Wow!

The price for organic olive oil at Kroger blew my mind (there was not a store brand):

newmans-own-olive-oil

I had to read the sign multiple times to believe my eyes, but unless my notes deceive me, a 33.8 fl oz bottle of 365 brand organic olive oil is only $5.99...twice the amount for half the price!

Other good deals of note at Whole Foods:

wholefoods-organic-chicken-broth

(The Simple Truth brand of organic chicken broth occasionally goes on sale for this price, but is not consistently this inexpensive.)

wholefoods-organic-oatmeal

(I'm pretty sure even the regular Kroger brand oatmeal is usually over $3.00, so this price is a real coup!)

simple-truth-trail-mix

Notice the $3.99 price tag? That's for 6.5 oz. 365 trail mix ranged from $4.89 to $7.99 a pound!

There was a 365 brand of coffee that was a great price at $10.99 for 24 ounces, but I couldn't find any language on the package convincing me that it was fair-trade or shade grown, so as a self-proclaimed coffee snob I'd stay away.

At least my local Whole Foods does sell a packaged version of the coffee from my favorite local coffee source, Java Vino. The parents of the husband/wife team that owns it run a coffee plantation in Nicaragua, so you know that coffee is well-sourced! Not sure if this is nationally available, but I'd highly recommend it if so. (And its price isn't bad either.)

java-vino-coffee

Finally, rotisserie chickens were on sale for $5.00 the day I explored Whole Foods, down from their normal price of $7.99. $5.00 is a GREAT deal on any chicken--I think the ones at Kroger are normally $7.99, as well, but they are not "quality" chicken. The ones at Whole Foods are antibiotic free, etc, etc. At $5.00, I probably should have snapped a few up!

I'm a pretty committed Kroger girl, and I love using coupons, so you won't find me switching all my grocery shopping to Whole Foods. But based on my survey of 365 brand prices, I'd say they live up to the brand's claim that you can "fill your pantry without emptying your pocketbook." If eating organic products is important to you, or if you already do a lot of shopping at Whole Foods, the 365 Everyday Value brand is a great option! And if I ever need to stock up on any of these particular items, the multiple-dollar savings could just be worth a quick trip over to the Whole Foods.

Have you found any grocery bargains in a surprising place? What's your favorite thing to buy at Whole Foods?

 

***This post was in no way sponsored or endorsed by Whole Foods. They have no idea I even wrote it! I just wanted to share a frugal option that I I was pleasantly surprised to discover.

Paper, Paper, Everywhere

The thought of couponing can be overwhelming. First of all, you have to figure out how to get your hands on the newspaper every Sunday. Do you want to subscribe for home delivery, or will you buy it every week? Or do you have friends who will pass their inserts on to you later in the week? When you get the paper, you have to clip out all those little squares, figure out how to keep up with them, and do something with the rest of the paper. And then, once you get into printable coupons, there's the issue of printer ink, keeping the printer stocked with paper, and all the leftover scraps that come once you cut them out. That's a lot to deal with! But I've found a couple of ways to make these aspects of couponing manageable.

  • I was fortunate to find a Groupon for a Thursday-Sunday subscription to the paper that gets it delivered to my door at a fraction of the regular cost. And conveniently, right as I was trying to figure out whether it was worthwhile to renew or not, the Groupon resurfaced and I was able to extend for another 6 months!
  • I got a cute coupon organizer as an anniversary gift, and I've posted before about how I use technology to keep track of all my coupons. I try to revisit the physical organizer and the online list at least once a week.
  • I save most (but not all) of the newspaper bags, and they come in handy occasionally.
  • We recycle all the newspaper (and in fact, we really barely read it), but it also comes in handy around the house. Just this past weekend, I pulled some sections out of the recycling bin to lay over the carpet as we brought in all of our grimy camping gear! I'm sure if I were intentional about it I could come up with even more great ways to use newspaper. Do you have any favorite tricks?

I actually got into printable coupons before I started clipping from the paper, which I think is backwards from how most people do it. I saw many coupon blogs talking about the merits of laser printers, and that's one way to keep costs down. Andy and I found a great deal on a black and white all-in-one Brother printer, and I think we've only had to change the toner cartridge once in the year or so we've had it. Plus, when we do need a new one, there are almost always sales or coupon codes if you order online. Laser printers have a reputation of being expensive, but the black and white versions are more reasonable and make up for the upfront investment through ink savings.

When it comes to paper, believe it or not you can often get FREE paper from office supply stores like Staples. If you keep an eye out, they regularly run promotions where a certain type or brand of paper is on sale, with an offer to send in an easy rebate worth the whole amount. So, you only end up paying tax! Yesterday, I submitted my rebate online for their most recent promotion. Hammermill Copy and Print paper was on sale for $6.99, with a $2.00 off coupon available from Staples.com. I shelled out $5.39 at the register and will get back $4.99 in a few weeks. $0.40 definitely makes printing coupons worth it!

I save all the partial sheets of paper that result from coupons that don't take up a whole page and keep them on a clipboard. I use these as my go-to paper for to-do lists, weekly meal planning, and other things that need to be written down around the apartment. This way, I don't feel like I'm wasting much paper at all! For me, all of these tactics help using coupons make sense.


Loyal readers, as we head into this weekend, prepare yourself for an exciting survey and giveaway coming on Monday! I'm heading to a frugal living conference in September, hosted by several big-name-to-me bloggers, and I want to do some thinking about the purpose of this blog. I'll be asking for your feedback in a few areas, and I hope you'll click through on Monday to take my polls! One lucky reader will be randomly selected to receive a copy of Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.

 

Big Week at Kroger

This past Saturday, I went all coupon crazy and wrote out 2 lists like this:

Kroger was having a Mega Event, and I was going to be ready for it! Amazingly enough, I ended up finding 20 items that were worth buying and that I had coupons for, for an automatic savings of $10 (or $0.50 per item, as I prefer to think about it) and additional savings from combining the sale with relevant coupons.

Here's the first set of 10 items I rounded up:

  1. Ragu Pasta Sauce, on sale for $1.77 -$0.50 Mega Event savings
  2. Ragu Pasta Sauve, on sale for $1.77 -$0.50 Mega Event Savings used $1.00/2 manufacturer's coupon $0.77 each
  3. Chex Mix, on sale for $1.99 -$0.50 Mega Event savings used $0.50/1 manufacturer's coupon $0.49
  4. Kleenex, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event Savings used $1.00/3 manufacturer's coupon
  5. Kleenex, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event Savings used $1.00/3 manufacturer's coupon
  6. Kleenex, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event Savings used $1.00/3 manufacturer's coupon $0.66 each
  7. Finish Powerball Dishwasher Tabs, on sale for $3.49 -$0.50 Mega Event Savings used $0.50/1 manufacturer's coupon $1.99
  8. Bird's Eye Steam Fresh Vegetables, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event savings used $1.00/3 manufacturer's coupon
  9. Bird's Eye Steam Fresh Vegetables, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event savings used $1.00/3 manufacturer's coupon
  10. Bird's Eye Steam Fresh Vegetables, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event savings used $1.00/3 manufacturer's coupon $0.66 each

Total for Mega Event 1: $7.98 + tax

The second set of items came together because I really wanted to nab the deal on Hefty Storage Bags for an upcoming camping trip, and when I looked at the list I realized I could feasibly do it without stretching and buying things I didn't really need!

  1. Fiber One Chewy Bars, on sale for $2.49 -$0.50 Mega Event savings used $0.50/1 manufacturer's coupon $0.99
  2. Fiber One Chewy Bars, on sale for $2.49 -$0.50 Mega Event savings used $0.50/1 manufacturer's coupon $0.99
  3. Chex Mix, on sale for $1.99 -$0.50 Mega Event savings used $0.50/1 manufacturer's coupon $0.49
  4. Smart Balance Spreadable Butter, on sale for $2.38 -$0.50 Mega Event savings used $1.00/1 store coupon $0.88
  5. Hefty Storage Bags, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event savings used $1.00/2 manufacturer's coupon
  6. Hefty Storage Bags, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event savings used $1.00/2 manufacturer's coupon $0.49 each
  7. Kleenex, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event Savings used $1.00/3 manufacturer's coupon
  8. Kleenex, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event Savings used $1.00/3 manufacturer's coupon
  9. Kleenex, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event Savings used $1.00/3 manufacturer's coupon $0.66 each
  10. Pict Sweet Frozen Veggie, on sale for $1.49 -$0.50 Mega Event savings $0.99

Total for Mega Event 2: $7.30 + tax ***All the $0.50 coupons doubled to $1.00. 

I will say, it was tough shopping from multiple lists, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I looked over my receipt and realized it had all worked! Confusingly, I also managed to spend another $30 or so on who knows what, so it wasn't overall the most frugal trip I've ever made, but it was pretty exciting to see the section on my receipt that said:

MANUFACTURER COUPON SAVINGS: $11.54 BONUS COUPON SAVINGS: $4.25 (These are how Kroger tracks doubles for coupons under $1.00) STORE COUPON AND KROGER PLUS SAVINGS: $30.99 TOTAL SAVINGS (40 PCT): $46.78

The Mega Events are confusing because items are put on sale and THEN additional savings are reflected at the register. I heard one couple discussing a healthy brand of cereal that was included in the event saying, "Oh, you only get that special price if you buy 10. Well, we're not going to buy 10! But it's still cheaper than it normally is." And they proceeded to put 2 boxes in their cart. And that's totally fine! I think it's great that the sale can benefit all levels of shoppers. And for those crazy people like me who enjoy spending time finding the absolute best deals, they can be very satisfying.

Saving Money on Contact Lenses

Spending money in areas that require expertise can definitely be nerve-wracking. When you don't know the field, it can feel impossible to question what the experts tell you. I'm talking about things like car repair, dental work, and medical procedures. Sometimes I feel like for a healthy person, I sure spend a lot on doctor's visits! I know "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and all that, but all the checkups and screenings can feel endless (well, especially when you're like me and did them all in the same month when you first moved last year and then had to repeat this year even though you now have a job!). And with insurance as intricate as it is here in the U.S., it's often unclear exactly what you're paying and why.

I wear contact lenses (and have since I was in high school), so I go for a yearly eye exam in order to get a "refill" on my prescription for the next year's worth of lenses. I haven't gotten new glasses since I was in 10th grade, because vision insurance always offers to cover EITHER glasses OR contacts. This year at the eye doctor I was particularly frustrated because they asked if I would authorize these various screenings that each cost extra. Since I know nothing about ophthalmology, I said yes, but it makes me wonder why we shell out for vision insurance when it seems to hardly cover a thing at my yearly checkup!

However, after several years of hunting for deals on contacts, I found a bit of redemption in playing the bargain game online. At the eye doctor, I was quoted a total of $372 for my lenses, with $150 covered by insurance, a $30 "fitting fee" rebate, and a $50 rebate from the manufacturer, for a total of $142. I said thank you, but I'll order them online. The very savvy salesman tried to convince me that I wouldn't be able to beat that deal (and I had to press a bit to get him to print my prescription to take with me to order elsewhere), but I was unperturbed. And boy was he wrong.

I've had good luck with Vision Direct in the past, so I checked there first. The original total came to $255.92, which was a lower starting point than the eye doctor offered! After a 10% discount from a coupon code, free shipping, and 15% cashback on our Discover card, the total was down to $195.78, with the promise of $150 still to come from insurance. That brought it down to only $45.78, and there was still the possibility to file a rebate with the manufacturer for another $25 back.

But thanks to a postcard Discover sent us months ago that I stashed away for this day, I found the best deal yet from Walgreen's website, of all places. The original total for my 8 boxes of lenses there was $263.92--a littler higher than Vision Direct. However, there was a 20% off coupon code and free shipping, getting us down to $211.14. After 10% cashback from Discover, it got to $190.02, and our $150 from insurance still applies. So the total after all that was $40.02, AND I filed a rebate with the manufacturer that will hopefully yield another check for $25! That means that in the end, after all the various cashback and rebates are applied, we effectively shelled out only $15.02 for a year of me being able to see.

A few observations:

  • It can definitely be overwhelming to try and find deals on specialty items like this, and it's sure tempting to just take the offer from the eye doctor and not look back. However, at this point in my life, I have the time to investigate these other options, and for around $100 of savings it's well worth the effort.
  • This is a case in which having a credit card served us better than paying cash! We wouldn't have gotten the cashback or the coupon code offers had we not been using our Discover card and ordering online.
  • Even the same item can be sold from different sources at drastically different prices, so don't be afraid to comparison shop or look for coupon codes even on items that you think wouldn't have deals available. You might be surprised! Just about all the eye care sites I visited had banner ads displaying different options for saving money, and credit card cashback and sites like Ebates can help you lower the cost even more.
  • Our savings will be hitting our wallets in a few different ways, which makes the final cost a bit deceiving. We did, in fact, use our Discover card to give Walgreen's a total of $211.14. The 10% cashback we earned will be reflected as a statement credit on that card's bill, so we won't actually touch that money (but it will effectively go toward what we paid for the lenses). The $150 from insurance will come as a check, so that will be deposited in our bank account and recorded in our budget as an inflow in the spending category we used to buy the lenses. Same with the rebate if it goes through. Because of how we've designed our budget, this piecemeal approach works for us, but if you play this game just keep in mind that your upfront, out-of-pocket spending might not look as small as the ultimate bottom line.

So that's that! It took both Andy and me looking things over to get this system devised, but I feel like I've won a small victory over "the man."

Have you saved money on any surprising items lately? What type of expenditure frustrates you the most?

Nearly Free Shopping Trips

I visited both CVS and Target this past week for some deals that were too good to pass up. I read on Passion for Savings about free Yardley soap, which I planned to go pick up for my Operation Christmas Child boxes. But thanks to some lucky coupon printing and a friendly store manager who decided to accept my expired ExtraBucks, I was able to snag the 2 bars of soap, a bottle of body wash, and a pencil sharpener for free!

Bought 2 Yardley Soap at $0.69 Used 1 $2/2 any soap or body wash coupon from CVS Coupon Center =FREE + $0.62 overage

Bought 1 CVS brand body wash at $2.37 Used 1 $2/1 CVS brand body wash =$0.37, but overage applied to make it free

Bought 1 manual pencil sharpener at $0.99 Used $1 ECB =FREE + $0.01 overage

I ended up at -$0.12, which I could have used toward another purchase, but I let it slide and got the items "just" for free. The pencil sharpener was a really fortuitous find because I was only able to pick up 9 of them at $0.10 from Office Depot last week, and I want to make 10 shoeboxes this year!

I headed to Target for cheap Ortega taco seasoning and free Papermate pens but ended up with another treasure for my shoeboxes:

The taco seasoning was supposed to be on sale for $0.67, but at my store it was still a whopping $0.77. I decided to use my $1.00/2 Ortega products coupon anyway to get 2 packets for $0.27 each.

The pens were marked $1.00 on the bin where I picked them up but unfortunately rang up at their normal price of $1.27, which I didn't notice until I got home. :-( But with my $1.00/1 Papermate writing instrument coupon from Target's website, I only shelled out $0.27. Not bad, but since I already had pens for my boxes I'm a little disappointed they didn't turn out to be free like they were supposed to.

But the find of the day was the 5-pack of Hello Kitty socks on clearance for $2.38! I've been keeping an eye out for a good deal on socks for the shoeboxes and had just about settled on getting a 6-pack from Marshall's for $4.99 but was wavering because I really only needed 5 pairs. It's become habit for me to peruse the clearance sock bins at Target and today I happened upon these! They're a little silly, but I think they'll be a fun addition to the boxes for a young teenage girl somewhere in the world to get for Christmas.

My total at Target after sales and coupons was $3.41. I can't complain too much about that.