We actually enjoy grocery shopping. It’s a very Zen process of wandering down the expansive aisles with a singular task. With no real thinking, it’s a welcome relief from the taxing weekdays. But what is not so Zen is getting to the cash register and seeing a price much higher than you expected — then having to meticulously search every inch of your pocket for change. In order to keep that from happening, here are some location-specific tips for you to save money the next time you go grocery shopping:
1. Trader Joe’s
Why shop here
Trader Joe’s is known for offering high-quality goods at low prices. If you are OK with being confined to one brand — the in-house one — then this is the grocery store for you. It’s great for produce, cheese, nuts and, most of all, snacks — we are thinking of you, cookie butter. Why are prices so low? Trader Joe’s keeps quiet about its suppliers, which allows the suppliers to provide Trader Joe’s with the product at incredibly low prices. This allows the suppliers to sell more, it allows Trader Joe’s to sell more, and it allows you to be happy.
When you shop here, the place you probably head first is the sample counter. Don’t even try lying to yourself. The part they don’t tell you is that you can technically ask to sample anything — except items requiring thawing — in the store. While Trader Joe’s does not carry many nonstore brand items, it will accept coupons for outside brands. Trader Joe’s also has a very lenient return policy, so do not hesitate to return that blue cheese if you find it just a tad too stinky.
2. Whole Foods
Why shop here
“I just want to make enough money to shop at Whole Foods.” This basically sums up the ambitions of most new college graduates. Shopping at Whole Foods, the epitome of upscale grocers, is an experience which allows us to assure ourselves that we are environmentally minded and health-conscious individuals, no matter the extent to which that may be true outside the walls of the store. This is probably what most of our money is going toward when we spend $9.99 on acai pomegranate cherry juice.
Always carry a shopping list with you to Whole Foods so that you are not tempted to buy any extraneous items. We know — those vegan cookies look delicious, but they’re also $7.99 for a box of five. Also, become very well acquainted with the bulk food section. It is where you’ll find the best deals in the entire store. While Whole Foods stocks a huge variety of brands, you should still check out the 365 Everyday Value brand, which is Whole Foods’ generic brand. It’s usually of similar quality as its brand-name counterparts. Whole Foods also has a sales listing subscription that you should sign up for.
Why shop here
The variety of produce stocked at Berkeley Bowl is overwhelming. The crowded nature of the store doesn’t help the situation, either. Walking into Berkeley Bowl produces the same feeling as walking into a very large Forever 21 — you know, except with fruit.The store is like a strange but awesome amalgam of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Albertson’s and several ethnic bodegas.
Given that you will probably be buying produce here, you should shop seasonally. You will get better food for a better price. The produce section is where you’ll find the best deals. Items tend to be a tad pricey in every other section, though. Follow the store on Twitter to get the quickest updates on sales. Also, take the bus to save yourself from a parking nightmare. No need to perfect the “that open spot is mine” stare.
Why shop here
There’s something refreshing about getting close to the source of your food and being able to talk to the person who grows it. You can ask them about their growing practices and pick up tips on how to manage your own garden or what to pair with that pound of Bartlett pears you just bought. It also helps you buy seasonally because local farmers can only grow seasonal items. Again, this saves you money. Farmers’ markets also tend to be lower in price, if you go to the good ones, because — more often than not — small farmers are reasonable about their pricing. The best part, though? All the free samples you could ever want. It’s similar to the Costco experience but healthier.
The farmers’ market in Downtown Berkeley is one of the pricier ones in the area. If you do not mind traveling a little further, check out the Alameda Farmers’ Market, which is where many say you will find the cheapest produce. Do not be afraid to buy in bulk. At seasonal peaks, buy large quantities of fruits or vegetables to freeze, pickle or can it for later use. You can also ask for overripe produce for a discounted price. It may not be up the farmer’s standards to sell, but it could still be perfectly fine to eat. Also, try haggling, but don’t push too hard. After all, they have to make a living off of this.
Contact Nora Harhen at [email protected].