How to shop at specialty stores (on a budget)!

Ever walk into a health food store and thought, “We’re not in Kansas anymore….”? Or walked in just to walk right back out frustrated that you couldn’t find what you were looking for? Yeah, I have too. My first time in Whole Foods was daunting. Nothing looked like Safeway, nothing was where I wanted it to be and the brand labels I was used to looking for were missing. If I could have had a guide to walk me through and whisper along the way, “buy this, don’t buy that” it would have made it so much simpler and quicker for me. But there are tips for navigating these stores that help alleviate some of the pressure and confusion. Starting with my local neighborhood store which I shop at each week, I first go to their website to see the weekly deals; the stuff they’ve marked down low enough to bring you in with. To have the best experience possible, here’s what I noticed about the store that makes it easier:

Step 1: Check in at the front…

At the front of small stores are usually Customer Service Centers, Solution Centers or Help Desks. There are people there who can generally help you find someone to actually walk you through the store or find a class that does a store walk. At our neighborhood health store there are also food tastings during the day AND recipes!!! This is a great way to get introduced to items and produce you may not be used to trying.

Step 2: Take the classes and store walks…

This is especially key if you are making store changes because of dietary changes. Gluten, dairy, soy and other intolerances can be navigated with free in store classes where you walk with a nutritionist through the store to see what kinds of products are available to you and what to look for! Really awesome and I highly suggest these classes. I watch new comers join each weekend for these walks and they’re really informative.

Step 3: Read the aisle signs…

I know this seems too simple but the truth is, I get so busy trying to run in and run out that I don’t stop to read signs. I expect to see things where they should be in relation to other products. But that’s like finding a new destination with moving landmarks and a barking dog in your ear. So hard when the products are new, the arrangement is new and the products you’re looking for are new. Take a breath, look up, and see what the aisle signs say about what you’ll find there. Remember though, every store will be laid out in such a way that produce will be on the outside, meats, dairy and eggs usually in the back (to drag you by all the products you don’t need and aren’t looking for) and fresh bakery items and hot food bar usually on the opposite outside of the store from produce.

Step 4: Use the bulk bins

This is a great money saving spot! LOTS of pantry staples can be found here in this area. Typically close to produce you’ll find grains, whole and ground, dried fruit, pastas, beans, granola, seeds and more! Some things you’ve never heard of! Many of the department managers are VERY enthusiastic about their department so if you can ask about someone who knows the bins really well, you’ll get great suggestions for cooking, new options and substitutions!  You can read more about Cutting the Grocery Budget by Buying from Bulk Bins.

Step 5: Look for coupons!

Here at The Frugal Find we try to post as many organic and natural food coupons as we can find but your local specialty store may have their own.  Whole Foods has a booklet that comes out every couple of months, you can also find printable organic and gluten free coupons at Mambo Sprouts.

My biggest tip for successful store navigation is: go without kids during a time when you can meander and get to know the store. Kinda like a good first date, you want to get to know them before you take them home to Mama and if you want a chance at a second date, you’ve got to have a good time. So being pressured for time can’t be your first encounter! Also, don’t be afraid to ask for directions and or help!

If you’re looking for more post on this series, head on over and check them all out at Organic on a Budget!


  1. Jodi says

    Thanks for the awesome post! As a vegetarian, I have often shopped at Whole Foods but have come out with a bill usually around $120. At my usual store, for a family of five and with couponing I barely crack $60! I just figured that I just couldn’t shop there even though i just love the store and the shopping experience. This post just gave me the push to give it another try!

  2. Jolene says

    Yes, I completely agree. I am learning to navigate Sprouts, a new specialty market. They’re like Whole Foods, but more affordable.

  3. says

    If available look through the adds. Specialty stores often have produce for cheaper than the regular stores. Sprouts is my go to stop for all produce (organic or not) as it is always cheaper than Vons or Albertsons. Also, Sprouts does double ad Wednesdays where they honor the previous and upcoming ad.

  4. Mae says

    Hey…. there’s a snapshot of New Season’s market in the post! I just made out there like a bandit last weekend. Too much fun!! The wildest thing is that you posted this the very moment I was actually there in that very location (mentioned in pic). I saw this display (as I normally do on each visit) and had thought about how it would be nice to share the idea of classes on health maintenance and/or health tours, as in pic with everyone. And so, to see it posted when I got back was sort of surreal.

    Jolene… gosh I would so love to have a Sprouts in my area… but lo and behold nowhere to be found in my entire metro area or state for that matter. So their primary focus as I understand is on produce. My locale is a mecca for unique small markets. I could go wild in them if left untamed! 😉

    It’s funny “generally speaking” when you read yelp reviews on local specialty shops (aka gourmet markets), you’ll notice some say “Whole Foods is more affordable than New Seasons” and than you’ll see in the very next comment: “New Seasons is more affordable than Whole Foods”. I have been shopping at many of my local gourmet markets and have found it really helps to read up on them for tips (makes your 1st visit more fun!).

    Once you’ve abandoned the idea that you are going into a specialty store for all your necessities it does become a very pleasureful experience.

    Another great tip: sign up for each unique markets’ newsletter or sales brochure and they’ll email it to you each promo period. And I only shop at a particular store ‘when’ I see they have several good deals in their ad (or in WFM’s case it really pays off to have a deal site i.e.: TFF, sniff out the deals for you in-person since most of their deals especially the hottest ones are unadvertised). While one week can be bland for WFM, their competitor will have blazing deals and vice versa. You have to come in with a fresh mindset as this post alludes to.

    Yes.. I will definitely be beckoning Sprouts to come to my area. Competition is always good for natural and organic markets to start hammering out deals for the locals.

  5. rachel b. says

    These organic posts are what make TFF for me! Thank you so much for including this information for those of us out there that are “greening”! Can’t wait to see more!)


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