9 Tips for Shopping at Whole Foods on a Budget {and Giveaway!}

whole foods market

Since having Lucy, I’ve become even more devoted to buying organic and knowing where my food comes from. Thus I shop almost exclusively at Whole Foods and my local farmer’s markets, where it’s pretty easy to make healthy and eco-friendly food choices.

But like many families, we don’t have an unlimited food budget. And shopping at these places without a plan can add up quick. So I wanted to share a few of the strategies that allow me to shop at Whole Foods on a budget. It’s definitely possible!

[Bonus: at the end of this post you can enter to win a $50 Whole Foods Market gift card!]

Top 9 Tips for Shopping at Whole Foods on a Budget

whole foods market

1. Shop the sales.

This is an obvious one, but it’s amazing how many of us don’t do it. If you walk into any grocery store with a set list of items and brands that you must have, it’s very hard to limit what you spend. Look for signs and integrate what’s on sale into your meals and snacks for the week, which will save you a tremendous amount of money. Whole Foods prices may be high, but the store consistently offer deep discounts that make food more affordable.

whole foods market

2. Buy what’s in season.

Produce that’s in season is likely to be on sale (and it tastes better, too!). So look for fruits & veggies at their peak, and once again keep an eye out for those sale signs.

whole foods market

whole foods market

3. Skip the pre-cut, prepared produce.

Sure these containers can make life easier, but since someone else did the work for you, they come at a price. I always buy the whole fruits and vegetables myself, then spend an hour washing and prepping everything when I get home.

whole foods market

4. Buy frozen fruits & veggies.

Here’s a place where you can take advantage of some pre-washed and pre-cut produce: in the frozen aisle. Whole Foods has a wide variety of frozen fruits and vegetables – many of which are organic – for very reasonable prices. These are great to keep on-hand for pasta, baked entrees, omelets, stir-fry and last minute meals of all kinds.

whole foods market

5. Remember the bulk section.

The bulk bins are where I buy most of our hot cereal, grains, beans, nuts and dried fruit. Bulk prices are often much cheaper than name-brand goods in the packaged food aisles. Plus, you can buy just the amount you need – instead of a whole container – which again keeps food costs down and reduces waste.

whole foods market

whole foods market

whole foods market

6. Take advantage of the store brand.

Whole Foods’ private label – 365 Everyday Value – offers hundreds (or maybe thousands) of products throughout the store at the lowest prices. From pasta to shampoo to diapers, you can find 365 items that are comparable in quality to your favorite brands, but for less. Nearly every food product has an organic option, too.

whole foods market

whole foods market

7. Save specialty items for special occasions.

Part of Whole Foods’ appeal is the amazing gourmet items it offers, but these items are more of a splurge than my family can afford on a regular basis. I usually let myself buy one fun/gourmet/specialty item per shopping trip, and beyond that, I save these yummy treats for special occasions or times when I’m entertaining.

whole foods market

8. Buy more when your favorite items are on sale.

With items that save well (like yogurt!), I stock up when my favorite brands are on sale. As you can see in the picture above, the sale on this Stonyfield organic Greek yogurt makes it even cheaper than the non-organic store-brand option. On a day like this I’d buy at least twice what I need in order to avoid buying yogurt at regular price on a future shopping trip. This tip can be applied to nearly every section of the store (even meat & fish – just freeze it!).

whole foods market

whole foods market

9. Focus on plants.

Even when you buy what’s on sale, buying meat, fish and poultry will be more expensive than plant-based proteins like beans, tofu and nuts. So I try to plan most of our meals around these vegetarian items, and then add meat in as an “accent” flavor (like 2-3 slices of bacon in a soup), or feature it in just 1-2 dinners per week. This cuts costs by a ton, and is just as delicious & satisfying – even for the heartiest eater in our household.

We do spend about $150 per week on food, which could be considered high for a family of three. But since we rarely eat out, pack our lunches everyday and eat like kings :) I feel good about this amount. And the peace of mind that comes from knowing what we’re eating is safe and sustainable as well as delicious, is priceless.

Here’s How to Enter

Leave a comment below with a helpful tip for saving money at the grocery store and you’ll be entered to win a $50 gift card to Whole Foods Market.

Winner will be randomly chosen on Friday evening, March 7th, 2014. Good luck!

Gift card provided by Whole Foods Market, but this is not a sponsored post.

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137 Responses to 9 Tips for Shopping at Whole Foods on a Budget {and Giveaway!}

  1. To save money I print out coupons from some websites before I go to the market and base what I will make off the coupons!

  2. One thing I’ve always kept in mind (and what I’ve always heard as a great tip) is NEVER to shop for your groceries if you’re starving or hungry. You’re more likely to make impulse buys simply because you’re hungry rather than shopping logically.

  3. Buy what you’ll eat. It’s tempting to load up on the beautiful produce at WF. I always figure I’d rather eat it all up and be able to come back for more than have something languish (and rot) in my fridge.

  4. I too always look for a store brand. Also buying dried beans instead of canned saves a lot of money. And for things like yogurt, snacks, etc buying a big container and splitting it up instead of single servings.

  5. I do 90% of my shopping at WF and save money by buying whole chickens. We roast it for dinner one night and save the leftovers for another night. WF has surprisingly inexpensive organic chickens!!

  6. great post! definitely agree with buying frozen veggies and fruit. the price is usually reasonable for organic produce, and you don’t have to worry about it going bad….great to stock up on your faves and use them throughout the week/month!

  7. My biggest tip for sticking to my budget is making a meal plan for the week, and then sticking to my grocery list.

  8. My tip is to invest in a juicer and make your own juice. You can buy your fruits and veggies in larger bulk and use up a lot of fruits and veggies that might go uneaten, and you get more nutrients out of the juice since it is fresh. Also, you can follow the sales: if carrots are on sale, carrot will be a main feature in our juice that week :)

  9. Always shop with a meal plan in mind-then you’re more likely to buy only what you need, as opposed to vague items that don’t have much of a purpose.

  10. I eat loads of beans and lentils (which is a cheap source of protein!) to save even more I buy them in bulk and make them myself instead of buying canned.

  11. Hey there! To save money, I try and make more expensive items, like meat, last for more than one meal. For example, pork shoulder in the crock pot could be pulled pork sandwiches one night and tacos the next night. Plus, it helps us control our portions if we know the meal is for “two.”

    One comment, though, regarding Whole Foods. Have you noticed that their sales and deals — especially in the produce section — tend to be on conventional foods? I’ve gotten frustrated on more than one occasion because I see a great sale (for example, on apples), but when I read the sign or sticker closely, notice that they’re not organic. This is one way that I think WF can be a little deceptive, especially for people who don’t have time to read each sign closely. I do live in a city, so our WF also caters a lot to the lunchtime crowd, but I assume their stores are structured this way everywhere.

    • I haven’t noticed that at my store, Maria. The sales I see are about 50-50 conventional to organic. But definitely important to pay attention and keep an eye out so you know what you’re buying – great tip & thanks for the comment!

  12. Thank you for your article! Lately I have been taking a certain amount of cash with me instead of using my debit card. This keeps me from impulse buying…

  13. My tip is to set a grocery budget and make a menu based on it. I like to carry only the cash I can spend on groceries that way I don’t find myself picking up other things.

  14. To save money, I print coupons ahead of time and then buy what it listed on sale. Also, I plan my meals ahead of time, so I only buy what is on my list

  15. You hit many of my tips. There is a Whole Foods near me, and when they first opened up, I assumed I wouldn’t be able to afford anything there. I notice their bi-monthly booklet has many coupons, that also different items will go on a weekly sale at the store. You can then also combine it with a manufacturer’s coupon and do really good! When you get into the swing of it, it is less time consuming than you would think. Be on the lookout for their flash sales, prices can be less than any grocery store around. Also, I try to eat lower on the food chain, more grain and bean dishes, that are inexpensive and healthy. I also like to attend classes at Whole Foods, some are for how to save money & using coupons, to how to cook with different foods. You can save quite a bit by being a DIY’er. For instance, instead of buying hummus pre-made, I like to buy chickpeas and make it from scratch. Ditto with buffalo tofu, etc. It is so much fun and then I am so happy about my savings, and feel so good that I can have an organic and healthy produce type of diet for much less than I had ever imagined.

  16. on mondays, my whole foods sells their rotisserie chickens for 7.99 instead of something crazy ridiculous like 13.99. i make it a point to go in on a monday, buy something that saves me money and time (pre-cooked AND delicious), and then take off all the remaining meat, freeze it, and use it in soups!

  17. Because I am only cooking for two, I try to make meals that will stretch over 2 days — i.e. we have leftovers the second night. We used to have them for lunch (which I LOVE) but it is more expensive than sticking to a healthy sandwich or smorgasbord for lunches.

  18. Such great points!! Of course, the tried and true option of having a list and sticking to it works wonders for the budget (but I always let myself have one fun item!). I love the one about frozen produce – especially for things like organic berries, which are SO expensive fresh.

  19. I shop for items that have multiple uses like plain oatmeal, yogurt, and beans and avoid flavored products aren’t versatile.

  20. I always buy dry beans and grains from the bulk bins and only buy meat/fish/fancy cheese for special occasions. Also, I try to get in and out of the grocery store – just buy the things on my list and go. If I spend a lot of time browsing, I end up with too many extra “fun” products in my cart!

  21. I always use my phone to take pictures of the contents of my fridge, freezer, and cabinets before I go grocery shopping. This way I don’t buy unnecessary duplicates of items that can add to my bill, like spices, oils, or condiments.

  22. I look at the advertisements as I write my menu plan for the week, so I plan menus of items on sale. I also buy the store brand when I can.

  23. Great post!! I shop at Whole Foods every week and feel the same as you. I’m including this post in my upcoming Groceries Part II post : )

  24. Whole Foods accepts both their own and the manufacturer’s coupon for a given item. When it goes on sale, I feel like I’m getting triple savings on the product!

  25. Many grocery stores have sections with soon to perish items; you can usually buy things in that section that are good for at least two days and usually save over 50% on same. I don’t eat meat, much fish, chicken so I’m not buying that type of product in this section. Usually prepared salads, yogurt, fruit, etc.

  26. What a wonderful giveaway! Buy big – save big. I always buy the big packages of for example chicken wings – it´s cheaper. And I use coupons and look for what´s on sale of the week.

  27. What helps me save the most money at the grocery store is to go in with a plan! When I take the time to sit down ahead of time and plan out my menu for the week and create a shopping list, I am less likely to overspend on products that I don’t need.

  28. Ever since my daughter Audrey has been eating solid foods, I am only feeding her organic so it can be expensive and a challenge. I like to save where I can by clipping coupons and spending less on paper products. Then I can use that extra money on my meats and dairy. Every grocery store has there own organic brand and it tends to be less expensive.

  29. We love love love whole foods but sometimes it is difficult to look at the final bill!

    Here are a few more rules I try to keep in mind:
    (1) I buy larger quantities up front to save in the long-run on staple items — in our house this means olive oil by the gallon, the nifty two-packs of almond milk, and the large 365 shampoo and hand soap containers.
    (2) I always triple check expiration dates. Especially on produce like the large tubs of spinach and kale — they’re so time sensitive and I like to use them to the last drop.
    (3) I like to pick up a healthy dinner option from the freezer section to have on hand in case of a lazy night — it ensures we always have something nutritious to have for dinner and keeps us from spending money on less-than-stellar take out!
    (4) Finally, when possible I like to shop with just the grocery basket, instead of a cart, carrying my groceries around the store helps me to be mindful of my spending so that I don’t end up with an empty wallet!

    Hope all is well out in California!

  30. I have found that if I plan a menu for the week and a shopping list to go with it I end up saving quite a bit. Plus food rarely goes to waste. I usually allow for one “splurge” or one “try a new item” each trip. Also if I leave my daughters at home I usually spend a lot less :)

  31. I plan out our entire weeks menu on Friday night, hit up the store on Saturday morning and only stick to what is on my list. No matter what looks yummy in the baked goods section or the cookie aisle as I walk past, I STICK TO MY LIST! Then I don’t end up adding on random unnecessary items to my grocery bill. Also by planning my meals out a week at a time, I only have to visit the store once a week!

  32. I think it helps to look through the weekly ad and then make my meal plan for the week. Then I can use sale items for the base of my meals.

  33. The best tip for me is to bring a list and (mostly) stick to it, even if it’s just for a few items! I’m really bad at saying no to things when I’m just running in for bananas and milk. I’ll end up spending an extra $50!

  34. I plan out meals so I don’t buy extra or end up wasting food. Coupons are always a must too. Whole Foods regularly has coupons so if one comes up for a product I need even if it is a different brand I use it.

  35. I always sign up for their loyalty cards and use manufacturers coupons and saving sites or apps such as saving star

    tbarrettno1 at gmail dot com

  36. One tip to save money is to buy whole fruit as a snack rather than a box of crackers or a bag of chips. For example, a huge bunch of bananas can provide for many snacks throughout the week and this can be cheaper than buying a few boxes of those super expensive, organic crackers. Another tip is to make sure you are familiar with the dirty dozen and clean 15 to save some money.

  37. Buy a whole cooked chicken and break it down yourself. You can get tons of meals out of one chicken: chicken salad for sandwiches, chicken and pasta, chicken curry…loads of things!

  38. Whole Foods has great cold and hot bar options, but they can add up in price. Take a photo of the ingredients from your favorite bar item (all ingredients are listed), grab then in-store, then make it at home for less!

  39. We always look up the weekly specials online and then plan our weekly meals. It’s such a money saver! Plus, those items are usually in season so our food tastes even fresher! :)

  40. in order not to waste money, be sure to check expiration dates, especially on yogurts (like stonyfield), when they are majorly reduced in price :)

  41. Since I am only shopping for two, I always do my grocery shopping with a health conscious girlfriend (who is also only shopping for her and her husband) and we split the larger produce/perishable items if we do not think we will use them all in time. That way we get variety in our weekly meals without sacrificing freshness/spending too much!

  42. I buy my “important” items at Whole Foods like dairy and produce. I shop at Target or the $.99 Store for non-food grocery items like cleaners, cat litter, etc. and at Trader Joe’s for less expensive specialty items like fancy salsas. Full disclosure: one of my favorite reasons to shop at Whole Foods is that I like to indulge in one or two homemade cookies from the bulk bins while I shop! I “reward” myself for doing my chores, and I get my treat for the day. The cashier always laughs when I show her the piece of wax paper and tell her what I already munched. I’m sure this is frowned upon, but I like to live my life on the edge :)

  43. To save money I plan most of our weekly meals beforehand so I don’t spend too much time browsing in the store…that’s when I end up overspending! I also make sure I’m not hungry when I go, otherwise I end up with less healthy options and also a lot more junk than we need.

  44. I go onto the stores website prior to shopping to see what is on sale then I plan my shopping list and meals based on what I can buy on sale during that week.

  45. How do I save at the grocery store? 1) Don’t go in hungry! 2) What is working best for me right now is a list and using cash only. I’ve been really sticking to my list. And bringing only cash means that I limit myself to impulses.

  46. I make a meal plan at the beginning of my week and buy exactly what I need. Because I am cooking for one, it’s easy for things to go bad quickly. I also tracked how much I spent on groceries, just for one month. That gave me an idea of what the cheapest prices for the foods I buy often are. Now that I know it’s easy to spot a good deal!

  47. Only purchase items that you need for that particular week that are required for the reciepes that you are making.

  48. I have recently started to eat fresh, organic, non GMO foods. I got my mother on board with my new eating plan and we have discovered the wonderfulness that is Whole Foods Market. One way that I save money, since I only cook for my husband and I, is by buying in bulk and splitting it with my mom, she only cooks for herself. This way it save us money verses buying the smaller size, but also doesn’t go to waste since we are splitting the quantity. You can do this with a friend or neighbor too. Both get what they want and at a cheaper price!

  49. Hi- I am a night owl, so this tip works for me. I show up when they are about to close at 9:30/9:45, so I only have time to get what I need and I can’t get distracted by all the goodies. I speed-shop!

  50. I routinely make a few stops at different stores to stock up on the items that are the best value at those stores. It helps to not end up buying those items at an inflated price when I do my regular shopping.

  51. Shop with cash!! If I know I only have so much to spend, I can’t go crazy with impulse buys and spend more :-)

  52. Unfortunatly we don’t have a Whole Foods Market here in Australia so I cannot take advantage of your $50.00 gift card. I really do enjoy browsing your site.

  53. My daughter is the grocery manager at Wole Foods in our home town. She says that even with manufacturers coupons, the WF 365 brand is a savings every time. I always check the “whole deal” flyer and see what kind of coupons they are running in store. They almost always have an in-store coupon on some of my favorites.

  54. I look through the flyers and then price match so I save time and money by going to one grocery store! Also, I earn points on my card which in turn equals free groceries! High five to price matching! Jenn

  55. Cook from scratch! It’s easier than you think. Especially with all of the blogs out here with recipes. Way cheaper to “make your own” than buy packaged even if it’s minimally processed/fresher/healthier products like the ones at WF

  56. I print the whole deal coupons or pick up the coupon book in store also a quick google of wholefoods coupon matchups gives you combinable manufacturers coupons too!

  57. I get the biggest cost savings by: 1) buying produce that’s in season (and local, if possible, 2) avoiding the pre-prepared foods, and 3) making SURE that I have a plan going in, so that I don’t over-buy. I also try to keep my refrigerator spare — meaning I can see everything in there, so I can see what I have. And finally, I grocery shop once a week so that by the time it’s shopping day, if I’ve done well, then I have very little food in the fridge.

  58. I save money at the store by meal planning. This forces me to look at the week ahead and only buy food for the meals we know we’ll be home for.

  59. I always try to have a plan for exactly what ingredients I need for the week (I should start using the sales to plan my meals!). This helps me from buying things I don’t really need, even if I go there hungry.

  60. I love Whole Foods! I am on a budget though and one way I try to save is by only buying what I know will get eaten within the week and remembering I can always make another small trip if needed. I also try to buy the 365 brand.

  61. I try to matchup the sales with coupons. Whole foods has a whole deal flyer with store coupons which can be stacked with manufacturer coupons for huge savings!

  62. Honestly, a grocery list is the best thing to do before setting foot in store. Also before going into WFM I stop by a local produce store (Stanley’s) that offers natural/organic produce at a tremendous bargain that beats the prices offered at WF for sale/regular produce items. I also check the sales and coupon sections at Whole Foods to save a bit more. Bottom line: know your budget and stick to it!

    Thank you.

  63. I always look at the sales ads and plan our meals based on what’s on sale that week. If it’s a good deal, then I stock up on lots of items so I can avoid having to purchase it full price in the near future. A lot of stores also offer coupons that you can print off on their website.

  64. My greatest food budgeting tip is to make recipes throughout the week that use the same ingredients. With different sauces or meats it will always taste different even if they all contain spinach :)

  65. Don’t overbuy produce like I sometimes do and are then forced to throw it out because it goes bad before you’ve had the chance to use it.

  66. These are all excellent tips. I like to plan my weekly menu around what is on sale that week and therefore what I’ll be buying during my weekly shopping trip. For example, if pork chops and asparagus are on sale – you can be sure those will be making an appearance on our dinner plates one night that week. Thank you for the giveaway!

  67. We always check out the coupons in the pamphlet and shop the perimeter :) we love whole foods but it can’t definetely get expensive with a teenager!

  68. I don’t get to Whole Foods often since I live about an hour away from the nearest one, but when I do I print off coupons ahead of time! I can get some great deals this way!

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