Shopping at Whole Foods on a Budget

I have a love-hate relationship with Whole Foods, and it seems I’m not alone.

I can appreciate the quality and selection of the foods they offer, but I can’t help cringing at the total every time I check out. How can we marry eating healthy and eating on a budget?

Saving Money at Whole Foods

Well, it just so happens that after nearly 3 years of shopping at Whole Foods, I have a handful of tips to share:

  1. Use your local farmer’s market for fruits and vegetables. During season, there’s no reason to pay the mark-up for fruits and vegetables at Whole Foods. At the market, you’ll have the added benefit of getting foods that are local–and as a bonus, most farmer’s markets now have at least one stand that’s completely organic.
  2. Buy grains and beans in bulk. If you skip the high-priced items, nothing beats the Whole Foods bulk section, where you can purchase exactly the amount you need at a decent price. It’s also fun to try things you’ve never heard of before and discover that you actually enjoy them.
  3. Don’t always go organic. There are plenty of things you can get at Whole Foods that may not be readily available (or as inexpensive) at your regular supermarket, but are not necessarily organic. One example is varieties of whole-wheat flour–the organic version will sell for almost twice the price of the regular, which is already a good and healthy step up from the bleached white stuff.
  4. Know when it pays to go organic. In the same spirit, understand when it’s really worth paying extra for organic (assuming you have limited funds). For example, things like onions and avocados have tested as low in pesticide content, and you’re going to peel them before use anyway. In the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn’t make sense to pay the extra premium for these kinds of veggies. Look here for other examples.
  5. Buy selectively. Keep a high-priority list of items that you know you absolutely want to get at Whole Foods because their conventional alternatives suck. For me, it’s things like coconut oil, olive oil, sprouted bread, organic rice, and select meats. For everything else, I’m willing to hit the supermarket if money is tight.
  6. Comparison shop. Just because it’s select and organic, don’t throw your trusty list of prices away. You’ll quickly find that the premium for many of your most favorite foods is not that large, and you can easily afford to fit them in your budget.
  7. Eat less, but eat better. Food is definitely an area where I practice the “quality over quantity” mantra. Not only will this help you control your weight, but you might end up balancing your grocery budget to pre-Whole Foods levels, while feeding your family more nutritious food at the same time.
  8. Avoid the prepared foods. You’ll pay top dollar for everything from pre-made meals to cookies that go for $13 a pound. Treat yourself once in a while, but you’re better off sticking to the basic ingredients and putting in the leg work when you get home.
  9. Check out 365. Whole Foods’ version of “generic” is 365, and it can pay off dividends on commonly purchased items in the store. Here’s a quick sample.

Also, be sure to check out the coupons offered by Whole Foods in the store and online. While many of them are still processed foods, you might find something that you like on the list and be able to save even more!

What’s your best tip for shopping at Whole Foods or your local health food store?