How to Grocery Shop at Whole Foods Market on a Budget

by Lisa Douglas

how to shop at whole foods on a budget

I was issued a grocery challenge – grocery shop at Whole Foods Market on a budget, by shopping for my family of nine for under $250.

I don’t back down to challenges, ever, and I love puzzle-piecing things together to work in our favor. I love seeing how far I can stretch a dollar and make a seemingly difficult task made easy (or easier). On average, we spend about $200-$250 at other grocery stores already, to include the on-post commissaries. I knew the price-point wasn’t going to be a challenge for our family size, because that’s what we already spend.

If there’s anything to learn about grocery shopping in different towns, cities, and posts by being military, it’s that shopping a new store means finding a new normal, re-learning and finding your new go-to items. This is the case because your normal, everyday/week items you’re used to may not be sold at the new store. This called for parental back-up (a la my husband). We were more than ready and willing to take on this challenge and make it happen, we just knew we needed time to really soak in everything they had to offer, and pour over their selection carefully.

The first order of business was becoming acquainted with the new Whole Foods Market store that just went up here in San Antonio, and to get the “Value Tour.” I was met with two very excited and knowledgable Whole Foods Market employees who carefully walked us through each corner of the store, showing us certain features they had to offer, like this bad-boy shown below. Say hello to my little friend, the Whole Foods Market In-Store Recipe Creator of Awesome™:
whole foods meat scan recipe machine

Find a piece of meat on sale you’d love to take home and use, but you don’t know off-the-top-of-your-head what to make with it? Check out their in-house touchscreen recipe app! Just scan the meat and it’ll give you a whole slew of recipes right there to print and take with you! How cool is THAT contraption?! (You can also find budget-friendly recipes on their website, too.)

We took note of several spectacular sales scattered around the store, and got to work makin’ a list, and checkin’ it twice.

whole foods shopping

Once I surveyed all they had to offer, I broke it down, day-by-day, and here’s the meal plan I created to meet our budget challenge:

whole foods weekly meal plan chart

You might be thinking the price-per-meals appear high, but they’re not, because the prices I wrote above are for a full package of an item needed, not just the portion of it I’d be using per meal. (For instance, if I only needed half a bag of rice, I didn’t divide the rice price in half, and put half down with each dinner, I put the whole price down on the first dinner, and wrote “have” instead of a price on the second dinner that needed it. Sames goes for potatoes, tater tots, and any other item above.) Does the way I did it make sense? Same for other items, too. Also, the meat prices weren’t exact above, I simply rounded for some of those, so my math might be off by a few cents above.

In addition to the meal chart above, some additional items purchased and needed were:

2 organic half-gallons of milk $5.98 total
Organic liquid egg whites $3.49
2 unsalted organic butters $2.79 total
Chai Oatmeal $2.39 (for me, love this!)
365 creamy peanut butter 36oz jar $5.49 (so ridiculously delicious, I’m hooked!)
Fresh raw honey, 16 oz $3.49
3 64oz bottles of lemonade $5.97 total (We bought lemonade since juice was expensive)

Final cost?
whole foods receipt

BOOM, baby!

We did our best to walk each aisle of the store just after the tour, to jot down sizes, prices, and ideas. We found out that their 365 Everyday Value brand is pretty comparable to brands you are already buying. I was SHOCKED, because sometimes I found that 365 Everyday Value BEAT store brands elsewhere!

I know folks naturally assume that Whole Foods Market is more expensive over-all, but, to be honest, it isn’t in all cases! I only found their meat, cheese, juice, and bread more expensive than what we already buy. Their produce is comparable! Their cleaning and personal products are comparable! Paper products, sauces, even milk, all comparable in price to elsewhere!

Now, keeping in mind that meats and cheeses are more expensive, if you’re determined to make the switch to Whole Foods, you may have to go with meatless options more, and/or use less meat when you do cook with it. But the trade-off is pretty huge – their meat is hormone-free, cut well, cooked fantastically, and was seriously the best tasting meat we’d ever tried. It reminds me of the time we began drinking organic milk and eating organic eggs many years ago, you simply cannot compare the tastes, they are just so different. And you won’t ever want to go back.

To be honest, up until now, we thought we were doing okay on “natural” meats from other stores. They say “all-natural” on their packaging, and we bought it (literally), hook, line, and sinker. Now I have to doubt what we were getting, because the differences were HUGE (and I don’t just mean the price), but the TASTE, too. It’s almost incomparable, really.

all about whole foods meat

With higher meat costs, though, we had to get creative to stay on budget. Some meats were priced more than double what we were already paying (which, again, reeeeally made me wonder, just what the heck kind of meats were we buying from other stores!?), so instead of using two pounds of ground meat for a recipe, I cut it down to one. Or instead of doing a big pot roast, I made a big beef stew, using less meat and more vegetables instead.

And ohhhh, friends. All the food was simply spectacular. Like I said, the meats were flavorful. The indian rice nearly stole the show with the stew (but the tender, flavorful meat won), and the beef with broccoli knocked us out. The fruit tasted wonderful and clean, and it felt so good being able to shop without having to check labels for artificial stuff, wondering if it was “safe” for us. The variety they have available was addicting.

whole foods meals created

I encourage you to visit your local Whole Foods Market with a pad of paper and pen in hand, a few of your old receipts from other stores, and simply COMPARE. I think you will find their prices are a lot closer than you may have believed, if they don’t beat what you’re already paying! And their sales are worth it, too. Last week we bought six 1lb blocks of cheese at $1.99 each, which beats our store brand’s regular price! And you can bet your fanny we stocked up!

Are you interested in trying this challenge, too? See the end of this post for $100 Whole Foods Market gift card giveaway to help get you started! But first, I’d like to share with you a few tips and tricks I learned during this budget challenge, to help you get the most for your money at Whole Foods.
Whole Foods meal planning money saving tips

Tip #1 – Best day to shop is Wednesday, where it’s “Double Sales Flyer Wednesday.” The sales from the previous week end and the sales for the upcoming week begin, all on the same day! And you can shop both sales at once! Woohoo! Be sure to hit “download flyer” so you can view both the front and back to see the sales!

whole foods 365 brandTip #2 – 365 Everyday Value is the Whole Foods Market store brand that helps save you money. There are approximately 2000 products in-house with the 365 Everyday Value brand, and growing. There’s about to be 70 new 365 Everyday Value products for the freezer section to be released any time now.

Tip #3 – You can buy in bulk and buy cases of items, and save 10%. This includes produce! To purchase something by the case, it is recommended to call your store ahead of time, and speak to the department’s specialist to ensure the product is available when needed.

Tip #4 – Did you find something you need, but the package is too much for the recipe, and you’re concerned about waste? Ask them to repackage the item to the size you need (say, for instance, already packaged cheeses). Yes, they do that!

Tip #5 – You can also purchase spices in the sizes you need, so you don’t bring home a bottle of something to go to waste if it’s not used in a year!

Tip #6 – Check out their bundle deals! Similar to other stores, this sale involves the purchase one product to get several other related products for free! This special sale announcement gets sent out via email and Facebook blast, and is also located on flyers, too. Sale lasts about a week, check it out! Here’s an example of one our store just had recently:

whole foods bundle deal
Tip #7 – Be sure to check out the one or three day sales on meats or produce! Those can save you big $$! The weekend before my tour, our store offered a $5/lb savings on Tuna steaks!

Tip #8 – BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags) – for each reusable shopping bag you use, you’ll save $.10 off your total! We saved $1.20! It’s like a coupon without clipping anything!

Tip #9 – Shopping in-season to help save you money in the produce aisle. Any one of their produce folks can help you, they know their stuff!

Tip #10 – Shop the “bulk bin” – fabulous selection of grains, granola, beans, and cereal. Approximately 300 different things! While you’re there, check out the fresh-ground peanut and nut butters in different flavors. (Fresh-ground chocolate chip peanut butter or cashew butter, anyone?)

Tip #11 – Whole Foods Market “Whole Deal” and weekly sales flyers are hung and located throughout the store, as well as online.

Tip #12 – They accept manufacturer coupons and offer their own coupons!

Tip #13 – They offer Sure Deals, too, which are items on sale for an extended period, usually about month or two.

Additional tips that help you save time:

*If you’d rather your bread bakery-fresh, they have an in-store bread slicer!

*If you don’t have time to grocery shop, no problem! Whole Foods Market has a concierge service you can email your shopping list to. Since their concierge folks know the store like the back of their hand, they can shop your list lickety-split and have it ready for you when you come! This service IS a paid service, and may vary from store-to-store. Check with your local store for details. They also offer a complimentary curb-side pick-up, too, and they will also deliver within a two-mile radius.

*Want your meat or seafood smoked or marinated before you buy? Call ahead with your order, and they’ll not only do that for you but devein your shrimp! Saving you time AND money!

*Lastly – be sure to sign up for a free account, and get their newsletter, for some of the features mentioned above. You can also peruse your local store’s events online (see picture below):

whole foods events online calendar

Don’t forget to follow them on your favorite social media sites, too:

Whole Foods Market on Facebook
WholeFoods on Twitter
Whole Foods Market on Pinterest
Whole Foods Market on YouTube
Whole Story Blog
Whole Foods Market Store Locations

Win It!

Are you ready to check out your local Whole Foods Market!? I hope so! To win a Whole Foods Market $100 Gift Card, leave a comment below answering one (or all) of the following:

  • What are some helpful tips on ways you save big at the grocery store?
  • What tips and tricks do you implement while grocery shopping?
  • With the holidays around the corner, how are you planning to save big while entertaining?

For additional entries, share this post via the social sharing buttons below, subscribe here and/or to Whole Foods Market newsletters, and please leave a comment for each entry method you perform! Every share is worth one entry, so keep coming back to share and comment to win!

Contest is US only, and ends October 29th, 2012 10pm CST. Winner will be chosen via

P.S. Want more chances to win? Visit Kate at The Shopping Mama and her post, Tips to Save Money at Whole Foods Market, for another chance to win a $100 gift card!

Good luck, and happy shopping!

baby v at whole foods

Disclosure: Whole Foods compensated me for this budget challenge, and other than sharing with me their fantastic insider tips and love of all things healthy and organic, my opinions, menu plan, pictures, and large family are my own. 

You may also like


Sharing is Caring

Help spread the word. You're awesome for doing it!