Every plant-based eater or even those that don’t eat 100 percent plant-based, know that Whole Foods is an awesome place to shop. From the moment you walk in, the colors, smells, and the general “health is here” persona hits you like a brick. You automatically feel healthier just being there, but you also already feel broke before you hit the cash register. Listen, while Whole Foods is amazing, newbies or those that aren’t budget savvy can ruin their budgets quickly. It’s especially easy to do if you hit up the superfood, vitamin, prepared produce section, and let’s not even talk about the non-dairy desserts, nut butters, and oh.my.gosh – the kale chip aisle!

Alright, alright, joking aside, even if you avoid those things, the costs can still add up quickly, even just in the produce aisle. One reason being, that a portion of Whole Foods proceeds go to food charities and local farmers that produce the food. But still, even though these are beneficial, it doesn’t make our wallets any skinnier.


So, to help you shop at Whole Foods without dreading approaching the cashier or leaving empty-handed, we’ve got 9 tips to share with you anyone can use, especially those on a budget. And, in case you’re wondering, this can be done on the skinniest of budgets out there and though, most of it is common sense, it’s also easy to forget. The good part is, if you’re avoiding the meats, dairy, fish, and eggs, you’re already ahead. They’re some of the highest priced items in the store aside from the cheese, wine, and specialty items like pre-made snacks, exotic superfoods, and some vitamins and supplements.

Check out these easy Whole Food hacks:

1. Fall in Love with 365



If you’re not already, quit focusing on brands and go with the generic 365 brand in whatever item you can. This is Whole Foods’ store brand, which is the equivalent of any generic store brand you’d buy else where, only with higher standards. The benefits of choosing the 365 brand is that Whole Foods has strict standards on what they allow in all their 365 brand items, even if they’re not wearing the USDA organic seal. For one, all the cans are made without the dreaded BPA, and none of their items contain chemicals or pesticides.


Whole Foods is also (as most people know) in the process of relabeling their items to ensure consumers they are free of GMO ingredients. The 365 peanut butter, almond butter, frozen berries, frozen veggies, almond milk (carrageenan-free!), oats, dried fruits, and soy milk are just some of the items you can find at a much lower price that come with the same quality as brand items. You can use all of these to make everything from smoothies to oatmeal and even some entrées too.

2. Be Mindful of Packaging on Shelved Items

You’ll also notice that many bagged grains, beans, legumes, and other pantry items located on the shelves in the aisles are much cheaper when purchased in the generic bagged version versus the boxed version. If you’re not buying bulk, bagged packages of these items are the way to go. For instance, a bag of organic lentils by the 365 brand costs $2.99 per pound, while a small can or box of lentils costs the same, but you only get about 1/4 that amount.  Remember that you pay for packaging, so whatever item you’re buying, don’t be afraid to opt for the perhaps less pretty to display, but much better priced, item. Brown rice, lentils, frozen vegetables and fruits, and even whole grain cereals are usually cheaper in bagged forms.

3. Stick With Basics

whole foods

Though the produce aisle is packed with lots of exotic veggies and fruits, not to mention other lovelies like burdock root and fresh green juices, stick with the basics. Go with the 365 fair-trade bananas (super cheap), the 365 brand of packaged spinach and kale versus other brands, apples, oranges, zucchini, grape or vine tomatoes, heads of broccoli, sweet potatoes, and some cucumbers and  peppers. These items might not be too exciting, but they’re incredibly healthy when bought at Whole Foods because many of these items are local or shipped faster, they last awhile, and they’re easy for everyone to enjoy. They also won’t cost you $6.99- $8.99 a pound or more like many more exotic items will!

whole foods produce

4. Rethink How and What You Use

Do you really use fresh loose greens that often, or is packaged easier on your schedule? For instance, if you make lots of salads, go with greens that last a long time. This includes romaine, not fresh spinach or Swiss chard which will wilt in a few days. If you eat a lot of spinach and kale, buy a few bunches, and then keep one in the fridge, but freeze the rest.

organic salad

If you buy all your greens fresh and loose, they will have to be used really quickly, which is hard for most of us to do. Buying pre-packaged greens will prevent you from losing your greens and your money, and you have the option to just toss them in the freezer (great for smoothies) to preserve them even longer. Just be sure to recycle whenever you can, or at least use them as storage containers for things like nuts, grains, etc. once you wash and dry them.

For instance, you can buy 6 containers of salad greens for under $25, which would last you an entire week in the fridge for a variety of meals. Loose greens may cost you more depending on how much they cost and would likely wilt and go back much more quickly.

5. Stock Cheap Grains, Roots, and Beans

Oats, rice, lentils, green beans, black beans, kidney and garbanzo beans (chickpeas), sweet potatoes and carrots are all some of the cheapest foods to keep in the house, and are easy to find at Whole Foods. Many of these cost the same as other grocery stores, but come with the safety that they’re free from toxic chemicals others stores’ products may have. These foods may not be as exotic as those like quinoa, teff, millet, or other items, but they’re simple, they work, and they keep you full. Don’t get prideful when it comes to shopping healthy – stick with the good, simple stuff and save your money where it counts.

6. Skip the Prepared Beverages Aisle Completely 

The kombucha, trendy beers, fancy juices, and $4 bottles of coconut water all located in the refrigerated beverage aisle should be skipped. We know, it’s hard, but you don’t need these items to eat healthy- you do need non-dairy milk, and maybe some distilled water if you live in an area with toxic tap water. Remember that a lot of these items come with additional packaging,  so you’re also contributing to environmental costs with these purchases too.

7. Go for Bulk Nuts, Seeds, and Fruits – Not Prepackaged Bars

bulk bin whole foods

It’s also smart to make your own energy bars and bites instead of buying the prepacked bars. The marketing is great on these items, and they are helpful in a pinch. However, they are ridiculous in the amount of money they cost per item and most all have added sugars or fillers you don’t need. Those that don’t have added items can easily be made at home (and actually taste much better when you do make them yourself). Go to the bulk section and stock up on some raw nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and maybe some oats if you like those in your bars. These take minutes to make in your food processor and will last you all month long.

No-Bake-Superfood-Energy-Bars (1)

8. Keep Your Condiments to 3-4 Per Month

One area of our pantries that can get out of hand quickly is the condiments. From the hot sauce to the miso dip, to the tahini, mustard, apple cider vinegar, organic ketchup, specialty mustards, and oh – the tamari and coconut aminos, condiments can pile up quickly. The thing is, you’re always going to want to try a new one; its just inevitable, so the best thing to do is buy one each time you go and make it a rule that you won’t stock more than 3-4 per month without using those first. Then you can find out which ones you like, and keep only the ones on hand that you know you’ll use and love the most.

9. Make a List and Stick to It!

whole foods list

Our lists can easily go right out the window (mentally speaking) when we enter Whole Foods. Budget, what budget!? Just buy it all! That’s an easy mentality to take up quickly when you walk in, but it will get you in trouble fast. One trick is to mentally go through the aisles before you reach the store, and write down what you know you need for your meals, according to your schedule and your budget, list those items and stick to the list! Of course, if you forget a staple like non-dairy milk or some greens, then of course pick some up. The point of making a list is to make sure that the $5 container of coconut ice cream or bag of $8 kale chips doesn’t steal your heart and your budget (since those are likely not staples on your list). Keep treats to once per month so you don’t suffer deprivation and can look forward to it when you can buy it.

More Tips

whole foods bag

Of course, shopping items on sale is also smart, just be sure to compare prices and quantities of all brands available so you’re not falling for false advertisement and marketing. All in all, shopping at Whole Foods is worth it. Not only are you eating fresh and healthy food, but your money also goes towards local farmers and either food/environmental, or human rights charities when you shop. It’s also smart to rethink where you buy your vitamins, minerals, protein powders, and superfoods if you use them. Many of these items are at least $10-$15 cheaper per item online, whether you order through Amazon or other online retailers.

Also, be sure to check out our quick and handy vegan shopping list for simple items that will enhance any kitchen.

If you shop at Whole Foods and save money as a plant-based eater, what tips do you have?

Lead Image Source: Portal Abras/Flickr