There are certain stores that I personally avoid for various reasons.
For example, I don’t shop at Cost Plus World Market because the store is BEYOND amazing. It’s truly a foodie’s dream. Kitchen gadgets, specialty oils, BOGO coffee… yikes. They do carry just a few things we need now and then, so if I absolutely must go, I make a bee-line to the aisle and get out ASAP. Otherwise the grocery budget is a goner and we’ll be eating cute utensils made out of bamboo for dinner.
Target is another store I don’t shop at often. When we lived in Texas, Super Walmart was our go-to store for everything. Diapers, shampoo, bananas… it was 2 miles down the road, very cheap and incredibly convenient. When we moved to California, we were limited to a simple, non-super Walmart.
After one too many Black Friday’s, Mr. Crumbs now breaks out in hives at the mere mention of the store. So we switched to Target. But when I started couponing to afford baby #2, I realized that my local Target is NOT the place to find deals. On anything. So now visits there are limited to me and the girl browsing the dollar spot while the boys are next door at REI, making oogly eyes at road bikes and camping gear for future trips.
With a reputation of taking out an entire paycheck, Whole Foods is also a no-go zone. There’s just one thing I regularly buy at Whole Foods, and that’s pepitas. After searching high and low for a good local deal, Whole Foods won at offering hulled roasted pumpkin seeds for just $4.99/lb.
But I’ve given it some thought… surely that can’t be the ONLY affordable item in the store, right? I mean, that place is ALWAYS packed and as somewhat of a health food store rival to Trader Joe’s… and it seems to be THE place to shop if you’re a real foodie… maybe I simply hadn’t given Whole Foods a true, fair shot?
Armed with my camera, a notebook, a pencil and a babysitter at home with the kids, I set out this past week to really see if there were any foods worth noting for us frugal foodies. Folks, the results are in.
This post is part of a short series covering what frugal foods a real foodie can find at certain stores. Other posts include:
Remember: At the bottom of each post is a handy dandy download that’s free, allowing you to take the prices with you when you shop!
After doing some research and walking the entire store, I’ve come up with 3 categories for today’s “what to buy at Whole Foods” list.
- What I Would (or Do) Buy
- What I’ve Heard is a Good Deal, But Isn’t
- What Isn’t Necessarily a Good Deal for Me, But Might Be for You
You’ll find the price for each item (which might vary from store to store) and explanations throughout the list too, since it helps sometimes to see the ‘why’ behind what someone does. The items in each list are in no particular order.
Also, don’t forget the post on 9 practical ways to save at Whole Foods. Combined with the list below, you can really save a ton of money!
Best 11 Things to Buy at Whole Foods
What I Would (or Do) Buy
Pepitas, $4.99 per pound
Also known as pumpkin seeds, pepitas are one of our favorite seeds. We use them in spring salads and in homemade granola bars. Whole Foods carries them for just $4.99 per pound, which is a GREAT deal. You can get a similar deal at Nuts.com, but you’ll have to pay for shipping. You can get free shipping with these pepitas on Amazon prime, but you’ll pay at least $6/lb. So, Whole Foods wins!
Sesame Seeds, $3.99 per pound
Whole Foods wins on sesame seeds by a nose with other online retailers coming in close, if not the same price. Like the pepitas though, you don’t have to pay for shipping. Plus most recipes that call for sesame seeds don’t need much, maybe a tablespoon or two. By buying them from the bulk section, you can really rack up the savings by paying for exactly what you need, when you need it, instead of having a huge one pound bag sitting in your pantry staring you in the face when you’re making your meal plans.
Organic Flax Seeds, $1.79 per pound
Not only does Whole Foods have the best price per pound on flax seeds, but they’re whole. This means you can grind them yourself at home and not have to worry about the natural oil in the seed going rancid (and having to store it in the fridge to help prevent it from happening). Costco can’t touch this with their ground flax at $3.55/lb, and the #1 best seller on Amazon charges over $12 per pound!
Organic Raisins, $3.39 per pound
Whole Foods had three different varieties of organic raisins, with the most affordable being just $3.39 per pound. This beats every other deal I’ve found, and it’s a bonus that they’re organic. Grapes are on the dirty dozen and should be purchased organically when possible, so it makes sense that raisins (which are dehydrated grapes) should be organic too. It’s just tough to find affordable grapes, let alone affordable raisins, you know? In case you do happen to score an amazing deal on organic grapes (like, $2/lb or less), dehydrate them yourself and make the most AMAZING raisins you’ve ever had. Promise!
Dry Beans, price varies
Depending on what type of bean you’re looking for, Whole Foods just might have the best deal. First, they’re selection is awesome. Second, some beans were as low as just $1.69 for organic! Black beans and split peas came in at that price, while organic lentils were priced at $1.99 per pound.
Organic Barley, $1.49 per pound / Organic Red Wheat, $1.39 per pound / Organic Spelt, $1.99 per pound
I grouped these grains together because as a whole, they’re a pretty decent deal. I normally buy my grains from Tropical Traditions because I have gift certificates there, but the big downside is paying for shipping. If you can score free shipping from Tropical Traditions (which they offer roughly once each month and I notify readers via the Crumbs Facebook page), then stock up while you can. Otherwise, Whole Foods offers very competitive pricing on these whole grains if you unexpectedly run out. Or if you just need a pound or two instead of five or ten.
Spices, price varies
You’ve probably read it all over the place, but spices in bulk are really a great deal. Whole Foods has an amazing selection, and prices range from 88¢ to $2 per ounce. Most bottles of spice weigh 2-4 ounces, so depending on what you’re buying and how much you need, the savings can really add up by just buying a little bit versus a bigger container.
Farro isn’t one single grain, but rather a term that includes three varieties of heirloom grains. I don’t know much about farro other than it’s pricey per pound. Even so, Whole Foods offers the best deal by at least $1.50 per pound.
Side Note: I didn’t list every grain they had available, but there were PLENTY to choose from. If you’re looking to eat more whole grains, and expand your palate beyond wheat, it’s definitely worth looking into. Especially since you can buy just a cup or two and give them a test run to see if you like the flavors or not. If you don’t have a grain mill, you can still grind your own flour without one, or look at their pre-ground flours too. I saw quinoa, sprouted spelt, “00”, einkorn, farro and brown rice flour all available for purchase.
Chocolate, price varies
Oh dear, did you know Whole Foods sells chocolate by the POUND?! And that it’s a GOOD DEAL?! All the more reason to stay away I think. 😉 Seriously though, if you have the will power to not eat it all in one sitting, there are some great deals on good quality chocolate. To help you visualize the prices, the average chocolate bar weighs 3 ounces. You can get this amount of chocolate for as little as $1.87 or as much as $2.62, depending on the percent of cacao you’re looking for. Not too shabby of a deal for good chocolate!
What I’ve Heard is a Good Deal, But Isn’t
Costco has almonds for $5.19 per pound and I heard that Whole Foods has “raw” almonds for $5.99 per pound. Back to the issue of most almonds come from California and the state requires pasteurization (therefore to me, the issue is null and void), I’m going with the most affordable.
Whole Foods is asking $9.49 for cashew PIECES, while Costo sells WHOLE cashews for $6 per pound. This is a no brainer here – Costco wins.
Whole Foods sells raw honey from local sources, but my local store had it priced $3 more per pound than my local farmers market!
Beside local raw honey, Whole Foods also had my favorite brand of stevia, NuNaturals. The downside though is that it was priced $2 more than what Amazon sells it for. They had several brands of stevia, as well as other alternative sweeteners, but be sure to compare prices against online vendors who specialize in these sort of items.
I also heard that pasta was a great deal at Whole Foods, that whole wheat was just 99¢ per pound. Wrong! I couldn’t find pasta for less than $2 per box, and that was for all varieties. Since brands don’t make much of a difference in terms of pasta, choose whichever is most affordable and lists just “100% whole wheat,” or whichever grain you’re looking for, in the list of ingredients.
What Isn’t Necessarily a Good Deal for Me, But Might Be for You
Their gallons of organic whole milk are just $5.99 – generally a good deal in my area…. except that the milk is NOT grass-fed. The label itself says the cows are given 100% organic feed, which means they’re likely not pastured. Another local grocery store offer grass-fed milk for 40¢ more per gallon, but I’ll pay it because I know it’s grass-fed.
Organic butter was rather pricey at $5 per pound, and Kerrygold butter was VERY expensive at $4 for 8 oz. I’m fortunate to have a Costco nearby that sells both organic and grass-fed butter for much less, but if you don’t, know that this might be a viable option for you.
Whole Foods is known for their extensive selection of cheese, which is really a lot of fun to a foodie! They offer smaller cuts that are just 4 oz, which means you can create a very nice cheese tray filled with higher end cheeses without overspending. Locally I have both Grocery Outlet and a specialty cheese shop where I can get the cheeses we like, and in even smaller quantities at the cheese shop. Don’t rule this section out though if you don’t have specialty shops in your area!
The Entire 365 Brand Line
There are some really great deals on the 365 house brand, like ketchup without high fructose corn syrup, apple cider vinegar for just $3.49 and even walnut oil at an affordable price! You’ll have to browse the store to see if they carry what you’re looking for in that brand. Also price compare against your usual sources, but there’s a really good chance you’ll stumble across some good deals! I found decent deals on basic items like mustard, mayo and pickles, but also on specialty ethnic sauces and gluten-free flours and gums.
also organic string cheese – weekly purchase definitely. Avocados good deal too.
365 brand organic dark grade a maple syrup is the best deal!! Ever. Outside of whole foods no one beats the price. We also recommend organic lemons at .99 each instead of the organic bag lemons (2lbs for $5.99) there – took me months to figure out. I put 8 lemons on the produce scale and realized I woiuld come out ahead with the singles plus getting to pick the heaviest, juiciest ones.
The things I buy at Whole Foods regularly are Parmigiano Reggiano and frozen mango chuncks.
The dairy at my local WF beats every other store in the area in price. Organic sour cream is only $1.59 for 16 ounces. Non-organic costs more than that elsewhere. Also, organic butter is .50 cheaper a pound than TJ’s. Also, pizza pies are less than local pizzerias, and quite good.
That’s awesome Cathie!
Since doing a major overhaul of our diet since July 2015, Whole Foods is now on my radar. That is the ONLY place I can find whole milk from grass-fed cows that is unhomogenized (The brand is Kona). We LOVE it…so that it what I go there to buy every week.
This is an amazing reference list, I never thought to buy beans from whole foods!
Oh yes – they’re super affordable!!
Leah @ The Frugal South
Great suggestions! I love Whole Food’s 365 Concentrated Tomato Paste that comes in a tube for $1.49. The cheapest I can find at our local grocery is $3.49! SO useful to have on hand for lots of recipes.
Thanks for the tip Leah!
Thanks for the great advice, but I don’t see the download.
Sorry about that Paula – it’s fixed!
I’ve been making my own cashew milk, recently. I had heard about the cashews at Costco. The only ones I found there are the ones in the snack nuts dept……the unsalted ones in the plastic container with the red lid. Are these the ones you are recommending? I thought they were roasted. I didn’t think you should use roasted nuts for making cashew milk. That aside, I have found whole, raw cashews at my local Kroger’s for around $7 a pound. They are decent quality. Actually, I have found that my local Kroger’s has many good and affordable items in their Simple Truth line. They really are starting to give Trader Joes a run for the money and, for me, are closer to my home.
i was glas to find this post as i have been mulling over our own grocery bill. we are on a pretty tight budget but not normally willing to purchase many “conventional” food items for health and environmental reasons. I purchase everything I can in bulk and end up getting all of our fruits and veg at WF jsut because I would end up running to 3 or 4 different stores getting what I might need for the week with our mostly veg diet. It is unfortunate that fresh organic foods are so costly but we live in mn where year round fresh veg is not a possibility except for the winter squash we were able to put away from our garden this year. The one way I have been able to cut a bit off our food cost is getting some frozen fruits and veg which can be a bit cheaper, quick to cook and i dont have to worry about spoilage by the end of the week and by cooking mostly vegetarian proteins instead of meats. Unfortunately we end up with just enough to prepare our meals and very little for snack food throughout the week
While I prefer fresh, frozen fruits and veggies are the way to go sometimes in the winter when fresh is just so darn expensive (and limited). Do you have access to Costco? They have some good deals on frozen items in bulk!
Some people I know love to bash Whole Foods for their high prices, yet they drive around in new $30,000+ cars, have the latest gadgets, and the biggest and best TV’s, lol. I think that something may be off balance there.
I shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Amazon, and I’m not rich by any means. WF is expensive, but we don’t eat grain, beans, dairy, or snacks, so it helps the budget, and since I shop those stores often, I know about all their latest deals.
I tend to look at it this way: We don’t drive new cars, or buy the latest giant TV’s, or other electronic toys. Those things are replaceable, anyway. I’d rather do without them and eat nourishing food.
You only get one body. Might as well try to give it the best food possible. For my money, WF has the best quality food.
People spend much more money on food outside the US. In the US, we’re conditioned to expect food to be cheap, but if it’s not good quality and takes a toll on health, then is it really cost effective?
I noticed you mentioned Amazon deals several times in this article. Have you compared store prices to Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program? For example, the cashews you mentioned at CostCo ($6/lb) are available on Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program for $5.66/lb (with the 20% discount for purchasing 5 or more S & S items within the month). I utilize this program for items we need on a regular basis, i.e., toilet paper, baby formula, organic (KIND bar) snacks, etc. I was just interested in your opinion of the program.
Hi April! I think Amazon’s subscribe and save program is great, I personally am not just that organized to keep up with the subscriptions! I used to order our Italian tomatoes from Amazon, but stopped when the price skyrocketed. Silly me forgot to cancel the subscription, I received a big box of overpriced tomatoes one day…
If you can stay on top of it, then I say go for it!
Kelly @ The Nourishing Home
Sadly, Whole Foods is just around the corner from my home and it can be way too tempting to pop over there and end up spending WAY too much. So I really appreciate this post. One thing I do buy regularly is their pastured eggs. They are reasonably prices and delicious. I buy regular organic eggs at Costco for baking, but for eating for breakfast, it’s got to be pastured eggs and right now, WF is my only source of good ones. I also purchase some of my baking staples there when supplies are low and I haven’t gotten my Azure order. Thanks again for sharing this. I’ll be sharing it via social media for sure! xo
WF is truly like candy land for healthy foodies. I think there are great deals there like oat groats. I do have moral dilemma however when I learned they did not accept WIC and although my kids are teenagers now, I remember a time when this little help blessed our family greatly. I find it very disturbing for a grocery chain to turn away mothers trying to feed their families healthily. Do they believe only people with higher incomes deserve to live healthy? Or do they not want their precious stores contaminated by people from lower incomes? We are a military family and there are many families such as our own who did qualify for WIC as well. I guess feeling as upset as I am posting this has convinced me I can’t in good conscious patronize their establishment on behalf of all the moms out there using WIC.
Did they explain why? Stores I’ve worked at in the past couldn’t get approved to accept WIC because they felt it was too expensive- we were a small store and just lacked buying power to sell less expensive while still making a small amt. some stores also have issue if they don’t carry core brands WIC likes.
My sister is currently on WIC. It is an extremely restrictive program. There are many regulations regarding what you can and cannot use WIC vouchers for, only specific brands are allowed. For instance, WIC only allows Enfamil. Whole Foods does not even carry Enfamil.
Whole Foods does accept SNAP (food stamps) so I really do not think they are trying to keep poor people out of their stores. I think it is more of a an issue of the WIC program requiring the purchase of specific brands not carried by WF.
Actually I find Wholefoods to be reasonable for the quality. I don’t buy everything there but given how many other places mark up organics and other natural food insanely overpriced, WF tends to be a good bet (especially for things I can’t find at Trader Joe’s). In both my old city in the West and my new hometown in the South, this was the case. The other local health food stores are often much more than WF as well. These include Sunflower Market, Sprouts and Earth Fare. Those earn the title of “whole paycheck” way more than WF in my experience. When they have specials, it’s worth going to them but many times their “sale” on such&such organic product was regular price I could find elsewhere. Their bulk items tend to be more than WF too.
Previously I went to WF a lot but now my diet has changed a lot and my new town has TONS of local farmers. Whole Foods can be a decent source for eggs, organic/pastured/grassfed meats, fish (often local wild caught and extensive sustainability as well as contaminant guides), some bulk (my new store doesn’t have bulk herbs and spices anymore), 365 organic whole wheat flour, organic baking extracts, hormone free dairy (often locally sourced) as well as competitively priced cheeses like shredded mozzarella, some ice cream brands, 365 nitrate free all natural bacon, marked down kombucha (I’ve made my own but my SCOBYs went bad on me when I took a break), etc. Their produce can be high but they often have good one day sales and the variety can’t be beat. I also find they have best price on Bubbies pickles (the Publix down the street charges over $2 almost $3 more per bottle!!!). I love their 365 ACV as a more affordable option to Bragg’s (though it’s not raw it has the mother and is organic). I’ve been using the 365 stevia powder and loving it. It’s best price I’ve found. The health and beauty products are also often a steal, especially if 365 brand. They often have coupons and free trial samples too (omg I go so long between buying shampoo thanks to those things lol). I love that the supplements are so pure- I never have to worry about mineral oil in any vitamins I get there. Additionally the experience is amazing! So many things to see in store! It also is an easy way to find a good neighborhood. My old apartment was a mile from WF and loved that neighborhood (cheap older complex in very very UMC area- score! Especially in city known for having hit or miss zoning…). We moved here sight unseen too and got an apartment based mainly on its distance from WF.
Type of pasta can make a huge difference. We’ve stopped eating modern wheat and reversed migraines, arthritis and spinal issues. Unless budget is that tight, the eatra $1 or $2 for an old grain pasta like spelt or einkorn is worth every penny in pain relievers not needed and medical care not required.
We have whole foods and new seasons which is local, between the two, an occasional trip to Costco and the farmers market that both stores host in their lot we do all our shopping.
We’ve priced it out and its a bit more on the reciept but we’re saving by the better wheat as I mentioned, and not driving around town and using gas and time for less than $1 per pound savings.
Good point Kim! I’ve begun looking at other grains besides whole wheat when it comes to pasta, but since we don’t have digestive issues or other health-ailments with it, it’s hard to notice a difference. Two thumbs up for doing the match and coming up with a plan that works best for your family!
I buy local free range eggs at WF. And local cream that just has cream in it. These are the best deal there. They have a line of 2.99 wine here (in NC) called Three Wishes. It is better than 2 buck chuck in my opinion. NC is not nearly as good for cheap wine as CA, though. The 365 brand of olive oil there costs half of what the generic does at Kroger.
Those are good finds Tarynkay. I get eggs from a different source, and skip the cream since we rarely use it. I’ll have to check out the olive oil too – thanks!!
Our Whole Foods has a great wine section with fabulous prices. I know they don’t all sell wine. They have good descriptions of their wines and many wine for $10.00 and less.
Thanks Christine! Ours had a very small selection of wine, and I was teetering on the brink of the lunch hour, so I didn’t spend much time there. Plus I thought being in California would skew the prices. 😉 Thanks for the tip!!
I love Whole Foods . . . When I have a list and I actually follow it. I try to be choosy about ingredient lists on items I do buy premade and Whole Foods is the only place I can find some of those things. Ice cream with just cream, sugar, milk, and strawberries for example. Parmesan cheese with just milk, salt, and cultures. I also buy the 365 brand grade b maple syrup.
I buy my whole organic chicken there, because they’re air chilled instead of a saline, water solution like at Costco. They may cost a bit more but the quality is better. It’s also the only place I can buy grass fed beef. Oh, and I love the one day sales!
FYI – Since this is an old post you probably have already seen this yourself..but you can get grass fed beef at Trader Joe’s and Aldi’s. Frozen, not fresh.
Thanks for the update Yokie!
You need to give Target another try. Between online coupons/catalinas, Cartwheel and sales you can get some amazing deals on their Simply Balanced line. Everything is either organic or natural and they have recently rolled out a ton of products. If you make EVERYTHING from scratch then it might not be worth it for you, but I have to cut corners sometimes and am glad to have those options to feed my family.