There’s nothing quite like walking into the produce section at Whole Foods. The riot of bright, blotch-less colors, the crisp smell of fresh herbs, and the knowledge that everything in this store is just so good for you.
But is it good for your frugal budget? Whole Foods didn’t come by its nickname “Whole Paycheck” for no reason – their level of quality comes at a cost that can scare away the more frugal among us.
But with a few apps, tips, and tricks, Whole Foods can be affordable for any savvy shopper – no hours of clipping and organizing coupons required.
Like most of the apps listed here, Ibotta uses the receipts you upload for market research. While there are a number of apps that have entered this marketplace, we’re listing only the most reputable. These apps aren’t going to result in waves of spam or put your personal info in danger.
Ibotta is ideal for the Whole Foods shopper if you’re shopping in the middle aisles (less so for the periphery). Each week Ibotta lists items you can buy and earn cash back on. Unlike other, more specialized apps, it isn’t a small number – usually there are upwards of 2000 deals to choose from.
Ibotta offers specific offers at specific stores – and Whole Foods is one of their favorites. You’ll often find up to 100 items you can purchase at Whole Foods that will get you cash back from Ibotta.
Some brands you’ll find great offers from include Whole Foods favorites like KeVita Kombucha, Dave’s Killer Breads, and Amazing Grass.
Ibotta offers anywhere between 25 cents and $5 cash back for their weekly items. A plus for the frugal shopper – you won’t just use Ibotta at Whole Foods – you can use it at almost 300 stores to build up cash back fast. Once you reach $20, you can start cashing out.
Read a detailed review of Ibotta.
2. Checkout 51
Checkout 51 is very similar to Ibotta. They use your info for market research, and in return offer money back on select items each week. Unlike Ibotta, they don’t have any restrictions on where you buy their weekly items of interest – which means you’ve got a good shot each week of getting a cash back offer you can use at Whole Foods.
Checkout 51 offers cash back deals that range from 25 cents to $4. If you upload a receipt for more than $60, you’re also entered to win up to $500 in their monthly sweepstakes. They have fewer offers each week than Ibotta – usually just 40-50 items.
However, there are often a few high-quality organic items included, from brands like Justin’s Peanut Butter and Terra Chips, which you’ll be able to find at Whole Foods.
Be aware that Checkout 51’s deals change every Wednesday at midnight, and their deals are first come, first serve – you’re going to want to check this app each Thursday morning to get the best offers available. You don’t need to shop that morning – just check off the offers you intend to use later in the week before they disappear.
Read a detailed review of Checkout 51.
BerryCart is a different creature entirely, in that their goal is to provide you with discounts on organic and eco-friendly foods only. Let’s be honest – if you’re shopping at Whole Foods, you’re part of the shopping population they want to know more about.
If you plan on purchasing anything from the middle aisles of Whole Foods, there’s a good chance BerryCart has a deal for you. Now, BerryCart’s cash back amounts are lower – between 25 cents and one dollar. Their cash out amount is lower too – just five bucks – so you can start spending what you’ve earned much faster. If you shop at Whole Foods regularly, this is an app that will add up quickly for cash back – particularly for specialty diet food like gluten free, Whole 30, or Paleo.
Part of the fun of using BerryCart is that you likely won’t recognize all the brands they offer – they specialized in introducing you to newcomers to the Whole Foods aisles, helping you find your new favorites.
Read a detailed review of BerryCart.
Last, but not least, Makeena is the app for the frugal shopper obsessed with organic, exceptionally healthy foods.
Like BerryCart, Makeena is a little different in that you’ll rarely find deals on your favorite Whole Foods items. Makeena is focused on everything new in the healthy and environmentally ethical shopping sphere.
This is the app for Whole Foods shoppers who want to try the newest items at a deep discount.
This is also where you can get rebates on your Whole Foods produce. Makeena offers rebates on organic beets, black eyed peas, and brand name kombucha.
Makeena will invite you to purchase the newest products Whole Foods carries – for a fraction of their usual price. And if you love the product and want to be one of their brand ambassadors, they’ll give you additional cash back points for sharing info on new products on your social media. You can also earn bonus points by liking your newly discovered favorite vegan snacks on social media via the app.
Read a detailed review of Makeena Rewards.
5. Amazon Prime
If you aren’t interested in joining Amazon’s big push to get everyone in the country hooked on their membership program, Amazon Prime, go ahead and skip to the next section – the frugal shopper can still save big at Whole Foods without a membership.
With Prime? You have access to even bigger savings, sometimes bringing Whole Foods prices down to below the ones you find at your local grocery stores.
The frugal shopping blogosphere was in a tizzy over Amazon purchasing Whole Foods back in 2017. What would it mean for the quality? The environmentally ethical sourcing? The customer?
So far, the customer is coming out the big winner, while Amazon has kept their promise to keep quality and earth-friendly policies in place, even if there were a few hiccups in the supply chain early in their relationship.
If you’re already a Prime Member, all you need to do is download the Whole Foods app to your phone and log in with the same credentials you use on Amazon. The app produces an individualized QR code that gets scanned at checkout for instant savings.
Every week there are special sales just for Prime members. And, Prime members get an additional 10% off every general sale item. On top of that, there are unadvertised just-for-Prime 10% off sales scattered throughout the store – just look for the little yellow tags.
Last time I wandered the aisles doing my frugal food shopping, there were at least 100 yellow tags to take advantage of, on everything from produce to brain-healthy cashew milk to keto and Whole 30-friendly salad dressing to a truly gorgeous organic pumpkin pie.
Want to learn about more ways to save with Amazon Prime?
You can sign up for a free trial of Amazon Prime here.
6. Whole Foods
Even if you don’t use Amazon Prime, I highly recommend downloading and using the Whole Foods app, since it allows you to quickly scroll through the sales available to the general public. More often than not, at least one coveted item is also listed on one of our favorite cash back apps, offering you a quick way to stack up big savings that will make your frugal friends proud.
Don’t already have a cash back app you use for your grocery shopping? Want to add another one or two to your repertoire? You’re in for a money-saving treat.
While there are plenty to choose from, the four money saving apps listed below are the best for finding savings at Whole Foods. Keep in mind that there are other cash back shopping apps that may have more deals, but Whole Foods doesn’t sell a lot of the items offered in those other coupon apps. Whole Foods is picky about what they will stock in their stores – so you need to be picky about what apps you use to maximize your savings.
The apps below are listed from most general (you’ll use them everywhere you shop for groceries) to specialized (big buck savings specific to Whole Foods frugality).
Want to learn about more free cash back apps for frugal grocery shopping?
Share Your Shopping Style – And Get Paid
You’ve completed your fabulous frugal Whole Foods shopping. You uploaded your receipt to your favorite cashback coupon app, and you have money for your next shop coming your way.
Perhaps you’ve even enjoyed Whole Foods signature pumpkin ravioli with a little browned organic butter and sage sauce, topped with perfectly aged Parmesan.
Ready for more money coming your way?
It used to be that lots of folks believed in storing away all their receipts in a shoebox in the closet, just in case you needed to return something or the IRS had questions about your habit of buying what some might see as an excessive supply of apple cider vinegar (with the mother, of course). It’s a habit that’s fallen out of fashion, but there’s a good reason to bring it back.
You don’t need to save those receipts for a full year, you just want to hold onto them for a week or so.
Companies who study shopping habits will pay you good money to share those receipts. Including one I can guarantee you’ve heard of.
Nielsen is well known for being the company that sponsors Nielsen families – folks who are paid to have boxes hooked up to their TVs to provide data on what a cross section of viewers are and aren’t watching. Nielsen numbers have been used since the dawn of TV advertising to determine which of your favorite shows get picked up for more seasons – and which ones get cancelled.
Now, Nielsen does more than TV – they aggregate data on shopping patterns too. And you don’t have to be chosen – you can just sign up and start receiving rewards (including cash) right now.
Nielsen prefers that all items be scanned in by Friday, which I why I suggest bringing back the shoebox method. Save up your receipts and then take 10 minutes each week to take all the photos at once. Quick, easy, and well worth your time.
Keep in mind that Nielsen wants scans of the bar codes on the individual items you’ve purchased as well – if you’re going to use them before you scan-in day, make sure you take those photos before recycling the cans and bottles.
Read a detailed review of Nielsen NCP.
8. Receipt Hog
Receipt Hog is Nielsen’s major competitor in this arena. Instead of focusing on individual items, they are true to their name – they just want those receipts – the more the better. Once you’ve downloaded the free app and signed up for an account, you can start scanning in receipts by taking pictures in the app.
The more receipts you upload, the more you earn. Hit their weekly bonus count (usually four receipts) and you earn multipliers.
Read a detailed review of Receipt Hog.
Want to learn about more free apps for earning rewards for things you do every day?
Insider Tips and Tricks
So far we’ve focused on the amazing tech that allows you to easily fit Whole Foods into your frugal food budget. If you’re ready to go the extra mile, you can save even more.
9. Bring Your Own Bags
This isn’t so much going the extra mile as it is going the extra few feet to the trunk of your car to grab your reusable grocery bags. We’ve all been told we should be using these every time we shop, but we all forget now and then.
Whole Foods gives the frugal shopper a good reason to remember. Hand the person at the checkout counter your reusable bags, and for each one they use to pack up your groceries, they’ll take ten cents off your total order.
You don’t want to be greedy, but Whole Foods is a great place to use those cute, and reasonably sized, Baggu bags, or something similar. They hold just the right amount of groceries so the bags don’t get excessively heavy, unlike the enormous bags placed conveniently at the checkout end cap. Ten cents adds up!
10. The Golden (Half) Hour at Whole Foods
Not everyone has the freedom to go grocery shopping at specific times – you have responsibilities – family, activities, work. But if you’re one of the lucky few who can shop during the golden half hour at Whole Foods, the frugal shopper can save a bundle.
The golden half hour varies by location, but it’s always the half hour before your Whole Foods store closes for the night.
Because Whole Foods is so committed to selling only the freshest foods, most locations will mark down their remaining bread, meat, fish, and even cheeses shortly before the store closes, and those discounts can be significant. If you can be there at the right time, you can get fresh, organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, wild caught, and sustainably farmed for up to half off what you pay the rest of the day.
Do keep in mind that shopping in that half hour is going to be hit-or-miss. Generally, Whole Foods has stopped putting out fresh items well before the golden half hour – what’s going on sale is what’s left. So if you’re looking for a specific cut of meat or freshly baked gluten free bread, you may be out of luck. If you’re more flexible about what you’re looking for and you have the time to spare – it’s worth the trip.
Yes, it’s time to break out your coupon scissors and felted file envelope. It’s time for some good old-fashioned couponing.
That sad wail you heard from your couponing friends in the spring of 2018 was Whole Foods discontinuing their much-beloved in-store coupon book, The Whole Deal, and ending online, print-at-home coupons on their website. Whole Foods has made up for the lost coupon savings with their Prime membership offerings – but if you aren’t a Prime member, it was a real loss.
And it was a loss that fed a rumor that Whole Foods didn’t take any coupons anymore. But they do!
Whole Foods still accepts all manufacturers’ coupons that you find in your local paper or receive direct from the manufacturer. And while most of the coupons you pull out of your Sunday paper are from brands Whole Foods doesn’t carry, as organic goes more mainstream, you’ll usually find a few for brands like Kashi, Silk, and Late July – and Whole Foods is happy to honor those coupons (and stack them on top of other deals!).
Click here to learn more about old-school tried-and-true couponing.
Every year, the Environmental Working Group releases two lists: The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen. The Dirty Dozen is a list of foods with the highest concentration of pesticides when grown with standard growing practices.
If removing pesticides and foods that are farmed in ways that may harm the environment from your diet is important to you, the Dirty Dozen are the foods you want to stock up on at Whole Foods, where you know the produce is farmed organically.
This year, the Dirty Dozen are as follows:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
Focus on these fruits and veggies when you’re shopping Whole Foods – this is where you want to focus your organic buying power.
The Clean Fifteen on the other hand? These are foods that you can feel safe and confident buying at any discount grocery store – they are farmed with minimal pesticides, and by the time they reach your table, the cheaper, non-organic brands are just as healthy as the organics.
Sure, Whole Foods has them, but you can save money by buying these veggies at other stores – organic has little to no benefit over the other options for these items.
If the following produce items are on sale at Whole Foods, and you also have a cash back deal or two, go for it. But if you’re making choices to stay within your frugal grocery budget, you can feel perfectly content and healthy buying these particular items elsewhere and saving your Whole Foods money for other things.
This year, the Clean 15 are as follows (it’s worth rechecking the list each year as farming practices change):
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
Whole foods may not be the cheapest place you could buy food for you and your family. But it is a store that banks on quality – you know whatever you buy in the store isn’t just colorful and pretty – it’s good for you, it’s good for your family, and it’s good for the environment.
Make sure to stack your savings tactics – try purchasing a sale item with your Prime Discount, getting cash back on the item with Ibotta and/or Makeena, then upload your receipt to NCP and Receipt Hog.
You really can bring the price of expensive Whole Foods products down to mere pennies – and sometimes, even make money on the purchase.
Here’s to eating healthy and frugal!