Can You Afford to Shop at Whole Foods?

A woman buys dry goods in a supermarket.

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It really depends on your budget, shopping list, and priorities.

Key points

  • Whole Foods is known for its higher prices.
  • Some Whole Foods items are more affordable than others, and it’s a great place to shop when you have dietary needs.

There’s a reason Whole Foods got the nickname “Whole Paycheck.” The purchase can lead to a massive credit card tab – even if you are not buying a lot of items.

In fact, not too long ago, my husband and I dropped our kids off at a birthday party and had 90 minutes to spare. We decided to wander the aisles of a nearby Whole Foods, and some of the prices we discovered were downright shocking (at least to us).

First, there was a package of four gluten-free rolls for $11.99. Each roll seemed to be equivalent to about three bites, so it would be more accurate to label them as mini rolls. So, according to our estimates, this particular product would cost about $1 a bite to consume.

And we stumbled across the product aisle. While some of the items were reasonably priced, we couldn’t help but laugh at the package of about 16 organic raspberries for $6.99.

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All told, this Whole Foods trip convinced us we would never shop there on any sort of regular basis. But is Whole Foods really that expensive? And do you really need to write it as a shopping destination?

It is a matter of need and variety

These gluten-free rolls (er, mini rolls) for $11.99 seemed ridiculously expensive to me and my husband. But to be fair, we don’t have gluten allergies in our house, so we’re not completely versed in what gluten-free products cost.

I decided to look at gluten-free rolls at my local ShopRite to see if the prices would be comparable. And they were considerably lower, but still expensive.

So all told, it can be possible to save a decent chunk of money by shopping at stores other than Whole Foods for specialty items. But if you have specific dietary needs, Whole Foods might offer you a wider selection. And also, some of its products could just plain taste better. I wouldn’t know, because I don’t eat them.

While Whole Foods is expensive, for some people, it may be worth the money. If you are someone who cares a lot about eating organic food, or if you have a special diet to follow, then it may be worth shelling out a $200 grocery bill instead of $120 to get the items you want. And if you don’t particularly care about eating organic food and are not bound by any kind of food restrictions, then you may want to avoid Whole Foods – especially if money is at all tight.

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Where are your priorities?

If eating a certain way is important to you, then it may be worth it to try to carve out room in your budget to shop at Whole Foods. And to be clear, not each items at Whole Foods cost more than you would pay at a regular grocery store. However, most items have a higher price.

Case in point: A half-pint of organic raspberries at my local grocery store was $5.99 last time I checked. So clearly, this is not a bargain article. But it was a lower price than what Whole Foods offered.

My husband and I spend a lot of money on food because eating well is important to us, and because we enjoy good food. But for us, Whole Foods is still largely not worth the higher price point. We’d rather spend our money at stores like Costco and Trader Joe’s. However, if shopping at Whole Foods adds value to your life and you can afford it, go for it.

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For some — namely, lower earners — Whole Foods will simply not be an option. But if you have more financial balance, you can make the decision to spend more on groceries by shopping at Whole Foods still, and there is nothing wrong with that at all.

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