My Tips for Paleo on a Budget

by CavemanGreg on January 30, 2012

It used to be that I made an ok living and could afford the nicer foods of the paleo diet-all organic veggies, grass fed meats, farmer’s market, etc. etc. Since moving to a new town without much work, my dollar has been stretched to the limit and I’ve taken on a whole new appreciation for Paleo on a budget. In fact, my budget was so thin, I considered going back to some cheap grain staples, like bread, ramen, or pasta. Don’t worry- I didn’t do that, I’d probably be massively sick if I did. Instead, I’ve just had to get creative and market savvy to more or less stay Paleo but on a very restricted budget. Every other Paleo guru out there has their “Paleo on a budget” ideas, but I thought you might actually find it useful to hear tips from someone who is as broke as you are, if not more.

Tip #1- Conventional meats and veggies aren’t so bad. Sure I don’t like pesticides, insecticides, and the way animals are treated in CAFO’s, but if my wallet is really hurtin and the difference between an organic bell pepper and a regular one is $1.50, and regular beef is $3/lb while grass fed is $7, the choice is easy here. The fact of the matter is you are still eating meats and veggies over processed carbs. I will say that if you can spring for organic greens-lettuce, spinach, kale, whatever, then go for it. This is usually only a dollar difference, and of all the veggies that matter the most whether they are organic, greens are it since they have so much surface area and are consumed completely.

Tip #2- Eggs. Eggs are the most complete food source on earth, and they happen to be cheap. I can get a dozen cage free eggs for $2.79 at my market. If I went conventional I could get them for $1.50. The upcharge for cage free is totally worth it though, and it isn’t that much. More nutrients and better taste. Eggs are a breakfast staple for me. I eat 3 everyday, along with some scrambled veggies and bacon grease (see #3 below) This morning meal is so filling that I usually don’t even have to eat lunch. Just skip it and eat a nice dinner. So there is another way you can save some dough. Don’t skip meals if you are hungry though unless you are doing a intermittent fast, which can be yet another way to save some dough.

Tip #3- Cheap decent fats. Fats are energy dense, fill you up, and are delicious!! Bacon has to be my personal favorite, paleo bacon budgetespecially for breakfast. I buy Wright Brand Bacon Ends and Pieces 3 lbs for $6. Super cheap, and a package last a few weeks. Most of it is fat, but there is a little meat. I throw a few pieces in the skillet and let the fat render down and then I have some great fat for cooking with. Unfortunately, this brand is cured, but if your store has it, you can get uncured brands. I think they have Pederson’s at Whole Foods. After bacon, my next paleo on a budget butterfavorite is butter. Ideally, you would buy some that is raw from grass fed cows, but seriously? This stuff is hard to find (and sometimes illegal) and super expensive. I just buy mid grade stuff that is affordable, or on sale. Last time I went shopping, Challenge Butter was on sale 16 oz. for $2. That is a steal! I stocked up! It’s pretty good stuff. You can probably find something similar at your store.

Tip # 4- Make your own fats. Did you read that post about me rendering goose fat? If not, go read it now. You can do this with any animal that has good fat, and the cool thing about it, most people consider cuts of fat as waste. See if you can’t go to a butcher and ask for their fat scraps, or if you’re at a friend’s place and they are grilling and trim all the fat off ask if you can keep it. Make your own chicken broth. You can buy those rotisserie chickens at delis for like $6. That will feed two people easily. Save all the bone and skins and put it in a pot with some water over low heat for an hour or two and now you have some awesome chicken stock to make a soup with! If you cook a lot of bacon, or other fatty meats and aren’t sure what to do with the leftover grease, pour it in a mason jar, freeze it, and keep it to cook or bake with. Use it like you would with butter.

Tip #5-Make soups! When you notice a lot of your veggies going bad or meat nearing the expiration date, it’s time to make soup, or stew, or whatever you want to call it. I have a crockpot and use the heck out of it. Just throw a bunch of stuff in there with some kind of seasoning and let it sit for a few hours. It’s a good time to use that chicken or beef broth you made in tip #4. Pork loins, chuck roasts, and tougher cuts of meat are not only cheaper but are excellent for these concoctions. I recommend making large batches and freezing the leftovers

Tip #6 Buy frozen veggies. Frozen veggies are usually flash frozen at the time of peak Paleo Frozen Veggiesripeness. This locks in more nutrients and preserves flavor. Frozen veggies tend to be cheaper than produce veggies. Additionally, you can buy mixes that give you a good variety of flavor and color AND they are already cut up for you. Heat them up with a little butter and serve on the side with some fish or other protein and you have a cheap easy meal. I also use frozen veggies in my breakfast scrambles, in soups, and in curries.

Tip #7- Buy nuts in bulk. When you buy nuts in bulk, you can not only get them raw and unsalted, but it is cheaper than buying in packaging. Most nuts go for around $6-7 a lb. You pay the same thing for nuts in a 12oz package

Tip # 8- When you see a good deal stock up. If I see one of my favorite foods on sale, I go crazy. At my store, that means large avocados are 10 for $10, challenge butter is 2 for 1, bacon ends are $2 off, Lara bars are $1 each, eggs are 25% off, there is deal on wild caught salmon or shrimp, coconut milk is .50c off, etc. etc. Forgo one of your usual items and buy more of the stuff on sale, then put it in the freezer (if applicable) Chances are the item you skipped will be on sale next week and you can stock up on it then.

Tip #9- Mealshare. Food is normally more economical when bought in bulk. If you have a large family, this is easy. If you are single, either buy in bulk and freeze, or try to start a mealshare program with other paleo friends, ideally like 5 people total. Each person would be responsible for one meal a week and weekends everyone is on their own. I used to live in a co-op with 6 housemates and each person was responsible for cooking a certain night of the week. We had a $20/meal budget, which came to $2.86 per person. A lot of the time, meals would only cost $15, making it even more economical. The benefits of a meal share program go beyond saving money though. Socializing with good friends over good food brings about an intangible aspect that makes it more enjoyable and improves happiness.

Tip #10- Thick Red Line. There is a theoretical thick red line separating quantity, quality, and economics. Theoretically, if you are eating higher quality foods, you will need to eat less of them because your body is getting the nutrients it needs. Higher quality of course costs more. There comes a point where it is more economical to just eat a higher quantity of lesser grade foods to get the amount of nutrients you need. Even though you are eating more, as long as what you are eating isn’t total crap (bread, cereal, rice, pasta, hydrogenated fats, everything non-paleo) I think your body will find a way to even things out. Vegetables for instance, are mainly water and fiber, so eating a whole lot of conventional vegetables compared to organic isn’t really going to affect you that much.Unfortunately, I don’t have a good objective way to help people find this thick red line (at least it’s thick, so you have room to play). You will just have to experiment and see what your body and wallet are comfortable with.

Tip # 11- Cook at home. Paleo meals on a budget are probably going to cost you between $3-5, maybe $2-3 if you are super crafty. Eating out and trying to stay paleo is probably going to cost $6-10. This is a no brainer. Stay home. Cook. Eat better food, save money.

Tip# 12- Cut back on non necessities. This would be things like red wine, dark chocolate, coffee, tea, herbs, spices, etc. All these things add a certain level of enjoyment to our diets, but you would never have seen a Caveman consuming them. They aren’t essential to good health, so if you can do without them, I suggest doing so.

The Bottom Line- Higher quality foods are always going to reign supreme. However, for those of you who just can’t afford grass fed buffalo, organic bell peppers, farm fresh eggs, raw grass fed butter, etc., simply just sticking to your Paleo guns and NOT EATING grain based foods is going to give you the majority of Paleo nutrition benefits. Don’t feel inferior when you’re hanging with your paleo buds and they start talking about the local grass fed sirloin they’re eating or the funky veggies they picked up at the farmers market yada yada yada. When money is tight, it’s tight, I understand, because that’s how things are going with me at the moment. I have no problem dropping back down to a “conventional” level of food, as long as I don’t fall back to thinks like milk and breakfast cereal, bread, or spaghetti. There is no denying that these items are ridiculously cheap, but there is also no denying that they are absolutely horrible for your body. Stay strong in your paleo mindset, practice patience, watchfulness, and frugality, and stay healthy, my friends.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Melisa January 30, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Brilliant article with more than a little common sense! I have recently gone Paleo, and am slowly converting my family. The problem with this is that there are 6 of us, 4 of them boys ages 4-13. Try feeding all of them on one income. We were able to buy a half of a beef last year (it was small) and my husband did get one deer this last fall. But honestly, it’s almost all gone and we’ve only had it for 4 months! We buy farm eggs, but they aren’t soy free. Our beef is pasture raised and supplemented with grain. It isn’t ideal, but it’s better than shoving cereal down their throats. Veggies–we use a lot of frozen vegetables. I buy fresh organic greens, and as many organics as we can afford that week (I do always buy organic apples for the kids). But if it’s between the $5 2lb bag of organic carrots or the $5 5lb bag of carrots, that’s a no brainer for me.
This is getting wordy, and I apologize, but I think your article is important. Many blogs, FB groups and pro-Paleo people push 100% ‘compliance’ with grass-fed only, pastured chickens, organic everything…it turns people off. People need to do their best to follow the basic guidlelines and will most certainly see results.

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Chelsea December 10, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Have you seen the video where goats that willingly eat anything, including the buttons on your shirt. Won’t eat the nonorganic carrots from the U.S.A. Due to radiation.

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CavemanGreg December 14, 2012 at 10:13 am

Have not seen that, but would like to! have a link?

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Lori March 21, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Don’t forget looking for co-ops. We buy our grass fed beef from a co-op, so that it comes down to about $4.50 a lb for all kinds of cuts. We also get organic fruits and veggies from our co-op at $28 a week for a HUGE box of them (http://www.bountifulbaskets.org/). You can find many of them in your own area on http://www.localharvest.org/ or on http://www.eatwild.com/

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CavemanGreg March 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Great tip! Co-ops are awesome if you have them in your area.

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Charlotte April 9, 2012 at 9:27 pm

I disagree on herbs and spices. Technically peppers are spices, no? Lots of health benefits from those little add-ons. You yourself eat curry. Do onions or garlic count as spices? I think cavemen would have eaten herbs and spices as soon as they were discovered, if perhaps not actually processed and/or ground into powder.

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CavemanGreg April 10, 2012 at 9:10 am

Hey Charlotte, I love spices and agree there are lots of health benefits to them. I just feel that if the budget is super tight, one can do without them. Cavemen probably did consumer herbs and spices, but they found them in nature for free, not for $4 for a 2oz shaker. Thanks for contributing.

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Drea May 30, 2012 at 11:39 am

I’m new to Paleo, but here are a few other tips that I’ve used:

In terms of herbs and spices, I try to buy fresh plants that will sustain themselves. It’s the same investment as a shaker, but you can get a lot more out of them.

When I trim the plants (or when I can score some herbs from a friend’s garden), I freeze the herbs. They work great is soups, sauces, and marinades.

I will also buy fresh citrus when it’s on sale, zest, juice, and freeze using ice cube trays. That way, you can have fresh juice to cook with all year. Plus you can use the scraps to create a great enzyme cleaner for the home! (just google homemade citrus enzyme cleaner). I’ve been making mine for a few months now, and it works much better than the conventional stuff!

I buy meat in bulk when it’s on sale, but then I marinate it before freezing. You can create several different meals this way with unique tastes.

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CavemanGreg May 30, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Great tips! Thanks for sharing

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Mahindra Raj August 15, 2012 at 7:06 am

Excellent tips and good choices! Paleo Diet and eating healthy isn’t and shouldn’t be expensive and you can always do whatever works best for you and your family. Planting a home vegetable garden would be a big help as well.

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Ryan Osman August 30, 2012 at 11:18 am

Great article! One of the main arguments against the Paleo Diet is that it can be expensive. It is unfortunate that so many people put such a low price on their health.

The one thing that I have noticed is that once you get used to calorically dense paleo foods, you really start eating less. By eating whole, nutrient dense foods I am actually able to eat less while getting the same amount of nutrients (if not more).

These are great tips for the a person on a budget. I could see the Paleo diet definitely being more work for the college student or a person on a tight budget. But as this article suggests, there are always things a person can do to adjust to their financial situation.

Well done.

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Paleo-Gal September 14, 2012 at 11:17 am

If anyone wants to know about easy Paleo recipes you can make from supermarket goods (especially if anyone doubts you can make good Paleo food from supermarket meat and veg!), nip round to my blog: onepoundmeals.blog.com
It’s only been going for a couple of days, but I’ll update every day with recipes under £1/serving, offers running at supermarkets, butchers…etc, and I’ll soon start a “home-grown” diary!
Hope it’s useful to those on a VERY tight budget. :)
Happy hunting!

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a. December 4, 2012 at 9:02 pm

“I have no problem dropping back down to a “conventional” level of food, as long as I don’t fall back to thinks like milk and breakfast cereal, bread, or spaghetti.”

Is there that much of a difference between the consumption of milk and butter?

Thanks

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CavemanGreg December 5, 2012 at 10:18 am

Actually, there is. Milk is high in lactose ( a sugar ) whereas butter is pure fat. Look at the back of nutrition labels for each and you will see that milk has around 13g carb per serving. Butter on the other hand has 0g sugar. Any foods high in sugar are generally the enemy of someone trying to maintain a paleo lifestyle. This all goes back to blood sugar spike followed by insulin release followed by sugar crash, etc. etc. Hope this helps,
Greg

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James Stuart January 14, 2013 at 7:33 pm

I cannot without milk and bread. Skimmed milk (no fat at all) is ok and wholemeal bread is ok or not? Any alternative?

Many Thanks

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Rachel H July 11, 2013 at 9:25 am

If you cannot live without milk and bread, then you definitely have a problem, IMNHO (In My Never Humble Opinion).

Both bread and milk contain huge amounts of simple carbs that go immediately to blood sugar. This is an addiction to a *drug* that is a major cause of both disease and obesity.

Sure, there are alternatives – but you have to want to change/quit. And you have to get off the drugs.

Sugar, whether it’s mouth (put into) sugar or blood (made into) sugar is a drug. It has opiate like effects.

Make a grain free bread . . .

http://mylivingnutrition.com/recipes/

And a cuppa coffee with a splash of heavy cream. Or a drink of coconut milk.

or better yet, make some water kefir or kombucha.

Not only can you live without bread and milk, but you’ll live better and longer. Hugs and I lost both arthritis and migraines when we went Paleo.

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monica March 10, 2013 at 8:53 am

Awesome article I am on social security disability and the aleo diet is hard to maintain all the articles I read are most definitely from folks that may not experience food bank or none times….this article helped me put into perspective how I can eat the best way I can afford
Thanks

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Netz March 22, 2013 at 7:01 pm

I have been trying to live paleo in the uk for the last 8 weeks and money is too tight to consider maintaining it but the thought of being so ill because of the food i use to consume was causing me serious concern. Your article has helped me put things into perspective in many ways thank you

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hannah April 17, 2013 at 11:02 am

Great article! Very helpful and keeps things in perspective :)

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Rosetta May 1, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Nice article, great information, anyway can we promote your article in our iPad magazine?

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CavemanGreg May 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Sure thing. Just provide proper credit and linking. Thanks,
Greg

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Dee July 31, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Just heard about this way of eating and am going to try to do it starting with shopping. This article really helped me know how to shop. Does unpasturised milk have that lactose you spoke of? My husband has a huge glass of milk every night and in the morning…bad? He loves milk! What can I substitute? Thanks!

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CavemanGreg August 31, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Unpasteurized milk does have lactose, but it also has the enzymes and beneficial bacteria that help you digest, which pasteurized milk does not. I used to really like milk too, but just gave it up cold turkey and haven’t looked back. I do enjoy organic heavy cream in my coffee and tea! Some people substitute with almond milk, but it is hard to find one that doesn’t have many thickeners or stabilizers which aren’t good for you. I suggest trying to locate raw milk, making your own almond milk, or just learning to live without. Good luck

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