How to keep your Paleo family out of the poorhouse

Do you have this expression when you see how much your Paleo grocery bill is?

People often ask, “Isn’t Paleo expensive?” and I have to answer, “Yes, it often is!” In fact, if you were to follow all the prescriptions of the typical Paleo diet plan, you’d be paying a fortune between all the fresh organic produce, wild-caught seafood and pastured meats. After all, we’re talking about quality here – you get what you pay for and all that jazz. We’ve already written about how to shop Efficiently, Economically and Easily as well as Meal Planning affordably on a Whole 30 because it’s a hot topic.

That said, it’s not as bad as people might imagine since a big chunk of change gets returned to you when you stop buying chips, cookies, crackers, candy and breads.  That stuff was 60% of my cart before, and now it’s not there anymore.  However, we’ve replaced much of it with some higher priced goods and the result is a higher bill.  The end result is that we’re healthy though, and as a mother, that’s my job: to keep my family healthy and able to survive in the modern world.

In order to make it work, I budget and plan to make sure Paleo doesn’t put us into foreclosure.  Instead of sacrificing my smartphone (how would I obsessively post to Twitter without it?), we make other choices to make the Paleo lifestyle affordable for us.  We’ve found that most of the keys to making Paleo affordable have more to do with managing expenses in other parts of your life, but I’ve broken down the 3 ways we make Paleo affordable with a family.  Remember: just like you have to sacrifice cookies in order to live your optimal life, you might have to forgo that Lexus you’ve always wanted. You may not get to drive around in luxury, but we hope we can keep you from resorting to the 20 year old Oldsmobile.

We shop smarter with our non-Paleo items:

  1. We buy used.  Get over it.  It’s not gross. Wash the stuff and enjoy how much money you save.  The boys clothes are 90% purchased from consignment sales.  We’ve researched which are the most reasonably priced and have the best stock.  Several times a year we spend about 20% of what it would cost new to get the boys ready for school, winter, summer, etc.
    Almost all of the boys’ toys have come from yard sales, they pick them out themselves and have a weekly allowance of one dollar per year of age to spend on whatever their hearts  may desire.  Finian immediately spends his $3 a week on super heroes and “guys” (stuffed animals) while Cole will save for weeks until he finds a good Lego set.
    Our kitchen is filled with gadgets that really make some things cheaper (meat grinder, food processor, and more that do the work we’d otherwise have to pay a vendor for).  And those items were purchased from a thrift store. Thrift Stores are an awesome place to find donated items from newly married couples who didn’t want an ice cream maker.  Go often and peruse stock, you’ll be thrilled when you can find Le Creuset pots for $5.
  2. We negotiate. Most everyone, from the guy at the farmer’s market who wants to get rid of those overripe tomatoes to the handyman who’s replacing our tile floor, will haggle.  Our biggest savings comes from calling our household expense bills once a quarter or so and telling them we’re thinking of changing services because we saw a good deal with the competitor and, voila – HBO is free and our trash bill is slashed by 20%.
  3. We use the library. The kids love reading and we love reading to them.  I have no idea why other parents purchase kid books that are read once or twice.  That’s what a library’s for!  If one of our kids LOVES a book (like the Cat and Dog series, David Shannon or Dinosaur books) we’ll purchase them for birthday gifts – but that’s special. And, let’s not forget that Stacy took this family Paleo based off of checking out Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet from our local library… We’ve since purchased it and Robb’s and Sarah’sand Elana’s books – but, that was after we knew we wanted to read them over and over and lend them to friends.
  4. We use coupons.  And not the clipping kind for packaged processed foods. We use apps on our phone to collect Groupons or Living Social coupons for huge savings on places we normally patron (like, our butcher!).  We use Redbox or our free HBO for free movie night. We purchase certificates from Restaurant.com for when we want to eat out.  We rarely purchase anything that doesn’t have a discount.
  5. We don’t hire babysitters.  Now, we’re the first to advocate keeping romance alive and spending time together as a couple.  However, we do this on the deck when the kids are asleep or we wait until an uncle, aunt or grandparent offers to take the little guys on.  Most of the time we can find someone to offer to come over and watch TV in our basement after we’ve put the kids to bed.  A babysitter for one date night for our 3 kids would cost us at least $50, that’s our monthly budget of pastured bacon right there.

We’ve come to realize that overall our lives are able to be significantly simplified.

  1. We live within our means. We don’t purchase a car without being able to pay it off in 3 years.  That’s easier said than done, but we’ve done it. I drove around a clunky Saturn Vue that was 9 years old until that thing was run into the ground.  And when it did, I was approved for my dream car luxury Eos but ended up getting a 1.5 year old Prius that makes me just as happy.  We buy an extended warranty (that we negotiate the price on), roll it into the loan and don’t worry about our cars even though they’re approaching 100k miles.  Look at some of the big ticket items in your life – downsizing there is where you’ll save the most money.
  2. We vacation locally.  The kids have never been to Disney World and have seldom been on planes, if at all.  Our vacations are spent over long weekend road-trips doing moderately inexpensive activities (see our Luray Caverns or Roadtrip post for examples) or simply snuggling in our basement and hiking in our neighborhood.  Children our kids’ age really just want to spend time with us and until they’re older it’s a sacrifice the kids don’t even realize they’re making. They love our modest mini vacations!  When we’re ready to really travel (when they’re older) we’ll look into how to minimize costs by booking deals, staying with friends and eating cheap.
  3. We’ve reduced our wardrobe. Matt and I own half as many clothes and shoes as we used to.  We’ve lost a ton of weight and just don’t feel compelled to keep filling our closet up with clothes that will likely no longer fit in a month.  We like to purchase Paleo t-shirts and a few workout clothes, then Matt has a few pair of short and jeans and I have a dozen work outfits.  And that’s it.  What we do buy, we LOVE and we feel good wearing.
  4. We sold a bunch of stuff we didn’t need.  Every few months we go through the house, make a big pile of stuff we don’t really use or need (like items the baby is outgrowing or clothes that no longer fit) and we make a couple hundred dollars selling it on eBay or Craigslist or save a donation receipt for a tax deduction.  It’s amazingly simple and feels so good to purge.  Plus, it keeps our house uncluttered!
  5. We hand things down.  We rarely buy anything for the younger boys. Sucks to be them, but it’s hand-me-down city in our house.  Instead of approaching it as a negative, we talk it up big time and make a very big deal out of it and say, “Finian, oh my gosh!  You’ve grown so much you get to wear Cole’s Spider-man t-shirt now! You’re in a 4T, what a big boy!” We’ve never had a single complaint.  Now, this might now work as they get older, but then we’ll have a practical, “how do you want us to spend our money” chat and hope they realize that they’d rather have other in our lives instead.
  6. We let other people spend the money on them. It’s the grandparents that want to take the kids out for special things they like doing, but cost money like movies, bowling, painting pottery  or other activities. When it’s a special day for us we offer the boys going to a farm, to the (free) museums or staying home to play games and snuggle.  When it’s their birthday or a holiday, we buy a few things, often used, and let other people buy all the rest – they have so much stuff the last thing they need is a bunch of gifts from us.  Plus, friends and family love when their faces light up when they get what they REALLY wanted.
  7. We pack our lunches.  Matt makes all the home cooked meals and often succeeds in making enough for leftovers.  If not, we make tuna or salmon salad or have an avocado and eggs.  Whatever it is, we’re not purchasing food out – unless it’s planned and deliberate. And of course we don’t go to 7-11, Starbucks or any of those places because a couple $5 trips quickly adds up to $50 and are filled with Paleo booby traps.

So, the Paleo part.  We’re picky about where we buy our food .

  1. We have a plan and a grocery list, and we stick with it.  Our board is legendary.  Newcomers to our home always take notice; it’s serious business.  We make a plan using our “list board” as the boys call it and we stick to it.  There’s a separate section for the variety of stores we patron, and when Matt goes to the store he operates off the list.  We don’t “wing” our purchases, otherwise we come home with $100 extra in who knows what.  If I want dark chocolate, I don’t run out to the store and buy onsie-twosie purchases.  It’s on the board or it’s not in my belly. If someone forgets to put something on this list, they have to wait until the next trip.  Even the boys will tell us, “We’re out of raisins, please put it on the list.”
  2. We shop strategically.  We know that Costco has the best price on almond butter. And that Trader Joe’s has the best price on bananas and canned black olives.  And that Tropical Tradition co-ops are the best prices on coconut oil and flour.  We get our pantry items from Amazon Subscribe and Save.  It took a while to master, but now we go to each brick and mortar store only once or twice a month (Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Whole Foods).
  3. We’ve determined how to affordably get pastured meat in our diet. We’ve come to purchase all of our fatty cuts of meat, which are usually cheaper cuts and important because there’s less toxins in the fat from grass finished meat, from quality sources (farmers and butchers).  We go cheaper on our lean meats from more affordable commercial vendors.  Our seafood is always wild – Costco has wild salmon but we focus more on adding canned wild seafood (tuna and salmon) as well as pastured eggs in our diet because they are great places to get affordable Omega 3s.
  4. We have made friends with the Farmer’s Market vendors.  We get endless discounts for our kids being polite and adorable.  When I hand a $20 to the kids to pay for the fruits and veggies, somehow it’s magically less expensive than if I purchase it.  We’re nice, polite, patron the same vendors every week and end up reaping the rewards for it.  Plus, we end up buying more for less money; I used to think Farmer’s Markets were more expensive, but I’ve come to realize they’re about equal to the sale prices at your grocery store, only local and often pesticide-free or even organic.
  5. We wait for sales. Our butcher has groupons and gift card sales ($80 for $100 gift card) once every quarter at least.  We wait for those sales and bulk up.  We buy our meat in larger quanties when it’s on sale from our farmer’s too.  We sign up for newsletters and jump as soon as there’s a “freezer sale.”  I even got an entire deer, butchered to my liking, for $95 because I called shortly after getting an announcement of 3 available.  If you can, share a cow, pig or sheep as part of a meat-share for lower per pound prices.  It’s tough to cough up $300-500 up front, but then you don’t have to worry about meat being a part of your budget for several months.  Maybe see if a farmer has some sort of “payment plan” if that’s really not an option for you; it’s so much more convenient to have it all in your own home! (p.s. yes, you need an extra freezer for this, but that’s what buying used is for!)

Not to mention, that by shopping used you’re automatically more “green” for recycling otherwise “trashed” goods and you’re supporting a charitable organization rather than a commercial vendor.  And, by going Paleo and buying better quality food you’re likely supporting the local economy with farmers and farmer’s markets as well as companies with integrity, like Tropical Traditions. I feel so much better about giving my money to Polyface and Fields of Athenry instead of a giant conglomerate who’s simply out for profit, no matter the cost in health and safety.

Anything we missed?  We’re working on piecing together a video of all the items we purchase from our variety of stores – hope to post that in the next few weeks as part of our Paleo Parents vlog series!  I’m hoping to be able to show you how I manage our budget, too.  Let me know what specifically you’d like to see about family money management so that I can make sure to answer your questions!

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  • Katdoesdiets

    Great post, great suggestions. We do a lot of these things too. It’s really about priorities. I actually don’t feel it’s a ton more expensive. But then we have our own eggs, beef, etc. 

    • Until we started buying more organic, pastured products it actually wasn’t more expensive for us either.  Wish we had our own protein, but our county doesn’t allow chickens (we’ve looked into it!).  The first 6 months were just taking out processed foods and adding more meat and veggies – it honestly was about flush for cost then.  There’s lots and lots of ways to do Paleo, but I think if the justification is you can’t afford doing it to the extend you’d like, I hope the post helps people figure out some other ways to make it work financially for them.  Thanks!

  • I just got an email about this a couple days ago asking how the heck I can afford to eat this way. I’ll pass this on to him. Personally, I just don’t own anything, don’t drive, and don’t buy anything but food! lol

    • Peggy, Matt and I are lucky that I have a good job and there’s two of us to make it work.  It wasn’t always the case though, and we learned our frugal ways back when we were using cardboard as household furniture 😉

      • I don’t like working. I never work more than 20 hours a week – hence living cheaply. 🙂 Plus I’m a minimalist. Just not into stuff, so it’s food all the way for me.

        • I think minimalism and this way of eating kind of wrap together in this lifestyle. I’m always surprised how I can sell my clutter over a weekend and make $500. How does a family of three even acquire so much I have NO idea.

    • JayBee

      This is how we roll, too. We are minimalists — even in our food.

      We eat the same things pretty much every day: eggs and veg for breakfast; offal and veg for lunch (i make pate); meat and veg for dinner. We have fruit for dessert. We buy spices in bulk. Chocolate is a special treat. I make bone broth, which we use as a beverage.

      I’m getting into gardening — i grow a few herbs and I’m going to try growing our juicing veg (which are cheap, but apparently easy growers). So, yeah.

  • Whataboutjason

    Wow this post couldn’t have come at a better time. My wife and I have watched our food bill soar while trying to eat Paleo. Especially we with me trying to pull off a whole30 this month. We will definitely be incorporating these techniques! 🙂

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  • Anonymous

    Awesome article.

  • Stacy W

    Great stuff…..I grew up in very rural Oklahoma and my family used many of these ideas.  I was always excited to know that I would soon get one a my cousin’s shirts, pants, toys, etc when they outgrew them.  We were very lucky in that we were able to butcher our own beef and pork and grew large amounts of vegetables and fruits in the summer that were canned and used in the winter as well.  Our vacations consisted of short road trips to local museums or parks and they are a TON of fun as well as great learning experiences!  I never went to Disney (insert park name here) as a child and I don’t feel like less of a person because of it  LOL   I applaud you for keeping it simple.  Your kids will reap the benefits of the simple life for a very long time and hopefully raise their own children the same way!

    • Stacy, I grew up much the same myself – although I did go to Disney – we didn’t have grand vacations.  I always looked forward to camping and boating or staying with friends at local lakes or wherever we went.  I also went yardsaling almost every Saturday with my mother – until I graduated highschool! – and I have some of my fondest memories with that quality time.

      I do think no matter how people choose to live, it’s all approach how you approach it with your kids.  We just try to find the positive in every situation and it really helps them to see it too. 

      Thanks for your kind comment – glad I (we) aren’t the only one!

  • Janelle Seymour

    I am so glad to have found this post.  We’re in the coconut coop together, btw. 🙂  I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to do this and I always forget about TJs and Costco (even though I have a membership!).  I just started running a chicken coop from a small family farm in Amissville on the first Friday of the month if you’re interested.  I’d love to see a better picture of that board.  It looks very organized and that’s about the only way we’re going to afford this.  We’ve been GF as a family for 7 weeks.  My husband wanted to ease into it because he’s scared. Dairy is next, then sugar, then grains.  Have you participated in an UNFI buying club for things like nuts?  Have you heard of Quail Cove Farms?  If so, how do their prices compare?  Do you go to Wegman’s?

    • Janelle, I remember you from BEFORE TT Co-Op – LJ days! I sometimes go to Wegman’s, I usually just go to Whole Foods since I know they have what I need for specialty items – but it actually might be a good idea to check out W and their prices… send us an e-mail and I’ll send you a close-up shot of the board in daylight, it’s hard because it’s clear with dry-erase so it just doesn’t photograph well. 

      Easing in is a great way to start!  We had our own transition mechanisms and it’s really just whatever feels right for your family.  I totally trust that the overall lifestyle is successful on it’s own that the more you take out, the better you’ll feel and it’ll just happen naturally – so, go at your own pace.

      I haven’t heard of UNFI or Quail Cove, you’ll have to fill me in via e-mail paleoparents@gmail 🙂

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  • Lucia

    You guys, your whole family is AMAZING! Keep on being fantastic. Love this blog.

    • Wow, how very kind Lucia! So glad you’re enjoying it!

  • peter

    And what about trying to earn more money in the first place? That could avoid much of the hassle you are describing. 😉 Just an idea…

    • Oh dear Peter, sounds like we’re at different places in life.  We’re fortunate enough to actually make quite a bit of income, we just choose to live frugally in some ways so that we can splurge on others (like having my husband stay home to raise and pay for 3 kids).

      It’s not always about what’s coming in, it’s often about how much is going out – just ask Congress…

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  • Camille Dean

    Great post! My husband just sent me the link to your blog. I’m going to have to re-read it and write down some tips! Thanks so much 😀

    • Thanks! We hope you find our blog useful. Let us know if we can help!

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  • Just found your site and, wow, what a resource for a family starting on the Paleo path.

    As a “minimalist mom” I was happy to see your list of ways you save: buying used and consuming less. It seems it all fits together: eat well, spend less, use what you have and health and happiness are yours.

    Thanks for providing so much information for free! As a blogger/writer myself I know about the hours that go into building and maintaining a website like this. 

    • Rachel, thanks so much! Matt and I have spent a lot of time and energy on the site and upcoming book, but for us it’s the least we can do for the community that gave us our lives back – we’re happy we can contribute 🙂

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  • Dawn

    Can I see a more in-depth post about “the board” and how it came to be?  Pretty please?

    • Alright, 3rd time’s the charm (other people have asked too) – I just put it on our “to blog about” list 🙂

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  • Rachel Cobb

    LOVE THIS! Thank you! Subscribing to your blog!

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  • Great article!! I live in Reston and was curious as to what your favorite thrift stores are (especially for household stuff) around NOVA?

    • The best is probably Unique in Merrifield. So much of our stuff made a stop over there. On holiday Mondays they put everything on sale 30%, too.

  • Cat @ NeoHomesteading.com

    I really loved this post. I have to say I’m kind of becoming obsessed with your page!

    We are the only people I’ve known (besides my super cheap father) to live within our means. He is very cheap with food though. Being a food blogger, groceries are obviously non-negotiable. Plus eating isn’t optional, and processed foods are not welcome. (Most of the time. Man meat has an ice cream and chip issue.) We are trying to reach more for grass fed beef and raw milk but we simply can’t afford to go more than maybe 40%. My grocery bills are very high and often half of it is produce. Organic produce would bankrupt us!

    I am really enjoying reading other paleo stories. It kind of seems like most people don’t address the cost issue. For us it really is a serious determining factor. Great post! I’m glad to see we aren’t the only ones who are cheap. People say we are crazy but I have had a babysitter once. My father watched my older son while I was in labor.

    • I think at this point so many food bloggers have found a way to get product for free and don’t even consider that that doesn’t happen for everyone. Even now, two years in, we still try to live pretty frugally. I do remember what it was like when we realized that our grocery bill had literally doubled in the space of a couple of months. Shocking!

      I would say that one of the things I never addressed here was that switching to mainly water to drink saved us thousands over years. Personally, I’ve got no time or money for 6 dollar gallons of milk!

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  • Some of the ways I save money is …
    Making my own laundry soap, cleaning supplies, dishwasher soap, deodarant
    Using cloth wipes instead of paper towels and cloth pads instead of disposable pads or tampons
    I also buy most of my families clothes used, I love going thrift store shopping and finding great deals.

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  • All5kids

    I love the idea of only buying what is on the list! 

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  • Roxxy

    By the way, the ‘clipping’ coupons kind can be good too. Sure, not for the processed food. Though if you are good enough at it, you can make money buying those items sometimes, and then just throw them out or donate the actual item and keep the profits! But also, there are coupons for lots of items. I use mine mostly for cleaning, cosmetic, and hygiene items. But often times I will also get coupons for things like organic veggies if it’s a new brand, I get coupons for eggs all the time, and just the other day I got a coupon for organic coconut oil. So don’t be too quick to judge coupons as only being for processed food items. You can use them for lots of necessary items, even in a perfectly paleo home.

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  • Patty Cosby

    I work for a local free range farm. I have made myself indispensable! Going on 8 years, and I have had two of my homeschooled kids work there, too. I have Celiac, so it is important for us to get good meat.

  • Groceries are our biggest expense by far. My family of 4 (kids are 1.5 and 5) lives in a 1 room cottage with loft. This saves us a ton of money. Frankly we can’t afford a bigger place. We live in a really expensive area, a mile and a half from the beach. We buy mostly organic produce and pastured meat. It is really strange to buy the best food and be “poor” by numerical standards. I just think of the money we will save on medical bills down the line. One way we save is that we don’t have cable, we get Netflix streaming for $8 a month.

  • Melissa Waldrop

    Since going Paleo, we have found that our bill did not go up quite as much as we had feared. But, I think some of that is due to the fact that we’re not buying as much food. It doesn’t take as much when you’re feeding your body what it needs. Also, we rarely eat out any more (and usually regret it when we do.) So, that extra expense has been greatly reduced. I also make our own laundry detergent, and I recently switched to the “No Poo” method for cleaning my hair. I have plans of switching other things to a more natural, no chemicals, less expensive way of cleaning ourselves and our house soon.

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  • Tiffany Coffman

    I meal plan and follow most of this budgeting philosphy as well (i drive a 99 vw wagon and BOUGHT it in 2009 LOL) I’d love to hear more about how you plan, budget and get it all together!!!

  • FarmSchooler

    I could be missing it, but did ANYONE suggest growing their own food? A packet of seeds is almost FREE. Anything contributed to the food pantry would save money AND promote health. Then there is the whole idea of RE-growng green onions, romaine, etc.

  • That was a FABULOUS post and needed as I recently starting exploring the paleo lifestyle and I have 4 kids and a boyfriend and we’re trying to make a go of one paycheck. It seems overwhelming to try and budget eating this way but this post was very helpful listing everything out. Thank you.

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  • Jamee Brandhorst Hubbard

    Great Post! We sacrifice in our house. It’s not a kid friendly house (its old, very small yard, no storage and lacks closets!, and always under reconstruction), but it’s big enough for us and the 15 year mortgage is less than $600 a month, so it will do! We also converted the entire front yard (we take care of it better in front where we and other people see it often), including the boulevard, into a vegetable garden so we can have more home-grown organic vegetables. When the neighbors give us that look, we share our food with them. We also make a lot of our own cleaning supplies, and I make some of my own healthcare products, like toothpaste. My kids LOVE and really look forward to the hand-me-downs from a friend of mine, thankfully! One of my big downfalls is that I’m a sucker for buying new kids books. My son will read them over and over again, but should just get them from the library. I’m bad about that.

  • Staci ‘Grainne’ Corcoran

    I think it’s worth mentioning: veggies are cheap and meat is expensive, and you don’t NEED THAT much meat, you can do 1/2 lb meat in a giant stir-fry and it’s really plenty. I buy a 2lb meaty soup-bone and make 4-6 QUARTS of soup. I was eating roasts for a while, and my grocery budget went WAY up, because I was filling up on meat, which is pricey. (This is my grumble with a lot of paleo recipes: 1:1 meat to veggies ratio is overkill nutritionally, and REALLY expensive, esp for us single folks.)

  • Kathleen Henderson

    Such a great perspective! By the time we switched to a healthier (and more costly) diet, we were already doing almost all the things you mention here. But we’ve managed…I’m curious to read more about your Costco lists. We spend a TON on produce at Wegmans, and by the way–we must live near each other because we buy some of our meat from Fields of Athenry! Who knew? Keep up the good work! We love the frozen waffles from Eat Like a Dinosaur. 🙂