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 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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