Tips for Eating Paleo on a Budget

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 5 minutes

There are many reasons why one might feel skeptical about implementing a real paleo diet. With so many people presenting it out of context, this primal way of eating can seem quite radical. Understandably, it becomes difficult to sift through all the nonsense. But one reason not to avoid going paleo is fear of cost.

While it certainly is possible, if not easy, to spend more than you’re used to at the grocery store and farmer’s market, once you begin to implement the principles of paleo living, it’s simply not necessary.


How to Eat Paleo on a Budget
Shopping for pantry staples at is sure to save you time and money!


How much are we spending now?

According to Gallup, Americans reported spending an average of $151 on food per week. One in 10 Americans say they spend $300 or more per week and, at the other extreme, 8% spend less than $50[1].

And how does that compare to what we’re earning?

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in September 2014 that: U.S. real (inflation adjusted) median household income was $51,939,[2] which comes out to a take-home per week of just under $1,000. So, on the lower end, according to the statistic above, that amounts to about 15% of the budget is allocated to food. Yet there’s something else we’re spending more on…

The cost of medical care “now exceeds the cost of groceries” for the typical American family with health insurance coverage through their employer, a new study shows[3], reported Forbes Magazine. Bottom line- yes, there is a cost involved with food and there’s no doubt that the sad reality is that it’s, indeed, cheaper to eat processed food with little to no nutrient density than it is to eat organic, freshly prepared food, However, that doesn’t mean you’ve got to break the bank.

Factor in in what you might spend in the long run in health care costs to be a core part of your motivation to change how you and your family eat. Below are some surefire tips to help keep you in the black, while balancing fresh and local with cost effectiveness.

Buy direct.

By sourcing as much produce, wild fish and grass-fed meat from your farmer’s market or CSA, you’re not only supporting the local economy, cutting down on your carbon footprint and ensuring you’re getting the freshest possible food, you’re also reducing cost. When there’s no middleman to factor into cost, such as the big chain grocery stores, there are savings to be had. Need help? Check out Local Harvest, which has an online directory of local famers markets and CSAs.

Buy in bulk.

You’ve heard it before, but it’s always worth a reminder. Buying foods that will last, such as sardines, nuts, sardines and spices, is more practical and economical when you choose larger quantities. While it would be fantastic if everyone procured what they needed each and every day, it’s simply not practical. And since the down side of freezing is significantly less than the ramification of not having good food in the house, it pays to stock up where it makes sense. Additionally, freezing food enables you to consume fruit regardless of the season. Take fruit, for example; when fruit is frozen, it’s picked at peak ripeness[4]. As a whole, the nutrient content is not negatively impacted by this process, which can even preserve some specific nutrients better than fresh options. Fresh, wild fish, grass-fed meat and pasture-raised poultry can also be portioned and frozen without consequence.

Learn your best substitutions.

Perhaps you’ve read a recipe for a delicious preparation for wild, Alaskan king salmon, but there’s simply none available where you live. Knowing that fatty fish like mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, allows you to make the best choice based on what’s local to you. Not only is the local fish the better option from a health point of view, avoiding spending on fish that’s been frozen and flown in from thousands of miles away is also the best bet for your wallet. You may end up with a fish, which is a different texture, but there’s no reason why the peach and tomatillo salsa recipe won’t work just as well!  Need help? Be sure to check out the Marine Stewardship Council, which works with partners to encourage sustainable fishing practices.

Don’t over-complicate things.

How many grams of carbs? How many of fat? Which type of fat? When do I eat? These are just a sprinkling of some of the questions that inherently pop up when one is new to a real paleo diet and has been spending time reading too many blogs about ways to burn more fat by eating copious amounts of butter. If you start out with a simplistic approach in terms of variety of what you purchase as well as cooking methods, you create a much more user-friendly approach, not to mention a less expensive one. Ideally, you want to see all the colors of the rainbow grace every plate of food. But if it happens over the course of the week versus a day, that’s fine, too. No need to buy 20 different veggies only to learn the hard way that you felt overwhelmed and ended up composting most of it.  Start small; gain confidence in the kitchen and progress from there.

Expect grey areas.

It’s not always black and white.  In today’s world, there are going to be times when you’ve got to make a choice and go with the best option out of several that aren’t so great.  Do your best to stay focused on the fact that whatever situation you may be in is a one-time deal, and remind yourself you’ll stay on board in every way you can, rather than throwing your whole regimen out the window. For example, you’re at the grocery store and there are local tomatoes that are not organic, selling for $3.55 / pound, and right next to them are tomatoes that are organic but not local selling for the same. Which is better?  Again, it’s about the cost of money versus cost of health not only for us, but for the planet!

Learn when you need to buy organic and what you don’t.

If all things organic are not in your budget, it’s crucial to become familiar with the produce that must be versus that which has some leeway and can come from conventional sources[5]. Knowing where the grey areas are can be quite helpful!

By doing your due diligence and adding a bit of creativity, you can create a budget-friendly approach that will suit not only your body, but your bank account.

[1] “Americans Spend $151 a Week on Food; the High-Income, $180.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2015

[2] “Household Income in the US.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 July 2015

[3] “Health Costs For Family Of Four Higher Than Year Of Groceries.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 20 July 2015

[4] “Do Fruits Lose Their Food Nutrients When Frozen?” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 11 May 2015. Web. 20 July 2015

[5] “Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Pyramid.” Foods You Should Always Buy Organic. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2015.