Have you ever had to downgrade the quality of your food due to sudden budget constraints? How did you do it?

by 12118 · March 11, 2014 2:39 AM

There are lots and lots of threads dealing with "paleo on a budget". However, I'm interested to hear from folks who have faced a sudden budget shift. Maybe you:

  • Found the house of your dreams and are now paying more for your mortgage than you were for rent.
  • Moved to a different part of the country (or a different country altogether) where cost of living was higher.
  • Faced the loss of income in your household.
  • Experienced a sudden expense (replacing a roof or a vehicle, etc.) not covered or well-covered by insurance.
  • Have dealt with the expenses of a long-term illness.
  • Started classes and/or working on a degree and suddenly found yourself on a student's budget.

...or something else altogether!

The idea here is suddenly you have/had a lot less free cash to work with, and you need/ed to downgrade the quality of the food you are/were buying. How did you do so while still trying to stay faithful to paleo-style eating? What was the first to go - the grassfed beef in exchange for conventional? The organic and/or raw dairy? The organic veggies in exchange for conventional?

The more details on how you arrived at your decisions about what to switch up, the better.

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9 Replies

1658 · January 28, 2011 at 10:33 PM

When I was laid off, Whole Foods was no longer on my shopping list. I have a Trader Joe's in my neighborhood, so I started paying attention to their deals, and I also paid attention to the many farmer's markets in my area.

I started buying conventional meats and trimming the fat, using better fats (like coconut oil bought online and in bulk for little $$), going EARLY to one farmer's market for veg to get best selection, or going LATE to get great deals on organic stuff. the LATE selection meant I had to figure out how to cook it before it spoiled, but my freezer can hold things I'm not ready to eat within a few days.

At the grocery store, I'd go mid-week (because the new stocks come in on Tuesdays), and look for sale items (which are SEASONAL items too) in the produce section since some items at the farmer's market were still a bit too expensive.

Trader Joe's would have some special seasonal items (like tri-colored cauliflower that when roasted with garlic & onion is divine) that would round out my purchases.

Sounds like a lot of running around. It wasn't. I planned my trips to take care of other business, or I'd skip the farmer's market if I saw the grocery sale paper early and could plan my purchases better.

My main way of saving was to

  • buy some items in bulk, figuring out 2-3 ways to prepare so I wasn't eating the same dish all the time
  • use my freezer to my advantage
  • buy conventional on items that were inconsenquential (EWG has a great list)
  • share dishes/cooking with friends & family, making dishes that produce leftovers that can be eaten as is, or slightly modified the next day

I haven't suffered. I'm now self-employed, but still watch the budget. i don't always buy grass-fed, pastured, wild, etc. I do when it is on sale, buy in bulk then portion out as I go. For example, I paid a share for 1/4 of a pastured pig. That will last me 6-months. I'll buy portions of a chicken slaughter in a month or so, and similar thing for beef. This way, most of my protein need is covered, and I can concentrate on great produce.

I still buy conventional meat on occasion, but discard the fat that came with it and add in what I prefer.

783 · January 29, 2011 5:04 AM

I had to adjust when economy went from boom to bust. Here are most of the things I did:

  • Passed on most grass-fed beef, pastured pork and $8/dzn eggs. Settled for 'humanely raised' or halal beef/pork and non-factory farm eggs ($5 for 30).
  • Recently found a raw pet food / human food coop for fantastic prices on grass fed ground beef, poultry and pork.
  • Have always eaten organs, but generally make due with cheaper roasts and ground meat. Rib-eyes and the like are special occasion only.
  • Watch what is on sale at Whole Foods and check their weekly specials online.
  • Passed on the ultra organic produce and settled for pesticide-free farmer's market stuff.
  • Stopped eating out at restaurants. Happy to eat scrumptious paleo chow at home.
  • Mostly stopped drinking wine. Whiskey and occasional beer instead still do the job.
  • Skipped the fresh fish often costing $12-20/lb and ate canned salmon (2.29/14oz) and mackerel (1.99/14oz) instead. Beginning was adjustment, now don't mind.
  • Instead of boutique radiccio, gourmet mushrooms, organic dry-farmed potatoes in 12 different varieties, etc; eat cabbage, brown mushrooms, pesticide free russets. Point is just to enjoy eating simpler. I love cabbage now.
  • Stopped buying $15-20/lb cheese. Don't buy much cheese anymore, but if I do Trader Joe's $5/lb is good enough.
  • Stopped buying spices in little jars and found http://sfherb.com/! This was huge find, all kinds of spices for cheap.
  • I may be just repeating some of the points above, but pesticide free potatoes at .50/lb, yams at .75/lb, winter squashes for .40-80/lb, large cabbage for $1.50, kale/collards/chard/parsley for $1.50, large cauliflower for $2... all still are delicious to eat.
  • Oh yeah, remembered one more thing. Stopped paying $3 for other people to make me a coffee.

8848 · January 28, 2011 at 11:44 PM

Just bought a house and have lots of expenses. Have drastically reduced food spending. Here's how:

Costco meats. Look, I know grassfed is better but you can't beat chuck roast for $2.99/lb. Not to mention leg of lamb for $4.99. The days of eating ribeye are over. My indulgences now venture into flank steak territory (only $5.99/lb at Costco!).

Fish not fish oil. I used to buy $20 fish oil. Never again. Trader Joe's frozen fish is the answer, particularly the salmon patties which I fry up in bacon grease (also from TJs) and then mash up in scrambled eggs. The salmon patties are less than $5/lb. Similar price on mahi mahi, which I also buy in quantity. And finally, their sardines in olive oil are quite reasonable at about $1.29 per tin.

Major supplement reduction. Variation on the fish oil theme. I have a whole cabinet full of supplements I've purchased over the years. Turns out I bought a lot of crap out of desperation because I hadn't got the dietary thing figured out. And then I'm a creature of habit. Can't do it any more and I'm probably the better for it. Magnesium oxide is $4. Vitamin C is $3. I don't really need anything else.

Trader Joe's wine. I drink it every day and I can't afford to be a snob. Also, fully half the meals I make are crock pot stews with cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay and bone broth as the base. $2 Chuck (Charles Shaw for the uninitiated) is $3.29 in Ohio, but that's not so bad in the scheme of things. I always buy by the case for the 10% discount.

Crock pot meals. My crock pot is always going and I use everything, including bones.

Organ meats. Cheap and nutritious.

Bulk purchases. When I buy grassfed beef I buy the split quarter to get a price of $6/lb.

New freezer. Goes without saying, the investment in a chest freezer has proved worth it. When the opportunity for value is there, I buy big quantities.

Plasma center. One session yields $50. Goes a long way at Costco.

Medium avatar
12362 · January 28, 2011 at 10:56 PM

I think that you have to work a bit harder at sourcing your food. I find great resources at local farmers markets - by just talking to the farmers and finding out if they know of any farmers that are selling meat, eggs and or produce direct from the farms - you can save a heap that way - especially if you go in with a couple of friends and buy a whole cow, pig, lamb etc.

I went to cheaper cuts of meat and used my slowcooker more often - that can save quite a bit; also good on the lunch budget because the capacity of the slowcooker is so large that you can make quite a lot.

Eating seasonally - only the local stuff that's in season - it's usually the cheapest stuff in the market anyway. This also takes a lot more creativity especially in the winter - but there are som many great paleo blogs with recipes for awesome squash dishes.

Also - try to cut out other things in your life - your health and diet is so important ;)

500 · January 29, 2011 at 12:02 AM

Pretty much sticking to a bulk store, like Wegmans and Costco, and getting almost everything else but grass fed beef from the enormous Asian Mart near me. They have a section for all the "more interesting" cuts, and it's pretty much where I load my basket. Shin bones, chicken feet, oxtails, pig feet, fish heads, shrimp with heads on, all manner of organ... I'll get 1 grass fed chuck roast each week, which eats about $25 of my budget, and spend another $25 or so on the above, and that $25 goes a really long way. Nearly everything is under $1 per pound, so I walk out with a lot. I also buy fresh herbs there, which are miles cheaper than anything I've seen anywhere else - like 50c for big bunches of chives, scallions, thyme, rosemary, parsley, basil.

Fish heads, by the way, if you can find them fresh, are the best source of cheap omega rich fish. Wild salmon heads go for about 1.25/lb in my area, and they are LOADED with fat. Lots of bones too, but not the tiny irritating ones, the "good for stock pot" variety :)

1560 · January 29, 2011 4:24 AM

Sometimes the cheapest meats are the best..beef cheek,lamb breast,chicken gizzards/hearts/livers.Just a matter of learning to cook them.

962 · March 11, 2014 2:39 AM

I have not, but without a doubt if I were in a bind, having a house, I would start raising rabbits and buying high oleic sunflower oil. Then rice, potatoes, beans, and garden vegetables.

0 · March 11, 2014 at 12:28 AM

Hit up the 99¢ stores in your area, they get fresh fruit and vegetables that couldn't sell elsewhere and you can get some good deals. I base my meals around what I can get cheap, and stock up on conventional meat when it's on sale. I figure it's more important to have organic/grassfed meat and dairy than it is organic produce, so the vegetables were the first thing I let slide. I get non-organic no-hormones-added butter from Trader Joe's - it's as cheap or cheaper than the fully conventional stuff from Walmart. Speaking of TJ's, they have organic chicken drumsticks for $1.99/lb every day, cheaper than CAFO in many stores. But where I am right now, organic meat is basically off the table altogether, so head back to the 99¢ store, this time for 2-for-a-dollar tins of sardines. They're not organic, but they're caught wild (not shoved full of soy and grains) and they're small enough that they haven't really had the opportunity to eat a lot of other contaminated animals. The ones packed in olive oil or water don't have mysterious 'flavorings' in the sauce. And for some reason people are turned off by them, so they stay cheap. Fish is far from my favorite thing, but this way I get healthy meat and fats, with a large helping of omega-3s, without paying the premium for organic.

Medium avatar
39204 · January 28, 2011 at 11:54 PM

I consider my diet to be more important than any other expenses. I budget accordingly as a result. I can think of no better investment than an investment in one's health.

That being said, nearly all of the meat I consume is grass-fed lamb, and it's only 6 bucks a pound.

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