We all know the standard tips for saving money on Paleo (if you’re new, check out the quick and easy list here), but every new meal is a fresh chance to learn another useful strategy. So in honor of the 3-year anniversary of the original money saving tips list (published December of 2010), here’s a brand-new list of 25 more helpful tips and tricks for keeping the grocery budget down.
1. Buy spices online. McCormick or other grocery-store brands are amazingly overpriced. Sometimes you’ll pay upwards of $6 for a tiny little jar! You can make your food taste awesome without all that: most online retailers are far cheaper per ounce. You can save even more if you find an online source that ships the spices in ordinary plastic bags, since that way you don’t have to pay for the bottle.
2. Consider wild greens. Living in a rural area gives you the opportunity to hunt and fish, but even city-dwellers can forage for a surprising amount of food. For example, did you know that you can make a delicious salad out of dandelion leaves? Mint is also quite easy to find. There’s a whole wealth of edible wild plants out there – many of which are more nutritious than their domesticated versions – and many excellent guidebooks to help you identify them. Just make sure to be confident in your identification before you eat something!
3. Keep a price book. A price book is just your record of how much you paid for something and when. Write down your groceries in a price book, and after a few weeks you’ll have a good working knowledge of how much something usually costs. Then you’ll be able to spot which sales are truly awesome deals (meaning: stock up!) and which ones you can skip.
4. Frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh (sometimes more, since they’re picked at the peak of their season). They’re often cheaper, but make sure to check because sometimes the fresh version is more of a bargain. A tip though: skip the canned vegetables. They’re less tasty and less nutritious.
5. Bulk is not always better. Yes, you pay less per unit for bulk goods. But if you buy an enormous bunch of cilantro and then use only a tiny bit before it goes bad, it might actually be cheaper to just buy the smaller size.
6. Shop ethnic stores. These are astonishing and underappreciated sources for all kinds of cheaper things. Indian or Middle Eastern stores will have spices at a fraction of the cost of a standard grocery. Halal and kosher markets have humanely raised meat, often also much more cheaply than Whole Foods. Asian markets are full of fish you’ve never even seen before! Not only is it cheaper; it also helps mix things up and keep it interesting.
7. Cut back on nuts. High-quality nuts are very expensive and not all that good for you anyway. For example, 1 pound of bulk almonds typically costs around $7-10, depending on where you live. For that money, you could get a pound of grass-fed beef instead, with a whole lot more nutrition attached. If you have to buy nuts, at least try to buy whole nuts – you can make your own almond flour, almond butter, and almond milk from raw almonds at a considerable discount, so don’t pay someone else to process it for you. The same goes for coconut products like coconut milk and coconut flour.
8. Skip the cleaners. Laundry detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, window shiner, furniture polish, and other household cleaners are often extremely expensive. Make your own all-natural versions with cheap ingredients like baking soda, coconut oil, and lemon juice, and you’ll free up more money for food. Plus, it’s better for avoiding environmental toxins.
9. Ignore best-by dates. This really isn’t a health risk. There’s even been a study describing how completely random, non-standardized, and ultimately meaningless those dates are. They really just exist to make money for the grocery store (you think you need to throw something out, and then you have to buy more). Trust your nose, your tongue, and your gut – if it smells fine and tastes fine, it probably is.
10. Cut back on fruit. Fruit costs a lot more than vegetables (in most parts of the world), and you get less nutrition for your dollar. For example, a pint of blueberries can easily reach $5, and that will serve maybe 3 people. You could also buy three bunches of collard greens (or more) for that $5, and serve 6+ people.
11. Slow-cook, slow-cook, slow-cook. Here’s a fairy tale made in health-food heaven: once upon a time, there was a Paleo Fairy who wanted to help everyone in the world eat delicious and nutritious food. The Paleo Fairy cried tears of pure coconut oil every time someone had to serve a cheap cut of meat that was tough, stringy, chewy, or as dry as old shoe leather. So, in a fit of generosity and inspiration, the Paleo Fairy invented the slow-cooker, allowing time-crunched, budget-conscious Paleo dieters everywhere to actually enjoy tender and mouthwatering pot roasts and brisket. And you too can enjoy this amazing fairy gift, simply by picking up a slow-cooker of your very own. Fancy models can get pricey, but you can get one that works just fine for $20, or even less if you get it secondhand.
12. Buy as basic as possible. You don’t need jerky, pre-packaged freezer meals, or other foods that someone has already cooked for you. These things add up incredibly fast. Prioritize single-ingredient foods, and skip the kale chips, “gluten-free ________,” and snack bars. For example, say you went to the store and bought 2 Larabars for snacks. Each bar is around $1.50 so two would be approximately $3. For that same $3, you could buy 2 cans of olives (also around $1.50 each, if you get the store brand), which will give you get approximately 8 snacks for the same money. And they’re healthier snacks to boot: more fat, less sugar.
13. Critique your supplements. With an increasing number of news stories lately about unlabeled or fraudulent ingredients in supplements, these expensive bottles are looking like a worse and worse investment every day. Pick them very carefully, go for quality when you absolutely need a supplement, and cut out the rest. You shouldn’t need a lot of supplements if you’re eating a nutrient-dense diet.
14. Label. Not every bunch of celery needs a label, of course. But for example, if you’re stocking up on freezer dinners, take the extra 2 seconds to slap a sticker on the Tupperware and jot down what it is and when you put it in there. That way you’ll never be stuck reheating the wrong thing, or wondering what exactly that is in the back of the freezer and whether you shouldn’t just throw it out.
15. Become an Amazon Wizard. Did you know that Amazon has a program called Subscribe and Save, where you get a discount plus free shipping on products if you order a regular delivery? You can get time periods ranging from 1 month to 6 months. This is perfect for nonperishable items like coconut oil, canned fish, coffee, and other pantry staples.
16. Cure your own. Bacon from pastured pigs will run you approximately $10 (at least) per pound. Pork belly is typically closer to $2-3 per pound. Use this recipe to make your own bacon, so you can have a treat at a fraction of the cost. The same goes for making your own fermented foods (compare the price of a bag of real, probiotic sauerkraut to the price of a head of cabbage).
17. Reduce disposables. Paper towels, paper napkins, paper cups and plates, plastic forks and knives…they’re convenient, but you pay for it. Buying a package of cheap dishrags will save you a lot of money down the line when you don’t have to buy paper towels every week. The same goes for cloth napkins and proper cutlery. If you want to get really thrifty about it, you can even cut up old shirts to make dishrags: after all, they still absorb just fine!
18. Tea leaves beat tea bags. Tea bags are convenient, no doubt about it. But you also pay more per serving than you would for tea leaves – and the leaves are also better for you, with more of their antioxidant content intact. You can get a very simple tea ball for $1-2 at a grocery store online, and it’ll pay for itself quickly.
19. Easy on the protein. Of the three macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat), protein is by far the most expensive. For optimal health, you don’t need more than 15-20% of your diet as protein at most: eating 30, 35, or even 40% protein is just throwing money down the drain without improving your health in anyway. Focus on cheap and healthy fats (like butter, coconut oil, and animal fat) and carbs (like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other safe starches) and reduce protein where you can.
20. Stock up slowly. It can be tempting to rush out and buy all your pantry staples at once when you’re first getting started. But on your first grocery trip, you don’t even know if you’ll need or like half of these new and unfamiliar foods! What if you buy a huge jar of coconut oil only to discover that you can’t stand it? That’s an incredible waste of money. So just buy enough to get you started for one week, and then slowly start accumulating more pantry staples, starting with the smallest sized amount you can buy, and springing for the bulk version only after you’re sure you’ll actually like it.
21. Write down what you waste. Whatever is moldering away in your fridge at the end of the week, grab a pad of paper or a sticky note and jot it down before you chuck it. Attach the paper to your grocery list, so you won’t make the same mistake twice.
22. Modify recipes. Think of recipes as suggestions, not strict sets of rules that you have to follow at risk of burning down the house. Many of them will hold up to a lot of modification, depending on what you have available or what you can get for cheap. For example, you can often swap out different kinds of white fish for each other: if cod is $10/lb and swai is $5/lb, go with the swai. You can also substitute a lot of vegetables, especially in soups or stews.
23. Use the whole vegetable. We make a big deal out of using the whole animal – including bones for stock, skin, organs, and other “odd bits.” But the same applies to vegetables. Broccoli stalks are perfectly edible, delicious roasted, and taste just like the rest of the broccoli. Throwing them out is just throwing money in the trash. The same goes for cauliflower stems, apple cores, and many other parts that most people chuck without thinking about it. In fact, even the cauliflower leaves are edible, and quite tasty.
24. Don’t buy bottled drinks. Of course, Paleo cuts out the biggest money suck of all (soda and soft drinks), but you might still be tempted by stevia-sweetened sodas, kombucha, unsweetened tea, or other pre-bottled drinks. Buying these products is expensive for what you get, because you're paying the transportation costs for a bottle that's mostly water. Save money by buying your own tea bags or coffee grounds, and adding the water yourself at home. Or if you need it to go, buy a thermos: it’ll pay for itself in a week.
25. Ask for useful gifts. As we’re heading into Christmas season, why not ask your friends and family to get you useful presents – a gift certificate to a local farmers market, a big tub of coconut oil, or a starter kit of spices? It might get them thinking about their own diet a little more, in a low-pressure kind of way, and you can be sure you’ll get something you want!