Paleo on a Dirt Cheap Budget -- Or How to Really Eat Like a Caveman

My friend Ron Stresing with the birds he hunted
I was put in touch with someone who is very short on cash and for health reasons needs to be on a very low carb, high protein and fat, processed food free diet. In other words, very low carb Paleo. She was frustrated with how much her food was costing her, an I understand why. A Paleo diet, especially a very low carb one, is lacking nearly all of the cheaper food items people on a low budget use to stretch their grocery budget- grains, legumes, and other starchy fillers. Without them, you end up needing a lot more of the expensive proteins and expensive vegetables to satiate yourself, and grocery bills can easily skyrocket.

For that reason, I previously wrote this post on how to eat a paleo diet when short on time and on a budget (including a sample menu). but sometimes that isn't enough. If you're short on cash, even following the tips in my previous post might not lower your grocery budget enough so that it is manageable.

However, there are ways to cut back your expenses even more, while still being on a low carb Paleo diet. There is a trade off, however. You can't be super frugal and super time efficient for most things- one or the other takes precedence. Yes, there are ways to be frugal when short on time and energy, but generally they aren't as extremely frugal, or they are still not going to allow a super frugal low carb diet. You need to decide which two things you'll focus on; as frugal as possible and as low carb as possible, or as frugal as possible and as time efficient as possible, or as low carb as possible and as time efficient as possible, but you can't have all three.

As I've already posted before on how to be frugal when Paleo and short on time, as well as how to eat a super healthy (but not specifically Paleo) diet on a super frugal budget, as well as how to make your family's diet as absolutely frugal as possible (but not Paleo or particularly super healthy), this post won't be for everyone (but hopefully some of the previous ones would have worked for you), but in the event that you need to be as frugal as possible while at the same time eating a low carbohydrate Paleo diet, this is the post for you.

Yes, some will be extreme. Who am I kidding? Most of this post will be extreme. But for some people, there isn't a choice really, because you've gotta do what you've gotta do to survive and take care of your health.
When I was telling my friend about my plans for this post, about how its a "super frugal caveman diet" she commented about how that is actually a "true caveman diet" because the cavemen, after whose diet the Paleo diet was modeled, weren't exactly rolling in cash, nor did they shop at Whole Foods... (I wrote a post in the past about whether or not cavemen really did eat "Paleo" but can't find the post; let me just sum it up that I'm not convinced.)
So here it is, how to spend as little money as possible and eat as healthy and low carb of a diet as possible.

Paleo on a Dirt Cheap Budget -- Or How to Really Eat Like a Caveman

Super Frugal Paleo Proteins
First, we'll address proteins, as this is one of the most expensive parts of the low carb Paleo diet. Consequently, it is also the most extreme.
  • Hunting and Fishing are a good way to get cheap meat and fish. While I don't do this myself, I have many friends who are avid fishermen and hunters and they provide a lot of food for their family this way. The picture at the beginning of this post is of the birds my friend Ron Stresing (who writes about hunting for Wisconsin outdoors) hunted and brought home to feed his family. Hunting and fishing are not free though, as one has to pay for licensing fees among other expenses, but there are ways to keep down the costs, such as processing the meat yourself. If you are unable to hunt or fish yourself, you can also barter with those that do.
  • Roadkill. The concept of eating roadkill might sound off-putting at first, but when I read my friend Wendy's post about eating roadkill, it took on a whole different dimension in my mind. Not gross, and actually quite beautiful and inspiring. Here's some advice on how to do it practically. In short (if you're afraid to click on the links), what happens is that in the winter when deer, elk, and moose get hit by vehicles, you can be notified and get one of these animals for free, and then process it like you would hunted meat, leaving over the part of the animal that was mangled in the crash. The animal is dead regardless, and because it is cold it isn't spoiled at all, and the meat is wonderful and best of all, free. Go ahead and read her posts. It may change your mind as it did mine.
  • Raise your own meat. While not everyone is able to live on a farm and raise a lot of animals (there are many costs involved), many people with a small amount of space can raise animals for meat. From my research, the cheapest and easiest animals to raise for meat are rabbits and crickets; chickens are noisier and take longer but are also an option. For these, if you forage or grow your own food to feed them, it will keep down the costs. And of course, to keep down the costs you'd need to slaughter them yourself.
  • Eat Weird Parts and Scraps. I'll be honest, I don't do the things mentioned above for various reasons (some having to do with my religion, some having to do with my country's laws, and some having to do with technicalities) but the next suggestions are ones I do regularly. Many times you can get weird parts of animals, fish, fowl, and mammals for free, and if not, very frugally. Just today I was in the market and I saw them throwing out cartons of fish scraps, and if my cart weren't so full already I could have brought home a lot of free fish.
    By weird parts, I mean things like fish heads, fish, chicken, and beef carcasses with the meat still on them, skin, and internal organs like gizzards, hearts, etc... I've come home with entire cases of free chicken scraps, with which I've turned the skin and fat into rendered chicken fat and crackling, and boiled the bones up in soup to make broth, then deboned the carcasses and got a lot of free meat. Fish heads and bones, depending which kind, are either free or very cheap locally (salmon heads and bones they tend to charge for, but the other fish are free), and there is quite a lot of meat on them to be picked off. Salmon skin can be fried and used in delicious dishes. Many times ethnic stores are the best places to get "weird" cuts of meat or fish very cheaply. Let your friends and neighbors know that you eat the "weird bits" so if they have any left over parts that they would otherwise toss, you'd appreciate it.
  • Calculate Cheapest Meats. Don't assume price per pound actually tells you what is the cheapest type of meat. Once you factor in bones and skin things can be very different. If you haven't already seen it, check out my chart which helps you calculate which is the cheapest types of meat where you live. Additionally, realize that the math doesn't always work "correctly" because we also eat with our eyes, and sometimes you just have to figure out which meals are the cheapest for your family. For many people, whole chickens work out to be cheapest per pound; here's a video I made on how to take a whole chicken and break it down into the parts you like
  • Stockpile. Stock up on meat and fish when it goes on sale and freeze it so that you'll never need to pay full price.
  • Don't Waste Meat. This seems like a no brainer but I'll say it anyhow. Don't throw out any protein, especially as its very expensive. Eat the skin. Take the bones leftover after you eat and boil them up to make a flavorful bone broth. And repurpose leftovers so you don't end up tossing the meat. 
  • Eggs. If eggs are cheap where you live (unfortunately they're not so cheap locally) they are a very good protein and can go a long way and are generally much cheaper than other animal proteins. And if you raise chickens (not necessarily the cheapest thing always, unless you grow or forage your own food, and can be a problem with the neighbors) you can get eggs this way.
Vegetables and Produce
Tips on how to get cheap produce are not Paleo specific, and apply to anyone who is trying to save money on produce. Some of the tips, therefore, are things I mention often on this blog. However, note that low carb produce can sometimes be more expensive, especially since you need to eat a lot more to satiate yourself, which is why these suggestions are even more important if you're on a super tight budget and eating low carb Paleo.
  • Forage produce. I talk about foraging a lot, and honestly, my biggest issues with foraging for produce is that most forage-able produce is greens, so there's less variety and its less satiating, but they end up being perfect for people on a low carb diet. Some foraging is much more time consuming than other foraging; I recommend reading my post on how to get the most bang for your buck time-wise when foraging produce especially if you plan on doing a lot of foraging to save money. Another hint; if you have any yard space at all, I highly recommend seeding it with edible wild plants; this way you don't even have to leave your house to have a large amount of high quality produce, and wild plants are so much easier to grow than traditional vegetables that one would garden. Currently in my yard, I have an abundance of wild swiss chard (beta vulgaris maritina), sow thistle, amaranth, and lambsquarters, and I also have chickweed, purslane, etc... 
  • Rescue Produce. If foraging isn't your cup of tea because you're looking for traditional produce, or if you just want something in addition to what you forage, rescuing produce from the trash is another good way to get free produce. Sometimes grocery stores throw out their "yucky" vegetables; I can find many this way at the open air market, usually in wagons heading to the trash, so I don't need to remove it from the dumpster. Yes, you often need to cut off some of the icky parts from the produce, but since the whole thing was free, why not?
  • Reduced Rack. Many grocery stores sell their older, misshapen, or bruised produce at a fraction of their regular prices. There are many stores at my local open air market that sell these exclusively, and I get many rock bottom deals there. Additionally, at many stalls I just ask them if they have any reduced rack stuff, and what they cost, and I can also find things that way. This past week, I walked outside a grocery store and saw a box of brown bananas on the front stoop, and I went inside and asked them about them, if they were throwing them out or selling them, and they told me they were for sale but for a super low price, and I bought them there. Even if you don't see a reduced rack, it pays to ask where you shop if they have something like that available, because it isn't always advertised as such.
  • Grow your own vegetables. This is something many people are successful with, and save a lot of money that way, especially in areas where water doesn't cost a lot, and it rains frequently, but unfortunately I seem to have a bit of a brown thumb and haven't been successful at most things I've attempted to grow, so this isn't something that works for me, but hopefully it will for you.
    If you don't have any outdoor areas to grow things, there are many plants you can grow inside the house to add some extra greens. Things like herbs, lettuce, and even sweet potatoes can be grown indoors and have their leaves harvested regularly.
  • Barter or bargain with farmers. Many farmers have large amounts of produce that they will be willing to barter for or bargain with. I know friends that would drive to farm country and bring home cases of produce purchased super cheaply that way.
  • Buy produce in season. This is very important, because if you buy the same vegetables year round you'll find that you can pay a lot of money for some of your produce when it is out of season. Try to predominantly eat foods that are in season, which will affect your grocery bill.
  • Preserve food. Whether you grow your own produce, barter, forage, or even just buy produce in season, if you preserve produce via freezing, canning, or dehydrating it, you'll be able to prevent it spoiling and therefore prevent money wasting, and you'll also be able to use it when it is not in season.
  • Eat the weird bits. (Sound familiar? That's because I also recommend that for meat.) Weird bits are the parts of the produce that many people don't eat but are perfectly nutritious. This includes watermelon rind, broccoli and cauliflower leaves, banana peels, the stalks and outside bits of fennel bulbs, outside leaves of cabbage, etc... All those can be cooked up to make many different tasty dishes, and you can often find those absolutely free at the supermarket or in trash wagons in open air markets. Or you can just put out feelers to people that you'll gladly take their scraps (and specify which ones).
  • Save your scraps. Similar to the previous suggestion, save your peels and odds and ends that you cut off your veggies and use them to make vegetable stock, or combine them with fish or meat bones to make bone broth. This includes things like carrot peels and ends, onion peels and ends, pepper cores, cabbage cores, etc...

General Tips:
Some of these will be repeats, some not, but these are tips on how to save money on your groceries that aren't specific to produce or meat.
  • Ditch sweeteners. Paleo sweeteners are expensive and low carb ones even more so. Skip the sweeteners to keep down the cost, or grow your own stevia plant and use that. Alternatively, buy stevia leaves and make your own extract
  • Cheap oils. Specialty paleo oils are very pricey. Here's a few ways to keep down the costs. Render your own chicken and other animal fats, ideally from fat and skin you get cheap or free, and use that as your main oil. Bulk buy oils when you can, especially from places like the scratch and dent store. Palm oil, while less environmentally friendly, is one of the cheapest Paleo approved oils. 
  • Ditch the nuts. Nuts are very expensive, one of the most expensive parts of the Paleo diet. Ditch them completely, or use them very sparingly, unless you're able to pick or forage your own. If you must use "nuts" try replacing them with seeds like sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds; they generally are cheaper and can be used interchangeably in many recipes. Don't buy nut milks or nut butter; if you insist on using them make them from scratch.
  • Ditch the fancy ingredients. While things like coconut aminos and coconut wraps and all sorts of fancy ingredients make the Paleo diet more "fun" if you're short on cash, do without them. Or make your own.
  • Make your own vinegar. There are a variety of ways to do this, but the simplest, in my book, is to make kombucha vinegar. This costs pennies and is much cheaper than store bought vinegars.
  • Buy a Himalayan salt lick. Buy a giant hunk of Himalayan salt and break it up into smaller pieces if you won't use regular table salt. See here how to do that.
  • Get a reputation. Let it be known out there especially in your neighborhood that you're someone who appreciates other people's "scraps", whether its date seeds to use for date seed coffee, or produce or meat scraps. Many people are happy to give these to you, and then you get free food. 
  • Don't waste. Use every last drop of your food, from peels to cores to bones, and if you have produce that is getting a little yucky, cut out the yucky parts and use the rest. Revamp and repurpose and/or freeze leftovers so they don't go off. And keep an eye on things in the fridge so they don't spoil there. Make a table so you know what you have where and can use them up as needed.
Yes, going over this list, I will admit that much of it is very extreme, and much of it is things that I don't necessarily do any more, but they are all very effective ways to drastically lower your grocery bills while still sticking to a low carb Paleo diet.
Even if you don't need to go that extreme, hopefully some of these tips can work for you, no matter what special dietary needs your family has.

I give you a blessing that your income improves so that you won't need to do anything this extreme, but if you do, hopefully these tips will have been useful for you.

Which, if any, of the tips on my list do you already do? Any of them you'd consider now that you read this post? What tips and suggestions can you give to someone who needs to be on a low carb paleo diet and can't afford it?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. My husband and I are both on a low carb high fat diet and have had to be frugal because of unemployment. I love your post and I will be gleaning ifeas off of it for a long time! One thing we have focused on is eating lots of fat to get satiated. We use olive oil predominantly and pour a dollop on every plate of food we eat. It doesn't change the flavor but adds calories so we feel more full. I also have experimented with eating during a smaller window of time during the day. It helps my body work harder to use what it has for energy. Another way I have been saving money on food is going to a food pantry. It has been humbling, but the people there are very kind and not at all judgemental. Obviously not everyone needs to go to a pantry, but since we have no income right now it has been a huge blessing. I also have a few fruits and veggies in my yard that come back every year and will grow some annual vegetables this summer. Oh, and another tip I have FOR YOU! After making broth out of your meat scraps, consider boiling it down into a thick concentrate. It lasts indefinitely in the fridge and takes up very little space. Use it like you would bullion. :) I love your blog. Keep up the great work!

    1. I'm so sorry you are currently without any income; I can't even begin to imagine how that is. I'm lucky enough that my husband's profession is in high demand, so even if he doesnt make a lot, he always has a job. Adding fat to your food certainly satiates. I hope my tips can help you. Do you find the food at the food pantry suits your low carb high fat diet? I would assume it would be a lot of processed unhealthy food?
      I'll try boiling down the broth to concentrate!

    2. Actually, we are able to get lots of leafy greens and lettuces! They get food that is close to the sell by date and I think those items show up at the pantry a lot. There are also lots of breads and pastries, which don't help us much, but my one son who eats gluten gets his fill. :) They also, sometimes, have gluten free bread so my GF son gets some sandwich bread or rolls. All in all, the pantry has been pretty good to us. I'll be happier when we can go back to donating to them though. :)

  2. Super ideas! I don't know if they have a Costco in your country but you can get 3 pounds of walnuts for about $15 at the store. Pecan's are a little more expensive but almond nuts are comparable. Plus two one liter apple cider vinegar's with the mother in it goes for the price of what you'd pay for one liter in regular stores. You can really save tremendously on organic vegetables at Costco too. A bag of broccoli has four bags inside and goes for about $6 where you'd pay nearly the same price for just one bag at Whole Foods. Corn, peas, fruit, all organic, are great deals at Costco. Truvia (stevia) 400 pack boxes are just around $12. At least this is true in Ohio and Colorado where I've shopped. The membership pays for itself with savings like that and because they have cheaper gas. I've enjoyed shopping there for years simply because of the organic deals and now they're talking about ordering online with free home delivery so you'd save gas! Thanks as always for your posts!

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