Friday, April 2, 2010

The Price of Paleo

Let me start off by saying that I hope that you never accept a single thing anyone says as truth without putting it through your BS detector first. When I sat down to write this article, I found it difficult to nail down some exact monetary figures, so I write this full well knowing these numbers will not apply to everyone. I'm 28 and in good health, so for some of you, the numbers on health care may be different. What I would love to see is some people comment either via this blog or through twitter to let me know how close I'm coming to their actual costs.

Last week, a commenter on Primalchat was looking to get an idea of how to go paleo and still stay on a budget. It really got me thinking about how expensive going paleo is. At first it seems so daunting when you find some grass fed meat that costs literally double what grain fed meat costs. Then you go look at eggs and free range eggs cost triple. At that rate, you'll go from:



I did some quick and dirty googling and found some monetary averages (from what I would consider reputable sources) online that when combined with my own personal averages can help put some numbers on the price of going paleo.

I had to make some assumptions to keep myself from going crazy trying to be precise.

1) I assume you are a citizen of the US
2) I assume you have health insurance (which you will have to have soon enough)
3) I assume everyone in your household eats the same amount (which we know can not be true, but we need to work on averages)
4) I assume your groceries cost about the same as mine do. (I live 6 blocks from the Chicago city line, so groceries aren't known for being super cheap around here)

The US Department of Labor issued a report outlining how average Americans tend to spend their money.

Holy crap that chart should be bigger (click on it for the full size). Anyways, we can see here that the average family of 2.5 spends $6,133 on food each year. This takes into account groceries and eating out. This makes for $2,453.20 per person or when divided by 52, about $47 per week.

Last week, my fiancé and I spent $120 (rounding up) on groceries. The week before, we spent around $85, but we went out to eat on the weekend, spending $30. Our grocery bills and budget for eating out over the past two months (the length of time I have been paleo) have hovered around $100 to $120 per week. To play devil's advocate, let's assume we're spending the full $120 every week. Obviously that would break down to $60 per person per week.

So far, it looks like going paleo costs $13 more per week or $676 per year (let's just call it $700). To me, that $700 per year is more than worth my health, higher energy level, and the narcissistic "looking better naked" factor.

Here is where a lot of hard core paleos argue that health costs would go down when eating paleo, thus offsetting some of the increased cost of food. OK, let's take a look.

Our humongoid chart says that the average family of 2.5 spends $2,853 or $1141.20 per person on health care (not including insurance) each year. This works out to about $22 per week.

Many paleos will argue that they never get sick. I can say that I have not been sick since beginning eating paleo, but I never really got sick before eating paleo either. Let's assume for argument's sake that you need to see the doctor a couple times a year. To avoid anyone yelling at me for insinuating they may actually become ill, lets assume at least one visit is for an orthopedic injury from Crossfit training. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield, the average cost of a doctor's visit is $60. Assuming you see your doctor once for an annual checkup and get sick or injured once per year, that would be $120 for office visits. If you're prescribed some medication or a brace, we should allot $140 (because it makes my math easier) for that. That comes out to $260 per year or $5 per week.

Current totals with health costs factored in: Paleo = $65 and Standard American Diet (SAD) = $69

I'll admit that I haven't accounted for every possible health examination. I didn't include a gynecological exam, x-ray, highly specialized diagnostic test, or an MRI which could swing the favor back into the SAD budget's favor, but I think I've shown that the costs of both diets are comparable.

What did I learn from this?

1) Anyone that tells you going paleo is cheaper may be onto something, but ask them to prove it
2) If they can prove it, ask them their money saving tips
3) Don't let money be your excuse to avoid trying paleo
4) It might seem more daunting at first, but the costs end up being comparable

I'm looking to do a follow up article on how to make your money stretch while going paleo, so please email me your thoughts on making your dollar stretch while paleo:


Jeff said...

Nice analysis, Paleotron! I like the breakdown, the chart and the assumptions of the medical bills. Well done. In your follow-up, you could include the cost of intermittent fasting (rather the savings and not the cost). One day of fasting per week = 14% savings each week/month/year.

By the way - it was PrimalChat and not Paleochat where this discussion originated. Hey, a brother's gotta get his branding right! :)

Paleotron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paleotron said...

Thanks, Jeff. I got that link fixed, sorry about that. Maybe I should call dibs on the name Primaltron? I plan on doing a more extensive breakdown of the costs in the future when I can breakdown the costs of each day. I currently do a 24 hour fast once a week, so my figures would include that, but it was just not specifically mentioned. Thanks for commenting and giving me a reason to get more specific about the fasting and other factors in a future post! In fact, maybe I'll consult with you on a future post about some specific tips on saving money while going paleo?

Zach said...

Glad I found your blog. You're off to a great start. I really liked this post, nice angle you're exploring here, and if you're planning to write more on the subject, I look forward to reading your further thoughts on it.
Best Regards,
Zach at The PG

Paleotron said...

Thanks, Zach. I appreciate the kind words. I plan on getting more in depth in the near future as I get time to sit down and get some ideas put into something that resembles a coherent article. I assume the PG is the Paleo Garden. I'll keep an eye out for your articles. Thanks again.

-Dave "Paleotron"

Jellysoda said...

i've done it for $30/week for myself. my diet consisted of chicken thighs, beef roasts, tuna, and eggs.

Paleotron said...

@Jellysoda Thanks for the input. I've seen that a lot of people that can keep their budgets around $30-45 per week. That's really great to hear. What is your typical breakdown for money spent on meat and produce? Also, do you have any tips for saving money that I could use in a future post?

Colton said...

I'm a twenty-year-old college student and I am able to afford grass-fed meats animal products (butter, cheese, eggs, etc.) on my own.

I believe it is completely possible to live this way and it be affordable.

I'm just now getting into buying from local farms and farmer's markets close by and it is by far cheaper than store bought. When produce starts coming in at the farmers market you can buy in bulk cheaply. Also, buying meat in bulk is cheaper, like buying 1/4th of a cow, which would feed me for around 10 months.

Use and to find local farmers and cut down your food bills.

Paleotron said...

@Colton Great ideas. How much do you usually spend on your food for a week? Great suggestions on buying in bulk and using local sources to cut deals. Thanks for reading!

Arturo said...

A HUGE thing I noticed is that I get full faster and stay full with QUALITY food. When I first started I only had a certain amount of money to spend. When I made the conversion, I still kept it to that amount, but because of the higher prices, I got less food. Little did I realize that my palate was thoroughly satisfied with the rich taste and I didn't feel the need to eat more.

Plus, in the end, people need to realize that fruits and vegetables are pretty cheap. Think about it- most produce is between $1-$4 per lb. Take a look at most other foods and you'll see that pound for pound, you're not gonna get better than produce. Cereals cost about $5 per pound. People just need to be more resourceful. When I used to eat eggs, I'd have 4 or 5 per serving, but now I eat 2 and throw in a ton of vegetables. This makes my organic grass fed chicken eggs last longer, hence saving me money. Alot of times people skimp on veggies, which is not only bad for their health, but their wallet too.

Plus, if you frequent the local farmer's markets, you'll get better deals with the larger quantities you buy and over time you'll get to know the farmers, maybe you'll get some freebies.

It's not THAT much more than people believe, unless they find themselves in need to buy almond flour, eat meat everyday (eggs are cheaper for protein), etc.

Besides, spending a little extra now as opposed to later in life in the hospital, is well worth it.

Colton said...

I probably spend around 30 to 40 dollars a week, mostly on butter.

You also have to take into account when you purchase meat in bulk, it is a big dent in income at one time, but in the long run, cheaper.

Jellysoda said...

@colton $30/week in butter! that is sort of awesome!

@paleotron i agree with what colton says about buying in bulk. i tend to wait for sales and freeze everything. personally, i am not so picky about getting things grassfed, free range and hormone free... i go about 50/50 good meat/bad meat. in addition, if you shop at your local ethnic or cheapo food market, you can get interesting cuts of meat for cheap cheap cheap (liver, heart, pork belly, fatback, weird fatty rib cuts, pig ears and snouts, etc). only about 10% of my budget goes toward produce. i rarely eat it.

Paleotron said...

Thanks for the input @Colton and @Jellysoda. I agree that you can't always get grassfed meat, even though that would be the ideal situation. A decent intake of veggies and omega 3's can help offset the increased omega 6's from grainfed meat sources.

As for the weird cuts of meat, I couldn't agree more. Offal (the organ meats) is almost always under $1 a pound and can be pretty good if you know how to cook it. That's the tricky part, but I look forward to putting some recipes on the site for heart, kidneys, brain, tongue, and whatever else I can get my hands on.

Thanks again for commenting!

Anonymous said...

The other bad news is, you might live longer on Paleo than on SAD. So, that means, you need to save more for retirement. Sigh... maybe I should go back to SAD afterall. ;)

Paleotron said...

@anonymous Funny stuff, I'd never even thought of that point. We just can't win!

Pagh said...

Paleotron, nice blog and post. I have been living paleo style in Denmark for a year and it really gives another perspective in this matter. I see your US citizen assumption. However, when you have free healthcare and a relatively high cost on organic food, it definitely makes living paleo more expensive. The increased life quality and possible longevity sure makes it worth it, though that is another discussion. Paleo-greetings from Denmark!

KobeTony said...

I'm in Japan and have been playing with Paleo with about a month. A lot of the family consumables are much more expensive than the non-Paleo equivalents. We pay 30% of medical care up to about USD$600 max. But charges for meds, tests and visits are low as the system is controlled by the government.

Let's face it, carbs are cheaper than protein in almost every case. Especially when legumes and dairy are ruled out.

Butter is triple margarine, organic is double usually, almond meal for flour is 400% more.

I don't know our bottom line, but switching is not something someone on a tight budget could do without a lot of planning.

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