Guest post written by: Mike Ritter
Eating Paleo/Primal (grain, dairy, refined sugar, legume, processed food free) can be intimidating to onlookers who are thinking of taking the dive. Among some of the hang-ups, expensive top-shelf foods are a common deterrent. If this is your hang-up let me tell you, not as a health professional, but as a generally poor money manager, that I have been able to sustain this way of living through a $19k salary, marriage, raising Brayden (now 3yrs old) and a fairly modest living nowadays. I’ve tried to help people save money while eating paleo/primal and it’s been very difficult to translate the message well. The fact is, we all have 100% of our budget to work with, and spending it on healthier food works in the end in nearly all cases. But each grocery bill won’t be representative of the savings over the course of 1,3,5 or 10 years. Prioritizing an important lifeline like food is incredibly important with great rate of return. Placing food near the front of the list will help you organize how and where you spend the rest of your money elsewhere; not vice versa.
After digging for years to find a better way to explain this, I was out for a walk one day and it hit me; too many people look at absolute dollar purchase rather than purchase value, but they only do it with food. Almost no one person I know shops for a car based on sticker price alone – that would be just silly. Of course buying a car is a lengthy and investigative process. Why wouldn’t it be? Your car is a lifeline and in order to get the best life out of it, you must look at all the facets of the deal before making a purchase. The same principle can and should be applied to your food buying process. Choosing your food simply based on the sticker price alone is not only lazy math, but is wasteful and can be rationalized as irresponsible. A major lifeline and a fundamental human need such as food requires more of your attention.
Although, I hate to use a tired analogy such as a car, but I think it’s a perfect fit. Believe it or not, the two buying habits are and should be very similar.
To give you some depth, I looked up these two car make and models to represent two different food options at the grocery store/market. The Jeep represents a cheaper option while a newer 2015 Toyota Corolla represents a newer, fresher, more expensive one. Imagine you are choosing between regular ground chuck/grassfed beef or industrial tomatoes/locally grown organics while you read the analogy.
Window Stats & Sticker Price
Car A: A 2007 Jeep Wrangler costs $13,983k to purchase standard with a 3 month warranty, power steering, standard windows, 22MPG highway and floor mats (for effect).
Car B: A 2015 Toyota Corolla costs $16,950 to purchase standard with a 1 year warranty, power steering, power windows, XM Radio, 42MPG Highway.
I included the stats on each car (current averages found in kelleybluebook.com) to represent the value which we would normally look at while shopping for a car. It would be silly to simply look at the sticker price and move on wouldn’t it? Each component of the Window Stats represents a different value in which food provides the purchaser (you).
So clearly the Jeep has a lower sticker price similar to our conventionally grown, non-local food product. The Corolla is newer and has a little more flavor with the XM radio and convenient features that make life easier similar to more nutrient dense, locally grown, flavorful and more expensive organics.
So at face value the Jeep looks like the more affordable option, but that doesn’t mean the savings are as it appears. Let’s compare some of the common expenses over the course of a 3 year period and look at get an actual real cost.
Cost of Gas Mileage:
Say each car was driven the typical average 15,000 miles per year and gas cost an average of $2.50 per gallon in order to drive.
Gas costs per car
Jeep: 682 Gallons used throughout the year x $2.50/gal average = 1705.00
Corolla: 357 Gallons used throughout the year x $2.50/gal average = 892.5
Cost of Insurance:
Average nationwide insurance cost of Jeep: $1134
Average nationwide insurance cost of Toyota Corolla: $1400
Averages based on 2015 nationwide values
Now I’m assuming you will keep the car 3 years (36 months) barring any catastrophes. I’ve eliminated interest rate because that will differ person to person but it still a constant in your scenario, numbers work out the same. Based on these average numbers here are some calculations on overall cost of the car over a 3 year period.
If you take the principle payment + insurance cost + cost of gas, you will wind up with a better picture of the actual money value which the car will cost you in the end. Of course there will be unforeseeable’s that happen, but we can assume they are instances which are covered by insurance.
TOTAL 3 YEAR COST
Total cost of Jeep:
Principle payment: $13,983/36months = 388.42/month = 4,661.04/year
Insurance: $1134/year = $94.50/month
Gas: $1705.00/year = 142.08/month
Total Monthly: $625
Total Yearly: $7,500.54
Total Cost: $22,501.62
Total cost of Corolla:
Principle payment: $16,950/36months = $470.83/month = $5,650/year
Insurance: $1400/year = 116.67/month
Gas: $892.00/year = 74.30/month
Total Monthly: $661.80
Total Yearly: $7941.60
Total Cost: $23824.8
Shown above, the actual difference in cost is $1323.18 over the course of the 3 year and a measly $36.8 per month. The sticker price is not representative of the overall cost of the car. The updated features make life more flavorful and the longer-term warranty ensures you will not be susceptible to unforeseen costs. I’m taking a guess here but a newer, “more expensive,” car such as a Corolla will have less repair costs. I also chose a Corolla because of its notoriously high quality rating (same as the stigma of hi-quality local food).
This very same scope can be used in farm-to-consumer purchasing habits because of the encompassing effect on your long-term health. I can’t say it enough; we have absolute dollar cost and purchase value. Isolating absolute dollar cost as your determining factor for a purchase is poor economical practice. In the end, although the sticker price may vary, the value is certainly in favor of the better quality vehicle/food in both cases.
Transitioning to Food
Ok so let’s talk strictly about the food.
Differential in age between newer/more expensive, lower quality/less expensive food: Represents fresh local food compared to inorganic, typically imported, lower quality food.
Warranty: Represents nutrient dense food covering your health span.
Insurance Cost + Car Payment (interest not included): Represents absolute dollar spent.
Miles per gallon: Represents amount of money spent throughout the year self-medicating (pain killers, energy drinks, allergy med). The worse the MPG, the more money you specifically eat up your funds in this category.
Features: Flavor (organic food has a much more rich flavor experience).
When calculating your actual dollar value of food here are some things you need to consider:
- Item price: absolute price out the door at a market/grocery
- Money spent on self-medication due to dietary inefficiencies: allergy med, energy drinks, medications to suppress menstrual symptoms, Joint ache supplements, coffee, excessive chiropractor & massage therapist visits.
- Money lost: sick days or lack of productivity in commission based jobs due to fatigue
These factors matter and, as we know, are not often correlated to dietary cost or factors into our choices when it comes to grocery time. On the other end you can also reduce spending in other areas of your budget to free up money being eaten by luxuries which don’t affect your happiness. If you are really scraping for the marginal difference, there are opportunities to free up spending money that you may not realize are available. Luxuries are not as important and have very little value on your happiness no matter how much you convince yourself they do.
Here are 10 ways you can shave absolute cost while eating paleo/primal:
- I shop at Costco for a lot of my goods- Most giant retailers are warming up to organic foods. Costco, in particular, is now the largest seller of organic goods in the U.S.
- We grow our own herbs- $2-$3 worth of basil at the store may not seem like a big deal but if you cook with it enough, it adds up. Basil is also grows in nearly impossible conditions which makes it great for a beginners home garden.
- A meat freezer- shopping the best price meat usually means buying in bulk. Buying in bulk means storage. Your one time investment can cost anywhere from $250 into the thousands. This blogger analyzed electricity cost of their outdoor freezer.
- Visit a bulk store for dry goods- Nuts, seeds, rice a spices can be purchased in a ‘scoop & weigh’ scenario via bulk stores. I use Bulk Nation in Tampa but your obviously best finding a place near you.
- Cancel cable- This one freaks people the f&*k out but I can’t think of a bigger waste of $80. We nixed the cable, purchased rabbit ears from Wal-Mart, bought an Apple TV unit and pay $10/month for Netflix. There’s roughly $70/month freed up.
- Get your shoes on overstock websites- 6pm.com and other sites like it have incredibly good prices on footwear (up to 50-60% off). Two pieces of great advice: Never pay full price for shoes. Never pay full price for cold pizza <- ninja turtles reference (irrelevant but fun).
- Cook at home- Use a crock-pot. Sounds obvious but people just don’t do it enough. Cooking in bulk means eating out less and easy storage in the work place. It’s the perfect TV dinner when you sit down and watch your rabbit ear channels.
- Use a protein powder (if appropriate) – Convenient and cheap. Get the good stuff too! I prefer truenutrition.com because of the customization feature. They do very little advertising which keeps the prices low.
- Join in a CSA with friends- CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is a method of friends pitching in fund to buy local agriculture in bulk = hi quality & lower prices. Bingo. Amber wrote a great blog on this site how to find a local CSA in your area. Gotta give the website a shout out so they’ll let me keep writing for it 😉
- Make your own condiments- Buying a few ingredients wholesale and whipping them up can drive down cost. It also makes the rest of your food tastier. When you’re the chef, you make it exactly how you like it. Here are three sites who have great recipes for home made condiments and sauces.