My goal is to educate and help, but turning toward the mirror and examining ourselves, our motivations, and our priorities can often be uncomfortable.
So take a deep breath. Because the goal is to equip and edify, but part of the message might sting.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is: “How can I afford the high cost of healthier food?”
Let’s not beat around the bush. There are increased up-front costs associated with eating well. It costs more money to eat real food, because it typically isn’t subsidized like cereal grain crops. It also costs more in time to shop frequently, seek out whole food vendors, and prepare food.
I’m going to touch on some sensitive subjects. And lest I run the risk of being labeled an elitist who “wouldn’t understand,” please realize that just because I have a website and some initials in front of my name doesn’t mean that I haven’t been there. You know – trying to decide between paying the electric bill or getting the coconut oil? I have been there and I’ll explain as I go.
But first I want to address the cultural beliefs surrounding money. Most of the world lives on less than $10 / day. So if you have more than that, if you have cable TV, a smartphone and a car (even a clunker), you are relatively rich!
We live in one of the most affluent societies in history. Unfortunately, we also live in a very materialistic culture. This often means we get sucked into working jobs we don’t love to buy things we can’t afford to impress people we don’t like.
But it’s not just things that can trip us up. It’s long ingrained belief systems. So the question “How can I afford to eat Paleo?” is a loaded one. It’s loaded with a belief system that supports paying $300-$500 per month in sick care insurance so that we aren’t obligated to take care of ourselves. It’s this underlying belief system that often discourages up front, proactive expenses in favor of deferring costs down the road in the form of reactive sick care, lost time at work, and lowered productivity. (Ouch).
An important question becomes “What are our priorities?”
Herein lies the answer to the first question. If we can establish health as a priority, then we can figure out better ways to pay for them.
Because once upon a time, I was living month to month.
I opened a new business on the heels of one of the worst economies in recent history. I was shackled by massive student loan debt on top of new business debt. I was working long hours to launch my dream. And nothing was going to stop me. But one day I woke up and realized I was putting in jeopardy the very thing I was instructing others to take care of – health.
So I sat down and prioritized. If I was going to help anyone, I needed to take care of myself. Side note: Self-care is not selfish! Hey moms – I’m looking at you! You can’t be your best for others if you’re chronically ill.
I knew I needed to eat better and join a gym. Where was I going to find the extra dollars that weren’t in the current budget? I needed a new budget!
- I cancelled my cable and used the extra time to find healthier food at lower costs (I’ll tell you where below).
- I used the money to pay for a gym membership and went on my lunch breaks. I made my own protein-laden salads and homemade dressing everyday.
- I cancelled my expensive sick care insurance ($220/month) and signed up for catastrophic coverage ($75/month).
- I put some of the premium savings into an Health Savings Account in case I needed care (which I haven’t).
- I then took the rest and put it toward the healthiest food I could afford.
I also simplified my life. I made a list of all my possessions and marked off whether I had used them in the past year. Almost all of the ones that had a “no” went bye, bye. I sold, gave or threw away at least one thing per week for about 3 months. It was seriously liberating. Try it. Please. Now I do an abbreviated version of this every 6 months or so.
The decision to simplify ‘bought’ me more free time, more money and less distraction. This meant I was more productive at work and more successful. Then I could afford healthy food and basic cable
So back to the question of priorities. What are yours? Health, or keeping up with the Joneses? Health, or the newest gadget? Health, or 200+ TV channels? Using vacation time or deferring rest and recovery till retirement for a couple of extra bucks?
Money is probably one of the toughest subjects to tackle, because everyone’s situation is different. I fully realize that my situation (at the time) as a single 30+ year old professional with no dependents isn’t the reality for many of the folks reading this. I realize that my example above may have nothing to do with your situation. There are a lot people experiencing legitimate hardships and I’m not here to minimize that. But for many of us, the issue of healthier choices that cost more is an opportunity to check our priorities.
So, we’ve determined that a lot of us need to (re)establish healthy priorities, but also address the legitimate concern of making healthy food more affordable. Here are my top 5 tips for lowering food related expenses:
- Cow and Pig Shares – This year I connected with a small local farmer who raises 100% grass-fed beef. I ended up paying an average of $4.77 / pound and filled my freezer with a quarter cow worth of steaks, ground beef, bones (to make broth), and organ meat. As the demand for ethically, sustainably raised animals increases there are more and more farmers offering options like this. In most cases the cost is substantially less than a similar product at the grocery store. Not only that, but eating healthy animals improves your chances of less health expenses in the long run. Find local suppliers at eatwild.com
- Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) – Similar to the animal shares, these contracts with local farmers provide weekly shares of seasonal produce. For about $15/week I went to a local farm and picked up 100% organic produce through the growing season. More info at localharvest.org
- Buy in Bulk – For non-perishable Paleo pantry items like coconut oil, almond flour, or coconut milk, watch for sales and free shipping and stock up. You can also setup an Amazon “subscribe & save” to save up to 15% on regularly shipped items.
- Plant a Garden – While not feasible for those without space, and certainly a time commitment, a garden can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of your healthy food transition. You can also turn this into a community or family effort. You can compost your organic kitchen waste to fertilize the garden and then sell, can or give away extra produce (who needs 3 dozen zukes?). Don’t discount this option if you’re in an urban setting either – urban communal gardens are becoming more popular and even growing your own herbs can help pinch pennies.
- Cook More, Dine Out Less – Sometimes I forget what it was like to be scared of the kitchen and feel like I had such limited options. Eventually, this fifth and final tip simply develops into a rhythm and habit. You learn how to make new, fun, and delicious recipes. Utilizing the plethora of books and online resources available, you get creative so you don’t feel like dining out is such a treat anymore. For many, less dining out means a substantial boost to the budget. I also encourage people to plan out meals in advance which eases the strain of constantly figuring out everything on the fly. Plan ahead. Crock-pot it. Make double portions and freeze for later. You get the idea.
Your situation is probably different than mine…how have you made it work financially? I’d love to hear reader tips on this one, because my hunch is that for many of you I’m preaching to the choir about priorities. You’ve already made healthy food a priority…how have you made it affordable?
Yours in Health,