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As you learned in Part I of this series, prioritizing properly, getting your best nutrition from food instead of supplements, and planning and shopping smart are huge strategies for making the Autoimmune Protocol work on a tight budget. In this article, I’ve got five more strategies you can use to save money while feeding yourself for better health.
#4 Invest up-front
Often, making a financial investment up-front can mean a large cost savings later. While it takes some good financial planning to have the money to invest here, this is often where you can save the most money over the long term.
- Buy meat in bulk. Following this purchasing tip can have an incredibly profound impact on your food budget. While few people can afford to pay the going price for organic, pasture-raised meat at the grocery store, purchasing in bulk enables many to get the highest quality meat (often much higher quality than the best at the store!) for the best price, sometimes half or even lower than market prices. For example, grass-fed beef prices can range from $7 a pound to $30 a pound organic and grass-fed, depending on the cut selected. In contrast, many times a 1/4 or 1/2 of a cow comes out to less than $7 a pound, and includes both the “affordable” cuts like roasts and ground meat, as well as the pricier steaks and other cuts. The price decreases with the quantity you purchase. You can buy any kind of meat in bulk — commonly people purchase 1/4 or a 1/2 of a cow, 1/2 or whole pig, 1/2 or whole lamb, a dozen chickens, and even boxes of wild-caught salmon. Use Eat Wild to find a farmer near you who sells high-quality meat in bulk. Alternatively, if you’re interested in buying in bulk but don’t have the freezer space for a CSA haul, the online service, Butcher Box, will deliver your desired quantity of high-quality chicken, beef and/or pork each month for free.
- Invest in tools that will enable you to spend less on food. These are things that will make it easier to stick to your budget in the long-term. A deep freezer provides a large space for you to store bulk meat purchases or any high-quality food you may find on sale. A dehydrator can help you preserve fruits and vegetables purchased at the peak of season, when they are most affordable, and put them away for the months they are not as accessible. Cooking tools like a Instant Pot, pressure cooker, or slow cooker enable you to spend less time in the kitchen cooking and utilize leftovers and scraps in new dishes (such as making stock, bone broth, or rendering solid cooking fat). Yes, these items cost a lot up-front, and so you will need to plan well to make sure that whatever you choose to purchase will reward you financially long-term.
- Join an organic fruit/vegetable CSA. CSA stands for “community supported agriculture”, and commonly you purchase a share at the beginning of a season and then get a box of produce delivered to your door, workplace, or farmer’s market every week. Commonly, produce CSAs are available in the spring or summer, but depending on where you live, there may be a winter option. Buy supporting your farm with the money upfront, they know exactly how much produce to cultivate, and provide you with a bounty of harvest at the peak of the growing season. Savings are huge over purchasing from the store — you just have to get used to being flexible and using everything that comes in your box! Use Local Harvest to find a CSA in your area.
#5 Join a buying club
Becoming a member of a buying club that offers a discount on items that you regularly purchase can be a great strategy for the long-term. By offering products in bulk, not having traditional locations, or sending through the mail, they can offer greater savings than you will find at the store. Here are some companies you might look into:
- Costco. This is a retailer that specializes in low-cost bulk food and housewares. While they aren’t known for their selection of organic or health food products, they seem to expand their selection in this category every year. They charge a yearly membership fee to shop at their stores.
- Thrive Market. This is an online retailer that offers many organic products through their website shipped directly to your home. They charge a yearly membership fee but do offer a 30-day trial.
- Azure Standard. This is a online bulk foods retailer that only sells to large groups who can schedule a bulk delivery. They do not charge a membership fee and their products are often very well priced. Visit their website to see if they offer delivery in your area, and inquire with them in order to find a “drop” or buying group in your area.
- Join a local networking group to find out about deals. There are many local groups (like those shared in our Community Update) where members report finding good deals on various food products.
#6 Grow your own
Don’t underestimate growing your own food, even if a very small amount, it can have a big impact on your food budget! Often the crops easiest to grow even in your kitchen windowsill are the most expensive per ounce at the store. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Herbs. Do you have a window that gets some sunlight? That’s all you need to grow your own herbs like thyme, rosemary, tarragon, and basil. While you can purchase already started plants at your local nursery or grocery, a budget option might be to find some containers at the thrift store and start from seeds. Herbs command the highest price for ounce at the store, and growing your own, if even a couple varieties, can save a lot of money.
- Salad greens. Do you have a deck, patio, or small yard? Lettuce can easily be grown in a container garden or in a small area in the yard.
- Hardy greens. If you have more space available, try your hand at cultivating some greens like kale, chard, or collard greens. These are quite easy to grow, vigorous, and forgiving.
- Plant an epic garden. Have a good sized plot and some time on your hands? Why not try to produce as much of your food as possible? Find out what grows well in your area and go for it!
#7 Practice flexibility and planning
Nothing breaks the budget quite as quickly as lack of planning. Instead of waiting for inspiration or eating according to your whims, make a plan that works with your budget and stick to it. Here are two key components:
- Meal Plan. Sit down once a week and create a meal plan that works with your tastes/preferences, is seasonal, and most importantly, fits your budget. Do you have a lot of grass-fed beef in the freezer? Make an AIP “chili” recipe or burgers instead of purchasing chicken or fish at the store for a different recipe. Plan to use all of those CSA veggies you already paid for.
- Be flexible. Cook through all of your food during the week before purchasing more, to minimize waste. Do you have leftovers that can be “stretched” or used as a component to add to another meal in a pinch?
#8 Ask for a deal or volunteer
Don’t be afraid to ask for a deal — a farmer might have slightly old frozen meat, or produce seconds they’d be willing to sell you. My first bulk meat purchase was 1/4 cow’s worth of last-season’s freezer-burned meat, because it was all I could afford. It wasn’t as bad as I imagined — a little slice with the knife removed all of the burned bits, and they made a lovely addition to my broth.
In the same vein — does your neighbor have a bursting fruit tree? Ask if you can harvest for both of your families to enjoy the benefit. Much fruit goes to waste in backyards across the country just because people forget about it! You can also volunteer at a farm stand or farmer’s market in exchange for free produce or meat. Try collaborating with your friends/family to afford a bulk meat purchase.
Don’t give up hope!
I hope this article has given you some hope that there are real ways to save money while eating this way. Not all these changes need to be made all at once, nor are they all applicable to everyone. The truth is that many of us are quick to complain about how much this costs without examining the regular habits that are not necessary to succeeding on AIP, but may be common within the community (such as drinking store-bought kombucha, making treats, relying on pre-made snacks, and ignoring lower-cost cuts of meat like organs in favor of others). Hopefully you’ve found some inspiration here!
I want to hear from you — what change has made the most profound impact on your ability to eat in a way that heals your body?