Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dieting Is NOT Frugal

Let's face the facts here, kids: dieting isn't frugal.  At first blush, this may seem to be counterintuitive.  After all, if you're dieting, you are ostensibly eating less.  If you're eating less, you're paying less for food, right?

If only it were so easy.

For a variety of reasons, my wife and I have decided to give the Paleo diet a shot (as appealing as a massive heart attack sounds, we think dieting is a better choice).  If you're unfamiliar with this one, the idea is to eat foods that cavemen would have eaten.  With this in mind, the focus is on fresh fruits, veggies, and meats, and we're supposed to avoid carbs, dairy, and various other sundry items that I'm still learning about (the diet is also surprisingly against beans and chili peppers ... does this make the diet racist?*).

In an effort to stock up on foods for the diet, on Monday night, my wife and I went to a local grocery store whose specialty is organic foods.  I estimate that we probably only purchased enough food for 3-4 days, and it cost us approximately $120.  Bear in mind, this is just enough food for the two of us; we don't have children or other family members that we need to feed. 

Using the estimate above of $120 being enough to purchase food for two people for four days, a month of eating (rounded down to 28 days) will cost us $840.  This assumes that we eat all meals at home.

Now, contrast that figure, if you will, with the cost of fast food for the same time period.  If my wife and I had instead opted to go on the "Jack in the Box Value Menu" diet, I estimate that each meal would have cost us $8 ($4 for me, and $4 for her).  If we assume three meals a day for 28 days, we come to a figure of $672, a figure nearly $170 less than what we're paying for fresh foods.  That's over two grand a year!

One has to assume that the extra money that I'm spending now will be made up for in lesser medical costs in the future, but still!  I want my extra bucks now!  (Also, even though I'm not feeling really deprived so far on the diet, I could sure go for a stack of the awful and delicious Jack in the Box tacos right about now.)

I suppose part of the price difference comes from the fact that this was our first time trying to buy foods specifically for the diet.  I anticipate that as the diet goes on, we'll get a little better at buying when things are cheaper, so I'm hoping that in the long run, our costs will go down.

For any dieters out there, how do you find a balance between buying healthy food and not spending a lot of extra money?  Let me know in the comments.**

*In reality, I do kind of question this.  In one of the books about the diet, it suggests that non-caucasian people tend to be lactose intolerant because they haven't had as much evolutionary time for their bodies to adjust to lactose, which seems to imply to me that the book's authors think non-caucasians are less evolved than caucasians.
**After I wrote this post, I remembered that Annabelle over at Shopping Detox had already written a post about the frugality of the Paleo Diet.  I'm still publishing my post though, because, you know, I'm a hack.

Photo by Lauren Manning.

This post was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance #344 at Diva in Debt.


Kelly said...

Love the picture!

I haven't read the book, but the lactose intolerance thing was explained to me not as an "evolution" issue, but rather a cultural/anthropological one, that Europeans have been living in agricultural communities longer, and therefore have been consuming milk products longer. That explanation seems less racist to me. If the author is implying the agricultural communities are more "evolved" than other forms, that would seem to indicate at least a cultural bias though.

Bryan said...

Hi Kelly, thanks for your comment. I'll have to take a look and re-read the pertinent section in order to clarify.

Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter said...

To me buying healthy food is an investment. Not only am investing in my health but I am also investing in my wealth. By eating healthy and looking after myself, I am saving myself a ton of future medical bills which can make you broke. To me the price is worth it.

Now in regards to your diet, I would say eat balanced and you should do just fine. Don't be too restrictive. And remember, meat is one of the most expensive things you can buy so the less you eat of it the less you spend.

erika said...

Dieting is definitely not cheap. My mom has tried every diet and forks out hundreds of dollars each month for their "special food". I prefer to buy vegetables and fruits and other ingredients at the store, but my downfall is I get lazy and I succumb to ready made or frozen food at times...which are equally as expensive.

Unknown said...

Ha, thanks for the shoutout. You've outdone me, though, by actually *doing* the paleo diet, not just thinking about it. I like the basic idea of it - our bodies are designed to eat certain sorts of foods, like any other animal. I think some parts of it are really silly, such as some of the meal plans, which are like "Escargot for breakfast! Rare steak for lunch! Lobster for dinner!" Like, I'm so sure cavepeople ate like that, even if those foods are "paleo". And that would be a mark in the "dieting is expensive" scale.

However, the long-term investment in eating quality food probably is more frugal long-term (less health costs, etc., if your body is healthier)

Is there a farmer's market near you? You can get organic stuff there for cheaper than at Whole Foods, or wherever.

Bryan said...

Miss T: I agree about the meat; it's definitely expensive. In general, we try to stock up during sales.

ShoppingtoSaving: Yeah, I've tried a couple of other diets in the past and have felt that the costs for the weird foods they required was too much. I'm liking this one so far, and I like that the foods it requires are mostly just meats and veggies (nothing the company pre-makes).

Annabelle: Good call on the farmer's market idea. We do have several in the area; we'll just have to get better at going. I've also been looking at a website that sells and delivers a box of farm-fresh fruits and veggies once a week. I like this one because it only makes me sign up for one week at a time (some others I've looked at require a month or more of purchases).

Andrew @ 101 Centavos said...

I'm 'sort-of' on the paleo diet. We mitigate the costs by buying a half-cow and a half-pig at a time, and growing much of the produce from the garden.

Bryan said...

Andrew: That's kind of amazing! Unfortunately, we just don't have the storage capacity to get away with purchasing so much meat. I wish we did!