How to Eat Keto on the Cheap

How to Eat Keto on a Budget

One of the major roadblocks people run into when considering whether to go Keto, or not, is the cost.

How are you going to be able to afford to buy all of that meat?

At first glance, Keto sounds like it's going to be very expensive. However, the good news is that Keto isn't just meat.

There's 20 grams of carbs per day and lots of healthy fat to go along with that protein. While protein makes up the bulk of your purchases, you don't need to make elaborate, keto-friendly meals every single day.

You can build your Keto pantry slowly.

Just start with the basics and add a few extras or luxuries as you can afford them.

That's what we did.

If you're new to Keto and are terrified of the cost, or you need to reduce your grocery budget due to the rise in prices recently, here's how you can eat Keto on the cheap.

Afraid to try Keto due to the cost? Here's how to eat Keto cheaply without blowing your food budget.

Evaluate How Much Room You Have for Storage

Before you take a good look at what you'll be buying from week to week on Keto, you need to evaluate how much freezer room you have for storage. If you just have the freezer that comes with your refrigerator, you're going to be buying in smaller quantities than we do.

When we first moved into this house, we had a small, upright, apartment-sized freezer. It wasn't wide enough to hold even one slat of pork ribs, so we would stuff them into the basket of our refrigerator's freezer whenever they went on sale for less than $2 a pound.

Same for brisket.

At less than $2 a pound for beef, we simply smoked meat more often, due to the lack of storage.

Today, we have a huge, upright, frost-free freezer that we picked up from Lowe's, so storage is no longer a problem for us. Lowe's gave us a 12-month payment plan, interest free, and it's more than paid for itself since then.

However, if you don't have the luxury of a separate freezer, Keto is still doable. You'll simply have to keep your available storage in mind while you're shopping.

Don't buy more than you can store.

How Much Protein do You Really Need to Buy on Keto?

Since meat is the item that tends to freak most people out, I'm going to start with how to get your protein needs cheaply.

Typical protein sources on Keto are:
  • beef
  • pork
  • lamb
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • fish
  • game hens
  • eggs
  • bacon
  • sausage
  • cheese
  • cottage cheese
  • whey protein powder
  • black soybeans
You don't have to eat all of that. Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should.

If cash is limited, narrow down your protein sources to fit with your geographical area's best prices.

For example, chicken leg quarters can be purchased in an economical 10 pound bag for 29 to 59 cents a pound here. And a 10 pound bag will give you 10 servings. That's almost half of the protein you need for the week for only $2.90 to $5.90.

If you're eating 2 to 3 meals per day, at 4 to 6 ounces of boneless meat per meal, (1/3 pound), you'll need 14 to 21 servings of protein to get you through the week.

Start by plotting out your protein needs first. That will show you just how doable going Keto will be for you.

I like to budget a pound of protein per day, for each of us, and count servings rather than protein grams, which gives me extra meat during the week if I need it.

That's 7 pounds of protein sources per week or 28 pounds of boneless meat for the month.

Eggs and cheese can take the place of some of that meat, with 1 egg or 1 ounce of cheese equal to an ounce of meat. If you buy an 18-pack of eggs and a pound of cheddar cheese each week, then you'll only need 5 pounds of boneless meat for the week, or 20 pounds for a month.

We buy our eggs 5 dozen at a time, so I often have them for both breakfast and lunch. Those 5 dozen eggs last for 2 to 4 weeks.

We like to shop the Hispanic stores around here. We have several to choose from. We can get meat really, really cheap there.

Typical grocery stores like Albertson's or Kroger are starting to compete with these Hispanic-focused stores, so it's not unusual to get chicken leg quarters for 29 cents a pound ($2.90 for a 10 pound bag) or even skinless, boneless, chicken breast for 98 cents a pound.

We can also get pork chops in the family pack for $1.29 a pound almost every single week.

Since I don't have a gallbladder, I have to be super careful about the type of hamburger we buy. Hamburger is expensive for us, because we have to buy lean varieties.

Costco's hamburger is 88 percent lean, so we usually buy a family pack at Costco, which has the best price for us. It's also meat that I don't react to. Cost is somewhere in the $3 a pound range. You do have to buy it in bulk to get it for that price.

If you don't have to buy lean hamburger, you can look for what's marked down at your local grocery store and go with that.

Pork shoulder roasts which we use for smoked, pulled pork runs $1 a pound, or less here.

Brisket and spareribs have been higher this year, so we haven't bought any in a while. At $2 a pound, brisket is cheaper than hamburger or a standard chuck roast, but it hasn't dipped below $3 a pound in ages.

The key to making Keto work week by week is flexibility.

Don't paint yourself into a corner by expecting to be able to eat the same things year after year.

Our menu changes as prices do.

While we used to only have to revamp our eating style whenever we moved to a different location, Covid has required us to change how we eat – yet again today.

For example, I've been craving chicken wings for a few months now, but they are horribly expensive here. Like over $3 a pound when I looked. When you consider that chicken wings are 1/2 to 3/4 bone and skin, that's a pretty steep price for the amount of meat you get.

I'm currently watching for marked-down chicken wings, but so far, I haven't seen any.

In a typical week we would pick up more than what we need for that week. We tend to budget by the month, rather than weekly. This makes it easier to fit in a 7-pound package of ground beef, a family-sized package of assorted pork chops, a 10-pound bag of chicken leg quarters, and maybe a couple of cans of tuna for variety.

The next week, we might not buy any meat at all.

It just depends on the sales and what we already have smoked and cooked in the freezer.

If fat wasn't a problem, and I had to live from week to week, I'd buy:
  • 1 pound of marked-down ground beef - $3.00 (3 servings)
  • 5 pounds of pork chops - $6.45 (10 servings)
  • 10 pounds of chicken leg quarters - $2.90 (10 servings)
  • 2 cans of tuna - $1.38 (2 servings) 
Total cost: $7.73 for 25 servings

With an 18-pack of eggs ($1.99) and 1 pound of cheese ($2.99) for the week, the total comes to only $12.71, which is way more than you need due to the eggs and cheese.

When meat and dairy products are cheap, we stock up for the rest of the month, dividing the meat into meal-sized portions once we get home. This allows us to keep on top of how much we have on hand and how much we need to get by.

Three meals a day comes to 21 servings of protein per week, minimum, so the above grocery list is more than adequate.

If you can't get chicken and pork for what we can here, you can still do Keto. Just plug in your own numbers and start paying attention to serving sizes. Plan on 4 to 6 ounces of boneless protein per meal. That's 12 to 16 ounces a day. Five to 7 pounds a week.

However, chicken with bone is approximately 3-to-1 waste. Three ounces of chicken thigh gets you 1 ounce meat. So a 1-pound chicken leg quarter is one serving.

Pork chops are harder to pin down, due to the amount of bone being different for each, but I just count one pork chop per serving, and if the meat looks skimpy due to excess bone, I add an extra side dish to bulk up the meal.

Breakfast meats is where you'll run into trouble with your budget.

Bacon, sausage, and ham can be quite expensive.

We do buy them, and use them almost every week, but I ration them out, alternating with egg scrambles and omelets that are far less expensive to make.

I've also cut back on our serving size.

Two slices of bacon or 2 breakfast sausage links with 1 to 2 eggs is plenty, so I need a 12 ounce package of bacon ($3.50) and 1 package of sausage links ($2.50) for the week.

That bumps the above list total from $12.71 to $18.72. This also means that you can actually eliminate some of the meat above and still have plenty of protein sources to choose from.

What you need to know:

Protein needs don't change just because you move from a standard diet to Keto. You don't need to eat extra meat. A pound per day maximum is plenty, regardless of your carbohydrate intake.

What to Buy for Carbs when Short of Cash

Once you have your protein needs plotted out, you can start looking at what you want to buy to round out your meals for the week. Atkins says that most of your carbs during the first 2 weeks should come from vegetables, but other Keto plans are not that strict.

Anything that fits into your 20-net carb allowance is fine.

The idea is to keep your carbs so low that your body is forced to go into the state of ketosis in only a few hours. Once you're solidly in ketosis, your hunger will drop way down, so you won't have to buy as much food as you would on other weight-loss diets.

Our grocery bill has gone way down since I went back to Keto a few months ago.

I keep a list of things we're running out of, and then decide on grocery day which items we're actually going to buy and which items I'm going to carry over for the following week.

While meat sales tends to point out which store we're shopping at that week, non-meat items can also mean we go to more than one store, if necessary.

For example, we're partial to Kroger's Carbmaster yogurt, and hubby likes Winco ice cream, so sometimes the store we choose to do most of our shopping at is because of what we need. Hubby likes to snack on grapes for the weekend, so we often go where they're cheapest.

If funds are really skimpy, a 20-net carb diet of mostly meat and vegetables is going to cost you less than a 40-net carb diet because your protein needs won't change. They will be the same no matter which low-carb diet you choose to follow.

Hunger is also less on a 10- to 20-net carb diet.

If you try to recreate your old diet, replacing higher carb foods with low-carb replicas, it's going to cost you.
  • sugar substitutes
  • flour alternatives
  • frozen low-carb meals
  • low-carb breads and tortillas
  • pre-made bars and shakes
  • protein powders
  • supplements
  • pork rinds
All of these things will drive your food bill way up.

You don't need any of these things to do Keto. Not even pork rinds, but I do buy them for my guacamole and salsa. Walmart carries a huge party bag for $3, which lasts me a long time.

Most of the weight I lost in 2007 and 2008 was possible because I decided to keep my weight-loss program as simple as I could. And I'm doing the exact same thing today.

My focus is on real food and not low-carb lookalikes.

I react badly to most sugar substitutes (I gave up on CarbSmart Ice Cream once I realized it contains maltitol; my bad) and both hubby and I cannot have gluten, so most low-carb products are off the table for us.

Low-carb products are usually high in wheat gluten.

When money is short, your dollars will go further if you focus on getting most of your carbs from salads and vegetables, but you'll still need to pay attention to where your money is going.

Some vegetables can be quite expensive.

For example, artichokes which we really enjoy are over $3 a piece here, so I haven't purchased them since we moved to Texas.

Instead, we spend our carb dollars on:
  • frozen broccoli florets 
  • frozen cauliflower
  • avocados
  • fresh asparagus in season
  • brussels sprouts in bulk
  • cabbage
  • onions, red and green
  • green beans
  • summer or winter squash
  • tomatoes
  • sweet bell peppers
  • huge jalapenos
  • cucumbers
  • romaine lettuce
  • mushrooms
  • tangerines
  • strawberries
  • blueberries
  • cottage cheese
  • Carbmaster low-carb yogurt
  • sugar-reduced catsup
  • spicy brown mustard
  • sugar-free gelatin
Not all at once, of course.

A standard low-carb meal is 2 cups of salad or 1 to 1-1/2 cups of steamed vegetables to go with your 4 to 6 ounces of protein. If you're on Atkins 40, or something similar, you can have both, but that will cost you more.

This is where creating menus ahead of time comes in handy.

You can see at a glance how many vegetable servings you're going to need before you get to the store.

You also want to stay on top of how much food you're wasting. I like to toss leftover vegetables and scraps of meat into our scrambled eggs in the morning. That way they never taste the same way twice.

I also like to use leftover vegetables in soups and stews.

But sometimes, leftovers get away from me, and I end up having to throw them out. That hurts the budget, so I'm trying really hard to eat up the leftovers within a day or two instead of letting them go bad.

Avocados are super cheap here, often going for as low as 25 cents each. We buy several almost every week.

Frozen broccoli florets cost more than broccoli cuts, but broccoli cuts are mostly the stem; so what you choose to buy depends on what you like to eat. We spend the extra 50 cents and get the florets when they are available.

Hubby loves jalapeno poppers but they are super expensive. They take a 12 ounce package of bacon ($3 or more), a package of cream cheese ($1 or more), and the 8 jalapenos. However, those 8 hot poppers are a lot of food, including 6 ounces of bacon, so when we have them, I cut costs by serving them with a very small main dish.

Be careful with low-carb recipes.

Most recipes are not designed to help you save money. They are used to help you imitate your old diet, so you don't feel so deprived. If you need to eat cheaply, keep an eye out for simple recipes that only use a few ingredients.

Focus more on herbs and spices.

What you're looking for is new dishes that don't cost a lot to make.

Look over the above list of carby foods. Pick out 3 or 4 vegetables that are cheap in your area and just buy those. Pick up salad fixings for the week and call it good.

Buy the Amount of Healthy Fats that Provide Satiety

One of the quickest ways to blow your low-carb budget is to start loading up on the fats. While fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet, you don't need to eat gobs and gobs of fat.

Putting butter and coconut oil in your coffee is overkill.

Fat Bombs will slow down weight loss.

And frying eggs in a full tablespoon of butter per egg is quite extravagant. You don't need to use that much butter to make your food taste good.

The purpose of butter in your diet is to provide you with calories above the protein and vegetables you buy and help you reach satiety.

In fact, protein helps you stay satisfied longer than fats do, so you don't want to skimp on the protein and raise your fats.

You also don't need to stock up on every single keto-friendly fat there is. Right now, I have:
  • heavy whipping cream
  • can whipping cream
  • vegetable shortening
  • coconut oil
  • peanut oil
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • sesame seed oil 
  • real lard
  • mayonnaise
  • sour cream
  • butter
But I didn't buy them all at once and don't keep all of them consistently in stock. I simply add them to my pantry when I need them for a recipe.

I've been using more olive oil over peanut oil lately, which I get at Costco. It's milder than other brands of olive oil I've tried.

The idea is to simply use only as much fat as it takes to make your diet work. For example, a small can of tuna takes 2 to 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise to taste good, so that's what I use. But when frying our eggs for breakfast, a 1/2 tablespoon of butter is plenty for the two of us.

The thing to remember:

There will be plenty of time later on to up the fat content of your diet once you reach your weight-loss goal if that's what you want to spend your calorie budget on.

To Eat Keto on the Cheap, Stick to the Basics

If you're on a strict budget, the way to make Keto work for you is to plot out your basic diet on paper, and then see how much money you have left for additional choices – if any.

Over the years, I've done Keto within the context of a wide variety of circumstances, from hubby having a high-paying job to being unemployed; and I found the above tips to be helpful in making it work for me.

You don't need to buy fancy products or use expensive recipes all the time to ditch the weight. At its core, Keto is very simple to do. You start with your protein choices, add 10 to 20 carbs per day, and fill in with fat.

But you also have to be willing to go where the cheap prices are. We rarely just shop at one store. Most weeks, it's 2 or 3.

So reducing your grocery budget takes action on your part.

To eat cheaply:

Buy low-carb foods and ingredients as you need them. Build your low-carb pantry slowly. Stick to the basics. Save the fancy products and recipes for special occasions.

And you'll do just fine!

Vickie Ewell Bio