There's a bit of a stigma with Paleo in that it is expensive to eat this way. My retort is: “What is more costly, medical bills or a better diet?”. Once you give up on boxed foods and start buying whole foods you should begin to see a difference in meal costs for the better. You can easily put together a meal for four for about 15 dollars which is a lot cheaper than eating out. Speaking of eating out, you'll likely reduce that considerably since it is somewhat difficult to source a restaurant that is conducive to your eating habits.
The initial costs can be a bit off-putting and a lot of times I recommend starting slow in replacing items. Eat down what you may have stocked up as you build up new supplies, or if you have long term storage, give it away or keep it stashed for emergencies. I went the cold turkey route and tossed out everything in favor of my new lifestyle. The choice is yours if you can afford it or if your health can hold out for a little while longer as you make the transition. Some people are in dire straights with obesity or metabolic issues and need to shock the system as far as I am concerned. If the temptation is there then they'll never achieve their goal.
Navigating the Grocery Store
In order to successfully get what you need in changing your lifestyle you'll spend more time in the perimeter of the grocery store. Consider how the store is laid out beforehand. All of your fresh produce is first, then generally meats, and then dairy/eggs. You'll generally avoid the center aisles unless you're picking up specialty items such as spices, canned vegetables, and some frozen vegetables. Anything that is prepackaged you will need to pay close attention to what is actually in those products. Some can be quite deceiving even in places like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.
The center aisles are usually packed with all of the ingredients that you should not be eating along with preservatives and chemical compounds that are not considered healthy. Not only that, this is where expenses really pile up. Boxed foods will likely hit you for about 5 dollars a piece, give or take. Most of these only supply one meal but may just be a side dish or a supplement to the main dish. In return you could pick up some vegetables and make a much larger dish for the same price or cheaper. So, you would be trading in the garbage for a comparable rate. Yes, it takes a little more time in the kitchen but is worth the sacrifice to have something that not only tastes better but is actually good for you.
Organic foods are expensive but again you're paying for quality of the product. It is known to not be genetically modified and only using natural fertilizers (poop in most cases so make sure you wash your veggies!). The government has made the organic label a very costly venture so manufacturers have to lay that cost on the consumer unfortunately. It truly is sad times that we have to pay extra to get a natural food and not some franken-food. You can definitely get away with conventionally grown items for anything with a skin as a general rule. The idea is that the pesticide or fertilizer is washed off in the prep process but, there is also an element of disdain by purists that consider the vegetable leeches unnatural items into the roots no matter what. My take is to do the best you can with the finances you have and the knowledge you have at the time. Stress is another factor in our unhealthy ways so no need to stress over shoppingf ro food if it can be avoided. I would however avoid any GMO products. At this time, Corn, Soy, Wheat, Alfalfa are all considered likely to be GMO crops (approximately 90% of these crops are considered GMO). Since we avoid these things on a Paleo diet it is much easier to say no to GMO but, keep your eyes out regardless.
I always buy grass-fed, wild caught, or pastured meats if/when possible. It may not always be possible given the economy. The best way for me to afford this is through either online meat deliveries or from my local farms. If you get to know a local farmer that raises meat, not only do you know the animal's diet but you can likely get some very decent deals on clean meat products. It's cheaper for the farmer to sell directly to you, you support the local economy, and you can take comfort in the meal you're consuming. On top of all of that, the meat taste 100 times better than what you can get at the stores. Ever eat Wal-Mart ground beef? Watch how much water comes out of it when heating (no that's not fat). It's gross and who knows what else is in there.
Some people would rather not know where their meat comes from but I think in order to understand the cycle of life it's important to know and understand the animals that provide food for you. It's an important part of being human. I don't envy our farmers as I am a huge animal lover but I understand that I am human and that my body requires what these animals can give to us in order to live. We treat them well and take care of them and they repay that as their cycle ends. In some ways the animals have domesticated us! If you cannot stand the thought of this, then Paleo may not be for you or you could successfully do this diet on a more limited scale with eggs and/or fish as needed. The Vegetarians will definitely struggle to meet the needs of their body without animal fat and proteins and I do not envy them one bit.
For the other items in the store, this is where there is some grey areas with Paleo and oft times debate or arguments. I tend to only get items like spices, olive oil, maybe some canned vegetables if organic and clean, but you should always check the labels on these items. For example, we bought some organic tea not too long ago to try and replace coffee. Little did I know I was consuming Barley which is a no-no for Gluten Free people. Sometimes things are hidden on the labels and if not explicitly stated, or you cannot pronounce something, put it back on the shelf and find another product that you feel comfortable with consuming. Things to look our for are always refined sugars (beet sugar, cane sugar, dextrose etc.), MSG, and wheat products. You'd think by now after all the hubbub over MSG no one would use it. You would be wrong. It goes under a ton of different names so arm yourself with knowledge and know what it is before shopping and avoid it like the plague. It is used a LOT and more often than you'd like to think.
Adventures in Food Shopping
Try to make your shopping experience fun and interesting. Don't be afraid to try something a little different or if you see something that you like but it has ingredients that you cannot handle then try to consider a way to create it yourself or find the next best alternative. Your palette will change and your usual cravings will diminish. The things that you used to love will soon turn your stomach when you consider the ingredients. The items that used to sound gross might make you think differently.
Don't make shopping a grueling experience that HAS to be done. Visit your farmers markets, a local farm, local butcher, and then the grocery store and make things interesting. Try something new or get to know your local farmer. You might be surprised that a chef is hidden inside of you once you begin to enjoy fresh and whole foods that were created by you and not a chemical company. Food should be your medicine so treat it as such, shop with confidence and knowledge, and make the best choices that you can given the above.