When I asked you what topics you really wanted to learn more about for my Eating Healthy on a Budget series this month, MANY of you said you wanted help on how to save money while eating gluten free. I certainly could’ve done some research and given some tips off the thought of my head, but I decided it would be MUCH more helpful for me to bring in help!
I’d like to introduce you today to Janelle. She runs the blog Gluten Freely Frugal and I’m so pleased to have her share her thoughts with you today on this topic:
Hi, I’m Janelle! I have some tips to share with you regarding how to save money while eating a gluten-free diet. But first, let me share a bit of our story.
The above picture is of my girls, Kayla and Hannah. Kayla, 8, has diagnosed celiac disease. She had her biopsy (they were still doing endoscopy and biopsy then) when she had just turned 3. Her TTG was over 100 (normal is less than 5), and her body was trying to kill itself. She also had yeast and eosinophilic esophagitis, blood in her stool, and would cry in pain every time she ate. Her arms and legs looked like sticks, and her belly was bloated beyond description. Believe me when I say she was so sick that we thought she would lose her. But as you can see, she is extremely healthy now!
She did not start to get better right away on the gluten-free diet. We actually had to put her on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for several months before her small intestine could truly heal. Then she just took off!
Hannah started with gluten-related symptoms pretty much as soon as it was introduced, but they have not been severe. She does not yet have a diagnosis, but she eats a gluten-free diet 95 percent of the time. On the rare occasions when she has some gluten we have not noticed any reaction in the last year. We are still in the decision-making process regarding seeking a diagnosis.
My husband was diagnosed a few years after Kayla, so now we just all eat gluten-free, except for an occasional splurge for myself when we go out!
Looking to save some money while eating gluten-free? If you are reading this, most likely it is obvious by now to you that the gluten-free diet can be expensive. I am very familiar with the “ouch” factor at checkout. However, there are definite ways to bring the cost down. I feed my family of 4 gluten-free on $60 per week. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years. This is not an exhaustive list, but certainly should give you a place to begin.
- Go for your fruits and veggies first! Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. It’s healthier (look at all that great nutrition you’re getting!) plus you’re avoiding the marked up prices most people pay for convenience food. Create the bulk of your meals from fruits and veggies, then if you have extra money, add in a few convenience food “goodies”. If you can find a local farmer’s market, you will pay even less for your produce, as much of the high cost of food comes from transporting it to your town! If you can buy locally you will save money and also help support your local community. Our local farmer’s market regularly has bananas for $0.29 a pound, cucumbers for pennies, and lettuce for a fraction of the grocery store price.
- Don’t pay for cookbooks! Amazon has gluten-free cookbooks for free almost every day. If you have a computer (and you probably do, if you’re reading this!) you can store and read these Kindle books for free. I have about 50 gluten-free cookbooks that I have downloaded from Amazon when they are free. Check my blog every day (you can sign up for daily emails here). I check Amazon each morning for the freebies and post them on my blog. You certainly don’t have to download every one, but if you see one that interests you, go for it! I have so many cookbooks at this point that I cannot justify ever spending a penny on a cookbook again. Why pay for something you can get for free?
- Check out your local Asian food store. The ethnic stores often carry alternative flours (rice, tapioca, etc.) for a fraction of the cost that would you pay at the health food stores or grocery store. Many of their flours are also labeled “gluten free”. Our family has never had a problem with any of the flours we have purchased at our Asian food store, and we can get rice flour, sweet rice flour, and tapioca starch for $0.99/pound there. You can also purchase rice and tapioca “wrappers” to make a variety of vegetable or spring rolls or even desserts. As always, use your best judgment with regard to cross-contamination. Only you know your family’s sensitivities best, so if your family requires “certified gluten free” products this may not be a good option for you.
- Be open to purchasing online! While a brick and mortar store sometimes has the best prices, this is not always the case. There are many online stores that carry specialty organic and gluten-free foods for much less than retail. Both Vitacost and Amazon can be great places to purchase items in bulk that you use often. You may find that with the savings on gas and time, not to mention the lower price of the item for buying in bulk, that you save yourself a boatload of money, just by buying online.
- Use coupons! The myth that coupons are only for unhealthy items is being rapidly debunked. In particular, coupons for specialty items, including gluten-free and organic items, are popping up all over the place. There are even coupons for produce available. If you collect and organize your coupons in an easy-to-use system, then wait for a sale, you may end up paying a fraction of what that favorite item typically goes for. And don’t be afraid to contact your favorite brands to see if they offer coupons. If it’s something you buy all the time, you might as well get a discount! Just look up their website and hit that “Contact Us” button. Tell them you really enjoy their product (or would like to try their product), whichever is applicable, and would they be willing to send you a few coupons. The worst that can happen is you get a “no”, but often you will get a “yes”! In addition, you should be using coupons for the non-food items in your life, so you can free up some of that money for your food budget, which will be a bit heftier for you than for many others.
- Pack it! Of course, if you’re gluten-free, you most likely are already packing, since grabbing a gluten-free lunch when you’re at work isn’t going to be very easy in most situations. But what are you packing? If you’re trying to duplicate a regular gluten-filled lunch, your lunches will still be expensive, and probably won’t taste as good. For instance, a gluten-free sandwich doesn’t taste nearly as good if it hasn’t been toasted first, and who wants to cart a toaster around? Get creative with chips or GF crackers with hummus, fruits and vegetables, already cut up, with gluten-free dip, hard-boiled eggs (for a protein boost!), yogurt cups, or any kind of salad – try adding some cold meat as a topping, such as chicken or ham. We find that being gluten-free, while it has its own expenses (of course!) actually forces us to save money in this particular area. Because of the diet, we don’t eat out much, and we can’t just do the “stop and grab something” routine. We are forced to plan ahead, and that’s a good thing! Have other good “pack it yourself” ideas? Leave a comment!
- Consider Daily Deal websites! This tip is not for everyone, particularly if you don’t have a lot of self-control. You don’t want to be buying things you don’t even need, just because it’s “half price”. But if you are disciplined and carefully watch, you can snag some amazing deals (typically 50-80% off retail) on your favorite gluten-free items. Gluten-Free Saver, Groupon, and Living Social are just a few of the daily deal companies that offer hefty discounts on specialty food products on a regular basis, so keep your eyes open! And they even often include shipping in these deals, so you’ll save a bundle over retail price on items you’d be purchasing anyway.
- Use a menu plan! Preparing ahead of time is key to saving money, especially when eating a restrictive diet. This helps you know what you need to shop for, and helps you get the best deal. I try to plan my meals a week ahead of time using what I have on hand in my freezer and pantry, and incorporating what is on sale at my local grocery store. If planning this way seems overwhelming to you, you could check out a meal planning service like eMeals, which offers a gluten-free menu plan. It is a simple plan with a once-weekly shopping list, and gives you lots of variety and nutrition.
- Split it with a friend! If you find a great deal on an item in bulk, but know you won’t use that much of it, consider splitting the cost and the product with a friend. If you have several gluten-free friends, you could split multiple ways, thereby each getting a lower cost, but still not having “potato starch coming out your ears”! It’s not a savings if it goes bad before you can use it, so always take your family’s needs and usage into consideration before making a big purchase.
I hope that these tips will help to motivate you on your way to saving mega bucks on your grocery bill. You can do it!
Janelle is wife to her hubby, who is celiac, and mom to 2 sweet girls, one of whom is celiac, and the other showing signs of gluten intolerance. She blogs about the gluten free life on a budget, including coupons, deals, recipes, and other money-saving tips at Gluten Freely Frugal.