Gluten-Free on a Budget

Guest post by Sara at The Traveling PhoBlogWriPher

When I was a single girl, I ate gluten and I paid $20-$50 a month for groceries for myself, so when my gluten-free fiancé told me he spent close to $300 a month on his own personal groceries, I literally cried.

For reasons I won’t get into here, I went gluten-free as well and I was certain we’d have to live in a cardboard box if we ever wanted to make a grocery budget work! However, now we are both gluten-free, and he is also dairy-free, but we manage to spend $100-$150 a month on groceries.

Here’s my advice on how to eat gluten-free on a budget:

Be Realistic

First and foremost, know that while you may occasionally get a great deal on a pre-packaged gluten-free item, but in general, they are expensive and a lot of your meals will just have to be of the homemade variety if you’d like them to be cheaper. Learn to love meat-and-veggie main courses. I also find myself getting better deals on foods that happen to be gluten-free as opposed to foods that are specifically made gluten-free.

Know Where to Shop

In my town, there is an outrageously priced health food store with a strict coupon policy, a Fry’s with a decent gluten-free section, and several farmers’ markets with great produce options. For me, what makes the most sense is to plan ahead which stores will have the best deals on which products and if I have a coupon, which store will make it the cheapest. I don’t like to go from store-to-store if I can help it, so I often do my main shopping at Fry’s and hit the other two stores when I’m already out-and-about in those areas.

Know Where to Find Coupons

The newspaper coupons are a great place to start. In my old town I traded with a friend: She gave me all of her gluten-free/dairy-free coupons and I gave her anything I had with gluten in it.

Cellfire and other online coupon sites have great deals, as do manufacturers’ websites. Also, always be on the lookout for free health food magazines. Some of my favorite (and most expensive) gluten-free treats have been purchased because of a decent sale and a coupon from a free advertising magazine at Fry’s/ the health food store. Last but not least, I love Mambo Sprouts’ printable coupons.

Stockpile

When all else fails, stockpile. I definitely stockpile on cheap/free cleaning and hygiene products to allow more wiggle room for food, but I also stockpile on canned veggies, Progresso soups, tuna, Ortega taco shells, frozen fruits and veggies… anything I can plan ahead with.

Put It All Together

I find that almost all of Crystal’s posts can work for us (a newlywed gluten-free couple) the same as it might work for a wheat-flour loving family of seven! Plan ahead, stay organized, and stay positive.

Sara Bell is a 20-something newlywed from Prescott, Arizona. When she isn’t bargain-shopping or cooking, she loves reading, writing, photography, and spending time with her new husband. They have also recently purchased a 1973 Winnebago and have big plans to travel the U.S. in it. You can read about her adventures on her blog, The Traveling PhoBlogWriPher.

photo credit

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Comments

  1. Erin says

    Thanks Sara! As a mom of a baby recently diagnosed with allergies to gluten and milk, I am glad to know there is some help out there! Just in the last week we’ve dropped about $80 on GF/DF stuff, testing out what she will/won’t eat.

  2. hannah says

    thanks so much for posting this! We are about to find out if our daughter is going to have to be gluten free and this is so helpful! Also around my area theres a bargain store that sells gluten free things for so much cheaper than grocery stores!

  3. Twila says

    I always tell people you learn after a little time going gluten free, where to spend. After finding out my daughter had a wheat allergy, I tried lots of things. I found out it paid to buy her bread (because I have difficulty with consistently baking good GF bread). We eat a lot of meat and veggies, so the transition has not been too bad.

  4. says

    My son is CF (Casein-Free) and we also have had to get creative with how we shop for him. This article is a great reference for those who want to save money on shopping with food allergies. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. says

    This is a great topic! I and my three children eat gluten-free, and our whole family (my husband included) eats mostly dairy-free, and we try to go organic on certain products. I definitely don’t get anywhere close to $150 per month, but with 5 people eating this way and two children still in diapers, I think our $700-$800 per month for all groceries is not too terrible (at least I hope so!). Definitely not $300 per month per person. :-) I have a gluten-free recipe / advice blog that should be linked with my name above!

    • Jennifer C. says

      Thank you, Jessica!!! I am in a VERY similar situation and we are trying (trying trying) to stay at $600 a month on a gluten free/organic/whole foods kind of diet with 3 (now 2!) in diapers. So your comment made me feel good that you spend 700-800. Now I feel like I must be doing the right things. It’s hard not to compare to others’ budgets…I feel like I’m spending so much. But we eat fairly healthfully!

      • says

        Oh, that’s encouraging… I started feeling a bit self-conscious after admitting our monthly budget (which does include diapers and household products, btw), but I found this website that calculates what the cost of a nutritious diet would be for American families at different levels of cost (thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal): http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodCost-Home.htm. Makes me feel a little better that our family is still within the “low-cost” range, even being GF and DF, and probably closer to the “thrifty” range since my number includes more than just food. We very rarely eat out (probably once or twice a month at most), so other than meals that my husband eats away from home (covered by his company), that cost covers pretty much everything we eat. But I have been following MSM for about 2 years now, and I still cannot figure out how Crystal can stay within her $50 / week budget! Things like spending a good $10 / week in rice milk alone does make a dent in the budget, though… my husband keeps saying we should buy stock in that stuff. ;-) I suppose I could learn how to make it myself, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet! :-p

    • says

      Well keep in mind there are only two of us so I think that’s a great deal for the number of people when you aren’t just eating $.50 mac n cheese boxed items!

    • says

      To be fair, there were a lot of things I wasn’t eating at the time. I didn’t eat meat or drink anything but water which of course cuts a huge chunk out of a budget. I bought a bag/box of pasta, a loaf of bread, and a bag/box of rice each month. From there I just bought a few staples, like eggs and butter, and then did all kinds of vegetable meals. Frozen veggies were great on a good sale, and also whichever fresh fruits and veggies were on sale at the time. I don’t eat as simply now since I’ve given in to a lot of tasty and unhealthy temptations again. =/

    • Tania says

      ECQ,

      When it comes down to it, anyone eating prepacked goods is getting to much wheat as it is in everything like that (for the most part). While there are several studies that suggest GF can reduce inflammation, help those will belly/bowel issues and the like, there’s a new movement to limit consumption of wheat just to tone back a little. A lot of people also – thought not allergic – are more sensitive to it than they think and discover relief from “mystery” ailments when cutting gluten out.

      Hope that helped!

    • tablet says

      Well, you can have an allergy to a food or you can have a sensitivity to a food (and both of course). Going GF is really the only way to truly find out if gluten bothers you. Many people with chronic health issues (whether they be autoimmune, neurological or other in nature) have found benefit from going gluten free. Of course, that’s not true of everyone. For all those of you who can freely eat gluten, love and savor your delicious bread! :)

    • Heather says

      I have a friend whose whole family went gluten-free because the one person (a toddler) with the allergy was so sensitive that there were cross-contamination concerns in the kitchen. They found it easier just to have everyone gluten free, except when eating out.

    • says

      While I am pretty certain I have a real gluten intolerance, I think it can be beneficial for those who don’t have an “allergy” to go off gluten sometimes. A lot of people just don’t digest or metabolize it well, so it can cause digestive issues, weight gain, and just overall less-than-optimum health (fatigue, lack of energy, etc.). I highly doubt I would be eating this way if I didn’t KNOW I’ve experienced major benefits from it, though!

    • Jamie says

      If you live in a home with one or more gluten-free people, meal planning and cooking is a lot easier if you adopt a GF lifestyle. Otherwise, you’ve got to make multiple dishes, be careful about cross-contamination, etc. Other people believe that a gluten free diet is simply healthier.

    • Patty says

      Scratch and dent discount groceries stores also have great deals on gluten free items, since most people don’t eat them–I get cake and bread mixes for .50-.75 each. The reasons for being gluten free without an “allergy” are to avoid cross contamination in a household-which is hug, also if pregnant or nursing to protect the baby from exposure if one parent has celiace disease, and to give their immune system time to develop and lessen their chance of the disease. Also it’s a pretty healthy diet b/c it avoids many overprocessed foods and nutrient free white flour

    • Paula says

      I am not allergic to gluten, but am finding I have an intolerance to it. I also have realized that when I’m not eating gluten, my lactose intolerance becomes less severe. Since I stopped eating gluten I could actually eat a small amount of ice cream without getting sick.

      There are various levels of intolerance or allergy.

      • says

        It’s so interesting that you say that! I only stopped eating gluten because my husband was so sensitive to it that even kissing me after I ate certain foods made him sick. I was so severely lactose intolerant I would vomit and have lots of other issues but once I quit eating gluten I could eat as much dairy as I wanted and still do. I never had any sensitivities to gluten while I ate it but I hear a lot of people say the two combined are difficult for some digestive systems to handle at once.

    • Jennifer says

      For those of you wondering, having celiac disease/gluten intolerance means you have an autoimmune disorder, not an allergy. (Wheat allergies exist but are different.) Recent research suggests that there is a spectrum of gluten disorders. At the lower end of the scale are those with gluten intolerance; they may have gastrointestinal issues but no permanent damage. At the other end are those with celiac disease; when they eat gluten, they increase their chances for cancers, osteoporosis, anemia, malnutrition, etc. Either group can be asymptomatic. Those with symptoms may be sick anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Symptoms can range from mild to severe gastrointestinal distress (pain, nausea, diarrhea), fatigue, brain fog, etc. Here’s a link for those of you looking to differentiate: http://americanceliac.org/celiac-disease/

      Celiac disease is diagnosed via an endoscopy (the gold standard), blood tests, or stool tests. Gluten intolerance can be diagnosed through an elimination diet. Sometimes blood or stool tests will catch an intolerance, and saliva tests are also available.

      There has been research done regarding whether or not humans should be eating grains of any kind, and I have read some compelling work that suggests none of us should be. Eating grains is an individual choice that everyone needs to make.

    • says

      I recently went wheat-free and am switching to being gluten-free. My nutrition consultant (a friend) has found some links between wheat and PCOS symptoms. I don’t know about that, but I have lots more energy and just feel better when I’m off wheat. I ate it over the last 2 weeks (after being off for 6) and I’ve noticed a huge difference! I’m exhausted and feel just icky. So, without anything diagnosed, being wheat-free seems like a good plan for me.

      • April L. says

        Karen, I have PCOS, and though it’s only my own anecdotal experience, I believe going gluten/wheat free made a difference for me. We have never prevented pregnancy since we got married, and my cycles have been all over the place. We had an early miscarriage 4 months into our marriage, and then it was 2 years before we achieved another pregnancy. That second pregnancy happened a few months after I went off wheat, and I was starting to see my cycles become a little more regular. Sadly, we lost that pregnancy as well, but I am now thrilled to say that I am happy, healthy, and 8 months pregnant! I can’t say with any certainty that going gluten-free is what did it for us, but I believe in my heart that’s what helped me.

        • says

          April, thanks for sharing your GF and PCOS experience! I am so sorry to hear of your losses and am so excited for you (and I’m now praying for you too!). As a single gal, pregnancy isn’t my immediate concern, but that’s where my friend has seen massive changes in her patients. I’m just hoping to end the heavy, abnormal cycles without regulating via medicine. Congrats on 8 months and here’s praying for success and happiness!

  6. says

    Sara, I agree with you on fixing foods that are naturally gluten-free as opposed to buying the products made to be gluten-free. I guest posted on here a few months back describing how I make my own gluten-free flours with a coffee bean grinder. The end results are fantastic and I save tons of money over the packaged GF flours. My son and husband have varying food allergies, making our home free of wheat, soy, corn, egg, dairy and peanuts. We are also on a strict budget. Like the previous person, I can’t get down as low as you, but we try to stay below $500/month for our family of 5.

    I’m going to share this post over at my blog willingcook.com (a frugal food allergy living blog) as well as on FB and Twitter. Thanks for the great post!

    Michelle

    • says

      I saw that post Michelle! I don’t drink coffee and still haven’t gotten around to buying a grinder (this will come as a shock to you, but I don’t like spending money!) so I still haven’t tried it yet but I certainly intend to! I do find that I use far less “flour” now than I did at first though and am always looking for ways to cut flour out of non-”bread” items just to save money.
      Thanks for sharing me!

  7. says

    You are spot-on with these tips! I employ most of these tips myself, as I am gluten free. My husband is not GF and we make that work just fine our home. I am GF in a small town of less than 1,000 people, where we don’t have a grocery store. I have to plan ahead A LOT! It’s a minimum of 30 minutes to any grocery store – and it’s an hour and a half to anything like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. (I usually have my dad/stepmom bring me noodles from TJ’s when they visit! ;))

    I generally do not eat products are specifically labeled GF. Most of what we eat is homemade. Since we got married 2 1/2 years ago, I have learned so much about cooking and baking – and I am continuing to learn more every day!

  8. Horsesinger007 says

    One of my cheapest and favorite recipes for gluten free is to use raw sunflower seeds and puree them in the food processor (for flour). I mix 1 cup sunseed flour with 4 eggs and make them into pancakes. My favorite recipe says soak 2 1/2 cups seeds, then drain and puree them and add: 1/4 to 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 c butter or coconut oil, 4 eggs, 1/4 tsp salt and vanilla. This is great for company! You can make it into muffins or pancakes or cake. Sunflower seeds are way cheaper than almond flour. Have fun!

  9. Jeni says

    I love that this blog doesn’t overlook those of us with food allergies and/or autoimmune diseases that are food related!

    I was diagnosed gluten intolerant through a saliva test nearly 3 years ago. When talking budget, everyone always says to eat naturally GF foods. However, when I want some pasta or a biscuit, by golly, I’m going to have it! Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:
    -Follow your favorite brands. Like them on FB or sign up for their newsletters to get coupons and to learn of website deals. I recently scored a 4 pack of Udi’s muffins for only $.99 when they e-mailed me a high value coupon that I combined with a sale.
    -Follow your favorite GF bloggers. Sign up for their news feeds or like them on FB. Sometimes they have exclusive deals or giveaways. I have won several giveaways which included one of each product from Canyon Bakehouse, one flavor of each of the Blue Diamond crackers, and one of each of the Betty Crocker GF product line.
    -Order online. Some people say Amazon has good deals, but I haven’t found that to be the case compared to local shopping options. However, I love companies like Katz. They have free shipping on orders over $30 and have regular specials. Better Batter has regular specials, too.
    -Make cheaper substitutions. For example, I have a mac & cheese recipe that calls for a little flour, but I use corn starch instead. Can’t taste the difference! It’s only a small amount, but it adds up.
    -Keep a mixed kitchen. Some might find this controversial, but it can save a lot of money. My hubby can eat whatever, and I can regularly get him free wheat pasta with a sale and a coupon. Plus his bread is a heck of a lot cheaper! We keep separate butter, PB, mayo, etc., and he’s great about letting me know on the rare occasion if he cross contaminated anything.
    -Waste not. You know those little end pieces of bread too small for toast? Make croutons out of them, or pulverize them for bread crumbs. Don’t throw them out.

  10. says

    A few years back, it looked like our family might be going GF b/c of Celiac’s. As it turned out we didn’t have to. But when I thought for sure we would, it seemed very overwhelming. The one website that made me feel like going GF would be fine was The Gluten-Free Goddess at http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/ Her recipes are amazing; I regularly make several of them. And she sure makes going GF look like an opportunity to eat more wonderful foods than you might now.

  11. Kassia says

    I’m so happy to see a post about gluten free eating on here! My son and I are gluten and dairy free, and my husband is gluten free. We’ve been eating this way for almost 4 years now, and I feel like I finally have our food buget under control!

  12. Lisa H. says

    Thanks for posting! I have allergies to gluten, casein, and spinach. Nobody else in my family has allergies as far as we know (I’m married with two children) and it can really feel like we’re emptying the bank account when it comes time to hit up the grocery stores. One of my favorite ways to save money is to shop at Kroger. They run Manager’s Specials all the time and we live in a small-ish town so the organic/specialty foods don’t get bought as quickly as the mainstream foods. We have a cushion to where we can stock up when certain things go on clearance or sale.

  13. Coupon Princess says

    Thanks for this info!

    As a super couponer that used to only spend about $200 in groceries and personal items for a family of 4 a month to just recently spending $350 in 11 days on groceries, I need to be more resourceful. My youngest son who’s almost 6, recently was diagnosed with over 20 food allergies, some of which are soy, corn, dairy, nut, gluten (rye), oranges, apples, pineapple, fish, chicken and beef. I’ve had an extremely hard time saving money now.

    It’s alot easier if it was just soy or just Gluten but very few products eliminate them all except for Rice and Beans :)

    He still needs about 40+ more foods tested but among them are veggies and spices, so I am praying that there will be very few that come up positive!

    I would love any other ideas to save money. I will be making my own rice flour and rice milk to cut some of the cost but I have a long ways to go!

    Hopefully one day there will be alot more recipes and possibly a Food Network show for people with multiple food allergies ;)

    • says

      My goodness, poor kid!
      If it makes you feel any better though, my husband tested positive for 20+ allergies too, but once he quit eating gluten a lot of it subsided. Someone told us once that sometimes your body just gets confused so tells itself its allergic to certain things… like for him, beef was really high but has now disappeared. The theory there was that each time he ate a hamburger his body knew it was having a problem so tried to fight off the whole thing instead of just the bread portion of it. How scientific or medical that theory is, I don’t know… but it made sense to us and we found a lot of areas it seemed to be true in, so I hope your little guy is the same way!