Food Allergies, Gluten Free, and Special Diets on a Budget

How to Save Money on Groceries by The Allergy Chef

How to Save Money on Groceries Right Now…

First, I have to say this loud and clear: THERE IS NO EASY ANSWER. If that’s what you came here looking for, I have saved you the read, and I’m sorry for your troubles.

The reality is, you’ll always pay with either your time or money. You just will. Crafting food that tastes great that’s also safe requires specialty ingredients that just don’t have the high demand of traditional ingredients. The law of Supply & Demand really hits home when you live with a restricted diet.

If you’re looking for budget friendly gluten free and allergy friendly recipes, RAISE has a whole section available. We also have freezer-friendly recipes available too to help with batch cooking.

Our Family Spends a LOT on Gluten Free, Truly Corn Free, and Allergy Friendly Foods

Another disclosure: our family is not the model of frugal living with it comes to the grocery store. We have generally tight belts in other areas, but groceries are something we can’t afford to skimp on. My needs alone have a baseline of $900 a month, and I don’t eat much compared to everyone else. Two of our kids can’t do refined sugar, and one requires an organic diet. The other has several food allergies and an intolerance that means most convenience foods are out.

A few years ago we did our taxes and learned that we spent $32,000 on food (and other kitchen related items). That’s a car… A nice one with a sun roof. Folks, we ate a car. Yet, it could have been much worse.

You might read that and think we’re rolling in the dough. We are so NOT. Instead, we don’t do the things most people do. No new cars, only purchase clothes and shoes when they’re needed, no frivolous spending, and so on. Additionally, we SLASHED our medical bills by 90% when we took the leap and did clean eating for everyone when the kids were little.

Case and point: in one year between all the kids there were 400+ doctor appointments. I learned everything I could about food, health, and nutrition, and made a lot of changes. The following year, there were 4 appointments. Pretty big deal when you think about it, and it saved us a lot of money. It also enabled us to switch to a much less expensive medical plan.

How Can You Save Money on Groceries With Inflation?

This has been on my mind a lot as of late given the state of the world. My first piece of advice: for those who don’t NEED to be brand loyal, find a brand that’s less expensive. In our case, we MUST stick to specific brands due to shared equipment. There’s one product that we pay about 7x more for because it has to be made on dairy free equipment, and free from corn so I can cook without using my respirator. You can see how in our case, food bills soar quickly.

There are a lot of ingredients in our kitchen with a similar story. Most revolve around dairy free equipment and it’s just the way things are.

If shared equipment isn’t an issue for you or your family, by all means look for lesser priced items that are similar.  Store brands often have similar taste at a fraction of the cost.

My next big piece of advice, which I’ll talk more about later in this article: stop purchasing novelty items and make them yourself.

Also, make sure you shop bulk when you can, along with farmer’s markets. Prices will generally be lower.

Best Budget Tips by The Allergy Chef

Download our Free-From Budget Guide! If you need more tips and resources, this may be a handy resource for you.

Paying With Time VS. Paying With Money

Only you can determine what makes sense for you. Just remember, you’ll always pay with either your time, or your money. It can’t be avoided as nothing in life is free.

For those who need to pay with time, make sure you’re bulk/batch cooking and baking. This is your version of couponing to the extreme. For each batch of something you double or triple, you’re saving future you 1 – 2 hours of time (sometimes more). Make sure you have a great freezer, and label your food so you can rotate through it when meal planning.

RAISE has a whole section of recipes that are freezer friendly to help with this. I KNOW the shoes you’re in and it’s my goal to help you thrive anywhere I can.

If You Pay With Time, Get Others to Help

Paying with your time can feel impossible some days. If you have kids that are old enough to provide GOOD help, get them in the kitchen with you. Free-from kids need to learn how to take care of food for themselves anyway, so really, you’re helping them.

If you have little kids, you’ll need to make an investment and let them “help” whilst they’re young. It will slow you down, but, when they’re older, they’ll provide amazing help. I made that investment and the payoff was EPIC.

If you’re still in the trenches of little-kid-life, see if a friend or family member is willing to come over and help you batch cook (or watch the kids). Having safe food on hand will absolutely bring you peace of mind, and save money in the long run.

Save on Groceries by Shopping the Perimeter of the Store

Generally speaking, this is where the least expensive items will be. Produce will be very well priced when compared to specialty packaged goods. Aim to have you meals revolve around fresh produce.

I personally like to make sure meals are mainly focused on proteins and produce. Some center-aisle products will be used such as rice or pasta. When I can though, I get these on sale and stock up to help bring the overall prices down.

If You Can, Avoid Dollar Stores

I know what you must be thinking: but everything is so cheap there! True, on the surface, it is. Several media outlets have covered in recent years how you’re NOT saving money by shopping at dollar stores.

Are you familiar with shrinkflation? It’s a term that basically means you were paying $5 a box for 12 ounces of cookies and now you pay $5 a box for 9 ounces of cookies. The size of the physical box hasn’t changed and it seems like you’re still paying the same amount. You’re not.

That’s what shopping at the Dollar Store et al. is like. You pay $1 for 6 ounces of a product. Had you gone to the regular store it would have been $1.39 for 14 ounces. You think you saved 39 cents, BUT! The Dollar Store price is really 0.166 per ounce and the regular store is 0.099 cents per ounce. In reality, you’re paying 0.067 MORE per ounce at the Dollar Store.

Multiplied over several items, you’re spending $10 – 20 more per ounce at the Dollar Store. Now, I understand that you may not be able to pay more at the regular store right now. When you’re in a better position, start going to the regular store, and be very strict with WHAT you purchase so your dollar can go further.

Canned & Frozen Goods

Where you can, purchase frozen and canned goods. These ingredients are usually well priced and help build well rounded meals. Often times people wonder if the nutrition quality of canned and frozen goods is comparable with fresh. The simple answer: YES.

Usually, ingredients are harvested at peak ripeness then processed/preserved quickly with a canning or freezing technique. The thing to look out for in my opinion would be added salt, added sugar, anti-caking agents, and other ingredients that aren’t necessary.

For those who CAN do shared equipment with major allergens, Costco has a great range of canned and frozen produce that’s EXCELLENTLY priced.

Shop Farmer’s Markets and Bulk Stores

Speaking of Costco, without Costco, there’s no way we could afford to eat the way we do. A lot of their natural and organic products are priced up to 60% lower than a standard store. Honestly, I’m just so grateful there are 5 in our immediate area. I like to Costco-hop to make sure I’m seeing all the goods available in our area, as the stores are slightly different.

If you’re like us and can’t have shared equipment with major allergens, RAISE has a Costco Product Guide where we let you know which Kirkland/Costco items are made on free-from equipment.

Farmer’s Markets are another great place to find safe food that’s reasonably priced. You can usually talk with people who work on the farm to learn how the food is grown and processed which is great if you have a corn allergy.

If you’re concerned about organic, a farmer’s market is really helpful in this area as well. It’s not uncommon for farmers to use organic methods without being certified. The certifications are expensive and not all farms can cover that cost. Talk to the farmers and get to know their techniques. You might just find the perfect gem for you.

Save Money on Groceries with Meal Planning

It may seem like an idea that can’t save you much, but, the key with meal planning is two fold. First, you’re MUCH more likely to stick to your list and eliminate impulse purchases which we all know can save a lot in the end. Second, if you’re meal planning, your most likely making the food at home, which will always be less expensive than eating out (or leaning too hard into convenience foods).

If you’re not sure where to start on meal planning, RAISE has you covered. We have a whole section of resources on meal planning. Additionally, when you use the recipes on our website, you can generate a meal plan right here, on the website. If that’s not enough, you can then generate an AUTOMATIC grocery list!!! It’s a really cool feature that you can learn more about here.

Save 25% on a RAISE Membership today! Use the code budget when checking out and you’ll save 25% on the lifetime of a Silver, Platinum, or Recipes Only Membership.

Shop Stores Like Grocery Outlet

Grocery outlet is NOT like the dollar store. I had heard about them for a while, and when I went for the first time, I saved over $200!! They had my very expensive maple syrup at 50% off, along with several other free-from brands we love. When I asked how they’re able to do this, I was told that the buyers purchase opportunistically, and that nothing is guaranteed to be there when I return.

While the experience was awesome, fair warning if you have a chemical allergy/sensitivity: the fumes there are STRONG. I had to drive home with my respirator on… it was that bad. It’s also important to note that Grocery Outlet is a chain on the Pacific Coast. You’ll need to check their website so you know what to look for where you live.

If you do find a grocery outlet type of store in your area, CHECK THE DATES. One of the opportunities they tap into when purchasing food is getting products with a short sale date. I once saved 80% on an expensive snack because it was going to expire in 3 months, instead of the regular 12 – 15 months we’re use to.

Am I against this? Nope, not one bit. I just think it’s important to not stock up on certain items at stores like these. Make sure you meal plan around items with a short sale date so they don’t go to waste.

Avoid Novelty Items & Junk Food

Here are items that in my opinion break the bank:

  • Gluten Free Bread
  • Dairy Free Cheese
  • Dairy Free Ice Cream
  • Refined Sugar Free Ice Cream
  • Gluten Free Tortillas
  • Corn Free Chips
  • Organic & Natural Soda
  • Crab (and other high value seafood)
  • Pre-Washed Salad Greens
  • Gluten Free Granola
  • Pre-Made Fancy Salad
  • Expensive Cuts of Meat
  • Gluten Free Frozen Pizza
  • Organic Cold Pressed Green Juice
  • Other Gluten Free Baked Goods
  • Vegan/Plant-Based “Meat”

Learn to Make Novelty Items at Home

We make so much at home not just because it’s a necessity, but because I refuse to pay a truck load of money for something I can myself at home. In fact, that’s what I love about RAISE: we give you the recipes so you can dodge the high prices.

Some items will require you to invest in a special tool, such as an ice cream maker, however it will be well worth it. You can control the individual ingredients, as well as the sugar content and flavors.

There will be times when you can’t make a novelty item at home. In those cases, limit how much you serve meals that include them. In our case, dairy free cheese is the perfect example.

Skip Services Such as Instacart and Look For Services Such as Good Eggs

Instacart is a service that’s in addition to your grocery bill. I saw someone once break down the difference and I was SHOCKED. It costs so much more to use a service like Instacart. In the example I saw, the bill was nearly 50% higher than it should have been.

Good Eggs on the other hand has the same prices as a standard grocery store. How? They’re basically a grocery store-warehouse. They purchase products wholesale, just like a grocery store. The overhead is lower since they don’t have a physical store that you shop. It’s a warehouse for receiving, people for picking and sorting, and the delivery drivers. This model enables them to offer food at the same prices as grocery stores, and sometimes a little less expensive.

The only thing to look out for is additional fees. Recently, Good Eggs increased the delivery cost, the minimum order amount, and added a “Good Jobs Fee” which is a percentage of your order. These charges can add up quickly if you’re not careful. What you’ll want to do is determine the value of gas + time to do the shopping yourself. As long as the fees are less than the cost to do it yourself, all is well.

Good Eggs is limited to CA for now, and services such as Market Wagon are available in the mid west. Check out the websites so you know what to look for in your area. You can also check Local Harvest for CSA subscriptions on produce that can save you money as well.

How to Save Money on Groceries With Coupons

We live in a time where everyone goes to Amazon and forgets to go to the manufacturer’s website. It’s not uncommon for food producers to offer sales or free shipping when shopping with them. Is it as convenient as adding everything to your Amazon cart? Not really. However, you can save quite a bit with this method.

Save 25% on a RAISE Membership today! Use the code budget when checking out and you’ll save 25% on the lifetime of a Silver, Platinum, or Recipes Only Membership.

Check a manufacturer’s social media account which sometimes has coupons, and sign up for their newsletters. May send out coupon codes this way as well.

If the manufacturers you love don’t offer coupons on their website or newsletter, check out rebate apps such as Ibotta. Speaking of which…

Save Money on Groceries With Coupon Apps Like Ibotta

If you’re willing to put in the effort, there are plenty of apps out there that will give you discounts or rebates for your grocery shopping. One of the most popular apps out there is Ibotta.

While it can take a second to figure out, once you get going the savings can be vast. They break things down into categories and while there will be plenty of things that aren’t allergy safe, they offer rebates on fresh fruits and produce regularly. The app does feature allergy brands quite often and it can be a way to stock up on your favorites, or to try something new without paying full price.

I know people that are saving $10-$20 a week by planning meals around offers on this app specifically. That can really add up when you’re stacking it up with other money saving opportunities.

At the End of the Day, Do What’s Best for You

Don’t forget that your mental health is worth something too. One of the nicest things The Papa does is encourage me to purchase pre-diced organic onion at Whole Foods. It much more expensive when compared to me dicing several at home. His whole point is that it saves me time and energy (which can be hard to find some days). I see it as an expense and he sees it as a savings. It’s all in how you spin it.

If you’re struggling to find the time to keep up with everything, pay a little extra for the items that you KNOW will make your life easier. In your case, it might be pre-made bread or a pre-made pizza crust.

Also make sure you’re not putting SO MUCH time into saving that you’re really losing. If you spend 10 hours a week looking for coupons and deals, I’d call that a loss because you could have done something else with at least 6 of those hours. Many people overlook their hidden talents and let me tell you, there seems to be an online side-gig for everything these days. If there’s a side gig where you can bring in some cash, I’d use the time on that instead.

Your Grocery Budget Questions Answered

Now I want to answer a few more questions people have asked when it comes to gluten free and allergy friendly shopping and budgeting. If you have an additional question, be sure to leave it in the comments.

Save 25% on a RAISE Membership today! Use the code budget when checking out and you’ll save 25% on the lifetime of a Silver, Platinum, or Recipes Only Membership.

What is a Good Budget for Groceries Each Month?

This isn’t something I can really answer. Each household is going to be different. Here’s how I like to think about it. When you have a paycheck, try to put aside 10% right off the top. This is emergency cash. From there, pay rent, utilities, internet, phone, and electricity. You’ll also need to budget for gas and any other known monthly expenses. What’s left is food money.

Once you know your number, meal plan accordingly. If you’re finding that you fall short, determine how short you are. Maybe you can’t stash away the 10% yet. Maybe you need to cut back elsewhere, or pick up a side gig. I know… it’s not an easy solution. Yet, if you need to pay with money, and not time, you’ll need to have quite a bit given the cost of convenience free-from foods.

How Can I Save $100 a Month on Groceries?

First, analyze your receipt and look at the big ticket items. Can you live without them for a few months? Next, look at the novelty items. Can you make any of those at home?

Assuming you shop once a week, you’ll need to shave $25 off each week. You could reduce meat purchases by 10 – 15%. Purchase half the DF cheese you normally buy and use less in each recipe. Skip GF bread for a few weeks and make your own at home. Don’t buy the packaged cookies and have a baking weekend with ingredients you already have.

Those small tweaks are enough to shave money off your bill each week, which will add up substantially over the month. However, I hope you noticed that you had to pay with your time instead.

What’s the Most Cost Effective Way to Save Money on Groceries?

In my opinion, the most cost effective way to save money on groceries is to slash the amount of novelty and convenience foods you’re purchasing. Also, purchase raw materials in bulk so you can batch cook to help save time in the future.

Additionally, look for coupons and rebates if you have the time.

Can You Save Money by Ordering Groceries Online?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. First, you’ll need to be ordering from a proper store, or a warehouse model like Good Eggs that I mentioned earlier. Services such as Instacart are essentially personal shoppers and their fees are ON TOP of your grocery bill. You save nothing.

In some areas, Amazon Fresh delivers, and that can be cost effective. To really know if you’re saving, grab your latest grocery receipt and compare the prices. I like to do this every so often so I know who has the best price on the items we need the most.

Also, avoid buying things just because they’re on sale if you don’t need them. You’re not really saving $2 if you spent $3.99 you weren’t planning on spending in the first place. Stores are trying to entice you. Stick to your list.

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