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How to Limit Your Gluten-Free Food Costs

The Expensive Gluten-Free Diet: Tips for Saving Money


Updated June 16, 2014

If you have celiac disease, it’s crucial to stay gluten-free by eliminating even the smallest traces of wheat, barley and rye. One of the challenges of celiac disease is that gluten-free food often costs more than twice as much as “regular” gluten-based products. In my local stores, a 16-ounce box of regular pasta elbows costs a dollar, while a box of gluten-free elbow pasta costs $2.83. A 16-ounce loaf of regular packaged sandwich bread costs $2, while a 14-ounce loaf of gluten-free sandwich bread costs $5.98. And so on. To make matters worse, gluten-free specialty items must sometimes be ordered by mail, with extra costs for shipping adding to the expense of staying gluten-free.

Following are ways to help curb the extra costs of staying gluten-free.

Get as much of your food as possible at regular supermarkets.
Most items on a celiac patient’s grocery shopping list will be naturally gluten-free, and it’s best to get these at regular supermarkets with the most competitive prices.

Do comparison shopping on the internet.
If there is an item you like, search for it on Google.com and check prices at a variety of sites, including Amazon.com. Prices can vary widely among mail order vendors. Be sure to compare shipping costs also.

When you order by mail, reduce shipping costs by placing large orders.
If you use an item regularly, try to order it by the case or carton. One vendor offers a single 22-ounce bag of gluten-free all-purpose flour for $3.89 plus $7.95 for shipping, and a case of 4 bags for $14 (a savings of $1.56) plus the same $7.95 for shipping –- which cuts the shipping cost per bag from $7.95 to $1.99. If your storage space is limited, perhaps friends or relatives will store items for you.

Join or start a support group, and place group orders.
Support groups can organize group orders to get discounts and share shipping charges. To locate a support group, start by checking our list of celiac organizations and support groups. Online, you can become a member (at no charge) of the Yahoo groups SillyYaks (Celiacs) Online Support Group and receive discounts from a variety of online vendors.

Use coupons and watch for sales.
Coupons for gluten-free foods are no longer unheard of. In particular, check out BeFreeForMe.com, a website that offers coupons and free samples of products free from gluten and a variety of allergens. In addition, don't forget that even online vendors have sales periodically. Sign up for their mailing lists, and visit their sites every now and then to check for specials even when you're not out of your favorite products.

Don’t put the entire household on a gluten-free diet.
Particularly when the celiac patient is a child, it’s tempting to make the entire household gluten-free, both to protect the child from gluten and to avoid having to prohibit the child from eating what others can have. Yet the cost of providing gluten-free items for nonceliacs will be high. Instead, think about purchasing gluten-free food just for the celiac patient. Review our tips for gluten-free safety at home and our guidelines for protecting against cross-contamination.

As often as possible, cook or bake from scratch.
When I was newly gluten-free and overwhelmed with the changes in my life, it was much easier to buy ready-made products than to even begin to think of baking. Further, I desperately wanted to sample all sorts of gluten-free baked goods to see how the taste compared to the foods I had to give up. Over time, however, I realized that I could bake delicious things from scratch for far less money, and with less fat and sugar, too. Teri Lee Gruss, About.com's Guide to Gluten-Free Cooking, has some great ideas about how to save money. Visit her site for her detailed instructions and her gluten-free budget entree recipes. Also take a look at our list of 35 basic gluten-free ingredients you can make at home.

Don’t throw out your baking mistakes or your stale gluten-free bread.
Don’t throw away your gluten-free products if you can salvage them for some other purpose. (See our tips for using stale gluten-free bread).

Appeal to your insurance carrier for reduced co-pays on brand-name drugs.
If you can’t use a generic form of a drug because it contains hidden gluten, call your insurance company to learn what you’ll need to do to get approval for the more expensive form.

Next Page: Flexible Spending Accounts, Tax Deductions for Gluten-Free Food, and More

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