The cost of eating gluten free

Thanks to a nifty new app on my iPhone that I got called Mint I can now budget and track my spending online and on my phone.

Seeing how much money I spend on food on a weekly and monthly basis has gotten me thinking more about the cost of a gluten free diet. According to the USDA, the average single woman aged 19-50 should spend around $159/month on a “Thrifty Plan” and $316/month on a “Liberal Plan” for groceries.

I set a budget of $400/month to spend on groceries (not including eating out). So I guess I’m on the “Extra Liberal Gluten Free Plan”. Even if I spent on the top end of that amount, I probably spend at least $80-$100 more on groceries a month than the average gal. So, that’s about $960 – $1,200 more a year.

I’m fortunate enough to have enough disposable income to not worry too much about what I’m spending on food. And since finding things to eat on a gluten free diet can be difficult enough on its own, without having to take cost into consideration, I’m grateful that I can afford to spend what I do.

That said, there are a few things that I do to keep my grocery costs down:

1. I don’t eat meat
While I do eat seafood about twice/week, keeping my diet mostly vegetarian helps remove some of the big ticket items from my list like steak, lunch meat, etc.And plant proteins are far less expensive.

2. I buy store brand or mainstream where I can
For staples like sugar, canned goods, and spices, I go to normal grocery stores or Target and get the cheap stuff. If I’m making a ton of cookies for work, for example, I’m not going to use a $8 jar of peanut butter, I’ll use a $1.99 jar from Safeway. When it doesn’t affect the quality of what I’m making, I’ll get it as cheap as I can.

3. I try to avoid gimmicks
There are a ton of new gluten free products coming out on a seemingly daily basis. Some of them look great, or are something that I’ve been looking for. Some don’t look that great, but I’ve bought them before because of that pretty “gluten free” label slapped on the packaging. Then I’ve gotten them home, tried them, and cursed myself for spending $7 on a box of cookies that aren’t even close to as good as the ones I can make at home. I’ve tried to become better at telling myself that I don’t have to try every new product that comes out.

And a few things that drive my expenses up:

1. Specialty products I can’t live without
That’s an exaggeration, but there are some gluten free products that I love that are just expensive. I love Glutino pretzels, but they’re $7 a bag. So, I only buy them occasionally. I also love Bakery on Main’s granola, but again, I think it’s $7.99 a bag. Usually I try to resist buying them unless they’re on sale.

2. Keeping up the variety and nutrients
I’ve found it to be really easy to get into an eating rut on a gluten free diet. For example, I love Pacific Foods tomato soup. So, for about two months straight I ate it. Every. Day. Now I try to load my basket with different fruits, veggies, and kinds of whole grains/proteins (quinoa, lentils, beans, tempeh, tofu) to keep me interested. Trying new recipes and flavors helps me feel more content and less frustrated with having to eat gluten free.

That said, all of that variety comes with a cost. Quinoa is $6 a box, spices are expensive, and rare fruits/veggies can add up. Not to mention all of the nuts and nut butters I eat. I can easily spend $30 on nuts alone at the store.

3. Laziness
I try, I really try to make things myself. But making bread with Pamela’s bread mix is so easy that I always buy the mix instead of getting ingredients and figuring it out myself. While I’ve gotten used to paying $9 for a loaf of bread, sometimes when I see a delicious gluten-filled artisan loaf on the shelf for $4, I get jealous.

The same goes for bars. I could easily make my own granola bars, or Kind Bar-type bars (which I do sometimes), but when I’m out and need something quickly I can end up spending $2.50 on a snack.

In conclusion, eating gluten free is a strain on the wallet for a number of reasons. It took me years to figure out a balance between splurging and saving on different grocery items, but I feel like I’m at a pretty livable place right now.

Any tips on saving money while grocery shopping gluten free? Or anything that you spare no expense on?

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2 responses to “The cost of eating gluten free

  1. One BIG $ saver – Trader Joe’s carry’s 2 of the Bakery on Main GF granolas under their own label. Excatly the same product only $3.50 a bag!

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