Wondering if it’s possible to save money when you’re on a special diet? I seriously doubted it up until a few years ago.
Back in the day when I thought about making dinner, I would head to Trader Joe’s, New Seasons, or another high-end, specialty grocery store and buy whatever sounded good. We had no idea what we spent on food or household items, I just thought that as long as there was money in the bank, we were okay.
When I was confronted with how much money I was spending on our groceries and how little I could be spending I thought that those low numbers were really just for people who ate boxed meals and junk food.
Even though I seriously doubted it could work with our special dietary issues, I decided to give it a shot.
Here’s what I’ve learned about saving money with specialized dietary needs or preferences:
This is not going to happen overnight.
Your cupboards will not be overflowing in the first month of doing this, but by consistently employing these strategies, you’ll slowly build a respectable supply of foods that your family eats.
Stockpile things your family will use.
If you can find 100% juice for a fantastic price (like under $1 for a 64 ounce bottle), think about how much your family will use in 3-6 months and purchase that amount.
When gluten-free Chex cereal goes on sale for under $1, you can bet I purchased 20 boxes over the course of the week.
Many specialty brands have one or two big promotional pushes during the year. During this time multiple stores will run competing sales on these products. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this stuff will be on sale again next month so if you see a smoking deal that is good for your family, capitalize on it!
Putting in a little time and effort to build your stockpile will have a significant impact on your monthly grocery budget.
Look for markdowns and close-dated discounts on organic meat and dairy.
I often find these items for 50% off. If I find organic meat on clearance, I buy it and put it in the freezer immediately. All dairy is generally clearanced very close to the “sell by” date printed on it, however the “sell by” date is not a “use by” date. Milk does not go bad the day after the sell-by date. It is usually good for at least one week after it is opened.
Learn the sales cycles of natural grocery stores.
For instance, New Seasons (a Portland grocery store) puts organic boneless skinless chicken breast on sale twice a year for around $4 per pound (regularly $6.99 per pound). When it goes on sale, I stock up and freeze it.
QFC puts wild salmon on sale for $5-ish per pound a few times a year and they will filet it and cut it to order for free. Fred Meyer has their Founder’s Day Sale one week per year and usually has fantastic deals on Tillamook cheese and Amy’s Gluten-Free Frozen Entrees. I typically use a manufacturer’s coupon on the sale items to get these specialty foods for a reasonable price.
Look for natural and organic coupons in the store.
Look for tearpad coupons hanging on the shelves in Fred Meyer, Whole Foods, and New Seasons as well as conventional grocery stores. If your store has digital coupons or a mobile app (like Fred Meyer/Kroger), look for coupons on your favorite products.
Write or email companies that make what you use and love.
Praise the products or if you have a concern or issue, let the manufacturer know and ALWAYS include your mailing address. You will be surprised how often these companies will send you high value coupons or even coupons for free products.
Buy specialty items online.
Amazon.com will frequently run specials on specialty foods. For instance, I ordered a case (six boxes) of gluten-free crackers for about $10. This may not seem like a big deal to many readers who can get Wheat Thins for under $1 at the grocery store, but gluten-free crackers generally retail for $4.99 or more a box.
As the years go on, specialty food items are available from more and more websites and stores and there are tons of food delivery services available. These can be great options to help avoid running to multiple stores. Brandless is a great site for finding non-GMO, vegan or gluten-free options.
Saving money on a special diet does not need to take a bunch of time.
Do what you can. Even if you’re getting “deals” on half the food you purchase, you’re saving money from buying it full price at the local natural food store.
Be sure to check out our blog series “Saving Money on Real Food” for tons of resources and ideas.
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