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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Lucy S. says
I also recommend shopping at Grocery Outlet for great prices on organic items.
Angela Davis says
Great suggestion, Lucy!
Thank you for the great post! I wonder how you keep track of the cost if you don't hesitate to stock up. How does the cost of 200 juices or the amount that you spent to get $100 worth of single check rebate fit into your budget??
My problem is I can't let go the good deals. Now my cupboard and bothroom is well stocked and I always think if I took a break from coupon shopping this month, my credit card bill would be low…but I never take a break because there is always a good deal on something. I know I should set a budget and limit my shopping within, but it's hard…
This was a great post. Thank you Laurie, for great points to keep in mind. I have been couponing for about a year, & have done many great deals. I still think about all the "snacks" & processed food that I get for free & wonder if it is really what I want to bring in my home. This year, it's my goal to really think about what i'm buying, setting a budget & looking for more healthy options. Thanks for the encouragement!
Thank you Hard Core Laurie and Frugal for posting this. I needed it. I've been couponing since May last year, and some times feel I'm not doing what I should – saving wise. My friend who taught me to coupon says I'm her best student. My husband loves what I do and save for our family. He loves it when I walk out of a store, have a shopping cart over full of groceries and only pay about $20-30. Thank you again, you've given me the confidence that what I'm doing is just fine.
Thank you. I am going to send a link to this post to some of my friends. 🙂
Thanks for the boost. I also buy lots of organic and have had a hard time figuring out how to make couponing work for me while shopping at New Seasons and Fred Meyer.
Also, just got an email that Annie's Naturals has new gluten free products. Thought you might want to know! It looks like they have Vanilla Bunny Cookies and Mac-n-Cheese!
Thanks for the great info! It was sure amazing to hear her break down all that planning and shopping for our benefit.
Great Post. Thank you for taking the time to write it and sharing it with all of us. Very encouraging.
p.s. Delete the "negative nannies" comments. Ugh. Everyone's got a complaint about something!!
I'm curious if the electrical and up front cost of buying an additional freezer is worth it – there's no way I could fit months worth of meat in the current freezer for instance.
I love my chest freezer, totally worth it! Check garage sales and craigslist to find an inexpensive one. That bad boy is one of the reasons we are able to eat organic/grass fed meat 🙂
I also love our freezer!!
We love the grass fed beef that we buy from a local rancher once a year. Plus the first two weeks of November I usually buy 3 to 6 turkeys when they are at great prices. Then we enjoy a full turkey dinner every few months. We love the left overs. Plus I make an enormous pot of turkey soup for our local homeless shelter — which will generally feed up to 70.
Oh and I store a LOT of ripe bananas in the freezer — use them all up in Nov/Dec. Homemade banana bread makes great Christmas gifts for family and friends. Also great place to store your flour.
Thanks so much for this post! Our family is heading in this direction as well, doing most of these same things. I've been couponing for over a year now and I feel like I've really finally got it figured out and can make some of these big changes without breaking the bank.
Thank you for doing this post. We have kids with celiac disease and while we do use Amazon I'm not doing several of the things you mention. Plus it's just a killer to try an expensive gluten free item only to find that it tastes horrible. I will use the suggestions. Thank you!
Thanks for the info!! I am living how you were living right now!! And its not fun! I went over our bank statement and found that one month we spent over $800 on groceries. There are two adults and a four year old in our house…I mean we do have lots of bbq's but not $800 worth!! I always bought stuff on sale at Winco, and still $800 a month. I couldn't believe it! I am now down to about $50 a week over the last two weeks, and the cupboards and freezer are overflowing! I have been really frustrated over the last 9 months or so having graduated with an MBA and not finding a job!! I seriously thought we will never own a house, we will never be able to clothe our family or have another child! The career I was supposed to get when I graduated is nowhere to be found. BUT…after all the couponing I've been doing, it seems that my little part time job plus the savings is equaling a low paying full time job!! Thanks for all your hard work, and making this A LOT easier for me. It is really helping our family, and I want you to know that your help is appreciated! Big Thanks!!
Kelleigh Ratzlaff Designs says
SUCH an awesome post! I tweeted it! People need to hear that couponing doesn't need to mean junk food!
PNW Frugal Finds says
This is a fantastic article and I get a lot of the same questions – I am going to post a link to it on my blog as well! thank you!
Just to comment further on finding organic or natural meat….
Those who live in within an easy drive of West Linn might keep an eye on the weekly specials at Market of Choice. They often run specials on both natural and organic meats and dairy. It is worth the drive if you are able to stock up.
(There are other locations I just don't know them.)
I don’t live near MOC, but I do check their sales. It’s over an hour for me, but I love Lane Co. So when I am going to a function up there, I check out the sales and stock up. We love Painted Hills Organic beef and their chicken sausages they make in the store. I wish I lived within walking distance of the Mother Ship as I call it on Willamette. I also do some purchasing at Trader Joes.
Laurie – AWESOME post!!!! Thanks so much.
I appreciate this post very much… I am pretty new to couponing and like Laurie I used to shop at Trader Joes and other health food stores with my debit card and pay no mind to the costs – until I lost my job… my daughters love the amount of food now available in the house but lament that the quality of the food has gone down with the couponing and I have been trying to see how couponing and eating healthy, especially with health issues worked together. This post was reassuring and extremely help/healthfull!
The Hansen Family says
What a wonderful post! Very useful information, not just for those on a special diet, but those looking to get into couponing in general. You really make a great case for making this a lifestyle change. Thanks so much for your time, and thanks Frugal Living for posting!