In NO particular order…
THESE ARE ALL EXCELLENT WAYS TO SLICE YOUR GLUTEN-FREE GROCERY BILL!
1. BUY IN BULK!
This is a NO-BRAINER! If you have Celiac or are just choosing to go the Gluten-Free route for health reasons, you will most likely be doing a lot of cooking. After all, my hope is that if you are reading this blog you are interested in breaking out of the “Gluten-Free Box(es)” and seeing how much you can save making these items on your own! That being said you will need products that may not be readily available in all grocery stores. Even if they are, you are almost guaranteed to get a better deal if you buy in bulk either from your grocer (ask for a “case discount”) or online at some of my favorite sources (Vitacost.com, Amazon.com, LuckyVitamin.com). No this doesn’t mean you have to buy a 25lb bag of Brown Rice Flour (although if you have the space and money to pay upfront, go for it!), but instead of one 24oz bag of flour, you could buy three and save a few bucks. It will add up! When shopping at my local “specialty grocer” I compare their box of GF pasta at $5.49 to $2.58 at my online source. Made sense to me…and since it was easy to store on a shelf in the garage, I bought 24 boxes of different styles of pasta! I’ve done this when their GF crackers went on sale, GF Rolled Oats, and lots more. Do you have a local Sam’s Club, Costco or other store that sells in bulk? Yes, you pay an initial upfront yearly fee, somewhere in the $30-$60 range, but that cost is quickly off-set by your savings from shopping there. Unfortunately, these stores don’t offer much in the Gluten-Free sphere (…yet), but go there for you everyday needs like butter, cheese, nuts, dried, frozen and fresh fruit, and don’t forget those large portions of meat that you can divide up over several weeks! As a special bonus, you usually get a little break on gas there too! And don’t forget to check out the “bulk” section of your Specialty Grocery Store if they have one. You know, the plastic bins with the scoop attached to it. This allows you to take only what you need of a particular item and the price per pound is usually less than buying a prepackaged bag of it. I go this route when I don’t want to commit to buying large quantities of a new grain or flour until I have had a chance to try it out and make sure our family enjoys the taste!
2. DON’T BUY THE BOXES…MAKE IT FROM SCRATCH!
You can find the time! On MY STORY Page I described how when my daughter, Elena, was first diagnosed, I bought every Gluten-Free Box I could find. Most were over-priced and not delivering in the taste department. That was not the case with Pamela’s Whenever Bars!! These delicious little bars where chewy and jammed packed with flavor! However, at $1.25 for a 1 ounce bar, (of what should be Gold for that price) I scoured the internet for a Replica of those bars. I stumbled upon just that at cassidyscraveablecreations.com. However, the only recipe she had was for the Blueberry/Lemon Bars (not to mention her household is also dairy free and we aren’t) and I really wanted to master the Chocolate/Coconut ones! So, like most of my recipes, I took some great tips from her and made it my own to reflect our dietary requirements in our household. Wallah…a Replica of Pamela’s Gluten-Free Chocolate/Coconut Whenever Bars was born.
And guess what…the recipe will make approx 30 bars at $.32 a piece!! That’s over 70% savings on your grocery bill! And you throw the rest in the freezer to eat at will. If you like that one, I also came up with one for the Replica Almond/Cranberry Whenever Bars. Love some of those tasty bagged Granola’s that cost half of a paycheck each! Have no fear, I have a fantastic Homemade Granola that is extremely easy to make and will hold well in an airtight container. I work at a daycare and the kids can not get enough of those Pillsbury Mini Pancakes (with the syrup already mixed in)! Of course Elena can’t have them because they are not Gluten-Free, so I opted to make my own with a Gluten-Free Flour mix. I just add my low sugar syrup and some butter right into the batter, squeeze it through a plastic squeeze bottle…and Replica Pillsbury Mini Maple Pancakes are the result! My girls LOVE them!! Oh yeah, and they are a fraction of the price!
3. PLAN YOUR WEEKLY MENU AHEAD OF TIME!
Time is MONEY! Take just a few minutes and look at what you have in your pantry, then work backward. Put down on paper what you would like to make and include potential ideas for creative leftovers. For example, you know that pork loin is on sale at your local grocer, buy 2 or more (if you have that deep freezer, #7). Wait, before just throwing it in the freezer, put it in a Ziploc baggy with some marinade. That way, when you put it in the frig to defrost, you don’t have to take that extra 24 hours to season your meat. It’s marinating as it defrosts. A big time-saving tip! Roast your Pork Loin and with your leftovers create a delicious Pork and Vegetable Stir Fry. Make baked potatoes one night…turn them into tasty breakfast potatoes on Sunday morning. I’m sure most of you know how to get creative with your leftovers, but if you put some ideas for the week on paper and tack it to your frig, you will be more likely to use ingredients before they go bad (guilty as charged!) and will also be less likely to feel overwhelmed after work when the kids are hungry and you haven’t given dinner a second thought!
4. DON’T WASTE ANYTHING!
Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! I never realized until I started to really pay attention, how much money I throw in the trash daily. Tomatoes that I let rot, soggy carrots or celery, stale corn chips, overripe watermelon that I purchased (I still don’t know how to pick a good one). And don’t forget about all those botched attempts at Gluten-Free bread or muffins! I started to look for ways to incorporate these things into my cooking so that money wasn’t wasted. What I discovered…great ways to give them another purpose. If you see those tomatoes starting to go, throw them in a food processor or blender and use them in your soups or pasta sauces (anything that calls for diced or pureed tomatoes). They freeze great, so no worry about using them right away. For plum tomatoes, use my recipe for Oven-Roasted Plum Tomatoes, they’re delicious! Use your soggy carrots or celery for a quick and easy Homemade Stock. Stale corn chips…pulse them in a food processor and you have a nice coating for fried or baked chicken or even my Eggplant Parmesan recipe. Simply store them in an airtight container or freeze them until needed. I stumbled upon this Watermelon Granita recipe (if you want to call it that…it’s so darn easy I feel guilty even saying “recipe”) when I purchased a watermelon that was so overripe we couldn’t eat it. My kids loved it! GF Bread mistakes you say…there’s no such thing. Even the bricks can be pulsed down for bread crumbs and stored in the freezer. For those tastier but, still failed attempts, try cubing them and use this easy Crouton recipe, or this quick Bread Pudding recipe. Have another great idea? Share in the comments. The more ideas the better…it’s all about saving a buck!!
5. MAKE YOUR OWN STOCK/BROTH!
For whatever reason, I was always so intimidated about trying to make my own stock. It seemed like such a tedious and daunting task. That was until I married my husband and inherited the best Mother-in-Law who also happens to be an excellent cook! She has taught me a ton in the kitchen, one being how to make an easy and delicious stock for soups, sauces, rice dishes, flavoring and much more. I use my recipe for Easy and Delicious Boiled Chicken for countless other dishes that I build off of it…but in addition, you also create a flavorful Chicken Stock that I use in a number of ways too. The same can be done with Beef Stock, Vegetable Stock and any other flavor creation you wish to make. All you need is a large pot, some spices and/or vegetables and you are ready to starting stocking! The best part…the main ingredient is free…WATER! You can make a couple quarts of this stuff for pennies!!
6. GROW YOUR OWN HERBS, FRUIT, or VEGETABLES!
Don’t stop reading yet…For all you people out there who are exactly like me just a short time ago, laughing at the idea of flexing your “green thumb” and trying to grow anything, read on. It is not that hard!! And it requires little money up front. My tip…don’t start with seeds! I try to buy plants that are already on their way. Every plant comes with one of those little handy plastic sticks that describes the amount of sun and water that is required (and of course, when in doubt, Google it)! A small bag of potting soil and a few pots later…and you are growing tomatoes or basil or parsley or peppers or strawberries or, well, you get the idea. Some plants do require a little extra care, so do a little research on each. That 10 minutes will reap you much reward. For the $3.50 I would spend on a few small sprigs of basil I could buy a basil plant that will yield 50 times as much!! You do the math. And if you don’t know how or when to incorporate herbs then let me introduce you to the Best-o Pesto Ever, Spicy Marinara Sauce, Out of This World Meatballs, and so much more!
7. INVEST IN A DEEP FREEZER!
I can now say I am a proud owner of my very first Deep Freezer! Purchased from Craigslist (you didn’t think I was gonna pay full price, did you)?! Now, this may not be a necessity for everyone. Why spend money to save money, you ask? Well, if you are buying in bulk, you need somewhere to stash those 3 packages of chicken that were on sale or those recipes you double up so you can stash one in the freezer for one of those hectic nights. My husband works insane hours, two little girls and a full-time job…I like to have things on hand that I can throw in the oven at a moments notice. I also make muffin size Mini-Quiches or Oatmeal Muffins in bulk, that can be quickly heated in the microwave for any easy breakfast or snack. I have a membership at Sam’s Club, and 1 tub of ice cream takes up half of my freezer. Not to mention all the Gluten-Free flours I buy in bulk (see #1), and all those bread crumbs I have to freeze (see #4). Another freezer is just what I needed to make my life a little more manageable. Yes, it’s an investment on the front end but it allows me to shop those deep discount deals and also resist the urge for impulse buys if I don’t know what the heck is for dinner (hint…it’s prepared and ready to go in the FREEZER)!
8. USE LOTS OF CHEAP INGREDIENTS!
Now, if you are also Diabetic, like my daughter, you may want to steer clear of white rice (I read it spikes your Glucose level faster then pure sugar, seriously!!). But I use a ton of brown rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes, GF oats, beans and of course vegetables (carrots, celery, broccoli, peas, to name a few) in my cooking. All these items listed are fairly inexpensive and offer countless recipe ideas. Check out my Recipe Categories for some great ways to get started!
9. SUBSCRIBE AND SAVE!
I have found a few websites I utilize, but my tried and true are Amazon.com and Vitacost.com. These two sites allow you to buy items in bulk (money saving tip #1) but even cooler is that for an ADDITIONAL DISCOUNT they have a “Subscribe and Save” option. This allows you to set up the frequency of when you want the items delivered and the quantity of each item. They will automatically ship your items each month (or every other month, depending on your preference), unless you specify otherwise. In other words, you find that you are using a bag of Sorghum flour and 2 bags of Tapioca Starch a month…set it up for Subscribe and Save and it will be at your door step each month without fail. But what if you don’t need those flours next month because you are out of town for 2 weeks…no problem! Just go into your account, modify the delivery date and wallah! A lot of sites will offer FREE SHIPPING on orders over a certain amount. If you make sure your items in your “Subscribe and Save” account are a little over this amount, you never have to worry about paying for shipping…MIRACULOUS! Worried about the commitment? Don’t be, you can cancel at ANY time.
10. DON’T FEAR THE COUPON!
Although I find it difficult to find coupons specificall y for Gluten-Free items FINALLY! Check out this site for coupons on all the latest Gluten-Free goodies out there. I do still clip coupons for those everyday items we use that are naturally Gluten-Free (i.e. Butter, Cheese, Vegetables, certain GF Cereals, etc.) This does take a little bit of discipline…but if you make it a once of week or every other week chore, it’s pretty painless and will save you in the long run. Don’t know where to get those money-saving coupons? Your Sunday paper is usually a good source. There is always a chunk of coupons stuffed in there. Magazines, local store fliers, and one of my favorite online sources CouponMom.com or Survivingthestores.com. So start clipping!
11. BUY 2nd HAND COOK BOOKS!
When starting out, I wanted to soak up as much knowledge as possible (and still do)! The internet is great, but when it comes to flipping through recipes and having something to read while traveling or during a work break, I prefer a good old-fashioned book over a laptop. Where do I go…? Amazon.com. I know there are countless other sites out there, but knowing that you can return the item if you are unhappy, with no issues….priceless! In my opinion, the best place to go for cheap used books. Come on, does it really matter that a book you will most likely be cooking and spilling over is in pristine shape? NO! It just matters that the material is there and not written all over. Go for the “Good” or even “Acceptable” condition instead of “Like New” and save up to 90%!
12. FIND A GLUTEN FREE BUDDY!
If you are fortunate enough to have friends or family that cook Gluten-Free also…then schedule an afternoon where you get together and do just that…COOK! Gossip, drink coffee, let the kids play. Come prepared with enough ingredients to make at least 2 batches of whatever it is. Then you swap the second dish with your friend. So you decide to make Mini Gluten Free Pumpkin Pies and your friend decides to cook Gluten-Free Meatballs and Spaghetti.
You leave with dinner and dessert for that evening and you feel like you only did half the work! Not to mention you got some quality time in with a loved one. As I mentioned in #3, TIME IS MONEY, so this may not save you a lot in the “green” department, but it will save you time slaving in the kitchen!!
13. SHOP SALES!
Do you get a flier from you favorite grocery store(s)? If you are anything like me, your first instinct is to toss it in the trash. I am not a fan of clutter, and if I don’t look at it soon after, that’s exactly what it becomes. So take a few minutes and quickly look through it. Sometimes there are great deals on things I wasn’t even needing that week, but if Ribeyes are $2 off per pound, why not stock up on a couple and freeze for a few weeks down the road. Now BE CAREFUL! Some people see something on sale and buy it because they think they are getting a deal, but if you don’t normally use those items, steer clear. (i.e. If cranberry sauce is 2 for 1 but you don’t remember that last time you used it in your meal planning…probably best to pass on the deal).
14. SHOP YOUR LOCAL FARMER’S MARKET (Seasonal)!
There is something about walking up and down the aisles of my local farmer’s market that makes me feel…well…healthy. Supporting the local farmers and community is also rewarding! I get so inspired looking at all the fresh fruits and veges pulled right out of the ground. The best honey I ever bought was fresh Raw Honey bought from a local farmer. Now, depending on where you live the prices could be comparable or possibly even higher then your local grocer, but there is always room to barter. Shop the market closer to closing down time…they will be much more likely to strike a deal (after all, they are gonna have to haul it away and some of their harvest could go bad before getting the opportunity to sell it again). Also frequent the market closer to the end of the season for the same reason. I bought basil plants for a buck a piece toward the end of the season, so I planted them indoors and made sure they got lots of sunlight. If you happen to be buying in bulk for freezing or you are preparing a large meal, ask about a case discount. My bet, they will be happy to give you a deal for the large quantity purchased. All money saving aside…you can’t beat the taste and quality of “fresh” items bought from you local farmer. Have kids? My girls love when they get to fill a bag of carrots they picked out…make it fun!
HAVE OTHER MONEY SAVING IDEAS?? Please leave a comment and share the wealth 😉