4 Creative Ways to Save Your Money on the GF Path

That, my friends, was my lunch today.  And it was perfect!  Over the last several months, I have truly begun to enjoy things with corn tortillas again.  And NOT just any corn tortilla.   We found these high-fiber, whole grain tortillas made by La Tortilla Factory.  They are called “Smart & Delicious Fiber and Flax”.  We have only been able to find them at Safeway – so now I make a pilgrimage there whenever the craving hits.  Honestly, even my girls and husband prefer these over any other store-bought tortilla.

Although it’s still nice to hear that they love the homemade ones, I honestly don’t spend the time making tortillas when I’m going to use them for enchiladas or tortilla-stack casserole, etc.  I used to make homemade ones (or even pick a dozen up from our local Mexican market that are made fresh daily and sell for $1.35/dozen!) when we eat them with wraps, etc.

I started the New Year without resolutions on paper, but just in my mind.  I really want – and we REALLY need – to tighten our budget.  Targeting our grocery bill and eating out is my top priority.  It struck me that so many people just don’t get it.  The “expense” of eating gluten free is truly the eating more healthy too.

No, I’m not knocking anyone other than myself with that statement.

And NO.  I’m NOT claiming that the Gluten Free Diet is the “miracle” health diet.  THAT complete depends on WHAT you are eating on your regimen.  Do you know what I mean?

Before my diagnosis, I shopped for groceries and ate decently.  However, I also had a ton of  “staples” in my house that weren’t so healthy.  I didn’t read ingredient labels.  Heck!  I am fairly certain that the list of unpronounceable ingredients were way over my head. And guess what?  I didn’t care.  I didn’t even pause to think about it.

My staples included macaroni and cheese, soups, flour/sugar, etc  Nothing extravagant.  But it WAS cheaper.

Cheaper than shopping for gluten free products…. cheaper than shopping than all fresh foods – and a heck of a lot more convenient.

One day more than a year ago while shopping at my local GF market (GF Joe’s *rocks*, by the way – even better, if you live in the area, “like” them on Facebook for a chance to win a gift certificate to shop in the store!) and Kaylee mentioned to me that a customer had come in with a GF specialty cookbook under his arm.  He wanted to make one of the recipes within.  And the ingredients – NOT ALL of them, mind you – just the specialty GF ingredients cost him $35.00.

Umm.  Hello?  $35.00?

Is it just me who wants to say “What the HELL, people?”

I’m no cookbook author.   But seriously, if the book is merely there to help people eat gluten free there is NO WAY it need cost SO much for a single recipe.

I haven’t been able to shake that conversation.  And I have ben bouncing around in my head just what in the world this person was making too.

As I have been asked questions about what I eat, etc, people often comment that it must be “gourmet” (read:  homemade/fresh), “expensive” (read:  not in a box), and “so hard” (read: inconvenient).

And you know what, some days I totally agree with them.  LOL

Especially when I think of that poor guy venturing off into his first GF cooking experience thinking how screwed he is financially now thanks to his recent diagnosis.

Everyone could use some money-saving tips on the gluten free path.  And beyond ditching that spendy-recipe book and letting that author have a piece of your mind about the REAL world of GF people, here are my 4 Creative Tips for Saving some of that hard-earned cash:

1.  Don’t buy premixed flours UNLESS you plan to use just a little bit and are NOT a baker by nature.

Premixed flours are spendy.  In fact, one bag at our grocer (not the specialty market) of Pamela’s GF mix is priced at $9.00 a bag!  Good Lord!  So figure that is one ingredient in your recipe of cookies, pancakes, muffins, etc – and you are spending a pretty penny.

NOW – *if* you really only bake once in a blue moon – or you are hosting some who needs to eat GF once in a while, then it makes sense.

However, if you are a baker?  Forget about it.  Figure out which 3 flours are your keys to success, and buy those.  You can use them interchangeably in 90% of the recipe you find on the internet/recipe books.  Figure out the starch:whole grain ratio in your recipe and the total flour/starches called for, and go for it.  Mix your own.   (By the way, my favorite three are:  millet, tapioca starch and brown rice flour for baking)  Yes, you might need to invest in xanthan or guar gum.  But that investment lasts FOREVER. Get an airtight container for your gum of choice and it WILL last indefinitely.  So there is no need to worry about it going bad.

2.  Shop the OUTside of the grocery store and avoid the “specialty” items in the center of the regular supermarket.

GF Grocery Shopping - Step One

I’ve written about this before.  Shop the outside of the store (skip the bakery, obviously).  You will find the fresh ingredients you need to make a filling and very satisfying meal for yourself or any GF loved one.  Really.

Don’t throw a salad at someone because it is “gluten free”.  Really.  Round out the meal with a great veggie, some protein, some quinoa-tabbouleh (skip the bulgur wheat, thank you, and use some quinoa!), etc.  Make it a balanced plate and offer some wickedly awesome sorbet and fresh fruit with a little fresh lime juice on top.  They will appreciate your efforts and if you are cooking for yourself?  Your tummy will thank you too.

3.  Pick your battles and then go for the WIN at your local GF Specialty Market or online.

So you have a pasta-loving tummy?  Bread?  Figure out which is your “have-to-have” and then price it out.  I figured out that I much prefer homemade GF bread to any we can buy in the store.  But pasta?  Wow.  I love GOOD pasta.  In fact, I’m now a brand-loyal pasta baby.

I can make pasta.  I have and I do.  But during the week, we were are trying to save both money – and what remains of our sanity – pre-made/boxed, dried pasta from GF Joe’s is what I need.  And yes, GF pasta costs QUITE a bit more than wheat/whatever pastas.  However, if it is what makes you feel “normal” or whatever, then target that.

And then get it at your local specialty market or online if you don’t have a Joe near you.  (Just don’t email my Joe and ask him to move, please.  LOL)

Avoid buying the other pre-packaged GF meals etc.  It’s expensive and you can probably make better at home on your own!  You absolutely will have a much easier time living and eating GF when you choose naturally GF foods.  Then your budget can support the purchase of your GF treat of choice.

(PS.  My pasta addiction:  Schar’s.  In fact, it is the only spaghetti my girls will eat too.  LOL)

4.  Shop at your local ethnic markets.  

Yes, it can be hard to learn your way around, but you will be so glad once you can navigate the aisle like an expert!

So you want to try out some Chinese or Mexican recipes?  There are plenty that are naturally gluten free.  (Yes, avoid the wheat-based soy sauce.)  But you know what?  We buy a huge gallon of organic, wheat-free tamari (soy sauce) at a Korean market nearby SO MUCH more cheaply than the bottle of San-J.

The trick about ethnic markets is this:  you kind of feel like a dork the first time through.  I mean this:  when you grocery shop, you know what you are looking for.  You have the lay of the land in your head and your blood.  You’ve shopped in markets like your grocery store since before you can even remember.  And that ethnic market?  YOu may not even be able to read the packaging.

THAT is intimidating.

Admit it.

You don’t know what it says.  You don’t know what it is.  You have to feel it, pick it up, read it, ask, etc to figure it out.  You wonder what it is used for.  You wonder how common it is.  You wonder if you look like a dork holding what might just be a bottle of everyday ingredient.  You wonder if you look like an alien checking out a bottle of orange juice.

Come one.  I know you feel it.  :D

The reality is:  yes, you have to do this with most of the ingredients (and maybe even the produce!) you come across.  And then you have to remember them, take pictures, ask questions, and figure out what they are, can you eat it, how is it prepared, etc.

But once you invest some time in checking out the store shelves, you will find a BONANZA of savings!  Truly!  Like our giant bottle of organic wheat-free tamari, we save money every month by buying some produce (taro, green onions, ginger, garlic, tofu (sometimes even freshly made!), flours (rice, corn, tapioca, etc), and everyday things like rice noodles, rice crackers, homemade tamales/tortillas, etc.

Yes.  Our local ethnic market saves us big time.

And yes.  I still feel a little like a dork when the packaging changes.  But now I’ve smartened up.  I started taking pictures of the packaging for the foods we like (labels, etc).  Then, when I can’t find it, I whip out my cell pone and ask the guy stocking the shelves to help me.  Usually there is some kind of language barrier somewhere – maybe between that person and myself, or sometimes even between that person and the stock (like the Mexican guy who doesn’t speak English nor Korean but stocks the shelves at the Korean Market (????).  I’m always trying to figure out how he knows what to put where and then thinking how quickly I’d be fired if I were he.).  The photos on my phone?  Totally eliminate that.  :D

 

I’m sure you all use some of these ideas.  But which ones are most common?

Please don leave a comment with your money-saving tips!  We could all use the ideas!

Happy GF Shopping all!
~Kate

31 comments on “4 Creative Ways to Save Your Money on the GF Path
  1. steve says:

    Schar is my favorite gf pasta, too. Sadly, I have to use up a lot of other pastas still. It’s pricey, but so 100% worth it. And I admit, the $1.39 bag of Trader Joe’s gluten free corn pasta isn’t bad either. Great tips in your blog post!

  2. Madeline says:

    Trader Joe’s has super cheap corn pasta, I found out the other day. Like, $1.39 a bag. And it seems to be about as tasty as Tinkyada.

  3. I love Schar pasta, too. And the ciabatta rolls. They are what make me feel “normal”. I don’t eat them every day. Or even every week. But this lady can’t live without the occasional mac and cheese or burger on a bun.

  4. kachalmers2 says:

    I admit to being a little lazy and preferring to do one-stop shopping at Wegmans, although it adds up. The longer we eat GF the less pre-packaged stuff we buy, yet we are still regulars. I can’t bring myself to buy 5 different kinds of GF flours, since I don’t bake too often, and I could see all 5 bags going bad before I finished them. So I do splurge on certain all-purpose mixes, just to make life as a GF mom a little easier. :) Thanks for all the great tips. I’ll be sharing this…

  5. Kathryn says:

    Great post.

    I was going to mention Trader Joe’s gf corn pasta, too. Great price and nice texture.

    Ethnic markets are the best – I love my local Indian markets – they’re great for gluten free grains and flours. You’re right, they’re tricky to figure out the first time or two but you can find amazing deals.

    Cooking from scratch is my favorite best bit of advice – not only is it less expensive but it is often healthier as you can avoid artificial ingredients.

  6. Jenn says:

    great post! we save a lot of money but buying rice pasta at our local asian grocery… and bulk quantities of rice!

  7. Nancy says:

    Kate,
    Were the La Tortilla Factory tortillas frozen? We have an awful time trying to use the thawed ones – they don’t fold well without cracking. My daughter would be so excited to have “full sized” tortillas instead of the small corn ones we have to use.

  8. knittymama says:

    I’ve been doing subscriptions from Amazon. They ship for free, and if you sing up to have things shipped by the case you save another 15%. For example, Bob’s Red Mill GF oats are $6.59 a bag at my coop. If I buy them by the case (4 bags) they run about $2 cheaper. You can do this will all the bob’s GF flours.

  9. sharon says:

    I lived in NYC where everything came in a small package and cost a fortune. Now I live in London everything comes in a smaller package and costs a fortune. Amazingly ethnic markets fill the high street and mostly the owners don’t speak english and it helps if you have a man to shlep the goodies home. That bag of tapioca starch that was £2.50 plus postage from the online healthy gluten free speciality store is £1.29 at the local asian grocery. Ethnic markets rock! Its an adventure to a foreign land right on your doorstep!

  10. Betty says:

    Walmart now has a really decent brand of GF pasta, usually just spaghetti and one other but it’s only about $2 a package, a lot less than the other stores that are over $5 for the same size.
    Love the Asian flour but no near markets so we have to stock up when we go with what they have, haven’t found more than rice flour, no starches. I do keep a couple packages of Orgrans flour mix. That has been the best so far but have found a mix recipe that is close. I hate experimenting with them as they are so expensive.

    • Dont really like to shop at Wally but that pasta is GOOD! I just had spaghetti with my family and got to have NOODLES instead of rice for the first time in a YEAR….I felt sooooo normal!

  11. kimmypanella says:

    Love the article! Thanks so much.

  12. Deanne C. says:

    LOVE your post!! Being diagnosed gluten-intolerant last year has set me on an unexpected life adventure…I have always loved to cook (neighborhood gourmet style), and previously avoided most pre-packaged specialty foods due to the chemical preservative overload in them, so thankfully, I had a bit of a head start. I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s (so sorry for the people who don’t have one in their neck o’ the woods) …I love their many choices in gluten free products, however, they don’t carry any gluten free flours (at least not at the 3 stores in my vicinity) and I love to bake and be creative in the kitchen…so I set my course to “Lee-Lee Asian Market” which is the size of a giant grocery store (several of them here in Phoenix), and they have LOADS of gluten-free flours & starches at very inexpensive prices (& huge bags) compared to smaller specialty stores or Whole Foods (which I love, but can rarely afford!). I also have participated in Amazon’s subscriptions as mentioned above, and the prices reflect a huge discount, but I find that blending my own flour choices for particular recipes works better for me then the pre-mixes do. And I TOTALLY agree with the “dork in a foreign store” feeling…sometimes I ask other shoppers to give me advice and if they speak English, they have always been enthusiastic to help me…perhaps I have that forlorn desperate look that makes them feel sorry for me?!! lol! whatever it is, people have been very friendly & generous with their advice, so it makes for a nice warm fuzzy feeling in my heart in the midst of it all!! :)

  13. AmandaonMaui says:

    I highly doubt the recipe actually cost the person $35.00. They were probably buying more than they needed for that one recipe, especially if they were buying flours. However, there have definitely been times when recipes have been spendy, and so I avoid those unless I’m feeling like I’ve done well enough with my budgeting.

    I have learned to skip the substitutes for things a lot and to just eat what is naturally gluten free. It took some learning, and some listening to my partner, but I finally got it into my head.

    • I’m sure the total of the ingredients was the $35 cost. But if you are just starting out – and buying things for a recipe? it can feel like a VERY expensive road. I, too, hope that those remaining ingredients came in handy and did not languish in the cupboards for that guy!
      -Kate

  14. Lisa says:

    I, too, have found that rice flours, etc are far cheaper at the ethnic markets. Has anyone done any kind of research into whether or not cross-contamination is an issue with the flours they buy at their local ethnic markets? I hate paying through the nose just for the “GLUTEN FREE!” label, but at the same time, I don’t want to accidentally make myself sick either. So I go back and forth with what I let myself buy. Thoughts?

    • Torey says:

      This is what I wondered too. I have yet to venture into an Asian market, but it turns out there is one fairly close to me. Our local grocery stores charge premium for GF flours (even if you are buying just rice or just tapioca), so trying to blend your own doesn’t save you any money. I’m very excited at the prospect of getting cheap GF flour, and cheap tamari but I certainly don’t want to contaminate my daughter. How do you know your stuff is truly GF? Is there some kind of a symbol or sign on the foreign products?

      • Torey –

        Since we don’t truly have a standard in the US either, I’m hesitant about any “GF” logo. (Unless I *know* the facility is only for GF items – like Bob’s Red Mill GF line.)

        I honestly don’t hesitate much when buying rice or tapioca flours (these are typically the ones I pick up) in Asian markets because honestly, most of these producers are SOLELY producing rice and tapioca flours. These flours are such staples in Asian foods that if you look around your Asian market, you will probably not even find wheat, rye or barley in *FLOUR* form. You *can* find barley in the dried beans aisle – but never ground.

        In fact, the only time I’ve seen bags of flour has been in the “American” aisle and manufactured by US producers.

  15. Varenikje says:

    My local grocery store (an IGA) stocks many non gluten products, although mostly fairly expensive (Udi’s brand, for example). Usually, I eat foods that are naturally non gluten, like veggies, meats, fruit, dry beans, etc. Chocolate is usually non gluten! I read, read, read labels.

  16. Chelle says:

    I use lots of corn tortillas as well, and buy the rice flour from the asian section of our grocery store (it is cheaper than Bob’s Red Mill). Two other things I do to save money is to use grits instead of pasta for spagetti sauce (I really like it, but my kids eat regular pasta) and asian rice noodles (cut up) if I want to make a baked pasta dish like lasagna. They hold together really well. I tend to grind my own oat flour from rolled oats in the blender and try to keep either cheese or hummas in the frig for those times I am starving and don’t have left-overs to munch on.
    Other than rice flour, the other two flours I use alot are flax meal and buckwheat flour.

    • CHelle–have you had any problems using grits? The only ones I can get here in small town USA are from Quaker and I know their statement on their oats…I am chicken to use the box I bought…it would be fantastic if they are OK! I used to eat them all the time pre-celiac!

      • Chelle says:

        Terri,
        I haven’t had trouble with grits or polenta, but I don’t know that I am extremely sensitive like some people. My understanding is that oats are often a problem because they are planted in the same field that had wheat the year before (oats aren’t as picky about nutrients). But corn is the ultimate high-demand plant, so I don’t think it is usually planted after wheat. However that doesn’t insure gluten-free.
        I use quaker cornmeal all the time without problems, but I can’t use quaker oats (I can use publix oats; go figure).
        If you can get them, I love McEwen and Sons organic stone-ground grits. Whole Foods carries them where I live.

  17. Jessica says:

    My concern with buying GF flours in Asian markets is being able to find out if they are free of other allergens as well. We only technically need our stuff to be wheat free, but it HAS to be free of peanuts, tree nuts and eggs also. I realize eggs are not common cross contaminants, but the concern is really with the nuts.

  18. Judy says:

    Hello all!

    Check out my video “Stuff Celiacs Say”! You will get a good laugh. Enjoy!

  19. Faythe says:

    I prefer homemade food as often as possible, needing ingredient control due to sensitivities to certain foods and chemicals. I prefer to make my own breads, mixes, and have even made a few batches of gluten free pasta (when I was GF, now I do it for fun and for GF friends and family). It’s healthier, I know what’s in it, and it won’t make me sick. There are all kinds of creative ways to serve a delicious, allergy-free meal for anyone if one is willing to put in a little time and effort, and it’s not hard to do. It sends a message that the person you’re serving food to is not a burden; it shows love, thought and care.

  20. These tips will really help me in the future! thank you so much for this post!

  21. Rabid says:

    The nearest Trader Joe’s or ethnic market is a two hour drive for me. I am on a very tight budget and have to choose between certified gluten free and products that are not certified but have no gluten containing ingredients. I buy quinoa, sorghum, millet and starches for baking in bulk , on-line. I cook rice and grains with herbs and spices, sometimes a cheese sauce. My favorite is a rice and quinoa casserole with cheese and fresh chopped broccoli. I grind my own flour to bake with and make some of my own pasta. I have tried to make crackers but they made better dog treats, he loves them, I do not. I keep looking for home made recipies to replace the store bought products.

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