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Frugal Living and Food Allergies

Saving Money with Food Allergies

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Updated May 08, 2008

Living with food allergies can be expensive, especially in the initial adjustment period. Specialty products for food allergies are great, but many are not cheap. As a result, you may find your grocery bills rising -- and that's on top of medical bills.

You can, however, reduce some of the costs associated with food allergies and other conditions involving restrictive diets by being a smart shopper and medical consumer.

1. Meal Planning

It's worth sitting down and making a list of the plain, unprocessed (or minimally processed) foods you can eat on your diet. Depending on your diet, these may include fruits, vegetables, grains, pasta, oatmeal, milk, juice, beans, yogurt, tofu, meat, fish, eggs, bread, and cheese. These foods tend to be among the less expensive options at any grocery store and can be the basis of a variety of healthy meals.

The worst deal in any supermarket is food you buy that goes to waste, so practice realistic meal planning. If you eat dinner out at least once a week, no matter how much you plan to eat at home, account for that when you go grocery shopping. If you always have a lot of leftovers, make one night a week a "leftover night."

2. Allergy Convenience Foods: Wonderful, But Sometimes Expensive

The variety and quality of allergy-safe convenience foods has steadily increased. However, since many are made in special facilities with unusual ingredients, they are often expensive.

How can you decide when specialty convenience foods are worth the money? Consider these factors:

  • Favor convenience foods when you're pressed for options. You may, for example, cook your nut-allergic child eggs for breakfast, but pack Divvies popcorn for lunch.
  • Special occasions may demand special food. In our gluten-free household, we rarely eat bread, but do buy gluten-free scones for overnight guests.
  • Do you want to support allergy-friendly manufacturers? You may choose to devote some of your budget to their foods.

3. Strike-Point Shopping

Strike-point shopping means buying large quantities of nonperishables when they are on sale. Unfortunately, specialty allergy foods rarely go on sale, but it can save to stock up when they do and to use the technique with other staples.

There are two good ways to practice strike-point shopping. One is to keep a price book and record the cost of items you use. If the price drops, you'll know and be able to take advantage. Another is to join a database like The Grocery Game, which tracks coupons and grocery store prices.

4. Coupons and Allergies

You'll probably find the cost of a Sunday paper worth it in terms of coupon savings no matter your food sensitivities, especially since there are offers for non-food items included. But many coupons are for items that are not allergy-safe.

Explore other sources. Mambo Sprouts mails coupons for more speciality items to select metropolitan areas and offers printable versions on their website. They also offer fliers at Whole Foods and Wild Oats. Co-Op Advantage Fliers, found at many cooperatively-run grocers, offers similar savings.

Some companies offer coupons and samples on their websites, and many that don't are willing to send them to loyal customers if asked directly via e-mail. A personal request might go a long way.

5. Buying in Bulk

If there are products that you use frequently, you may be able to acquire them in large quantities at a discount. The easiest way to do this may be to special order them through a grocery store, as many offer discounts for ordering a case of a single item. Ask the manager of the appropriate department (usually the grocery department, if the item in question is a dry good) for help, or ask at customer service.

Some online grocers, like Miss Roben's, offer loyalty programs that give frequent buyers discounts. Amazon.com sells many allergy-safe products and periodically offers grocery deals. If you're ordering online, be sure to account for shipping costs.

6. Allergy Testing: Can It Save You Money?

Allergies that arise in adulthood are rarely outgrown, and some dietary intolerances (like celiac disease) are lifelong. But aside from these situations, knowing your true allergy status can often save you money. One example is lactose intolerance that is treated like dairy allergy. People with milk allergies need to avoid all traces of dairy, while those with lactose intolerance can treat their condition with inexpensive lactase enzyme and can, in some cases, eat low-lactose dairy foods.

Similarly, it's wise for young children with food allergies to be retested on a regular basis (as recommended by a doctor). Many common food allergies are outgrown by the time kids are around five years old.

7. Being a Smart Medical Consumer

If you have severe allergies, you should be aware that emergency room visits in the U.S. can easily cost thousands of dollars. Explore high-risk insurance if you can't get covered otherwise; it's expensive, but better than nothing.

Consider estimating how much you spend out-of-pocket for doctor visits and prescriptions and putting that money away before taxes in a supplemental health savings account . Paying with pretax dollars can save you money, but careful estimation of your expenses is important since some accounts don't let you use unused funds after the year is up.
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