Step 4: How to Shop
Alright, you’ve got clean pantry shelves just waiting to be filled (right?). Now what?
I’ll admit that when I first started my own transition from gluten-full to gluten-free products, I was totally overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to buy, and I certainly didn’t know where to buy it. Now, many months later, I’ve realized there is a plethora of information out there, as well as a slew of sources.
In today’s post, I’ll try to break down months of research for you to make your life a little easier!
Tip 1: Don’t go to the grocery store
At least, not at first. Your regular, down-the-street grocery store can sometimes be your most expensive option. Since we all know switching to healthier choices is more expensive, cost is the #1 issue I’ll be dealing with.
For the first few months of sourcing gluten-free products, I was literally driving to four stores in a week. Not only did my gas bill go up; I also became very disenchanted with the process. I knew it wouldn’t last if I didn’t find a better solution. What did I do? I went online.
Tip 2: Shop online
I know, I know, you’re thinking: shipping costs. Ah-ha! I have some thoughts here. Sign up to become a “frequent flyer” at your favorite online store, and you will almost always get free shipping one way or another.
“Like” the store on Facebook for deals and steals and first pass at discounts. This sounds obvious but a lot of us forget about it. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve found out something was half off this week at Whole Foods Market because I’m their friend on Facebook!
Sign up for email updates. I hesitated to do this for a long time because I didn’t want to junk up my inbox. If that’s your hurdle, then create an email account just for the deals: email@example.com, for example. Send all of your blast emails there. (Some people are even really specific and break out their deal emails by category: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc.)
Join coupon sites that do the work for you. My favorite is also a button on my blog (top left): yourgreenhelper.com.
My best piece of advice: join Amazon Prime. It’s $79/year, but you get discounts and free 2-day shipping. Since pantry items are heavy and shipping is often by weight, this will end up saving you a lot (not to mention the gas you’re saving, and the sanity, by not having to drive all over town).
If you’re a mommy, you can join Amazon Moms and automatically become enrolled in Prime for free. Amazon Moms gives you 15% off all baby items. (I promise, this is the cheapest place to buy diapers!)
Last but not least, Amazon has started this nifty thing called Subscribe & Save. If you find an item that your family uses a lot (like, I don’t know, toilet paper), you can “subscribe” to have it shipped to you on a regular basis for an extra 15% off! The best part? You can cancel your subscription at any time for no charge. So, you could buy it once with the extra discount and then cancel it immediately. And if it’s a Prime item, you get free shipping! The subscription options are every month, every three months, every six months – you can choose one that works for you. (For example, I subscribed to Pamela’s gluten-free pancake mix and set it to ship to me once every three months. If I’m getting low then I can log on and ask for a shipment to come now, or I can change the shipment schedule altogether.)
Did you catch that: if you’re buying an Amazon Moms item via Subscribe & Save (like diapers), you get 30% off + free shipping. WOW!
The best part? Amazon has almost every organic/natural brand I’ve found at specialty shops, but I don’t have to drive to a million stores!
Tip #3: Become a coupon clipper
You might already be one. I resisted this forever. Too annoying, not enough time, you name it – I had an excuse. (The real impediment was probably pride, but I’ll save that for another day.) Now, it’s an absolute necessity, and it makes organic affordable (sort of).
I don’t mean that I literally sit down every Sunday and clip coupons out of the paper. I do mean that I shop the sales. This involves knowing prices of the things that I buy the most.
Here’s a great example: Annie’s Organic Bunny Snacks, the fruit kind. My kids eat these like crazy. I can go through a box in two days. So, I needed to find the cheapest source. I have the bulk prices from Amazon memorized so that when I’m at my grocery store or on a Target run I can compare. One week they were on sale at Target so I bought them there. The next week they were on sale at H-E-B (the grocery store) so I bought them there. I also have them on Subscribe & Save at Amazon, but only one flavor is discounted on their site. The other two flavors are just as expensive as they are at the grocery store (price per unit), so I only buy the discounted flavor from Amazon.
Tip #4: Don’t get stuck in a rut
As my example above illustrates, be flexible, be aware, and always be on the lookout. I even check drink prices when I’m at Lowe’s picking up something for the backyard – you never know where you will find a deal!
Tip #5: Share your resources
If you find a deal, let your friends know and ask them to do the same. I can’t tell you how many times my friend Jen has called me to tell me that X is on sale at Target or Y is on sale at H-E-B.
Tip #6: Join a bulk shopping center like Costco
I mention Costco specifically because they have a wonderful assortment of organic, grass-fed, and gluten-free. It’s truly impressive. For a $50 annual membership you can reduce your price per unit significantly, easily recouping that up-front cost.
I buy things like Food for Life quinoa chips, dog food, toilet paper, paper towels, eggs (36 organic eggs at Costco cost $4.99, as much as 12 organic eggs at the grocery store), and meat at Costco.
Tip #7: Invest in a deep freezer
You can find one for less than $200. If you calculate that steaks at Costco are three for $25 and organic ground beef is $4.99/pound (on sale at Costco) and is normally sold in 3 pound packs, and you buy one each per week, you’ll recoup that $200 in 5 weeks. The meat will stay good up to one year.
Obviously, the return on investment is worth it, not to mention the awesome feeling of knowing you have stuff in the freezer to make when you don’t have dinner planned.
Tip #8: Invest in a shelving unit for your garage
You might have oodles and oodles of space, but I don’t. When I realized that buying in bulk would save me significant amounts of cash, I bought a $39 steel shelving unit (at Costco) and had my husband set it up in the garage (next to the deep freezer, of course). It’s where I put my back-stock of gluten-free goods as well as my toilet paper, dog food, paper towels, sponges, trash bags, etc.
Tip #9: Get creativeOne of my neighbors has found a local source for a grass-fed, organic cow. (Yes, I do mean, cow.) She works directly with the rancher, orders the cow and cuts of meat, and then emails out a spreadsheet with a price per pound to all of her friends (and they then email it to their friends). Everyone places their orders. She graciously drives about an hour out of town to pick up the meat. We all go over and pick it up when it’s ready, paying her for the meat. She does this about once every three months. It’s not cheap to buy a cow, but it’s less expensive than buying grass-fed, organic beef from any store source we’ve found.
A note on Farmer’s Markets: while the produce and meat and eggs are by far and away better from local, fresh, organic sources you find at these markets, I have yet to be able to afford anything but the occasional produce purchase. I still go to them so my kids will learn, and because I sometimes find a great deal (peppers were much cheaper at the market a few weeks back than at the grocery store, and much tastier).
The bottom line? When I switched to gluten-free my monthly grocery bill went up by about 1/3. That was painful. A few months later I decided I needed to also try to buy as much organic as possible. This made my bill almost double (and I wasn’t buying organic meat yet!).
Now, after implementing the tips above, I’m back down to my average monthly bill, or sometimes just a wee bit more. I shop at two stores monthly (and sometimes I pick up groceries at Target if there’s a sale) + amazon.com.
What are your tips & sources? Please share the love!