The average American spends almost $6,500 per year on food, which works out to about 13% of the typical household budget. In an economy that's still trying to get back on its feet, finding ways to save on groceries is essential. However, if someone in your household has a specific food allergy - like mine does - the challenge is even greater. You can't simply stock up on every discounted item you see, because the wrong one may cause a loved one to become seriously ill. Whether it's dairy, gluten, or nuts you need to avoid, there are plenty of ways to rein in your family's food spending.
1. Sign Up for Deal of the Day Websites Although Whole Foods Market makes printable coupons available on its website, other allergy-conscious food retailers like Natural Foods Warehouse do not. By signing up for a deal of the day website like Groupon or LivingSocial, you may be able to find discounts to these stores, occasionally up to half-off on some items. Even if your deal is limited to one $10 gift card, considering the marked-up cost of allergy-conscious foods, you need to use everything in your arsenal.
2. Participate in Your Grocer's Loyalty Program Clipping and using coupons is a popular pastime. But by signing up for your grocer's customer loyalty program, you may receive rewards points to put toward future purchases. You may also qualify to receive targeted coupons in the mail for some of the foods you buy most often.
3. Go Directly to the Manufacturer's Website Most natural food manufacturers have dedicated websites. If you've found that perfect brand for your household, sign up for email updates to receive printable coupons from companies like Amy's, Rudi's, SoSoDelicious, and other manufacturers. Even if it's only a dollar-off coupon, the savings do add up over time.
4. Stock Up Whenever Anything Goes on Sale Whenever you see a sale on an allergy-conscious product, stock up. This is especially true for non-perishable items such as grain, rice, and drink mixes. But even perishables can be good to stock up on - especially if they freeze well. Sales like these are usually over pretty quickly, so whenever you find one, act fast. Just pay attention to expiration dates as grocers may offer deals on products that are about to expire.
5. Buy More Produce Unless your allergy is caused by a particular fruit or vegetable, you can save money by switching to a diet based on fresh produce over processed foods. Look for a local farm or farmers market in your area where seasonal items are often sold at a lower price than you'd pay at a supermarket. Plus, the quality is much better.
6. Get Yourself a Juicer A middle-of-the-road juicer is going to run you about $50. However, that investment is going to pay for itself in short order once you put it to use. Again, assuming your allergy is not produce-related, you can use a juicer to create low-cost recipes for fruit smoothies, vegetable soups, and much more. Check eBay and Amazon for the best deals available.
Final Thoughts When doing your grocery shopping, be sure to read all labels thoroughly. After the list of ingredients, manufacturers may print a disclaimer stating that the product was "produced in a facility that also handles [blank]." These disclaimers are generally used more for lawsuit protection than anything else, but you still need to take them seriously. If you see something questionable, just stay away. It's always better to spend the extra dollar than risk an adverse allergic reaction. You can never play it too safe when it comes to your family.
David Bakke is a contributor for the website, Money Crashers and Savings.com, and writes about frugal living, smart shopping, and money management.