Special diets (unlike regular old diets like Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, or even simpler ones like the Slow Carb Diet) are almost always a result of some sort of food intolerance or disease. Lactose intolerance requires that the afflicted person refrain from milk and dairy product that contain lactose. Of course, there are milk and dairy replacements. You can buy soy milk or almond milk, for instance, to replace the commonly used cows milk. The difference is cost.
Another special diet is the gluten free diet. Gluten is one of the building block proteins in grass grains like wheat, rye, and barley (and others). Stop for a second and think about that. Do a mental assessment of your pantry. How much of that stuff has one of those grains in it? Now, add about 20% or so, because much of it that you wouldn’t think has those grains (or their by-products) in it, does. Soy sauce? Wheat. Soup? Wheat flour for thickening. Seasoning mixes? Wheat flour. There are replacements for almost all of those things. And, again, the main difference is cost. (well, some flavor too, but that’s another topic for another day.)
It’s how much?!?
How much of a price difference are we talking? Around here, a gallon of 1% fat cows milk costs about $3.50. On Amazon, right now, you can buy an 18 pack of 8.25 ounce Silk Soy Milks for $20. Let’s compare ounce for ounce. The cows milk costs about $0.028 per ounce. ($3.50/128 ounces) The soy milk? $0.135 per ounce. ($20/148.5 ounces) That’s a difference of over $0.10 an ounce. There’s 128 ounces in a gallon. How many gallons of milk do you and your family use in a given week or month? If you want to talk about gluten replacements, the average price for a loaf of gluten free bread is about $6. I bought wheat bread at the store the other day for $1.29! Pasta is just as bad. A package of gluten free spaghetti is usually about $3-5. The wheat stuff can be found, on sale, for about $0.25-$1.00 for an equivalent size package.
It doesn’t take an accountant to add that up and figure out how much of a difference in your finances a special diet can make. Or, how much of a skewing factor it plays in a budget. Suddenly, your budget for food has to be quite a bit higher than it used to be. And, of course, the financial toll is that it sucks up funds that could easily be used for something else should the diet not be necessary.
Planning for the Extra Cost
If you have to eat a special diet, you probably know the added cost that it adds to your budget. But, what about someone just venturing into a special diet? How do you budget for the extra cost? You can either do your research and get a really good idea of what it will cost, or you can just leave yourself a very nice cushion until you know for sure. Researching is probably the more likely choice, I would think. Take a look on Amazon and see what some of the replacement items will cost. Compare to what you normally buy. That should give you a rough guess as to how much your costs will increase for certain items. Using your normal expenditure as a starting point, you can then make an educated guess as to how much you should budget for in the coming months as you begin your special diet.
Another way to offset some of the cost is to eat more fresh food. Adding more fruit and vegetables into your diet won’t increase your cost any more than the new special diet food and will likely make you healthier for it.
Photo Credit: wheat by sky_mitch
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