Raina Keefer - The Penny Hoarder

I miss croissants.

Between ages 10 and 13, I would regularly visit Vie de France, the local chain bakery, for a treat with my mom. Over a decadent chocolate croissant, she’d ask about boys and why I decided to wear my hair like that.

Those flaky, buttery angels are at their best when made with wheat flour. I’ve not yet found a gluten-free version good enough to tango with the croissants of my adolescence. If it exists, it probably costs $50.

Or, if you believe the president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, it’s at least double the cost of a run-of-the-mill croissant made with wheat flour (a 2011 study showed gluten-free alternatives to cost between 76 and 518% more).

My gluten-free existence began three years ago. Since then, I’ve done a lot of research on how to improve your gut, taken classes in health and nutrition, and am planning the launch of a health and nutrition website. I don‘t have celiac disease, but I am gluten-intolerant. I’m also cheap in all the right places.

So let’s sally forth, fellow gluten-free shoppers. Here are a few ways you can take the sting out of the increased premiums -- your gut is worth it.

1. Evaluate What You Already Eat

Gluten hides in all kinds of things (soy sauce? Come on!). But a lot of what you already eat is probably gluten-free. As you likely know, meat, nuts, seeds, beans, cheese and eggs are already gluten-free, as are fish, vegetables and fruit.

Think about what you actually enjoy eating before you go grocery shopping so you don’t get sucked in by all the gluten-free options.

If you never use barbeque sauce, you don’t need that gluten-free sauce, even if it happens to shine in the aisle with its specially colored gluten-free tag.

At first, when there weren’t a ton of gluten-free foods, I would get excited to see those “I’m Gluten-Free” tags. Now I just smile and move along.

2. Sell Your Food

You can probably only do this once, so make it good.

When I first went gluten-free, I had a lot of food to get out of my pantry, including a couple of unopened boxes of pancake mixes, some muffin mixes, a couple of bags of flour, cookies, etc. (Can you tell I like baked goods?)

So I sold them on my community’s Facebook garage sale page. I probably made $20 overall, but I was able to put that toward my upcoming gluten-free shopping trip. And I loved cleaning out my shelves.

3. Don’t Buy Gluten-Free Alternatives

This advice seems counterintuitive, I admit. What else would you buy?

When I first started my new gluten-free diet, I didn’t really know what to eat. I bought gluten-free versions of everything I usually ate: muffins, bread, granola bars, frozen pizzas. My weekly grocery bill for me and my husband -- who is not gluten-free -- doubled, settling north of $200.

So I cut out those gluten-free versions of my go-to foods. I changed my diet, and I stopped paying $4 for five gluten-free granola bars, when I remembered I used to be able to get an eight-pack for half that.

Plus, avoiding gluten-free alternatives eliminated a lot of processed foods. It takes a lot of preservatives, salts and sugars to get those things to taste like their non-gluten-free counterparts. It’s all about the “mouthfeel,” folks.

Certified sports nutritionist Melissa Hartwig says that eating things like gluten-free muffins, bread, pastries, etc., is like “having sex with your pants on” — they’re OK, but they’re not that good, so why bother?

By changing my purchase strategy (and diet), my average weekly grocery bill for two people is now $120, just $20 more than what I spent before instituting my gluten-free ways. Oh, and I also lost 37 pounds.

4. Cook and Make Dressings From Scratch

Easier said than done, right? But this strategy will save you the most amount of money, and cooking at home isn’t as difficult as you think.

Plenty of gluten-free recipes require just a few ingredients, and therefore a smaller investment in money and often time than you’d expect.

Try this one for flourless peanut butter chocolate chip mini blender muffins or this one for two-ingredient pancakes. And no recipe is simpler than seasoned meat, pan fried in butter.

Many sauces or dressings contain gluten, so a simple mix of what’s already in your cabinets -- olive oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper -- can make a pretty good honey mustard dressing or even dipping sauce.

But the minute you turn to your local “natural” store, you’re paying a huge premium. For example, my favorite packaged honey mustard dressing is $5.99, before shipping. I can make 24 oz. of honey mustard dressing for less than half of that.

5. Shop Discount Grocers, Wholesale Clubs and Online

This may seem like a no-brainer, but Costco and its wholesale brethren didn’t used to carry many gluten-free items. These days, I’d suggest a gluten-free recon at your local club to see what it has to offer, since many don’t have the same products from city to city or month to month.

For example, Costco now carries Udi’s gluten-free bread, according to ClarkHoward.com. Wholesale clubs are great to get things you eat regularly, like crackers and cereal -- and you can find deals on fruit and meat, my favorite gluten-free things.

When I can’t find what I’m looking for at Sam’s Club or Aldi, another popular discount grocery store, I’ll turn to Amazon or Vitacost.com.

I once purchased a box of 50 snack-sized bags of white cheddar popcorn from Amazon for a price even cheaper than my local Sam’s Club. And popcorn is almost always gluten-free.

6. Always Make a List

Wherever you shop, make sure you’ve got a grocery list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wandered the aisles, picking up anything that looked good while decimating my grocery budget.

Making a list -- and sticking to it! -- is key to getting the food you need without going way over-budget.

In a way, a gluten-free lifestyle can make grocery shopping simpler, because where you would once hem and haw over what bread to get or which granola to purchase, now you have slightly fewer options.

Add to that the goal of saving money, and your decision becomes more black and white -- it comes down to the best for your gut for your buck. And that is worth searching for.

As for me, I’ll keep carrying my torch for a gluten-free version of the holy grail of baked goods. I know there’s a croissant out there with my name on it. It doesn’t have to be chocolate. But it can’t hurt.

Your Turn: If you eat gluten-free, or shop for someone who does, what are your best strategies for saving money?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

This post originally appeared in June 2015, but saving money on groceries is always in season!

Raina Keefer is a freelance writer and editor at Quickwitwriter.com.

Mindy Kaling and I could be best friends, if it wasn’t for my day job. I recently tried to snag tickets to her book tour -- they went on sale at noon, the same time as my in-office meeting. I’d just sit down in the conference room with my laptop early and make the purchase before anyone arrived, I thought.

Instead, I walked into a packed room of people within screenshot. When I finally made my way to the back to claim my destiny, all 800 tickets were gone. It was 12:03 p.m. I suspected foul-play.

It was a setback, but this experience was a good lesson for the main event, the day-long shopping extravaganza that is Cyber Monday. Taking advantage of the day’s glorious deals while working in any kind of office requires strategy.

You can shop during lunch or after work, but maybe you really want that 10 a.m. Gold Box Deal on Amazon (first 300 customers get a gold-plated cherry pitter!), but don’t want to sneak around the office to make it happen.

If you’re a card-carrying member of an office cube farm, here are a few ways you can maximize the 10th annual Cyber Monday, minimize your online storefront exposure and maintain your reputation as the most productive and devoted employee, ever.

1. Research and Set Your Favorites

If you’re like me, you buy a lot of stuff for yourself on Cyber Monday. Even if you don’t, doing a little research the week before about what you can expect to be on sale can help limit your non-work Internet time.

Dealnews.com reports that Cyber Monday is the best of the Thanksgiving holidays to purchase stuff like cameras, toys, travel and the things I buy a lot of: clothes, shoes and beauty products.

So, I’ll sit down and set up a timetable of purchases, including URLs and items, around my day’s schedule. That way I’m never spending a lot of time online in one sitting.

Once you’ve got your schedule, bookmark all your sites in your browser and have your logins ready.

If you need to buy something that goes on sale at a specific time, well, see Tip #2.

Another tip? Alt+tabon PCs (Command+tab on Macs) can switch your windows fast. This is handy if your cube is inconveniently configured to allow folks to sneak up on you. Bonus: your hand naturally rests close to the two buttons. Or maybe that’s just me.

2. Find a Surrogate Shopper

If you can’t get out of a meeting but absolutely need to buy that $100 Kitchenaid mixer that goes on sale at 8:30 a.m. -- because it will sell out -- learn from my Mindy Kaling mistake. Get a surrogate shopper.

Ideally, this person is a close friend who is employed (or not) at a laid-back, casual establishment where management doesn’t care if their employees shop all day and night using their speedy, secure Internet.

Close friends are important because you’re either going to give them your Macy’s log-in/password, your credit card info or they’re going to buy the mixer for you and you’ll have to pay them back in dollars or Russian rubles. Decide what works and be confident knowing that you won’t have to lift a finger in your office to get a great deal.

Seriously, though, if you see a Kitchenaid mixer for $100, buy 20 and sell them. That’s an amazing price, and everyone I know goes nuts over Kitchenaid anything.

3. Set up Alerts and Follow Social Media

Sometimes you just won’t know what’s on sale and (much as we’d like to) us office folks can’t waste time simply browsing J.Crew’s website all day. If you want to be able to jump on a sale, you’ve gotta be prepared.

Sign up with your fave online stores ahead of time to get e-mails and alerts about deals.

Amazon has suggestions, like following @amazondeals on Twitter, and I recommend following the Twitter and Facebook accounts for all of your potential vendors. You might also get access to follower-only sales. We all like to feel exclusive.

Lastly, if you’re looking for a very specific piece to go on sale, check out a few sales-tracking tools, such as Lyst or Shoptagr. The latter tracks sales in real-time and sends alerts when your items go on sale.

For comprehensive sale alerts (not just for clothes and accessories), take a few minutes to set up a Google Alert. Use the words “Cyber Monday deals,” and sit back while Google does the tracking for you.   

4. Memorize Your Credit Cards or Use PayPal

Nothing says “I’m not really working” like holding your credit card in one hand and pecking out the numbers on your keyboard. It’s time-consuming and unnecessary.

Plus, memorizing your numbers can be handy for lots of situations. Don’t want to get off the couch to restart your Hulu subscription? Bang,done. Too tired to open your wallet sitting three feet away when ordering lunch at the office? No problem.

If you can use PayPal, do so -- entering all of your billing information saves time, too.     

5. Employ Mobile Strategies or Work From Home

These may seem like obvious tips, but they still require planning.

For example, most offices are closed the Friday after Thanksgiving, and staff are likely expected back in the office on Monday. How can you possibly need more time at home? You’ve had four whole days!

But if you plan an 8 a.m. “conference call,” with or without the quotes, and want to take it from home, you should probably do it. And, if you happen to do a bit of multitasking on sale sites, all the better.

Additionally, apps have made it easier to quickly and discreetly shop for anything, anytime. So prior to Cyber Monday, be sure to download the apps for all your favorite stores.

While you’re in the office, who’s to say whether you’re on your smartphone brainstorming solutions to combat your company’s revenue shortfall or buying five $30 cashmere sweaters?

It’s entirely possible to implement any of these tips or strategies while being a good, responsible employee. The majority of office workers visit non-work related websites every day, anyway, and likely not for as good of a reason as Cyber Monday. Plus, the desire to save money could even be seen as a valuable employee trait.

That said, you might want to restrain yourself from online shopping in the conference room, especially while you’re still connected to your office projector or LED screen. Happy shopping, officemates!

Raina Keefer is a freelance writer, editor and penny pincher at Quickwitwriter LLC. Writing feeds herself and her J.Crew addiction.

This post originally appeared on our special Cyber Monday site.


No, I’m not kidding: some people earn up to $13,000 a year selling their poop.

A company called OpenBiome in Medford, Mass., uses the poop to help physicians around the country treat patients infected with Clostridium difficile, a cheeky little bacterium that can be tough to eradicate solely by traditional means like antibiotics.

Since a C. difficile infection can cause a range of symptoms -- from severe diarrhea to kidney failure and even death -- OpenBiome is happy to pay donors $40 per sample (with a $50 bonus if you come in five days a week) to help introduce healthy bacteria to patients’ gastrointestinal tracts, where C. difficile thrives.

Beyond the cash, which comes out to a neat $13,000 per year with the regular weekly bonus, your poop will actually save lives. About 90% of patients are cured, according to OpenBiome, which means they no longer need to memorize mall layouts to determine optimal restroom options.

How to Sell Your Poop

Don’t drop it like it’s hot just yet! To be eligible to join the registry and start the screening process, potential donors must meet the following criteria:

1. Commit to donating at least four times per week for a 60-day period

2. Be between 18 and 50 years old

3. Have a BMI less than 30 (calculate yours here)

4. Have limited recent foreign travel; donors must not have traveled outside the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan in the past year.

Meet these criteria? You’re not on the list just yet. You also can’t become a donor until you’ve passed the following steps:

Step 1

Join the Stool Donor Registry via a 12-question survey. At the moment, OpenBiome is only accepting donors who work or live near its lab in Medford, Mass.

Step 2

You’ll be asked to come to the lab, meet and interview with the chief medical officer, and answer a medical questionnaire. Don’t be nervous! The questions will be fairly standard, similar to ones you’d answer before donating plasma or blood.

Step 3

Undergo a stool screen and blood screen. Ack! Yes, this process will involve needles and pooping in a cup. It’s all for a good cause … and a payday!

This step isn’t required for each donation; both the blood and the stool screen don’t need to be repeated until you’ve reached your 60-day tenure.

Step 4

If all of the results check out, get that fiber ready -- you’re in! Let the pooping commence. You’ll head to the lab to make your donations at least four days each week.

Step 5

As I mentioned, you’ll need to undergo another round of blood and stool testing 60 days after your first donation. If the results check out, the stool collected in your first 60 days will be released to treat actual patients.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t pass muster. Only 4% of 1,000 possible donors were approved to donate, according to The Washington Post. But don’t let that stop you from applying! If your stool services are declined, at least you’ll know the state of your own gut microbiome.

Selling poop

What If I’m Not in Massachusetts?

You may have to wait a bit to become a donor. But hopefully not that long.

OpenBiome is the country’s first official bank of fecal microbiota preparations, and although Lawrence J. Brandt, MD, notes that the first fecal transplantation was performed in humans all the way back in 1958, it’s clear the field is still relatively unplowed and has a lot of potential.

Its use in C. Difficile infections is well-known, but according to Brandt, “Clinicians have limited experience using fecal transplantation for a variety of gastroenterologic diseases -- including ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome and idiopathic constipation -- and studies are now being conducted in these areas.”

“I know of case series, case reports and several unreported cases in which fecal therapy has been used to treat non-gastrointestinal diseases, including insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, morbid obesity, Parkinson disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and autism.”

More uses for this procedure mean there’ll be a market for more samples. Based on the untapped potential for this kind of treatment, we’re definitely going to need a bigger boat … of poop.

Maybe you can just hold it a little longer?

Your Turn: Would you try to sell your poop?

Raina Keefer is writer and editor at Quickwitwriter LLC (www.quickwitwriter.com).