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I’ve been taking a break from recipe development to create a Gluten-Free Medical Expense Tracker that helps calculate the differential cost between gluten-free and regular food.

The government allows Celiacs to claim the differential cost of gluten-free foods as a medical expense on personal yearly tax submissions. Even though my husband has Celiac disease, we never took advantage of claiming the cost of gluten-free food because, in the past, we simply didn’t have enough medical expenses. All of that changed after I contracted Lyme disease, so I decided it was time to develop a spreadsheet to help track our gluten-free food costs.

I’m not going to sugar coat it: tracking gluten-free food is time consuming! Nonetheless, it can be worth the effort if you can include it with other medical expenses. Considering just my husband’s differential cost of gluten-free food, we spent over $1300 more for groceries in 2013 than we would have if my husband wasn’t Celiac.

As any of you that have chronic Lyme disease know, paying for treatment is anything but cheap — since doctors won’t treat here and almost all medical costs to treat abroad are paid out-of-pocket. That’s why it’s important to claim every medical expense you can in order to get as much money back as possible.

A few notes before using the Gluten-Free Medical Expense Tracker:

  1. Unless your medical tax credit claim exceeds 3% of your net income or approx. $2,100 (whichever is less), it won’t be worth the excessive time and effort to calculate the incremental cost of gluten-free food if that is your only medical expense.
  2. On Revenue Canada’s website it states that “persons with Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) are entitled to claim the incremental costs associated with the purchase of gluten-free (GF) products as a medical expense.” Here is the link to Revenue Canada’s website regarding gluten-free products: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/tpcs/ncm-tx/rtrn/cmpltng/ddctns/lns300-350/330/clc-eng.html

According to the link above, to support your claim, Revenue Canada requires the following:

  • a letter from a medical practitioner confirming the person suffers from Celiac disease and requires GF products as a result of that disease;
  • a receipt to support the cost of each GF product or intermediate product claimed; and
  • a summary of each item purchased during the 12-month period for which the expenses are being claimed (that’s where my Expense Tracker comes in!).

The exact wording on the website makes it look like Celiac disease is the only disease that is recognized in claiming gluten-free food as a medical expense, so I called the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for clarification (1-800-959-8281). The agent I spoke to read and parroted back exactly what is on their website – not very helpful!

I then contacted a certified professional bookkeeper to ask if she has ever had success claiming the medical expense for those who don’t have Celiac disease. Her response was “I’ve never had CRA question the additional expense incurred due to the need for a gluten free diet, whether they have or don’t have Celiac disease.”

If you don’t have Celiac disease, but have been told by a doctor to keep a strict gluten-free diet, my best advice is submit your expenses to Revenue Canada and see what happens. One caveat though: be sure to get a note from your physician that includes the phrasing ‘gluten intolerance‘ since that wording is on the website.

Last year, we claimed the gluten-free expense on our taxes, but only for my husband who does have Celiac disease. This year we claimed for both of us and didn’t have a problem.

Now on to the ‘how to’:

How to Use the Spreadsheet

The excel spreadsheet – attached at the end of this post – helps us track our gluten-free purchases month-by-month on one tab and then compile all the information on another tab to calculate the difference between gluten-free and regular food purchases.

The first tab “GF Purchases” is a monthly tracker used to record information taken from the grocery store receipt such as what items we purchase, how many of each item we buy each month and the cost of each item. The grey-coloured column C calculates an annual total from the number of purchases made each month.

How many grams is in each package also needs to be included (sometimes the grocery store receipt provides the number of grams, but you will typically need to get this directly from the package itself). If you compare the grams of a gluten-free product to its counterpart, gram for gram, you will notice a even more considerable difference in price! The spreadsheet on the second tab will help you capture this differential to help put money back into your pocket!

The second tab “GF Med. Expense Spreadsheet” is where it all comes together. At the end of the year, I transfer over each item from the first tab (GF Purchases) to the relevant columns on this spreadsheet, (i.e. the item name, brand purchased, number of grams, number purchased over the 12-month period, and the purchase price for each gluten-free item). I’ve provided a sample of some common categories and gluten-free items to give you a start, but you will likely want to start with a blank slate when you transfer your own information from the “GF Purchases” Tab to this one. Simply delete the information from columns A to H and input your own information.

I’ve also provided a ‘blank’ row you can use to copy and paste additional rows that will keep the formulas from the grey-shaded intact (before you copy, remove the wording that says “BLANK ROWS WITH FORMULAS TO COPY”). The  formulas in the shaded columns calculate how much you can claim for each gluten-free item on a ‘gram-for-gram’ comparison.

Then you need to do some homework and find the cheapest comparable regular product, the number of grams for that product and how much it costs. You could find this information in the supermarket, but you don’t have leave your house with the convenience of the internet! Instead, I go online to either walmart.ca or grocerygateway.com to find the information I need to fill out those columns. In instances where I can’t find the number of grams, I try googling the product and click on the images tab. If I can find a clear image of the packaging, I can usually make out the number of grams.

Once you are finished with the spreadsheet, the formulas in each column will figure out the price differential. You can find the total of your yearly incremental costs of gluten-free food at the bottom of the spreadsheet (currently highlighted in green on row 66 of the sample spreadsheet). This is the number you will add in to your medical expenses and include on your income tax return.

You will also need to print off a copy (you only need the “GF Med. Expense Spreadsheet“) to submit with your tax return if you are filing a paper copy. It’s not necessary to submit all your cash register receipts at this point, but you will need to save them in case Canada Revenue Agency ever requests to see them.

Keeping track of gluten-free expenses is a lot of work but I try to sit down at the computer at least once a month to input our grocery purchases, check off each receipt and file them away. You will find that if you tackle it on a regular basis, as with any task, it’s not as overwhelming!

A few last tips:

  1. If you use the Gluten Free Medical Expense Tracker, rename it when you save it to your computer.
  2. When I run into a situation where I paid $5.99 for an item one month and then paid $5.49 another month, I usually take an average of the price over the course of a year (i.e. $5.74) and use that as the price on the spreadsheet.
  3. Now that we have additional medical expenses to claim, we find it much easier to purchase tax software and file our tax forms electronically. With respect to medical expenses, the program can determine whether it’s more beneficial for me or my spouse to claim them on our tax form (medical expenses should be claimed on the lower-income spouse’s return to maximize your tax relief).

I hope that sharing my tracker with you allows you to reclaim some of your hard earned money! If you have questions, leave a comment below or get in touch with me at theunknownchef@outlook.com.

Gluten-Free Medical Expense Tracker_Sample_Squeeze of Lyme_updated

Best of health in 2015!