One of the myths about the vegan lifestyle is that it’s too expensive for the average or low-income family. Perhaps this is because many people relate the term ‘vegan’ or a plant-based diet to pre-packed vegan spreads, meat alternatives, vegan dairy substitutes and the cost of some fruits and veggies*.
While it is important to note that veganism is not a diet, but rather a life philosophy, we all have to eat and a plant-based diet is an essential part of living as a vegan. With that said, there is no single ‘plant-based diet’ and there are plenty of ways to eat vegan on a tight budget including or excluding prepackaged food items. Whether you want to go 100% whole foods, or you enjoy a bit of Daiya cheese here and there, these eight tips can help you navigate the vegan lifestyle and stay on budget.
*Wonder why some nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables seem so expensive? “National dietary guidelines advise consumers to cut meat and dairy consumption and increase their intake of fruit and vegetables. But more than 60 percent of agricultural subsidies have directly or indirectly supported meat and dairy production, while less than one percent benefit fruit and vegetable producers.” – The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
1. Buy in bulk
It’s amazing how much you can save if you buy in bulk, either by receiving “case/quality discounts” on large orders of packaged items or by purchasing what you need from the bulk bins in your grocery store. The bulk bin section is one of the first sections I head to in any health food store or well-stocked grocery store. You can find anything from pasta to chickpeas, often for a fraction of the packaged cost. And it’s wonderful to be able to buy small quantities of specialty items from the bulk bins as well (such as a couple of cups of buckwheat flour for great pancakes!)
Dishes you could make mostly from the bulk section:
Extra tip: If you don’t want to soak beans/chickpeas and then cook them, try precooked canned beans/chickpeas for convenience.
Buying in bulk isn’t just for food.
You can often find bulk bodycare items at your local health food store as well. Save your favorite shampoo bottle and simply refill from the bulk section when you’re ready.
2. Shop in season
Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is essential to any whole foods plant based diet, but finding cheap fruit and veggies can be a challenge. There are a number of ways to cut down on cost though by shopping smart!
– Shop for fruits and vegetables that are in season in your area; they will be cheaper and tastier than veggies that are out of season.
– Shop at your local farmers’ market. Every farmers’ market is different, but often buying directly from the grower is cheaper and you might be able to get ‘seconds’ (fruit and veg that has slight blemishes on it) at a discount.
– Try a CSA! Community Supported Agriculture programs are becoming more and more common. Instead of going to the market and picking out a box of veggies, the farmers do it for you, providing large or small boxes of in-season fruit and veggies each week. At first glace many of the CSA boxes might sound pricey, but that is usually because you pay for the whole season at once. This arrangement helps the farmers by guaranteeing them income and giving them money to plant seeds/starts before the season has begun (remember subsidies are rare for fruit and veggie farmers). They then pass these benefits back to you in the form of great prices on beautiful produce.
– Sometimes frozen fruit and veggies can be much cheaper then fresh. Naturally eating as much fresh as possible is great, but if you can’t always afford fresh then go for frozen!
3. Stick to the Staples
Staple items like red lentils and whole grains are cheap and can be added to any meal for extra protein. Look for staple items you can build healthy and delicious meals around.
Some of the staples we rely on are:
– Brown rice
– Rolled oats
– Whole wheat couscous
– Wholegrain bread
– Yellow/green split peas
Keep your cupboards well stocked with staple foods (which can often be bought in the bulk bin section!) and then add veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds and extras to supplement your staples.
4. Plan out your meals
Especially when you first transition to a vegan lifestyle and plant-based diet, coming up with new meal ideas can seem like a task. In the long run I’ve found it’s easy to whip up delicious vegan fare, but as your tastes change, planning out meals can go a long way to cut down on meal stress and keep your grocery budget in check.
Once you get used to vegan cooking you may not need to plan out your meals as long as you keep staples around the house. There are plenty of vegan blogs and cookbooks that can help you find meal ideas and make your grocery list.
5. Explore new places to buy your groceries
What type of small or specialty grocery stores or markets do you have in your neighborhood? Keep your eyes open for African, Asian, Indian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and other specialty markets. Small grocers like these often have cheaper produce and great deals on bulk food items like beans, grains, legumes and spices. They also stock special spices and produce that can be fun to experiment with in your dishes.
6. Shop with Cash
If you’re concerned about sticking to your budget, try shopping with cash. Credit cards and debit cards can create the feeling that you have an inexhaustible cash flow. But unfortunately that isn’t usually the case. Shopping with cash is a good way to stick to your budget and see the true financial impact of your purchases.
7. Cook from Scratch
If you’re not used to cooking from scratch the task can feel daunting, but it isn’t. Simple steps like presoaking beans/grains (to speed up cooking time) or pre-chopping veggies in the morning for that evening’s meals can save time, and (because you’re eating in) cost.
You can also use time saving devices like these to make cooking at home more convenient:
– Rice cooker
– Slow cooker
– Pressure cooker
– Food processor/blenders
– Bread machine (also cheaper than buying bread)
8. Grow your own food
Growing all of your own food may be a bit ambitious to start, but having a couple of pots of kale and other greens on the back porch can go a long way towards cutting down your grocery bill in the long run. And it comes with the added joy of knowing you’re eating food you grew! Start small and add more garden space/pots as time allows. It might take a bit more time and investment to begin, but there is nothing quite like homegrown produce!
No matter how you choose to budget for your lifestyle, by living the vegan philosophy you are helping save lives, the planet and potentially your health, which seems pretty priceless to me.