There’s a common misconception that going vegan is expensive….and just like any other way of eating, it can be. But eating vegan can also be one of the most inexpensive ways to eat. Eating vegan on a budget does not need to be complicated….it’s just about making a few simple changes….and a little bit of planning.
Here are 8 tips to help you eat vegan on a budget.
Eating Vegan On A Budget? 8 tips to save you money!
1. Plan your meals in advance
Also known as “meal planning”. I used to avoid meal planning like the plague. It seemed WAY too complicated. Until I realized how much money – and time! – it saved me. When you meal plan, you won’t buy food you don’t need – there will be fewer impulse purchases and less food waste.
And meal planning does NOT have to be complicated! It can be a fun way to try out new vegan recipes…or to enjoy a few of your favorites! Pick out the recipes you would like to make for the week, write down a list of only the ingredients that are needed (make sure to check your fridge and pantry for things you might already have), and head to the store. Make sure you have eaten before you go shopping….because shopping while hungry can make you want to buy everything in sight (been there, done that!!).
Tip: Remember that dinner leftovers can be lunch the next day….so don’t forget to consider the portion amounts the recipes make.
2. Stick to eating whole foods
Focusing on whole food vegan basics will save you money. Vegan whole foods include:
- Dried or canned beans and legumes – these are inexpensive, versatile, and packed with protein, fiber, and nutrients
- Dry pasta and whole grains, such as rice and quinoa – these last a long time and are versatile. These can make a quick and nutritious meal.
- Seasonal fruits and vegetables. Buying fruits and vegetables when they are in-season means there is an abundance of them and they will usually be on sale.
One of my favorite vegan whole food meals is a Buddha Bowl. There are SO many recipes online for these Buddha Bowls, but they are super simple to make with YOUR favorite ingredients. Simply combine a grain (brown rice, quinoa, or couscous maybe?), a protein (this can be beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan), and a few of your favorite veggies (salad greens, carrots, broccoli….whatever you love and have on hand! Then top with salsa, homemade peanut sauce, or your dressing of choice….or maybe just some creamy avocado?? These whole-food, plant-based bowls are DELICIOUS, filling, nourishing, AND inexpensive.
3. Buy in bulk
You pay more for anything that is premeasured or scaled down to a single serving. For instance, it’s much cheaper to buy a large container of oats than it is a box of single-serving instant oatmeal. If you eat a lot of rice, you will save money by buying a 10-pound bagof rice at Costco (or an ethnic grocery store!) versus a 2-pound bag of rice at the grocery store.
You can also save money by buying from bulk bins. Most grocery stores have bulk bins, which allow you to fill a bag of the item you want. This saves you money because not only are you not paying for fancy packaging (along with the marketing and “brand name” cost that comes with it), but you are also only buying the amount you actually need (based on the weight of the bulk item).
Some of the items you can buy in bulk include:
- rice and grains
- beans and lentils
- nuts and seeds
- spices and herbs
- all kinds of flours
- dried fruit
- snack items
4. Shop at stores that are known for their lower prices
It makes sense to shop at stores where you know either the prices are always low….or the foods you need are on sale! In the U.S., lower prices can usually be found at stores such as Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Smart & Final, Target, Walmart, and 99 Cents Only Stores. These stores are known for their lower prices, and all have a good assortment of plant-based vegan options….simplifying eating vegan on a budget. You can also check out what is currently on sale at each store by going to the stores website and review their weekly sale ad (if available).
Even stores such as Whole Foods (affectionately known by some as “Whole Paycheck”) have their own generic brand (365), with a wide variety of different foods at a lower cost. Don’t be afraid to buy generic – they are usually just as good (sometimes even better!) as name-brand products, and they will save you money.
5. Buy frozen produce
Frozen vegetables and fruits tend to be much more affordable than fresh produce. Frozen items also tend to last a lot longer than fresh (honestly, how often have you bought a head of cauliflower or fresh green beans at the grocery store or farmer’s market, only to throw them out a week later because you never ate them…guilty!!).
There is another benefit to frozen produce besides saving you money. A two-year study compared nutrients in both fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and found that “frozen produce is more nutritious than its 5-day fresh-stored counterpart”. This is because frozen vegetables and fruits items are flash-frozen just hours after they are harvested, preserving their nutrients more so than their fresh counterparts, which can take days or weeks to get to your grocery store produce department.
6. Avoid vegan convenience foods
Vegan meat, cheese, and egg substitutes are delicious. So are vegan pizzas and pre-packaged snacks. But these convenience foods can be expensive (just like their non-vegan versions). If you are trying to save money, it really makes sense to just buy these items as an occasional treat or when they are on sale.
You can also make your own version of vegan convenience foods at home – they will be healthier, just as delicious, and this won’t break your budget. Simply search online for recipes – you will find something that you will like, whether it’s a homemade vegan burger, vegan breakfast scramble, vegan pizza, or even vegan nachos with queso!
7. Create an “eating out” budget – and stick with it!
Eating out and trying new vegan restaurants and foods is fun AND delicious….but it can get expensive! It can be helpful to check out the menu online in advance and decide what you are going to order that will keep you on budget. Deciding on your meal in advance – and deciding not to go overboard with appetizers, desserts, and drinks – will help you stay on budget.
8. Stick with the Dirty Dozen™ when buying produce
Nearly 70% of all non-organic produce in the U.S. has pesticide residue. Pesticides remain on fruits and vegetables even after washing, peeling, or scrubbing. And several studies have linked pesticide exposure to negative health effects.
If you are trying to save money AND avoid potentially harmful pesticides in your fresh and frozen produce it’s most important to stick with the “Dirty Dozen™” and “Clean Fifteen™“. Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiles its lists of the types of fruits and vegetables that tend to be grown with the most and the least pesticides (based on the latest available numbers from the USDA).
These lists can save you money as organic produce tends to cost more than non-organic.
Side note: Avoiding fruits and vegetables because of pesticides is NOT a healthy choice, as studies – like this one – have shown that eating more fruit and vegetables – at least 5 servings a day – reduces the risk of death from cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory diseases. In other words, it is SO important to eat your veggies (and fruit)! And if you can’t afford “Dirty Dozen” organic options, thoroughly washing, peeling, and boiling (when possible) can help with removing pesticides.
Dirty Dozen™ for 2022: buy organic when possible
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
Clean Fifteen™ for 2022: buying organic is not necessary
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet Potatoes
To summarize, with a little bit of planning, you can easily save money and enjoy delicious vegan food on a budget!
Staples of a vegan diet include things such as beans, rice, lentils, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables – all of which are very affordable. You can easily find these items on sale or in bulk at your local grocery store. And by cooking meals at home using these simple ingredients, you’ll save a lot of money compared to eating out or purchasing processed vegan foods.
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