There is absolutely no reason that going vegan should cost more than your omnivorous diet. But, chances are you WILL find yourself spending a lot more on groceries when you go vegan. Part of the reason veganism costs more is because you suddenly start caring about your health more. It is hard not to care once you find out about all of the creepy chemical ingredients lurking in your food (and vegans are constantly reading food labels, so it is hard not to see these ingredients).
Veganism can be cheaper than eating meat if you opt for foods like dry beans and legumes and avoid all those processed mock meats and pricy vegan treats. But I think it is very lame advice to tell someone worried about the costs of going vegan to “eat dry beans”. I mean, we can’t all live off of beans and lentils every day! And then there are those lazy, busy, hectic days when you want something fast and easy, or have a sudden craving for coconut ice cream.
When transitioning to veganism, you definitely need to budget more for food at the start. Once you get the hang of it, use these tactics to save money on vegan food.
The Obvious Advice
This advice is given so often that I don’t want to rehash it much:
- buy food from the bulk bins
- buy produce from a farmer’s market or join a CSA
- soak and cook your own beans/legumes
- avoid packaged food
- buy in season
- plan your meals around a few core ingredients
- stick to a list when grocery shopping
If you are diligent, you can save a lot of money using coupons for your favorite products. Click here to find out where to get vegan coupons for Whole Foods, Tofurky, Beyond Meat, Soy Dream, and more.
Find Out What Vegan Foods You Are Spending the Most On. Then Find Substitutions
When I went vegan, I was already doing things like buying in bulk, soaking my own beans and legumes, and even cooking in bulk (and then putting food into individual portions and into the freezer) to lower my electric bills (and save time too!). So, the standard advice on how to save money when going vegan didn’t really apply to me. Instead, I decided to carefully analyze my grocery bills and see which items were taking the biggest toll on my budget.
In my case, I was spending a lot on fancy granola for breakfast. So, I decided to stop eating granola and started eating oatmeal instead. My 3-year old daughter was pretty pissed about this for the first few days (she loved the sugary sweetness of granola) but it didn’t take long before she started loving oats too. Not only are oats cheaper, but oats are a heck of a lot healthier than sugar-laden granola.
If you are spending a lot on mock meats:
consider cutting them out completely. Most are made with terrible ingredients like hexane (more on hexane here). Or substitute in diced mushrooms for half of the mock meat. You can also substitute in cheaper proteins like beans, TVP (which probably was also made with hexane), or TSP (which is hexane-free if it is labeled organic). Or just eat less protein. You really don’t need that much! See how easy it is to get vegan protein here.
If you are spending a lot on vegan cheese:
then start making your own using nutritional yeast. Most nutritional yeast is fortified so it is also a good way to get your B12. You can also make vegan cheese from nuts like cashews. Check out this book by superstar vegan chef Miyoko Schinner called Artisan Vegan Cheese. It is full of for amazing non-dairy cheese recipes, including for easy SLICEABLE vegan cheeses, ricotta, sour cream, yogurt, and more. You can buy it on Amazon for $13.69 or $7.69 as an eBook.
If you are spending a lot on seitan:
then make your own using vital wheat gluten. It really isn’t that hard. Here is a good tutorial and recipe for making your own seitan from Vegan Nom Noms. NOTE: making seitan from scratch (from regular flour, not vital wheat gluten) is super hard and time consuming. I tried it for last Christmas and failed miserable 🙁
If you are spending a lot on tofu:
then buy it in bulk at an Asian grocery store. Okay, tofu isn’t really that expensive even in health food stores – but you can still save a bundle over time by buying it in bulk in the buckets at Asian food stores. Drain the water out of it and put it into your freezer for a later day. The texture changes and becomes more “meaty” after it has been frozen too.
If you are spending a lot on vegan treats like ice cream:
then start making your own. It might be worth it to invest in an ice cream maker. Or get a badass blender and use it to make sorbet. Again, much healthier than vegan ice creams. For my daughter, I have awesome popsicle molds and just pour juice or smoothie mix into them. It’s a great treat in the summer. These popsicle molds are made with BPA-free plastic.
Don’t Buy Things which Say “Vegan” On Them
The moment you see a “vegan” label on a product, you can usually assume that it will cost twice as much as a similar product which isn’t vegan. It is all just a marketing tactic. Well, most foods which specifically say they are vegan aren’t very healthy. If you really want to indulge in these vegan treats, then consider making your own. Or, look for the junk food which happens to be vegan (like Nabiscos Ginger Snaps, though I’d never recommend eating them because I’m so anti processed food).
Buy Food Online
Did you know that you can buy food on Amazon? In some areas, you can even buy fresh produce on Amazon. In a lot of cases, vegan staples or specialty items are a lot cheaper online and you might find discounts for buying in bulk. Even if they aren’t much cheaper, it is a lot more convenient. And you might save money on gas costs by having the items delivered rather than driving to the not-so-near health food store.
Stop Eating Out and Pack Your Lunches
You might be spending a lot more on groceries as a vegan, but you are probably spending a lot less on eating out. If you are still eating out for lunch, then start packing your lunches (it’s healthier plus cheaper). For those days when you just don’t have time to make your own lunch, have a repertoire of cheap takeout options on hand.
STOP THROWING OUT SO MUCH FOOD!
The average American throws out 25% of all food that they buy! You can save a lot of money on groceries just by being smarter about your shopping methods and using your freezer wisely (in my home, anything that is about to go bad goes right into the freezer). Read more about how much food people throw away and what you can do to reduce food waste.
Okay, this one probably isn’t for everyone. But when I was in college, I loved hitting up the Trader Joe’s dumpster for old bananas, bread, and other prizes. Heck, I even met a boyfriend in the trash can once. We filled our bags with dumpster food then rode our bikes to a few other trash cans and then back to my house to make a dumpster feast. He even fished some flowers out of the dumpster to give me – how romantic! I still spent a lot of money on food even as a dumpster diver. But, since I didn’t have to buy so many staples, I had a lot more room in my budget to splurge, like buying organic almond butter instead of peanut butter.
Check out this great documentary about dumpster diving called Dive. It goes through the great reasons you should dumpster dive and also some of the rules and ethics of eating from trash cans.
If you aren’t so keen on doing the dumpster diving yourself, you can hook up with a local branch of Food Not Bombs. They get donations and goodies from the trash and make vegan food to share with anyone. You can find a list of chapters worldwide at their website www.foodnotbombs.net
Other Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget
These are a few more ways that I made more room in my budget for vegan groceries. They may not work for you, but I hope that by sharing my experience I can get your creative juices going for other ways to save money as a vegan.
- I started an herb garden on my balcony: In my opinion, fresh parsley makes everything taste better. Instead of paying for it, I spent a few dollars on compost, seeds, and planters. Now I have fresh herbs whenever I want. It was a fun project for my daughter too.
- I started making my own beauty products: Forget those pricy cruelty-free organic face washes and moisturizers. Now, I use a mixture of olive oil and castor oil for cleaning my face and smash a banana on my face to moisturize. Natural and super cheap! (read more about cheap natural beauty treatments here)
- I LOVE My Dehydrator! I bought a cheap dehydrator on sale a while back and it was one of the best purchases I ever made. In summer and autumn when they are cheap, I buy mass amounts of tomatoes, red peppers, apples, pears, and other produce. Then I dry them and have them to eat over winter. Dried fruit is great as a snack, or I let them boil in water a bit before adding my breakfast oatmeal. The same goes for dried veggies: add them to the water when you cook rice, beans, legumes, etc.