People often say “it’s too difficult to go vegan because it’s too expensive to buy fresh, organic produce and other vegan foods.” Indeed, there is a food crisis right now and food is becoming more and more expensive – for everyone.
But there are plenty of ways to go vegan and keep it on the cheap. In fact, eating vegan is often cheaper than eating as an omnivore. I came up with a few suggestions to save money, helpful for all vegans:
- Stop buying substitutes: You don’t need meat substitutes or vegan cheese. If you like them and can afford them, by all means get them. But you don’t need them. So if money is tight, opt for lentils and rice instead of frozen fake chicken.
- Eat the cheap foods: Beans and rice, peanut butter and jelly, potatoes, soups, etc. Look at the diets of people without access to cheap meat and emulate them. Start shopping in the “ethnic” foods section and stop shopping in the “health” or “natural” section that was designed for rich, white folks.
- Plan your meals: Plan your meals so that shopping trips don’t involve unnecessary, expensive items or foods that will go to waste. Make large batches of soups, chilies and other foods and freeze half for later.
- Shop at green markets: Farmer’s markets are invariably cheaper than Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or other large groceries. And farmer’s markets are often organic. (Many states now allow you to use food stamps at farmer’s markets.)
- Look for sales: Often groceries will put produce on sale if they have an excess quantity or if it’s ripe and will over-ripe tomorrow. You can snag these items in large quantities, prep them at home, and toss them in the freezer for use later.
- Buy in bulk: Many groceries have a dry foods section with grains and beans. If you bag and label the food yourself, you’ll usually save some money at the register. Also, if you’re comfortable with it, shop at places like Cosco where you can get bulk produce and some other non-animal foods. And if you don’t have storage for bulk items or if you can’t afford the price, go in on it with a friend or neighbor.
- Shop in season: Try to buy the foods that are in season where you live. They will often be less expensive than the imported foods.
- Use coupons: Most of the time coupons are only for specific brand names, but sometimes you’ll find produce coupons. So just keep an eye out for them and use them when you see them.
- Shop online: You can buy some vegan foods online. For example, Tasty Bite sells prepared dishes online at about half the cost of what the stores charge.
- Opt for the alternatives: You don’t have to buy always fresh, organic produce if it’s too expensive or not available. Nonorganic produce, canned, frozen, and dried vegan foods are still a better choice than animal products. (Here’s a guide to pesticide loads. You could choose to buy only the organic versions of foods with high pesticide loads and buy the nonorganic versions of foods with low pesticide loads. This won’t do much to help the environment, but it’s better for your health.)
- Use cookbooks and guides designed for cheap living: This book, Student’s Go Vegan Cookbook, is designed for the frugal vegan. There are other vegan guides, too, like Alternative Vegan, that focuses on easy to find vegan foods. And you can often adapt advice about frugal living geared for omnivores to fit your vegan lifestyle because most of it is about saving money, not about consuming animal products.
- Grow your own food: Even if you only have room for a small container garden, you can still grow some herbs and cut back on that expense. If you have more room, you can grow some fruits and vegetables. And if you don’t have room, but you’re feeling adventurous, you can start a guerrilla garden. (We did that once. We found a barren spot of land that was being watered, built a wooden frame, filled it with planting soil, and planted a small guerrilla garden. We made use of unused, empty space and wasted water.)
- Keep your produce fresh longer so nothing goes to waste: I love these bags because they help my produce stay fresh longer. But you can also use paper bags, the crisper in your fridge, or you can freeze the produce.
- Reuse bags or use cloth bags: Many grocery stores give a discount of 5 cents per bag. It might only save 25-50 cents per shopping trip, but that adds up. It’s good for the environment and it’s good for your pocketbook.
- Don’t buy junk food: Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Avoid the chips, cookies, crackers, soda, soy ice cream, etc. You don’t need it and it usually costs more than it’s worth.
- Make your own food: Don’t pay other people to make your food for you. Pass the frozen meals and get the whole foods. Convenience foods are usually more expensive than whole foods.
- Share: Have potlucks with other vegans where you can pool your food and resources for better, bigger meals.
- Save left-overs: Keep the leftovers from dining out or large home cooked meals. Freeze them and save for later.
- Get your priorities straight: If you have any disposable income at all, then the excuse that ‘being vegan is too expensive’ doesn’t cut it. You just have to decide that you care about your health, the environment, and/or animals and just do it. (Even food stamp programs and WIC offer ways to eat vegan or vegetarian.)
More resources on frugal vegan living:
- The cheap vegan livejournal community
- Vegan FAQ: how to eat cheap
- Discussion on PPK about non-food vegan items (shampoo, cosmetics, etc)
- The frugal forum at veggieboards
To the vegans and vegetarians reading this: how do you keep your grocery bill low?
This post has been updated to add four more tips: don’t buy junk food, make your own food, save left-overs, and share.
Crossposted at ElaineVigneault.com