How To Keep Vegan Food Costs Low

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.)
  11. 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.
  12. 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.)
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Share: Have potlucks with other vegans where you can pool your food and resources for better, bigger meals.
  18. Save left-overs: Keep the leftovers from dining out or large home cooked meals. Freeze them and save for later.
  19. 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:

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

12 Responses to How To Keep Vegan Food Costs Low

  1. Super great tips! I agree with you. Sometimes I get rapped up in meat substitudes, so unessesary. Lentils are ine of the healthiest foods. Very nice!

    Chef Erik’s last blog post..Thank You!

  2. I had a long comment which I was going to post but I am not so sure if I should, or if it will get posted.
    Can I just ask one question first…

    Why did you feel the need to insert the racist comment, when your website actually warns not to write such things?
    “white folks”? It would have been perfectly fine without mentioning that. And just because someone else says it and you repeat it, does not excuse it. That my friend is a stereotype, and one based on race. I would be interested to know if I repeated one about black people would you be okay with that? Or is it just white people who you are happy to perpetuate steroetypes about.

    The only thing more annoying/worse than people writing things like “white folk”, or warning people not to be racist, is people who do both of those things and don’t seem to notice the problem.

    Also is the ageist, ablist (is that evena word?) etc warning meant to be a joke? I am sure I have broken some rule just by speaking normally.

  3. Comments that mention race are not necessarily racist. The specific comment and the context matter.
    For more information on racism, please start your education here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism

    Likewise, for information about agism and abilism, please consult:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disabilism

  4. there are lots of cheap foods on the market that taste like crap but there are good quality ones too ‘

  5. you can always buy cheap foods on any supermarket these days because food production is mechanized already `;-

  6. Aw, this was a very nice post. In thought I want to put in writing like this moreover ? taking time and actual effort to make a very good article? however what can I say? I procrastinate alot and on no account appear to get one thing done.

  7. My family and I have been vegetarian/vegan on and off for years now. I really feel ready to make the transaction all the way now… permanently. Every time I stray from this way of life I find myself feeling sluggish and crappy (and FAT!). But then I eat vegetarian again and feel amazing. I don’t know why I stray in the first place. I suppose because it seams easier to go along with everyone else. My kids are not always happy about eating meatless and I get sick of listening to them complain (although they clean their plates and often go back for seconds). I think they just want to get under my skin. I need to find ways to make things more appealing for them I guess. My youngest 3 don’t complain much as they have eaten this way most of their lives so they are use to my vegan recipes that I use.

    I totally agree with staying away from the meat substitutes. They are expensive and they aren’t good for you because they are processed to death! I use to buy “Fantastic Foods” brand mixes, such as taco filling and such. Yeah they tasted good but my stomach paid hell the next day, which tells me they probably aren’t too good for me just because they are labeled “Vegan”. I have never really understood why people would decide to not eat meat but then buy meat substitutes and “pretend” to eat meat. That just seams silly to me. Although, when I first started out that’s exactly what I did because I had no clue what I was suppose to do. My food bill more than doubled because of this and we ended up going back to a meat diet. It took a long time to understand and educate myself about these things. I am still working on my family with it though. My husband and I will decide to go ahead with veganism but then I come home from work and see that he’s feeding the kids vienna sausages and doritos with cheese dip. WOW!!! Someones getting a bop upside the head :) .

  8. One complaint I always hear about eating vegan cheaply is that people don’t have enough time to cook from scratch. “I can’t do it because I don’t have enough time”. If I hear the phrase “I can’t” one more time I might scream. Sometimes I think they mean “I don’t want to” rather than “I can’t”.

    My husband and I both work full time jobs and we have 5 kids in the house (sometimes 6 when our oldest daughter’s boyfriend stays for dinner). One of the tricks I have learned to quick vegan eating on a low budget is this. Take a day off ever 2 weeks or once a month or whatever suits you. Use that day for cooking. Cook pots of several different kinds of beans (we usually do black beans, garbanzos, pintos and navy beans). Once they are done cooking, let them cool a bit, drain them, then put about 2 cups worth into freezer bags, label with the type of bean and the date. Pop into the freezer and there you go. You now have numerous bags of beans ready to add to whatever recipe. I don’t do this with lentils, however, because they don’t take too long to cook. You can also do this with rice. Cook the rice (gotta love the rice cooker), spread it on a cookie sheet in a single layer and put it in the freezer until frozen. Then fill freezer bags with the amount you will use later in the week/month. You can put the entire bag in boiling water to heat it. I buy mushrooms at the store that have been discounted (anywhere from $1.50 to $0.50), slice them up, boil them for about 5 minutes or so, freeze on cookie sheet like the rice, then bag them up as well. I also buy organic bagged salad and spinach that has been marked down to $0.99. This produce isn’t bad, it’s just coming close to its “sell by” date. If you are using it right away, it’s a good way to save a buck on fresh produce as these things usually cost around $4-$5 or more per bag in my area (Kansas). Another thing that we tried for the first time this year is Lambsquarters. It might seem a bit hillbilly (No offense to anyone out there who actually IS a hillbilly) but we were learning about wild edibles this year and decided to try this one. We found a field where it was growing like crazy, picked a bunch, washed and stemmed it and sauteed it with vidalia onions and added feta cheese. The kids loved it and I didn’t think they would. So I was thinking, during the spring, why not pick a bunch and freeze it for the rest of the year as you would spinach. A completely free green veggie that is quite good for you. Perhaps add it to vegetarian lasagna in place of the spinach?

    Another thing you can do is shop at those “discount stores”. I don’t know what else to call them. We have one here in town that sells slightly expired food or perfectly good food where the box has been damaged somehow and the regular grocery store won’t take them. This might seem odd to buy expired food but it’s all boxed or canned and we have yet to have a problem with any of it in the 5 years we have been shopping there. We constantly come across canned organic soup ($0.99), organic whole wheat pasta ($0.75), organic olive oil ($2), cascadian farms organic cereal ($1.75)… things like that that are rather expensive in regular stores. It’s well worth looking into if money is tight.

    There are a ton of different things you can do to eat vegan/vegetarian for cheap, you just have to think ahead, and plan a bit. It’s well worth it.

  9. I have to agree with “surprised”. The “rich, white folks” comment was unnecessary and the definition you directed him/her to seems to confirm that this wasn’t an appropriate comment. “Rich folks”….yeah…that would be better. I’m white. I’m not rich…but I DO think your comment was in bad taste…even if you, yourself, are white. It’s just tacky.

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