When Rob and I first went vegan, I was expecting to see our food shopping bill to go down since the expensive grocery store items like meat and dairy were out of the rotation. For the most part we started spending less on food, although buying pricier treats like vegan ice cream or cheese sometimes adds up. In the beginning of our vegan journey, we quickly learned the big rule of being vegan on a budget: cook your meals from scratch at home as often as you can, as pre-made food is always more expensive.
More than 3 years have passed since I went vegan, and my list of tips for being vegan on a budget has expanded quite a bit. In preparation for today’s post, I also asked Vegan Runner Eats followers on Facebook to share their vegan budgeting tips, and combined our mutual vegan wisdom into a list of 15 money-saving tips for anyone. Hope that you’ll find them useful!
1. Eat whole, plant-based foods! Whole foods are not only healthier than packaged, they are often cheaper! The ingredients for one homemade rice and beans burrito will cost you way less than a similarly-sized pre-made frozen burrito from the store.
2. Buy food in bulk. See if your local grocery stores have a bulk food section – dry goods like oatmeal, beans, rice, etc. are almost always cheaper (and fresher!) in bulk than prepackaged.
3. No bulk sections in your neighborhood stores? Take your grocery shopping online! Sites like Vitacost.com, ThriveMarket.com or Jet.com have great prices on bulk items. Plus, the more you shop, the bigger your discount gets.
4. If you have any Asian or Latin American grocery stores in your area, it’s really worth checking them out for great deals on produce, including some of the more exotic varieties. One of the Asian groceries we frequently visit had an unbeatable deal on persimmons last fall – only 99 cents a pound, as opposed to nearly 2 dollars apiece in mainstream grocery stores!
5. Buy spices in bulk. Spices are one of the most expensive things to buy in stores, but oh so important if you’re trying to make your food flavorful (who isn’t?). Luckily, a lot of groceries and natural food stores offer bulk spice racks today – a great way to stock up on all of the essentials while paying way less! Frontier brand of spices, herbs and teas is one of the most commonly represented. You can use a store locator on their site to find a location near you.
My haul of spices from a local WinCo store: granulated garlic, turmeric, chili powder plus a container I use for storing powdered ginger. Most of my spices are stored in similar containers with my fabulous hand-written labels 🙂
6. Search for discount grocery stores in your area. I was really impressed when I discovered Grocery Outlet in my area (multiple locations all over the West Coast and a few in Pennsylvania) – deals vary week to week, but often include unbeatable prices on vegan yogurt, cheeses, various snacks, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. WinCo grocery stores are also amazing (locations mostly in the Western part of the US) – you can do your entire weekly food shopping here and get a huge cartful of food for under a hundred dollars.
7. Cook your grains and beans from scratch whenever possible. Pre-cooked rice and canned beans are relatively inexpensive, but cooking them from scratch at home will cost you only pennies per serving! Soak 2-3 cups of dried chickpeas or pinto beans on Saturday night, cook them on Sunday, and you’ll have a healthy plant-based protein component ready to incorporate into multiple meals throughout the week.
8. Buy frozen veggies instead of fresh, especially in winter months. As Vegan Runner Eats reader Nicollette said on Facebook, “If you live in a climate like I do (New England), they’re often just as good (or better) nutritionally than the ‘fresh’ produce that’s been flown in.”
9. Make your own pantry items! A little bit of elbow grease goes a long way. From homemade salad dressings that just happen to be oil-free to fresh-roasted peanut butter, your creations will not only be tastier and fresher than store-bought but also easier on the wallet. Looking to expand the variety of your homemade pantry items? There are a couple great books to help you: Homemade Vegan Pantry by Miyoko Schinner and DIY Vegan by Nicole Axworthy.
10. Plan out your meals for the week, and write down a list of all the ingredients you’ll need to buy. Then go to the grocery store and stick to your list. Okay, this may be easier said than done, especially coming from me – a shopper who goes to buy a loaf of bread and walks out with a cartful of food BUT! If you stick to your original plan, you’ll really see the difference in savings.
11. Batch cooking on the weekends will save you time and headache of deciding what to make for dinner on weeknights. Vegan Runner Eats reader Jennifer shares on Facebook: “I often make some sort of a sauce like Kung Pao and have it on hand so on week nights, I can just stir fry veggies (and maybe some lentils or beans), add a little sauce and it’s a super quick dinner! I also make a batch of a different grain each week. (Can be frozen or just keep in fridge for the week.) That way, I can make bowls, even breakfast with only a couple of added ingredients.”
12. Looking to take your budget-conscious cooking skills to the next level? Ellen Jaffe Jones wrote a whole book about her experience of being vegan for only four dollars a day! In her book, Eat Vegan on $4 a Day: a Game Plan for the Budget-Conscious Cook, Ellen offers a variety of grocery shopping tips and a 7-day meal plan with simple plant-based recipes.
13. If your budget is very limited, take a look at this article on Forks Over Knives in which Darshana Thacker explains how she managed to make five days’ worth of plant-based meals for only about $1.50 per day.
14. Your food scraps don’t have to go in the trash! You can make easy veggie broth from vegetable peels, or put your leftovers into a compost bin to make great fertilizer for your gardening needs. Speaking of gardening…
15. If possible, grow your own food! Research and preparation may take some time and effort, but the payoff of having your own fresh organic produce is huge. Plus, a lot of parents report that their kids love eating vegetables they helped grow – a win-win both for your budget and your family’s health. Don’t have access to a lot of land? There are a lot of useful urban farming guides out there.
Question for you: What are your favorite budgeting tips when it comes to food? What would you like to add to this list?
For even more awesome tips on going vegan on a budget, check out this guide from our friends at ThriveCuisine.com.
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