I’m often asked if I find being vegan expensive. To be honest, it can be. There are nut based foods and lots of different superfoods with names that can’t be pronounced. But eating in a non-vegan way can be expensive too if you choose certain ingredients and stores and restaurants.
But seriously, is eating vegan on the cheap a myth?
What I have found is because so many people are time poor, they spend as little time as possible thinking about what they are eating. They grab quick, easy, cheap food that saves time, but not necessarily health.
And this way of eating becomes a habit. You know what things you regularly buy, you know how much it costs and you get excited when it’s on special.
When you change your diet in some way it takes time to think about what food will replace the food you are use to eating. And this is where it can be expensive. You’re in the supermarket, you’re not sure what to buy and so chances are you buy replacement meals. Or you look online for a recipe and you find something where the picture looks amazing but the ingredient list is a mile long and it has ingredients that can’t be sourced where you usually shop. And getting those is not cost effective.
How can you make eating in a vegan way more cost effective? Here is my guide, my top 14 tips, to eating vegan on the cheap.
Before getting into it, here’s a tip before the tips. If you are time poor or just starting out, don’t try to change everything all at once. Take it one thing at a time, one tip at a time, get that under control and then try something else.
You can get just about anything in a package, which is great when you are time poor. Buy something ready made, or half prepared then there’s less time that you need to spend making it. But you pay for that convenience, and I would say you pay both in money and in health. For products to last long enough to be pre-made and then eaten later they need to contain preservatives and emulsifiers and fillers etc. And these will have a cost to your health in the long term.
An example would be potato chips. You can buy a bag of potato chips for a couple of bucks. You can also buy a couple of kilos of potatoes for the same price. The bag of potatoes will feed you for longer than the bag of chips. I know you can’t just chomp into the raw potatoes. My suggestion would be to buy the bag of potatoes, wash, chop into wedges, sprinkle with oil, salt and herbs and bake for 45 mins. These will keep in the fridge for a week or so and you can reheat them and eat them with tomato sauce (homemade of course). You get the snack, the salt and the flavour as well as it being good to the wallet and the heart.
You don’t need to eat so-called superfoods. If you haven’t been eating fruits and vegetables and then you start, your body will think these fruits and vegetables are superfoods. Fruits and vegetables have lots of nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are real foods. They don’t have to be packaged with nutritional labels or best before dates. And because of that, when they are in abundance, they are cheap. Which brings me to my next tip.
It’s so confusing to know what is in season and what isn’t because every type of fruit and vegetable is available all year round. But have a look at the price of the fruit and veggies. Generally the produce that is the cheapest is the produce that is in season. Not only do you get fruit and veggies that are cheaper they also taste better because they haven’t been stored for as long.
There are lots of charts online that can tell you what is in season each month for your location. If you can’t remember once you get to the supermarket, use the price as a guide. Growing up I remember we could only get stone fruit – peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots – around Christmas time, but now I’m seeing them in the supermarket in the middle of the year, and they are expensive.
This one kind of relates to the ‘eat in season’ tip. When you find fruit and veggies that are in season buy them in large quantities. Beans, rice and seeds also last for some time so can also be bought in bulk. Buying in bulk helps in a couple of ways. Firstly, the food generally works out cheaper and secondly there is less packaging so it’s beneficial to the environment and not just your hip pocket.
If you don’t think you’ll eat a whole case or a whole tub of something team up with a friend and share the cheap love. I love Bulk Whole Foods for my bulk foods.
If you’re making a lentil bolognaise, or some quinoa or zucchini fritters then make extra and freeze ready for another meal. How does this make eating vegan cheap? Well, those times when you don’t feel like cooking you can just take a meal out of the freezer rather than dialling for some pizza.
There’s no doubt that eating home cooked food is cheaper than take away and restaurant options. I mean you don’t have to pay wages, or super, or taxes or rent on a premises etc etc. And there’s plenty of research to say that it doesn’t take much longer either to cook your own food than order take away. But I also think it depends on what stage you are at with your cooking.
If you’ve never cooked and you’re attempting a large extravaganza I’d say it would cost more for you to get the ingredients, the utensils and saucepans and spend the time needed for a big creation. But if you were cooking some pasta or beans or lentils, then it would definitely be cheaper than having take away.
Find an easy dish to cook, learn and perfect that, then find another. This way you can build up your repertoire and get some cash to stay in your bank.
Farmer’s markets are the best place to buy the freshest produce. Often you are bypassing the middle man so the savings are passed onto you through cheaper fruit and vegetables. They are only bringing produce to market that is in season so you can be guaranteed that it is fresh and full of nutrients. I love going in the morning but many people prefer to shop towards the end of the market day because the fruits and veggies are sometimes cheaper in the afternoon.
This tip works no matter what diet you eat (unless you’re happy having take away every night). If you have some idea of the meals that you’re going to have each night for a week, you can purchase just the foods you need instead of purchasing a whole lot of extra stuff just in case. Think having a meal plan for a whole week is too structured? How about a plan for 3 or 4 meals a week. If you always have the same thing for breakfast, then that’s fairly easy to shop for that. Not sure if you’re going to be home every night for dinner, or how much time you’ll have during the week? Plan just a couple of meals and buy enough food for those meals. If you happen to have them for 4 nights in a row, then it’ll be time to shop again. If you don’t and you’re only home every second night, then you’re still set for the week.
This is one of my favourites. I only get a short amount of time for lunch and I often don’t want to spend it going out to buy lunch. So I make a bit extra each night when I cook, pack it up in a container, put it in the fridge and take it to work the next day. Not only do I get to have lunch ready for the next day, it saves me time either in the morning making something, or at lunch time not having to go out and buy something.
This is a skill I am yet to master, but I’m working on it. Sure, there’s the outlay to get your garden going, but once its up and growing you can have an abundance of fresh vegetables and herbs and whatever else you can manage to grow. If you can’t grow your own food become friends with someone who can. They will grow heaps of stuff and have to give it away and you can always offer to take it off their hands and save yourself a buck or two.
This is a bit like buying food not products. If you don’t want to eat a certain animal food i.e. bacon then you can buy fake bacon, or fake sausages. But it will cost you more. (It’s a whole other story about why people do this). I get that people do this. They don’t want to be involved in the cruelty of animals but still like the taste and texture of meat they’ve been eating, or don’t feel comfortable being different at a BBQ so take along vegetable sausages. I totally get it. But as you move along, if you’re trying to do this cheaply then try to skip the substitutes, or if you’re okay in the kitchen search for a recipe and give it a crack. It will work out more cost effective in the long run. And the taste will be better too.
Some fruit and vegetables are a no-brainer to have organic and some can be eaten insecticide free or regularly because of the way they absorb chemicals. If you can’t afford to eat only organic food, then pick and choose wisely. Check out the Dirty Dozen app and the Green Fifteen app. You can download these to your smart phone so you always have them with you when you’re out shopping. You’ll soon recognise and remember those that are best bought organic.
Interestingly there are over 30 chemicals that are banned in Europe that are allowed to be used on Australian produce. So you will have to decide for yourself which fruit and vegetables that are definitely worth spending the extra money on to buy organic. One thing that doesn’t make sense to me is that we use less chemicals and yet these are more expensive. Supply and demand should help reduce the price of organics in the future.
Plan a couple of meals for the week. Work out what you need to purchase for those meals. Go to the supermarket, buy what is on your list and go home. Once you start being sucked in by fancy advertising telling you all the things you have to have, then you’ll start spending more money. Be smart about your shopping and save the dollars for something more fun.
If you are shopping on an empty stomach then the previous point is even more important. I’ve heard this rule so many times, and yet it never fails to come true when I have to shop before eating. I always seem to add just a little something extra to the trolley that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t hungry. Being full makes it easier to avoid the temptations.
Like anything we do in life, being successful involves being intentional and mindful. Put one or two, or all 14 of these into practice and you’ll be able to save money eating on a vegan lifestyle. (You’ll also save time and animals).
Got another tip that I missed? Add it to the comments below, I’d love to hear about it.