Friday, January 4, 2013

Ten Tips to Save Money with a Vegan or Plant-Based Diet

Vegan meals save a lot of money!
It's True! If you don't eat piggies, your FAVORITE
Piggy will eat a LOT better!
 (Frugal Piggy's broken ear is a money-saving badge
of honour!)
Did you make a New Year's resolution to pay off debt, save money, plan for retirement, or be a better Steward of God's resources?

A vegan diet (or even eating a lot more vegan meals) will take you a HUGE step in the right direction.

I consistently see two contradictory claims when I read about food and money:

1. I read lots of articles and posts by Omnivores about saving money on food. Invariably they say something like, "Of course, you COULD save LOTS of money by eating Rice and Beans all the time, but who wants to do THAT?! Here, I'll show you how to eat lots of meat and cheese and still save money." This comment is invariably followed by lots of high fat, expensive (compared to my diet), unhealthy and usually processed-food-based menus and recipes.

2. At the other end of the spectrum, I see lots of claims that eating vegetarian or vegan will ruin your budget, because all that organic, specialty food will break the bank. They'll say something like, "If you really want to eat cheap, eat processed-food-dumped-from-a-can, because making your meals of Organic Portabella Mushrooms, Meat Analogs, and Organic Carambolas will bankrupt you!"

Well, when I read the menus and recipes of Omnivores, I almost never find a single entree that is less expensive than any of the meals I make!

Eating vegan is THE way to save money on food!

Since for most people food costs 1/3 of the family budget, the food budget can make or break the entire budget. Additionally, often people cannot change other set expenses - they cannot suddenly get a cheaper mortgage or lower rent (especially in this market!), or massively cut their insurance premiums, but they CAN change their food budget TODAY!

Besides that, a vegan diet is the healthiest diet on the planet, so the long-term savings in health expenses and extra days of being able to work are promising!

Despite all those pushing for "Grain Fed Beef" and "Organic Dairy" - which may be healthier than their factory-farmed counterparts - they're not healthier than a vegan diet, and budget-wise, they cannot even compare!

Consider your Dollar-Per-Nutrient Ratio 
Cabbage is a winner!
So, how is it done?

1. Consider the dollar-per-nutrient ratio. Focus on whole foods, and try to get the most nutrients for every dollar you spend. This means that Cabbage is a GREAT deal, whereas Vegan Marshmallows- not so much (no matter how yummy they are!) Likewise, in the winter, Cabbage will get your dollar a lot further than "Artisan Lettuce." Keep this idea at the back of your mind as you shop. One columnist recommended a $1/pound goal for produce- that idea can really help your budget : )

Be cautious about foods that imitate animal foods -if you want
the most bank bang for your buck!
2. Avoid Vegan Processed junk! Fake Meat (aka Meat Analogs), Fake Cheese, Fake Milk, Fake Butter - these things are budget-breakers. And, that's not even to mention the cost of Freezer-Meals-in-a-Box, Canned-Meals, "Energy Bars," and other processed foods that are marketed to Vegans. You don't have to completely eliminate these things (I buy soy milk at the dollar store, but use only about a quart a week, and I use about 2 tubs of Earth Balance a year) - but don't base your diet on them if you want to save money.

3. Be cautious about weird food. If the cashier at the grocery has to ask you what it is, and then says, "I've never heard of that! What do you do with it?" Consider that you may be paying too much per nutrient.  Now- here in the Midwest U.S., I have gotten that reaction more than once to a quite reasonably priced Eggplant - so it's not always true -but let it be a budgetary red flag for you if your friends have never heard of the foods you're eating.

4. Don't be an all-or-nothing sort of person. There is a strain of perfectionism in the vegan community that really drives prices up. Now, if you're a vegan for Moral or Religious reasons, I'm not saying to violate your conscience! But, consider what your reasons are, and act accordingly. I don't want to scandalize people, but I recently went to Whole Foods and was looking for a B complex vitamin. (I used to work in a Health Food store, so I know the business fairly well). The sales-person directed me to a Vegan Certified bottle for $14. That's NOT in my budget! I asked for their cheaper-but-still-reputable brands, and there was one that was vegetarian for $3. Was it Vegan, too? - they weren't sure - the label didn't say. For me - I could deal with that for a more than 300% price difference!

5. Be sensible about Organics. The huge majority of human pesticide & artificial hormone consumption comes from what is stored in Animal Fats and Butterfats, and consumed in the form of meat and dairy. If you're already eliminating those things, you've already gone largely organic - even if you never touch an organic vegetable or grain (see John Robbins' Book, Diet for a New America for more details). Keep an eye out for the price points on Organics. This winter, Organic Tomatoes at the grocery are the same price - and sometimes even much cheaper - than their non-organic counterparts. Be sure to LOOK! But, if the price is wrong, and budget is an issue, I personally buy non-organic without blinking an eye. I've already eliminated the vast majority of chemicals & hormones from my diet just by being vegan. Again, I'm not saying to violate your conscience if you're a firm believer in 100% organic, but don't let a fear of imperfection keep you from taking steps in the right direction.

Dry Pantry Staples and Frozen Vegetables are
Great nutrition- and the healthiest of fare.
6. Focus on dry pantry staples and frozen vegetables for the backbone of your diet. If you cook Rice from dry (don't even look at the pre-cooked freezer rice!) and Beans in the Slow Cooker, and use Frozen Spinach, Peppers, and Peas, your diet will be roughly a million-times healthier than the cheapest of Omnivore fare (Processed Cheese Food and Extruded Meat, anyone?) - but also MUCH CHEAPER! People think they've found a great deal when they find the lowest quality of meat for $1/pound - but I get protein-filled dried beans for that everyday - and they cook up to way more than a pound! And, they're better for me and tastier!

7. Hit the Ethnic stores. I buy Red Lentils, Brown Lentils, Tahini, Capers, Spices, etc, at the ethnic stores - where they are much cheaper than at the grocery or high-end specialty stores.

Ethnic Stores are often the best source
for less common vegan ingredients at the best price.
8. Focus on what I like to call "Peasant Food" - meals based around grains, beans and lentils.  Historically, peasants have worked long, hard hours energized by mostly vegetarian or vegan food. Each older culture in the world has some simple recipes (Such as Indian Dal, or Greek Moujendra) - the everyday food that people eat when company isn't coming, or when it's Lent, or when they're out of cash. Most of these dishes are delicious, simple to prepare, healthy, filling, and super-economical.  It also helps fight that budget-killing mentality that every meal has to be an Gourmet Event to be delicious and satisfying.

Making Food for the Freezer and using Homemade Mixes
can really stretch your dollar.
9. Cook for the Freezer, and make Mixes for the Pantry. Bulk Cooking saves you from the emergency run for fast food, or the Boxed-Vegan-TV-Dinner for the Microwave. And, it also saves you from a lot of sub-standard food, grabbed at the last minute. You don't have to eat EVERY meal from the freezer, but having a few on hand can help when you're rushed. Check out my recipe index tab for several vegan mixes.

10. Use recipes from this blog! You knew I'd get to that, didn't you?  Despite all sorts of budgetary claims by Omnivore cooks, I almost never see a meal from an Omnivore that - ingredient for ingredient - is cheaper than ANY of my meals! (I do have a few pricier options for special occasions - but they're few and far between). And, if you add some of the money-saving-tricks the Omnivore experts endorse - like raising your own produce in a garden if you have one - you could save tremendously more!

I'm also featuring this post on the Learning the Frugal Life Frugal Tuesday Tip Bloghop  and at Frugally Sustainable , Healthy Vegan Fridays and Penny Pinching Party, Homestead Bloggers at Lil Suburban Homestead, Living Big on Less Money, Mums Make Lists

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  1. This is an excellent article - lots of valid material. I agree with you 100%. Since I switched from vegetarian (dairy and egg eating) to vegan my food expenditures have gone down. I'm eating a greater variety of veggies and sticking to whole foods, homemade foods, and lots and lots of beans! The flavor of my foods has also gotten more interesting as I've moved away from processed and over-salted foods to yummy spices. My digestion is also much better. There is no need for veganism to be expensive, exclusive, unhealthy or boring.

  2. I recently posted some tips on my blog for shopping healthily on a budget. I eat vegan about 70% of the time and my boyfriend is a dedicated omni (or for the most part carni *sigh*). We are both conscious of our budget when buying and preparing our frugality means that I eat more healthily (dried pulses and grains, frozen veg etc.) whereas his frugality resorts him to more processed junk than i could bare! and yet healthy diets are so often touted the expensive ones...ironic, huh?!

  3. I loved this and got so much out of it. A lot of people think they have to buy 'special' vegan foods if they are a vegan. I've had people say to me 'I had no idea that fruit was vegan!' and things like that. I like your point about if you get asked what the food is, it's probably a specialty food if it's in a packet. I have had that a fair few times too but I prefer to make everything from normal everyday foods from scratch. I chose you as one of my favourite posts on Healthy Vegan Fridays: Hope to see you again next week and have a great weekend.

    1. Thank you SO much! I am so pleased & honored - you really made my day! : )

  4. I'm not a vegetarian but I use many vegetarian recipes to save money. Thanks for sharing your tips. Great article.

    1. Thank you! Glad to have you here - one of my goals here is helping non-vegetarians eat more vegetarian meals. It delights me to hear that you are enjoying my posts : )

  5. Nice article! My family is mostly vegetarian, not vegan, and I know that dairy and eggs are among the biggest expenses in our grocery budget. Still, we spend less on groceries than the average American family our size, and not buying meat is a big savings. But occasionally people will "inform" me that vegetarianism is more expensive because we "have to" buy all those fake meats! Funny how those are always people who've never been vegetarian themselves and sometimes people who hardly buy ingredients at all but live on convenience foods and take-out....

    Regardless of the amount of animal food in one's diet, choosing the cheaper fruits and vegs, avoiding convenience foods, being flexible about specific ingredients, comparison-shopping multiple stores, and freezing food will save money.

    1. Nice to meet you, Becca - and nice article on your site! Hope to see lots more of you in the future : )