Vegan on a budget: my top ten tips

One of the most common misconceptions about a plant-based diet is that it’s hard being vegan on a budget. Not so. If anything, it’s easier. Unless, 0f course, you’re Usher and fly in a vegan chef to cook for you. But if that’s not part of your plans, chances are your grocery bills won’t be going up.

The other day, I was discussing food costs with friends and realized our family spends significantly less on groceries than most people do. Before going vegan, our food costs were quite high – usually about $1200 a month CDN ($920/month US). The main reason for higher costs was that our family was eating organic meat, milk and eggs.

Today, we spend an average of $500 CDN  ($385 US) per month on vegan groceries for our family of four – about $4.16 a day. According to StatsCan, the average household (2.5 people) spends $675 a month on groceries. Round that up to four people, and the average bill in 2014 was $1081 (this does not include dining out). The price of produce has skyrocketed since 2014, so that number is no longer accurate, but it’s clear our family is spending about 1/2 as much as the average.

Of course, we have two kids, so your mileage may vary. However, keep in mind we spent $1200 when our kids had smaller appetites. Also, I suspect we actually spend more on the kids’ food, because they consume the majority of the pricier packaged foods we buy, such as juice boxes, crackers, etc.

Eating vegan on a budget

We actually have changed very little about our diet aside from cutting out the meat, milk and eggs (and my husband still buys eggs occasionally for himself). But there are some additional things we do that make our grocery bill reasonable despite living in an area with some of the  highest food costs in the country:

  1. Buy dry beans in bulk and cook them yourself – this is one of the greatest money-saving tips of all time. I’m not suggesting you eat rice and beans at every meal, but they are exceptionally nutritious and affordable. Plus, it’s easy to have a huge variety at home. We are partial to red and yellow lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and black beans. But there are so many kinds – find what you like and branch out as much as you can so that meals don’t get repetitive.
  2. Bake your own bread. This is huge. If you eat bread, learn to bake! I use my kitchen aid mixer to assist in the process (I don’t have a bread maker, but after nearly 10 years of baking my own bread, I’m starting to consider it.In Calgary, store-bought bread is about $3.50/loaf. Homemade bread costs between $.75-1.00 per loaf, depending on the price you get for the ingredients. Another tip: I always buy yeast in bulk and use a small amount –  ~1 tsp for two loaves – to reduce cost and stretch it further. I like the flavour better and if you have a warm house and keep your yeast fresh in the fridge, you can use a lot less yeast than most recipes call forOf course, the more bread your family eats, the more this will save you. We eat 6 loaves a week, so baking our own bread cuts about $66/month off our grocery bill.
  3. Buy in season and look for deals. Be judicious when buying produce. We eat a very large quantity of fruits and vegetables, but we focus on what is in season and look for good deals. When you’re on a budget, it’s worth calculating simple things like whether apples are more affordable in five-pound bags or by the pound (the answer will often surprise you).
  4. Certain vegetables are best to buy frozen. Certain vegetables and legumes, including peas, broccoli and green beans, are usually cheaper frozen. As long as they aren’t overcooked, the frozen version is just as nutritious as its fresh counterpart, and you can use the savings to splurge on things you’ll enjoy more, like fresh cherries and snap peas.
  5. Don’t waste food. If you won’t eat it, don’t buy it. We throw away nothing (unless it’s gone bad, which simply doesn’t happen). Honestly, we might waste 6-12 pounds of food a year, tops. And that includes the occasional leftover noodles the kids won’t eat. I’m not joking. It absolutely sickens me to allow food to go to waste (just ask my mom, she thinks I’m pathological about this point, and she’s probably right). Still, it’s pretty easy to avoid waste, even with kids. Look in the fridge before every meal and see if there is something you need to use. Get creative: become proficient at stir fries, stews and tofu scrambles that use leftovers.
  6. Buy a few convenience items to avoid eating out on impulse. Sure, dried beans and rice will save you money most of the time. But a can of vegan chilli makes an instant meal. Your time is worth something too.
  7. Rethink your discount club membership. We quit Costco about the same time we went vegan. And we saved a ton. If our family of four was overspending there, it’s even worse for couples and singles. Buying in bulk seems like a good deal, but it’s usually cheaper to buy the items on sale in a regular grocery store. Also, you get to increase the variety of foods you eat, which is always good!
  8. Bake, bake, bake – homemade treats are healthier, tastier and way more  affordable. Find a great vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe, and try different variations.
  9. Make granola at home. If you eat granola on a regular basis and you have any concerns about your budget, you must learn to make it at home. It’s probably the #1 money saver on this list (aside from avoiding food waste). Store-bought granola is massively marked up and uses cheap ingredients. You’ll enjoy homemade granola more, and save yourself serious coin.
  10. Avoid “frugal fatigue.” Most importantly, continue to let yourself enjoy little treats. We make whole foods the foundation of our diet, but we still enjoy mock meats, like Gardein Turk’y cutlets (a family favourite), and vegan yogurt. And I buy boxed juice for the kids. Yes, these products are pricier, but having foods you love also make it less likely that you’ll go out to eat – costing you more in the long run.

Do you have any other tips?

Do any of you have secrets to keeping your food budget under control on a vegan diet? Do you spend more or less on food since you’ve been vegan? Also, is budget a hurdle for you going vegan? I hear a lot of people talking about how they can’t afford to go vegan, and I’m wondering if being vegan on a budget is a subject you’d like to see me tackle in my YouTube videos and on this blog.

7 Responses to “Vegan on a budget: my top ten tips

  • Great ideas! You did a great job about how to budget well. I like buying out of bulk bins when I can too. Rice, quinoa, nuts, etc. can be less expensive that way. I spend less now when I stick with whole foods and veggies but when I start getting lazy and buying too many processed foods, that’s when the bill goes up.

    I’m so bad about buying canned beans. I eat some every day so I really should start making them myself – I even bought a pressure cooker to make them faster but I always forget. I’m going to try to do it this week!

    • Hi MaryEllen! Canned beans are a huge help when you are under time constraints. And second to dried, they’re the most affordable protein source 😉 Pressure cookers do make it a lot easier. Still, I like to buy kidney beans canned because they take forever to cook!

  • We’ve been thinking of making our own granola lately; it is SO expensive if store-bought and almost always has honey in! I’m determined to give this a go now, let me know if you have a favourite recipe 🙂

    • Hi Jenny! I actually have a recipe on my blog that even my pickiest family members have tried and are asking me to make more of: It’s a chocolate granola but it’s healthy, low in sugar, and really tasty if you’d like to give it a try. (I hope it’s okay I shared this Margaret)

    • I will do a granola recipe post! Granola is so versatile. Mary Ellen’s recipe is fantastic, too. I’d never thought of trying chocolate in granola before! I lean more towards dried cranberries and coconut 😉

      • Thanks both! I’ll definitely have a go this weekend and see what I can come up with. I might make a chocolate one and a fruity one 🙂

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