Q. My family doesn’t have much money. I’d like to be vegan but I’ve heard it’s expensive to buy all the special food you need. Is this true?
A. When you decide to become a vegan, you are exchanging a diet that includes meat, dairy and animal products for a diet that consists mainly of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts. Plant proteins are generally less expensive than animal proteins. For example, a pound of ground beef averages $3 a pound and will feed approximately 4 people for one meal while a pound of dry beans averages $1 a pound and will feed approximately 4 people for 2-3 meals. That’s a savings of over 50%! Even tofu and tempeh cost less than ground beef. While some meat analogues can be a bit pricey, you don’t have to buy them.
When buying grains, try to buy in bulk. Some grocery stores have bulk sections which make buying oatmeal, rice, couscous, quinoa and other grains cost less. If your grocery store doesn’t have a bulk section, you can still buy your grains relatively inexpensive.
The cheapest way to get your produce is to grow your own. Obviously, this isn’t attainable for everyone. The next cheapest way is to buy local. Do you have a local farmers market or community supported agriculture farm (CSA)? Check out http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ to find a CSA near you. If these options aren’t available, you can choose between organic and conventional produce at your local grocery store. If organic is important to you but you can’t afford buying all your produce organic, consider buying only “the dirty dozen” http://www.foodnews.org/EWG-shoppers-guide-download-final.pdf
Beans and lentils can be purchased dried or canned. Canned beans are more expensive but they can be convenient. Dried beans cost less but take longer to cook. Nuts can be a bit pricier but they are not meant to be eaten as a meal. A few sprinkled on some oatmeal or in a homemade trail mix will make them last longer. Nut butters are also pricey, but can be eaten over several weeks.
Tips to Save:
- Plan ahead. I can’t stress this enough. If I don’t sit down every week and plan out my family’s meals, they will end up eating peanut butter and strawberry sandwiches every day! Don’t get me wrong, we all love our pb&s’s but not everyday. I try to determine how much grains and beans we will use throughout the week then get everything ready on the weekend-soak my beans Saturday night then cook the beans and rice on Sunday to keep in containers the fridge until I need them for our meals.
- Make a list and stick to it. Do a quick inventory of your kitchen to determine the food that you need. Making a list will help you shop more economically by cutting back on impulse shopping.
- Stock up on on-sale items. If you have the extra cash and something on your list is on sale, purchasing 2 or 3 of the items will you save in the future.
- Use coupons. You can save hundreds of dollars a year by matching coupons with the items on your list. If any of these items are on sale at the store, stock up and save even more.
- Buy in season. In the summer berries are a lot cheaper than they are in the winter. This is because they are in season and don’t have to be flown in from places where they are in season, saving you and reducing your carbon footprint. Find out what is in season in your area by calling your local extension service and buy those items, better yet, stock up if you can (lots of fresh produce can be frozen).
- Check the price of the store brand vs. the name brand. Store brands are often times identical in ingredients and taste as name brands. The only difference is the name brands cost significantly more.
- Carry a snack with you. Whenever we leave the house, I always pack a cooler with water bottles and snacks (fruit and a Luna bar or trail mix). You just never know when the unexpected is going to happen and trying to find a restaurant that serves something you will eat and something you will enjoy can be difficult and expensive.
- Find recipes you love. Buy a cookbook or check one out at your local library, find recipes online at http://www.vrg.org/recipes/. When you find recipes you love, it makes cooking and eating more enjoyable.
Bottom line: With a little planning, going vegan doesn’t have to be expensive and can save you money. Since you will be saving money be going vegan, you can splurge a little and treat yourself with some yummy Rice Cream-enjoy!
Written by Corey Bivins while volunteering with VRG.