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Ever have someone tell you that vegan food is outrageously expensive? I hear it all the time.
The reality couldn’t be further from the truth! If done right, dining on healthy and delicious vegan fare can be so much cheaper than eating meat. This is because while meat is expensive, beans, rice, legumes, and other vegan staples are incredibly cheap.
And when people say prices for vegan food are astronomical, what they’re usually talking about is packaged meat and cheese substitutes such as Tofurky and commercially produced veggie burgers.
These meat alternatives aren’t only more exorbitant. They’re also highly processed, so they’re not as healthy as vegan food you can whip up at home.
With careful planning, you can eat well on only $5.00 a day.
And I speak from personal experience because I’ve been doing this for years. But to make this goal practical, shoot for meals containing 80% starches and 20% fruits and vegetables.
Dr. John McDougall, founder and director of the nationally renowned McDougall Program, is a proponent of this diet, and he attributes all kinds of healthful benefits to it. Contrary to what you might have heard, a starch-rich diet is good for you.
But they have to be the right kind of starches, which happen to be the basic staples you’ll be stocking up on if you follow this diet. And yes…fruits and vegetables can be costlier than starches, but you’ll only be eating them for 20% of your meals.
You might be asking, “But what about protein?”
Truth be told, we don’t need as much protein as we’ve been led to believe. In fact, most of us get too much protein in our diets. A little-known fact is that we can get all of our protein requirements from plant-based sources.
Protein deficiency is virtually unheard of…mostly occurring in people who don’t get enough calories in their diet.
If you eat enough food, you don’t have to worry about this.
In this article, I’ll show you how to transition to a vegan way of eating and help you save a ton of money in the process.
If you’re one of those who wears your frugality as a badge of honor, the vegan lifestyle is right up your alley…because it’s one of the best and easiest ways to save money. Plus, it’s healthier and better for the environment, reduces animal cruelty and helps you lose weight.
I even threw in a few recipes to get you started!
Stock Up on the Staples
Let’s start with the cheap staples that make all this frugality possible. Keep plenty of them on hand to make a variety of simple meals. Ordering out is much less tempting if you keep these basics stocked in your cupboard.
If you can, buy them in bulk at places like Costco and B.J.’s.
Oats are a great staple to have around. You can make cooked oatmeal, muesli, and homemade veggie burgers with oats. Potatoes, with so many varieties and colors to choose from, are another outstanding standby.
And although it sometimes gets a bad rap, it really is nature’s most perfect food.
Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, dietary fiber, and other essential vitamins and minerals. With them, you can make hash browns, baked potatoes, hearty soups, oven baked fries, and mashed potatoes.
If you’re into losing weight, you can make cheap low-fat versions of all these meals.
At my local grocery store, I can get ten pounds of russets for $5.00.
Lentils are a versatile meat substitute and are also filling. They come in three colors—red, green, and brown—and they’re all scrumptious. Lentils are one of the healthiest of carbs and provide you with an abundance of nutrients.
You can add them to salads, and you can also make vegan meatballs, meatloaf, and sloppy joes with them.
Beans are another staple that’s cheap, easy to cook up, and good for you. And with so many different types, such as black turtle beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, cannellini beans, and great northern beans, you’re never at a loss for variety.
Rice is dirt cheap and there’s so much you can do with it. At my local grocery store, I can buy a 20-pound bag of long-grain white rice for $7.99 or $18.99 for a 25 bag of Jasmine rice.
Use rice in veggie stir-fries, curries, or soups. Brown rice is the healthiest form of rice, but white rice isn’t as bad for you as some make it out to be.
Another cheap staple that’s good to have on hand is pasta, which comes in a dizzying array of varieties and shapes, most of which are vegan.
And you can get gluten-free pasta that’s only slightly more expensive than the regular kind. And although it’s processed, it’s still fairly healthy.
Tofu is another excellent staple to have around. The texture after you freeze and then thaw it is so satisfyingly meaty. Dazzle your friends who are diehard carnivores and whip up some mouth-watering vegan spare ribs with it.
And remember to stock up on frozen vegetables when they’re on sale. The following recipe from The Fat Free Vegan Kitchen Blog uses frozen vegetables and only costs pennies per serving to make:
Susan’s Dirty Little Secret Soup
- 5-6 cups vegetable broth
- 1 16- ounce can diced tomatoes
- 2 16- ounce cans beans rinsed and drained
- 2 1- pound bags of frozen vegetables
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon basil
- 1/2 teaspoons oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- a shake or two of hot pepper sauce
- black pepper and salt to taste
- 1/2 cup small pasta, two cups diced potatoes, or one cup frozen corn or other starchy vegetables
Put 5 cups of vegetable broth and all remaining ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are done (about 20-30 minutes). If the soup seems too thick, add more broth. Taste and adjust seasonings before serving.
This can also be made with 2 pounds of whatever fresh vegetables you have in the house.
Grow Your Own Vegetables
A garden is like money in the bank.
You can save enormous amounts of money by growing your own fruits and vegetables. By spending a few bucks on seeds and supplies in the spring, you’ll harvest enough vegetables later in the season to recoup your initial investment several times over.
Seeds and other gardening supplies don’t cost that much either—especially when you factor in the abundant harvest your garden will shower you with in return for just a little bit of your attention.
You can grow so much in a small space…and in the end, nothing is cheaper and more satisfying than growing your own food.
Stick to a Budget
Set your budget at $150 a month, which is about $5.00 per day. To avoid sabotaging your budget, refrain as much as possible from eating out. And for crying out loud, eat your leftovers. Failure to do so is another budget killer.
It’s true what they tell you—leftovers do taste better the next day. Another thing you should fastidiously avoid is being a gratuitous coupon clipper. You may know the type: addicted to the thrill of couponing but forgetting the underlying purpose behind all that furious clipping.
Namely, to buy stuff at a lower price you’d end up buying anyway. And not to buy something just because you had a 10-cent coupon for it. Stock up during sales, but don’t fall into the trap of going overboard. Go to places where you can buy in bulk for some real savings.
Buy frozen vegetables when they’re on sale. Some people look down their nose at frozen vegetables, but they’re often more nutritious than fresh ones that have been shipped in from hundreds of miles away.
This is because frozen vegetables have been flash-frozen at the farm, locking in the life-giving nutrients that were in the vegetables on the very day they were picked.
Only buy fresh vegetables locally when they’re in season. But if you find a good deal on fresh produce, buy a lot of it and freeze some. And while organic produce is usually more expensive than non-organic, it can be cheaper when it goes on sale.
Create a Menu
To do meal preparation in a planful way, create a menu for the week. When you have a menu laid out and know exactly what to buy, your market excursions will be purposeful with no wasted trips. Base the recipes on your menu around the cheap staples listed below.
Once you familiarize yourself with the staples that much up a cheap plant-based diet, you can start to get really creative with your meals. Soon, you’ll be dreaming up your own inspired culinary creations that are the epitome of frugality. Just remember to have fun with it all.
And before you go shopping, check out the sales flyers.
Always Have a Grocery List
The first rule of grocery shopping is never venture into a store without list in hand.
Before you even leave the house, look at your meal plan for the next week and write a detailed shopping list that includes each item you need and how much of each to buy.
And then, when you actually get to the store, you’ll be able to focus with laser-like intensity on your shopping tasks, resulting in a much more productive and satisfying shopping experience.
Use an Instant Pot
You can really up your cooking game with an Instant Pot.
An Instant Pot is an almost magical device that looks like it could be R2D2’s more culinarily-inclined younger brother. It’s cute, but also super useful, because it’s a programmable pressure cooker with options for cooking rice, soup, beans/chili, and other things.
And it cooks food a heck of a lot faster than conventional cooking methods.
These versatile gadgets are excellent at making one pot meals. You can set it and forget it…until a gentle beeping noise snaps you out of your afternoon reverie to let you know your meal is done.
Instant Pot cooking can save you so much money and time! Cook white rice in four minutes, soaked dry beans in about 10 minutes, and steel cut oats in just five minutes. You can make so many amazingly inexpensive and delicious meals with them.
And beans cooked in an Instant Pot taste so much better than canned beans. To prepare beans in your Instant Pot, place one pound of dried beans with six to eight cups of water in the machine. Set it to cook for 45 minutes.
Once the beans have stopped cooking, drain off the liquid for use in other recipes. This liquid is known as “aquafaba,” and you can use it as egg replacer in a fabulous variety of vegan dishes such as lemon meringue pie and strawberry ice cream.
After you make some black beans in your electric pressure cooker, you can use them in this recipe:
This recipe was inspired by the delectable fare at Chipotle. Enjoy!
- Choose Rice: White Rice or Brown Rice
- Choose Beans: Black Beans or Pinto Beans
- Additional Toppings: Chopped Peppers, Chopped Onions, Guacamole, Fresh Tomato Salsa, Romaine Lettuce, Marinated Tofu, Black Olives, Banana Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, Cilantro
Layer in the order presented in a bowl. Serve with a side of homemade baked tortilla chips seasoned with some Trader Joe’s Chile Lime Seasoning Blend. (for how to make them, see below).
Farmers’ markets are a vegan paradise.
At a farmers’ market, you can buy a veritable cornucopia of in-season delights. In-season produce is usually more affordable, better tasting and contains more nutrients compared to produce that is not in season and is shipped from a distant locale.
But sometimes it’s cheaper to buy produce from your grocery store.
Sure…the veggies at the farmer’s market are going to be fresher and more delicious, but since this article is about eating a plant-based diet to be more frugal, you should probably go for the choice that’s cheaper.
So, before you set out for the market, compare your shopping list with the sales circulars from your local stores and write down the sale prices.
Then at the market, compare their prices with the written prices. Walk the entire market before buying anything so you can compare each vendor’s prices before you plunk down your cold hard cash.
Don’t buy a food at the start of the season when the demand is high, because the price will be high too.
Many vendors at farmers’ markets give deals to regular customers, making it in your best interests to consistently use the same vendor. Negotiate a discount for bulk purchases, too.
Consider buying ugly produce—the misshapen items that would never pass muster in a grocery store but taste just as good as their less aesthetically-challenged counterparts. This produce can often be had at a farmers’ market for a considerable discount.
Do this, and you’re not only enriching your personal coffers, but you’re also helping to reduce food waste because up to 40% of produce in the United States is thrown away for not meeting overly rigorous cosmetic standards.
Shopping near the end of the selling day is another strategy you can use.
Vendors don’t want to be stuck with unsold merchandise, so just before the vendors are packing up their stalls to get ready to call it a day, you might be able to snag a bunch of tomatoes for a fraction of the price they sold for when the market opened.
Vegan Dollar Store Finds
You can find many vegan products at the dollar store.
These stores always have a great selection of canned vegan products including beans and vegetables. They usually have frozen potato products such as tater tots and French fries, although these aren’t the healthiest of foods.
Sometimes you can even get non-dairy milk for a dollar. Frozen veggies are usually easy to come by. Pasta and sauces to go with it are usually abundant. They often have soups that are vegan as well as salad dressing free from animal ingredients.
You can often buy frozen fruit at dollar stores, which you can use to make thick and creamy smoothies. You can even buy veggie burgers for a dollar in some of these stores.
Cheap Vegan Food at Trader Joe’s
If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, you’re in for a treat, because this place has a nicely curated selection of vegan eats that’ll knock your socks off.
Non-dairy milk bought there is considerably cheaper than milk bought at a grocery store.
And most of the time, you can get tempeh (a meat alternative made with fermented soybeans) cheaper than almost anywhere else. Trader Joe’s always makes being a plant-based eater easier and so much fun.
There are a lot of options as far as cheap vegan snacks. Popcorn is one of them. And, it happens to be a whole grain.
Choose creative toppings and you’ll elevate this humble snack from the realm of the mundane into something much more divine. For example, drizzle on some Tabasco and vegan butter to make buffalo popcorn.
Or, sprinkle on lemon juice, vegan butter, and Old Bay seasoning for the taste of a seaside crab shack that’s totally cruelty-free.
Cut up some tortillas and bake them in the oven at 350 degrees for seven minutes to make your own tortilla chips.
Top with some freshly made salsa. I like to add some Trader Joe’s Chili Lime Spice to them after first misting them with a little water to make the spice stick. Because they’re made without oil, these tortilla chips are healthier than the bagged stuff you buy at the supermarket.
Make some delicious roasted chickpeas by blotting canned chickpeas with some paper towels, toss them in some olive oil, season them with your favorite spices, and cook them in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes until they’re crunchy.
Bananas have lots of potassium and are always cheap. You can even make delicious vegan ice cream with them. Try this recipe from bowlofdelicious.com:
Two-Ingredient Vegan Chocolate Banana Ice Cream
This vegan chocolate banana ice cream is made of only two ingredients and is an awesome, healthy substitute for traditional ice cream!
- 2-3 bananas
- 2-3 tablespoons cacao powder
To prepare for this, slice the bananas and freeze on a parchment covered baking sheet for at least 25 minutes. Put the frozen sliced bananas and cocoa powder in a food processor (a blender can also be used) and turn it on.
Blend together until the mixture looks like soft serve ice cream (1-2 minutes).
Make Your Own Condiments and Sauces
While using store-bought condiments and sauces is convenient, you can save lots of money if you make your own. And they’ll taste much better than anything you can get in the store.
Freshly made salsa has an indescribably zestful taste that the jar stuff simply can’t emulate—especially when you use just-picked tomatoes.
You can make your mayonnaise, catsup, Worcestershire sauce, and so much more!
Here’s a recipe for Low-Fat Vegan Ranch Dip from One Green Planet:
- 1 12.3 oz. package firm silken tofu
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 teaspoon granulated onion
- 1/2 teaspoon nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoon maple syrup or liquid sweetener of choice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons green/spring onions, sliced (green tops only)
Place ingredients (except for parsley and green onions) into blender or Vita-Mix and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if desired. Add parsley and green onions and blend on medium-high until the pieces are broken up a bit and distributed evenly.
Refrigerate if desired before serving. Serve with veggies or rice crackers.
Making the Strategies Work (with a Practical Example)
A big problem with practicing frugality is that sometimes it gets a little boring and you end up losing interest. How do you solve this problem?
By turning your efforts into a game!
When you do, you’ll be suddenly blessed with the epiphany that yes, I can make it work, because no longer will my trip to the supermarket be tedious and boring…it’ll be a thrilling adventure to see how much I can save.
You’ll go in there with the mindset of a bargain hunter enjoying the thrill of the hunt.
Decide how far you want to go with your tightwaddery and transform these wispy intentions into goals. One strategy that can help you to do this is a price book.
Buy a three-ring binder and put sheets of paper in them and write down the items you buy regularly. Each item should have its own separate page.
Then, write down the price for each item in each store you frequent. This way, you’ll always have the confidence that the price you’re paying for your staples is actually the cheapest. But don’t practice this with grim determination.
Do it all with a sense of adventure, and you gamify frugality, giving yourself more “oomph” to follow through with your efforts. You can even challenge your friends to frugality contests to make it more fun!
You can save so much money by eating a plant-based diet. It’s a path to frugality many people fail to consider because they don’t realize it’s cheaper to be a vegan than it is to be a carnivore.
By adopting these strategies, you really can eat on $5 a day. Sure, it might be hard at first, but as time goes on it’ll get easier. Not only will you lose weight, but you’ll have more energy and be healthier.
And, by reducing your carbon footprint, you’ll help save the environment. You might become a vegan initially because you want to get in touch with your inner tightwad, but then you get all these other amazing benefits too.
Why not give it a shot?