Saturday, September 24, 2011

Top 10 Money Saving Tips for Going Vegan

At the request of my friend Liz and because I hear it so damn often, this will be a post about how to be vegan and save money. So often I hear people telling me, "Oh, I'd go vegan/vegetarian if it didn't cost so much, but it's so expensive I just can't do it." I want to laugh when I hear this. Are you kidding me? Switching to veganism is WAY cheaper than consuming meat, but only if you are a smart and conscious shopper. Sure, you can go to Whole Foods and purchase pre-made seitan, wheat balls, veggie burgers, polenta, etc. And yes, your shopping bill will be high. No doubt about it. But if you follow these few tips, you'll find you'll be saving money in no time!

Christi's Top 10 Tips for Saving $$ on a Vegan Diet:

1. Avoid fancy specialty items. They're packaging is enticing and their easy to use but they will jack your bill up, so be prepared. We do purchase Tofurkey deli slices on a regular basis and we'll often buy Field Roast. But we know they're more expensive and we can afford it right now. These aren't vital items to be a good vegan cook and you can totally make amazingly delicious food WITHOUT them. I promise :) You can also find recipes that tell you how to make them. Homemade seitan is far more cost-effective than pre-made store bought seitan. Homemade veggie burgers are way cheaper and you don't have to worry about egg whites being included.

2. Plan your meals in advance. Every Saturday I sit down with our cookbooks and pick out 4-5 meals for the week. I write out my shopping list based on these meals and I write down the meals, cookbooks, and page numbers and stick it to the fridge for the week. You're thinking, "I see how this would save time, but money?" But it does! By creating a shopping list around the things you plan to eat for the week, you won't be tempted or even need to purchase things that are not on your list (ALWAYS food shop with a list). You'll also find that you're buying the appropriate quantity of food for you and your family and you aren't wasting food by letting it go bad. If you find that food is still going bad, make smaller shopping trips.

3. The bulk aisle is your best friend (most of the time). For the most part, items in the bulk section will cost less than buying that fancy Bob's Red Mill's bag of polenta (we don't buy his products anymore and you shouldn't either!). Your bulk aisle will likely include polenta, flour, sugar, beans, spices, nuts, and many grains. But make sure that the cost is less. Last week, I wanted to buy a good amount of cranberries to use in my baking. I checked out the price per pound in the Whole Foods bulk section. In the same aisle they sell packaged bulk items, and the packaged cranberries cost less per pound. So goo thing I checked!

4. Beans, Beans, Beans. I know it's a pain in the ass to buy dry beans, but MAN do they cost less than canned. Seriously! So here's what you buy your beans on the weekend and on Sunday afternoon, soak a big batch, boil them, drain them, and put them in tupperware and stick them in the freezer. You're set for a while if you do a good amount and a variety. Beans are an awesome source of protein and numerous vitamins - so eat 'em up!

5. Shop Local. Farmers Markets, road stands, local orchards are a fantastic way to save money. Check out some of my earlier posts with shots of all the food I've gotten for $10. It's incredible and it's fresh and local and so much better for you. Think about how far some of our food travels to get to us, how it's banged around, gets dirty....local food at the Farmers Market traveled up to an hour on the back of a truck and the person who grew that tomato is handing it to you. Fantastic! I don't know why you wouldn't shop there :)

6. Use substitutions in fancy recipes. So your mushroom risotto recipe uses morels which are like $5.99 for a small bag. Substitute! You don't have to use morels. The amazing thing about veggies is how versatile they are. You should use recipes as a guide and not feel tied to them. If your recipe calls for expensive mushrooms, substitute with criminis or white mushrooms and you'll save $3. You have a recipe that tells you to deglaze the pan with red wine but you don't have red wine or can't afford it, use veggie stock or water instead.

7. Choose your proteins wisely. Many people, when they first become vegetarian or vegan, feel that they need to buy meat substitutes to replace the protein they were getting from animal foods. Not true! There are many, many, MANY other sources of protein that, at times, have more protein than the meat subs. Here are some examples of protein content from plant food from Vegan for Life:

  • 3 ounces of seitan = 22.5 grams 
  • 1/3 cup of soy protein powder = 23 grams
  • 1/2 cup of soy beans (edamame, if you will) = 14.3 grams
  • 1/4 cup of peanuts = 8.6 grams
  • 1/2 cup of firm tofu = 20 grams (firm has a higher protein content than soft)
  • 1 cup of soy milk = 10 grams
  • 1/2 cup of quinoa = 4 grams
  • 1/2 cup of frozen spinach = 3.8 grams
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter = 8 grams
You don't need soy meat alternatives if you learn about nutrition and make smart choices throughout your day. If you understand the nutrition behind it, you'll save a great deal of money! I can't stress that enough - you really need to learn nutrition and make sure you're doing vegan right - you'll save money and ensure your health. Don't be a junk food vegan (french fries and Oreos). 

8. Waste not - make stock. We're getting back into soup season and I cannot stress enough how silly it is to buy veggie stock. Seriously - don't make me come over there to give you a swift kick in the pants. Here's the trick - as you're cooking throughout the week, keep a large tupperware container in your fridge and add any veggie odds and ends - carrot peels, onion ends, avocado skins, kale stems  - you name it, if it's veg, throw it in! Then, at the end of the week, throw all the ends into a big pot with a little olive oil and saute them. Once the veggies are warmed and smelling good, add water, a bay leaf, some fresh ground pepper and 1-2 tsp of soy sauce or Braggs. Cover the pot; bring it up to a boil and then simmer for a few hours. After you turn it off, allow it to cool so you can work with it and strain the liquid into a pitcher or large container you can store in the fridge. Squeeze the veggies to get excess liquid out (it's crazy how much liquid they hold). And now you've got stock for the week to make soups, cook rice and other grains, use in saut├ęs, etc. If you have a composter, throw the veg in. Sadly, we don't have one, but at least we're getting as much food as we can out of the veggies we buy. 

9. Make your own snacks. Snack foods are so tempting to buy. If you're dieting right, you know you need a snack or two throughout your day, but snack foods like granola bars, veg chips, trail mix, etc. can get really pricey. So make your own! Make a nice big batch of granola bars - there are tons of great recipes on VegWeb and there's a great one on The Vegan Stoner. Make your own trail mix by purchasing a some nuts, seeds and raisins or cranberries in the bulk section and then just mix them together. Ta-da! Trail mix. Make your own veg chips - you've got an oven! If you buy kale chips, I will smack you. They are SO much cheaper to make at home and you can do fun things like add a good amount of cayenne pepper and sea salt or coconut...Google kale chip recipes and you'll find tons of combinations. 

10. Set a take-out/dine-out limit. This rule applies to all diets but it's easier when you're vegan because there are less dining options to begin with! Set a rule for your household limiting the number of times you eat out or order take out. Our rule is 2 times per month and we seriously save a good chunk of change. It's hard to stick to this rule when you've got a lot of friends pulling you in all different directions, wanting to dine with you. Don't fret - just suggest small dinner parties at your houses. The setting is more intimate, you can actually hear what people are saying, and there is something so satisfying about cooking for the people you love. In other cities, there are a lot more dining-out options for vegans than in Portland, Maine, but you should still limit your meals out. Think about it, often times the bill for a dinner for 2 is equal to your week's food shopping trip. And you only get one meal out of it. If you don't believe that it will help you save money, start tracking how much you spend, not only on eating out, but record every time you purchase a latte and how much it cost you. It's so easy to drop a few bucks here and there, but then when you track it and look back at your months expenses, you'll be shocked to discover that you've spent maybe $50 on coffee. $50?! That's a food shopping trip providing food for a week! 

So all of these tips are awesome, but maybe they don't answer the question at large - is veganism cheaper than being an omnivore? Well, let's look at the cost of ground beef, pork chops, and chicken.

Average cost of ground beef, per pound, in August 2011 = $3.21
Pork chops, bone in per pound, in August 2011 = $3.65
Chicken, boneless per pound, in August 2011 = $3.25
Tofu, with a price that rarely fluctuates, 14 ounces = $1.69 (365 extra firm tofu)

Ok so, a pound is 16 ounces, so the beef is 20 cents an ounce, the pork is 23 cents, and chicken is 20 cents.  Tofu is 12 cents an ounce. Maybe you don't think that's very much, but it all adds up! And these prices on meat are averages, the region you live in and store you're shopping at can cause major fluctuations. As I noted above, the price of tofu very rarely fluctuates and so we always know how much we're going to spend.

Here's some additional reading if you want more info:

MSN: Go vegetarian to save money
20 Something Finance: Frugality through Vegetarianism - How to Save $2-$3K per Year & the Planet by Moving Away from a Meat - Based Diet
Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson


  1. Great list of tips! I always buy the things I know I am going to use (and if they are on offer) in bulk. It really can bring you some fantastic savings!

  2. Very smart! That's why it always helps to create a weekly "menu." Admittedly, it's a lot of work, but in the end, you save money - so it's totally worth it! And the bulk aisle rocks!