Althoughvegan diets have an unfortunate association with exclusivity and affluence,research has shown what many of us already figured out: you can enjoy significant savings by avoiding animal flesh. According to the survey, a diet void of meat leads to a savings of $23.00 a week, which translates to nearly $1,200 a year, not counting thehealthcare savings from moving away from eating animals, which is even greater for vegans.
Even with the savings, plant-based food can be expensive, but there are ways to stretch that dollar. Most of these savings are most applicable to those who are willing to cook a little but you don’t have to be tethered to the kitchen if that isn’t your thing. With an eye tousing staples, resourcefulness, not wasting and a little planning, you can really cut down on your expenses. Some of these tips are for people who want to take it to the next level and others are just everyday practices for extending your food dollar, no matter how much time you have to invest in it and apply whether or not you’re fully vegan.
Grow (some) of your own If you are fortunate enough to have space for it, growing herbs, veggies and even berries or other fruits is a great way to save money, plus you get to spend time with some sweet little plants that don’t sass back at you and also enjoy the ridiculous satisfaction of a juicy homegrown tomato or cucumber. Whether you start with seeds, which is the thriftiest way, or seedlings, which cost a little more but take the time and guesswork out of the early growing stages, edible gardens are a real money-saver during growing seasons. Keep in mind, too, that if you have a surfeit of one thing, say onions, and your friend has a ton of another, say bell peppers, you could propose a trade of one bumper item for another. Also, if you do have excess of fresh produce — how much zucchini can one household eat? — making it available to your community through something like theFood is Free Project is a meaningful way to give back to your community.
Don’t have a yard? You can try container gardening onbalconies and even on afire escape (though do be mindful of safety).
Canning, pickling, and preserving What are you going to do with all that produce before it goes bad? Canning, pickling and preserving isn’t for everyone but it is highly addictive for those of us who have been bitten by the bug. If you try canning and pickling things like marinara, salsa, cucumbers, hot peppers, as well as making preserves when berries are in season, you can make a lot for a fraction of the cost of buying at a market. Plus, you get to savor the summer’s bounty even in the dead of winter. Some of us have memories of our grandmothers making jar after jar of jam in overheated kitchens, but I am here to say thatsmall-batch preserving is a totally worthwhile endeavor and may be more realistic and appealing for many of us who are time- and space-crunched.
Buy in season Buying produce in season is more affordable than buying it out of season, plus, as it’s more environmentally-friendly, it’s a win-win! If you live in the U.S., check out the handySeasonal Food Guide to learn what is growing near you any given month. Different countries should have their own resources for this.
Buy locally-grown Like buying in season, emphasizing locally-grown purchases makes good economic and environmental sense, and it’s also valuable to the local and regional growers you are supporting. When stores don’t need to pay for shipping from far away places, the savings are often passed on to the consumers. If you go to a farmers market, be mindful that it will likely be more expensive than a grocery store, but going later in the day when the stalls are ready to pack up may yield some savings as sellers may cut prices to carry back less.
Professor gadget There are some kitchen appliances that seem like a waste of money and space and others that make it more convenient to cook and thus are worth the cost. How do you figure out if it’s useful or not? If you will be using it. Small items that are inexpensive and fit into drawers are not a big deal, but with the bulky appliances that take up valuable real estate, you will want to put some consideration into before purchasing.
I wrote a pretty thorough exploration of kitchen implements that you might want tocheck out; it’s worth thinking about which appliances and tools are worth their initial price-tag in your life. A blender, for example, is a very useful kitchen implement, especially if you would otherwise buy your smoothies, and anInstant Pot is worth the cost if it means you can make quick, easy and delicious meals at home rather than eating out. Don’t really like dried food? A food dehydrator will probably just gather dust.
U-Pick U-Pick farms aren’t always practical but they can be a great way to purchase a large volume of local produce for a fraction of the cost of it pre-bagged. It’s also a fun activity with family and friends as well as a nice chance to spend time outdoors.
Shop at ethnic markets Shopping at Latin, Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian markets can be very budget-friendly as compared to big grocery chains. You will find some familiar staples, often at much lower costs, but also be sure to explore the wider array of spices, produce, grains, beans and even fun kitchen implements you might not find in your regular grocery stores.
Keep a weekly menu and stick to a shopping list This does take a little spontaneity out of your grocery trips, but it can also take a big bite out of your weekly food bill and the amount of time you spend shopping in one fell swoop. Making a weekly menu can also be meditative and a fun way to plan new recipes to try: set aside an hour or so once a week (Sunday is my day), grab a bunch of cookbooks or look at a food blog you’ve been meaning to dive into, sip some tea and get to planning.
Planning your meals and sticking to a grocery list means fewer impulse purchases and as an added benefit, you can look at what you’re eating over the course of a week and make sure you’re getting a good variety of nutritious food into your diet. Last, keeping a list is a time management tool as well: not only can you organize your list by store and where it is at the store, having you in and out quicker, you don’t have to scramble at the last minute to decide what to cook for dinner.
But sometimes spontaneity is better In opposition to the previous point, if you find a fantastic deal on something, it may pay off to deviate from your shopping list and build new meals around what you’ve found.
Keep a budget If you thought you only had $50 to spend on food a week, you would probably shop differently than if you thought you had $200. Setting a budget (and sticking to it) forces you to prioritize spending and buy more efficiently. Set a realistic goal and stick to it.
Follow your favorite brands, products, and restaurants Many brands, products and vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants and chains offer exclusive deals to those who “like” them on social media, sign up on mailing lists or download apps. If you create a Gmail account for the specific purpose of getting promotions from companies, your regular email won’t get clogged up (or sold).
DIY Doing-it-yourself is really the order of the day when it comes to saving money. By making as much as you can on your own, you can keep costs down, maintain better quality control over ingredients and make things just to your liking. Items like plant milks, salad dressings, marinades, breads and more generally cost less, often much less, if you make them yourself. Of course, making your own meals falls under this heading as well.
Buy ingredients, not meals While somewhat falling under the same DIY header as above, this is a little different. It means that instead of buying a sandwich, for example, you get the sandwich fixings you need and can make many more for a fraction of the cost per sammy. Instead of buying a slice or two of pizza, make your own for far less money and have leftovers. Instead of pricey, single-serving prepared meals at the grocery store, make your own in a larger quantity for the best savings.
Be a bean counter If you’re serious about cutting down on expenses, consider making your own beans from scratch. They smell heavenly, taste much better than canned, and a big batch will cost a fraction of how canned beans, already pretty affordable, are priced. Soak the night before (or do aquick soak the same day) and then boil in plenty of water with salt, onions and bay leaves.
Mental for lentils While you’re eating beans, don’t forget about lentils, which are also nutritious and affordable and truly a lot of bang for very little buck. Beyond the everyday familiar ones, keep a variety of lentils on hand, including split lentils, which cook up so fast, and French lentils, which retain their shape, for dahl,split pea soup,mujadara,shepherd’s pie and more. Dried lentils are more economical than canned and as a little added bonus, they look so pretty on counters in glass jars.
Extend your meals and your groceries You can get more out of your groceries and cooking by extending your meals. For example, if you make one big pot of veggie chili, it can be served on baked potatoes, on pasta, on rice, veggie dogs and more throughout the week. Also, make fried rice, savory pancakes, stir-fries, stews, soups, casseroles, veggie burgers and more with the leftover odds and ends from previous meals. Remember, too, that bread that’s past its prime can easily be transformed into croutons, French toast and breadcrumbs. Getting into the mindset of resourcefulness is actually kind of fun and creative.
Extend your take-out, too You can get more out of take-out food by adding additional veggies, grains, tofu, etc. Not only will this cost less than ordering extra from the restaurant, you can stretch your meals into more than one this way.
Make your own vegetable stock out of scraps Ever wonder what to do with the tops of celery, onion skins and carrot peels? Composting is great, but you can also keep the scraps from the produce you use and you will have a virtually free, deliciously savory vegetable stock you can keep adding to in yourfreezer until you have enough to cook it up.
Crisper accounting Out of sight often means out of mind. Especially during seasons with more abundant produce, maintaining a running account of your fruits and veggies on a dry erase board is a good way to make sure that you’re keeping an essential frugal living mantra alive: waste not, want not. You don’t want anything to go bad on your watch.
See through sense In sight means in mind, too. If you have your lentils, grains, pasta and so on stored in nifty glass containers, you will always be able to quickly see what you have on hand and not have to run out and buy items you don’t need. If they are tucked away in containers you can’t easily see in, you will forget about them.
You’d better shop around Okay, this is shared with the caveat that it’s not necessarily practical during a time of pandemic, but otherwise, if you want to get the best deals, you will have to go where the best deals are found. (Of course, many places now have curbside pickup as well in which you can virtually shop around.) Here is where you trade time-efficiency for cost-benefits, but many find that going to one store for inexpensive organic produce, your local natural foods store for their weekly specials, ethnic markets for great deals, and a large grocery store for other staple items pays off. If you have planned your meals ahead of time and have your lists, this will be more efficient and less time-consuming.
Mr. Freeze Sometimes you’re so slammed by great deals on in season produce you couldn’t possibly eat it fast enough and this is when a freezer comes in very handy. In addition to fruits and vegetables, freezing herbs, prepared foods like pesto, and high volume meals works as a money-saving, time-saving strategy. Some people find it worth the expense to buy a second freezer.
Don’t let your cupboard go bare If you have somepantry staples on hand, it is much less tempting to spend more money ordering in or eating out. There are some things that I always have on hand so I can always make a simple but delicious meal: whole grains (like rice and quinoa), pasta, tomato sauce, chickpeas, frozen peas and corn, and some long-lasting produce like onions, garlic, ginger and potatoes.