Veganism can easily be tailored to fit into most people's lives, regardless of income. It's a myth that eating a vegan diet is expensive by nature. In fact, vegan diets in particular are very accommodating to budget living and eating. Many of the foods considered to be staples in a typical, healthy vegan diet are very affordable - grains, beans, seeds, and legumes are all good examples. You can make a lot of delicious vegan food on a budget! Vegetable curries with rice and tofu, creamy or broth-based soups, vegetable stir-fries, sandwiches, veggie & bean chilies, pasta dishes, and salads are all examples of tasty and affordable vegan meals.
Sometimes a switch to vegansim can inspire you to lead a healthier lifestyle and you may find yourself wanting to try some of the "super foods" on the market. That's awesome! But pricier super foods aren't imperative to achieve a balanced, vegan diet. Regardless of how you choose to structure your vegan lifestyle, here are some ideas to help you save money while you're shopping!
Most grocery stores display the unit price for each item, but a lot of grocery stores also display the price per weight for items. Use this to compare prices between brands and different sizes of products. If your grocery store doesn't list price per weight, consider using a calculator to compare prices. Often times, the "cheaper" option can turn out to be more expensive by weight.
Produce: Fresh vs. Frozen
If you're into making smoothies, adding fruit to oatmeal, or baking with fruit, consider buying frozen fruit. Frozen produce isn't always cheaper, so make sure you're being thorough with your price comparisons. If you come across a great deal on fresh produce, stock up and freeze it. This works great with berries, bananas, and other fruit for use in smoothies. Remember, frozen produce usually contains more nutrients then fresh produce - this is because the product is frozen at its peak ripeness and will not lose nutrients during transport to your grocery store. It is a misconception that nutrients are somehow lost during the freezing process.
Bulk vs. Packaged
Purchasing some items from the bulk sections can be a great way to save money, especially if you only need a small amount. Often, the largest package will be the cheapest by weight, but don't bother if you don't need much. Great things to pick up in the bulk section include:
- nuts and seeds
- spices and herbs
- dried fruit, make sure they're not over-dried, and that the containers are close to air-tight
- snack items
- more expensive items that you've never tried before. Find out if you like them before you buy a larger package!
Organic vs. Non-organic
Whether you choose to buy organic or not is up to you. In general, organic foods tend to be more expensive. If you don't usually buy organic produce, make sure you check out the organic section anyways. When organic produce goes on sale it can be cheaper than non-organic.
Brand Name vs. Generic Brand
Generic brand items can be an great way to save money when shopping. Items that are awesome for buying generic are:
- baking supplies: flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, corn starch, etc.
- nuts & seeds
- dried fruit
Compare Grocery Stores
Always check the flyers of all your nearby grocery stores online, and build your shopping list from there. If you happen to live somewhere where there are a few grocery stores to choose from that are located in the same area, I suggest shopping all of their sales. This can be time consuming, but it can be really worth it. Learn if your grocery store has a customer appreciation day, a lot of stores offer 10-15% off your entire purchase one day out of the month - it may be different depending on your location and store. Try to get there earlier in the day for the best selection if there are specific sale items you want to pick up.
Consider a Wholesale Membership
Paying for a membership at a wholesaler such as Costco can be very worth it, even for a single person or small family you can still save a lot of money. Before purchasing a membership, try to find someone who already has one and go in with them, this will give you a good idea of whether or not it will be worth it for you. If you're shopping for only 1 or 2 people, focus on buying non-perishable and far-dated items to prevent wastage. Costco memberships are around $50 Canadian for one year but you will save well over that amount if you're organized with your shopping. Some of my favourite foodstuffs to pick up at Costco are:
- cooking oils
- frozen fruits and vegetables
- oatmeal, granola, and other cereals
- bread (freeze extras)
- nuts and seeds
- nut butters
- baking supplies
- vegan snacks (crackers, chips, protein bars, etc.)
Find Cheap Options for Vegan Specialty Items and Superfoods
Even if you're on a budget it can be fun to try some of the fancier vegan items on the market!
Grocery Store Markdowns
Take advantage of 25% and 50% markdowns, always make sure to cruise by those areas in your grocery store to check for good deals. Find out when things are marked down, some places do markdowns in the evenings and you can pick them up before the store closes, and some put out their markdowns early in the morning so you'll want to try and get there right after the store opens. My grocery store puts out a large display of discount bakery products every morning, I use this as an opportunity to stock my freezer with whole grain breads, bagels, wraps, etc. Vegans living in cities and rural areas with a smaller vegetarian/vegan community may find that vegan specialty foods and substitutes are more expensive. Luckily, this also means a slower turnover rate on these products and more frequent opportunities for markdowns. Take a quick peak at the dates of items on the shelf, if something is out-dating in a few days and there's still a lot of stock left you can try coming back a couple of days later. Pay attention to find out how many days prior to the Best Before date that items are marked down or put on clearance.
Like I mentioned earlier, wholesale memberships are great to save on items like nut butters, convenience foods (especially frozen), snack foods, vegan bars, and super foods like chia seeds and hemp hearts.
Utilize online options to take advantage of all sorts of great deals. Sites like The Better Health Store and iHerb are great options for getting vegan products (especially personal care items, specialty snack foods, and supplements.) Take advantage of sales, coupon codes, and referrals for even better deals. I make big orders from The Better Health Store every few months using their 15% off code. This is a great opportunity for me to stock up on toothpaste, deodorant, face wash, moisturizer, soap, vitamins, supplements, etc. I signed up for their email offers and only make orders when they have a 15% off coupon code.
ELF (eyes lips face) is a fantastic option for vegan, cruelty free cosmetics and skin care products. Most items range from $1-$3 with higher end items costing up to $6. They have frequent sales, free shipping to the US, and very reasonable shipping rates to Canada. Sign up for their newsletters to stay informed about sales events as well.
Make Your Own Convenience Meals
Prepackaged foods are often more expensive than preparing your own food from scratch. By being prepared and cooking for yourself you can easily save a lot of money. Preparing your own meals also allows you to be aware of exactly what's in your food. If you often find yourself needing to pick up convenience foods, consider buying an insulated lunch box and making your own meals and snacks to take with you. An even more budget friendly option is to use a reusable grocery bag for a lunch bag. Keep your food cold by freezing one or two water bottles and throwing them in with your lunch, later in the day your lunch will still be cool and you'll have ice cold water to drink.
Build Your Diet Around Whole Foods
Luckily for vegans, most of the necessary staple items are cheap! Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds are typically very affordable. Make sure to take advantage of all of the tips mentioned above to guarantee that you're paying the lowest price possible.
Fruits and Vegetables - Buy in season and on sale produce, stock up on good deals and preserve any extras by freezing them. Watch for sales and markdowns in the frozen aisle and stock up when you see fit.
Grains - Rely on store-brands and economy sized bags/boxes of brown rice and whole wheat pasta. For baked goods - find good deals, sales, 25-50% markdowns and take advantage by stocking up and freezing them - this is cost-effective and won't result in wastage because you can thaw only what you need for the next day or two. I keep all of my bread, wraps, English muffins, bagels, etc. in my freezer and just take out what I need on a daily basis.
Beans & Legumes - Dried beans and legumes are usually very affordable. You can also use canned beans or legumes for convenience. They're a little more expensive, but still a very viable option for a budget vegan diet. When it comes to canned goods, look for low-sodium options whenever possible. Tofu is also very budget-friendly and is a fresh product. Keep an eye out for mark downs as tofu can be frozen too, the texture will become a little bit chewier which is good for using tofu as a substitute for ground beef in recipes like chili or pasta.
Nuts & Seeds - Nuts and seeds can be purchased in bulk or packaged. It's usually best to go with the largest available package, provided you know that you will finish the product before it expires. Nuts and seeds freeze very well, so I suggest that you freeze most of what you won't use right away and keep a small amount at room temp for you to consume.
Limit Vegan Substitutes
I often find that a lot of packaged vegan meat and cheese substitutes are similarly priced compared to their non-vegan counterparts of medium quality. However, they're often the items that cost the most compared to their volume. Watch for sales, or close-dated items that are discounted, and pick up these items then. Where I live, vegan substitutes don't have a high turnover rate so they get marked down fairly often. Make sure to use them quickly, or freeze them (if appropriate.) Consider making your own vegan burgers, they're very cheap to make, more nutritious and fresh than most store bought veggie burgers. You can easily form our Vegetable Lentil Loaf recipe into veggie patties and cook them in a skillet - cheap and super nutritious!
Stock Up On Staples
Volume purchase items that you're certain you will use before their expiry date. Watch best before dates, if there's a great deal on a product, buy multiples if the item is far dated. An example where I find this works great is on shelf stable non-dairy milks (like Pacific Natural Foods Organic milks), they're often dated for a month or more if left unopened, so it's a great item to stock up on.
Schedule Shopping Trips
Find a schedule that works for you, and stick to it. I like to grocery shop every 5 days, this way I don't have to buy quite so much produce and risk any of it going bad. Save your receipts so that you can go back and see what you're buying during each shopping trip, and how much you're buying. This will prevent you from running out of some items, while overbuying and wasting others. You will also see which items you may want to cut down on, or eliminate completely from your shopping trips.
One of the best parts of eating vegan is that you don't need to buy all of the fanciest ingredients or "super foods". You can easily enjoy the benefits of eating healthy on a reasonable budget, it just requires a little extra planning and dedication. Make sure you're aware of how much you have to spend on food, and stick to it. It can be helpful to keep a mental tally, or round and add prices on paper as you go to make sure you are staying on budget.
Use our resource Building a Healthy Vegan Grocery List to help you put together a budget vegan grocery list. Follow the tips above and stick to the healthy vegan staples like fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds. You'll find that building a budget grocery list is a breeze!
What kinds of foods can be made using a budget grocery list?
- Pasta dishes
- Sandwiches & wraps
- Burrito bowls
- Vegetables & hummus
- Apples & peanut butter
- Peanut butter and banana sandwiches
- Baked potatoes
- Baked fries
- Oatmeal with a variety of toppings
and a lot more!