Plant-based doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are some tips on how eating vegan on a budget can save you money now and even more into the future.
When a lot of people consider switching to a vegan diet, they often wonder if they can do so on a budget. The good news is that many vegan foods are a lot more affordable than a traditional omnivore shopping list.
You can save money by eating vegan on a budget. But it depends on which foods you buy. If you’re loading up your shopping cart with plant-based ice creams, processed snacks, and all the meat and cheese alternatives, you may find yourself still spending a lot of extra money on your groceries each week.
On the flip side, when you make the decision to plan out your meals, buy things like bulk containers of oats, brown rice, fresh fruits and vegetables; you’ll begin to notice that your shopping bill will suddenly get less expensive. So instead of comparing vegan to non-vegan, also pay attention to what types of plant-based foods you are going to buy. Not only will it save you money, but you’ll be eating healthier in the process too.
Here’s everything you need to know about eating plant-based on a budget.
The average cost of a vegan grocery bill
One non-vegan food blogger in the US documented how her grocery bill was $15 cheaper than it normally was when she decided to go vegan for a week. In addition to that, she found that making the commitment to eating healthier foods limited the amount of impulse spending when she was out.
How much could you save when you cut out a few fast-food lunches each week when you’re at work? Or if you didn’t put that extra tub of ice cream and frozen pizza outside your grocery list in your shopping cart? These small prices definitely add up, so try and stick to your list.
Another study of 1,072 people found that meat-eaters spent $23 more per week on groceries than people who identified as vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based. An interesting fact about that same study is that 25% of the meat-eaters surveyed didn’t think that eating vegan is budget-friendly at all. Imagine all the savings that add up if you’re feeding a family of four.
Comparing the additional costs
While the grocery bill is cheaper when you plan your shopping list in advance, stop the impulse spending, and stick to bulk options, there are a few extra costs you want to factor in as well.
According to the National Health Service in the UK, doctors recommend supplementation of some essential nutrients you generally can’t get from plant-based foods. While there are many vegan foods that are full of protein, calcium, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids, the one supplement vegans take regularly is vitamin B12. While shopping in Australia, I was able to buy a bottle of 70 tablets for less than $13 and they lasted me a while. You can probably find them cheaper online.
A second hidden expense would be the one-time cost of re-supplying your pantry with things that don’t contain any animal products. Did you know that white processed sugar in the US often contains bone char, which makes it not vegan?
For those of us that want to make the decision to be 100% vegan, there are many things that would need replacing outside of food. Everything from medications, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and other items in our home are non-vegan. Depending on your personal preferences, you may incur an upfront cost of replacing those too. But use them until they run out since you already purchased them.
Which plant-based foods are more expensive?
Some of the more expensive vegan foods are the things that try to mimic meat and dairy alternatives:
- Vegan burgers
- Vegan ice cream
- Plant-based milk
- Vegan cheese
- Processed vegan snacks
When it comes to the plant-based milks, not all versions are created equal. Some of them make a great addition to a vegan diet because they are fortified with nutrients like vitamin B12 and calcium. Other brands do not contain any of these nutrients and are loaded up with added sugar. If you’ve got your nutrient intake covered, you could always make your own cashew, soy, or almond milks at home.
Budget cashew milk recipe
150g raw cashews (soaked for at least four hours)
950ml water, divided
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 to 2 tbsp agave or maple syrup
A dash of sea salt
- Drain and rinse the cashews until the water passing through looks clear. Add the cashews and half of the water to a blender. Begin blending on low, gradually increasing the speed.
- While blending, add the rest of the water water, with the sweetener, vanilla extract, and sea salt until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, just in case there are any fine pieces left.
- Refrigerate and consume within four days.
If you typically purchase plant-based meat, you can slowly begin to substitute these items for more affordable protein-rich foods. Vegan beef mince could be replaced by a can of black or kidney beans on tacos. Pre-made vegan burgers could be replaced for homemade lentil or bean patties. Vegan eggs can be substituted for a bowl of oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, or you could even make your own scrambled tofu.
When new vegan brands pop up on your supermarket shelves, the price tends to be higher at first, but as these companies get more established; the cost will go down over time. In the meantime, if you really love your vegan meats and cheeses, keep an eye out for which ones go on special offers. Supermarkets across the country offer discounts all the time.
Making vegan foods more budget-friendly
The good news is that the cost of vegan food will continue to go down over time. If you want to learn more about the economics behind the meat and dairy industries, as well as practical steps to lower the cost of most vegan foods, a great reference is the book Meatonomics by David Simon.
In his book, David explains how the true price of meat and dairy is three times as high as you pay on the front end. For example, a fast-food burger you pay $5 for at the cash register actually has a total price tag of approximately $15. The unaccounted-for expenses come primarily in the form of government subsidies and healthcare costs that you pay down the road.
Meat and dairy companies hire lobbying organisations that petition the government to give them money. The government then takes those tax dollars out of your pocket and gives them to these farmers. While it may take $36 for a company to produce two pounds of pork, consumers only pay $12 at the cash register. Your tax dollars pay the rest.
When the price is artificially reduced, the demand for these items goes up. This allows meat and dairy companies to optimise their production systems, further lowering the cost of goods to you. People buy more, and the price continues to go down.
The cycle continues, until we make a fix.
Doing our part to lower food prices
Many vegan companies are following in the same footsteps to help reverse the trend. Agriculture Fairness Alliance is one of the first vegan lobbying organisations that help move government subsidies away from meat and dairy companies and towards plant-based agriculture. As consumers continue to purchase more vegan foods, this increased demand will ultimately drive the price down as well.
When you decide to buy more vegan foods in the supermarkets and when these subsidies start kicking in, the cost of even the more expensive plant-based alternatives will go down. It’s predicted that in the future, most vegan foods will become more affordable than their meat and dairy alternatives.
Just by 2023, plant-based meat is expected to reach price parity. Companies are jumping on the bandwagon, just like consumers. This way, everyone can begin to eat vegan on a budget.