Being vegan (or predominantly plant-based) can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to.
When I went vegan in July 2019, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to keep up. As an international student at the time, working part-time only and living in the most expensive city in Canada, I was clearly broke and barely surviving. I always thought that this lifestyle was meant for the wealthy and privileged, but I couldn’t be more wrong.
Don’t worry! Whether you’re trying to eat more plant-based or exploring veganism for the first time, and you’re on a tight budget, I got you covered with 6 smart, easy ways to grocery shop and save money:
Rule of thumb:
Reduce mock meat products to a minimum (to around 10% of your list). These are the number 1 budget busters if you’re very restricted. Truth is, from a nutrition standpoint, you don’t need them!
1. Make a list
Some organization before going to the grocery store is key. You don’t need to be perfect, just make sure to have a rough list on your phone with the essentials: those items you MUST buy. An effective way of doing this is by planning out your weekly menu and then putting the needed ingredients on your list.
Leave the expendable items at the bottom of the list in case you change your mind.
Pro Tip: NEVER SHOP ON AN EMPTY STOMACH! Research shows this increases the likelihood of spending more money on food you don’t need.
2. Focus on vegetable protein
But what about protein? Well, here you go. Legumes are the most affordable staples that will give you all the protein you need, along with fibre and plenty other essential micronutrients.
Black beans, red kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, edamame, green peas, navy beans, etc. We all know these are the cheapest products almost everywhere in the world!
Check this resource for some ideas and inspiration on bean recipes.
3. Choose fruits, veggies and whole grains
Who doesn’t love oatmeal with banana, raisins and blueberries for breakfast? Oats, pasta and rice are amongst the most budget-friendly healthful foods for you. If you don’t mind spending a bit more, you can also include quinoa. As to fruits, bananas are my fave and they’re the cheapest, even if they’re organic or fair-trade certified.
If you want to save extra money, buy them frozen instead of fresh! This way, you’ll also make sure those fruits and veggies last longer.
Scallions, onions, peppers, kale, spinach, broccoli, cucumbers, zucchinis, tomato, avocados are amongst the cheapest vegetables you can purchase. The list goes on.
Anyone down for kale chips and guacamole?
4. Look for items on sale
Whether they’re veggies, seeds or even vegan substitutes like tempeh, seitan or mock meats. It’s possible to snag good deals every now and then if you look for them! Flex if you can swap out an item if you find a better deal.
This will help you diversify your menu while sticking to your budget. Just don’t get carried away.
Pro Tip: Go with generic brands, they’re cheaper because they don’t spend tons of money on advertising to maintain brand awareness. For instance, the “no name” brand in Canada.
5. Buy and cook in bulk
This will not only save you money, also TIME! It will help you make the most efficient use of what you have in your fridge and reduce your food waste. You’ll buy and cook only as much as what you’ll eat.
Planning a day of the week for your grocery shopping and meal-prepping will make your life easier and you’ll thank yourself later on. I personally choose Sundays for my meal-prep. I hardly ever spend more than 3 hours making my menus for the whole week!
Unless you have someone cooking fresh for you all the time — I’m jealous if you do-, nothing like coming home to a meal that’s just ready to be eaten!
6. Buy seasonal produce
Check the seasonal produce guide in your city or province to make sure you maximize nutritional benefits while minimizing your costs.
Seasonal fruits and veggies also tend to be locally produced, meaning you can also support local businesses. This also minimizes the environmental impact of your grocery shopping!
Pro Tip: If you’re in Ontario, Canada, you can follow @foodlandontario on Instagram to stay updated!
Remember, if you’re still not vegan but you want to cut back on animal products, you don’t have to cut everything out at once. One of the most common misconceptions about eating plant-based is that it’s all black or white, all or nothing, and that’s just not the case. Instead, try swapping different foods out one by one. For instance: dairy milk for plant-based alternatives and meat for legumes and tofu.
If you can afford to spend more, try seitan, tempeh, soy and mock meats. Demand and supply play the larger role when determining the price of mock meat products. As demand keeps growing, plant-based producers will have a larger share of the overall meat market so both the cost of production and the price of purchase will certainly keep dropping.
Let the hunger games begin!