Vegan MoFo #1: Let’s get this party started as cheaply as possible!
Wooooooo MoFo! Streamers and glitter and drunk strippers! Oh wait, I can’t afford any of that stuff.
I don’t want to sound like a broken crybaby record, but i’ve made it clear that I have significantly less money than I did last year. Things have evened out a little bit, but i’m still in super-thrifty mode to try and build back up our savings, and so I can splurge occasionally and not feel bad about it. So it only makes sense that my first MoFo post is about being a thrifty vegan!
First of all, I want to squash that stupid myth that veganism is expensive. IT’S NOT EXPENSIVE. One of the most common excuses for people not eating veg*n is that they can’t afford it. I’ve never heard a single vegan or vegetarian complain about how expensive their food is, i’ve only heard this from omnivores. I’m assuming they get this from the fact that things like non-dairy ice cream, tofurkey slices, etc. are costly. But ALL processed food is costly, if it’s vegan-friendly or not. And no matter what, meat and cheese are always going to be more expensive than vegan protein sources. The foods that should be the basis of anyone’s diet are cheap cheap cheap. I set a weekly budget of $40 for myself, and for one person that is not hard to meet at all. I don’t even have to keep count when I go to the grocery store, and I almost always go under by at least $5 (and then I can take that $5 and buy myself some chocolate or something).
This is what I got for one week at the store for $29. We have grapes, organic bulk oatmeal, sweet potatoes, pears, bananas, four cans of beans, a can of tomatoes, a bag of onions, a bag of poatoes, pasta, sugar, spinach, pita bread, and kale. Obviously I won’t be using all of those onions and potatoes in one week, and I turned the oatmeal into enough granola to last me a month. I also had some tofu left over from the previous week.
Okay, the grocery shopping tips!
- Have a plan. If you go into the store with no idea what you’re going to buy, you’re more likely to buy impulse convenience items, and then you might get home and realize that you were out of rice. Check your pantry for any basics you may be out of, and try to plan out at least a meal or two for the week and get what you need for those meals.
- Be flexible. If you plan out every single meal for the week or have a huge list of must-haves, you don’t have much wiggle room to take advantage of sales and clearance items. I love almond milk, hate soymilk, and am indifferent to most other non-dairy milks, but the past two weeks i’ve found great deals on rice and oat milks, so I bought those instead. Since they’re in the aseptic packaging, I don’t have to worry about them going bad, and that’s something that I won’t have to buy for awhile. I also found some organic sugar being clearanced out for .99 cents, vs. the normal $3+ a bag. I pretty much only use sugar for my tea, but at that price, I bought several bags and now i’m good until the holiday baking season hits. Between just those two items i’ll save about $10 this month, and out of a $160 food budget that’s pretty good!
- Shop around, but not too much. It’s very unlikely that one store will have everything you want for the right price, but if you’re driving all over town to multiple stores every week, the gas you’ll burn will cancel out the savings. I only go to two stores, the regular grocery store that I like the best for basics, and the health food store for things like tofu (which is way cheaper than at the other store), big packages of almond milk, bulk items, and the occasional speciality item. There are other stores in town that might have one or two things I like, but it’s really not worth the time and gas to drive to them.
- Don’t buy out-of-season produce. It will be more expensive and won’t taste very good anyway. Frozen vegetables are an acceptable substitute for most winter recipes
- Don’t cut out all of the convenience. I’m sure that somewhere there is a perfect person who never gets tired or sick and makes all of their meals from scratch. Somewhere. But not here! Buying yourself a pre-made meal from the grocery store is still cheaper than going out to eat, which is probably what you’ll do if you have nothing ready to go in your house. Hormel makes a canned vegetarian chili that I think is pretty good and cheap, and all you have to do is heat it up. Also, if you have a Big Lots near you, you can find some awesome vegan food at closeout prices. Mine recently had a ton of Thai Kitchen noodle bowls on sake for a dollar, so I bought a bunch for work for those days that I forget to bring my lunch. Mine also has ELF makeup and travel sized Nature’s Gate travel lotions (.33 cents!), so it’s worth a look.
- If you can make it yourself, do it. I had a several month long love affair with Sabra hummus. It is the best commercial hummus in all the world, and it is pricey. $5 for a little tub! But even though it’s way better than the hummus I can make myself, I gave it up in favor of making my own, which is cheaper and really fast. I also make my own bread (generally, I did buy that pita bread since it was cheap and vegan), granola, and often pick one food to mass produce each week (more posts on that later) so I will have something awesome in the fridge all week long.
- Don’t drink your money! The costs of sodas and fancy coffee drinks and vitamin drinks really adds up. Get a brita filter and drink your virtually free water, make your coffee at home, or if you hate coffee like me, you can get an iced tea maker ($20) and drink that.
And lastly, check out Robin Robertson’s new book, Vegan on the Cheap. She has more helpful tips, lots of basic recipes, ways to make recipes with expensive ingredients (like guacamole) cheaper, and each recipe has an estimate of how much it costs per serving.