evIf I asked what stops you from going vegan, you might mention missing meat and dairy too much or not knowing what to cook. But there’s also a widely held misconception that veganism is too expensive – a luxury to be afforded only by those with a decent disposable income.
What if I were to tell you that this isn’t my experience and it doesn’t have to be yours, either? You absolutely can and should go vegan on a budget.
Eating vegan is not only the healthiest diet around, it’s also been regularly proven in recent studies to have the least impact on the environment. Plus, of course, it’s the kindest choice for animals. As such, I think it’s essential that it’s accessible to anyone and everyone, regardless of family size or wage packet!
So whether you’re looking to make a positive change or are already plant-based and in need of some tips, here is your definitive guide to all things vegan on a budget.
Isn’t a Vegan Diet More Expensive?
It’s easy to see where this widely-held belief comes from. A vegan diet can quickly get pricey if you regularly buy lots of mock meats, fake dairy products, ready meals and takeaways. It’s also not fun paying more for doing a good deed, and for products which are usually a slight compromise on taste!
There is a high demand for these products with the rising popularity of veganism, so brands are willing to bet that if they bump up the price, enough people will probably still pay to purchase them. For example, vegan versions of popular items like mayonnaise, burgers and cheese can sometimes cost an eye-watering amount compared to their non-vegan counterparts.
But – and this comes with a big but – if you eat a vegan diet based primarily on whole foods, it can be one of the cheapest and healthiest diets in the world. You just need a bit of proper planning and a basic understanding of food groups.
When I started cooking plant-based meals from scratch, I found that my food bill was generally around 25% cheaper than my non-vegan grocery shop.
Don’t just take my word for it, though! In a recent study by the University of Oxford, a vegan diet came out as the most affordable option (more so even than vegetarian and flexitarian). It’s so easy to assume that veganism is the realm of a middle-class, hipster generation, but as researcher Dr Marco Springmann points out:
When scientists like me advocate for healthy and environmentally-friendly eating, it’s often said we’re sitting in our ivory towers promoting something financially out of reach for most people. This study shows it’s quite the opposite.
So you may be surprised at just how cost-effective a plant-based diet can be in comparison to your current food shop.
What are the most budget-friendly vegan foods?
Whole-food vegan diets are based on food groups like fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – all of which can be picked up relatively inexpensively.
Here are some examples of specific foods within these wider groups:
- Fruits: berries, apples, bananas, oranges, avocados, grapes
- Vegetables: broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, tomatoes
- Leafy greens: beet greens, kale, rocket, spinach, watercress
- Whole grains: whole-wheat pasta or brown rice, wholemeal bread, oats, quinoa
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, tempeh, tofu
- Nuts: almonds, brazils, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, nut butters
- Seeds: chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
Examples of delicious, simple & cheap vegan meals
If you’re wondering how to make budget-friendly and delicious meals out of these ingredients, then check out some of the below recipes for inspiration.
Vegan Breakfast Ideas
Plant-Based Recipes for Lunch
Vegan Dinner Ideas
Vegan Snack Foods
15 Ways to Keep Your Food Bill Down as a Vegan
As you’ve hopefully already started to see, pursuing a vegan lifestyle doesn’t have to be any more expensive than your regular food bill. In fact, purchase the right foods and it could even save you money.
If you’re looking for further tips, then here are 15 of my best money-saving hacks on a vegan diet that will set you up for success!
1. Plan ahead
One of the best things you can do to keep costs down on your weekly shopping trip is to be prepared. Simply putting aside a few minutes to pull together a vegan meal plan and write a shopping list is going to ensure that you don’t over-buy or pick up ingredients you don’t need.
Having a set menu for the week helps me to stay focused and organised when at the supermarket. It should probably also go without saying – do not attempt grocery shopping when you’re ravenously hungry (it won’t end well for your waistline or your purse!).
2. Cook simple one-pot meals from scratch
Convenience foods are obviously going to cost more money (plus are nowhere near as nutritious), so limit the frozen pizzas, readymade TV dinners, and Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice cream.
On the other hand, you also don’t need to go all-out on complicated recipes that require a hundred-and-one different ingredients that you doubt you’ll ever use again (hint: you won’t!).
My advice would be to stick to simple meals with no more than 5 main ingredients.
Look for vegetable curries, stews, stir-fries, chillis and pasta dishes that can be made in one pot. Whilst making your own meals takes more preparation time, it’s cheaper to buy the whole food ingredients and do it yourself.
You also have the added benefit of knowing exactly what has gone into your food (no added salt, sugar, flavourings or sweeteners that go into a lot of readymade sauces and meals).
3. Do your meal prep
On the back of simple one-pot cooking – get into the habit of buying more than you need for one meal. The beauty of being intentional with your time and meal prepping is that it not only saves you precious hours throughout the week – it also helps to keep costs down.
When you cook for the five thousand (that’s how it feels sometimes in my household!), you can portion up the leftovers into meal-sized containers then pop them in the fridge for a quick homemade readymeal later in the week.
Using this method, you’re also less likely to have nothing in and be tempted to order takeaway! I go into the topic in more depth here if you’re interested.
4. Beans & legumes are your friends
If you’re not much of a legume connoisseur then I totally get it – before going vegan, nor was I! The closest I probably got to beans was beans on toast or the odd kidney bean in a chilli. But not only are beans some of the healthiest foods you can eat (and packed with protein) – they are also some of the most budget-friendly.
When you go vegan, it’s tempting to try lots of new foods, but often the simplest and cheapest method is to adapt the recipes you already know and love. In many cases, just substitute the meat for beans. For example, try a bean chilli or a lentil bolognese.
Tinned beans are super cost-effective (and my personal choice because you can just chuck them in and go), but if you’re really looking after the pennies then consider buying dried beans and soaking them.
5. Get saucy
Eating vegan encourages you to get creative. What I’ve come to learn is that you can inject flavour into simple ingredients and transform any meal with a good sauce, fragrant herbs and punchy spices.
Here are a few of my favourite easy store-cupboard sauces and dressings that you can whip up in a flash:
By making your own sauces, you can liven up Buddha bowls or traditionally bland ingredients (I’m looking at you, tofu). You should also include plenty of herbs and spices in your cooking. They’re loaded with antioxidants, plus you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to flavour.
6. Go easy on meat & dairy alternatives
We’ve already touched on this, but be wary of processed foods that are specifically marketed as vegan products, for example plant-based cheese and meat substitutes. This doesn’t mean you can’t indulge at all, but speaking from experience, it will likely bump up your shopping bill very quickly.
These foods are always going to have a higher price tag at the moment, because there is a limited selection available and consumer demand is ever-growing. When it comes to meat dishes, you could try using tofu or tempeh as a more budget-friendly alternative.
7. Invest in your pantry staples
This might sound counter-intuitive because it will cost you more money in the short-term – aren’t we meant to be saving money, I hear you ask? Well, hear me out!
By initially investing in your long-life pantry staples like tinned goods, whole grains, herbs and spices, oils, spreads and frozen goods, you build a versatile and well-rounded base that is greater than the sum of its parts. You can make more varied meals by switching up your whole grain of choice or preparing a new salad dressing.
Your weekly shop then becomes much cheaper, because you’re just buying the fresh finishing touches for your meals.
8. Buy in bulk
When it comes to your vegan pantry essentials, it’s always better off buying in bulk where you can. This is an especially budget-friendly tip for whole grains like rice and pasta, or dried legumes like lentils and beans, which will keep you going for ages!
If you compare prices between most supermarkets and bulk stores, the latter are much cheaper and can save you a lot of money. For example, nuts can be fairly pricey at the supermarket for a very small bag, but you’ll often find them up to three times cheaper at bulk stores! It also saves on unnecessary packaging as you don’t have to shop so often.
9. Make use of the frozen aisle
If truth be told, I used to be a bit of a frozen fruit and veggie snob. I always subscribed to the pervasive myth that fresh is best – without ever really questioning it!
However, the main problem with fresh produce (as I’m sure you’ve had plenty of experience with), is that you can’t buy too much of it as it will go off before you’ve had a chance to eat it. If you’ve ever had berries go mushy and mouldy within a few days, you’ll know exactly what I mean!
Frozen produce gives you the luxury of time and reduces food waste. Plus, it is nutritionally identical to fresh produce, as it has usually been flash-frozen when ripe and in season.
This means that you’ll be saving money and making the most of all types of ingredients, no matter the time of year!
10. Freeze your leftovers
Buying frozen foods is one way to reduce your food waste, but there is another way you can use your freezer to your advantage.
Always freeze your leftovers.
Especially if you live on your own, with your partner, or only have a small family, you may find that you cook far more than you can realistically eat in a week. Store portion-friendly sizes in your freezer ready for a later date. Then, when you’re ready, defrost in the fridge the night before and simply reheat.
You can use this method with all sorts of other foods that might be at risk of going off or mouldy, too. For example, bread, potatoes and cooked rice or pasta can all be frozen, as well as fruits, vegetables, and even fresh herbs.
11. Shop fresh produce locally & in season
Frozen fruit and veg can be a lifesaver. But of course, fresh produce is still nice to have. So when you do buy fresh, look for food that is in season (a skill that is sadly largely lost in today’s world).
Here is a handy guide to seasonal produce from the Vegetarian Society which breaks it all down for you.
Another great option is to make the most of your local farmer’s market or farm shop. Not only will the produce be locally grown with fewer air miles – it will usually taste better, be free from plastic packaging, plus cost a fraction of the price. If you’re interested, I’ve got plenty more tips on how to shop more ethically.
12. Make your own nut milk
Buying cartons of plant milk can get expensive compared to traditional dairy alternatives.
So, if you regularly drink nut milk, you may want to invest in a plant-milk-making machine. I personally like The Milky Plant, which will help you to dramatically reduce your costs in the long term (they claim by anywhere between 30%-80%!). If a store-bought carton of oat milk is £2.10 per litre, then you can make your own with the Milky Plant for just 42p.
Perhaps a good gift to add to your vegan Christmas list this year?
13. Grow your own food
If you have a garden, why not try your hand at growing some of your own fruits and veggies? Some easy ones to get started with include:
- Tomatoes and cucumbers
- Bell peppers
- Blackberries, raspberries and strawberries
- Courgette and squash
Growing your own organic produce will bring you more in tune with your diet and the seasonality of produce, making for a more enjoyable eating experience and reducing your grocery bill in the process!
Even if you don’t have any outdoor space, you can still grow your own fresh greens with an indoor smart garden!
14. Subscribe & save
Whether it’s your vegan supplements or cartons of oat milk, there are some great deals to be had by subscribing and saving with online retailers.
Subscribing typically has the benefit of saving you anywhere up to 20% of the one-time purchase price. It also puts as much of your life on autopilot as possible, saving time and stress.
If you don’t like the idea of being tied into a subscription, remember that you can usually pause, skip or cancel deliveries whenever you need to, so just double-check the small print first.
15. Find a quality, budget-friendly multivitamin
I know we’re talking about food shopping, but I’m including this last point because a vegan multivitamin is essential for looking after your health and addressing any potential nutrient deficiencies on a vegan diet. At the very least, you need to make sure that you get enough B12 on a daily basis.
For a budget-friendly option that gives you everything you need, I’ve taken these Nutravita supplements for vegans for over a year now. Although if you’re on a really tight budget, you might prefer VEG1 from the Vegan Society.
For a more thorough review and recommendations, you can read more here.
Veganism on a Budget: Save Money With Healthy & Affordable Vegan Meals
Eating vegan on a budget doesn’t have to cost the earth, so I hope these tips leave you feeling empowered that a healthy plant-based lifestyle is more than achievable!
Remember that if you’re new to this, you can make changes gradually by committing to just a few cheap vegan meals a week and seeing the savings for yourself. With a bit of forward planning and whole food meal prep, eating simple and healthy vegan food is something that can be affordable and readily accessible to anyone (no matter your skill level in the kitchen!).
If you’ve got any of your own vegan money-saving tips that I need to know about, then don’t forget to comment below!