Going Vegan on a Budget

There are some real barriers for many people going vegan, from the heavy subsidies governments place on animal products but not on produce, to food deserts and lack of availability of plant based options in certain areas. It is a common misconception however, that veganism is inherently more expensive than a diet which includes animal products, and this is often an assumption based on seeing people eat speciality vegan ready meals and faux products. These products are popular and can be really helpful for a transitioning away from animal products, but they aren’t necessary for a vegan diet at all.

Vegan staples include things like pastas, noodles, rice, breads, grains, legumes, nuts and nut butters, lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, soy, oats, cereals, and frozen, canned or fresh fruits and vegetables. These items represent some of the cheapest and most nutritious food sources in any supermarket and they are widely available. This makes perfect sense economically because the lower on the food chain you eat, the less work has gone into the final product and thus the cheaper it is. This is why most of the world’s poorest people subsist on primarily a vegetarian diet.

While plant based eating is very accessible for most people, there are a few things you can do to make it even cheaper.

1) Buy in bulk. Items with a long shelf-life can often be bought at a significant discount in bulk. This means having to pull together more money for the initial purchase, but in the long-term it works out far cheaper. Some of the most notable items are rice, pasta and noodles. Buying small packets of these products are cheap, but buying large sacks of them usually ends up costing as little as a quarter of the original price for the same amount.

2) Buy frozen/canned goods. Frozen and canned items usually have a significantly longer shelf life at a mere fraction of the price of fresh. The good news with frozen produce in particular is that you really don’t lose much of the nutritional value, if any, and they’re very quick to prepare if you’re short on time. You should also get into the habit of freezing items you usually might not, like bread, which will extend it’s shelf life significantly rather than wasting it.

3) Buy “irregular.” Many supermarkets will sell irregular produce, these are usually purely cosmetic issues and won’t have any impact on taste or nutrition. Things like bruised fruit can be purchased and used for desserts or cooked, and damaged vegetables aren’t even noticeable once they’ve been properly prepared. Keep an eye on sell by dates though; many out of date items are perfectly edible but it will depend on the specific food, so you may want to do further research before purchasing those.

4) Buy seasonally.  Fresh vegetables are not always expensive. Seasonal vegetables are usually cheap in most supermarkets; you just have to be a little adaptable in terms of what you are using to prepare your food. Some vegetables like carrots, turnips, onions, cabbage and cauliflower are inexpensive all year round. Similarly, bananas and citrus fruits are available in most places fairly cheaply throughout the year.

5) Prepare simple meals. Relying on simple meals can get you into the habit of living and eating plant based on a budget. A meal like beans/chickpeas/lentils and rice/noodles/pasta is incredibly cheap, very easy to prepare, filling and pretty healthy too. If you can throw together quick sauces you can make a huge variety of dishes with just simple ingredients like these, with minimal time or cooking ability required.

6) Prepare in batches. Instead of cooking enough for just one meal, try to use all of your ingredients and cook enough for multiple servings. If you invest in some tupperware you can freeze or refrigerate these meals for later. This usually works out cheaper too, since it cuts down on waste and will let you reuse leftovers. It is also likely to make you less tempted to spend money on takeaway, expensive ready meals or fast food when you don’t have the time or the energy to prepare a full meal.

7) Invest in spices. Setting up a decent spice rack isn’t just for foodies, it can make your cooking much more interesting, and crucially, much less expensive. Buying pre-made sauces when you can prepare your own very simply with cheap spices is a waste, and you can make the simple meals much more appealing with some flavouring. Don’t worry too much if you don’t know which spice goes with which ingredients- just experiment and you’re bound to pick this up over time.

8) Grow your own. This can sound like a lot of effort, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if you’re just keeping a couple of herb plants like mint or sage by your window, or growing salad leaves in a pot, they’re really easy to maintain and will save you some money in the long run. If you can then extend that to simple vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes, which can also be grown in pots, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of produce you have to buy. It’ll take some time to get started, but it could be worth your while in the long run.

When it comes to other aspects of veganism like clothing, the good news is that veganism doesn’t limit your options a great deal in this respect. Synthetic or plant fibres are usually either similarly priced or cheaper than their animal based counterparts, and materials like faux leather are hard wearing and cosmetically very similar to the real thing. They are even cheaper when bought second-hand from thrift stores or online.

For household products and cosmetics, you may be surprised to find out how many brands are not animal tested and don’t contain animal ingredients. They aren’t usually any more expensive than animal tested products are, either. Many budget drug stores offer “accidentally” vegan items, and many makeup brands offer a wide range of good vegan options. You’re looking for the leaping bunny symbol on labels, as well as checking the ingredients to make sure that animal products are not used.

If you don’t feel like you are in a place where you can go 100% vegan at this stage in your life then don’t worry, veganism is about avoiding animal exploitation as far as is practicable. So long as you’re doing your absolute best to be as vegan as you can be, then that is really all anyone can expect. Veganism isn’t about purity, it’s about doing your best to reduce the harm you cause as much as you’re able to, given your own health and circumstances.

If you’re interested in trying to go vegan while on a strict budget, then you may find the following resources helpful:

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