Vegan diets are often seen as expensive, almost a luxury that the majority can not afford. However, the majority of people who opted to go Vegan in January for Veganuary agreed with my findings that this is simply not the case.
I’ve found that following a vegan diet can save you up to 20% when compared to a traditional omnivore diet. However, achieving this requires you to substitute named brands for basic brands and switch out to lower-cost ingredients where possible.
However, I figured this is something the majority of us do already with our omnivore diet. It’s just something we’re more familiar with and therefore finds easier.
Like any dietary adjustment finding substitutes and recipes that you enjoy take time, but I’ve no doubt these can all be made affordable and without compromise.
What Is a Vegan Diet?
Although not a new phenomenon, the vegan diet has been in mainstream conversations more than ever in the last five years.
It used to be an alternative lifestyle, sometimes with rather negative connotations attached to it. Today, it represents an ideal many strive to attain by being at-home vegans, flexible vegans or full-time vegans.
To dig deep into the costs of a vegan diet, we must first define it to the best of our abilities. Veganism does not demand getting to a perfect state or diet; it is about doing the best we can to eat the most plant-based foods we can.
Vegans describe it as feeding their body with dishes and products that do not contain any animal-derived ingredients. It excludes, as well, consuming anything that has caused harm to animals during its production cycle.
The vegetarian diet, often a stepping stone to a fully vegan one, is similar in that it eliminates from one’s diet meat and, often, fish. Vegetarians vary in the degree to which they align with the diet and some even eat plant-based meals most of the time.
A person identifying as vegan will usually renounce consuming eggs, dairy products, meat, fish and sea food, honey, bone-char processed sugar, gelatin, insect-derived food dyes, casein, whey, animal fat such as lard, and more.
Some plant-based individuals will also refuse to eat any product that might have come into contact with these ingredients.
People’s main motivations for adhering to veganism range from animal welfare and the end of exploitation in all forms, health issues such as digestive troubles or the prevention of diseases, and environmental impacts of more traditional diets.
Regardless of the argument behind one’s vegan diet, it comes with a lot of unknown for most newcomers. What ingredients can I eat? What is tempeh? How does one cook their own beans at home? Which restaurants will I go to with my friends?
Feeling inexperienced at first is normal, but you can find a vast amount of information out there, such as what follows about the real costs of this popular diet.
The Costs of a Plant-Based Diet
One of the most common myths of eating vegan is the price and, therefore, the inaccessibility of the diet. This belief is inaccurate, but it does come with a but. What do we mean?
It means that there is an accessible way to be vegan; it also means that it is possible to go overboard and end up with a skyrocketing monthly grocery and restaurant budget.
In order to make the right decisions for you, transitioning to veganism one step at a time, carefully learning about new ingredients and stores in your area, is recommended. This allows neophytes to watch their budget closely while becoming more knowledgeable on the diet.
Getting caught up in the never-ending stream of new vegan products coming out and reaching the shelves of supermarkets is easy, especially when living in a big city. Doing so will undoubtedly lead to fun discoveries but with a high price tag.
One should read multiple articles and recipes online to familiarize themselves with the diet and the dishes they are looking forward to reproduce.
Cooking is a key component of an affordable plant-based lifestyle. There truly exists no way around it: prepared, processed and transformed food will remain more expensive no matter what you try.
If your budget has room for eating out and buying pre-made plant-based cheeses and meats, you should enjoy it and rediscover different types of cuisines with a vegan lens. Trying out products that just came out is another exciting adventure.
More importantly, the costs of a vegan diet can be managed by anyone who gets informed and cooks on a daily basis. There are multiple ways to be vegan and the costs will vary depending on where you live, how strict you are, how much time you have to dedicate to grocery shopping and cooking, etc.
When one does not fall victim to every craving they have walking around the store or skimming the local delivery service website, it is even possible to save money when switching from an omnivore diet to a plant-based one.
Smart and researched choices can lead to savings. Staying up to date with sales happening around you and planning your meals ahead of time are only two ways to succeed with low-cost veganism.
Omnivore or Vegan Diet: Which Is Cheaper?
Based on the explanations above, one can already imagine that the answer is not black and white. There are ways to eat a cheap omnivore diet and ways to maintain a budget-friendly vegan lifestyle.
An omnivore diet includes all food: it stays up to this day the traditional way of eating in Western countries. An omnivore person not only consumes meat, cheese and eggs but fruits and vegetables, beans, grains and nuts as well.
People that eat meat are sometimes referred to as carnivores, when in fact, this represents a smaller percentage of individuals that choose to eat solely animal products. A carnivore diet includes exclusively meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.
Putting aside the health risks of a carnivore diet, meat is often expensive, especially when one wants to eat quality products.
Many find deals and buy in bulk or even go to restaurant suppliers for cheaper prices. Nonetheless, such a meat-forward way of feeding one’s body requires a certain budget that vegans do not need.
Comparing omnivore and vegan diets introduces the complexity of defining which of the two is the cheapest. If we focus on the price tags of ingredients, both can be cheap and both can necessitate a high monthly budget.
First, prepared items remain expensive, no matter what you eat. If you buy a ham and cheese sandwich or a veggie pate and hummus wrap at your supermarket, you pay more than if you bought the separate ingredients to prepare the sandwich or wrap at home.
In both cases, you could have made yourself multiple lunches for the same price you paid.
Second, smaller specialized stores tend to have higher prices than, say, a chain supermarket or your local farmer’s market. An omnivore example would be a cheese shop, where you pay for the advice and the specialized products unavailable elsewhere.
For vegans, this could be the fancy vegan grocery store that just opened in the city’s hip neighbourhood. While these tempt a lot of people, they will almost always lead to expensive bills.
Third, omnivores and vegans benefit from cooking versus going out to eat or ordering from restaurants. Not everyone has the privilege of eating out every week and this goes for both diets.
It will cost more for a Sunday morning brunch plate at a restaurant than it would if you made that same plate at home. The plate could be composed of benedict eggs or tofu scramble: both are cheaper when cooked at home. When you eat out or order in, you pay for the service rather than the ingredients.
Finally, plant-based and omnivore diets cost more when organic produce and ingredients are at the forefront. Again, you pay for what you get. For some, buying vegetables certified free of pesticides or organic free-range eggs takes precedence over what the items sell for.
We need to compare similar vegan and omnivore diets rather than ones where the priorities and resources are opposites.
One reason a vegan diet will cost more than an omnivore diet is by trying to replace every product and dish you are accustomed to by its vegan alternative. You will pay more for a 16 oz pack of plant-based ground beef than you will for the same quantity of ground beef.
If you use creativity and make your own vegan ground meat from a block of organic firm tofu, for example, you can save more than half what you would pay for the meat.
Ways To Save Money On A Vegan Diet
I’ve found there’s a number of tips and tricks you can use to save money on a vegan diet.
Not all of these might be right for you (depending on your situation) but just one or two could help you cut your vegan grocery bill by 20% without compromising on great quality food.
Cook Pantry Staples At Home
Buying pre-made vegan mayonnaise, pesto, Worcestershire sauce and even hummus can add up to a lot of money over the course of a couple or months of years.
If you prepare these at home, with ingredients you often already have, such as oil and soy milk for mayonnaise, you save constantly. For the pesto, you can even go as far as growing your own basil instead of paying for fresh herbs every time.
Cook, Cook A Lot
This cannot be repeated enough: if you want to save money on a vegan diet, you will have to cook a lot.
You should not rely on elaborate dishes with dozens of ingredients, however, as this will also add to your food expenses. Using a variety of fresh produce is essential and combining them in simple ways is too.
Eat A Lot Of Beans
One of the cheapest ingredients you can get your hands on is dried beans. Instead of buying multiple cans of chickpeas, you should invest in a solid amount of the dried version.
Beans are one of the most nutritious food vegans eat and the dried ones will yield you much more than the canned ones. As a bonus, you can cook them to the consistency you prefer depending on the recipe you are making.
Prepare A Meal Plan
Planning ahead what you will eat in a week, or even in a month, can help you save as well. By looking into your pantry and choosing recipes that match what you already have, you will make sure to spend only on what you need for the week.
You should also try to adapt rather than follow exact recipes, e.g. switching brown rice for quinoa if you are out of that ingredient.
I’ve found $5 dinners to be a fantastic resource for planning and preparing a meal plan – there’s speciality menus for vegans, vegetarians, dairy-free and paleo.
Say No To Processed Foods
Transformed products sold in supermarkets are very expensive and you can usually reproduce the item at home for way less. It might mean more work, but your budget will thank you.
For example, frozen vegan chicken nuggets can be cooked with tofu or homemade seitan and a combination of poultry seasoning and cornstarch.
Visit Bulk Stores
Buying in bulk is one of the tricks most vegans have up their sleeve. Depending on the store, you can save a lot if you buy your grains, nuts, seeds, beans and oils in bulk.
It might require a little research to find the best option for your budget; however, once bulk shopping becomes part of your routine, you will benefit from it and so will the planet.
Shop At Multiple Stores
To have an inexpensive vegan diet, you cannot rely on one supermarket to buy everything at the same time.
Alternatively, you should have a few regular stores you visit, knowing where to buy which ingredient for the cheapest price. You need to shop around if you want to save money, particularly at the beginning.
Buy Trendy Products On Sale
This advice goes hand in hand with the idea of shopping around for the best deals. As much as you want to try a new vegan yoghurt as soon as you see it on Facebook, waiting for it to be on sale will save you tons of money when added up over a year.
Buy In Season
Depending on where you live, certain ingredients will be very costly or affordable at different times. As much as possible, you should visit farmer’s markets and aim to spend on fruits and vegetables that are in season.
For the best results, you can plan your meals around the seasonal produce in your region.
You will spend much less if you decide to source your ingredients locally. Avocados bought in California will be much cheaper for a California citizen than for someone living in the U.K., for example. You should take advantage of the ingredients around you.
Expensive Vegan Ingredients & Affordable Alternatives
Just like any diet, veganism can be expensive. However, these are the things I’ve found to often be on the extreme end of the scale. I’ve included some cheaper alternatives that often do the job just as well so you know what to trade in and out of your vegan recipes when cooking.
Pre-made veggie burger patties are usually sold in a pack of two at a pretty steep price. For two people, this would represent one meal, while making a burger with a crispy marinated tofu slice could mean two meals with a single block of tofu.
You could also make a homemade patty with black beans, oats, onion and spices for a fraction of the price of veggie patties sold at the grocery store.
Cashews are one of the ingredients you find in the most vegan recipes online. Because of the creaminess you can obtain from blending them, their potential is endless but so is their price.
To make cheese at home, you could use sunflower seeds instead and have nice ricotta as the end result. Cashews should be reserved for special occasions unless you have the funds for them.
Vegan Ice Cream
Buying your favorite brand’s vegan brownie and fudge ice cream tub comes with its appetizing benefits, but it will cost you.
To save money, you can buy the brand or flavor on sale when you go shopping or you can make banana nice cream by putting frozen bananas in your food processor with the flavorings of your choice.
The marketing behind barista milk is tempting to vegan consumers, as a lot of non-dairy milk does not make a smooth long-lasting foam on lattes. These products are expensive, though, and they tend to be full of additives.
Instead, you should try to find the brand and type of milk that works for your needs, regardless of it being barista-approved. In addition, you can make some homemade silky milk that foams by following a recipe.
Vegan Goat Cheese
Fancy vegan cheeses, such as a goat cheese-style spread, can be satisfying to eat but they rarely are for the wallet. They usually do not contain a variety of nutrients and they should probably be a treat, reserved for celebrations.
Quinoa is a difficult one, as it tends to cost more than other grains. Nevertheless, it contains the nine different amino acids, making it a complete protein on its own, and therefore a highly nutritious component of the vegan diet.
You should try to incorporate it in your meal plan regardless of its inclusion in this list, but doing more research to find it on sale is a good idea.
The recent trend of smoothies sold in cubes relies on its marketing more than anything. People spend a lot on these products because of their packaging and of the fact that they do not require blending.
Saving money means taking the blender out and making your own smoothie from scratch with what you have at hand.
Prepared foods such as cut fruits and vegetables are an unnecessary expense for everyone, vegans included. Buying a pineapple and cutting it yourself will provide you with much more of the fruit for less, compared to if you had bought a cup of pineapple chunks from the store.
Despite how decadent this ingredient is, its price just does not cut it in terms of a cheap vegan diet. When it is on sale, almond butter is worth the investment, but expecting a jar at home at all times will make you go over your budget quickly.
Baking your own cookies will save you a lot of money, versus buying a box of vegan cookies at the supermarket. Often, these sweets will be packaged in a small box with a high price tag. You can make a lot more cookies with less money in the comfort of your home.
Affordable Vegan Ingredients
Here is a list of what I’ve found to be affordable vegan ingredients. Some of these can be used as meat substitutes and others can be used simply to create delicious meat-free meals.
A block of unflavored tofu is very economical. It opens up a world of possibilities in terms of textures and flavours in comparison to ready-to-cook tofu cubes. Certain brands cost more than others, however, I still believe that regardless of the brand plain tofu remains a very affordable ingredient in vegan kitchens.
Oats in its different forms have a solid reputation for their nutritious potential. In addition, buying organic rolled oats in bulk saves you tons of money, while giving you access to a wide range of recipes, from oat cookies to vegan meatballs. You can easily grind oats to make your homemade flour, as a bonus.
Lentils and beans of all kinds (black, kidney, cannellini, navy, chickpea, etc.) are one of the cheapest and satisfying food of the plant-based diet.
Whether you buy them in cans when they are on sale or dried at your local bulk store, eating a lot of beans will help you keep a healthy body and wallet.
Not only are white rice and brown rice inexpensive, but they are also endlessly versatile. They pair well with most main dishes vegans like to cook. Again, buying rice in bigger quantities will allow you to keep even more money in your pockets.
Whole-grain pasta should be a part of every vegan’s kitchen. They are cooked quickly and fill you up for the evening. If you choose your brand wisely, you will get a good deal for high-quality ingredients that can be paired with almost anything in your fridge.
One thing is sure: nuts and seeds tend to be on the expensive side of the plant-based pantry.
They should still be consumed; however, they should be chosen carefully. One of the cheapest seeds you can buy is sunflower seeds, which can top your morning oatmeal, a tofu bowl or a lasagna when processed into a tasty ricotta-like cheese.
Another very affordable nut you can find everywhere is the peanut. Peanut butter stands at the top of the plant-based food hierarchy in terms of its popularity, its price and its possible uses.
To hold on to even more of your paycheck, you can transform the peanuts you bought on sale at the bulk store into smooth homemade peanut butter.
Tahini is the sesame version of peanut butter. The price of tahini is relatively low and in my opinon well worth the investment.
I use it to make salad dressings and hummus. The creamy sesame paste represents a definite cheap staple for vegans around the world.
Some fruits cost more than others but not bananas. They normally sell for a reasonable price and let vegan cooks experiment in the kitchen as much as they want, especially when it comes to baking.
In addition, they contribute to a wholesome breakfast (being in the form of banana bread is my personal favourite) or a nourishing on-the-go afternoon snack.
Root vegetables are often very affordable and long-lasting. Carrots as an example are usually sold in large bags and can be kept for weeks at a time in the right conditions – even months in the freezer if you follow this guide.
Carrots and potatoes can even make an amazing macaroni and cheese sauce, as a much cheaper alternative to cashews.