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“I’d think about going vegan but it’s too expensive.”
How many times have we heard someone express a sentiment like this or
imply that eating vegan is just for the wealthy? Truth be told, it is
more expensive to eat fresh, whole foods than to eat off of dollar
menus - at least at the outset, because a diet high in animal products
can be quite expensive to us down the road in health care - but there are ways to cut
that back while not sacrificing an emphasis on unprocessed, natural
Here are some simple but effective strategies for cutting back on your food expenses.
Grow your own
For a few dollars per packet of seeds or a little more for seedlings,
you can get exponentially more herbs and produce than you could for the
same amount of money at the grocery store. While gardening does have
some definite costs involved - like buying soil and other materials -
it is also endlessly rewarding. If you don’t have a back yard, look
into getting a plot at a community garden. In even a small amount of
space, you’d be surprised by how much you can grow.
Buy in season
Buying in season produce is less expensive than buying out of season, plus it’s more environmentally savvy.
Buy locally grown
Like buying in season, emphasizing locally grown purchases makes good
economic and environmental sense, and it also helps regional growers.
When stores don’t need to pay for shipping from far away places, the
savings are often passed on to the consumers.
Community-Supported Agriculture and U-Pick farms
CSAs, in which shareholders receive part of a farm’s yield, can be
expensive at first but it is a one-time cost for an abundance of great,
often organic, local produce. U-Pick farms are also often a great way
to purchase a large volume of local produce for a fraction of it would
cost pre-bagged and it’s a lot of fun as well.
Canning and preserving
What are you going to do with all those bumper crops? Canning and
preserving isn’t for everyone but it is highly addictive for those of
us who have been bitten by the bug. Canning things like pickles,
marinara and salsa from your own garden, as well as making preserves
when inexpensive berries are in season, means that you can control the
ingredients and the flavors, and you can make a lot for a fraction of
the cost of buying at a market. Plus, you get to enjoy the summer’s
bounty year-round. Keep in mind, too, that if you have a surfeit of one
thing, say zucchini, and your friend has a ton of bell peppers, you
could propose a trade of some of hers for yours.
Keep a weekly menu and stick to a shopping list
does take a little spontaneity and fun out of your grocery trips,
but it can also take a big bite out of your weekly food bill and the
amount of time you spend shopping in one fell swoop. This tip offers
more bang for the buck than any of the others, in my opinion. Making a
weekly menu and shopping list is really not that great a hardship: set
aside an hour or so once a week (Sunday is my day), grab a bunch of
cookbooks or look at recipe folder you’ve got going on your computer
(you do this, right?), sip some tea and get to planning. Planning your
meals and sticking to a grocery list means fewer impulse purchases
(usually unnecessary conveniences), and as an added benefit, you can
look at your diet over the course of a week and make sure it’s
balanced. Last, keeping a list is a time management tool as well: not
only can you organize your list by where it is at the store, thus have
you in and out of the grocery store quicker, but you don’t have to
scramble at the last minute to decide what to cook for dinner. Opposite
to this, you can find out what produce, grains, etc. are on sale each
week at your grocery store and plan your meals around this.
Keep a budget
If you thought you only had $50 to spend on food, you would probably
shop differently than if you thought you had $200. Setting a budget
(and sticking to it, which is the hard part) forces you to prioritize
your spending and buy more efficiently. Don’t set a really
draconian budget (unless you have to). If you scrimp too much, it will
will be easier to drop the whole plan. Set a realistic goal that’s a
little less than you can afford and stay with it. Sometimes it helps to
think of other things you’d rather spend your money on, like new boots
or a nice trip, and use that as an incentive to stick to your budget.
Keep track of coupons and sales
Keep track of coupons and sales through services like the Whole Foods weekly circular and Whole Deal two-month coupons, Delicious Living Magazine, Organic Deals coupons, Mambo Sprouts, Vegan Coupons, Vegan Cuts, and vegan deals on Retail Me Not.
Of course, all except the exclusively vegan services must be sifted
through to find the appropriate deals. Also, keep in mind that a deal
is only a good deal if it's an item you want to buy: don't buy
something you know you don't need just because there's a coupon. That's
spending money you wouldn't have otherwise.
Click “like” on your favorite products and restaurants
Many products and vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants offer exclusive
deals to those who “like” them on Facebook. So do some searching on
Facebook and get busy!
Buy in bulk
Find the local grocery stores that allow you to buy in bulk and do it!
Grains, beans, baking supplies; all are less expensive without
packaging and you can buy the amount you want.
Freeze your grains
We’ve had issues in the past where we’ve had moths because so many of
our grains and flours have come from the bulk bins, which are notorious
for being a breeding grounds for moths. When this happens, the items
must be tossed out and that’s a waste. By storing items for two or
three days in the freezer right after purchasing, you will protect your
Doing-it-yourself is the order of the day when it comes to saving
money. It only makes sense that things cost more if you have someone
else produce it. By making as much as you can on your own, you can keep
better quality control over the ingredients as well and make things
just to your liking. Things like salad dressings, marinades, breads and
more generally cost less if you make them yourself. Of course, making
your own meals falls under this heading as well.
Make beans from scratch
If you’re serious about cutting down on costs and packaging, consider
making your own beans from scratch. I use the slow-cooker method (soak
the beans overnight, then cook on the high setting with plenty of
water, a quartered onion, garlic, a bay leaves). They smell heavenly,
taste much better than canned, and a big batch will cost a fraction of
what canned beans, already pretty affordable, cost.
Extend your meals and your groceries
You can get more out of your groceries and cooking by extending your
meals. For example, if you make one big pot of veggie chili, that can
be served on baked potatoes, on pasta and more throughout the week.
Also, make fried rice, savory pancakes, stir-fries, stews, soups,
casseroles, veggie burgers and patties, and more with the leftover odds
and ends from previous meals. Also, bread that’s past its prime can
easily be transformed into croutons, French toast and breadcrumbs.
Speaking of soup, make your own freezer stock
Ever wonder what to do with the tops of celery, onion skins and carrot
peels? Keep the unwanted parts from the produce you use and you will
have a virtually free vegetable stock. Instructions here.
Keep track of your crisper!
Unfortunately, out of sight often means out of mind. Especially during
seasons with more abundant produce, maintaining a running account on a
dry erase board is a good way to make sure that you’re keeping an
essential frugal living mantra alive: waste not, want not.
You better shop around
Yes, it’s a pain, but if you want to get the best deals, you will have
to go where the best deals are found. Here is where you trade
time-efficiency for cost-benefits, but many find that going to one
store for inexpensive organic produce, your local natural foods store
for their weekly specials, ethnic markets for great deals, and a large
grocery store for other items pays off. If you have planned your meals
ahead of time and have your lists, this will be more efficient and less
Sometimes you’re so slammed by great deals on in-season produce you
couldn’t possibly eat it fast enough and this is when a freezer comes
in very handy. In addition to fruits and vegetables, freezing herbs,
prepared foods like pesto or cookie dough, and high volume meals works
as a money-saving, time-saving strategy. Some people even buy an extra
freezer for this purpose.
Buy ingredients, not meals
Somewhat falling under the same DIY header as above, this is a little
different. It means that instead of buying a sandwich, for example, you
buy all the sandwich fixings you need and make many more for a fraction
of the cost per sammy. Instead of buying pricey, single-serving
prepared meals at the grocery store, make your own in a larger quantity
for the best savings.
Don’t let your cupboard go bare
If you have marinara, pasta, olive oil and spices on hand, it is much
less tempting to spend more money ordering in or eating out. There are
some things that I always have on hand* so I can always make a simple
but delicious meal: whole grains (like rice and quinoa), vermicelli
noodles, tomato sauce, chickpeas, frozen peas and corn, and some
long-lasting produce like onions, garlic, ginger and potatoes. Sounds
like the makings of a yummy veggie chili to me!
2013, 2014, Vegan Street