When I first went vegan, I thought I had to buy all kinds of expensive “fake meats” and other “fake” items and tools that are designed and customized for the vegans, and so everything must be more expensive, yeah? Well, one of the more common questions that I hear is how to be a vegan on a budget? They are poor college students or people without a lot of income, and they are hesitant to go vegan because they think it’s an expensive lifestyle.
Vegan is Cheap and Easy!
Actually, many natural whole plant-based foods are some of the cheapest foods you can buy.
What are the cheapest foods on the planet that are also nutritious? Things like starches and grains. Potatoes, yams, rice, beans, corn, quinoa, noodles and pasta… these are all foods that are nutritious and calorie abundant, they are also dirt cheap and will save you money.
The key here is you want to go for the unprocessed natural whole plant-based foods that are calorie dense, and fill most your plate with these foods, which will provide you with energy and fill up your stomach so you won’t go hungry. Then fill your remaining plate with some green vegetables like broccoli and spinach for additional vitamins and minerals.
The problem with people going vegan is they go have a few slices of tomato with one or two apples, they go do this a few times a day and think it is enough. That is not how you go vegan successfully, that is how you starve yourself and become nutrient deficient.
Fruits are Expensive, Starches are Cheap
Fruits are pretty expensive these days from a price/calorie ratio perspective, and if you want to eat enough you’d have to eat a lot because a lot of fruits are high in water content and low in calories. For example, a dragon fruit cost $3 each here in Canada, one of them only has like 60 calories. Grapes are slightly better at $4 for about 250 calories worth, oranges are $5 for 400 calories. This price/calorie ratio is only suitable for occasional snacking as opposed to a mono-meal that I would have on a raw vegan diet.
I can easily eat a 600 calories mono-meal of grapes, that would cost me $10 just for one meal, too expensive. So these low calorie foods are definitely not enough to sustain you on a tight budget. I tend to focus my fruit purchases on bananas and dates because they are the cheapest fruits, and because they are high in calories, therefore you can eat 30 bananas a day or whatever and not bust your wallet.
Unfortunately that means unless you’re going for the much less expensive bananas and dates, you should limit fruits to 2 or 3 for snacking if you’re on a tight budget. You should focus your purchases on starches, such as rice and potatoes.
Now I will show you an example of how to shop for vegan foods that are nutritionally adequate on a budget of only $50 a week. I normally go out once a week and get enough for that whole week:
$50 a Week – Grocery List
1. Bananas + Dates
I got 15 bananas for $2.50 and 2 boxes of dates for $2.99 each. This will be enough fruits for one week. Just make sure to cover your caloric needs first, then you can think about incorporating variety over the long run. So dates and bananas will be my staple fruit, and from time to time I will get some grapes, apples, oranges, blueberries, mangoes, and whatever I can find cheap or on sale.
-15 bananas and 2 boxes of dates: $8.48
(Total: $8.48 so far)
Rice is usually bought in bulk to save the most money. A 40lb bag of jasmine white rice will last me at least 4-6 months, and will cost only about $30, that’s $5 a month or $1.25 a week for as much rice as I want to eat. Rice is a staple food in countries like China and Japan, the Asians who get their majority of calories from rice are mostly slim and healthy. If you don’t have a car or can’t get 40lbs of it at a time, just get a 5lb or 10lb bag and it would still be so relatively dirt cheap that it’s practically free to eat rice.
But since I already got the 40lb bag for $30, let’s go with $1.25 a week for rice.
-White jasmine rice: $1.25
(Total: $9.73 so far)
Vegetables go really well with rice. I like to chop up some garlic and ginger, throw them in with some Asian green vegetables like bak-choy and gai-lan, or spinach and broccoli. I would do an oil-free saute on a non-stick pan with some vegan broth and a little bit of vegan oyster sauce. Or if you don’t have any of those things, just a pinch of salt to taste can suffice.
Because vegetables tend to lose their freshness really quick, I tend to split up my shopping into twice a week to make sure the vegetables that I eat haven’t been sitting in the fridge for a week.
With the ginger, I could also mince it up and put it in my rice congee. Congee is very simple to make and it great on a cold day. You just put a cup of rice into a pot and fill it with water, bring to a boil and let it simmer until the rice is falling apart and it’s a thick consistency. I would add the minced ginger about 10 minutes before turning off the heat.
-Bak-Choy and Spinach For 1/2 a Week: $5.00
-Garlic and Ginger: $3.00
(Total: $17.73 so far)
4. Legumes & Other Vegetables
I love red lentils and a good way to cook them is to simmer them with some vegan broth until they’re soft, then add in some diced onions, a can of tomato paste and some curry powder. This goes excellent with the white jasmine rice as well, or you can eat it with some toasted bread.
The $3.50 bag of lentils will probably last me a whole month. I only need to use 1 cup of it to make a big pot of soup.
-Red Lentils: $3.50
-Bag of large Onions: $1.50
-3 cans of tomato paste: $2
(Total: $24.73 so far)
The great thing about potatoes is that not only are they incredibly nutritious, they are also incredibly cheap too. A 10lb bag of potatoes will last me at least a week minimum, and it goes for no more than $5, and sometimes even cheaper. I’ve seen it go on sale for just $1! You should buy them in a 10lb bag to save money, buying them individually can cost 3 times more.
Unfortunately I don’t see any sweet potatoes being sold in 10lb bags, and sweet potatoes tend to be more expensive, but I’ll still get a few. Like regular white potatoes, sweet potatoes are nutritious all around. They have more fiber and vitamin A, but regular potatoes have higher minerals like potassium, iron, and magnesium. So normally I would get both, but I’d get less of the sweet potatoes just because it tends to be more expensive.
With these potatoes I usually like to make mash with them (no milk or butter needed.) I would boil up about 4 medium regular white potatoes and 1 medium sweet potato, and then mash them up. I might add some almond or rice milk if I have any at the time.
-10lb Bag of Regular White Potatoes ($5)
-4 medium sized sweet potatoes ($2.5)
(Total $32.23 so far)
6. Bread & Spreads
My favorite brand of bread is Silver Hills, which is 100% vegan and I don’t have to worry about any sneaky animal-based ingredients. Their list of ingredients are simple and transparent, their breads are made with whole grains and are low in fat and sodium. I like to toast a few slices and put on some fruit jams or low fat hummus.
-Silver Hills Bread ($3.29)
-Fruit Jam ($3)
-Low Fat Hummus ($3.49)
(Total $42.01 so far)
7. Plant-Based Cereals & Milks
Diamond brand vanilla almond milk is my favorite vegan milk. It can go into a banana smoothie to give it a really nice creamy flavor, whole grain cereals, or just drinking it on it’s own. I try to get vegan milks that are fortified with vitamins B12, because it tends to be difficult for vegans to get B12 from natural vegan food sources. I’m not a fan of taking vitamin pills, so I gotta get my B12 any way I can via the fortified foods I eat.
A lot of popular cereals are vegan including the famous corn pops, captain crunch, rice krispies and fruity pepples. Finding vegan cereals aren’t that hard, but I tend to go for the whole grain ones with as many natural ingredients as possible.
-Vegan Milk ($3.50)
-Whole Grain Cereal ($3.97)
(Grand Total $49.48)
So this would be an example of what I would get in a week on a budget of $50. Every week I would switch it up a bit, for example instead of bread I might get some corn pasta and tomato sauce, or instead of bok-choy and spinach I might get broccoli and squash.
With the items above, here’s how I would put it together:
For breakfast: I’d have 3 slices of toast with fruit jam, and a bowl of the cereal with the almond milk.
Snack: Banana smoothie with vegan milk. Just put 2 bananas in a blender and blend it up with some almond milk.
Lunch: 2 regular potatoes, microwaved till they’re soft. Eat the potatoes with lentils soup with onions and tomato sauce.
Snack: A few dates
Dinner: White rice with bok-choy and spinach (cooked with ginger and garlic.) served with any leftover lentils soup from lunch.
Desert: A few more dates, or another banana and almond milk smoothie.
I hope you have learned that a vegan diet can be a very cheap lifestyle that doesn’t have to require a lot of money at all.
If the above list sounds boring to you, well, keep in mind this is for people on a tight budget and so obviously we wouldn’t be focusing on the more “interesting” vegan foods like the vegan burgers and vegan crab cakes, etc. which tend to cost more than rice and potatoes. Those aforementioned burgers and crab cakes are what people refer to when they say a vegan diet is more expensive. But actually, I don’t feel it’s too much more expensive than meat. The Gardein black bean burgers for example, was only $4.50 for 4 burgers. I haven’t bought meat in a while so I don’t remember how much real burgers cost, but I’m guessing the prices would be fairly similar.
If you liked this post and would like to see more, subscribe with your email and more vegan related posts will be coming your way! Also leave a comment and let me know what your vegan grocery list looks like.