Welcome to a column from The Financial Diet, one of our very favorite sites, dedicated to money and everything it touches. One of the best ways to take charge of your financial life is through food and cooking. This column from TFD founders Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage will help you be better with money, thanks to the kitchen.
I've always wondered whether or not a vegan diet would dramatically affect my grocery budget in any way. Of course, ethics, sustainability, and health are usually the chief reasons to adopt the vegan lifestyle — but what about budget?
For better or worse, I have this image in my mind of veganism as an elusively chic lifestyle, reserved for the type of (rich) woman who is able to afford a marathon of Yogalates classes before waltzing into the nearest Whole Foods to buy expensive dairy-free cheese.
I'm not saying this to knock that type of woman. I'd love to be her. But my life recently has been more about eating the most affordable foods I can find — canned tuna, scrambled non-organic eggs on white toast, ground whatever-meat-is-on-sale-this-week turned into burgers, grilled chicken breast purchased in-bulk at BJ's for the low price of $8 for two weeks' worth.
So, when the idea came up that I should go vegan for a week as an experiment to see if it was actually, on the contrary, a more affordable lifestyle than the one I was growing accustomed to, I jumped at the chance. I was ready. Ready to be changed and enlightened.
But before all the enlightenment came a trip to the grocery store.
How Much I Spent on Groceries for Vegan Week
Here is a breakdown of everything I picked up in preparation for my Vegan Week, and how much it all cost me.
- A container of store-brand oatmeal: $2
- 1 bag of grapes: $3
- 1 bag of pumpkin seeds: $2.50
- 1 bag of baby carrots $2
- A few bananas: $0.50 (how are these so cheap?)
- 1 package of celery $1.50
- 1 big bag of rice: $4
- 1 package of my favorite vegan kale veggie burgers $3
- A bag of mixed nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, raisins): $3
- 1 bag of red potatoes: $2.50
- 1 butternut squash: $4
- 5 gala apples: $3.50
Total Cost: $31.50
And here is a list of things I already had at home on hand, and how much they cost when I bought them.
- 1 bag of onions: $3 (for like 10 sweet onions — a steal)
- 1 jar of almond butter: $11 (pricey, but you all know Justin's Maple Almond Butter is worth every penny)
- 5 or 6 cans of black beans: $1 each
- Lots of boxes of vegetable broth: $1 each
- 3 cans of diced tomatoes: $0.80 each
- 1 bag of frozen spinach: $0.85
- 1 bag of frozen corn: $0.85
- 1 bag of frozen peas: $0.85
- 1 bag of iceberg lettuce: $3
- Trader Joe's Frosted Flakes: $3 (this is my favorite cereal ever, by the way)
- 1 cucumber: $1
Total Cost: $33.95
The grocery haul was quite affordable, especially because these items lasted me all week, and most will last another week or two before I run out as well.
In addition to the vegan grocery haul itself, here is a log of everything I ate during the week. If it seems sparse, that's because it is — I don't have a huge appetite, unless we're talking Doritos, in which case I'll eat maybe seven bags without stopping to breathe. And since the vegan diet limited my choices a bit more, I didn't exactly snack a ton.
What I Ate During Vegan Week
Tuesday, November 14
Breakfast: Oatmeal with cinnamon, almond butter, and some frozen grapes. Cheap as hell. I slice my grapes up into tiny pieces like I'm a toddler because I don't like big chunks, so that makes one bag of them last a really long time. I'll probably be working through this bag all week. I also buy my oats in a giant tub and just scoop it into the bowl instead of buying those individual (probably more expensive) packets.
This is an extremely cheap breakfast — especially compared to the Greek yogurt or bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches I'd usually have.
Lunch: Carrots and rice. Not exactly gourmet, but this is what my lunch usually looks like — I don't have a huge appetite during the day, and tend to do the bulk of my eating in the morning or at night. I had a little leftover rice I'd made a few days ago, and threw a handful of raw carrots in there with it so I'd have something a little more substantial to snack on during the day.
Dinner: Kale veggie burger and more rice. These veggie burgers are in my regular, non-vegan rotation, because they're delicious and affordable. Meat is expensive and I'm not a huge fan of it, so when my boyfriend eats a burger for dinner, I'll make one of these instead. Rice is already my favorite vegan-friendly side dish, because it is so cheap to buy in bulk, and can be doctored up in all sorts of ways with sauces and spices.
Snacks: A handful of mixed nuts and raisins from Trader Joe's. I so badly wanted to buy one of the bags that has chocolate in it, but it isn't vegan chocolate — womp womp. The bag was about $3, and it is big enough that I think it'll last a whole week of snacking (along with my other chosen vegan snacks for the week: grapes, carrots, celery, and almond butter).
Wednesday, November 15
Breakfast: Cold cereal (Trader Joe's Frosted Flakes, which I found out is vegan), no milk. I had almond milk on hand, which I know is vegan, but I'm a dry-cereal person. Sometimes, I'll put a scoop of almond butter into the cereal bowl and mush it around. I know, it's weird — don't yuck another person's yum.
Lunch: Nothing — today was weird. My dog had to get surgery, and I was too nervous to eat. I snacked on some carrots when I got home.
Dinner: Roasted carrots and potatoes, and another veggie burger. Real vegans probably have more variety in their diet, but I'm just testing the waters here so I didn't go all-out and buy many vegan-specific ingredients. But it definitely is inexpensive to eat like this, and I don't feel like I'm hungry, so that's good.
Thursday, November 16
Breakfast: Oatmeal, almond butter, pumpkin seeds.
Lunch: Salad — lettuce, celery, cucumber, and carrots with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice dressing.
Dinner: I make butternut squash soup for dinner. I topped mine with roasted pumpkin seeds.
Friday, November 17
Breakfast: Sliced apple with almond butter.
Lunch: Another apple because I was running late and not feeling creative or ambitious while packing lunch, and a few handfuls of mixed nuts.
Dinner: Leftover soup from yesterday.
Snacks: Lots of cut-up veggies.
Saturday, November 18
Breakfast: Oatmeal and banana. (I know I eat oatmeal a lot — it is genuinely my favorite.)
Lunch: More leftover soup.
Dinner: Skillet of brown rice, black beans, roasted sweet potato, pepper, onion, tomato, and lots of spices. Served it with chopped iceberg lettuce and salsa.
Sunday, November 19
Breakfast: Oatmeal with pumpkin seeds again.
Lunch: Made a big pot of pasta with some veggies and homemade spicy sauce that is vegan and delicious. I made it around 3 or 4 p.m., so it was kind of lunch and dinner for me — and I ate a lot of it.
Dinner: See lunch above.
Monday, November 20
Breakfast: Grabbed a banana running out the door.
Lunch: Leftover pasta, because I firmly believe pasta is better the next day.
Dinner: More leftover pasta — I made a lot of it, and I never say no to pasta.
Snacks: Apple and almond butter, some nuts.
How Eating Vegan Affected My Budget
I definitely spent less money on food this week than I normally do. Meat is such a big part of the cooking we do in my house — especially because my boyfriend eats a high-fat, low-carb diet (and I generally eat an "everything" diet).
I realize after this week how freaking expensive meat can be. My grocery haul for the week came out to be a solid $15 cheaper than it normally would, which isn't a ton, but it is definitely enough to make me reconsider what we're spending on meat, and whether it is genuinely necessary for me to have so much in my diet.
Eggs are a different story for me. I find them to be an excellent — and inexpensive — way to bulk up meals and add protein, especially when the meals are meatless. I love scrambling eggs and adding them to a stir-fry, eating them wrapped in a tortilla with salsa and veggies, etc.
I found that eating vegan limited impulse spending for me. It has always been a huge budget-killer for me to find myself in a coffee shop or drive-thru in the morning, or ordering random takeout when I became too lazy to cook dinner. But stopping to wonder things like "Will the coffee shop have almond milk?" and "Are there eggs in that?" or "Is the veggie soup made with chicken broth instead of vegetable broth?" slowed me down, and made me cut out all impulse spending over the past week.
I found that being vegan also really forced me to meal plan. If you don't want to eat raw carrots and call it a meal like you're some sort of rabbit, you have to have a good meal plan and prep schedule in place. I was forced to really sit down and plan what I'd be making the next day every evening, or else I knew the next morning I'd wake up wondering what to make for breakfast or pack for lunch.
There are, of course, ways to make a vegan diet more expensive. There are fancy egg substitutes and expensive pints of dairy-free ice cream that you can indulge in. It's like that with any diet or lifestyle.
But for me specifically, when I focused on eating more vegetables and grains, I found it did help in saving money.
Vegan friends! How does this compare to your experience in grocery shopping? Want to share your experience in shopping (and eating) exclusively vegan in one of our Budget Diaries? We'd love to hear from you.