How to Make A Plant-Based Diet Affordable
A really big concern I hear all the time from people is that they’re afraid switching to a plant-based diet is going to be too expensive and really just too much hassle for what it’s worth. In reality, a plant-based diet can actually save you money in the long-run depending on what exactly you’re buying. The same concept applies to animal based diets. If you decided to purchase lobster and filet mignon, you’re going to have a much higher bill than someone who opted for chicken and salmon.
This may seem like an extreme and somewhat silly example, but I love using it to show people that the same comparisons apply to plant-based items. When I was first starting out, I had no idea what anything was going to cost and how I was going to make my meals cost effective. As time went on, I got more and more efficient at what I was cooking, including reducing my costs as much as possible.
To help out the beginners out there, I put together a guide of common pitfalls I found when I was first starting out and how I found a way around them.
Assess What You’re Spending Now
You can’t really know if you’re saving money if you’re not sure what you’re spending now. The best way to do this is just to take a peak at what you’re past couple of grocery bills were. If you’re not sure what you spent, then just note the next couple of grocery purchases you have coming up. It’s important to get an average of what you’re purchasing since there may be weeks when you’re buying bulk staple items.
I would also make a note of how many meals you’re eating per day. A friend of mine actually tried out a plant-based diet and found he was spending more than when he was eating animal-based. It’s turns out that he was making way more meals with more diverse ingredients than what he was previously cooking.
I love telling this story because so many people don’t think about the frequency and quantity of ingredients they’re cooking as well, especially when they’re trying to make a dietary shift. So, if you find that you’re spending more, I would keep this in mind as well.
If you haven’t read any of my other articles, I am a HUGE fan of meal prepping for so many reasons. One thing is for sure- bulk meal prepping can be a great way to save money. By cooking a larger portion of a dish, you can eliminate the cost of buying ingredients for separate meals or grabbing take out.
It may not seem like much, but trust me it adds up over time. Even if you’re spending $5 on lunch every day, that’s about $150 a month to just one meal. Plus, you get the added bonus of controlling the ingredients that go into your meals, which if you’re looking to switch to a vegan diet, is a big deal.
I also like to think of meal prepping as a way to keep yourself financially accountable. That may sound a little strange, but think of it this way: if you’re having a craving for take out or your coworkers invite you to grab some lunch with them and you’ve already spent the time to prepare your food for the week, chances are you’re not going to let all that hard work go to waste day after day. If you keep meal prepping, you not only get into the habit of saving money, but also stay on track to meet your fitness and health goals as well.
Organic vs Conventional
Over the past couple of years, there has been a large discussion about organic vs conventional products. To basically sum it up, organic products undergo a strict set of federal regulations and are generally produced without additives or pesticides. Conventional products still undergo federal regulations, but it’s not to the same extent as products that have the organic label.
With all that being said, organic products generally cost more than their conventional counterparts. There are some people who feel it’s really important to have products produced without additives and pesticides. Others are not really concerned with this.
Personally, I buy all organic when I can, but controlling what goes into my meals is really important to me. One of my biggest piece of advice in terms of saving money on a plant-based diet is do not feel that you need to buy organic just because you’re vegan/plant-based or thinking about transitioning to the diet. Go with what you honestly feel is the right choice for you. If you want to switch to a plant-based diet affordably, you may want to consider buying conventional products for the time being. If you feel really strongly about buying organic, there’s plenty of other ways to save money too.
Avoid Prepacked, Precooked Foods
One of the biggest pitfalls I’ve seen in budgeting on a plant-based diet is purchasing precooked or prepackaged food. For some items like vegan cheese, it’s unavoidable unless you’re making your own from scratch. However, for a lot of items like fruits and vegetables, there are some great cost-effective alternatives that will not only help you save some time, but not break the bank.
The first is buying canned fruits and vegetables as opposed to precut or precooked versions found in the produce aisle. In general you’re spending a lot more by purchasing precooked or precut version than actually buying the produce itself or even canned items. For produce like pineapples and beets that can be difficult or time consuming to prepare, buying the presliced canned version can be a huge time and cost-saver.
Another alternative to consider is frozen fruits and vegetables. Especially great for items like berries, the frozen version lasts for a lot longer than its fresh counterpart and is generally less expensive. Both canned and frozen items are a great way to save money on fruits and vegetables that are out of season as well.
Pick In-Season Foods
One thing I’ve learned being on a plant-based diet is that cooking with items that are in season is a great way to save money. For some people, this is a point that is really obvious. For others like me, it’s not.
When I first started cooking for myself even before I switched to a plant-based diet, I always wanted to cook what I wanted regardless of if it was in-season or not. Since the main portion on my plate was steak, fish or chicken, I didn’t really notice what I was spending on fruits and vegetables, since it was a considerably smaller portion of my meals.
Since switching to a vegan diet, vegetables and fruits make up a much larger portion of my diet. That means that costs that were not really a concern to me became magnified. This was not to an exorbitant amount, but certainly enough to be noticeable.
The issues that I ran into that cost me considerably was the main item in a dish I wanted to cook being out of stock. This meant that I had to improvise on the spot of what I was going to cook for that meal, and that definitely affected the quality of my meals.
By cooking with in season fruits and vegetables, there’s a really good chance of the grocery store having them in stock and they’re going to be less expensive during that time of year.
Bulk Up on Grains and Dried Legumes
Another lesson I’ve learned over the course of being plant-based is to opt in for bulk portions of grains as opposed to purchasing boxed mixes. The first reason in doing this is you generally get more for your money in purchasing just the grain and seasoning it yourself when cooking, rather than purchasing a box mix with a season packet. This does not necessarily mean that you need to purchase a gigantic bag, but it’s worth investing in larger portion of items you frequently cook.
A secondary reason I opt for a bulk purchase without the seasoning packet is I’ve usually found that there’s good chance there’s some dairy hiding in the seasoning mix. This is not always the case, but again, it goes along with this idea of controlling what’s in your food as well as the cost.
I’ve also found that purchasing dried legumes such as beans and lentils can be very cost effective in the long run. This may seem contradictory to the advice I gave early about opting in for canned fruit and vegetables. Dried legumes, unlike vegetables and fruits, have a much longer shelf life and can be stored in bulk quantities like grains. Like rice, dried lentils and beans produced a greater quantity when cooked so you’re buying less of it then the canned version.
One Last Piece of Advice
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed and that it’s going to be too difficult to start a plant-based diet, just start small. Start by switching out one or two items every week or every trip to the grocery store. I would start with items that aren’t going to be very noticeable to you like vegetable stock and go from there. Making all of these small changes will add up over time!
If you’re really trying to be cost-conscious, starting with small items like milk and stock can also help you see the effects of the transition to a plant-based diet on your wallet. I’ve found the most dramatic impacts on my budget came from cutting out meat and chicken, but I would recommend focusing more on transitioning your body and mindset into eating plant-based rather than jump into something you’re not ready for to save money every week.
If you’re looking for some more resources on eating plant-based, check out: