One of the main things I get asked from people when talking about healthy, plant-based eating, or eating clean, is how to do it on a budget. When I hear people say that their shopping bill has taken a knock since they went vegan, I wonder where and what they are buying. I have spoken to friends who were once meat eaters and who are now eat wholly plant-based, and they all agree with me that swapping the beef for the beans has resulted in a shrinking grocery budget.
When my hubby, Rich, left his salary just over a year ago to start his own business, budget was tight and we had to make some personal budget cuts. Yet, we managed to halve our food budget! And we managed to do it without sacrificing our health. Of course, we could have loaded up on bread and peanut butter, noodles chips, but our goal was to still cook well-balanced and nutritious meals – that’s the goal, surely – without overspending.
If your goal for you is to be healthy and happy without breaking the bank each month, take a look at what I’ve tried and tested with my own family:
If going plant-based is something you haven’t fully put into practice yet, I suggest taking the plunge! With the World Health Organisation declaring processed meat as a carcinogenic and red meat in general possibly causing cancer, it seems then that eating meat may result in high medical bills later down the line. To avoid spending your money on going to the doctor and on medication, you can reduce that risk by choosing to eat more plants! According to this study eating a plant-based diet may be a simple, low-cost intervention to preventing heart disease. And there are many more studies that are continuing to prove a plant-based diet can help reverse diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, types of cancer, type-2 diabetes and arthritis.
If you fear to eat the same thing every day – I know I like to switch things up – I suggest purchasing three difference packages of different “bulk bases” which you can rotate over a few weeks and form the base of your meals. Find your nearest bulk food store or the bulk food section at your supermarket for cheaper bags of beans, pasta, flours and grains like rice, oats, barley and cous cous. Also look for starchy root vegetables, like potatoes and sweet potatoes which are not only cheap and filling but also very nourishing. Be sure to rotate your bases too so the nutrition you get varies.
Check out your seasonal food guide (based on where you live in the world) as a planning guide so that you can shop seasonally. It’s cheaper and tastier! If possible, going to a farmer’s market and buying directly from the grower is more cost-effective. Additionally, frozen produce can be cheaper than fresh – I know this can’t be done with all fruit and veg, but doing it here and there can make a huge difference. These fruit and veg are flash frozen just hours after they have been harvested so one could argue that they are more nutritious than fresh produce. For an economical meal, I like to make a soup by adding frozen veggies, veg stock, spices and some legume like lentils (which I sometimes buy dried and then soak and boil myself).
Plan your weekly snacks and meals ahead of time (a bit of a hack on a glorious Sunday afternoon, but well worth the 10 minutes of your time!). This results in less waste and unnecessary purchases when you’re in the supermarket. Also, just don’t go shopping when you’re hungry… It is much easier to resist those just-in-case items when you’re not thinking about when you’re going to get your next bite to eat!
Vegan meat alternatives, like Fry’s, obviously don’t cost the same as a bag of dried chickpeas, but sometimes you may be craving such foods or want something quick and easy to make. Often Pick n Pay, Checkers, Shoprite and Spar run special promotions so can you work them into your budget. These stores run deals like buy-one-get-one-free or bulk pack specials which is always a good time to stock up the freezer. When comparing meat alternatives to actual meat, you will find that the prices are competitively priced, sometimes with meat being double the cost! Next time you’re at the grocery store, compare the prices and you will be surprised!
Cooking from scratch can save you heaps. It also doesn’t need to take hours of your time – especially if you’ve planned what you’re going to cook. I cook everything we eat for my family and we rarely eat out. Eating out should be a very occasional treat or avoided altogether if you’re on a budget. When I prepare my meals, I always cook in large batches and freeze the leftovers. And if I see some produce starting to look a bit worse for wear, I either cook them that day or freeze them immediately.
All of these recipes can be made in bulk with frozen vegetables, a few spices and a cheap grain or starch as the base. Swapping your meat with one pack of Fry’s (like the Mince or Strips) is economical and sustainable and makes the cooking process really simple!
Petrol stations can wreak havoc with your food budget – ask us, we know! When Rich and I first got together, we just couldn’t seem to save money. We spent one month keeping the slips from every purchase we had made. We found the problem – “peanuts & Red Bull”! We now have our own personal budget item called “the peanuts and Red Bull” expense, which is for those last minute, unexpected, must-have items that all of us get sucked into buying at some point in the month.
We may not all have the space to grow our food, but with a windowsill and some TLC, you can grow things like herbs, peppers, radishes, lettuce and kale. Start small and add more pots when you feel ready. It may feel like an effort initially, but once you get the ball rolling, there is nothing quite like picking your own homegrown produce!
Of course, we need to remember that there is always an uphill battle we have to fight. In David Simon’s Book “Metanomics”, he discusses the complex economic forces behind the production of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, and how the decisions around what we think we choose to eat are made by the animal food producers who control our buying choices with artificially-low prices, misleading messaging, and heavy control over lobbying, legislation and regulation. So while we are told to increase our fruit and veggie intake, more than half of agriculture subsidies directly or indirectly support the meat and dairy production with less than one percent benefiting fruit and veg producers, as reported by The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
If it seems like the cost of eating a plant-based diet will never decrease, I understand your frustrations but each one of us can make a difference! Keep voting with your fork, join and support vegan advocacy organisations, and share the health and economic benefits of a plant-based diet with those around you. Every person can make a difference!