Some things have changed in our three years being vegan. A LOT has changed, actually. First of all, super delicious vegan meat and cheese alternatives have hit markets available to us. Our grocery bill has fluctuated through the years. Tons of restaurants are offering vegan options or plan to soon. We went from living two hours from a natural/health food store, to living one block away, to now living over an hour away again. We went from eating whole food plant-based meals to walking one block and grabbing vegan sandwiches, burgers, pizza, etc.
This is where the lesson lies: When we lived in Middle Of Nowhere, Kansas and were fresh off the meat-eating train, we didn’t have the slightest idea how to make a our newfound vegan diet budget-friendly! We also didn’t have many grocery options racking up a big bill. The only vegan alternative product available to us at the time was plant milk. We never really splurged on anything. We shopped at discount grocery stores and bought in bulk before we really even knew what buying in bulk meant. It was natural to us because we didn’t have another choice! We bought 0 vegan cheese, vegan meat, etc.
When we landed in the heart of Spokane, Washington we felt so at home with all the new vegan options available to us! We LITERALLY walked to Natural Grocers at least 4 times per week. We bought allllll the meat and chese alternatives, allll the processed snacks, pre-made dinners, organic foods, shopped at all the high-end grocery stores, ate out at all the vegan restaurants, and had the LUXURY of ORDERING OUT, something that had long been foreign to us. This (obviously) got expensive.
We once again cut ourselves off from these luxuries by moving back to the country (but in WA this time). With intentions to get our butts to (expensive) Seattle to establish residence for little a while, we realized the groceries were a really sneaky, drawn-out financial setback. It’s been two years out here now, and I’m pretty sure we’ve mastered the vegan grocery bill balancing act.
As I mention all the time, our health is a priority to us. Having an abundant fridge and pantry well-stocked with whole foods and vegan staples is always going to be non-negotiable for us. We truly recognize how much of a privilege it is to have access to these things and it’s something we’ll never take for granted. That being said, we will, without a doubt, 100% make whatever other cutbacks we need to make financially to achieve a well-stocked vegan kitchen. I know it sounds dramatic and like we’re making sacrifices others’ aren’t able to or willing to make, but we’re really not… It is not difficult to swap some budget-eaters for a grocery savings. It just comes down to what’s most important to you! (Just please don’t tell me your unhealthy habits are more important to you than having a vegan pantry!)
- Make one list for the health food store, and one list for your average grocery store. There’s tons of things we buy cheaper at WinCo or Trader Joe’s or Safeway or URM Cash and Carry, so we hit those spots for some staples and get everything else at Natural Grocers. You don’t have to make a million stops, just two will do!
- Buy in bulk! This saves sooooo much money! We get bulk oats, nutritional yeast, cashews, rice, beans/lentils, potatoes, and bananas.
- Buy ripe bananas. I cannot stress enough. I never understand seeing someone pay more for green bananas than for the half off nans with the few spots. For one thing, your body digests ripe bananas so much easier, making them more nutrient accessible and all around healthy. Also, I always come home and freeze them for the most part anyway! A smoothie is nothing without a frozen banana! Even when we don’t freeze them, they stay perfectly good on the shelf. Unless the skin is completely brown, the inside of the spotty banana is probably perfect for eating.
- Use the dirty dozen list to choose what organic produce to buy and what you could pass on.
- Refill/reuse containers for discounts. Griffin refills a glass growler with kombucha they have on tap at a local grocery store and saves a lot of kombucha money that way! Sometimes bulk stores, health stores, and coffee shops will give discounts for bringing your own containers as well.
- Make your own milk! Save waste and money by blending raw soaked cashews (that you bought in bulk) with water. The. Best. Milk. You could also use almonds, hemp hearts, walnuts, even peanuts if your budget is really tight! There’s a recipe for this in “Plant Based on a Budget” by Toni Okamoto.
- Cook as many of your meals at home as possible, and use simple whole-food ingredients. Rice, beans, potatoes, squash, greens, and some veggies are great bases for an infinite amount of cheap meals!
- Strive for zero food waste. We save veggie scraps and herb stems/pieces in a container in the fridge to use for veggie broth (or is it stock? I never know). Other things go in the compost for our garden. If the food is pet-safe it will also be mixed into the dogs’ breakfast as a special treat.
- Make your own dog food. A bag of vegan dog food to feed our two large dogs for a week costs upwards of $40! We buy their food when we need to (when we’re camping, traveling, hosting visitors, or in a time crunch) but for the most part their food is homemade. There’s a lot of great recipes online, but I usually do some combination of lentils or split peas with rice, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach, berries, cold-pressed flax oil, nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, natural peanut butter, and a teensy bit of liquid aminos. On doggo “cheat days” they’ll have oatmeal with hemp milk, flax oil, peanut butter, and bananas or berries. Super easy to prep on a Monday morning!
- Order your basics (TP, dish soap, shampoo, trash bags, etc.) on a subscription to save! You can do this through Target or Thrive Market.
- ALWAYS CHECK CLEARANCE. Natural grocers has a clearance section in the dairy cooler and we’re always able to get bases for meals or little luxuries there for half off or more. They also have a section for discounted produce at $2 for a randomly assorted bag. I found my favorite organic vegan dark chocolate bar selling for .50 at a Holiday gas station’s clearance, when I’ve been buying them for almost $2 at Nat Gro! Always check.
- Make your own bread. Invest in a bread machine, find one at a thrift store, or pop the dough in the oven directly. If bread is a staple on your list, definitely make it yourself. It can cost just pennies per loaf this way!
- Make your own snacks. Prep some healthy brownies for the week, pop your own popcorn, make your own hummus, whatever! Find some recipes you love and be smart about buying the ingredients.
- Buy store brands. Even if they’re the health food store’s brand, why pay more for the same product??
- Buy in season. This is really important and since gardening on a huge scale last year I’ve been really appreciative of in-season foods for gratitude, health, and affordability reasons.
- BONUS- Shop farmer’s markets! We hit a couple local produce stands regularly through the summer and got to know the owners really well. They ALWAYS gave us a huge discount on our purchases, often times even sending us home with free bags of cherries or tomatoes to try. Supporting local food growers while they support us… Win win!