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Determined to go vegan but don’t think you have the cash?
Or maybe you’re vegan already and it’s burning a hole in your purse? It doesn’t need to be this way, people! Veganism can absolutely be the cheapest diet to thrive on. Like with any money-saving, you just have to be savvy.
There are so many fantastic tips for going vegan on a budget, that we are actually going to create a dedicated section of the website this year, complete with a range of recipes. For now, here are our favourite pieces of advice on being vegan on a budget!
Savvy Vegan Shopping
When you’re at the supermarket, you have to be strategic. In order to get the best prices, you’ve got to put a little thought into it. That applies to any lifestyle!
First of all, don’t be a brand snob. We all buy into marketing hype by companies sometimes, but often there is no taste difference when it comes to similar foods. Let’s take dark chocolate, for example. Aldi sells 85% dark chocolate at £1.39 for 125g. It’s delicious and comes in individually wrapped portions! The same bar by Lindt is £1.99 for just 100g. More chocolate for a lower price? It’s a no-brainer. This isn’t an isolated case either. Quorn vegan chicken pieces are £2.50 for 250g, whereas Tesco’s own pieces are £1.75 for 300g. Again, more bang for your buck! My husband actually prefers the Tesco chicken pieces, as he feels they are firmer and hold together better in curries. Go ahead and do some brand comparison on other items… baked beans, cheese, yoghurt – spot the difference!
You can also bulk buy staples. By staples, I mean items that are versatile for many dishes, and you use frequently. Think pasta, rice, cooking oils. You can often find huge bags of these in the world foods aisle – remember to check the price per 100g/1kg on the tag to check you’re getting a good deal. As a comparison, you can buy 10kg basmati rice for £13.50 (£1.35 per kg) or a small 1kg bag is £1.60. By buying bigger bags, you’re saving 25p per kg in the long run – plus it’s fewer trips to the supermarket.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love a good reduced section. The goodies I’ve found there… 5 packs of Vivera kebab meat for 30p each, Wicked Kitchen ready meals 50% off. Most of us know about the reduced fridge part (where everybody seems to congregate) but what about the reduced cupboard section? This is usually at the end of one of the aisles, in a quiet place. Find it! You can get things like tins of chopped tomatoes for 10p, Nakd bars for 40p. Once I even found soya milk for 16p. YES! Don’t ignore the reduced fruit and veg either. If it’s something you can take home and freeze, buy it! Bananas are great for peeling, freezing and getting out later on for smoothies. If you familiarise yourself with your local store, you can also get to know when they reduce vegan items and get there first. Tesco is really good for having all of their reduced items in one place, but other stores scatter them around.
There are certain items that I refuse to buy unless there’s a special offer on. Vegan steaks, high-quality kebab meat, certain cheeses, premium organic plant milk – they’re a little out of the budget to buy weekly at full price. Plus, if you’re buying something you’ve never tasted before, you don’t want to pay full price as you may not like it! If you’re looking for a specific item that’s pricey, be sure to check the websites of all of the main supermarkets before you buy, as one of them may have an offer on that will save you £££. If there’s a number of high-ticket items I want to buy in my main food shop, I’ll have a good browse online first before I decide which supermarket to visit. You can filter via special offers online – take advantage of this tool to save big-time!
If you’re on a budget, you need to seriously ditch the fresh refrigerated milk, and make friends with its long-life partner. Alpro charges £1.70 for unsweetened almond milk on the shelf, but £1.80 for the exact same thing chilled. It’s the same product! I kid you not. It may only seem like 10p, but if you go through as much milk as we do, it pays to make this swap. Not just that, but the fridge section tends to have a limited range, whereas the shelves have reams of choice, usually with offers on too, so you can pick from hemp, hazelnut and cashew milk, as well as your old favourites.
Budget Accidentally Vegan Products
If you’re good at spotting vegan products, have a go at getting some ‘accidentally vegan‘ items too. These may not be labelled as vegan very clearly, but are. They may also not be with the ‘free from’ foods, but mixed into other aisles. Scout them out!
The world foods section is a great place to look for accidentally vegan foods, and just cheap food in general. A can of East End chickpeas found in the world foods aisle is 40p (400g), whereas the Tesco chickpeas in the tinned beans section is 55p (400g). There’s absolutely no difference, you just have to know where to look. The price difference is exactly the same for butter beans too! Other things that you can get cheaper here are monkey nuts and soy sauce.
You’ve probably noticed that items like soy pieces, tempeh, tofu and seitan can be pricey. If you’re willing to go someplace different, Chinese/Oriental style supermarkets can be great value for these kinds of items. We have a Wing Yip in Birmingham, and it sells fantastic low-priced tempeh, less than half the price elsewhere. It’s actually the only place I can get tempeh from (unless I travel 35 mins) without ordering online! You can also bulk buy at these places, another budget tip from above. Google your local store and go for a browse, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
If you go through a lot of fresh produce like me, you’ll want to become familiar with your local greengrocer. This could be a fruit and veg shop that’s open every day, an indoor market store, or weekly outdoor market trader. Not only is the produce often cheaper than the supermarket, it’s usually fresher and grown locally too. I have found that sometimes specialised food or farmer’s markets can be pricier, so be sure to check out a few different stalls/shops to see which is a good fit for you. We have a lovely local fruit shop, open 6 days per week, that often sells 2 punnets of blackberries for £1… amazing value. They even deliver locally. I make fresh juices and smoothies daily, so without this hidden gem, I’d spend a fortune! People in your local area can often recommend good, cheap greengrocers.
Fresh VS Frozen
Some items are nice to have fresh, but have a think about any compromises you could make. Most of us buy frozen peas, but how about other items? It’s roughly £1.75 for 4 avocados (approx 160g) but you can now buy frozen avocados at £3 for 500g. They’re already peeled and de-stoned, so you can take a portion out to defrost as you wish (or put in a smoothie frozen). It also means no waiting around for your avocados to ripen! A similar principle applies to frozen berry packs (which always seem to be on offer too), mini corn on the cob, pizzas, and certain vegan sausages/burgers (which are cheaper than their fridge counterparts). Make sure you shop around though as it can be cheaper to buy fresh sometimes. It’s much more budget-friendly to buy potatoes and make your own mash or roasties, than it is to buy frozen. They taste better, too.
Also, remember that frozen fruit and vegetables generally retain their nutrition, so don’t worry that the product will be sub-standard if you opt for the budget choice.
It’s fun, it’s convenient, and it’s a way of trying fancy new dishes. But eating out is a sure-fire way of making the cost of eating shoot through the roof. This applies to any kind of diet, of course! I raise it because when you become vegan, it is so exciting and tempting when you see that local eateries have options for you. All that delicious, cruelty-free food and no cooking involved? Sign me up! However, this is where budgeting helps. It’s great to support local businesses, and show that there’s a demand for vegan food, but work out how much money you have left at the end of the month first. Calculate what you’d like to spend that on, and if dining out fits into that, allow yourself a nice meal once per month. This also applies to grabbing a coffee – sorry! You can also try to recreate restaurant quality at home for a fraction of the cost. Just google the name of the dish you enjoy and find a good recipe! You could even invite friends over and make a night of it.
Reducing Food Waste
Minimising your food waste is good for the environment and your wallet. There are a few different ways of approaching this.
The obvious way is by having leftovers for lunch. If you make a little too much dinner, don’t scrape it into the bin! Even if it’s not a full portion, you can put it in a Tupperware box and pair with crackers, salad, or cheese for an easy lunch the next day. The food bill can be greatly reduced just by stretching that food out for an extra meal. My child can be a picky eater sometimes, and I often save her leftovers for the next day.
Keep food in order of its best before date. If you have a shelf in the fridge for vegetables, keep the ones that need to be used at the front, and fresh at the back. By keeping this rotation, the older items will be visible and more likely to be used, rather than thrown away. Everything thrown away is money straight in the bin!
Speaking of leftovers and older food items, remember that you may be able to freeze or repurpose these. That bolognese you paired with pasta last night, would taste great in a wrap the next day. Surplus rice and noodles taste great in a cold salad. Extra mashed potato would be great in a fritter or a lentil pie. Repurposing can be easy! Leftovers can often be frozen too, as can desserts. Most fruit and veg freezes well, so don’t throw it away as soon as it looks slightly questionable.
Using the whole of a product allows you to save money, reduce food waste and get inventive in the kitchen at no extra cost. If you’re new to the vegan world, you may not have heard of aquafaba. It’s basically the juice that comes in a tin of chickpeas, and can be used to make meringues or in baking. I kid you not! Just search for easy aquafaba recipes. You’ll never throw that liquid gold away again! The same applies to some fruit and veg with seeds, like melons and pumpkins. People dispose of the seeds inside pumpkins and then buy a bag of pumpkin seeds from the shop – it’s madness! Instead, keep the ones you already have, rinse them and roast them. They will keep for a while, are nutritious and taste great on salads.
Buying ‘Out Of Date’ Foods
Buying food that is near its ‘Best Before’ date, or even past it, may seem a little questionable. However, most foods that supermarkets will no longer sell, are still perfectly edible. Products that are in tins or packets have an extremely long shelf life. Why waste them?
The food reseller that I trust the most is Approved Food. I’ve ordered from there many times and never had a bad product. As well as selling short-dated stock, they also have food that is well in date (think items that have re-branded or were produced as a surplus by mistake). It’s crazy that these items are no longer sellable at regular stores. Approved Food has over 2000 different items in stock, and reports that the average customer saves £60 on their monthly shop – so it’s well worth a look! You do have to pay approx £5.99 delivery – I find it useful to stock up for about 3 months at a time, so I only have to pay one delivery charge. It pays to get food in bulk here.
Items spotted at time of visiting were cans of Coca Cola for 25p, Biona organic snack bars for 59p, soya drink for 50p and chilli paste for 39p. They even have their own vegan section, making filtering easy!
It also ties in nicely with reducing food waste – buying items that would overwise be binned!
Budget Meal Planning
Meal planning takes the stress out of cooking. The decisions are made for you – all you have to do is look at the plan and cook it. I like to plan for 3 days at a time. To keep it money-saving, first plan your meals around what’s left in the fridge and needs using in the next few days. Check the back of the cupboard too!
If you’ve created a meal plan and need to buy any items for it, you now have a shopping list. That means you can buy these items, and not put any sneaky items into your basket as they just don’t fit in with your plan. Having a plan also means you can work out the cost per meal if necessary, allowing you to budget better.
If you’re eating vegan on a budget, try to plan meals that contain at least 2 very cheap ingredients. There’s no point in doing a meal plan if it’s full of complicated, experimental dishes that mean you have to go out and buy 20 ingredients. Make sure the dish has mainly cheap items in it, such as pasta, rice, lentils, beans or pulses. If it’s predominantly fake meats and cheese, it’s probably going to be pricey.
Another great thing about meal planning is it also forces you to cook from scratch more, rather than writing ‘ready meal’ every day. Cooking from scratch is usually a lot cheaper than buying something pre-made. Let’s take spaghetti bolognese. Depending on what you put in it of course, making it yourself costs around 60p per portion. Tesco’s Wicked Kitchen Bolognese is £4 and Sainsbury’s Chilli and Rice (they don’t stock a vegan bolognese) is £2. It pays to cook!
Buying Organic On A Budget
Many of us simply can’t afford to buy organic, vegan or not, and that’s ok. Buy the fruit and veg you can afford. By following the above advice and buying seasonally and locally, you can still get your hands on some great fresh produce.
If you are concerned about non-organic produce, there are a few ways to save money and still get your hands on it. Of course, non-organic will usually be the ultimate cheapest way of buying fresh groceries, so this is really for people who are adamant about buying organic produce.
The obvious thing to do is to check the reduced section of the supermarket. I often find organic fruit and veg in Tesco, for less than half price as it’s at its Best Before date. However, I often find that it will last at least another 1-2 days. So if you have a supermarket that’s easy to pop into every other day, see what’s on offer! Of course, make sure you examine the reduced goods – some of it can already be going mouldy! But do remember also, a lot of this stuff can be frozen. So don’t give up hope if you feel that you can’t use it within a day. I love buying reduced veg, making a soup, and freezing it in portions.
As mentioned before, buying locally can also knock down the price of organic produce. If you become familiar with seasonal produce too, you’ll find this is a lower price. This is because it’s easier to grow and more abundant. Some areas also have an allotment or CSA scheme that you can join in order to get fresh organic goods. It pays to ask around!
If you can’t afford to buy all organic, but would like to dip your toe in a little, a great place to start is the dirty dozen. This is a list of the fresh produce that has the most pesticide concentrated in it, so you can start here. If you juice at home, you should also buy your juicing fruit/veg organically. Otherwise, you’re really just drinking a concentrated shot of pesticides. Thanks to Sarah at The Seasonal Diet for this great tip!
Vegan On A Budget – Bonus Tips!
- Batch cook food and freeze it. It’s great to have something to whip out on those lazy days! It also fits in well with bulk buying (see above) as you can buy a large quantity of pasta or rice, and cook it all off. Just make sure you have the freezer space!
- Don’t go food shopping when hungry. This is a nightmare waiting to happen! It’s an old piece of advice but often ignored. If you go to the store when hungry, you’ll usually end up buying a quick snack, or more groceries. Going to the supermarket after you’ve eaten is a much better plan.
- Set yourself a price limit, or make a shopping list, and then take cash out. This literally stops you from overspending. You could take a small buffer in case you see any amazing reduced items, of course.
- Check the tags below products on the shelf to see how much they cost per 100g. Something may look like a good deal, but when compared to a bigger or smaller package, it’s not.
- Use the online space. Facebook has so many groups for eating on a budget. Some are specifically vegan, such as the ‘Plant based on a budget support group’, but there are other general ones with great tips like ‘Scrimping on a budget’. They will often post budget meals and special offers, so it pays to be part of them!
- Shop around. It pays to visit several stores to really get the best deals and take advantage of special offers, or reduced items. However, consider the cost of your time and petrol. If the supermarkets are all far away from one another, it may not be worth it!
- Sign up to newsletters from supermarkets as well as any points schemes. It can be annoying to have those cards in your purse, and emails in your inbox, but very money-saving too. Tesco’s Clubcard scheme is thought to be one of the best for rewards, and you can even swap the points for double their worth online. If there’s a store you visit at least once per week, it is definitely worth signing up for any schemes they have.
- If you’re green-fingered, growing your own produce can be a great way of saving money. Things like green beans, strawberries and tomatoes can be really easy to grow, and will save on the cost of buying from the shop. Just make sure you plant them at the right time, and tend to them regularly!
These are some ideas to inspire! Of course, these are very basic and can have herbs, spices, flavourings, or fake meats added to them if you have spare ingredients to hand, or extra cash.
- Porridge oats + soya milk + apple – hot or cold as porridge or overnight oats.
- Refried beans + toast.
- Oats + banana + peanut butter – made into cookies.
- Black beans + salad + sauce + wraps/tacos.
- Bananas + cacao + water = ‘nice’ cream.
- Lentils + chopped tomatoes + onions + stock + mashed potato on top = lentil pie.
- Roasted sweet potato + chickpeas + salad.
- Stock + mushrooms + noodles + other veggies = noodle soup.
- Naan bread + tomato puree + vegan cheese = pizza.
- Pasta + passata + veggie + beans = spaghetti bolognese.
- Stuffed peppers.
- Veggies + stock = soup.
- Vegan Chorizo Sausage and Squash Gumbo – this recipe is cheap and easy to make but look great! The site (Jen Reviews) also has other vegan recipes.
- Herby Garlic Bread.
- Crispy Baked Tofu.
- ‘Egg’ Fried Rice.
- Spaghetti Bolognese.
- Strawberry Scones.
- Chocolate Banana Cake.
- For further recipes, I love The Stingy Vegan and Plant Based On A Budget.
If you like to have easy and cheap recipes to hand, I highly recommend these two books. Vegan on the Go has amazing recipes that you wouldn’t even believe are inexpensive to make – including sushi, pizza and burgers. Vegan on the Cheap is a US-based recipe collection, however, I had no issue using it here in the UK. I recommend it because it actually breaks down the cost per serving of each recipe, so if you’re on a real shoestring budget, you’ll love scoping out the super-cheap meals!
I love having a collection of recipe books, as it stops me from making the same meals over and over, giving me some much-needed inspiration. Nobody wants to have to go out and buy 20 different ingredients just for one dish, and these books don’t force you to do that. They’re just full of inexpensive, simple ingredients.
What is your best tip for being vegan on a budget? Let me know below!