Do you think you can’t afford to live a vegetarian lifestyle? It’s a common misconception that vegetarian diets are costly or hard to maintain, but not if you know how to shop, cook, and eat smart.
The costs of eating meat are high – both at the grocery store and paying for the doctor’s bills later in life for diabetes and heart disease. Not to mention the moral cost of killing animals for food. These 12 secrets to living vegetarian on a budget will help you to keep more cash in your wallet and healthy vegetarian meals on your plate at every meal.
Secret #1: Cutting Back on Eating Out
It sounds like a no-brainer, but restaurants take a major hit on most people’s budgets every month. If you can’t completely eliminate lunches and dinners that you eat out at restaurants, consider cutting back. Just a few less meals at restaurants each month can work out to hundreds of dollars in savings.
Secret #2: Avoid Vending Machines
Not only are many vending machine foods unhealthy, they are also wildly overpriced. Instead of buying a snack, bring your own from home. Instead of buying bottled water, invest in a nice water bottle and carry your own H20 with you wherever you go. Doing so will be more environmentally friendly (you won’t be throwing away all those bottles) and will save you money.
Secret #3: Avoid Prepared Foods
It’s silly to buy things you can make easily on your own with a little foresight. Vegetarian items like pancakes are simple and very cheap to make from scratch. The cost of a bag of microwave popcorn is literally hundreds of times more expensive than a bag of dry kernels, and a 99-cent bag of dry beans contains about 15 servings (much more than a single serving can of cooked beans that costs the same amount.)
Secret #4: Avoid Frozen Meals
While we’re on the subject of cooking, make all your meals at home yourself. It’s very cost-ineffective to buy prepared frozen dinners – not to mention higher in preservatives and other unhealthy additives to prolong shelf life. These foods may be lifesavers on occasion, but they shouldn’t become a way of life.
Secret #5: Buy Large Quantities
In general, the larger the package the cheaper the price per pound will be. You’ll also need to make fewer trips to the grocery store if you stock up on vegetarian staple food items. Just make sure that you can use all of the item before it expires – if half of it goes bad before you can use it, you’re not saving money.
Secret #6: Stock Up on Sale Items
Don’t be oblivious to store specials, coupons, and other deals when they are there to be found. When you find a good price on a food you eat often, stock up on it! Foods can be frozen to extend their life span, or you can plan carefully to use them before they reach the expiration date.
Secret #7: Shop at the Regular Grocery Store
Many vegetarians focus on specialty health food stores because they want the full nutritional content – but there are plenty of options for wholesome organic foods right in their grocery store. Items at the grocery store are often better priced than foods in a special market.
Secret #8: Shop at Ethnic Markets
Don’t forget to look in the phone book to see if there are any ethnic grocery stores near you. It’s worth a trip just to check out their prices. Many carry vegetarian staples and organic fruits and vegetables at astronomically low prices. Hispanic, Indian, and Chinese groceries are some of your best bets.
Secret #9: Buy Organic Store Brands
Now that organic foods have become such a mainstream line of products to buy, there are store brand organics in addition to name brand ones. Many of them may have identical ingredients list. You can’t tell a difference in taste, but you’ll definitely see the difference in price.
Secret #10: Grow Your Own Produce
This is obvious, but many of us fail to do it because we’re intimidated. Even if you’re not a master gardener, you can still have great success growing strawberries or tomatoes in containers on your windowsill. If you’ve got more space, experiment with vegetables that take a little more space, such as broccoli, watermelon, and spinach. Plant a fruit tree in your yard, and in a few years you will have shade as well as a season of free fruit. Learn to can so you can enjoy the fruits of your harvest all year long.
Secret #11: Shop With a List Based on Sale Items
Watch store circulars for the markets where you regularly shop. Note the items that go on sale each week, and devise a weekly meal menu based on the sale items. Are green peppers on sale? Then think of ways you can incorporate them into bean tacos, vegetarian stir-fries, and pasta dishes. Planning your meals around the sale prices of items makes a big difference in your total at the grocery store checkout.
Secret #12: Focus on Cheap Vegetarian Staples
Many people wrongly believe that eating vegetarian is expensive, when in reality the vegetarian staple foods are some of the cheapest around: rice, pasta, and dry beans. Large bags of these staples cost next to nothing, enabling you to create meals for pennies. When you build your meal dishes around these inexpensive staples rather than an expensive cut of meat, your vegetarian meals are actually much cheaper!
Eating and living vegetarian on a budget is actually very easy, when you take the time and effort to do it conscientiously and carefully. A little work on your part pays off in substantial savings at the grocery store, not to mention that it pays off in a healthier diet. Shopping at the right stores for the right money-saving items and knowing to avoid costly food purchases means massive savings for you.