Ten Tips for Being Vegan on a Budget

Every year when the Fall weather hits and the days begin to grow shorter and grayer, I find myself going into hibernation-nesting mode. My husband and I had a lot of fun this summer with our long weekend getaway trips and dining out whenever our hearts desired, but now I am afraid it is time to start thinking about getting back to basics and being a little more financially responsible. So since this is on my mind, I thought I'd share some tips for eating and living vegan while on a budget.
Tip Number One: Before you go grocery shopping, take a casual inventory of your kitchen cupboards and fridge and throw out what's old while making a list of what you are running low on that you know you will need. There is no point in keeping something for forever because you think you might use it if you never do. And, taking mental stock of what you have that you do want to use might spark ideas of potential dishes that you could make.
Tip Number Two: Menu plan a week in advance. During a busy week, one of the things that can seem most daunting about dinner time is trying to decide what to make. Takeout is all the more tempting when I feel like I am in a food rut and I am too tired to decide what to do about it. So  now every Saturday, my husband and I sit down and think about what dishes we would like for the days ahead, factoring in scheduling issues and other evening commitments so we don't plan something too complicated on an evening when we will be short on time. Having a list of dinner ideas to refer to is really helpful, and might even give you something to look forward to, (like: Oh yeah, tonight we are having portobello mushroom burgers! Yay!) Also, don't feel like you have to stick rigidly to your plan--the plan is there to help you but if your mood changes and you realize you want to do something different, then go for it.  When eating is a joy, not a burden, then it is easier to be frugal and keep to a budget. Tip Number Three: Grocery shop once a week. After you have planned your menu for the week, make a shopping list so that you will have everything you need for the days to come. It is easier to stick to the plan if you don't have to run out to the store for last minute ingredients. Tip Number Four: Don't buy too much. While bargain shopping is good and while there are some items I like to stock up on, I stop myself from buying too many of something just because it's on sale. While tempting, it's not a bargain if you just end up throwing it away later. Think back to when you cleaned out your kitchen if you need motivation to restrain yourself from buying too much. Tip Number Five: At the same time, stock up on things that you use regularly so that your cooking options are always expansive. For me, I like shortcut items like pre-made organic vegetable broth in cartons for soup or casserole bases, canned tomatoes, chickpeas, pinto beans, brown rice, pasta, frozen veggies etc.  Speaking of frozen veggies, they are great for when you are tired but you need a good veggie side. I eat steamed frozen broccoli a few times a week--easy to make and good for you. Frozen corn and peas always cook up well in soups, and frozen green beans aren't too bad. (However, I can't stand frozen carrots--the texture gets all weird, or at least that's how it seems to me.)
Tip Number Six: Speaking of shopping, people are generally under the misconception that eating is healthy is more expensive than eating junk. And while the cheapness of fast food perpetuates that myth, I really believe that it is a misunderstanding, AS LONG AS YOU COOK!  Yes if you buy a lot of pre-packaged foods, the healthier ones are more expensive. But if you are buying fresh and frozen veggies, whole grains, beans, pasta etc, and then making food from these ingredients yourself, eating healthier is actually MUCH cheaper than the alternative. Now as much as I love to cook, it is not my favorite thing to do during the work week, hence the menu planning in advance and trying to think up easy dishes on what I know will be long and busy days. And there are a couple of ways to deal with the cooking/working/being busy issue: 
  • 1) Cook a few main dishes on the weekends that you can re-heat later. Soups, stews, casseroles, veggie burgers that you make yourself, etc. all make great re-heatable options.
  • 2) Buy and use a Crock pot. Crock pots are a great long-term investment because they are both awesome and easy to use. And if you have never used a Crock pot before, there are some great cookbooks out there, or even free recipes online that can give you some ideas of what to make. I make a big batch of something every Sunday that my husband and I take for lunch every day for the first few days of the week. I once made a fantastic "beefless" burgundy stew that we ate over my homemade "buttermilk" biscuits. It was easy to make but tasted like a fabulous rich and hearty home-cooked meal. As I write these word there is a yummy sweet potato, tomato, and peanut stew cooking away all by itself downstairs without me having to do anymore than throw all the ingredients in together and push a button.
Tip Number Seven: Which brings me to the next tip, bring your lunch with you to work/school etc every day. Yes it's a pain to make, but odds are you will eat healthier and save money by doing this. And, if you get into the habit of packing your lunch every night before bed so that you can just grab it and get going in the morning, it makes it that much easier.
Tip Number Eight: Don't forget the sweet treats. Make a dessert every now and then to remind yourself that being on a budget doesn't mean you have to be deprived. You can still enjoy something totally indulgent that makes you feel rich, not financially constrained. A few weeks ago I made a really terrific pumpkin "cheesecake," drizzled some morello cherries from Trader Joes on top, and let me tell you it was better than anything I could have gotten anywhere had I dined out for dinner.
 Tip Number Nine: When it comes to cosmetics and household products, use up what you have and before you buy more, look into making your own. Most of the time, homemade products are easy to make, and they are also better for the environment. Plus, if you make them yourself, you can be assured they are truly cruelty-free. I have been using my homemade detergent for quite awhile now, and I see no reason to ever go back to the store-bought kind.
Tip Number Ten: Let yourself bask how good it feels to save money and pay off debt, to have more for less, to create as much as you consume, to be a more conscientious consumer, to recognize the freedom that comes from not purchasing things you don't really need, to eat nourishing food that not only tastes good but makes you feel good too. Being on a budget can be a freedom rather than a constraint if you realize that you can actually enrich the quality of your life and not feel deprived.


Unknown said…
Thanks for the tips! I myself have found that menu planning is ESSENTIAL for budgeting and making our busy week easier.
I would also like to add that I purchased a bunch of quick "go-to" snack foods for the DH and grocery shopping for JUST his lunch foods for 4 days cost as much as shipping for a whole 8 normally does including dinner with lunch! So you are 100% right on the money with healthy home cooked meals being cheaper.