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7 Tips I Used To Go Vegan Without Going Broke

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I’ll fully admit it — I’m the type of vegan that mentions they’re vegan within five minutes of meeting you. It’s a pretty common joke, but I can’t help it! I am rather enthusiastic about being vegan (plus, I am always turning down offers of treats). I’ve never expected or asked my friends to go vegan, but I do try to set a really good example and show how beneficial and easy it really can be. One of the biggest hesitations I’ve noticed around veganism is that it is supposedly expensive. It can definitely seem that way, based on some of the popular depictions of veganism in mainstream and social media.

That said, a diet on a vegan lifestyle is no different than one on an omnivore lifestyle — the quality of food and variety of cuisine available to you may change, depending on your budget, but it’s possible. Before the comments flood in: Yes, I know that not everyone can go vegan. Don’t worry, I’m not going to “force” anyone to be vegan. But that doesn’t mean I can’t provide guidelines on how to make veganism or vegetarianism an easier transition for those who have been afraid to try!

Now, when I went vegan, I was a university graduate and employed full-time, albeit with a very pitiful salary, and living in a major city. So, my circumstances were specific to those factors. With that in mind, I’ve tried to formulate some bits of advice that don’t necessarily revolve around spending $X per week, but rather ones that are adaptable to various budgets.

Here are some elements you should consider if money is stopping you from going vegan:

1. Learn to like (and cook) tofu.

Unless you have a soy allergy, tofu really can’t be beaten as a vegan source of protein. Tofu by itself is incredibly neutral, and adaptable to a number of flavors, textures, and cooking methods. This delightful little block of potential usually costs less than $2 for firm (extra-firm costs a bit more, but in my experience, there’s little difference) at a conventional grocery store, and when properly drained and pressed, it can be dry-fried into a crispy, tender treat that you can add to any salad (or eat on its own).

2. Don’t try to live your life like a food blogger.

It’s easy to think that veganism is expensive, especially when it’s primarily associated with #cleaneating Instagram accounts where the blogger requires $20 worth of produce just to dress a smoothie bowl for a photo shoot. Look, we all know the truth about social influencers by now. It does not matter if your food looks good or not. Smoothie bowls are just smoothies that are harder to eat, with twice the ingredients for you to buy, and buying a $2 bunch of cilantro literally just for the purpose of garnish is stupid.

3. Don’t fall for “super foods” and other health trends.

Many popular vegan voices focus not just on plant-based dieting but on “clean” eating lifestyles that involve minimal (to no) intake of processed foods, gluten, soy, or anything else deemed the Scary Food Of The Week (I hear corn is apparently a big threat because it’s “in everything”). They also promote foods that tend to be way more expensive, even if only slightly more nutritious. Kale is great, but spinach has most of what you need. Same goes for almond butter — yeah, it’s good for you, but peanut butter is fine (unless you’re allergic), and can be found in dollar stores. And, just in case you need to be reminded that gluten doesn’t come from an animal, well, it doesn’t, it’s not terrible for you if you’re not celiac, and seitan is a beautiful thing that will make your life better.

4. Avoid falling for expensive gimmicks just because they’re vegan.

For the first year of my veganism, I found myself on a quest to find the perfect vegan cheese, before realizing that there’s no point in replacing cheese (which is ultimately just a topping) instead of just learning to accept life without cheese. The same goes for the Vegan Egg, which I found disappointing and not cost-effective. If you live in Toronto like me, you’ve probably heard of places like Hogtown Vegan (famous for its “unchicken” and waffles) or Doomie’s (of Vegan Big Mac fame), where a junk food meal doesn’t exactly come with a junk price tag (note: they’re not necessarily more expensive than non-vegan restaurants in their respective areas, but they’re still an expense). These novelties are great if you want to entertain your non-vegan friends, but making these purchases a regular occurrence will hurt you in the long run.

5. No, you don’t need to shop at Whole Foods (or Lush).

There are very few vegan alternatives you can’t buy at conventional grocery stores these days — plant milk and tofu are available almost everywhere, and many major grocery chains carry products like Earth Balance (a delicious vegan butter alternative) and Veganaise. Whenever I’m in the U.S., Target always gives me way more exciting vegan options than the U.S. Whole Foods. For my partner and I, most of our shopping is done at conventional and discount grocery stores, bulk stores and produce stands, with only occasional trips to specialty grocers. While vegan toiletry products can be a tad pricier than their non-vegan counterparts, brands such as Kiss My Face, Alba Botanicals and Pacifica hold a bit more of a reasonable price tag (and are increasingly found in standard stores).

6. Buy and/or make soup.

There truly is no better comfort food, especially once the temperature dips. While making your own soup tends to be more cost-effective (especially because soup is so freezer-friendly), canned vegetable-based soup is also a decent option. You can also save even more by saving your veggie scraps in the freezer (think the end-knobs of onions, Brussels sprouts, carrots, etc.) and boiling them to make your own broth.

7. Don’t replace your old, non-vegan things until you actually have to.

This is a tendency that results from a combination of over-enthusiasm, love of shopping and, of course, guilt. Carrying around an old leather purse or continuing to use your bottle of Herbal Essences may make you feel like a fraud, but going out and buying another new purse (or bottle of shampoo) is wasteful of your own money, and also a big “fuck you” to the environment in most cases. Be patient, forgive yourself, and do what you can.

Bree Rody-Mantha is a business journalist and dance teacher living in Toronto. In her spare time, she enjoys sport climbing, lifting, and running the vegan food blog Urban Garlic

  • Violaine

    I love this!! I eat vegan about 90% of the time (vegetarian if I eat out – there’s no vegan option in restaurants, unless I drag all my friends to a vegan only restaurant miles away…) and it’s not that difficult. People are baffled and ask “but what do you eat??” and the answer is always “the same as you, without the animal products”. Sure, a bit more chickpeas and vegetable but it’s actually fairly easy to eat vegan on a budget!

    • Mary Harman

      When I first became a vegetarian and I’d come home from university, my mom would always say, “I’m so sorry—we don’t having anything vegetarian!” And it’s like “…Everything not in the meat drawer will work just fine!” It’s so foreign to those who haven’t tried, but it’s really not that difficult to do!

      • Violaine

        Haha! To be fair, many times I went to people’s homes for dinner and they say “So I know you don’t eat meat, so you can’t eat this, but I made you one with chicken!!” (or ham, or whatever) And they look so happy they’ve made me something “without meat” because… chicken, not meat, right??!!

        • Summer

          Lol. That’s like people who “don’t eat meat” but happily order fish. What is it about swimming instead of walking that makes the flesh of a fish somehow not meat?!

  • WHYYYY is money the first thing to come up when someone mentions veganism on a blog? Meat, dairy, and eggs are the most expensive ingredient in a diet not plants. Constantly talking about how you can “go vegan without going broke” reinforces this idea that it will be more expensive to give up animal products than less expensive. Pulses, lentils, beans – these can all be bought in bulk, for cheap, and stored indefinitely, and vegetables are way cheaper compared to meat and dairy.

    • Anni

      I think this mostly comes up because atleast in the western world, there is a pretty big overlap between vegans and people conscious about how their food is manufactured (organic / locally grown etc). Most vegetarians / vegans I personally know are more concerned about where their food comes from than non vegans and vegetarians – which means that typically they are sourcing more expensive food. A lot of people in these articles end up comparing someone who shops expensive / “organic etc” vegan with someone who with a omnivore diet who doesn’t mind getting a pack of 6 chicken thighs on the bone at Costco for $2.60.

  • Jack

    Veganism + Financial Diet = my fave things!!
    I definitely fell into the Lush trap after going vegan and have tried to dial it back. Who can afford to take $7 bubble baths?! There are so many good points on here I just want to shout YES YES YES! Definitely checking out your blog, and hit me up on insta, @the.vancity.vegans

  • honkytonkdreams

    Awesome post! And based on the number of taco recipes you have on your blog, I will certainly taking cooking advice from you! 🙂 I also find it refreshing to hear someone else who also actively dislikes vegan cheese and “chickin'” substitutes. It took me a long time to realize as a vegan or vegetarian that it’s so easy to carb-load with junk food to feel full, no matter its form (hello french fries.) Having to use lentils and legumes as a main protein base really broadened the types of cuisines I eat – I’ve learned so many more Middle Eastern and Indian dishes that are way easier, cheaper, flavorful and filling to make!

  • Diana

    As a vegan for many years, in my experience, the most expensive vegan items are the meat and dairy substitutes that are not even real food/that no-one should be eating whether they are vegan or not. Meat and dairy substitutes are mostly highly processed chemically concocted Frankenfoods that taste like shit and poison the body. I’ve never understood why people who don’t want to eat cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, fish, etc., have no problem eating gross, unhealthy “substitutes”. Lush cosmetics are full of toxic petro chemicals, artificial colors, fragrances, and irritating preservatives. Lush is as far from “natural” as you can get. Read labels. If you can’t pronounce it, more than likely you don’t want it in your food or on your skin. The number ONE rule for anyone who is or wants to go vegan is to remember that just because it is vegan does NOT make it personally or environmentally healthy or ethically sourced. Payless Shoe Source sells plastic shoes for sometimes less than 10 bucks. Who do you think made those shoes for 20 cents an hour? Usually a child laborer. Plastic never biodegrades and is a toxic nightmare for the planet. So YES, keep your leather because it’s gonna last a hell of a lot longer, and in my analysis, leather is better for the planet than plastic. There are no perfect answers for people wanting to reduce harm to animals and the environment and veganism certainly is one of the best ways to do it, but don’t be fooled/get a big head because you’re (anyone) vegan and therefore you are removed from the “food chain” of modern life in 2016 because that is not reality. Every single product, everything we use in our homes, cars, offices, and every food we consume, whether vegan or not, has costs to the planet, other humans, and other animals and we all pay the price directly or indirectly.

  • SN

    Yayyy finally, a non-meat centered food post! I am very surprised that this hasn’t come up yet on a website geared towards being fiscally and socially responsible.

    I love this. I started eating vegetarian this year and could not be happier with my cooking at home. No more throwing away rotten chicken, no more having to scour pans and cutting boards that have touched meat, no more buying meat in bulk or from sketchy farms just to make it affordable.

    My ~tips~: Chickpeas and avocados and yep, flax will get you where you need on nutrients. Although spinach is technically more nutritious, I think kale is such a great green to cook with because it stands up to heat and is delicious when crispy. Thai peanut butter sauce is your best friend. And I know it’s weird, but the Italian tofurkey is the BEST!

  • Thank you for sharing these tips, I was one of those people who was intimidated by a vegan lifestyle due to the costs. But now I’m more willing to try it out!

  • Differentli

    I’ve found myself spending even less money on food since going vegan, dried beans, lentils and pulses are an incredibly cheap substitute that are delicious with great texture! A mixture of chilli’s, curry’s, soups, homemade fries etc can all be frozen and reheated at will meaning batch cooking is even easier and with no risk of food poisoning! It’s all of the novelty things that cost money- out of season fruit, vegan sausages, vegan white/ milk chocolate, vegan biscuits and cakes – if they’ve gone to the effort of putting ‘vegan’ on the packaging you can bet it will cost more!
    The key to making eating in general cheap is to learn how to cook and eat out less. The more you make from scratch, the better!