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How Much Money I’m Actually Saving By Going (Mostly) Vegetarian

Some of you may remember a time, over the summer, when I was all “I eat much less meat now.”

Well, that’s still a thing, and if I had to put a label on it, I’d say I’m eating pescetarian right now. I still eat fish, but my default day-to-day includes zero other meats — and even fish isn’t an everyday occurrence.

Until this month, I couldn’t have told you with any great accuracy how much money it was actually saving me, because before now it was a partial, and kind of half-assed attempt at “eating more vegetables.” Last month was veggie-based, with some fish, but it was also just an oddly spendy month, with lots of hosting and other big, irregular expenses that fell into our “well, we got it at the grocery store, so…groceries?” expense category.

I know, because I checked our joint spreadsheet.

But starting now, I felt like we finally got to see a “normal” month of grocery shopping — which, yes, included a trip to Costco — and how this new pattern of ingesting food is impacting our grocery budget.

So how much money did we save?

The short answer is about $100 ($79 USD), or 1/6th of our regular grocery budget.

In a typical month, pre-this-experiment month, we’d spend almost exactly $600 ($473 USD) on food for two people. Now, we’re well under the $500 ($394 USD) mark, and even with one weekend’s worth of grocery shopping to go, I can’t see us going much over $500.

That means that in the first full, committed month, we’re saving about $100 ($79 USD).

These savings come almost entirely from the fact that we’ve cut our meat consumption in half. The Fiance still eats meat, so his diet this month was largely unchanged, while I’ve been upping my other-proteins game for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Is money why I’m doing this?

A reasonable, and totally understandable, first question people have asked when I tell them I’m eating pescetarian now, is “Why?”

What prompted this? I’ve always eaten meat, I’ve always enjoyed meat…why now? Is it just to have something to write about on the blog? (No one asks you that unless they’re another blogger, BTW.) And I wish I had a better, pithier, more concise answer for people. It’s kind of a few things, all at the same time, that make this choice make sense for me.

Animal reasons

Obviously, I love my dog, and I love other animals, too. I’ve never watched a documentary about factory farming, and to be honest, I have no interest in watching one — I know it would haunt me for the rest of my life. I know enough to know that it’s not a system I want to support, and for a long time, I knew that but didn’t take any action to stop supporting it.

Partially because I thought meat was an essential part of my diet, and I felt like I couldn’t afford more humanely farmed meats. So…nothing changed.

Health reasons

But it turns out, you can eat a healthy, balanced diet without meat. (I’m not saying everyone should, but you can.)

For me, learning a bit more about building a mostly-vegetarian diet so that it’s fully supporting my nutritional needs has been great, and has resulted in a mostly healthier overall diet. I eat more vegetables now, I focus on incorporating different sources of protein into every meal, and I’m trying different foods and cooking techniques and recipes.

Learning to get enough protein without a slab of meat on my plate has made me a more informed consumer of foods when it comes to my nutrition and my dietary needs.

And yes, money reasons

But not necessarily the ones you’re thinking about. I’m lucky (very lucky!) to be in a place where I am not in desperate need of finding that $100 savings in my budget, although it obviously doesn’t hurt. If I was only doing this to save money, I probably would have already quit.

When I say money reasons, I mean that this set of choices (mostly vegetables, eggs, and dairy, with some fish) gives me a better ability to vote with my dollars. We have the wiggle room to buy the roam-free eggs every week. I personally know that no chickens, cows, or pigs are being mistreated because of my purchases.

And if I decide to incorporate meat back into my diet, we have the wiggle room in our budget to support local farmers with humane farming practices. Which yes, becomes really expensive if you eat meat every day, in huge portions…but that’s not how I eat anymore.

What about special occasions?

This was hands-down my biggest concern, and the reason I hemmed and hawed so much about the whole thing going into it. Am I really going to skip turkey at Thanksgiving? Am I really going to opt out of ham at Christmas? I couldn’t imagine doing it, so I figured my answer would be “I’m vegetarian when it’s convenient,” and still eat the family meal at Thanksgiving.

Except…I didn’t do that.

Thanksgiving

This year, we had two family Thanksgiving meals. One of them was untraditional, to say the least — we ate tacos, and it was amazing. That was as easy as bringing some black beans, and probably over-eating the guac.

For the more traditional meal, I had some family support in the form of vegetarian gravy (thanks, Mom!) and other than that, enjoyed the variety of vegetable dishes available as sides, plus pie. Always pie.

I also made deviled eggs as an appetizer to sneak in some protein, and I made sure to eat more protein earlier in the day to make up for a meal that was, let’s be real, a veiled excuse to eat my weight in potatoes.

Christmas

Ham is like, my one true weakness in life. I am literally the person who goes back for an uncomfortable amount of servings of ham at Christmas…but honestly, after seeing how easy the turkey was to pass up at Thanksgiving, I don’t think it’ll be an issue.

I’m going to really double down on my strategy of focusing on bringing delicious foods I can eat, and the fact that most desserts, and all wines, are meat-free. There’s a whole world of calories to consume at holiday meals, and it’s just one day.

I want to try this — where should I start?

While I have to admit I’ve bought a few different cookbooks, mostly because I love reading cookbooks, a lot of my favorite recipes have come from (shocker) the internet.

If you’re trying to incorporate more vegetable-based meals into your life, check out the vegetarian section of Budget Bytes, basically everything Minimalist Baker has ever posted, and to be honest, search on Pinterest. You can find great vegetarian recipes in general, and great roundups of recipes for things like “vegetarian holiday recipes” if you need something specific.

Beyond all that, I really think that the one thing that made this easier than anything else was relying heavily on bowl-based meals. Grain bowls, big salads, you name it. All you really need is a big bowl and then…

  • A grain you like (or salad green you like)
  • One or two proteins you like (beans, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc.)
  • Two or three veggies you like
  • Other toppings you enjoy (spicy eggplant is bae)
  • Dressing

You can totally customize it to suit what’s available, what you like, and what you need to hit your nutritional needs for the day. You can get really fancy, or really basic. Bowls are the best.

Is this forever?

Nothing is forever, pals. This might be A Phase! It might be something I do for years. Who knows? But what I do know is that for now, this feels like a sustainable, healthy choice that helps me spend my money in line with what I value, and helps me avoid financial support for things I don’t.

Which is a good thing.

Plus, hey, I’m never going to say no to an extra $100 a month of wiggle room in our budget. We do have a wedding to pay for next summer, after all.

Desirae blogs about money at Half Banked, and spends altogether too much time on Twitter. She takes “money nerd,” “no chill” and “crazy dog lady” as compliments. 

Image via Unsplash

  • Rose Douglas

    “I personally know that no chickens, cows, or pigs are being mistreated because of my purchases.”
    Seriously? Please research how dairy and eggs are produced. They all come from similar, if not worse, factory farming conditions. Animals are tortured for years to get these products.

    • Chelsea

      Agree that she should look into the dairy and egg industries, but be nice about it – the vast majority of people don’t know how those industries operate. The author obviously cares about animals and is taking a huge step in that direction

    • Rosie

      I agree with Chelsea. Be nice. I’m vegan, but you’re not going to convince anyone by be patronising and scathing in your approach. The fact that she’s gone veggie is fantastic, and vegans need to get away from this “everyone needs to be perfect” stance. Some things are good enough, and you will be able to convince more people with “good enough” than the idea that they have to be perfect all of the time. We all went through our own journey to find a place that we’re comfortable, and she’s finding hers in the same way that you’ve found yours and I’ve found mine.

    • Scarletbee

      It’s easy to not know this stuff, and it’s for sure a problem, but unkindness never changed anyone’s mind.

      My own transition from vege to vegan came about as I gradually found out more about food processes. I moved from casual-vege (ate dairy and eggs) to more strict (realising that a lot of cheese and yoghurt still contained stuff like rennet and gelatine and not eating it when I was out unless I knew it was the definitely-vege stuff), then to organic dairy only (because those industries avoided early birth induction etc), to no-dairy vege (because I realised that the dairy industry and the meat industry inextricably fed into each other, calves taken from milking cows for veal, shortened lifespans etc), then stopped with the eggs (because I’d realised that even the free-range eggs I’d been buying for years meant bad things for male chicks at the start of the whole process etc). It took a couple of years, to be honest, and was a slow process of realisation and understanding what would, and would not, fit with the ethical framework I was trying to apply to my consumption.

      These days, it’s a vegan diet, and fair trade choices where possible (eg bananas, coffee, tea, chocolate), avoiding fast fashion and overpackaging to try best to avoid funding human and animal suffering or exploitation with my purchases, and to minimise environmental impact. It’s not even hard once it’s a habit, and a gradual transition made it easier to make and *keep* habits vs trying to do it all at once. I miss being able to easily buy wine without having to go to a particular shop (wine labelling being, broadly, useless at establishing if it was fined with milk/egg/fishbits), but I live in one of those craft beer paradises so it’s no great loss when going out.

    • I didn’t read your comment as rude. People get so defensive about veganism/vegetarianism at the mere mention of it.

  • I pretty much love everything Desirae writes. It feels like a conversation I have with friends — so straightforward, friendly, & helpful.

    • Holly Trantham

      She is great 🙂

  • Chelsea

    You go girl. Welcome to the veg fam

  • Wolf

    “This might be A Phase! It might be something I do for years. Who knows”

    That’s how I started, too. I thought: I want to try this for two weeks. No pressure.
    It’s been seven years now, and I still enjoy being vegetarian. It just works with my health, and my budget.

    my main reason was: I was a student, and broke. A 1€ box of carrots or beans at the local marketplace is nice. A 1€ box of meat is most probably poor quality.

  • The plant-based posse (PBP) is always accepting new members 🙂
    Another great article, Desirae! I really enjoy your writing style.