The biggest obstacle some face when it comes to going 100% vegan is their belief that a diet composed primarily of fresh produce will be significantly more expensive than a diet composed of pre-packaged foods, meat and animal products.
This is not necessarily true; however, you will need to buy a LOT of fresh produce if you are mostly raw, because uncooked whole foods have fewer calories than cooked and pre-packaged foods. But you can spend as much or as little as you want. It’s up to you. You may even find that, once you stop purchasing pre-packaged foods like cereal, sugar, milk and ready meals, you are actually spending less money on food. Despite popular belief, pre-packaged foods are not cheaper than whole foods.
No matter how modest your food budget may be, you will find that saving money on whole fresh foods can be quite easy. The following tried and true tips and tricks are a good start:
A shopping list is very important for helping you prioritize your spending. Always itemize foods in order of necessity, with your NEEDS at the top of the list. These are the foods that you eat most often, and which have the most nutrients and calories. Needs should be followed by wants. Wants are less important, less nutrient and calorie dense foods that you eat less often. And remember to also budget for “tryouts” – foods you’ve never eaten before, but would like to try. Set aside a few dollars once or twice a month to spend on a new food that catches your eye at the market. You never know what may become your next “need” food. Eating a wide variety of foods is very important for vegans. Which brings me to…
Buy Local and In Season
If you buy locally and in season, not only will you feel encouraged to eat a wider variety of produce throughout the year, but you will save a significant amount of money as well. In season foods, even in the “Super Stores”, are far cheaper and more plentiful than out of season foods.
Shop Farmers Markets
Farmers markets are a great place to cut deals on fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. And if you offer to buy their ripest produce you can save even more. I know folks who wait till the end of the day and offer to buy whatever is left for a huge discount. I’ve even heard of farmers selling leftover produce for next to nothing, so they don’t have to transport it all back home. So, a little patience may lead to huge savings for you.
Go Straight to the Source
Farmers, when they sell through super markets and even farmers markets, lose a percentage of their profit to middle men. In the case of super markets, more than one middleman must be paid. But when you buy direct from them, and transport it from their farm to your home, you save them gasoline and time as well. As a result, they can be more flexible with their pricing and you can buy a LOT more for less. So, don’t be afraid to ring up some of your area farmers and cut a deal for the foods you eat most. It’s an arrangement that will benefit you both.
Buy In Bulk
Even if you aren’t fortunate enough to live near any farms or farmers markets, you will save a significant amount of money when you buy in bulk. Keep in mind that you should not buy things that you don’t eat very often in bulk, unless you know that you and your family can eat it all before it goes bad, or you have friends and family who are willing to make bulk purchases with you. The more you buy at once the more you will save per item.
Some foods are especially cheap when you buy them in bulk – mangoes and bananas, for example. You can call ahead to find out which stores in your area are willing to give you bulk discounts on your “need” foods before you leave home. This will save you both time and money.
Join or Form a Co-op
As I said before, you can save big if you buy in bulk with others. If there are no co-ops in your area, get proactive and start your own. I’m sure you have friends and family who also want to eat healthier and save money, even if they aren’t vegans, so start with them.
Start a Garden
If you have a backyard, you have the means to grow some of your own foods. Of course, where you live and how much space you have will determine what and how much you can grow. Even if you can only grow a season’s worth of one food item, that’s money well saved.
Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
A CSA allows people who reside in cities to have direct access to high quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers. When you become a member of a CSA, you are basically buying a “share” of fruits and vegetables from regional farmers.
CSA members pay for an entire season of produce upfront (fees are usually $200-$600). This early bulk payment enables your farmer to plan for the season, purchase seed, make equipment repairs, etcetera. Shares usually include 7-10 types of vegetables, enough for a family of 2-3 people. Most CSAs also offer half shares for smaller households and people who frequently eat out.
You will receive your produce shares either weekly or bi-weekly, usually from June until October or November. The farmers will deliver those shares to a convenient drop-off location in your area. I’m fortunate, in that I have more than a dozen CSA farmers in my general area, and a CSA pickup point in my zip code. To find a CSA in your neck of the woods visit: localharvest.org
Even if you can’t be bothered to do any of the rest, you can save quite a bit of money at the market by shopping during sales. This is also a good time to buy in bulk and offer to purchase the ripest produce for an even bigger price reduction. You can get even better deals by using coupons, and not just for seeds and nuts. You can find fresh and frozen produce coupons in store circulars or print them off the web.
Well known stores like Walmart, Kroger and Aldi’s, and even some regional produce chains, have made their sale ads available online (some in PDF form), but it’s also a good idea to collect or print out hard copies. Since you don’t want to waste time and gasoline going from store to store to store, trying to get the best price on each and every item on your list, go to the stores that have most of what you need and bring along ads from the other stores to negotiate better prices on the rest. When you come across an item that’s cheaper at a competing store request a price match. Most stores are more than happy to steal a purchase from their competition.
If you have an Asian and/or Mexican market in your town, you may wish to pay them a visit as well. They usually have great deals on fresh produce and you may discover foods that are not readily available at your standard American market. Jicama, a very nutritious and tasty legume that resembles a large potato, is a great example. I first discovered them in a Mexican market in my hometown. FYI, they taste terrific raw!
What About Organic Produce?
If you can afford to buy organic produce, you definitely should. Organic produce is better (safer) for you. If you cannot afford to purchase only organic produce, prioritize. Some foods are more likely to be contaminated with pesticide residue than others.
The Raw Foods Most Likely To Be Contaminated:
Apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, (imported) nectarines, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, domestically grown Summer squash, kale and collard greens.
The Raw Foods Least Likely To Be Contaminated:
Onions, corn, asparagus, eggplant, kiwi, pineapple, avocados, cabbage, (frozen) sweet peas, papayas, mangoes, grapefruit, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms.
If you can afford to buy all of the “most likely” items organic, that is terrific. If you can’t, you can at least lessen the amount of pesticide residue you consume by washing your produce with one of the many natural and organic produce washes on the market, or even a bit of dish washing liquid. You may want to thoroughly wash the organic produce as well. Including the frozen ones.
A few years back, it was discovered that bags of organic frozen berries known as the “Organic Antioxidant Blend” and packaged by Townsend Farms – but processed overseas in three separate countries, were contaminated with Hepatitis A. Many who ate the contaminated fruit were infected with the virus. As you may already know, there is no cure for Hepatitis A. I don’t want to create a sense of paranoia regarding food, but you need to be aware that just because something is labeled “organic” doesn’t mean that it was properly handled and processed by disease-free individuals. So, exercise a little due diligence and thoroughly WASH IT ALL.
Overall, you can save a lot of money by eating a whole food diet. There is far less room (if any) for negotiating prices on preservative filled pre-packaged foods. Also, studies have shown that vegetarian and vegan diets can greatly improve health and well-being, which means fewer visits to your doctor’s office and possibly eliminating expensive medications.
The most prescribed pharmaceutical drugs today are designed to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, treat diabetes, angina and other health problems linked to poor diet and lifestyle choices. And despite all the pill popping, the number one killer of Americans is still heart disease, followed closely by cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases and stroke. So, eating a vegan diet, or simply eating more produce, can save you more than just money, it could also save your life.
“Cholesterol and Heart Disease”. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, n.d. Web. December 2016
Worth, Tammy/ “8 Smart Reasons to Go Vegan for Heart Health”. Everyday Health, March 23, 2016. Web. December 2016
“Dirty Dozen”. EWG Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce, 2016. Web. December 2016