One of the biggest concerns people have when switching to a vegan diet is that it will be expensive. Yes, maybe so, but there are two ways of looking at this. One, you’re buying real food that is high quality, so you get what you pay for. And two, you’re worth it. Don’t ever skimp when it comes to your health. If you buy organic ingredients, you’re not only taking care of your own body, but you’re also taking care of the entire ecosystem in which the food grew: the soil that is enriched, the bees and butterflies that helped pollinate the plants, and the farmers who grew it without exposing themselves to toxins. While that may cost more, what you pay for is more than just a quick meal; it is voting for what you believe in with your hard-earned dollar.
That said, there are ways to stretch the cash without feeling deprived or needing to clip coupons (most of which are for chemical-laden junk you don’t need anyway!). Here are some of my secret methods for getting the most for your money.
- Buy in bulk. Grains, dried beans, nuts, seeds, dried herbs and spices are always cheapest when you purchase from the bulk bins. Take as much or as little as you need. If your recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of cumin, just put that amount in a little baggie instead of buying an entire jar which may get stale before you use it up. If there’s a sale, stock up! All of these items can be stored in your own jars on pantry shelves or in the fridge.
- Shop local and in season. When there’s an abundance of seasonal produce, it’s usually at its cheapest. Buy as much as you can afford, then freeze whatever you can’t eat to enjoy later in the year.
- Make friends with a farmer/gardener. While farmers markets aren’t always the cheapest way to shop for groceries, sometimes you can get bargains on those seconds that get picked over by everyone else. I’ve actually scored a huge box of produce -- for FREE -- during the last few minutes when the farmer was packing up his truck.
- Hunt for “secret sales”. Many people spend Sunday afternoons scouring store circulars for coupons and specials. That’s a start, but what I really mean is look for those “secret sales.” My independent grocery store offers a 10% discount on cases of canned goods and cereal, and because I shop there on nearly a daily basis, I get 10% off of everything. They key is it never hurts to ask. They want your business and would prefer that you don’t give it to the big box retailers.
- Join a co-op or buying club. Sometimes mail order pricing is closer to wholesale than retail. If you can find a few friends to shop online with, you can split the shipping costs and save big bucks. A good place to look is United Natural Foods UNFI on-line (http://www.unitedbuyingclubs.com/).
- Mail order. If you need a bunch of pantry staples like peanut butter, olive oil, condiments, and even those few splurges like Sweet & Sara marshmallows, online retailers like Vegan Essentials are sometimes cheaper than grocery stores. Plus they often have sales on discontinued items or new products.
- Cook in quantity. I often designate Sunday as my batch cooking day for making huge pots of soups, stews, and grains that can be eaten later in the week or even frozen. It’s not only economical, but it saves time and energy as well.
- Grow your own. A community garden is one of the cheapest ways to grow produce for yourself and your family by maximizing yield and minimizing labor and expense. If you only have room for a few pots of plants out on a windowsill, growing your own greens, herbs, edible flowers, and sprouts can save money on some typically expensive ingredients. And whatever you don’t use right away can either be dried or frozen for later.
- Save seeds and cuttings. The veggies we get from the grocery store are still alive and some will continue to grow. When you’ve cut off the leaves of your head of Romaine, you can pop the stem end in a shallow dish of water and it will sprout new leaves. (just remember to change the water every day) Onions and celery will grow shoots that can be cut and used in your soups and sautes, and tops of beets and turnips will sprout greens that are highly nutritious.