A lot of people think that plant-based eating is expensive. Makes sense, with companies (big and small) doing their very best to market their products to a fast-growing target audience. So you’ll see all kinds of vegan products advertised, from vegan cheeses and burgers to imported superfoods and nutritional supplements. What’s less visible, though, is the simple whole foods that don’t have an advertising budget: chickpeas, rice, aubergine, oranges, mushrooms, cumin, oregano…
If you stick with (mostly) whole foods, and add a bit of savvy and time into the mix, plant-based eating can be super, super affordable—possibly the cheapest option actually. You might have to make some trade-offs though: organic and fair-trade foods are sold at a premium*, so if you want to reduce your food costs in a big way, you’ll have to settle for conventionally-produced goods.
But here’s the good news: whole plant-based foods are way cheaper than meat, dairy and eggs. Try living on a ‘poverty budget’ of a dollar a day, and see what animal products you can fit in. That’s right, plant-based foods are where it’s at.
Now that you’ve made the first big move to reduce your food costs, here are 10 tips for keeping your grocery bill low:
- First up, maybe this goes without saying, but learn how to cook. Eateries typically price their meals by multiplying the cost of ingredients by four (they also have to pay rent, staff, insurance etc.).
- Make a meal plan and shopping list (or get it from me!) and plan your shop around it. Stick to the list, and only buy what you know you’ll use.
- Go to the shops when you have time and energy to compare prices and make smart choices.
- Shop around, and start training yourself to remember (ballpark) prices. You’ll be surprised by how much they differ from place to place: a store selling bulk produce vs one selling organic can have a five-fold price difference on some products (no joke!). I shop at a few different places: a low-cost fresh produce store (where I can also get away with using almost no packaging), a local Asian grocer (for spices, whole grains, legumes and tofu), supermarkets (for frozen, canned and processed foods), and a health store for more niche products (e.g. nutritional yeast, liquid smoke etc.). I also sometimes shop online for lesser-known products like tempeh and gluten flour.
- Avoid ready-made foods—buy whole foods instead, which you can prepare at home. These will inevitably be more budget-friendly, since they aren’t ‘value-added’ products. Convenience doesn’t come cheap 🙂
- For staples you know you’ll use repeatedly and that have a longer shelf life (e.g. whole grains, legumes and canned foods), buy in bulk.
- Buy dried legumes (they’re cheaper than canned). I’m a big fan of black lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and red lentils. Always have something soaking, to cook it the next day, then freeze half and refrigerate half, if you’re not using it in a recipe that day. It’s great to have cooked legumes on hand: you can add them to a stew, curry, soup or salad for a boost of protein, fibre and minerals.
- Try new foods. See what’s available: if you find something inexpensive that you’re not familiar with, look up some recipes and give it a try!
- Cook for more than one meal, and eat the leftovers for lunch, or freeze it for another day.
- On that note: use your freezer! It’s really good at preserving foods for a loooong time. You might want to invest in some decent quality airtight containers.
I know this will take some extra time out of your week: but hey, there’s a reason that convenience foods come at a premium! Challenge yourself to make a game of it. Do you have your grocery bill from last month? See how much you can reduce next month’s bill using these tips—and I’d love to hear your feedback!
* Either because the production costs are higher (third-party audits come at a price, and fairer labour conditions means paying people more), or because the brand is simply charging a premium because they know their target audience will pay it (not necessarily because their production is more ethical—this is greenwashing, it happens more than you might think).