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Going Vegan on a Budget

Guest post from Angela of The Coupon Project

I’ve always said you could eat healthy on a budget, but in February, I decided to actually live out that belief. For an entire month, I decided I would shop, cook, and eat as a vegan. Our monthly budget of $350 for a family of four would stay the same, and my kids would continue to eat some dairy and meat.

Not only did we meet our budget for the month, we actually came $23 under budget! Today I wanted to share with you some of what I learned about saving money on a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Especially since much of what I learned could be useful for any diet.

Start with a Meal Plan.

I began by collecting vegan cookbooks from my library, building a Pinterest board, and finding vegan blogs to follow. At the start of each week, I would come up with 4 or 5 recipes for dinners. I would then turn the meal plan into a shopping list, and add in breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

Learn to Cook from Scratch. 

For the most part, I avoided pre-packaged and convenience foods. Instead, I learned how to make my own foods including almond milk and vegetable broth. Not only did this save money, it was more nutritious.

Discover Bulk Foods!

If you’ve never paid attention to the bulk foods section of your grocery or health food store, give it a chance! It’s a great way to save when you just need small amounts of a particular ingredient (or large amounts). For example, we spent about $1.60 for a decent sized bag of steel cut oats, $0.08 for the fennel seed I needed to make vegan sausages, and about $0.50 for a few dried apricots for a couscous recipe.

Shop with Cash.

My husband and I recently started applying Dave Ramsey’s cash envelope method for budgeting our groceries. Can I tell you what a difference this has made? When you realize that all you have to buy your food is the cash in your wallet, you make better decisions. I found myself filling up my cart with produce and whole grains first. I also found that shopping with cash made me want to choose the foods that were most nutritionally dense and that could stretch our dollar further.

Shop once per Week.

When I limit my shopping to just one day per week, it becomes clearer to me which deals will really benefit my family most, and which I can pass by. Shopping once a week also helps me stick to my meal plan! See how all these things begin to work in concert?

Here’s an added bonus: for the month of February, we spent well under half of what we usually do eating out! Whether or not you are a vegan, I challenge you to implement some of what I learned above into your own routine.

Angela Russell founded her blog, The Coupon Project, in 2009 where she teaches a sensible approach to couponing. She lives with her firefighter husband and two children, Keefe, and Piper, in Tacoma, Washington. She hasn’t gone back to eating meat or dairy yet…

photo source

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  • Sporksoma says:

    Be careful with vegan diets and small children; most pediatricians do not recommend small children be fed vegan diets because lots of the nutrients they get from dairy products (vegan cuts out all dairy products; if you’re not cutting dairy, you’re not doing vegan) can’t be made up in other areas, even if you make sure to give them vitamin supplements. Before you start a new diet for your children, always check with their doctor. 🙂 And *never* put a cat or dog on a vegan diet, because they get all their nutrients from the proteins and lean fats they take in.

    Glad to hear this worked out well for you. My family will not be cutting out meat, nor would we want to, but there are always ways to save money and eat healthy. You just don’t get to eat as much as you might otherwise lol

    • Amy says:

      I agree, but she said her kids would continue eating some dairy and meat.

      I also agree that we won’t be cutting out all meat either. 🙂 that’s not the only way to eat healthy!

      • Elizabeth says:

        I agree that you should be careful about the diet of any small child (vegan or otherwise) and I also agree that most pediatricians wouldn’t recommend it, but neither would most doctors recommend vegan diets in geneal. Medical doctors only get a few weeks of nutrition training in medical school so you should be talking to a trained naturopath or nutritionist familiar with a vegan diet, not necessarily your pediatrican. Watch the documentary “Forks over Knives” which is excellent and available on netflix if you would like to get some more information on the medical basis for a vegan diet. Most doctors, including pediatricans, are not cooroperative or supportive of a vegan diet which is too bad. The food production and medical industry are motivated by keeping people healthy, but also hugely by other factors which sometimes conflict with that goal. The “SAD” diet (Standard American Diet) is obviously not working because a huge percentage of americans are obese, diabetic, have high cholesterol and many other degenerative diseases that have increased in proportion to the amount of processed foods americans are eating. These problems are increasingly effecting even young children. My son is 2 1/2 and has always eaten a vegan diet (except for butter and occasionally farm eggs). He has never had cheese, milk, meat, etc. He is growing normally, has tons of energy and is almost never sick. Our friends children, who eat a more typical american diet, are sick all of the time. My son goes to church nursery, mops group and plays with other children all of the time so he is getting exposed to the same things these other children are he just doesn’t get sick. He has only had a fever once in his entire life (for a couple hours), never had to take antibiotics or medicine of any kind, never had to go to the doctor because he has been sick and has only been mildly sick a couple of times for a day or two. I think this is directly related to his diet which is whole foods and plant based. He doesn’t eat sugar, white flour, meat, dairy or anything processes (with the exception of the occasional cereal snack at church). He loves vegetables and will eat pretty much any veggie you put in front of him. He didn’t even want any of his birthday cake this year (which I did make with sugar) because he’d already eaten his veggies and was full.

        • Holly says:

          I applaud you for caring so much for your children that you inspect their dietary choices fully!

          That said, another reason your son may be so healthy is because in choosing a vegan diet, you are basically cutting out a lot of the chemicals and antibiotics that people who do eat a SAD diet get on a daily basis. I have chosen to do the same thing, but still eat the occasional meat. By choosing locally grown, organic veggies, locally produced, grass fed meat, pasture raised chickens and cutting out as many GMOs as possible, people can be very healthy, too!

          You are so blessed that he loves his veggies! I have three girls, the first of which has always loved veggies and the other two have gotten increasingly picky over the years. We belong to a CSA and even go to the farm, but they won’t eat them. We even grow our own veggies and I let them help me make their food. No go. They are not as picky as many kids, but compared to my 11 yr old who will eat any veggie you put in front of her and ask for more, these two little ones only like broccoli, beans, peas, and spinach. Weirdness. All we can do as moms is keep up to date with the newest research and keep as much of the bad stuff out of our kids’ mouths as possible. A lifelong journey, I’m sure! 🙂

          Keep up the great work!

        • Angela R says:

          Thanks for your comments! I too highly recommend Forks Over Knives…very insightful, and well done. I’ve watched it a few times.

          I did meet with my medical doctor and she didn’t seem to have any concerns. Should I continue this path, I may well meet with a nutritionist. As always, it’s good to be informed and take care when we change up our diets. 😉

        • Charlene Darko-Packham says:

          THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR CAREFULLY CRAFTED, WELL RESEARCHED RESPONSE. There is so much misinformation and misconceptions about veganism.

    • Angela R says:

      Hi Sporksoma, please do note that I did NOT put my kids on this diet as stated above. We also don’t have pets. However, I will say this – more people should be concerned about their kids’ diets in general. With childhood obesity on the rise, fast food everywhere and the concerns emerging about pink slime, I think it’s time we all take a serious look at our diets and the quality of food we’re serving our loved ones.

      I did inform my doctor of my diet and she had nothing negative to say about it. There is more that can be said about how a vegan diet can be healthful, but I don’t feel that this forum is the place to debate this. 😉 My goal was to share how one wishing to move to eating a plant-based or specialty diet might do so without breaking the bank.

      Also, there are things that I learned that would be beneficial for ANY diet. I hope that those takeaways are helpful. Thank you for your comments.

      • Amy says:

        i appreciated your article! i hope i didn’t sound like i was trying to debate because that was not my intentions, i simply wanted to restate what you said about your kids. 🙂 although i have no plans of trying vegan (NOT because i have anything against it), i do appreciate how you set up a challenge by proving your health does not have to cost as much as it may seem! i’ve been thinking of what i can do to challenge myself in a similar way! 🙂 thank you! 🙂

        • Angela R says:

          Hi Amy – yes, I completely appreciate you pointing that out! I didn’t put my kids on this diet.

          Thank you so much – and again, the big part of why I did this was to show how eating healthfully – however that may look to a given family – can be done. I wanted to show it, not just say it. 😉

      • Sporksoma says:

        I’m sorry, Angela, I didn’t mean to imply that you had put your kids on there. I see “vegan diet” and my initial reaction is to tell people to talk to their doctor before putting kids on there, because I had a friend who switched from a regular diet to vegan and switched the kids, the pets, everything. The dog died from malnutrition and the child wound up on life support in the hospital because he had lost so much weight (he was only 3 years old!) because she cut out all dairy and meats. He wasn’t getting enough nutrition. It is VERY scary to me and very worrisome when people talk about putting kids on any sort of diet, but I didn’t mean to imply that you had done that with your kids; I simply wanted to let people know straight off to talk to their doctor (or a nutritionist, as was suggested) before making a diet change, especially with children. 🙂

        • Angela R says:

          Perfect – we are on the same page. Yup, I wouldn’t do it without the consult of a doctor for the children. I will say this – I was very careful in how I approached this. To me to do this healthfully it wasn’t just about what I wasn’t eating so much as what I was.

          Thank you so much for chiming in!

          • Sporksoma says:

            I think that just switching your diet from processed foods (like Kraft and Hamburger Helper and such) to whole foods (including cooking from scratch), using dairy as a condiment (dairy is so fattening and full of calories, even if it does have lots of good nutrients), eating whole wheat and multigrain instead of white, and cutting your portions is probably just the best advice for any diet. Whole foods are better for you, especially ones that are all natural or organic, grown and produced without pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, preservatives, etc. I don’t do vegan and I won’t do vegan, but anyone can be healthy (of course, that’s assuming they have ACCESS to the foods we’re talking about; I’m sure Crystal learned a little something about access to fresh and healthy foods and clean water while she was in the DR last week! Not everyone has access to whole foods). 🙂 🙂

        • Elizabeth says:

          Sporksoma – It is understandable since you had that situation happen to a friend that you would want to warn people, but I question what kind of vegan diet this friend was on? I don’t know your friends situation (and I am not trying to judge, but I find it very hard to believe that the action of just cutting out dairy and meats would cause a child (or anyone) to lose weight to a level that it would put them on life support. It seems to me that there was something else going on with that child’s health because simply removing meat and dairy from a childs diet should not cause this. However, if the foods the child was eating were not primarily a balanced variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, etc. or were processed, or the child simly was not eating enough it could cause healthy issues. Also I would encourage anyone making any diet change to be alert for any negative effects it seems to be causing before it gets to the point of extreme weight loss or hospitalization. I would not encourage anyone to put their child on a vegan diet without consulting trusted experts (whether that be a doctor, naturopath or nutritionist), and doing a great deal of research. I also think no one should do anything they are uncomfortable with. As parents we can only make what we think are the best choices for our children based on the information that we have and that may not look the same for everyone and in this imperfect world even a good decision might result in bad consequences. Even though I believe in the health of this lifestyle and that it is 100% the best for my family I don’t think it is for everyone. I don’t like to judge anyone else on what they feed their children, but just as it scares you when people put their children on a vegan diet it scares me when I see people feeding their children so many unhealthy processed foods on a regular basis. I may have come across as defensive in my initial comment, but I feel that parents raising children in a whole foods plant based diet face a lot of judgement and misinformation among their peers and some of the medical community and I hate to see people that might be interested in feeding their family this way be discouraged by the horror stories that are out there. There are just as many horror stories on the other side. I just started watching “Food Inc.” on netflix (an oscar nominated documentary on the food system in the USA) and they were telling the story of a perfectly healthy 2 1/2 year old boy who got Ecoli from a tainted hamburger and died.

          • Sporksoma says:

            Food Inc. is so scary! Between that and The Corporation, I’ve changed many of my buying habits. It’s sometimes a slow process, but it’s worth it in the end 🙂 Whole food diets are much healthier than processed and pre-packaged diets. It isn’t just enough for us to get enough to eat, but we have to get enough of the right foods and nutrients.

          • Angela R says:

            And as much as I say consult your doctor before going vegan or making a drastic diet change (good disclosure practice), maybe on the flip side we should be consulting our doctors before ingesting pink slime. “Food” for thought. 😉

            Can you imagine that call?? “Yes, I would like to schedule an appointment with my doctor. I’m thinking about hitting up a fast food restaurant today, and I want to make sure I have clearance first…”

          • Elizabeth says:

            Angela – I completely agree! Too funny

        • Andrea says:

          I agree with Elizabeth’s comment above that your doctor/pediatrician may not be the best person to talk to about nutrition. I had a pediatrician literally tell me that my son could not live without milk/dairy. Many cultures around the world do not consume dairy at all and are typically healthier than Americans!

  • J says:

    I do shop the bulk section of the health food and have been able to score some significant savings. I wanted some thinly sliced almonds for homemade granola and was able to get the amount I need for 4 batches under $1! Woo hoo

    • Angela R says:

      Awesome! Honestly – more people should give a good look at the bulk food section. So many savings to be had there!

      • Holly says:

        So, I’ve checked out the bulk foods at several stores here and other than a few items (stone cut oats) I haven’t seen much of a savings. Where is the best place to go for bulk foods? I do not shop at Whole Foods, but will check there if that is a good place to do so. I mostly shop at Trader Joes and by the rest locally, but TJs does not have a bulk foods section.

        Also, how to know if the bulk items are organic? I have not seen them labeled as such, so I assume they are not.

        • Angela R says:

          I’m not sure what area you live in, but where I live I have a WinCo foods, and the savings there is fantastic for bulk. Also, Fred Meyer (which is a Kroger store) has a bulk foods section in their natural dept and many of these items are organic. (And yes, if they are organic they should be labeled as such.)

          My local food co-op also has a bulk section. Do you have any of these options in your neck of the woods?

        • Andrea says:

          It’s probably worth checking the bulk section at Whole Foods. Organic products in our bulk section are labeled as such.

  • Emily says:

    I just wanted to share my frugal vegetable broth method. Whenever I’m chopping carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, or tomatoes any scraps (carrot tops, celery tops etc) or extras that I know won’t get used before they go bad go into a gallon sized bag in the freezer. Once the bag is full I use it’s contents and the same method in the link to make my own vegetable broth. Not only does it save money it reduces waste and at least once has saved my butt when the store ran out of broth right when I needed some to make soup for that night’s dinner.

  • Sara says:

    I’m curious about the vegan sausage…do you have a recipe? We are not vegan, but doing weight watchers – and I need all the switches I can get!

    • Angela R says:

      YES! Here is the one I made:

      I will add that the second time around I made it omitting the fennel seed, and I was sorry for it! I found the fennel seed in bulk at my local WinCo store, but have seen it other places too if you don’t already have it or wish to commit to buying a jar.

      • Sara says:

        I hate to sound ignorant – but what is nutritional yeast and where can I get it?! I really want to try the recipe – I think I can get the vital wheat gluten in a regular grocery store. 🙂 This recipe looks really good!

        • Angela R says:

          Nutritional yeast can be purchased very inexpensively in bulk – my WinCo Foods and Fred Meyer both carry it. You can also find it in shakers at health food or specialty stores like Whole Foods. It adds B12 and protein to foods and has a mild cheese like flavor. I also used it with plain almond milk to make a creamy sauce for noodles.

        • Elizabeth says:

          don’t feel bad. I’d never heard of it either until last year

          • Angela R says:

            I should add – nor had I!! I was introduced to so many new and healthful foods last month – there really are wonderful new tastes and culinary techniques to explore when you go plant-based.

            One thing I say frequently on my blog – if you want to get out of a dinner rut? Plan your meals around produce, not meat (this is true whether or not the meals contain meat).

          • Sara says:

            Thanks! I will look for it the next time I am in a store with bulk bins.

  • Becky says:

    Really, more than anything, Angela’s post here is a testament to what you can accomplish when you are deliberate in your choices. Her method could be easily applied to any area in life you’d like to change: money, weight loss, time management, etc. Bravo!

    • Angela R says:

      Becky, thank you for your sweet comment and takeaway!

      And I will say this – I am now confident more than ever that you CAN make a positive change in your life. My husband and I are also following Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and we’re changing our financial future. 2012 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for us.

      Folks – no matter what you’re struggling with – you CAN make a change. Thanks, Becky!

  • catherine says:

    Thank you for posting this. Our family follows the exact same principles and it not only has made an impact on our budget but our overall health! While we are vegetarian not vegan I found that replacing the meat portion of the budget with nutrient rich foods does not cost more.

    • Angela R says:

      Absolutely! I suppose this should not have come as a big surprise to me – but it did! I also love that many meat alternatives can be readily stored in my pantry – beans, dried lentils, bulk TVP (textured vegetable protein), whole grains – so much cheaper and easier to pull a quick meal from the pantry with!

  • Amanda says:

    I agree with Elizabeth!! I watched Forks over Knives and Food, Inc on Netflix and it has changed my life. I asked my family to give a plant based diet a try and the results have been amazing! Sickness down, energy up, medications down, blood sugar levels are now normal, blood pressure and cholestoral are in a heatly range, and digestive health is so MUCH better! I do not consider myself a vegetarian by any means because I still eat fish on occasion.
    My advice…watch Forks over Knives!!! Amazing!!

    • Elizabeth says:

      I already was somewhat on this path (my mom has eaten this was for years), but it was nice to hear the research and have some additional confirmation of it since it isn’t the norm in our culture. My husband and I switched to eating this way pretty much all of the time after the first of the year and he lost almost 30 lbs already and I lost 20 lbs and all of his health conplaints went away. I think whole foods plant based diet describes my lifestyle better than vegan because we do eat some butter and farm eggs occasionally (my husband still eats some chicken) and we don’t eat a lot of things that lost of vegans feel are okay such as processed vegan foods, soy, white flour, sugars, etc.

    • Angela R says:

      Yes! I cannot agree more with that recommendation!

  • Leah says:

    You go girl! We’re about 95% vegan (kids included) – 100% vegan at home, about 60% vegan when eating out or visiting friends. It’s amazing, delicious, healthy, nutritious, cheap, and better for the planet all around! KOKO!

  • Jennifer says:

    We’re vegan and we have close friends who are vegan too! My son and I transitioned from vegetarianism to veganism when he was three, but close friends of our are raising their two children vegan. While my son and I are are pretty average (well, I can easily be too chubby :D) their children are in the upper percentiles, his son is in the 85th percentile in height! Vegan diets can be incredibly healthful and delicious– I do supplement with B12, but that plus our “daily” vitamin seems so be working just great 🙂

  • Maegen says:

    Thanks for sharing this post, Crystal.

    I actually found MSM through The Coupon Project!

    I just love seeing how couponing and budgeting can work for different lifestyles and different families.
    One of my pet peeves is the idea that frugal eating has to be unhealthy. I also love hearing how even folks who are already super budget savvy have saved more using Dave’s cash system.

  • Sally Ann says:

    Thanks for all the effort you’ve put into this blog. It’s appreciated! I’ve passed along the Versatile Blogger Award to YOU! Congrats and keep up the great work!

  • Carol says:

    I appreciate the point of this article, and I agree that ditching the processed foods is key. But you have to be very careful with a vegan diet. GMO (Monsanto) grains are no healthier than factory-farmed beef. And I think it’s a lot harder to get locally grown/non GMO wheat than it is local grass-fed beef. There are a few books (Wheat Belly, Good Calories/Bad Calories, Why We Get Fat and What to do About It), that go into the science. Sorry, but I have to play devil’s advocate. There is no one diet that is perfect for everyone and vegan does not always equal healthy. Still, kudos to you for eating a whole-foods diet.

  • Lisa says:

    Lots of people switch to a vegan diet because they believe that factory farming of animals is extremely cruel and morally wrong.

  • socorro says:

    My lil sis has a Vegan blog if anybody wants support or recipes http://​

  • Kim Bolletino says:

    I have been Vegan for 28 days and so far I feel the healthiest I have ever felt in my life !!!! I don’t miss meat nor processed foods…..I eat 90 percent veggies/fruit and the rest in whole grains….I don’t think its a good idea for children because they need protien to help them grow….but for grownups if you have an illness (I have fibromyalgia) this way of eating can reduce all your pain, headaches, skin disorders etc…

  • CJ says:

    I’ve been experimenting with being semi-vegan (actually “semi-meatless” is a better description since I wont give up dairy) for the past few days. Mostly salads, chinese noodles with vegetables and one fish meal so far. It’s interesting and challenging but I couldnt do it all the time.

  • Tammy says:

    Thanks for your article. Very informative.

    My doctor has recently told me to either go Vegan or try the Mediterranean Diet. I’m researching both to see what others are saying, and to get myself ready to transition. I don’t like fish so the Mediterranean may not be the right fit for me, and going Vegan does scare me a little.

  • Thank you for your tips!!!!

    My name is Dee and I am a wife and mother of 4! Learning new ways to make the dollar stretch is very helpful and I appreciate it!

    My goal by the winter is to cut my grocery bill in half!

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