Is your wallet sad and lonely? What if I said your wallet doesn’t have to be sad and empty inside? What if I told you it’s possible to go to Whole Foods and maybe have a little spending cash left over to catch a movie or maybe buy a pair of vegan-friendly boots? It’s all very possible: you can save money, live compassionately, eat healthy, and still have a good time with just a little planning and effort.
OK, now I know this will not sound all that budget-friendly since it involves spending money but hear me out. One of the first steps to shopping vegan on a budget is to build your pantry staples. I mean stock up on things that you know you will use every week, so you have some socked away for really lean times when you don’t have so much money. There are a couple of ways you can do this. You can go to Costco and buy non-perishables in bulk and drop a lot of cash all at once. Or if you’re like me and don’t have a lot of extra money from week to week, you can buy, say, a can of black beans every week until you have a small stock pile, or wait until staple items go on sale. Some really good staple items for your budget pantry may include: dried or canned beans, rice, pasta, flour, condiments (i.e ketchup, mustard, vegan mayo, and vegan butter), dried herbs, nutritional yeast, maple syrup, etc. Your pantry staples are going to be pretty much anything that you can use to throw a quick meal together without having to get too crazy.
When you make that weekly (sometimes bi- or tri-) trip to the grocery store, make a list and stick to it. I know it’s really hard when you walk in and see all the amazing thrills and chills tempting you to break your budget and have a good time. You can still have a good time but you just have to plan it out better. I stick to the perimeter of the store since that is where the majority of my staples and needs exist. I hit produce first, since that is more important than making brief stops in canned or dried goods. I then go by the bulk goods, then hit up the chilled section, and sprint past the sweets before I have anytime to respond to the calling of sugary nom noms. Another way to plan your weekly shopping trip is to watch sale fliers since a lot of the time stores will run some great deals that can save you a lot of money.
Speaking of produce, have you checked out your local farmers market or CSA, yet? Do it. You won’t be sorry. Farmers markets can offer you seasonal, fresh, locally grown produce for much cheaper than the grocery store. I get the majority of my produce through my local CSA and I am pretty lucky to live in a place where mine operates year-round. CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a system where you buy a share in the local farms and in return receive fresh seasonal produce grown with love from the little guys. I love getting my CSA box every week because it’s like a surprise box of veggies and fruits and it forces me to try new things that I wouldn’t just try on my own. For more information and a national database of CSAs, check out localharvest.org.
Another budget saver is to make everything from scratch. I know there we are all busy people and time can be very limited but think of it this way, spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to prepare a few days worth of meals and bake some bread and/or desserts, and you would save yourself some pretty decent amount. For example. an average loaf of organic whole grain bread can cost roughly about 4 bucks a loaf. To me, that’s highway robbery when I can buy the ingredients for making a loaf of bread for about 10 bucks. Not only do I get to work with my hands and create something awesome but I also know how it’s being prepared and I can make more than a few loaves out of $10 worth of ingredients. Staples such as bread, veggie burgers, and seitan can be made in bulk and frozen, which will also save you time and money down the road. How cool is that?
Lastly, if you can, try growing some of your own produce. Herb gardens are pretty easy to grow, whether you live in a house or apartment. They can be grown on a windowsill and not only do they look and smell pretty, but fresh herbs really make a difference in all of those home cooked meals you are going to make. Did you know that many veggies can be started from merely food scraps? I tried this with a sweet potato and it is flourishing on my patio! (Some other plants you can try: avocado, apples, oranges, potatoes, carrots, garlic, etc). So not only can you grow your own stuff for pennies but you are also recycling and making good karma with the planet. For example, I bought a bunch of organic green onions for about $1.50. I trimmed off the roots, stuck them in some soil, and now I have green onions growing on my patio. You can also get together with some neighbors and start a community garden and share harvests with each other, not only do you get great produce but you get to build community as well, which is so very important.
Now I know some of you might think these steps are impossible. Stop your negativity! You can do it! If you don’t think you can cook, you can look up free youtube videos on cooking basics. The internet and Pinterest offer all sorts of amazing recipes that are super simple to follow and usually end up pretty delicious. Don’t have time? Make time. I know it’s easier said than done, but just try to put the in a little effort and see the kind of magic you can work.
Any other budget friendly tips, Peaceful Dumplings? I would love to hear them!
Photo: Emily Carlin; Aimee Ray