There’s no doubt that eliminating meat from your diet can make you feel better and add years to your life. Yet many may complain that they don’t want to make the switch because plant-based nutrition is too expensive – or so they’ve heard.
While it’s true that meat alternatives, organic foods and superfruits can be costly, a recent study out of the U.S. finds that vegetarians can save up to $750 each year on food. Citing both government-recommended weekly meal plans and seven-day plant-based meal plans, the researchers found that vegetarian meals cost less, even when more expensive plant-based products were purchased in comparison to lower-cost alternatives. And as you might expect, these meals packed a much higher nutritional punch than their beefy counterparts.
So if you’re ready to make a big lifestyle change and cut costs, here are our top seven tips for saving when switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
1. Be a Smart Shopper
Before heading to the grocery store, think about what you would like to eat over the upcoming week and make a list of everything you need.
Regardless of your diet, you will spend less money if you stick to your list once entering the store. Don’t give in to the temptation to buy more than you really need. Where you shop can also make a huge difference in your weekly grocery expenditures. While specialty grocery stores such as Whole Foods are known for appealing to vegetarians and vegans, items can be rather pricey. Chances are you can find comparable products in regular grocery chains for less money.
Another tip: look for generic labels. These items can cost as little as half the price of their brand-name counterparts.
2. It Doesn’t Have to Be Organic
When we see that magical “organic” label, we automatically assume the product is better for us and we should buy it. However, the costs of sticking to organic items can really add up. There are also plenty of arguments as to whether organic foods actually offer any real health benefits over conventional foods. Instead, check out a list of the most and least pesticide-heavy foods as posted on a website like organic.org and stick to items with low contamination.
If eating organic really matters to you, minimize your purchases to a few organic foods per week, keep your eyes peeled for sales and consider scheduling a weekly or bi-weekly trip to your local farmer’s market where you can find these items at a lower cost.
3. Use your Credit Card
The easiest way to keep more money in your wallet is by paying for your grocery purchases using a rewards-earning credit card. My personal favourite is the President’s Choice Financial MasterCard which earns you points towards free groceries at most stores under the Loblaws umbrella. Based on our number crunching, this could end up saving you more than $300 over a two-year period. It’s also part of a tiered card suite, meaning you could qualify for the President’s Choice Financial World Elite MasterCard depending on your personal or household income. That card could up your earnings to close to $700 in free groceries.
If you don’t shop at Loblaws, you can still use cash back or rewards credit cards for your grocery purchases, meaning you can save on other necessities like gas, drugstore items or even vacations while sticking to your vegetarian or vegan diet. Consider cards with high reward value, such as the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite which can earn you as much as $1,500 over two years towards a dream getaway. Two solid cash back cards include the Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card, which can earn you up to $530 over that same time period. The SimplyCash Card from American Express is another great choice, potentially earning $550 in 24-months' time.
4. Grow Your Own
As Canadians, we know our growing seasons are very short and we are limited as to what we can actually plant. That aside, we can take advantage of what we know will grow in our harsh and quickly-changing climate. Consider planting seeds for cherry tomatoes, peppers and various types of berries. As a child, I remember my suburban-Toronto backyard being full of rhubarb, peaches, strawberries and chives – all of which definitely knocked money off my parents’ weekly grocery bill in the summertime.
Don’t have a backyard? You can still grow herbs in a small planter on your windowsill or balcony. Herbs that can grow easily include rosemary, basil, thyme and sage. Parsley and cilantro may be more of a challenge but can be grown in certain climates.
5. Check Out What’s in Season
In our MoneyWise “Best Things to Buy” series, writer Amanda Reaume lists which fruits and veggies are in season each month. These foods will not only be easier to find, but they will also be less expensive. Right now, we’re entering harvest season – a prime time to stock up on local produce for the coming winter months. Fall standards such as apples and squash are hitting store shelves, both of which can be used in hundreds of recipes. Once again, your local farmer’s market comes into play by offering a variety of locally-grown fruits and veggies at an affordable price.
If you can’t consume everything in time for winter, consider freezing some of what you buy. Some fruits can be kept for up to a year if properly sealed, although they may be soggy and therefore better used in smoothies. And that brings us to our next point…
6. Buy Frozen
Purchasing frozen fruits and veggies carries several advantages. First, it can actually be more budget-friendly. Second, it can be even more nutritious than its fresh counterparts. And third, the products won’t go bad before you have a chance to use them. While not every vegetable or fruit can be packaged this way, the ones that can are often frozen only hours after being harvested – meaning they will be fresher and taste better than the ready-to-eat produce that took weeks to arrive at your local grocery store.
7. Cook as Much as You Can!
Vegetarian/vegan or not, we all know that eating out is markedly more expensive than cooking your own meals. This divide can be even greater if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, where restaurants may mark up prices simply because it’s “healthy”. But think about it: you can easily chop up some greens and other veggies, throw in some nuts and soy cheese for protein, and bring your lunch to work, rather than buying the expensive pre-packaged version at the local café.
Set aside a few hours on the weekend to prep your meals for the week. If you have a spouse or children, get them involved as well. When planning your menu, ensure each dish has a grain, a green veggie and a type of bean to achieve a balanced diet. You can also use substitutes for certain pricier ingredients.
You Did It!
It’s always a challenge to make a major lifestyle change, but cutting meat out of your diet doesn’t have to be difficult, nor does it have to break the bank. In fact, you’ll likely see your weekly bills dropping as soon as the more expensive cuts – like beef – are no longer on the list. Shop and cook smart, and a vegetarian or vegan diet will go a long way for both your heart – and your wallet.