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A common misconception about veganism is that it has to be expensive, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In this post I’ll give you some tips I’ve learned for eating vegan on a tight (student!) budget. When you eliminate animal products from your diet, you can drastically cut your food bill.
My boyfriend and I spend under £25 a week on food and can cut down more if necessary. I’ll never forget the lady in front of us at the checkout one day who paid £7 for a small piece of meat. That’s about half what we spent on our entire shop!
These tips are UK-centric, but many should apply in other countries too. I’m lucky to have a Lidl nearby – this keeps costs down, as does shopping with someone else. I focus on wholefoods, as they’re healthy, filling, and usually low-cost. There’s a page of meal ideas with recipe links on my Tumblr. If you’ve never learnt to cook, now is the time!
Fruit and veg
Look for what’s on offer or in season. Some produce is affordable all year round – bananas, apples, potatoes, cabbage, carrots and so on. Get fancy things like avocados as an occasional treat. Frozen tends to be cheaper than fresh, and keeps for ages. Some supermarkets like Morrisons and the Co-op reduce fruit and veg towards the end of the day, so it’s worth going later. If you can’t afford organic and are worried about pesticides, rinse things thoroughly.
Farmers’ markets often have really good deals. My nearest sells ripe bananas for 10p each and I always buy way too many! Any excuse to make banana bread. They freeze well if I can’t use them in time.
Canned beans and tomatoes are incredibly versatile and cost around 30p. We stockpile as many as we can carry. Lentils are a great substitute for veggie mince in shepherd’s pie and bolognese.
If you have a ton of veg in the fridge that needs using, make soup. Toss it in a pan, cover it with stock or water, and boil until soft. Then season and blend. No-one will know you used wilted kale and week-old mushrooms!
When you boil veg, save the water. It’s full of nutrients and flavour, and can be used as stock in soups and sauces.
Tinned fruit is underrated – peaches make a nice dessert, while mango is lovely in curries and cherries make a great pie filling.
I buy loose brown rice from my local independent health food shop as it’s more economical than getting it at the supermarket. Value brand white rice is always cheap.
Lidl sell wholegrain pasta for around 40p, and white spaghetti for 20p. This is helpful when you live with someone who would eat pasta every day if he could (his idea of a balanced diet is penne one day and fusili the next).
Couscous and barley tend to be cheap, as do oats and wholegrain breakfast cereals (get supermarket own brand, they’re exactly the same).
Some places sell sliced bread for 40p per medium loaf, and it’s often reduced. Buy lots and stash it in the freezer, if you have space. Defrost slices as needed and never worry about stale/mouldy bread again. The Lidl bakery is affordable (and very good), though don’t get caught out – the tiger bread isn’t vegan, for instance. There’s an ingredient list here. Or you can bake your own bread, which brings us to…
Home-made bread is delicious and inexpensive, though it can be hard to find time to make it. Look out for tins/packets of yeast rather than sachets. Making your own cakes, desserts and cookies is much cheaper than buying the overpriced ones in the Free From section. Plain flour and white sugar cost pennies. Plus baking is really fun!
When I first went vegan, I struggled with what to snack on, but not any more. Oatcakes, rice cakes, tortilla chips, crackers, bagels, crumpets, dried fruit, dark chocolate, trail mix, the baked goods you made after reading the last section…so many options. There’s no need to spend £2 on 4 snack bars (I’m looking at you, Nakd bars). Many value brand biscuits like bourbons and ginger nuts are vegan.
I buy Co-op value soya milk (currently 69p) as the Lidl one has a strong taste. The Aldi and Morrisons Savers ones are both 59p. Aldi have recently started selling almond milk too. Sometimes I make my own oat milk, which works out at something ridiculous like 10p a litre. You can’t beat it for value, though I never know what to do with the pulp – my experiments so far have all been soggy failures.
I get big £3 tubs of nutritional yeast from the health food shop. It’s good for sprinkling on pasta/pizza or making ‘cheese’ sauces. Vitalite is the cheapest margarine at £1. Big pots of Alpro soya yogurt aren’t too bad at £1.40, and the Tesco Free From ones are affordable too. Birds’ custard powder and many others are vegan.
You can make your own dairy-free ice cream (without an ice-cream maker!) using canned coconut milk. It’s 79p in Lidl, and so good in curry and creamy pasta sauces too. Don’t get the ‘light’ variety – it’s just a watered-down version of the regular.
But I don’t have time to cook!!
If you can, make a big batch of something at the weekend and keep leftovers in the fridge or freezer to eat throughout the week. Always save leftover food – if nothing else, you can have it for lunch the next day. Cold curry or chilli is delicious in a wrap!
Couscous is virtually an instant meal – just cover with boiling water from the kettle and let sit a few minutes until soft. It’s delicious with chopped tomatoes, dried basil and a pinch of salt.
Use the microwave to quickly steam slow-cooking vegetables like carrots. Chop and place in a bowl with a bit of water in the bottom. Cover and zap for 3-4 minutes. Also, baked potatoes usually take less than ten minutes in the microwave.
Get some frozen potato products like chips and wedges. If you like meat alternatives, Linda McCartney sausages are cheap in Lidl and Iceland. They sell vegetable/bean burgers for a similar price, as do many other supermarkets. Add frozen veg and you have a quick meal.
Choose baked beans over tinned spaghetti. The latter has virtually no nutritional value and won’t fill you up. Instead of jarred pasta sauce, use canned tomatoes and add salt, pepper and herbs.
I’m a peanut butter snob, so I buy Meridian brand by the kilogram for about £5. If you don’t mind added ingredients in your PB, you can save money by getting a supermarket brand. You can also blend peanuts in a food processor if you have one (I sadly don’t). Lidl sell plain houmous for 55p, or you can make your own.
Try Asian supermarkets for things like soy sauce, tofu and rice noodles. They also sell rice in bulk. If you use lots of a certain spice, buy a big jar – they’re available online if you can’t find them elsewhere. Wet mustard is cheap and makes a great seasoning.
Substitute out expensive ingredients. For example, use golden syrup instead of maple – they’re both sugary gloop. Vegetable oil works fine instead of olive. Jack Monroe has a good post on substitutions (not all are vegan, but it’s useful nonetheless).
Choose an upper limit for weekly spending and stick to it – making a shopping list helps. Don’t buy food on the go unless you like spending £3 on tiny falafel wraps. Make packed lunches with sandwiches/wraps, fruit and baked goods. Always stash snacks in your bag in case you get hungry when out and about. Invest in a water bottle and carry it everywhere – it’ll last forever and you won’t need to buy bottled ever again.
That’s about it. I hope it was helpful. Leave any comments or questions below.