If you’ve noticed the higher prices on grocery store items like Beyond Meat, coconut yogurts and plant-based cheeses, you might have wondered, “Is being vegan expensive?”
The misconception that eating vegan costs more arose because highly processed plant-based alternatives do cost more than animal products. This is because they are not subsidized by the government and market demand for them is smaller. But eating specialty products isn’t the only way, nor the best way, to eat vegan.
Eating vegan on a healthful, whole-foods plant-based diet (focusing on whole foods and limiting processed foods) can actually save you money in two major ways.
1. Being vegan saves you money at the checkout
Studies indicate whole-foods, plant-based diets cost less
In a 2022 study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Economics, the authors write, “Considering that price is a major factor when purchasing food, it is vital that these healthier and more sustainable diets are also affordable.” With data from 1,040 participants, the study concluded that “plant-based consumers do not spend more but in fact less than any consumer assessed. This could be a promising feature for the promotion of plant-based diets, with particular interest for consumers with lower incomes by ensuring food security.”
A 2021 Oxford University study found that in Western countries, vegan diets were the more affordable option in high-income countries, reducing food costs by up to one-third. The study used food prices from the World Bank’s International Comparison Program and was published in The Lancet Planetary Health. The data refers to costs of whole foods, like legumes, fruits and vegetables. It did not include ready-made meals or highly processed foods like plant-based burgers.
In lower income countries, eating a plant-based diet would be up to a quarter cheaper than a typical Western diet, but at least a third more costly than current diets. Making healthy, sustainable diets affordable everywhere, especially in lower income countries, requires political will to reduce food waste and adjust prices of healthful foods. Reducing demand for resource-intensive animal-based food is key to expanding access to healthful, plant-based foods for lower income countries, reducing food loss and food insecurity.
A 2020 study performed in the UK found that plant-based meals cost 40% less than meat and fish based meals and required one-third less time to prepare. In this study, only 3.7% of all vegan household expenditure went towards meat substitutes. In Ecological Economics, a 2016 study found that “true vegetarians spend less money on food than meat eaters.” A 2015 study in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition demonstrated that whole foods plant-based diets cost, on average, $750 less a year. Finally, in a survey of 1,072 Americans, it was found that people on meatless diets spent an average of $23 less on food weekly.
Tips for saving on a vegan diet
1. Buy in bulk! Purchase staples like legumes, pasta, grains, canned foods, and nuts in bulk in the supermarket or on bulk websites. Look for the unit price to easily choose the cheapest option.
2. Meal prep! Make large serving sizes and mix up the days you eat them. Easy, one pot dishes like stews, soups, curries and grain bowls work great.
3. Buy produce that’s in season. One great resource for getting produce more affordably is the Misfits Market. It’s a website that sells and ships boxes of misfit produce, which may look odd but taste just the same, at nearly 40 percent less than grocery store prices.
4. Limit processed convenience foods. They don’t cost more just because they’re vegan – they cost more because they’re convenience foods.
2. Being vegan can save you thousands in health care costs
Of course, the cost of our diets isn’t reflected in the grocery store bill alone. Looking at the bigger picture of healthcare costs associated with consumption of animal products gives us a more realistic picture.
If we take the long view, plant-based diets also protect us against costly chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, and breast, prostate and colorectal cancer. These diseases can easily cost you tens of thousands of dollars over years of medical care. A 2015 study by University of Oxford researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that if Americans moved away from animal products all together, the country would save $250 billion dollars in healthcare costs.
More resources for being vegan on a budget
Notable resources specifically designed to support affordable vegan cooking include: Vegan Budget Bytes, Plant Based on a Budget and Forks Over Knives budget meal plan. Be sure to check out the tips from Nutritiously, Vegan Society, I Love Vegan and Jessica in the Kitchen as well. You can find a list of Top 50 Vegan Blogs here with a short description of the types of recipes they offer.
Seemingly infinite free vegan recipes exist a quick Google search away, such as The Simple Veganista, ConnoisseurusVeg, Vegan Richa, Nora Cooks, Vegan Yack Attack, Oh She Glows, Forks Over Knives, This Rawsome Vegan Life, Keepin’ It Kind, Hot for Food Blog, Olives for Dinner, and the vegan sections of Love and Lemons, Minimalist Baker. Take a listen to our Spotify playlist, Vegan on a Budget, for more insights on the go.
Veganism for the win, again
Although many people think that being vegan is expensive, the opposite is actually true. Not only do studies show that eating vegan on a whole-foods, plant-based diet saves you money at the grocery store, it will very likely help you avoid thousands of dollars in health care expenses down the line. Sure, it may be less convenient at times. But at what point is convenience no longer worth the cost of compassion, your health and our planet? Being vegan continues to win on the most meaningful fronts – a lifestyle that is more healthful, more sustainable, more compassionate, and now, more economical.