Think about all the times you’ve gotten advice about how to scale down your budget and save money. How much of that advice was related to the food you buy? Eating and drinking is something that we all do pretty much every day, and there’s a wide range of prices when it comes to food and drink. So it stands to reason that your dining and grocery budget is a great place to cut down on your expenses, practice frugality, and keep more money in your bank account.
Most of the time, the advice is to reduce your unnecessary or indulgent food expenses—eat out less often, don’t get sucked into expensive foodie trends, skip the daily coffee shop visits, and so on. But what if you cut out an entire category of food altogether?
Maybe you’ve heard your vegetarian friends mention how much money they’ve saved since they stopped buying meat. Is vegetarianism the key to maintaining a trim and healthy food budget?
When we think about the advantages of a vegetarian diet, we usually think about the ways in which eating vegetarian can be good for your physical health. For other people, the main draw is that they don’t want to participate in the exploitation of animals, and they see vegetarianism as a more ethical choice. Aside from the moral considerations, it’s expensive to raise animals for food, and those expenses get passed along to consumers at the grocery store.
You’ve probably noticed when you’re shopping that meat costs more than fruits, vegetables, and grain-based foods—especially if you’re buying it fresh. With today’s wide range of nutritionally complete vegetarian options, it’s possible to cut meat out of your diet entirely and to embrace a lifestyle that can be better for your health, kinder to animals, and easier on your wallet.
How Much Can You Save by Going Vegetarian?
So what sort of savings are we really talking about here? One recent study found that meat-free grocery shopping can save you up to $750 per year. Depending on your personal food preferences and the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables in your area, it’s possible you could save even more than that. Some food bloggers report saving over $100 a month on their grocery shopping, after turning vegetarian.
But I Don’t Know How to Cook—or Shop—Like a Vegetarian!
If you’ve tried vegetarianism before, or if you have vegetarian friends or family, you probably have a good idea about how to make balanced and filling meals without meat. However, if you’re considering your first steps toward vegetarianism after a lifetime of eating meat, making the change can seem a little daunting.
Doing some meal planning ahead of time is a good idea for food budgeting in general, but it can be especially helpful when you’re making big changes to your diet. Going into a grocery store without a plan makes it all too easy to slip into the habit of buying what you’re already familiar with. If you know ahead of time what you’re going to make and what ingredients you need for it, you have a much better chance of sticking to your goals.
Planning a vegetarian meal isn’t that difficult. The main thing that’s different is finding plant-based proteins to substitute for meat. Beans, nuts, seeds, and meat substitutes like tofu or seitan are all foods that are rich in protein and adaptable to a wide variety of dishes. And eggs work great as well if you decide to keep those in your diet.
To get an idea of what this sort of planning could save you in just one meal, we can examine a simple staple, like spaghetti. Let’s say you’re making enough spaghetti for four servings, using the following ingredients:
- One box of spaghetti noodles (close to $1.39)
- One jar of pasta sauce ($2.08)
- Grated Parmesan cheese ($3.97)
By eliminating the traditional ground beef, which is the most expensive ingredient by far (up to $5.44 per pound), you reduce the cost of a single serving from $3.22 to $1.86, which is a savings of 58%. That may not seem like a lot for one meal, but over time, saving 58% on your food budget per month could really add up.
Even if you just embrace the trend of Meatless Mondays and eat a vegetarian diet once a week, that’s still enough where you might see a difference in your weekly grocery budget.
It’s Not Just the Food, It’s the Mindset
One thing to keep in mind, to really take advantage of the possible savings of a vegetarian diet, is that you might need to adjust your grocery shopping habits. For example, it’s a lot cheaper to buy whole grains and beans—two common staples of a vegetarian diet—in bulk. You may not be used to buying and storing ten-pound bags of dried beans, but saving money by buying large quantities of staple foods that won’t spoil over time is a great way to stretch out your food budget.
Vegetarianism alone probably won’t have a sudden and dramatic effect on your finances, but combined with other thoughtful financial measures—like setting up an IRA, or simply establishing an overall monthly budget—it can have big returns over time.
If you’ve been thinking about adopting a meatless diet, the money you could save is one more reason to take the plunge. Even if you try it and decide it’s not for you, there’s a chance that the thoughtful habits a vegetarian diet can instill in you might lead to smarter shopping practices in the long run.