This Woman Shows Us How She Eats Vegan for a Ridiculously Cheap $25/Week

Vegan on a budget
Penny Hoarder photographer Tina Russell bites into one of her freshly baked banana and black bean empanadas on June 14, 2017. Russell has been a vegan for eight years and spends about $25 a week on food. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

I’ll admit it: I have no idea how vegans do it.

I love chicken, and don’t get me started on seafood. (I grew up on the beach in Florida).

But when I think about cutting all animal products out of my diet, I’m left wondering: “What the heck would that leave for me to eat? And how am I supposed to afford it?!”

Don’t get me wrong — I love veggies. But fresh produce can get downright expensive.

So how do vegans do it without going completely broke?

The answer: carefully.

Here are six tips on how to eat vegan on a budget, plus three vegan recipes you can make for less than $10.

Going Vegan Can be Good for Your Body — and Your Wallet

Tina Russell, photographer at The Penny Hoarder, has been a vegan for eight years. Her commitment to animal rights led her to eliminate animal products from her diet, and she hasn’t looked back since.

Along the way, she has learned a few tips and tricks when it comes to eating vegan on a budget. While she loves rice and beans, she also knows the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet.

The good news is she has learned how to get all of the nutrients her body needs while sticking to the vegan lifestyle and her budget.

Here are her top tips for eating vegan on a budget:

1. Be Wary of Vegan Alternatives

Vegan on a budget
Russell cuts bananas for her vegan empanada recipe. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Russell says vegan alternatives are the biggest budget busters of this diet.

Many imitation meats and animal product alternatives out there can get pretty pricy — and these are what can push vegan eating costs upward.

When Russell lived in New York, she would spend $130 every two weeks on groceries for two people.

Spending too much at the grocery store? Try these tips and tools to save money on groceries.

These days, she avoids these alternatives and has reduced her grocery bill to $50 to $70 every two weeks as a result.

She says you don’t have to give up these products entirely, but you should be conscious of how often you buy them.

“There are some things you just can’t live without,” says Russell. “For me, it’s almond milk or vegan butter.”

She recommends asking yourself, “Do I really need that?” before purchasing vegan alternatives. If the answer is no, put it down!

2. Eat at Home

Vegan on a budget
Russell’s empanadas are simple but flavorful with eight ingredients for the filling. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Going out to eat, whether you’re vegan or not, can add up.

Russell says dining out as a vegan is a huge challenge. She has to plan what restaurants she will go to and what she will eat.

Although she manages to stick to her vegan diet at restaurants, she advises just staying home and making your own food.

Not only is it easier, but it’s cheaper, too.

3. Buy Expensive Ingredients When They’re on Sale

Many vegan dishes call for specialty items, like cashews and tahini sauce.

These ingredients can be expensive: A 16-ounce bag of cashews can cost as much as $5 at Trader Joe’s.

Russell suggests looking for sales on expensive items at your local health food store and planning your purchases around them. She says it’s possible to snag a good deal on many items every few weeks.

Russell has seen vegan cheese on sale for as much as $1 off, and raw chia seeds for $2 to $3 off.

4. Buy Frozen Instead of Fresh

If you’re looking for ways to cut costs without eliminating certain foods, consider buying them frozen instead of fresh.

Russell says that she enjoys topping some of her breakfast items with fresh fruit — but if she’s in a financial bind, she’ll opt for frozen instead.

Just be careful of where you buy frozen veggies or fruits. Some grocery stores are notorious for having expensive frozen products. Do a little research beforehand so you don’t overspend.

5. Think of Cheaper Alternatives

If you find yourself struggling to afford a particular ingredient, Russell suggests finding a cheaper alternative.

For example, quinoa is more expensive than rice. If you’re on a tight budget, why not just use rice?

You also don’t have to buy the specific brand your recipe calls for. Russell says you can buy generic instead of name brand to save a few bucks.

6. Cook in Bulk

Cooking in bulk is one of our favorite money-saving strategies for anyone here at The Penny Hoarder — not just vegans.

By cooking in bulk with a slow cooker, you can save money and time. Plus, you can come home after work to a meal that’s ready to be eaten.   

Russell loves making slow cooker recipes and says they’re huge in saving her money.

Cooking in bulk also means you can precook your meals and store the leftovers sealed in a bag in your freezer. When you’re ready to enjoy your meal, all you have to do is warm it up and enjoy. Freezer meals can help you save as much as $65 a month.

3 Vegan Recipes You Can Make for Less Than $10

Vegan on a budget
Russell buys frozen empanada shells to cut down on prep and spends about $4 on ingredients for six servings of empanadas. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Eating vegan doesn’t have to mean bland roasted-vegetable dishes, either. With the right amount of spices and ingredients, you can have delicious meals for just a few dollars per serving.

Here are three recipes that cost less than $10.

1. Slow Cooker North African Couscous

If you’re looking for a delicious bulk recipe, this one is loaded with flavor and nutrients.

This slow cooker recipe costs less than $10 to make and provides four or more servings. If you’re cooking for yourself only, this could be your go-to lunch for the entire week!

See the recipe from One Green Planet here.

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped: 20 cents
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets: $2.48
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks: 30 cents
  • 4 new red, yellow finn or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered: $1.25
  • 1 white onion, quartered: 79 cents
  • 15.5 ounces canned chickpeas, drained: 99 cents
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste: 9 cents
  • ½ teaspoon hot sauce: 5 cents
  • 4 cups water: $0
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil: 17 cents
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric: 50 cents
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin: 29 cents
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon: 33 cents
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt: 16 cents
  • 1 cup plain couscous: 91 cents
  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter: 13 cents
  • 1 ½ cup vegetable broth 76: cents

Total cost: $9.40

Cost per serving (makes 4 servings): $2.35

2. Banana and Black Bean Empanadas

Vegan on a budget
A quick spray of coconut oil before baking helps make Russell’s empanadas nice and crispy. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

If you’re in the mood for something different, take a hack at these banana and black bean empanadas.

Russell buys frozen empanada shells to cut down on prep. In case you can’t find those at your local grocery store, this recipe shows you how to make them from scratch.

See the full recipe from Vegetarian Times here.

  • 1 ½ cups whole-wheat flour: 25 cents
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour: 17 cents
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt: 24 cents
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder: 29 cents
  • 4 tablespoons cold soy margarine, cut into 1/2-inch cubes: 52 cents
  • ½ cup unsweetened applesauce: 33 cents
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar: 7 cents
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil: 10 cents
  • 1 medium onion, chopped: 79 cents
  • 1 cup cooked black beans: 43 cents
  • 1 clove garlic, minced: 10 cents
  • 2 bananas, peeled and diced: 38 cents
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin: 20 cents
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper: 5 cents
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander: 7 cents
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper sauce, such as Tabasco: 5 cents

Total cost: $4.04
Cost per serving (makes 6 servings): 67 cents

3. Mexican Quinoa Casserole

The best part about this recipe is it can feed up to eight people, and it’s super-simple to make.

Just throw the ingredients together in a casserole dish, cook for about 30 minutes, and you’re done! How easy is that?

The recipe calls for vegan cheese, but remember you can skip that ingredient if it doesn’t fit in your budget.

See the full recipe from blogger Chocolate Covered Katie here.

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa: 45 cents
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder: $1.16
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder: 29 cents
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder: 18 cents
  • ¼ teaspoon salt: 4 cents
  • 1 can of black beans: 79 cents
  • 1 can of corn: 88 cents
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes: 28 cents
  • 1 bell pepper: 99 cents
  • ½ cup onion: 40 cents
  • 1 cup vegan cheese: $4.49
  • 1 cup water: $0

Total cost: $9.95

Cost per serving (makes 8 servings): $1.24

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter @keywordkelly.