You Won’t Believe How Much I Saved on My Grocery Bill by Going Vegetarian

A woman makes avocado toast in her home.
Since Stephanie Bolling ditched meat and became a vegetarian, she has noticed a decrease in her grocery bill. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you… save money.

Not what you were expecting? Samesies. My grocery bill dropped at least 20% after I cut meat from my diet.

Last summer, I watched “What the Health” and felt grossly reminded of why I had been a vegetarian for 11 years prior. I’d let meat sneak back into my life over the past few years, but the 97-minute movie suddenly changed all that. My boyfriend and I decided to head back to the garden.

Going Vegetarian Is Now Cheaper Than Ever

In 2002, when I first cut out meat, being a vegetarian came with a hefty price tag. Few companies produced specialty products, and most meat alternatives hid on the shelves of overpriced health food stores. Those luxuries didn’t match my college kid budget.

I lived off variations of rice, beans, macaroni and cheese, bread, and low-quality fruits and veggies for years.

But in 2018, the collective clamor for plant-based diet options has resulted in full-on dedicated sections — not just shelves — at local grocery stores. My wallet and taste buds are beside themselves.

I didn’t realize it until I started crunching the numbers, but since returning to my meat-free roots, my Trader Joe’s grocery bill has fallen from around $65 a week to about $47. That’s a savings of $18 per week or $936 a year. Hello, vacation!

The High Cost of Eating Meat

A man speaks during a festival.
Ray Milton, owner of Ray’s Vegan Soul restaurant, speaks during the Tampa Bay Collard Greens Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida. Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

During a recent trip to Publix, I saw standard cuts of meat on sale for $3.79 per pound, while organic options were as high as $14.99 per pound. That weight included bones and skin on many options. I can hear my debit card screaming already.

I even spotted an 8-pound lamb leg that tipped the scales at $8.49 per pound, totaling $67.84. Gasp. Run. Hide.

As Ray Milton, owner of Ray’s Vegan Soul restaurant, put it during a demonstration at the Tampa Bay Collard Greens Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida: “A pound of beans or a pound of steak: Which one is going to last longer?”

Plus, if you don’t eat meat or remember to freeze it in a few days, it will go bad.

This is the part when I say that many meat-free alternatives are frozen or keep longer than meats, ensuring your investment lasts well beyond meat’s shelf life.

But Can I Really Get Enough Protein From Plants?

Avocado toast is made at home.
Stephanie Bolling makes avocado toast in her home in St Petersburg, Florida. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

High-protein foods not only provide necessary nutrients, but they also help you stay full longer and stretch your dollar. But there’s a common misconception that switching to a vegetarian diet will make getting the necessary protein difficult.

Did you know 100 grams of pumpkin seeds have more protein than the same amount of beef? How about 100 grams of chicken? Try the same amount of Parmesan cheese, peanuts, cheddar cheese or Greek yogurt. (These are higher in protein but carry more fat, so be mindful of your intake.)

Other meat alternatives packed with protein include:

  • Spinach: 3 grams per cooked half-cup.
  • Lentils: 9 grams per cooked half-cup.
  • Black beans: 15.2 grams per cooked cup.
  • Wild rice: 6.5 grams per cup.
  • Edamame: 18 grams per cup.

Even avocado packs a protein punch. This avocado toast recipe touts 26 grams of protein. That sounds like a breakfast of champions.

9 Ways Vegetarians Can Save Money on Groceries

Plant-based diets can get expensive if you’re not careful. With a few tricks, time and effort, you can eat healthy and actually save money on your grocery bill while enjoying all the vegetarian food things. Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Try New Types of Produce Instead of Meat Substitutes

Replacing your current meat-infused recipe with meat substitutes probably won’t help you save money, but changing your range of produce can.

If I didn’t eat vegetarian, I’d probably continue to pass over strange-shaped fruits and veggies in the produce section. Now, I stop and investigate. A quick search often turns up a slew of recipes to consider. Can’t hurt to try, especially if they’re on sale.

Consider buying an Instant Pot to try inexpensive, low-effort recipes.

2. Avoid Grocery Chains

I tend to find the best produce deals at farmers markets, local produce stands and Asian markets. (My one grocery chain exception: Trader Joe’s.) Find out what your area has to offer and do some price shopping.

3. Buy in Bulk

A jar of lentils lay on its side.
Vegetarian items like lentils can be cheaper when bought in bulk. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Make use of bulk bins for dry goods like oatmeal, lentils and beans. They’re cheaper by the pound than in a pre-packaged bag and keep a long time with proper storage.

Also, consider purchasing the big bags of vegetables such as carrots (but only if you will use it) or potatoes. The more you buy, the cheaper they get.

4. Stock Up on Sales

I prefer to stock up on my favorite items when they go on sale. Publix will periodically offer buy one, get one free or $1 off deals on Gardein — ain’t no shame in that coupon-clipping game. More money for me and more food for my tum-tum.

5. Join a CSA

Buying into a seasonal Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share provides you locally grown vegetables on a weekly or monthly basis. These often give you a wide variety of fruits and vegetables at a low cost. Check here to see if your city has one.

6. Slowly Add Staples

Many recipes call for essentials items like nutritional yeast, chia seeds, maple syrup, flaxseeds or tahini. Buy them on sale or at a bargain price when you see them, but not all at once. Build your staple stash over time.

7. Hello, Freezer

More often than not, frozen vegetables are more affordable than fresh ones. Stockpile your favorites as they come into season or go on sale. You can also freeze leftovers for lazy days.

8. Plan Before You Head to the Grocery Store

Stephanie Bolling suggests making a grocery list before you hit the grocery store. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Know what meals and recipes you want to have that week. Consider what’s in season. Make a list, check it twice, and make sure you don’t already have an ingredient in the cupboard.

9. Don’t Go Grocery Shopping Hungry

Going to the store when you’re hungry will cause you to splurge on junk food, which doesn’t turn out well for our bottom line — or our belt lines.

Not Ready to Go Vegetarian Yet? Start Small

Whatever your reasons for venturing into vegetarian ground — animal welfare, health or money — I believe in you.

But if you’re not ready, you can probably manage Meatless Mondays. You can dip your toe in the vegetarian stew (not literally, because GROSS) and let the savings do the talking. See how much you can save by cutting meat from your diet one day a week, then grow into this lifestyle as you feel comfortable.

Personally, I feel lighter, happier, healthier and a little bit richer as a vegetarian, and you can too. I’m rooting for you.

Stephanie Bolling is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She cried multiple times while watching “Okja.”