9 Fresh Ways to Save on Groceries When You’re Vegan

Tina Russell a strict vegan for the past nine years, checks out the Tampa Bay Collard Green festival in St Petersburg, Fla., on Febuary 24, 2018.
Tina Russell, a strict vegan for the past nine years, checks out the Tampa Bay Collard Green festival in St Petersburg, Fla., on Febuary 24, 2018. Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder
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Oftentimes, folks believe any sort of dietary restriction (self-imposed or otherwise) will rack up a grocery bill.

However, that’s not always the case — which my coworker and I learned when we did Whole30 on a budget.

That was only 30 days (thank goodness), but what about long term? Is it possible to save money even when you can’t buy everything pre-packaged?


Here’s How to Eat Vegan on a Budget

Tina Russell, a photographer at The Penny Hoarder, and I recently put our heads together to craft a list of ways to eat vegan on a budget.

She knows best: She’s been a vegan for nine years — vegetarian for more than 15. I simply know my way around a grocery store or two. And I’m an avid fan of saving money in general.

Here’s how to save:

1. Don’t Buy Vegan Alternatives at a Major Chain

Vegan lasagna made with homemade basil cashew cheese as featured on Oh She Glow's blog.
Russell made vegan lasagna made with homemade basil cashew cheese from a recipe on the “Oh She Glow’s” blog. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Russell has three go-to grocery stores: Trader Joe’s, Publix, and Rollin’ Oats, a local natural food market in St. Petersburg, Florida.

At each store, she buys different products. For example: If she’s going to splurge on vegan alternative products, which she doesn’t recommend making a habit, she goes to the local market.

“You’ll spend more money because they’ll never put that stuff on sale,” she says of big grocery store chains. This, she hypothesizes, is because there’s not a huge supply or demand at the major chains. But there is at the local health-food market. Cue the awesome sales.

You can also make your own vegan alternatives. Russell loves making vegan cheese, one of her favorite options featured on the Oh She Glows blog. But some other alternatives, like almond milk or soy chorizo (she ogles over the Trader Joe’s kind), aren’t worth the time and effort for her to make.

2. Grab All the Cash Back

Colleen Rice, TPH email marketing specialist, uses the Ibotta app on her cell phone.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Russell’s not an avid couponer or cash back earner, but I’m 100% into it. Tons of apps can help you save money and earn cash back — even on speciality items and healthy foods.

The key is to not become overwhelmed. Here are a few of my favorite apps that’ll help vegans save:

  • Ibotta: I’ve used the Ibotta app for nearly a year and have earned more than $120 in cash back. It offers a variety of deals, even on healthy items. Gasp.

Right now, for example, you can earn 25 cents back on any brand of walnuts or protein powder, $1.50 back on Sabra guac, $1 back on a bag of oranges and 75 cents back on coconut-milk yogurt.

Just download the app, claim your cash-back offers, take a photo of your receipt and bam. Money in the bank (you can cash out when you hit $20).

  • Drop: Russell’s go-to grocery store is Trader Joe’s, so when I told her about Drop, she was thrilled. It’s a rewards app that lets you pair with your five favorite brands (out of dozens of options). Drop pairs with Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, both hubs for healthy vegan options (plus other big names like Starbucks, Lyft and Walmart).

Download the app, link your go-to credit or debit cards, then earn points automatically. At Trader Joe’s, for example, you’ll earn 12 points per $1 spent. Once you hit 5,000 points, you can cash out for gift cards.

  • BerryCart: This app features cash back deals on organic, gluten-free and non-GMO products. A few featured items right now include Sweet Earth Veggie Burgers, Hope Organic Hummus and Nasoya Tofu. You’ll have to rate the item (to earn 50 cents) then read a fact (another 25 or 50 cents). Then you’ll get the money back.

3. Map out Meals

Russell eats steamed collard greens at the Tampa Bay Collard Green festival.
Russell eats steamed collard greens at the Tampa Bay Collard Green festival. Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Before any grocery run, Russell and I each plan our meals for the week — though Russell is definitely more diligent about this than I am.

At this point, she has a basic formula for her meals: a grain, a vegetable and a bean.

As she’s looking at recipes and dishes, she finds ways to use items more than once. For example, if one dish calls for carrots, she makes sure another meal requires carrots, too. Or that she plans a salad featuring carrots for lunch one day.

At the end of the week, if she has any leftover fruits or vegetables, she’ll wash ’em, chop ’em and freeze ’em.

4. Go for Generic

Whenever possible, Russell reaches for the generic brand of a product.

However, she’s sure to weigh the cost versus the quality (and taste). For example, she’ll never be able to buy the store-brand soy milk. She says it just tastes funky.

But she does always buy the Trader Joe’s store brand of almond milk. To her, it tastes the same as brand name but comes at a lower price.

5. Buy — and Cook — in Bulk

Tina Russell enjoys a collard green based shake made by Rays Vegan Soul in St Petersburg, Fla.
Tina Russell enjoys a smoothie with collard greens. Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Russell buys several staples in bulk, including dried beans (they’re cheaper than canned and only require an overnight soak), lentils, nuts and seeds.

She’ll also cook in bulk. Her go-tos are a large batch of vegetable soup, a pan of lasagna and a pot of vegan chili. She can eat several meals from each, then freeze the rest for later.

6. Plant a Garden

Ever consider growing your own greens?

“Even if you just grow herbs, you can save a ton,” Russell says.

The key is to plant a cost-effective garden. Penny Hoarder contributor Kelly Gurnett says some items simply aren’t worth planting because they’re so cheap in store. Think: onions and potatoes.

What’s worth the effort will be tomatoes, salad greens and green beans.

And even if you live in a tiny apartment without a backyard, you can purchase potted herbs to perch in your window.

7. Stop by Your Local Asian Grocery Store

You might be able to save a chunk of change on go-to vegan items if you shop at your local Asian supermarket.

Russell will stop by to grab jackfruit, dragonfruit and soy sauce, for example.

Penny Hoarder Susan Shain found you can also find green onions, mushrooms, red peppers, bok choy, garlic, ginger and tofu for a lot cheaper than at a conventional store, too. She saved more than 44% on one of her grocery runs by shopping at the Asian grocery.

Plus, Russell likes to support local businesses.

8. Frequent Your Local Farmer’s Market

Produce is displayed at the Tampa Bay Collard Green festival. Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Hmm… I’m seeing a trend here… (ahem, the local stuff).

For discounted fruits and veggies, Russell stops by a local produce stand or roadside market.

She says the goods don’t typically last as long as what she gets at the store, so she plans to use them as quickly as possible — but she can save a bundle.

If I want to stock up, I know I can save a lot by stopping by St. Petersburg’s local Saturday Morning Market.

9. Don’t Be Afraid to Invest in Hardware

Russell says every vegan needs these four kitchen appliances:

  1. Crockpot.
  2. Food processor.
  3. Blender.
  4. Dehydrator.

There’s no need to go out and splurge. Russell has a reliable blender she purchased years ago. I have a less-than-$100 KitchenAid I got back in college — still kickin’ after a number of moves.

Russell’s most recent investment was a food dehydrator, which allows her to make her own dried fruits and granola. She prefers dehydrating her own food because 1.) It’s cheaper, and 2.) She knows exactly what she’s getting — no added sugars or preservatives.

A Vegan Diet Without the Financial Strain

Now you know: It is possible to save money with dietary restrictions. Heck, you might even cut down your grocery bill like I did on Whole30 — ’cause, in part, I was weeding out the sugar-laden, preservative-injected, pre-packaged junk.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Sorry, vegans, she enjoys wedges of cheese.