Beef prices hit record highs last summer and prices for beef, pork, and eggs are expected to climb throughout 2015.
Meanwhile, a growing body of research indicates that eating meat and animal products can contribute to a host of health issues, including diabetes and cancer. A recent study published in the journal Cell Metabolism revealed that middle-aged people who consumed lots of protein from animal sources were more likely to die early. Those factors, coupled with growing concern for animals and the environment, are driving more people to at least consider a meat-free diet.
But how does vegetarianism impact a grocery budget? And can you save money by ditching meat for good?
How Vegetarians Can Save Money
Unfortunately, the answer won’t be the same for vegetarians across the board. For starters, grocery prices vary drastically across the country, thus menu planning will never be one-size-fits-all. And vegetarians don’t all eat the same things. After all, some vegetarians pork out on vegan specialty foods or choose an organic-only diet while others might opt for cheap vegetarian staples.
Still, becoming a vegetarian can save you money if you play your cards right. Here are a few tips that can help you save money while improving your health:
There’s no doubt a cart full of produce can be expensive, but you can still control the cost. If you want to save on fresh ingredients and produce, learn to shop sales.
Learn recipes using as many different fruits and vegetables as possible so you can cook with whatever’s on sale a given week – and ignore the rest. Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season helps, too, although that list can vary drastically based on where you live.
Eat Meat Replacements Sparingly
One way to wean yourself off meat is to take advantage of meat replacement foods, most of which are made with soy. The problem? They are often just as expensive as real meat, and can have questionable ingredients that may not be particularly healthy.
Brands like Morningstar Farms and Boca make these products, and they can be a lifesaver if you substitute them in your favorite meat-laden dishes. However, it’s important to use them sparingly, and to learn how to eat mostly natural foods if you want to save money.
Subsist on Staples
There’s a reason why rice and beans are almost always mentioned whenever grocery shopping on a budget comes up. Not only are both foods nutritious and filling, but they can also be very cheap.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average price of rice in the United States was 72 cents per pound in November 2014, while dried beans averaged $1.46 per pound. Dried beans expand rapidly when cooked, so a pound of beans is a lot of food. If you’re able to plan your meals around these cheap staples, you’ll save a ton of money and enjoy nutritious meals at the same time.
Shop in Bulk
Once you learn how to cook with vegetarian staples such as pasta, rice, and beans, look for ways to buy them in bulk. Not only will you save money, but it’s also nice to have a stash of healthy foods to cook with at home at all times. If you can’t buy large quantities of staples at your local grocery store, check with a Costco, Sam’s Club, or health food store.
Grow a Garden
If you love working outdoors, you might want to consider starting a garden. This can provide more than fresh food; it can give you time outdoors, physical exercise, and a feeling of accomplishment.
If you’re unsure how to get started, begin with a small, temporary garden, planting only a few things your family will eat. Over time, you can grow your garden and add more items as you feel more comfortable.
If you don’t have a green thumb, consider growing just a few pots of plants. Tomatoes, herbs, and peppers seem to prosper in a potted environment, as do potatoes and even beets. If you don’t have a lot of tools to get started, consider borrowing them from a friend or neighbor or buying used shovels, rakes, and pots from a resale site like Craigslist. (See “Reducing the Startup Costs of a Food Garden.”)
Becoming a vegetarian is a lot like anything else in that it can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want it to be. If you make a conscious effort to save money while going meat-free, you likely will.
Any investment we make in our health is likely a good one. After all, good health can’t be purchased, nor can it be bargained for. You either have it or you don’t. So going vegetarian can be a great way to improve both your health and your financial well-being. And if you’re ready to ditch meat, that’s certainly an idea to chew on.
Do you find vegetarian foods to be cheaper or more expensive? What are your favorite vegetarian dishes?