If you have financial worries, then there are many steps you can take to cut back on costs. It’s important to examine your lifestyle and see if anything you consume or do can be reduced or eliminated completely. You may realise that you can save a tonne of money by quitting smoking (1). Or by cutting back on buying so many drinks at bars, pubs and clubs. Other than changing your drug-taking habits, examining the cost of what you eat is also worthwhile. People often assume that going veggie will be more expensive than a diet including meat. Perhaps this is influenced by the experience of going to expensive vegetarian or vegan restaurants. Or it could be because vegan speciality products tend to cost a lot more than their non-vegan counterparts.
But if we look at the evidence, we can see that switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet can be much cheaper, and therefore a great way to save some cash, and improve your health at the same time.
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Being frugal means going veggie
A study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition suggests that vegetarians can save at least $750 a year compared to meat-eaters (2). Researchers figured this out by comparing government-recommended weekly meal plans (which include meat) with plant-based meal plans. Both meal plans were based on the cheapest brands available and totalled 2,000 calories per day.
A particularly interesting finding was that vegetarian diets maintained these savings even when expensive items such as olive oil – instead of the cheaper government-recommended canola oil – were included.
However, you may not benefit from these savings if you’re into bodybuilding. While both diets include over 50 grams of daily protein (a sufficient intake for someone weighing 165 pounds), the meatless diet had less: 60 grams versus 96 in the meat-based diet. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible to be a vegetarian or vegan bodybuilder without spending more than a meat-eating counterpart; it just means it may not be as easy or simple.
People may be under the impression that vegetarian and vegan diets must be more expensive because they include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Yet, as this study demonstrates, this isn’t the case. This would probably be true if you were sticking to organic produce, but if you’re buying the cheapest items available, it looks like going veggie is the best way to save money. Or is it? Cutting out all animal products may be an even cheaper option.
Saying no to dairy and eggs as well
With some hypothetical meal plans, it turns out that, if the savings are consistent, a vegan could save nearly $1,280 a year compared to a meat-eater (3). A hypothetical vegan meal plan for the day was also cheaper than the vegetarian version. It is possible to lead a non-vegetarian life on a budget (you could eat at cheap chicken shops every day). And you can clearly eat expensively as a vegan (if you eat out at artisan raw vegan restaurants all the time).
The general trend, though, is that the most inexpensive foods are plant-based, like carrots, oatmeal and rice. Plant proteins and beans tend to be much cheaper than their equivalents in animal protein. The cheapest cuts of beef are about $3 to $4 per pound, whereas lentils and dried beans can be less than $1 per pound; and tofu is less than $2 per pound. Again, this relates to the cheapest brands – you can certainly find tofu products that are expensive.
What’s also appealing about a cheap vegan diet is that it can actually be healthier than a more expensive vegan diet. This is because vegan processed food, such as soy hot dogs or pre-packaged veggie burgers, can be expensive; and not as healthy as, say, eating tofu instead.
So if you find that you’re struggling to budget and save money, there are certainly some useful apps out there that can help you. And spending less on drinking, eating out, entertainment and clothes could be necessary. But don’t underestimate the saving potential of dietary change as well. Going veggie will save you a lot. Going vegan could save you even more. Try it for yourself. You may even find that you feel a lot better as a result.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
I’m currently a Writer at The Canary, covering issues relating to the food industry, drugs, health, well-being and nutrition. I’m also a Blogger for Inspiring Interns, where I offer careers advice for graduates. If you have a story you want me to cover, drop me a message on Twitter (@samwoolfe). You can also check out my travel blog (samreflectsontravel.com) and personal blog (www.samwoolfe.com) to read my articles on philosophy, psychology, and more opinion-related content.