Being Vegan and Being Cheap

Being Vegan and Being Cheap
by Laura Beaulne-Stuebing, October 18, 2007

As a student, I know all too well the importance of budgeting my expenses. Even with student loans and summer job savings, things are tight. I, like most university students living on their own, don’t have a lot of extra cash.

Sure, I’d love to dine at the nice restaurants in town, buy all my clothes from fancy boutiques, and have my own method of transportation – a Prius, maybe? But I simply don’t have the money for it. Most students I know (except for those lucky trust fund kids) don’t have the money either.

When I think about it, though, being cheap is the simplest way to live. Like veganism, living simply (I like that term better than “living cheaply”), is ethical and environmentally friendly.

Think about it.

Upscale restaurants serve animal products with fancy names – caviar, foie gras, escargot, and brie – products which are clearly inconsistent with vegan values. Swanky boutiques sell overpriced t-shirts shipped in from China – think about the environmental impact of getting those t-shirts into stores. And cars? I hope I don’t have to explain green house gas emissions…

Instead of dining out, I eat in – I make my own food. I know what’s in it and I get to experiment in the kitchen. Instead of fancy boutiques, thrift stores are my retailers of choice. Buying second-hand is the ultimate way to be an environmentally friendly consumer. And, instead of a car, I use the trusty transit system. Fortunately for me, I live near good bus routes. This all saves me money!

But there’s much more to think of when on a budget – other than dining out, buying clothes, and getting around. When we live on our own, we need to buy groceries! But will I, the frugal vegan, be satisfied with walking to the closest grocery store to buy frozen dinners, canned soup, and Yves Veggie Dogs? Is that the best thing for a student on a budget?

For me, and many other vegans or vegetarians, there’s also the question of organic, “ethical” foods. I love the products, but hate the prices. I want to support organic companies – I believe in environmentally sustainable practices – but can my bank account handle it? If I wanted a can of tomatoes, would I spend 79 cents at a regular grocery store or about 2 bucks for organic?

If I had a steady, profitable income, I would choose organic. But since I only have my savings to dip into, for now it’s going to be regular canned tomatoes.

Same can be said about vegan “analogues.” There’s a place for specialty vegan products – a pint of Soy Delicious ice cream every once in a while, jar of Nayonaise, vegan “meats” when they’re on sale, and maybe a tub of Earth Balance vegan buttery spread if I’m feeling adventurous – but I stick to what’s simple.

And what, you may ask, is simple? How do I live by my vegan values and stay on budget?

Bulk food is key – stores like the Bulk Barn are indispensable. It’s incredible the variety most bulk retailers carry! Don’t be afraid of dried grains (quinoa, brown rice, millet, and bulgur) and legumes (garbanzos, pinto beans, and black eyed peas). To me, bulk grains and legumes are the basis of the ultimate vegan diet. Buying these staples in their dried form keeps your wallet heavy and your reusable grocery bags light – just imagine lugging cans and cans of black beans across town.

Also, not only are there grains and legumes at bulk food stores, but a variety of flours, sugar, cereals, spices, teas, nuts and nut butters, cookies, crackers, and dried fruit. Clearly, I love my bulk.

For produce, I do what I feel is best. When I can, I go to the farmer’s market and get local stuff – a special treat. But mostly, I buy fruit and veg from the regular grocery store. I check to see what reduced produce the store might be carrying – sometimes I can find pounds of mushrooms or big bags of slightly overripe bananas for only 99 cents! The mushrooms become savoury soup and the bananas become yummy bread.

When buying produce, I also look for things in season. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it really makes a difference. Buying a watermelon in the middle of winter is, in my opinion, a waste of money. Watermelon’s great on a hot summer day, but when it’s minus 20 degrees Celsius and the melon costs $7.99, it just isn’t worth it.

So, with all that in mind, here’s a summary. My tips to keeping expenses low and to being a simple, cheap vegan:

1. The Bulk Barn, or any other bulk food store, is your best friend! Get to know your dried grains and legumes.

2. Buy produce in season.

3. Don’t rely on organics and vegan versions of omni foods (like meat analogues, vegan buttery spreads, and soy cheese). Although I love Soy Delicious chocolate peanut butter ice cream, it really adds up!

4. Make your own meals. Dining out and buying pre-made foods (canned, frozen etc.) aren’t the cheapest options. Save restaurants for special occasions.

5. Frequent second-hand shops for clothes and household items. Vintage and eco-friendly!

6. Take the bus. Simple as that.

There – my two cents on being vegan and being cheap. Omnis can heed my advice as well – we ALL want to save money!

Laura is a university student in London, Ontario.

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