We eat a whole foods plant-based diet and, not only that, we eat a LOT. With pro vegan bodybuilder Derek consuming about 4000 calories a day, and two vegan kids that have invisible supplementary stomachs, it is a challenge to keep costs down (as a 36 year old active woman I eat a more reasonable 1800 calories/day or so).
I’ve seen all sorts of posts and even books about eating a super cheap vegan diet – and it can definitely be done! Rice and beans, for example, are staple foods for some of the lowest income populations on earth. We like to eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, though, and whenever I take a closer look at posts about eating vegan for $30 a month per person they tend to feature enriched pasta and things like that rather heavily. Vegan and whole foods plant based are not always synonymous.
I shared a post on Instagram recently seeking the answer to the mystery of cheap groceries:
and some commented that they feed a family of four for $60/week?! When they mentioned clipping coupons to do it, I knew I had to keep looking. Fruit and veggies pretty much never come with coupons! We spent nearly that much per week on sweet potatoes, dates, and bananas alone!
Luckily, we have two years of data that summarizes our plant based grocery bill as well as all restaurant expenses!
Over that time, we experimented with different (American) grocery stores (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Aldi, Walmart, Wegmans, Kroger, natural foods stores), different staple menus, even meal prep services. And we’ve found that the secret to reducing the plant based grocery bill for our family of four that is not going to eat any damn less is…
- Grocery pickup at Walmart
- In store shopping at Aldi
- Ordering specialty items via Amazon Primenow, maybe bi-weekly
Why does it work? Partly because Walmart and Aldi are extremely cheap. Each of these chains is far from glamorous, but they carry a decent amount of organic produce and frozen vegetables that are far cheaper than you’ll find even at Trader Joe’s.
Back to that “far from glamorous” part – it’s the second key to spending less. In general, nobody wants to actually go IN Walmart. The lighting alone is claustrophobic, and taking children inside is like entering a black hole of time. We can never leave without visiting the toy section. Anyway, because we pre-order food online and pick it up by waiting in the parking lot for them to wheel out our stuff, we need never go in. Never going in means never buying superfluous crap on impulse. That alone has saved a ton of money.
Aldi is similar – what they carry is so limited anyway that it’d be hard to overbuy. And it’s like shopping in an abandoned warehouse that doesn’t lull me into buying more with soft lighting and exposed wood like Whole Foods does. Bonus: combining these two spots into one trip, where I stop by Walmart to pick up and then shop quickly in Aldi has cut down our shopping time to less than 1 hour. That’s pretty miraculous with two small children! All you have to do is make it not fun for anyone and it’s over so much more quickly! And cheaply.
Specialty items purchased have also been drastically reduced by using PrimeNow. I only get essentials and again, I don’t get excited about new vegan items at the natural foods store that I feel compelled to buy even though we don’t really eat fake cheese or whatnot. There is a small charge for delivery including tip but I feel this is offset by savings.
Next, just the act of tracking makes you more reluctant to overspend – it’s the same thing that works for finances in general. We were able to set a reasonable threshold for our food expenses, and then it was kind of fun to try to beat it.
The final key, that we constantly hammer into people that attend our talks and workshops is this: we eat almost the same thing daily and weekly. Sound boring? I think it’s exciting to not waste brain cells on figuring out what to eat. We are drowning in choices all day long and that is three or four fewer major decisions to have to make, so I’m sold.
More on what we buy in the next installment!