After catching the movie "Cowspiracy" and checking out the site NutritionFacts.org, my husband and I did a Thanksgiving-to-Christmas vegan experiment last year, which we have since continued. Though environmental and health concerns drove our experiment, after six months we also realized a sizable benefit in savings, enough to cover most of a two-week spring trip to Athens, Crete and Rhodes.
We saved money by going vegan in several ways, the first obvious, the others perhaps not so much.
Plant protein is cheaper, especially if you're trying to eat organic. I mostly shopped at Costco, but savings in buying organic plant protein elsewhere could be significantly more: A can of organic beans might cost you 15¢ more, for example, but organic meat and fish would also cost you dollars more per pound.
I used canned for convenience, but dried pulses such as beans and lentils bought in bulk are half the cost.
At a conservative estimate, just by changing to soy milk and making two people's lunch and supper vegan, we saved $1310 to $1470 over six months.
At least once a month I used to miscalculate and buy or defrost meat, chicken or fish I didn't cook in time. For organic burger or chicken breasts, it cost me $5 or $6, and for fish even more. Brown and wild rice stays fresh at least six months; dried and canned pulses made of beans, lentils or split peas last at least a year.
I'd also chuck sandwich meat or cheese we didn't get to, the remains of a chicken, butter that got too old, and so on. So conservatively, avoiding $10 a month from spoiled protein/animal fat, we saved $60 in six months.
Because so many good vegan dishes are soups and stews, which are easy to freeze, I tend to make a potful, enough for us to eat for a few meals, and stash the rest. There's now always something in the freezer.
Also, there are few specifically vegan restaurants in Western Massachusetts, and the vegan options elsewhere are often not so tempting (though usually $4 to $8 cheaper than meat/fish options). When we do go out, it's usually a cheaper cuisine: Middle Eastern; Chinese; vegan Indian. And since Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks often don't have soy milk, or charge extra for it, we try to remember to bring coffee with soy milk when we travel.
Reduced dining out saves at least $150 a month; the coffee prepared at home at least $50. Savings: $1200 in six months.
The arthritic swelling, stiffness and pain that had begun in my fingers left after a month's veganism, so I didn't need any more ibuprofen. For the first time I had no seasonal allergies this spring, so no OTC allergy meds.
Most Americans get less than half the required 30 g of fiber, but a plant-based diet remedies this — and no more "irregularity" means no more expensive probiotics. Vegans must ensure that they get sufficient B12, but many cereals and soy products are now fortified, and a supplement, if you need one, is cheap.
As before, I still take some D3 in the winter, though many soy products are fortified, like dairy. One Brazil nut a day takes care of selenium, which is often low in meat-eaters as well, and occasionally I pop some zinc, but a vegan diet supplies tons of magnesium, potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K, things many meat eaters' diets are low in, and some of which I used to supplement.
The conservative estimates of what we saved on all of this add up to $2570 to $2730 in six months. Greece is cheap, so this covered:
As well as being warm, beautiful, and welcoming, Greece is cheap: Together we spent, on average, $70/day on 12 days of delicious meals, and $20/day on world-class attractions such as the New Acropolis and Heraklion Archeological museums ($1080 for two).
Here's a sample recipe for a cheap and easy vegan meal:
Bean & Corn Chili
A 14-oz can of organic kidney beans is 85¢ at Costco. (Dried organic beans soaked overnight and cost half that.)
2 cans organic kidney beans = $1.90, 49g protein
1 bag frozen organic corn = $1.30, 11g protein
8 oz. textured vegetable protein (dry soy flakes, a ground beef consistency), 80¢, 96g protein
2 cups chopped organic peppers and onions, 4 cloves garlic = $1.50
1 cup thinly sliced and diced organic red cabbage = 50¢, 1 g protein
1 large can Nature's Promise (Stop & Shop) organic tomatoes = $1.89
Spices: 1 tbsp chili pepper 1 tbsp cumin, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 2 tsp oregano, salt
For $7.89, you get a meal to stuff eight adults consisting of five different vegetables and 157 g protein. It costs 99¢ and gives 19.6 g protein per serving. If each serving is put over a serving of organic brown rice (25¢) or an organic wheat tortilla (25¢), the same potful feeds 12 adults, with equivalent protein.
Andrée Pagès is a freelance editor whose experience includes 20 years as a medical editor for such firms as Pfizer and Sanofi Pharmaceuticals. She recently wrote an account of how a cheese-loving Frenchwoman who didn't particularly care for animals became "The Reluctant Vegan."