In May I made the obnoxious decision to try out veganism for a month. What inspired me is still a mystery. Whether it was a tech bro espousing the benefits of a plant-based diet or an attempt to shrink my carbon footprint for the coming climate apocalypse, the inspiration was not important. What is important is that I managed to shrink my food bill in the one month I went vegan. That was a surprise.
Countless financial experts and gurus tell me I will never be able to retire by the desired age because of the venti latte I get every morning. God forbid one more boomer tells me that my generation is ruining the American dream because of our affinity for avocado toast (it's delicious). However, when close to 49% of millennials are spending more on restaurant food than they are saving for the future, these tiresome experts may have a point.
That finding was the biggest shock in my vegan experiment.
Before I started my journey into the world of veganism, I did some research on how this might affect my grocery bill. Buying organic vegetables and fruit were going to be more expensive — there was simply no way around that. Reviewing my average grocery bill from the prior three months, I was spending about $5 more per trip. While the portion sizes were going to be the same, many blogs warned that the first week or so I could expect to feel hungrier than usually, so it was important to stock up on snacks. Unsurprisingly, these vegan-friendly snacks were more expensive than my regular go-to's. For instance, Justin's Peanut Butter costs about $3 more than a jar of Peter Pan.
All the extra costs should send a food bill through the roof. I certainly expected mine to, and was preparing for it as the month continued. But it became clear why my food bill hadn't soared when my roommate requested reimbursement for several orders of Greek takeout my apartment had ordered. I live in a communal home with several friends, and it is typical for one member of the house to order dinner for whomever is in the house on any given night and then be reimbursed through Venmo after the fact.
There were three Venmos pending from my roommate in May, ranging from $15–$25. I got to decline all of them. Because I couldn't be certain that the delivery food would be prepared in accordance with the high standards of veganism I forwent any takeout. This may have caused my waistline to shrink — I lost 10 lbs. during my vegan month, though I was also in training for a half-marathon — but more importantly, it kept my wallet fatter than I expected.
After reviewing my three previous months of Vemno transactions, I found that on average I was spending $107.33 a month on either takeout or eating out — nearly 30 grande lattes from Starbucks! I know $100 may not seem like a lot, but in a country where 40% of adults now do not even have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense, and there has been an alarming rise in credit card delinquencies among millennials, finding new ways to find every dollar counts. And every dish I cooked lasted a lot longer than takeout. Recipes I made for under $12 yielded up to four meals.
The money was not the only pleasant surprise. Not ordering in or eating out also meant I had to cook my own food, and while I am certainly no chef, I like to think I know my way around a kitchen — it helps having both a father and a brother who are professional hands in the gastronomic industry. My first job was behind a deli counter, but it was really only over this past month that I reconnected with the art of cooking. I took more time to appreciate how my food was grown and the painstaking process that went into getting my food from farm to table.
I started cooking dishes outside my comfort zone, dishes from cultures from far away places where there is little to no meat in their diets. Tofu, despite how commonly mocked it is, can be delicious when pan-fried in oil. Just don't burn yourself like I did.
I didn't expect to save money when I decided to try veganism — it was never meant to be a personal finance experiment. But I am certainly glad that I did. The experiment also had some negative repercussions — turning to a family-sized bag of Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili chips at 2 a.m. for dinner because it is the only vegan option (look it up) in the bodega is not only a bad dietary choice but more expensive than a slice of pizza.
If there's a budgeting lesson, it's this: Before you order in or eat out consider picking up a bunch of broccoli and a paring knife. If you are a young professional like myself with a network of friends who regularly dine out, cooking at home stands a good chance of saving you some money. Of course, I am well aware of the obvious response a naysaying hater could throw back at me with the burn of tofu oil: Just don't order take out or eat out in the first place! Sure, that's true, but operating in the real world means accepting the choices we make, especially when living with peers, won't always tend to the monastic.
One more thing: If you do go vegan be careful when you decide you eat meat again. Don't rush back into a meat- and cheese-eating binge. The lessons I learned will last in the long run, and that's more than I can say about the money I spent on my first post-vegan meal. If you know what I mean.
Here's one of my go-to recipes from vegan month, courtesy of "Bon Appétit." The ingredients cost under-$12 and it fed me for several days. My version, pictured below, is not as pretty as Bon Appétit's, but I am among the 100% of the publication's readers who tried this recipe and said they would make it again.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.