Out of a desire to help both the Earth and my body, I decided to go vegan.
My decision came after I watched a Netflix documentary called What the Health, a film that discusses how consuming dairy and other animal products can damage both our health and the environment.
My time as a vegan has led me to wonder: Is going vegan worth it from a financial perspective? What are the benefits of going vegan?
Here’s what I’ve learned.
What Is Veganism?
Veganism is a fairly strict diet and philosophy that entails abstaining from meat and other animal products like milk, eggs, and cheese. Instead, a vegan diet relies on plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. This philosophy also means that vegans abstain from purchasing clothing made with leather or fur.
The rationale behind this diet varies from vegan to vegan. Some of us do it out of an ethical concern for the treatment of animals, while others adopt veganism out of a concern for the environmental effects of factory farming. A few do so for health or religious reasons.
Regardless of the rationale, veganism rejects both the flesh and by-products of animals. And while only 3 percent of Americans are vegan, according to a Gallup poll, the number of individuals abstaining from meat or dairy has risen over the past eight years. Still, the question remains of whether or not going vegan is worth it.
Is Going Vegan Cheaper (or Healthier)?
As you might imagine, going vegan can be a huge adjustment. But, despite the initial apprehension, switching excited me, because I wanted to protect animals, lead a healthier lifestyle, save money, and hopefully lose a little weight.
I’m not sure how many animals’ lives I saved, but I didn’t save any money. And I didn’t lose any weight, either.
So is going vegan worth it, after all? Well, it depends on the person.
If you are doing it to lose weight, it may not be the best option for you. If you want to save money and improve your diet, there are a few more factors you’ll have to consider.
1. Food Prices Can Vary
Keep in mind that regardless of what kind of foods you buy, costs will vary depending on which store you shop at and where you live. You won’t automatically see grocery savings just because you stop buying chicken and beef. In the short-term, you will probably see the cost of your groceries go up.
As a vegan, you often need to buy more food to ensure you get your fair share of protein and nutrients.
During my first vegan grocery shopping experience, I was surprised to discover that for just one week of food for myself, I spent about the same amount that I would normally spend on two weeks of food for my whole household.
Granted, I bought a ton of extra starter items that would have a longer shelf life, like canned vegetables, nutritional yeast, frozen fruit, tofu, seasonings. While it’s likely that I could have figured out a monthly budget similar to that of an omnivore in the long run, making it more worthwhile to go vegan, the adjustment in my grocery list certainly cost me at first.
2. Look for Shopping Sales
Taking advantage of sales on plant-based foods shouldn’t be any different from shopping for sales on meat and dairy products.
Local stores usually advertise sales on produce and offer coupons that you can use for discounts. But I didn't have to fixate on a particular meal idea to make going vegan worth it.
I was able to keep my grocery costs low by having an open mind and planning around sales.
For example, if sweet potatoes were on sale, I’d incorporate them into my meals that week to keep my food costs low.
Similarly, I recommend that vegans plan their meals around cost-effectiveness first and foremost, in order to maximize their savings.
3. Avoid Meat and Dairy Substitutes
One of the biggest and costliest mistakes I made when I switched to a vegan diet was falling for all the “fun” substitution foods. While they may sound like good alternatives, vegan sausage, pizza, cheese, and even hot dogs are never as great as they sound.
Vegan substitute foods can be just as expensive as actual meat, if not more so.
They’re also often made with soy and contain tons of sodium. If possible, it’s best to keep these items — as well as vegan junk food like chips, coconut-milk ice cream, and pastries — to a minimum, and to consume them alongside meals made solely from veggies, beans, and healthy grains.
4. Stick to Natural and Simple Recipes
The best way to save money on a vegan diet is to do the same thing you would do to save money on any other diet: Stick with natural foods and simple recipes.
Now I avoid processed foods and ready-made meals when grocery shopping.
Instead, I head straight to the produce section. I also try to buy a few canned goods and frozen fruit and veggies, since it’s more cost-effective — and generally healthier for the body.
5. Try Out New Dishes
Perhaps you find that you’re short on ideas when cooking vegan meals. Thankfully, the Internet has no shortage of recipes designed with vegans in mind.
Additionally, check out meal prep companies like PlateJoy and HelloFresh, which offer a fantastic variety of recipes that help on a restricted meal plan. They factor your goals, allergies, and other dietary requirements you have into a personalized plan.
Some of these programs even have the option to ship you groceries, so that you don’t even need to worry about running to the store to pick up the right ingredients.
My Vegan Meal-Prep Strategy
I use lots of rice and beans, potatoes, spinach, and mixed greens in my meals, and I switch things up constantly.
I make meatless chili, baked fries with fresh-cut potatoes, and tacos filled with refried pinto beans. Plus, I make a really good veggie stir-fry flavored with ginger, pineapple juice, and soy sauce.
I try to prepare some meals in bulk so that I’m not cooking every night, and I do an hour of meal prep every Sunday. This makes it more convenient for me to eat at home more often and save money.
The Counter-Argument: Who Gets to Eat Meat?
Of course, veganism and its associated dietary restrictions aren’t right for everyone.
Though individuals with certain vitamin deficiencies can still partake in a vegan diet, it involves some additional steps that may not be viable for everyone. For some people, being a vegan may not be worth it. Still, while it can be difficult, there are options.
“Because iron primarily comes from animal sources, and B12 is only available through animal sources, these two forms of anemia can be quite common among vegans,” says nutritionist Lisa Richards.
“It is certainly okay for someone to eat a vegan diet when they have these forms of anemia so long as they are taking steps to treat them,” Richards adds. “This can be done through iron and B12-fortified foods or supplements.”
Richards’ testimony is echoed by others within her field.
For those with deficiencies in B12 and iron, going vegan is doable, but it requires an additional level of preparation.
“Vitamin B12 is difficult to supplement in the body, with the best way being to take injections from a medical professional or consume it through nutritional yeast,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Cristen Lindsay. “A vegan diet is a healthy option for most people. However, it must be planned out carefully.”
“Additionally, people with an eating disorder diagnosis and those with multiple food allergies and intolerances should avoid a vegan diet,” recommends registered dietitian Amy Chow.
If any of these descriptors apply to you, it may be better to speak with a nutritionist before adopting a solely plant-based diet.
The Bottom Line
No longer relying on meat for protein and nutrition has affected my life in many ways. I feel healthier and more energetic, and I have peace of mind about the ethical ramifications of my eating habits.
In the end, not much has changed when it comes to my grocery budget — I didn’t save bundles of cash as a consequence of avoiding meat and dairy.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Going vegan was still worth it. Living a more health-conscious lifestyle better ensures both my money and my body will stay fit for years to come.
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.