Vegan Salt –the blog

{September 15, 2010}   Vegan Grocery Bills -Part 2 (with Cheap Chili Recipe)

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I recently asked Twitter, “Do you spend more or less money on food as a vegan than you did as an omnivore?” and the responses fell pretty evenly into the following categories.

Specialty Vegans – One group said they spend more because food items made for vegans are so expensive.   (See Vegan Grocery Bills -Part 1 on vegan replacements for old favorites like cheese and marshmallows.)  Restaurants that cater specifically to vegans also tend to charge slightly more per plate than low-end standard eateries.

Organic shoppers – Another group said they spend more now, but that it’s because becoming vegan lead them to critically examine the items they consume, and they now buy significantly more organic produce and other high-priced health foods.  Tahini, raw cashews, coconut oil, chai seeds, spelt flour, organic peanut butter; all those would have seemed like luxuries to, say, my mother.  This group of folks is paying more, but eating much higher quality food.

Home Cookers – People in the third category said they actually saved money as vegans by eating out less (sometimes because so few vegan options are available) and by cooking more, usually from scratch.  This is the secret to being a frugal vegan eater. By all means, use Chick’n patties and vegan cream cheese as needed, especially as you transition to eating vegan, but keep in mind that your goal should be eating more whole plant foods.

Yes, this means learning to cook.  Yes, it takes some time, but it saves you a bunch of money, and as much as you may think you hate cooking, you’ll find that a simple meal can taste scrumptious when you have put it together yourself.  Accomplishment is a spice that goes well with everything.

What type of vegan grocery shopper am I?  Well, I see myself in all of the above categories.  There are some specialty vegan foods and restaurants that I can’t imagine doing without.  I do shell out for organic foods more than I used to, particularly soy products.  And of course, I cook more and eat out less than I used to.  Whether I spend more or less money on food as a vegan, I’m not really sure, but I do know that when money is tight, I can get by on nearly nothing, no ramen or Kraft boxed pasta meals necessary.  Speaking of eating cheaply, here’s one of my favorite recipes: CHILI! Chili is just about the best thing you can make if you’re less than confident in the kitchen (as well as if you’re already a great cook) because:

  1. It’s delicious.  Even the leftovers are delicious.
  2. It makes a huge batch, and costs $1 per serving! I don’t usually list the prices of ingredients, but I’ll do it this time, just to show how affordable vegan cooking can be.
  3. It’s very flexible: add, subtract, or substitute ingredients to suit your tastes.
  4. It’s absolutely foolproof.  If you can turn on a stove, open a can, and chop things with a knife, you can cook chili.

Cheap, Foolproof Chili

Ingredients (Total price $7.10):

  • 2 or 3 cans of Black Beans (87¢ apiece, or $1.20 if organic)
  • 1 can of Corn (83¢)
  • 1 can of Black Olives (88¢)
  • 1/2 an Onion (23¢)
  • Jalapeno (15¢)
  • About 1/2 a cup of Rice, brown or white (maybe 5¢ worth from a large bag?)
  • Bell Pepper (green 60¢, red $1.20)
  • 2 or 3 Tomatoes ($1)
  • 1 or 2 Carrots (30¢)
  • The juice & pulp of 1 Lime (25¢)
  • 5-10 cloves of Garlic (25¢)

Spices (prices not listed):

  • 1 Tablespoon Chili Powder
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Sea Salt
  • Cayenne Pepper


  1. Chop the tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and carrot and put them in a large pot, stir them, and turn the heat on to medium high.
  2. Finely chop the jalapeno and the garlic cloves and add them.
  3. Open the can of black olives and add the olive juice to the pot, along with half the olives, cut into halves or quarters.  Set the other olives aside.
  4. Add the rice and the chili powder and stir.
  5. Then, open the cans of black beans and the corn, and add them to the pot.  Do NOT drain them, just pour the whole thing in!
  6. Let everything simmer on medium heat until the rice and carrots soften, the juices are absorbed, and the flavors start to meld together.   About 40 minutes.  During this time, add the lime and the other seasonings to taste.  Add water as needed if it seems too thick.
  7. Serve topped with the remaining olives or with avocado wedges, and tortilla chips on the side.  Makes 6-8 servings.

ailanna says:

I spend more on food than I used to, but I blame my spouse, who eggs me on when I look longingly at Coconut Bliss and exciting new spices that could be fun to cook with.

I love my chili chunky, so I add eggplant and zucchini and have it over potato wedges. The only problem with chili is that it’s not something I can really whip up when I get home late, but I guess I can always freeze it. And I have to say that I do still eat ramen — dressed up with shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, green onions, edamame, and chunks of firm tofu.

Natashia says:

I find that going vegan has saved me TONS of money… Because I’m mostly raw vegan as well, I don’t cook very often either, and don’t buy anything packaged. Because I also don’t crave any processed foods whatsoever, I only spend about $40 CAD on food a week, and another $40/month for my protein sources (nuts and seeds tend to be on the expensive side). However, I feel SO MUCH BETTER… I call that a win/win on my wallet and health 🙂

Mrs. Nix says:

Our grocery bills, in general, have dropped about a hundred dollars a month from the pre-vegan level. I would typically spend $200-250 at my bimonthly commissary trip. That number is now $150-$200. The reasons for this are:

1.) We don’t buy as much junk/processed/pre-packaged food because the overwhelming majority of it has milk products in it. We still buy Oreos. /wink Processed and pre-made convenience foods are so ridiculously over-packaged and over-priced.

2.) I buy NO meat, NO dairy butter/milk, and No yogurt. All three of these categories were expensive (because I bought organic and high-quality before going vegan). The vegan butter we buy is cheaper than my old dairy butter, and I use less of it…same with soy milk. I use one carton of Silk a month and my daughter drinks about two cartons of chocolate Silk in that same period. Before, we’d easily go through 4-5 cartons of organic dairy milk in a month. So, these substitutes are a reduction in cost. The other two items are just subtractions from the total. Big ones. Meat products were a huge expenditure overall.

3.) I buy local produce. Farmer’s market produce is a STEAL on Okinawa. Perhaps, I’m being spoiled and it isn’t that way in the States, but I buy two weeks worth of local produce for about $30.00. We eat more leafy greens and seasonal good stuff this way, and it’s a huge reduction in money spent.

I have always been a home cook, and we have always been liberal spenders when it comes to food. For us, being vegan in the home is a significantly lower cost.

And you can reduce that chili coast even more by cooking the beans from dried yourself. I don’t spend a lot less because I have vegans, vegetarians, and omnis in my house. But, I think I definitely spend less on the cost of organic veggies vs. convenience foods.

Organic is so expensive! I’ve definitely spent more money going vegan– but it’s so worth it! Great post, very informative. Bomb chili recipe!

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