Vegan on the Cheap. ~ Emma Hudelson

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One of the wackiest misconceptions about veganism is that it’s expensive.

Maybe it is if you insist on buying organic, fair-trade, artisan prepackaged meals, but that’s not necessary. It’s not even all that good for you.

Legumes, whole grains and inexpensive fresh produce kept me going strong when I was a dirt-poor undergrad who lived alone. I made pastas, stews, Indian fare, gumbos and jambalayas for dinner, had oatmeal and an apple for breakfast and ate leftovers for lunch.

I always kept a stocked spice rack and olive oil on hand for sautéing, and ate PB&J’s when I needed a snack.

My diet was almost 100 percent free of processed foods, I had tons of energy and my grocery bills were cheap enough that I could afford to buy the booze I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Life was good!

Don’t believe me? Here’s a sample shopping list from my famous $15/week grocery bill days.

1 lb lentils
1 lb brown rice
16 oz fresh spinach
1 large red onion
2 heads garlic
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 quart soy milk
1 lb quick-cook oats
2 lb apples

To help keep it cheap, I was careful about where I shopped and what I bought. Here are my top three places for staying vegan on the cheap:

International Grocery Stores

You can get incredible deals on produce at these stores. If you’re close to the border, you know what I’m talking about. Do a Google search for your city—you probably have a few that you didn’t even know existed. Don’t be squeamish. You will undoubtedly find some gems if you’re willing to take the time to look for them.

Trader Joe’s

This is a fabulous establishment to visit when you do need your vegan junk food fixes. While their produce is pricey, they have the best deals on the prepackaged stuff that, while not necessary, can be very convenient to have around. Their Soy Creamy soy-based ice cream is almost always in my freezer.


Obviously, you won’t be buying your groceries here, but being vegan is about more than want goes in your mouth.

Clothing and household items are important, too. One way to make sure you’re not supporting the consumption of animal products is to buy everything secondhand. This saves you a ton of money and you end up with unique pieces that you wouldn’t find on the shelves and racks of Target.

A note on Whole Foods:

Just don’t shop there if you want to save cash. I can’t walk in the door without spending at least thirty bucks.

They’re a good company that sells solid products, and they’re a great resource for those hard-to-find items, but your bank account will decrease exponentially if you make them a standard stop in your grocery shopping expeditions.

Don’t fool yourself.

Even if you walk in with a specific list that you have sworn to stick to, you will get taken in by the vegan, whole wheat cookies made locally with only five ingredients, or the organic, fair-trade blood oranges that were hand-farmed by an ancient matriarchal tribe in Botswana.

Accept it and move on, or be prepared to fork over most of your paycheck.


Relephant Bonus:

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Photo: Author’s own

The Elephant Ecosystem

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Emma Hudelson

Emma Hudelson is an Ashtanga practitioner, Vinyasa teacher, and wholehearted vegan who wants to spread the strength she’s found through all eight limbs of yoga. Off the mat, Emma is a writer and animal-lover, and lives with her husband, four dogs, and two cats in Rocky Ripple, Indiana. She blogs at here or check her out on Instagram and Twitter: @thebuddhiblog.

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anonymous Feb 27, 2016 7:36pm

It would be nice to see a sampie menu for the week from the grocery list just to get an idea.

anonymous Feb 27, 2016 7:32pm

I really like the deals at Trader Joe’s sister store — Aldi. They are getting more and more healthy options.

anonymous Mar 15, 2015 2:29pm

Best resource for Cheap vegan, healthy AND easy is This is not spam. The Happy Herbivore is a rock star in this.

anonymous Mar 15, 2015 1:03am

What year was this $15 weekly shopping list from? 1997?

anonymous Feb 26, 2015 2:52pm

I think being vegan is awesome and I totally support it! Thank you!

I found this article misleading, however. There is no way this is a week's worth of groceries. Even for a few days, we're talking lentils and brown rice at every single lunch and dinner. No one wants to eat like that, unless they have no other option.

anonymous Feb 26, 2015 1:51pm

Soy milk? Canned tomatoes? Non-organic? As a single mother, I appreciate your intention in meeting a sparse budget, but there are a few things which a person must insist upon being organic and two are organic non-GMO soy and tomatoes which arrive in BPA-free packaging. The ingredients listed above can be purchased organic for just pennies more, and found at your local grocery store in most areas, so why not go OG? Your recipe is great!

anonymous Feb 26, 2015 1:48pm

I will say that even if Whole Foods is more expensive, everything is always fresh. There are times I shop at other grocery stores to save a few dollars and the food doesn't last as long. So in the end I'm saving money spending an extra bit at WF.

anonymous Feb 26, 2015 11:10am

I always enjoy articles such as this because well, I am poorest person I know but I still try to do my best to eat right. The problem I have with this grocery list is that even with my best estimates you still are running under 1000 calories per day diet and that is not healthy it's basically starvation. An average adult requires about 2000 per day. I don't how good I would feel after doing something like this for more than a week.

anonymous Feb 26, 2015 11:07am

How do you have pb&j without it on the list?

anonymous Sep 29, 2014 3:52pm

I like this article, but I don’t appreciate the negative target on Whole Foods. I can buy all the things on this list at Whole Foods for about $15 which is as well as many other stores. Yes they have some amazing ( and pricey) specialty products that would be nice to keep around if you have the money, however they don’t NEED to be in your basket. I just believe Whole Foods should not get the negativity because of an individual’s shopping impulse. I personally shop at Whole Foods weekly, and am able to maintain an extreamly low budget.

anonymous Sep 28, 2014 3:09pm

I normally eat on five bucks a day and have wonderful food. I gave up on trying to teach others how to do it as they just don't listen..and that is fine. Emma is right on the money in this article

anonymous Sep 26, 2014 9:40am

Great list! Some possible recipes on a budget would be way cool to see.

anonymous Sep 25, 2014 9:13am

Great post! As a current undergraduate, I was wondering this morning what I was going to do for food this week. Do you have a favorite recipe with these ingredients? Do share ;).

    anonymous Sep 26, 2014 12:23pm

    Thanks Aaron. Here's a good option that uses some of those ingredients plus some "kitchen staples" that always need to be on hand!

    Lentil Apple Stew

    2 cups Lentils,washed and drained
    2 large cooking apples
    1 large onion, chopped
    2 teaspoons curry powder
    1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
    1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    1tsp dried thyme
    2 bay leaves
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    salt and pepper
    6 cups vegetable broth
    1-2 tablespoons olive oil for sauteing

    Bring 3/4 the vegetable broth to boil in a large soup pot. Reduce to simmer and stir in lentils. Simmer for 20 minutes. Chop and saute the onions in olive oil in a frying pan, then add minced garlic and chopped apples and cook until browned. Add vinegar, spices, and the remaining vegetable broth. Simmer for 10 minutes, then stir entire mixture into soup pot. Serve hot with a spinach salad on the side, dressed with olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

anonymous Sep 24, 2014 3:55pm

I'd love to see a months worth of shopping, and some recipes! Vegan on the cheap is hard and I think you are absolutely right about WF
Thanks for posting

    anonymous Sep 26, 2014 12:23pm

    Thanks Adrianne! That's a great idea.

anonymous Sep 24, 2014 3:39pm

Hmmm, I could go 3, maybe 4 days with the food on that list. Also, seems like a pretty dull meal plan. Or maybe I am not creative enough?

    anonymous Sep 25, 2014 11:27am

    The point of the shopping list is to be inexpensive yet healthy. It is a bit dull which is why she said to keep the heft spice rack on hand.

      anonymous Sep 26, 2014 12:11pm

      Thanks for reading and responding, ashley!

    anonymous Sep 26, 2014 12:11pm

    Thanks for reading, Anni. It's definitely about finding the balance between creativity and affordability.

    anonymous Jul 7, 2015 8:45am

    lentil soup, lentil meatballs, lentil burgers, lentil meatloaf, lentil tacos….lol i could go on and on and on. Lentils are by far my fav 🙂