I tried going vegetarian once when I was in high school. My best friend was a vegetarian, and I was curious. I lasted only about four days. My downfall: a buffalo chicken sandwich. Since that ill-fated attempt, I’ve never tried to curb my meat consumption. It’s just too dang tasty.
But in 2022, a family member was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. In addition to taking new medications, they adopted a strict whole-food, plant-based diet in the hopes that it would improve their health. If diet could potentially help a serious disease, I figured maybe it could help my far less serious health issues. Why not try it?
And it worked.
What’s more, in addition to making me feel better, switching from a meat-heavy diet (eating meat nearly twice a day) to a plant-heavy diet (eating meat one to three times a week) saved me more than $800 over the course of five months.
AN ECONOMIC DIET
At first I wasn’t thrilled about eating salad over steak, but I loved how much money I was saving. And it turns out my case isn’t unique.
A 2021 study from Oxford University found that vegan diets reduced food costs by as much as one-third.
When you think about it, it makes sense: The average cost of a pound of ground beef was $5.23 in October 2023. If you replace that meat with chickpeas, you can expect to pay around a dollar for a 15.5-ounce can.
Toni Okamoto, founder of the blog Plant-Based on a Budget in Sacramento, California, says that many of her clients spend $40 to $50 a week per person on groceries while following her plant-based meal plans.
“I was living paycheck to paycheck working a job that led me to live a life below the poverty line,” says Okamoto. “And through meal planning and being thoughtful about my plant-based eating, I was able to climb out of debt and start saving money.”
Eating more plants has also been shown to potentially improve long-term health. Reducing your health risks could mean fewer doctors’ visits, prescriptions and other health-related expenses in the long run.
Katie Cummings, a vegan certified financial planner with Vision Capital Management in Portland, Oregon, notes how diet as potential disease prevention can help cut costs.
“One thing that really derails a financial plan is a long-term care event,” says Cummings.
HOW TO EAT MORE PLANTS
When I started eating more plants I tried to focus on adding rather than subtracting. For me, that looked like eating one new vegetable a week. That’s how I discovered I liked romanesco and was not a fan of kohlrabi. Instead of focusing on cutting out meat, I thought about how many vegetables I could add to my diet. Eventually my tastes changed and I even started craving vegetables.
If you’re looking to eat more plants, there are a lot of ways to approach it, but Okamoto suggests keeping it simple.
“Try not to get overwhelmed with thinking about it as a whole new lifestyle change, but simply think about the things that you eat and how you can make swaps,” says Okamoto. “For example, if you like pasta, you can still eat pasta with marinara sauce and a can of cannellini beans with some frozen veggies thrown in there, or if you like beef tacos, try using lentils instead. They’re heart-healthier and much cheaper.”
GROW YOUR SAVINGS
If you search “make money fast,” you’ll find a lot of suggestions, such as delivery driving or teaching an online class. But few of these can actually put money in your pocket today. If you’re looking to make money, reducing your grocery bill can help you save money instantly.
Cummings suggests that people looking to start eating a plant-based or vegan diet can benefit from tracking their spending.
“Just be really clear and honest with yourself when you’re looking at your budget. Be nice to yourself when you’re starting out on it, and set the limits for your categories kind of high,” says Cummings. “And then you can slowly crank them down, and modify it, checking in often. I always tell my clients once a week if you can, if you can dedicate just 15 minutes once a week.”
If you’re saving a significant amount of money, checking your budget may even start to feel fun. If you cut your grocery bill by a third, you may suddenly have some extra money to work with. You could pad your emergency fund, save for retirement or put money toward a vacation. No matter what you choose to spend it on, the savings and health benefits might just make it worth going meatless.