Hi Tues and welcome back!
Being vegan does not have to be incredibly expensive if you keep it simple.
For cleaning products, you can make some of your own stuff. I use a mixture of white vinegar diluted with water to clean mirrors and windows. I use washing soda for my bathtub and even just a little in my toilet (as well as a tiny bit of tea tree oil as a disinfectant). I use lemon juice to clean tough greasy spots. I do use Seventh Generation brand (look for labels such as all plant based and no animal testing) for dishes and laundry soap. It is relatively easy to find in grocery stores. It may be just slightly more expensive than your common dish liquids and soaps but a little goes a long way. I use Kirks Castile bar soap which also isn't that expensive and I have been able to find it in larger chain groceries, and Dr. Bronners liquid soap can be used for your hair and double as a body wash or cleaning solution for all purpose cleaning. Health food stores and camping stores carry it. I can make one medium sized bottle last three months. I wash my hair every two or three days, but I do have very short hair.
I don't wear makeup or put anything other than soap in my hair so I don't spend much on toiletries. No hairspray, dyes, that sort of thing so I save a good bit of money right there.
I buy clothing second hand mostly give or take a few special items. I have spent money on quality vegan hiking boots/shoes online but they have lasted me for a number of years now. I also shop through amazon.com and watch prices because they go up and down. I will make my purchase when the price falls. I have also bought a pair or two of work type dress shoes from Payless shoe stores that are all man made materials and very cheap. A lot of trail and running shoes are naturally or "accidentally" vegan as well now.
As far as food, I don't buy a ton of processed foods, but enjoy a few here and there. I don't even buy vegan butter but a few times a year if that. Most recipes that call for vegan butter you can substitute with oil or peanut/nut butter or leave out the fat and use a food like banana, applesauce, pumpkin, tofu etc. For toasts, I will often spread on peanut butter, or tomato paste, or apple compote (I chop and peel fresh apples and warm on the stove in a pan with a little water and spices to make a soft apple compote). Sometimes I make a bean dip and spread that on toast.
For me, beans are a staple. I eat them daily in several servings, and they are as cheap as you can get for a quality protein source. Lentils are excellent and require no soaking. Most beans can also be bought in a can if time is an issue and you don't want to soak and cook dried beans. I make a batch of dried cooked beans on a Sunday and freeze them for use during the week.
Buy in bulk: Beans; grains such as rice, oats, couscous, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, barley, wheat berries etc.; flours; flaxseeds (to use for flax "eggs", in baking or on hot cereal etc); some seeds are not too expensive if you buy just a little and in bulk such as chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds; even pasta can be bought in bulk but is generally very cheap. Think whole wheat spaghetti, macaroni, penne pasta etc.
Learn to make your own bread and make two loaves at a time on a slow day and freeze one. I do this and save a ton of money, because vegan breads such as Food for Life or Ezekiel or Rudis organic bakery brands can be expensive. Once you really get a good bread recipe and get good at making it, it becomes second nature and no big deal. There are very few ingredients involved in making homemade bread.
Condiments and spices/seasonings are also key to making a good homemade simple meal without buying designer items. Some common condiments and staples I keep on hand: applesauce, cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar; liquid smoke, soy sauce (actually tastes really good over plain popcorn as an alternative to butter and salt), jars of salsa, blackstrap molasses (surprisingly very high in calcium and iron), cans of tomato paste, sauce, and diced tomatoes; extra virgin cold pressed olive oil or coconut oil (not that cheap but a little goes a LONG way); shredded coconut (can be bought cheaper in bulk); canned full fat or light coconut milk (great for making curries, for baking in place of condensed milk and for making your own vegan whipped topping); raisins or dried cranberries; dijon mustard; peanut butter with nothing else in it (just peanuts); sundried tomatoes; vegetable stock or broth; lemon juice (or fresh lemons) and lime juice.
Some spices I commonly use: garlic powder or garlic cloves and a good garlic mincer; cumin; chili powder; cayenne; ground mustard; sage; marjoram; curry powder; oregano; parsley, basil; lemon peel; nutmeg; cinnamon; ginger powder; pumpkin spice; harder to find but also excellent are turmeric; cardemom; caraway seeds; garam masala, coriander.
I make a "ground beef" base for recipes by cooking Bulgar wheat (cooks very quickly and if you can find Bob's Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills brands you can find it and it is a cheaper grain). I add a small can of tomato paste and cooked red lentils (red lentils also cook very quickly) to my Bulgar wheat and then spices that suite the dish. For example, I make it for hard shell corn tacos and add taco seasonings (cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, paprika, or an organic taco seasoning mix) and salsa. It looks scarily like ground beef, same texture and color, and has a similar flavoring but obviously without the grease, fat, and cholesterol. For sloppy joes, I do the base...bulgar wheat, tomato paste, red lentils...and add organic catsup (Amy's brand is vegan but most organic catsups are vegan) and molasses to the mix as well as a squirt of lime juice and some chopped onion and green bell pepper. For spaghetti sauce, again I make the base, then add oregano, garlic powder, mushrooms, zucchini, green bell pepper and heap over spaghetti for a high protein textured sauce.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes are also a staple for me. Sometimes a meal is as simple as simmering some kale or collard greens, can of black beans, and chopped peeled (or leave skin on) sweet potato. I add a little coconut milk or shredded coconut and curry powder for a simple quick and filling meal.
A few "designer" vegan condiments I keep around are Just Mayo or Vegannaise for making sandwiches. Some sandwiches I make: mash a can of chickpeas (or 1.5 cup dried cooked) in a bowl. Just flatten them down some but leave some texture and shape. Add some chopped celery and onion, and then a dollop of vegan mayonnaise. Sprinkle some black pepper in there and mix all the ingredients thoroughly to mix the mayo well. Add this spread to three or four sandwiches for a vegan version of egg salad, called chickpea salad sandwich. This also works well with pasta for a cold macaroni salad with vegan mayo, chopped celery and onion, and whole chickpeas. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches are great too (you can even leave out the bread and use a collard leaf or kale leaf or two and add your peanut butter and banana in it and roll it up). I make a white bean dip by blending a can of white beans (or 1.5 cups cooked) with a squirt of lemon juice, black pepper, chopped green onion, and garlic. I spread the bean dip on some bread and add sliced tomato for a sandwich. Sometimes a sandwich can be as simple as sliced avocado and sliced tomato with a little vegan mayo or a ring of onion. If you are into bagels, there are some vegan friendly commercial bagels that are not that expensive, like some Thomas bagels are vegan (New York Style plain). Some tortillas are also vegan. I like Staceys organic tortillas (very few ingredients) though I can only find them at Whole Foods Coops. Making your own tortillas is very easy with a cheap tortilla press. I make corn flour tortillas too. All you need is flour and water to make a cornflour tortilla, and corn flour is very cheap.
Inexpensive breakfasts can be beans on toast with salsa; or peanut butter on toast and a banana; or oatmeal and fresh or frozen heated fruit (I often use fruit in place of any sugar). Rolled oats can be eaten cold with plant milk, fresh or dried fruit, and add some seeds like sunflower to round it out. Pancakes can be made easily without eggs with additions like canned pumpkin (very inexpensive), banana, apple sauce etc. adding a little cider vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of plant milk will make "buttermilk" and this makes pancakes fluffier and makes them rise more with the addition of baking soda in the recipe. I use fruit compote on top of my pancakes which is cheaper than pure maple syrup. I make a fruit compote by heating frozen berries in a sauce pan with a pinch of water, maybe some molasses added for sweetener, and a little cornstarch. Once it begins to heat and the berries break down, stir and it makes a thick sauce. Adding a little plant milk makes it richer yet.
If you want to keep your lifestyle simple and affordable, you will need to learn to prepare your foods (and other items) and manage time for these things. I put aside an hour or two on Sundays to make things that take a long time...wild rice or other long cooking grains, dried beans, breads, stuff for lunchs for my work week. That way I don't have to spend a lot of time during my busy work week doing these things. My days are long and I am gone from my house from 6am to 5pm every day. Having my lunches prepared ahead and freezing stuff I make on Sunday helps me to throw together a simple healthy dinner in the evenings when I am too tired and short on time to make a big fancy meal. I cook and/or prepare all of my meals daily, rarely eat out and rarely buy premade vegan food. Fridays are generally my "lazy day" where I might just throw together a garden salad and popcorn for dinner, or might buy an Amy's frozen vegan burrito here and there. About once a month or two I might buy a vegan meat or cheese product like Daiya shredds or Field Roast vegan Sausage or Beyond Meat vegan chi*kn strips. They are treats, not a staple, and I really don't miss them much. I buy tofu and tempeh more often, which are no more expensive than most higher quality meats. On occasion I make homemade vegan mayo or "cream cheese" by blending cashews, maple syrup, lemon juice etc in my Blentec or a food processer. Again I do this rarely because it is expensive and is a treat. My "cheese" sauces are often a matter of blending steamed carrots or sweet potato with white beans or tofu and a few spices and plant milk for a creamy sauce.
If you can find a decent food processor or seed grinder, this will help a lot for stuff like grinding flaxseeds for ground flaxseed (very handy for baking and make "flax eggs"). You can also buy already ground flaxseeds too, but I find buying the whole seed in bulk much cheaper and fresher.
Also, utilize a crockpot if you have one! Great for making overnight hot cereals and big batches of soups, bean dishes etc for a week of meals. Find a good vegan crockpot chili recipe! And steel cut oats with chopped apple and cinnamon or millet and chopped apple and cinnamon simmering in a crockpot overnight is great to wake up to!
Finally, a steamer basket is an excellent time saver! I can peel chop and steam sweet potatoes or russet potatoes in fifteen or twenty minutes and have soft potatoes for mashing or eating as is or adding to other cooked foods. it is so much faster than baking them in the oven for a whole hour. Same with carrots and other hard vegetables. I can have soft steamed carrots, asparagus, broccoli etc in a matter of ten minutes with a steamer basket. Definitely worth investing in! I spent maybe $20 on a great steamer basket and lid and have used it countless times.
In the end, only kindness matters. - Jewel
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