It's common knowledge – eating healthy, especially eating lots of vegetables, costs more than eating junk, right? Wrong! It can cost a lot more to eat fresh and healthy foods, especially living the vegetarian lifestyle, but that happens when you don't think about what you're eating beforehand. Considering that you have to plan out your meals in order to get the right nutrients anyway, living the veggie lifestyle in a frugal way is just a matter of making smart choices for things you're already doing anyway.
Think back to how your grandmother talked about the good old days. When peaches were in season, they had peach pies and peach ice cream and – you get the idea. People ate what was abundant at the farmer's stand because it was cheap. It was cheap because the farmers had a lot of it they wanted to get rid of before it went bad.
The same rule holds true today. Sure, you can find ripe strawberries in the grocery store in December, but you'll pay a fortune (and they'll taste bland). On the other hand, go to the local strawberry festival in your area and you'll find enough cheap berries to feed yourself for months. Do the same thing with broccoli, sweet potatoes, corn and any other vegetables you can find. Plan your menus around what's ripe this week and you'll naturally pay less for your meals.
Learn to Preserve
Taking advantage of cheaper seasonal fruits and vegetables doesn't do you much good if you can't enjoy it for more than a week or two each year. Learn the fine art of preserving foods to allow your cheap produce to last throughout the year. Remember those December strawberries? If you freeze fresh berries in the middle of summer, you'll have good-tasting berries for the rest of the year.
Preserving comes in three basic methods: freezing, canning and drying. Each food preserves best in one way or another, so you'll have to research how to save your personal favorites. But when you're eating super-cheap peppers in the middle of winter when everyone else is paying a small fortune for them, you'll gloat a little bit before adding them to your dinner.
The absolute cheapest way to get food for your veg*n lifestyle is to grow it yourself. Whether you plant a couple of pots on your balcony or dig an entire city block for a family's entire yearly menu, you'll save money when you grow any type of food. Setting up a garden can be expensive if you buy everything new, but frugal gardeners know better:
•Buy year-old seeds for pennies and plant three seeds per hole to make up for old ones that won't sprout.
•Repurpose old junk to use as garden tools: old spoons make small shovels, broken cribs can become support for vines to grow on.
•Plan the year before and save seeds from food you eat to create completely free food.
•Grow foods with the biggest nutrition punch, such as dried beans and gourds and leave fancy treats like radish and gourmet colored carrots to a smaller corner lot.
Once your garden comes in, you're bound to have at least one crop that you have more of than you could ever use, even if you pickle or freeze it. Get together with other gardeners in your community and arrange a produce trade. If you have tons of tomatoes and the guy on the next block is buried in black beans, you've got a natural trading situation going on. Trade basic items in bulk for unusual items you want to try such as heirloom tomatoes or different bean or pea varieties. Get together with fellow vegetarians before the growing season for the best trading or look on Craigslist or your local paper during harvest season to see who else is looking to trade.
Make a Menu
If you're serious about living the veggie lifestyle you'll have to plan your meals ahead of time. While you're figuring out the best combination of foods in order to get enough protein into your diet, mix and match food items for the cheapest bang for your buck. Once you have your menu set, make a grocery list and stick with it. Go for ingredients only, avoid any processed foods and be determined to cook the foods on your menu instead of just heating them up in a microwave.
Buy in Bulk
Invest in some large, clear containers for your counter top and buy your ingredients in bulk. It's cheaper and in many instances, you'll get fresher, higher-quality ingredients. Buy pasta, rice, any dried beans and peas you don't grow and even spices and keep them in airtight containers. Tasty food doesn't have to come in colorful packages.