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Home » Food & Drink, Health, Lifestyle Finance, Live

Frugality through Vegetarianism: How to Save $2-$3K Per Year & the Planet by Moving Away from a Meat-Based Diet

Last updated by on 31 Comments

While we were in college, my wife and I made a gradual shift to becoming mostly vegetarian. It all sort of happened in an unconventional, non-life-philosophy-shattering sort of way…

I was on this high-protein, low-fat, low-carb kick, and she was still eating a meat and potatoes type diet. My low-fat meals got her thinking about what she was eating and she decided to take things a step further and start looking into a vegetarian diet.

We tried out some new dinners and decided that this veggie thing wasn’t half bad. I educated myself and overcame my fears about not getting enough protein in my diet (just about everything has protein, except for fruit).

Today, I very occasionally eat poultry, seafood, and if in an ‘eat it or miss a meal’ situation, I’ll still eat just about anything. For the most part though, I’d classify myself as a non-strict vegetarian. Here’s some food for thought (pun-intended) on becoming vegetarian…

The Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

cost of vegetarian diet

There are a lot of positive benefits to eating a mostly vegetarian diet:

  • It’s much more sustainable and low-impact on the planet: According to Thom Hartmann in The Prophet’s Way, it takes 16 pounds of grain/soy and 5,214 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of edible beef (the same amount of water one American uses on showers in a year, on average). Tomatoes, for comparison, only need 23 gallons of water per edible pound. Another fun fact: You can produce 30,000 pounds of carrot on an acre of farmland, but only 250 pounds of beef. How about this? It takes 78 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of protein from beef, while only 2 calories of fuel to produce a calorie from soybeans. Another? The amount of pesticide use per acre of corn (the main feed for livestock), has increased 100,000% since 1945. Meat also strongly contributes to global warming. You get the idea.
  • It’s humane: Every meat eater should watch video of a slaughter house or caged chickens with their beaks cut off so they don’t peck out each other’s eyes, to at least appreciate the hell that animal went through before it ended up on your dinner plate (if not the physical condition the animals are in). I’m not going to sit on a soapbox and label meat eaters as bad people or make them feel guilty about eating meat, but I do think that this world would be a better place if everyone was conscious of the conditions their food came from, demanded better conditions through their purchasing decisions, and appreciated the sacrifice from the animals.
  • It’s more sanitary: There’s just something unappealing about the thought of eating dead flesh that has been passed around and is rotting and growing bacteria with each passing day. Check out the videos on the previous point, if you’re not convinced of the unsanitary conditions that most of our animal products come from. Out of sight isn’t out of mind for me.
  • Time & Effort: Vegetarian dishes, on average, are a lot easier and quicker to cook. With meat you have to thaw, prepare, slow cook, and there’s usually more of a mess to clean up.

The Two Reasons I have Stayed Vegetarian

The previous four positive benefits have definitely helped keep me on course, but two other benefits really stand out as being the keystones behind my continued vegetarianism:

  • Taste: It just tastes better to me. Meat and potatoes is extremely boring to me now. Getting rid of both has opened up a world of new flavors and a variety of foods to me. Just as many meat eaters can’t imagine what a life without meat is like, I cannot imagine what a life of going back to eating a lot of meat is like. People always ask me, “Don’t you ever just miss a big juicy steak?”. No! I’ve been on both sides, and I have absolutely no desire to go back, if for no other reason than veggie dishes just taste better to me.
  • Health: I don’t have to worry about consuming growth hormones and antibiotics and eating all of the saturated fats and cholesterol. As a result, I feel healthier than ever. And “we all die someday” is not a legit argument to eat a bunch of crap, in my opinion. It’s a cliche phrase usually given by people who don’t want to come to grips with their unhealthy eating habits. A 50% reduction in meat consumption reduces your risk of heart attack by 45% (source: The Prophet’s Way).

The Cost of a Vegetarian Diet

You knew I’d be getting around to this at some point!

In my latest stroll through the supermarket, an average pound of  ground beef costs around $5 and a pound of chicken breasts $4. Prices vary widely by cut, but these were just the standard, non-organic, hormonal varieties.

A pound of canned black beans, on the other hand, costs just under $1.

What follows is a VERY SIMPLE illustration, but assuming a couple consumes a pound of meat combined per meal and eat meat in 14 meals per week – and then made the switch to the same amount of beans or some other low cost vegetable, grain, or legume as a substitute – they could potentially save $2,200-$3,000 per year. Just making the switch away from meat for four meals a week would save them roughly $600-$800 per year.

Yes, you can be a cheap vegetarian.

If you’re married or living with your significant other, I strongly recommend that you consider this a joint decision. It’s hard as hell for one person to be a vegetarian or vegan and the other to be a meat lover. Food is such a huge component of a healthy relationship. That being said, if your significant other is not on board, win them over by working in a few meals per week, and gradually increase from there. =)

The money itself would not be reason enough for me to switch from a meat-based diet to a vegetarian diet, but it surely re-affirms that choice. For someone in a financial pinch, perhaps it is strong enough reason in itself. When you add in all of the other benefits, it seems like a great choice for someone trying to save money.

Vegetarian Discussion:

  • Are you a vegetarian? Why or why not?
  • If you made the switch to being vegetarian, how much did it save you on your groceries?
  • Have you considered making the switch to vegetarian simply to save money?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


31 Comments »
  • balor123 says:

    Meat is a complete protein but as a vegetarian you may have trouble getting all the necessary amino acids. Also iron and B12. Vegan is even harder.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Yes – for anyone looking into being a vegetarian, you must do your homework. This post was meant to highlight the financial and other benefits vs. being a ‘how to be a vegetarian’.

      • Anand Viswanathan says:

        I learnt that the important discussion about proteins being a bottleneck with vegetarianism is quoted often in the western countries only after coming to the US. Being anything other than a vegetarian is out of question in my community in India and Non-vegetarian food including eggs is simply not at all considered food as pieces of glasses are not considered food anywhere.

        For hundreds of centuries there were many people following vegetarian diet in India(there were and are of course lot of meat eaters too)and there has been absolutely no complaints about any lack of nutrition etc. at any point of time. Many people lived move than 100 years too. So, I was surprised to see these kinds of reasons given to follow a meat based diet.

  • Brian says:

    More power to you money-saving vegetarians, but I just don’t have the discipline to abandon my very regular meat-eating habits. Was your transition difficult, G.E.? Did you do it cold turkey? [behold the second intended pun on this webpage]

    Also, I couldn’t agree more with your comment about doing what we can to demand optimal conditions from which our meat came from. Hard to do consistently, however. If anyone has any suggestions I’m all ears.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Brian – to be honest, I was resistant at first. It was a slow transition, I definitely did not quit cold turkey (which I still eat around the holidays, by the way). Suggestions on the ‘optimal conditions’ point:
      - Only purchase cage-free/no-steroid/no-antibiotic/organic animal products at the grocery store when the option is available. You’re voting with your wallet. Tell the store manager you love these products and wish they had more.
      - Same thing at restaurants. If they have it, praise it, and tell the owner/manager you wish they had more.
      - Don’t eat at fast food chains that buy the lowest cost products – why do you think those products are so low?

  • balor123 says:

    A more practical and healthy approach would be just to reduce the typical diet dependence on meat. The FDA recommends 5.5oz of meat protein daily, not very much. At that amount, you’d save most of the money and you could afford to place higher standards for what you purchase. You then wouldn’t have to worry about balancing your diet as a vegetarian, an important advantage since there isn’t readily available feedback about whether diet is in practice balanced.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    Canned and frozen veggies can definitely be cheap but we have found that fresh vegetables more often do cost more (by weight) than does meat on sale.

  • Melissa says:

    I’m surprised about how none of these comments have been that supportive of your lifestyle. I don’t know where Ron is shopping, but I’ve lived in 3 different cities (Phoenix, Spokane, and Denver) and have always found that veggies (fresh or canned) have consistently been cheaper than meat. The key is buying what’s in season, and not some exotic produce that’s flown in from hundreds of miles away. That’s why asparagus can be so expensive depending on the season (just one example.)

    And actually, it’s extremely easy to get enough protein and nutrients from vegetables and beans. Lentils, beans, and dark leafy greens are all examples of great foods that have a lot of nutrients.

    But getting back to the real topic, saving money, I’ve been a strict vegetarian since college (when I was broke as a joke and had no kitchen) and I’ve saved so much money in comparison to my meat eating friends. Generally, vegetarian meals out are so much cheaper, making vegetarian food is cheaper, especially when you buy food in season. And, like you said, no meal is ever “boring”– there are SO many different kinds of vegetables and spices out there, that any dish can be just as flavorful if not more so than a meat one.

    Plus, after seeing my Dad’s meat-eating ways cause him a very expensive triple-bypass surgery at 50, there’s no way I could ever justify eating meat. That’s not saying you can’t eat ‘lean’ meats and be fine, but with my health history, I’m not chancing anything.

  • Retired Jane says:

    In my opinion, if you are going the vegetarian way, you should also embrace the organic way. Everything you say about hormones in meat is true but fruits and veggies are grown in such conditions nowadays that they are “polluted” with pesticide and fertilizer.
    Everybody should watch food inc, it’s a very good documentary: http://www.foodincmovie.com/

    • G.E. Miller says:

      It’s funny you should mention Food Inc. I just watched it last night. It is a MUST WATCH MOVIE for everyone. If you haven’t considered being vegetarian before, you will after. And trust me, ignorance is not bliss.

      • Retired Jane says:

        What’s really shocking in that documentary is not only what we learn about the current agriculture but the fact that the whole system seems corrupted. Everything seems good enough to make more money. For instance that big slaughterhouse in california is employing illegal immigrants on purpose to reduce costs and give a few of them to the police every month so the business can keep on running “legally”. This system is just immoral and we are really served junk foods in supermarkets.

        • G.E. Miller says:

          The Monsanto stuff was ridiculous as well. And everyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet….. 70% of all fast food burger ‘material’ (you can’t really call it beef) is soaked in ammonia by a company called BPI before being molded into and packaged into a box and shipped out. Bon appetite!

      • andi says:

        forks over knives is what convinced me

  • Melissa says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 3 years now. I did it in an effort to support my teenage daughter who for years struggled with weight gain in a family who otherwise doesn’t. I started out to help her feel supported since I really wasn’t a huge fan of meat anyway. There is a heart disease running through my family so I thought this was a win-win all around.

    As I started planning our vegetarian meals, I realized how meat dependent we were. A common example of our daily routine would be, “What do you want for dinner?”…. Response “Oh, pork chops sound good.” Even if cooked them healthily, we still didn’t give strong planning to the rest of the meal. We’d just pick out a veggie and some kind of starch like rice and be done. It was that way for most meals.

    When we switched over to a vegetarian diet, although simple foods, takes into account our balance of needed nutrients. I pay more attention in counting up how much of this or that we’ve gotten for the day and snacks are even taken into consideration in the count. We keep peanuts, sunflower seeds etc to fill the “hungry” periods where a little more protein/fat is needed.

    I can definitely say that vegetarianism is doable and can be frugal in the process. Even with my husband still eating meat some, its easy to make a vegetarian meal and fix him meat on the side to add to it. As time has went on though, he has enjoyed the meals so much he doesn’t ask for meat so much.

    There are quite a few nutrient dense foods that are inexpensive. You can buy a huge bag of carrots for cheap. I shop at Costco and their frozen organic corn, mixed vegetables and broccoli are all very reasonable. Adding brown rice, cheese (Parmesan is higher is protein than others)and black beans (highest is protein of all beans) and its easy to balance meals.

    My daughter is actually able to eat MORE than she did on our old diet because of the calories/fat and has gotten her weight into the normal range. Every once in a while we think about going back to eating meat, but then we think, “Nahh, the food is great and its now become comfortable for us.” Our food bill for 3 is about $60 per week. We are whole food eaters and try to eat simply and in season.

  • Kulutusluotot says:

    I’m not a vegetarian, but I try to choose vegetarian food when possible. Furthermore, I avoid red meat and try to eat fish instead. Sometimes, however, my flesh is weak and I just must have a steak…

  • AML says:

    Good points were raised here. Believe it or not, my head is telling me to be a vegan but my stomach is saying NOOOOOOOO… I don’t like vegetables :(

  • Cindy says:

    Such a good article! I gave up meat in 2004 when I had gallbladder problems. So I pretty much went cold turkey into being a vegetarian. It was sooooo hard at first. But I found many recipes and now enjoy many vegetables I had never heard of before. After about a year of still suffering from gallbladder issues I had it removed. But, I never returned to red meat.

    I do occasionally eat poultry or fish. I take extra vitamins and snack on nuts but even with that after 4/5 days without poultry/fish my body is needing the protein. My daughter has joined me as a vegetarian however, my husband will not give up his meat. This is fine as an earlier post mentioned I could it seperate and he is happy. I think our meals are much more nutrional now than ever.

    Other than one neice in the extended family, my daughter & I are the only vegetarians. All of our friends are meat lovers. So yes I am the but of many jokes and asked constantly to “have a burger”. But when we are all in our 60′s I am sure it will be me driving them to the hospital for their bypass surgies.

    I haven’t regretted my decision!

  • Lucian says:

    Your body also needs fats. While you can get them from almonds and peanuts, you still need animal fats, they have other proterties. You should keep at least cheese and eggs in your diet.

  • Auspiciously Mundane says:

    This is such a great article! I’ve been a vegetarian for 4 years after being a die-hard meat lover. I don’t even think about meat anymore. I’ve even convinced some of my family members to do the same. As far as budgeting goes, some of the least expensive meals are vegetarian: rice and beans, spaghetti, etc. However, I have been known to fall into the trap of the meat replacements. Vegetarian “ground beef” or “chicken strips” can be quite pricey, often more than their meat counterparts.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Some of those meat substitutes are a little questionable too. Yes, there is no animal product, however, they often load up on salt, corn products, and other questionable shelf-life increasing ingredients. If you can find ones that are all natural veggies, that’s the way to go.

  • Becca says:

    Haha. While i was reading this, there was a big ad for burgers next to it. I thought that was a bit funny.

  • Audrey says:

    Lol. Becca. I used to belong to a vegetarian forum. They have ads for steak house and sushi restaurants ALL the time.

    I’ve been leaning toward vegetarianism for a decade now. But I’ve moved in with a major meat eater who doesn’t even know how to cook for himself and think that the typical home cooked meal includes a filet mignon and now my grocery budget went way over the ceiling. Even the cheapest cuts I could find are the usually pricier per pound than the more expensive and exotic vegetables. The fellow already got health problems in his twenties and already overweight. Right now I’m financing his meat eating because he’s unemployed and family (well, don’t want to kick a fellow when he’s down).

  • Alexandria says:

    I’m a year behind, but wanted to voice my vote for vegetarianism. Any transition will be hard and unfamiliar, so you must first decide what motivates you.

    I actually switched to vegetarianism before I learned how to cook, but I imagine I’ve saved. I currently spend about $150/month on groceries. I eat out about twice.

    Also, just wanted to point out that, while a can of beans is cheaper than a pound of meat, a bag of *dried* beans is even cheaper than the can! :)

  • Isaiah says:

    I’m a part-time vegan as of about this past June, lol. I say part time because I still eat meat about 3-4 times a week – most often when I don’t plan my meals.

    I made the decision after watching documentaries like Forks Over Knives, Food Inc, Food Matters, etc. Plus I’ve read several vegan lifestyle books in addition to numerous other resources.

    I always am amused at how people tell me, “Oh you gotta have meat. You need your protein,” whenever I mention transitioning to a vegan. As if they are dieticians themselves and eat the healthiest meals. You will have a healthy if not healthier life without meat/animal/dairy products. You can get your B12 from cereals, soy, etc.

    I’m trying to convince my friends and family to make the switch as well. I know a few people who have been vegans for most of their lives and they said they’ve never felt healthier compared to when they ate meat.

  • Eric Gold, MD says:

    Vegetarianism was an easy choice for me 35 years ago. As I age I eat less dairy, and I suppose I could call myself an opportunistic vegan today — meaning cheese in my food is possible but unlikely.

    Inadequate nutrition is possible, but it would take effort. If candy and heavily processed junk food is avoided then nutrition is fine. If nutrition insurance is desired, a couple vitamin and omega-3 pills a week should put any worries to rest.

    I eat about a pound of fruits and vegetables a day which averages out to a cost of $1.5 USD. The lion’s share of my daily protein and calorie intake is from about a pound of bulk grains, potatoes, lentils and beans which cost about $1.5 USD. Altogether, about $3 USD a day.

    Regarding money, certainly the daily cost of vegetarianism can be quite reasonable, but the real savings are realized by having a healthy lifestyle. Vegetarianism is a very good place to start. Not only does a healthy lifestyle save on medical bills and insurance, it likely allows a person to work longer and enjoy the retirement years more.

    Last but certainly not least, vege/veganism is the right ethical choice to avoid animal cruelty in industrial husbandry, and is a solid start to a more sustainable environmental footprint.

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