I am often told as I whip some nuts/dried fruit/a smoothie out of my bag to eat, “wow! How do you afford to eat like that all the time?” At first I thought wait a minute, how AM I doing this? Before becoming vegan or trying to buy food package free, I didn’t buy a fraction of the whole foods I now consume. I too would have looked at someone eating certain things and assumed they were rich (ha)! Here are a few observations on how I eat like I do on a student budget.
Freeing up money
Being vegan and buying food loose means that, although I don’t consider myself to be missing out (on the contrary!), there are a lot of things I used to eat that I no longer do. Meat used to be the hardest thing for me to buy- it took up so much of my weekly budget, but I would only go about 2 days a week without having it for dinner. It was a must. Now that I don’t eat it, I can use all that money to buy other things. The same goes for sweets and takeaways. I kind of had a health revelation at the same time as going vegan and realised that little by little, the packet of Haribo here and the burger there were actually making a dent in my wallet (as well as obviously making me unhealthy). Every time I crave some sweets or chocolate now, I try and get my hands on some fruit. You can get so much more for your money!
One in one out
It is completely possible to spend the same amount of money or even less than before by trading in the things you’re indifferent to/don’t like/are unhealthy. It’s a question of deciding that you are going to make it work. I was a crisp-fiend before I discovered Zero Waste, but since I found bulk dried mango, raisins and nuts in my local shop, I haven’t looked back (much)! I swapped crisps and cheese at lunch for a smoothie and some dried fruit and nuts, I swapped chocolate cereal at breakfast for oats and fruit with nut milk. It all works out about the same because for every item I’ve introduced to my diet, something else has gone.
People seem to think being healthy is much more expensive than not. Whilst in certain ways I can understand their view-point, for me it was more that I didn’t know where to look. Fruit and vegetables can be very cheap; some of my favourite go-to meals include spiralized courgettes in place of pasta, and red pepper (one pepper per person). That rivals a £5 McDonald’s meal any day! Also, natural whole grain food registers in the body to let the brain know that the stomach is full. The more processed a food is, the less the body will be able to detect whether you have eaten enough and the less you will absorb any nutrients. A burger may well be cheaper than a vegetable stew, but when you consider that the former option will be followed up with more cravings for snacks (hence more money spent), it is overall cheaper to just fill yourself up properly in the first place.
I have been having so much fun experimenting with vegan meals over the last few months that I have noticed my spending increase. But I’ve also come to a new decision: not to police myself on the money I spend on good food. When I go shopping, I buy what I need for the week, but I don’t allocate a budget. It works out the same-ish usually anyway. I don’t want to deny myself the opportunity to go out later in the week for a few extras for a smoothie or some snacks. Now that I am reaping the benefits of being healthy, and having struggled with eating problems in the past, I am finally ready to give food the positive place it deserves in my mind and my wallet. Before food was just another thing I had to budget for, whereas now it comes before clothes and items. It’s what keeps me alive- I need to make sure it’s good and that I can have as much as I want!
Getting creative and changing my perspective have been key to making a success of this new way of eating, and have brought excitement and positivity back to food for me.