Eating the frugal vegan way

What is a Frugal Vegan?

by Lisa Van den Boomen

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Almost eight years ago, I was in dire financial straits and needed to stretch my dollar as much as possible to make it go further. I spent months researching and testing ideas, recipes and tips in order to improve my life and not increase my spending. After gathering a lot of information, I decided to create a zine with tips and recipes that worked for me and share it with others in the same boat. This led to three more zines and eventually a blog to help other vegans (and even non-vegans) save!

Ok, what is a vegan? Veganism is a philosophy and lifestyle that seeks to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. (

Alright, what is Frugal Veganism then? A frugal vegan is the same thing as being a regular frugal person (trying to save money!) but the bulk of us tend to concentrate more on organic, fair trade, animal-free, cruelty-free and/or local products. Many of us are also very environmentally conscious and try to do away with purchasing from big corporations if possible. We also do a lot of the "3 Rs" (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle).

How does a Frugal Vegan go about getting deals and freebies? Bigger corporations who have the money to mass-market samples of their products usually give the bulk of freebies and deals to consumers. Many of these companies do not have animal-free or cruelty-free products, so basically there are many freebies out there that I do not take advantage of. Therefore, instead of perusing freebie websites, I find products that I like and/or want to try and write the company myself, telling them about my situation and often get samples or coupons from them. I also visit department stores and drugstores and ask for samples there as well. Sephora is a great place to get free organic (vegan) beauty samples if you have a store near you. I also use and to scour for free items that I might need. Also, bartering is a great way to get free services.

Can you tell me where I can get something vegan for free? If you are interested in veganism and perhaps getting some easy recipes, you can get a free vegetarian kit from the following organizations:

Isn't eating vegan very expensive? This is a myth. The expensive vegan foods are processed ones such as fake meats, pre-made frozen meals and non-dairy products (vegan sour cream, cheeses, ice cream…). A frugal vegan will tend to shy away from most processed foods and take advantage of what nature has to offer, such as grains, nuts, seeds, soy and fresh produce. All of these products can be purchased at a minimal price, especially if you can buy in bulk and purchase seasonal produce from markets. Tofu can be purchased very inexpensively at Asian markets. Non-dairy milk can be made at home cheaply using just water and any type of seed, bean or nut (rice, almonds, cashews, soybeans are the most popular). Meat, dairy and processed foods are expensive so if you stay away from any of these, you will not only be eating better but a lot more cheaply as well. Frugal vegans also like to use Food Not Bombs, a worldwide volunteer run organization that will salvage food from health food stores and farmer's markets. They usually have weekly or sometimes daily servings of free vegan meals and, in some cases, have boxes of produce and food to take for free. Many of us also grow some of our own food in the garden, even on our balconies! Fresh herbs, beans and root vegetables are very easy to grow.

How do you save on health and beauty products? Products that are vegan, cruelty-free and organic can be very expensive and sometimes I have to make do with the non-vegan products that are on sale. Thankfully, consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious and these types of products are now being mass-produced and offered for a cheaper price. I've even seen organic products at the dollar store, which was unheard of a few years back! Many companies do offer affordable cruelty-free products, which are not tested on animals. Check PETA's list of cruelty-free companies at

What about saving on clothes and footwear? Some vegans are very strict about what they wear. Most of us shop at thrift stores, yard sales, and find items on sale at retail stores or up-cycle existing clothing. Eco-friendly clothes tend to be very expensive as they are often made with hemp, organic cotton or bamboo. In addition, they are either handmade or made in small factories and not mass produced, which would obviously increase the cost to the consumer. This makes it tough for someone to purchase on a tight budget. As much as we want to support smaller local companies and designers, sometimes it is not possible. The best thing to do is look for these items on sale (try eBay or I have found a few eco-threads at the thrift store too.

There is a lot of vegan footwear available out there; many less expensive shoes are made from other materials aside from leather. Stores such as Payless have a lot of vegan footwear. Also try and check their sales section for good deals. Sadly, because of a foot condition, I must wear mostly leather footwear for now. For me, clothing and shoes is a gray area. I also purchase wool if I know where it came from, but many vegans will not wear anything with wool or leather. Luckily, some big designers (such as Stella McCartney) are now designing solely vegan footwear and clothes so perhaps this trend will leak into mainstream fashion in the next few years, which will make it more affordable to us!

Aren't all vegans a bunch of extremist hippies and punks? This is a stereotype. A few years ago, when I would mention that I was vegan, most people got very defensive with me right from the start. I think they were waiting for me to shove animal-rights brochures in their hands and start preaching or yelling at them for being meat-eaters. But I never did. Sure, there are some people who live up to this stereotype just like any other subculture. But like any group of people, there are all kinds of characters around! I work in an office, I have a passion for fashion and you'll see me having mayonnaise the odd time when my vegan stuff isn't available. We're not all extremists. Most of us want to better the world and reduce suffering (who doesn't?), and our focus is on animals and the environment. We all contribute what we can to make the world a better place. Isn't that why we're all here?

Reviewed June 2017

Lisa Van den Boomen lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada.

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