I've found through personal experience that there are three reactions to someone finding out I'm vegan, always and only three. "Oh, that's cool. I could never do that." or "You don't eat bacon?" and "Isn't that expensive?"
Ladies and gentlemen, let me formally introduce myself. I am Madeline, broke college student extraordinaire. I am the girl paying for her subway pass in nickles, spending hours on Amazon to find the cheapest (and returnable) used books, recycling take-out containers instead of replacing that broken plate, and acquiring my wardrobe from thrift stores. But through all of that, a grocery budget is low on my list of concerns.
Being vegan on a cheap budget isn't the exception, it's actually the rule. (I debunked this myth a bit in my response to The New York Times.) The base of a good vegan diet is whole grains and fresh produce, which happen to be the cheapest items in the grocery store. Sure, vegan versions of cheese and faux meats cost a bit more at Whole Foods, but that's not unique to veganism, animal products are expensive too. So if those processed substitutes and snack foods are making up your grocery list, you're doing it wrong. Moderation, my friend, then hit the produce section and grab a bag of brown rice too.
As far as tofu compares to meat, it's no contest. When my friends complain about the cost of meat they bring home, I sit back and thank Mother Earth for soybeans, a five serving block of tofu only costs me $1.39. My pantry is stocked with rice, lentils, olive oil, soy sauce, pastas, flour, beans and spices. Nothing exotic, nothing expensive. I did spend a whopping $15 on a 22oz canister of nutritional yeast in the Fall, but since I still have 1/3 of it left eight months later, I'd hardly consider that a budget breaker.
My budget? I typically spend $50 a week on groceries. I only eat out on the rare occasion, so that's less than $8 a day, less than $3 a meal. Even less once you factor in snacks. And that's on a good week, there are plenty of weeks when I can only spend $25, and you know what? I make out just fine.
Here's what $50 got me last week:
Almond milk, 1/2 gallon
Kale, 2 1lb bags
Spinach, 1 bag
Sprouts, 1 carton
Roma tomatoes, 4 whole
Cherry tomatoes, 1 carton
Peaches, 5 whole
Papaya, 1 whole
Bananas, 5 whole
Cucumber, 1 whole
Yellow squash, 1 whole
Zucchini, 2 whole
Eggplant, 1 whole
Smart dogs, jumbo 5 pack
Whole wheat hot dog buns, 6 pack
Silken tofu, 1lb package
Tempeh, 1 block
28oz can crushed tomatoes
Koala Crisp cereal, 1 box
SO Delicious Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream, 1 pint
Vegan chocolate chip cookies (Whole Foods Bakery), 2 cookies
I don't see how anyone could argue that replacing a few of those items with meat, cheese and cow's milk would actually bring that receipt down.
My list does vary week to week. Sometimes I need to stock up on bread to keep in the freezer, grab a new bag of quinoa, or some spices. These are the only things that bring my bill up, but they last a long time and I only need them once in a while. Trust me, if I can be vegan on this low budget, anyone can.