How to Eat Vegan on a College Budget

Congratulations on making the healthy, ethical choice to eat vegan. If you are still teetering on whether you should go vegan, I have some tips to maintain this lifestyle on a budget that is fit for a college student. I have heard many people say that they can’t go vegan because its too expensive, but that certainly does not have to be the case. One mistake that some people make when they choose to eliminate animal products from their diet, is to go for the packaged, precooked meals; but I encourage you to explore the perimeters of the grocery store which is stocked with fresh, whole foods that are for the most part, cheaper than those processed items. Since switching over to this lifestyle over two years ago, I’ve found ways to financially maintain it. Here are some of the thrifty ways to continue your plant based journey:

Buy bulk



Not only is buying bulk cheaper than prepackaged items, but you can also control how much you want to purchase. Many grocery stores such as Ralphs or Sprouts have a bulk section where you can buy an array of foods such as grains, sugar, granola, nuts, dried fruit, flour, rice crackers and so much more. For packaged bulk items such as frozen fruit for smoothies or bigger portions of produce at a lower cost, a wholesale membership such as Costco or Sam’s club is definitely worth it.

Buy local and eat seasonal


Unlike produce shipped across the country or from overseas, you can taste the quality in the freshness of local produce because it did not have to travel far to get to your nearby market. Luckily for us, Californians, we are almost always guaranteed that our fruits and vegetables came from a nearby farm. Locally grown food is also much cheaper. In addition to buying local, it is also advantageous to eat seasonally because produce tends to go up when its not in season. Watermelons, peaches, and strawberries are summer fruits; persimmons, Asian pears and butternut squash are best in the fall; dates, tangerines, and Brussel sprouts are seasonal during winter; Artichokes, rhubarb, avocados, and kiwi are seasonal during spring.

Besides going to your favorite grocery stores, the farmer’s markets sell an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nut butters, flowers, and more. Not only are you supporting small businesses and local farmers, but if you compare prices, they may even be cheaper than the stores. Its also a social event all in one, with live music, fruit tasting, and interacting with the farmers who you can ask questions about the food they’ve grown for your table. Here are the schedules of some of markets on and off campus.

  • UCLA Bruin Plaza: 2:30pm-6:30pm; Dates: 2/25, 4/8, 4/22, 5/6, 5/20
  • Westwood (Broxton Ave between Kinross and Weyburn): Every Thursday 12:00pm-6:00pm.
  • Santa Monica Farmer’s Market in Heritage Square: Sunday 9:30am – 1:00pm.
  • Brentwood Farmers’ Market (741 Gretna Green Way): Sunday 9:00am -2:30pm.

Starches are the best plan B

During the winter, there’s not as much of a variety of fruit as there are in the summer, so out of season produce are far more expensive. In addition, it may not be comforting to drink icy smoothies during the holiday season when you should be curled up next to the fire eating a warm meal. During these times, I turn to starches such as potatoes, butternut squash, rice, corn pasta, or parsnips which make a pretty flavorful soup.

Contrary to the bad rep that carbs get in the dieting world, the complex carbohydrates in starchy foods are your friends, not your enemy. They’re nutritious, they cook fast, easy to dress with seasonings or pair with other vegetables, they fill you up, and provide efficient energy for your metabolism. If you are interested in incorporating more starches in your diet, I recommend reading “The Starch Solution” by John McDougall.

Ask farmers/stores for unwanted produce for cheap

Life is tough for the unconventional looking produce. Many of the fruits and vegetables go to waste because they don’t meet the beauty standards to be sold on the shelves of supermarkets. The rejected ones that don’t meet the aesthetic standards according to the government and the stores themselves, may be bruised, or be two heads of carrots stuck together. Either way these are equally delicious and nutritious as their “shelf-ready” counterparts. Unfortunately, they don’t get sold, and often just go to waste. Ask your local grocery store if they have any unwanted produce they could sell to you at a lower price such as “spotty bananas.” Ralph’s has a discounted section where some of the produce goes so keep an eye on that the next time you make your next grocery trip. Vendors at the farmer’s markets may also sell you fruit and veggies they may otherwise not sell because they want to make their display of produce look at most appealing to the public. Don't be afraid to ask them the next time you visit your favorite vendors; and who knows if you're a regular, they may put some aside for you in the future knowing their products won’t go to waste.

The dining halls and restaurants are your canvas

One thing not to sacrifice when making the switch to vegan or any diet choice is your relationship with friends and family. I lived in the dorms my freshman and sophomore year and I am so grateful for the dining halls which offers unique, vegan options; but sometimes, my friends wanted to eat at other dining halls other than B Plate, so I made the menu vegan by asking the servers if I could have certain dishes without the meat or cheese, for example. Its that easy! When my friends and family wanted to go out to eat, they were really supportive and tried to always keep me in mind when choosing a place to eat, but I didn’t like inconveniencing any of them, so I learned to customize my orders. Living in L.A., servers are definitely no stranger to vegan accommodations so that was simple; but when I go home to visit my parents, its not as vegan friendly. In that case, I customize my orders and still enjoy quality time with them. Connecting with other vegans is fun, but if you’re like me and a majority of them are not, you could still share your lifestyle by taking them to these awesome L.A. plant-based restaurants (meat-eaters approve!):  Café Gratitude, Real Food Daily, Gracias Madres, Crossroads, Native Foods, Rawvolution.  


If you're still deciding to go vegan, I hope these tips have helped you; and if this is your lifestyle, I hope I've saved you money somehow. The switch to vegan certainly inspired creative cooking in the kitchen because the “restrictions”  ironically opened up a door of variety among plant foods and unique ways to plate them. The animals, Mother Earth, and your body thank you for your healthy eating choices.


Photos courtesy of Nicole Maree blog,,,, LA Times