College Vegan on a Budget: Makin’ Changes

An occasional series on my trials and successes in grocery shopping for myself for the first time while on a college budget.

It’s getting to be that time of year ago–finals week. Okay, technically it’s not for another 4 weeks, but close enough, right? With that being said, these CVB posts will probably be on hiatus soon for the next few months, as I move back home for the summer and hopefully go back to my parents paying for most of my groceries. I’m excited for that, but truth be told, I’ve been having fun and learning a lot doing this budgeting thing and I don’t plan on going crazy with the groceries once my parents are doing the purchasing.

So I’ve been doing a great job at keeping my weekly Whole Foods trips at around $60 or under, but I’ve failed at keeping my whole weekly grocery budget at around $80. I shop at Sprouts on a weekly or every other week basis and keep my costs to around $30 or under, but I get into trouble when I go crazy over their Larabar selection, or when I hit up yet another natural foods store in the same week (as I did last week, going to Natural Grocers and spending $20 on some super-expensive coconut flour bread, dark chocolate and cappuccino Larabars that were on sale) or when I buy food online from iHerb or Amazon (as I did two weeks ago). So for the rest of the semester, I’m going to be limiting those purchases as much as possible, probably only making one more purchase from iHerb to restock my peanut flour. And since I’ll be moving out of my apartment in a month, I need to get rid of some of the pantry staples I have, like beans and flours, so I’ll really be watching my grocery list and eliminating unnecessary purchases.

Sprouts buys.

Sprouts buys.

*=organic

Sprouts

What I Got: ALT  and Uber Larabars, Kit’s bar*, chocolate Kale Krunch* (not planned, but I’d never seen it before and was intrigued), cherry cola Zevia (on sale for only $2.99!), pineapple, Gone Nuts chipotle pistachios, unsweetened applesauce*, avocados x3*, serrano peppers

What I Spent: $32.70

Verdict: The raw nuts and kale chips were the only things not on my list (and the two most expensive by far) but I bought them because I’ve never seen them anywhere else and wanted to try them. I stocked up on the Zevia (a new-to-me flavor) even though I have some others in my pantry because they were a steal at just $3, compared to the usual $5 or $6. The avocados were bought organic because they were the same price as conventional and buying organic whenever possible is always best.

Whole Foods purchases.

Whole Foods purchases.

Whole Foods

What I Got: Gone Raw Thai curry cashews (it’s a problem, I’m obsessed), raw cashew butter (this stuff is AMAZING, and only getting a little bit from the bulk aisle saved me tons of money), bulk unsweetened coconut shreds, bulk white Turkish figs*, Medjool dates*, Veggie-Gos fruit and veggie strips*, canned green olives, Tom’s kids toothpaste (I had a coupon, and have been looking for a more natural toothpaste), cherry chocolate Vega One bar, plain Skinny Crisps (for an upcoming recipe), eggplant*, watermelon (yes!), 1 lb. strawberries (finally we’re getting into berry season), Ataulfo mangos X2 (tastiest mangos ever!), baby spinach*, fair trade vanilla extract (on sale and one of the only clean extracts I could find), Hail Merry raw chocolate tart (another thing I need to stop buying, I love it too much!), bulk fair trade 65% dark chocolate chips*

What I Spent: 60.76

Verdict: I have gotten SO much better at spending less at Whole Foods while still getting a lot. Produce is usually about 1/3 of my total purchase, which is really decent, especially for such great quality and sometimes organic produce. I still got a few fun purchases, but I’ve been better about not buying all my favorite splurges all the time. 

What fruit are you most excited to eat this summer? What’s the best grocery store deal you’ve encountered lately (for me, it’s either the Zevia, or the Larabars I found for under $1 each)?

College Vegan on a Budget: Doubling Up

One in a series of posts about how I stay on a budget while getting my fill of healthy, vegan foods from higher-end stores.

As it is the week before Thanksgiving break (hollllllla!) I was in a bit of a pickle. I was running out of some things I need weekly (almond butter, kale, nuts, olives, almond milk) but I didn’t want to make a big stock-up trip and end up wasting money on things I won’t be able to use up in a week or be able to keep around until after break. I knew I couldn’t really live on what was left in my fridge unless I wanted to be totally restrictive and veggie-less for the week so I made the trip to Whole Foods…twice! Yeah, crazy, I know, but one of those times I went with my mom when she came up with the rest of my family for the weekend and the other time was a semi-emergency trip.

All this stuff should last me through this Thursday, and some of it I should be able to take home with me over Thanksgiving or just leave here without risking food poisoning. And I didn’t spend too much, which is a total win!

*=organic

New find, just in time for the holidays! And it’s fair trade!

Whole Foods (trip 1)

What I Got: dark chocolate covered raisins* (a fear food of mine I wanted to challenge–they had pretty clean ingredients so I went for it), Justin’s vanilla almond butter squeeze pack (ran out of AB, needed a quick fix for a couple of days), Garden of Life RAW vanilla chai protein powder (OMG, so good, look for a review of it soon), Theo peppermint dark chocolate bar (splurge, but it’s worth it for good chocolate)

What It Cost Me: $32.15 (I had a $5 off coupon for the protein powder, score!)

Verdict: I could have maybe skipped the chocolate and the raisins, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could go outside my comfort zone and buy a couple items I’ve been wanting for awhile but haven’t been brave enough to try. The protein powder was a total leap of faith (I’ve had the brand before, but a different flavor) but it was worth the money–great taste, good nutritional profile, awesome ingredients. 

My bigger Whole Foods haul, with plenty of produce and staples.

Whole Foods (trip 2)

What I Got: Pacific Naturals vanilla unsweetened almond milk*, Rising Moon garlic merlot pasta sauce (my favorite brand for sauce)*, Made in Nature dried pineapple and apple* (on sale!), Truvia, Farmer’s Market boxed pumpkin*, Maranatha maple almond butter (new favorite AB), maple covered almonds, Nada Moo! mint chocolate coconut milk ice cream, Celestial Seasonings vanilla red rooibos tea, green kale* (also on sale), 2 small bananas, green figs*, bulk olives

What It Cost Me: $47.23 (not bad!)

Verdict: I am so happy I stayed just under $80 for this week’s groceries (this is a new goal of mine for every week) and I got a lot of good stuff I was out of so this was a much-needed trip. Even better, we went at night so the store was not crowded at all!

Like I said above, I want to try to stick to a budget of $80 a week on groceries (I think I can do it!) and this week showed that I can do it, even buying more expensive items like the protein powder and vegan ice cream. I know there are certain things I don’t want to give up, because the higher price is worth the health benefits and taste, but I also know there are ways I can keep whittling down my budget to consistently stay around the $80 mark each week.

If you use protein powder, do you buy it online or from a store? What are some things you can’t live without every week?

College Vegan on a Budget: Under $50

A series about shopping for vegan groceries on a college budget, without compromising my values or health standards.

Another budget post? Yep, I’m just having a lot of fun doing these things and most importantly, I’m definitely improving on my budgeting skills. At least when it comes to grocery shopping. I needed another pair of jeans, so I hit up my city’s (lame) mall and ended up spending over $60 on a pair of burgundy jeggings at Hollister and a set of headbands at American Eagle. I didn’t need the headbands but they were so calling my name 😉 So obviously I’m still not great at saying ‘no’ when clothes shopping but what can you do when you’re a fashionista? Plus I justified it by saying I haven’t shopped for clothes in almost 3 months, so I was in desperate need (and still am) of some new pieces to freshen up my closet.

Anyways, this post is about groceries, not clothes. I was able to spend under $50 this weekend, and I shopped at two stores! This just goes to show that you can buy healthy, vegan foods at specialty stores and not burn a hole in your wallet. Obviously this was more of a stock-up-on-a-few-extras type of trip but it’s inspired me to try to pare down my regular shopping trips as well. I’m making a plan not to buy more than 1 or 2 special items a week–these things add up and I can’t afford to be buying multiple things over $5 or $6 each trip. So if one week I need more maple syrup, I’ll forgo buying some fancy nut butter or coconut aminos or whatever (I still want to buy those, BTW, but it’s $7 per bottle). I know that most of these more expensive items last longer, which is great, but I still can’t be buying them right and left.

My Sprouts mini-haul of the week.

Sprouts

What I Got: Medjool dates (much cheaper than at WF), plantain, garlic*, Bob’s Red Mill garbanzo bean flour (socca, here I come!), Metromint chocolate mint water, raw cashews, pomegranate, dried apple rings

What It Cost Me: $22.80

Verdict: I just really love Sprouts for their produce deals. The plantain was 99 cents, the pomegranate was $2.50 (and huge!), and the dried fruit is pretty cheap for having no added sugars or oils. There were a few more things I was planning on buying but decided not to to save money. But next time, I am definitely trying Zico pineapple coconut water!

 

Yummy Whole Foods buys.

Whole Foods

What I Got: Kaia sprouted party mix pumpkin seeds*, Chocolove peppermint dark chocolate bar, bulk cacao nibs, bulk almond flour, bulk maple pecans, 365 full fat coconut milk*, Vegan tropical protein powder, bulk olives, vegan chocolate mousse, sweet stuffed squash

What It Cost Me: $25.50

Verdict: The bulk bins save me again! I only have to buy what I need, so I end up saving a ton. Buying almond flour prepackaged costs about $8, but getting a quarter of a pound only cost me $1.20. And cacao nibs are usually very expensive but I got a small amount for just 98 cents! I prefer buying this way because I only make single lady meals, so I want my foods to stay fresh and by buying only what I need, I know it’ll stay fresh when I need it. 

I am super proud of my budgeting skills this week and I know I can make future shopping trips this cheap by watching what I’m spending my money on.

Do you do better at budgeting your grocery shopping or clothes shopping? What’s your policy on ‘splurge’ items?

College Vegan on a Budget: Bulk Bonanza

Part of an ongoing series of my adventures in learning how to grocery shop on a budget, almost exclusively at health food type stores.

I’m back with another budgeting post after a weekend grocery haul and I can proudly say that I spent a lot less than last time. Like, I spent less than half the amount I did last time! This girl is definitely learning how to budget. Or maybe it’s just because I was extremely limited in funds this time around, with just over $50 to spend. Luckily I didn’t have to make any major purchases since my lovely mom was nice enough to buy me some much-needed items last weekend so this was mostly a fill-in type trip for things I am about to run out of or needed for recipes.

This week, I happened to do a lot of bulk buying. This is a great thing for budgets–you can just stock up on what you need, and generally things in bulk cost less ounce for ounce than things that are prepackaged. The bulk bins at Whole Foods and Sprouts have saved me a ton of money on must-try items like coconut flour, flavored nuts and nutritional yeast. Now let’s check out the goods!

Check out all the bulk bin bags!

Sprouts

I just stopped in for a few items I was hoping they’d have for less than Whole Foods, and they delivered. Well, kinda. The unsweetened coconut shreds I bought actually turned out to be a bit cheaper at WF, which kinda made me mad but I’ll know next time!

What I Got: Let’s Do Organic reduced fat unsweetened coconut shreds, So Delicious Greek-style vanilla coconut yogurt (finally they had this flavor!)

What It Cost Me: $4.99 (I paid with a 5 dollar bill, woo for having cash for little purchases)

Verdict: If only every shopping trip could be this cheap!

Whole Foods

I whittled down my original list to just a handful of must-have items and I did really well with sticking with my budget. I actually ended up with just under $10 left, which is awesome. I got 15 items here pretty cheaply, because I bought a bunch of bulk stuff and did some price comparisons for similar items.

What I Got: bulk almond flour, bulk raw macadamia nuts (I only bought about 1/8 of a pound, so they were super cheap), bulk nooch, bulk spelt flour (I was going to buy packaged buckwheat flour but it was $5 and this was just $2 per pound and pretty comparable, nutrition wise), vegan semisweet chocolate chips, Navitas Naturals raw cacao powder (a splurge at $10, but worth it), 2 Justin’s vanilla almond butter squeeze packs, 2 Vega One protein powder samples (running low on protein powder but didn’t have enough money to buy a full container), Hail Merry raw vanilla almonds (super cheap at just $3 for a raw product!), bulk loose spinach, Hannah yams (these look like regular potatoes but they’re apparently sweet potato-like), vegan cookie from bakery area, black figs (on sale for $3.99/pound, I got half a pound!). 

What I Spent: $36.87 (under budget…yay!)

Verdict: I was really smart about my Whole Foods trip this time around. I bought in bulk to save some money, weighed my bulk items to estimate how much they’d cost me and didn’t buy anything not on the list. Yes, there were some things I took note of that I wanted to buy another time–like, ahem, raw macaroons!–but I didn’t feel like I needed to get them since I know they’ll be there when I have more money to spend. 

I am definitely getting better at this budgeting thing. It feels fun to me now, instead of like a chore. I love doing comparison shopping and balancing out my purchases so they don’t end up surprising me at the register. And I’m learning the difference between splurges and staples, which is something that used to get me all the time. Some weeks, there’ll be more room for splurges and other times I’ve gotta stick with the list. And I feel like this week, I struck the perfect balance between getting the basics that I need and getting to try new-to-me items, like the almond flour and yams and almonds.

Do you like to buy things from the bulk section? What tips do you have for budget shopping?

College Vegan on a Budget: The Big 1-0-0

This is part 2 in an ongoing series about shopping on a college girl budget, trying to keep my expensive vegan tastes in check. 

Okay, as you might be able to tell from the title, I spent $100 on groceries over the weekend. Well, $100.59 to be exact, but who’s counting? Oh right, my wallet is. To be fair, though, I had a few items on my list that were ‘necessaries’ but sadly, on the pricier side. But, I’m willing to pay the price for healthy foods.

Take maple syrup, for instance. I ran out of it over a week ago, so I had to stock up soon. At Sprouts, I saw some lower calorie, sugar free maple syrup. Curious, I checked out the label. It was made from xylitol, caramel coloring, maple flavoring and a few other ingredients. So, not as bad as normal fake sugar-free syrups, but no where near real maple syrup. By real, of course, I mean 100% maple syrup, either grade A or grade B. The good stuff. This xylitol syrup was $4, a relative steal for a maple replacement. But I decided against it, because lately I’ve been trying to go for the real thing, and not worry as much about the calorie count. As long as it’s natural, it’s good. So at Whole Foods, I grimaced a little paying $7.99 for a bottle of grade A maple, but it’ll be worth it for the rich taste and natural sugar source. And a little goes a long way, so it’ll last me (hopefully) 3 weeks.

This week, I’ll be splitting up my purchases not just by store, but by splurge vs. staple. The staples are things that I kinda needed, or that will last me for awhile and are therefore worth their price. The splurges might be inexpensive, but I tried to keep them to a minimum this week and I think I was fairly successful.

All this, for just under $20. This is why I love Sprouts!

I consider Sprouts to be like TJs for Colorado. Okay, so I’ve never been to a TJs (and I’m incredibly jealous of all of you who have regular access to one) but Sprouts is probably a similar concept. They have their in-house brand along with similar products to what Whole Foods has, but generally a lot cheaper. Their produce and bulk sections are a real steal. I got strawberries for $2.50, a plantain for 99 cents and some organic coconut sugar for under $5. Good deal, considering those things can go for much more in other stores.

Splurges: Larabars (I do need ’em for busy days, but they’re a bit pricey), vegan Greek yogurt, Nature’s Path maple cereal (I already had some cereal at my apartment, but I wanted to try this kind)

Staples: strawberries, dried mango, plantain (time for homemade plantain chips!), coconut sugar (perfect for baking)

What It Cost Me: $19.95. 

Verdict: Definitely a money-saver. The cereal was kind of expensive, but I think I’ll enjoy it and it’ll last a while since I mix cereals.

Whole Foods

My bulk and produce stuff. This time the figs were cheap!

I actually did okay at Whole Foods, despite spending $80. Trust me, it could have been more. Luckily, they were having a sale on all bulk items (score!) and a lot of their produce was cheap. I got kale for $1.99, figs for $3 (unlike the $6 they were last time) and 3 sweet potatoes for under $3. However, where I got in trouble was buying protein powder. I’m not someone who’s content with generic, cheap soy-based protein powder. I like my protein powder to be more natural, and plant-based. I had a $5 off coupon for some raw protein powder, so I decided to suck it up and buy some. It ended up only costing me $20 with the coupon, which is a steal for a high-quality protein powder!

Some of this week’s more fun stuff!

Splurges: maple flavoring (I was going to go for vanilla extract, but that was over $1 more), maple syrup (a necessity, but also very expensive), grawnola (totally have been wanting to try this for awhile), bulk maple almonds, organic ketchup (I could have gone for the cheaper store brand, but this one had less sugar), canned coconut milk (I want to try making my own coconut whipped cream), Theo mint chocolate bar (can’t live without chocolate, and this will last me a week and a half), Justin’s vanilla almond butter squeeze packs (they were only 80 cents each this week!), Garden of Life RAW protein powder (expensive but worth it)

My staples, for baking, cooking and just eating!

Staples: u/s vanilla almond milk (I bought the cheapest brand, which happened to be Almond Breeze this week), pumpkin seeds in bulk (they literally cost me 67 cents!), organic canned pumpkin (I scored the last can!), semisweet chocolate chips, Earth Balance coconut spread (I wanted to get extra virgin coconut oil, but they were out and I had a coupon), bulk olives, black figs (so much cheaper this time), kale (duh!), garnet yams

What it Cost Me: $80.64 (ouch!)

Verdict: I will be watching my spending more closely next time, but I also won’t have as many big purchases, like the maple syrup and protein powder. Everything else was under $5 each. 

I know that I can’t and won’t be spending this much every week, but sometimes it’s just worth it to get a few really good, healthy, high quality items. Luckily, a lot of the stuff I bought today will last awhile, so they won’t be weekly purchases.

What are your weekly shopping staples? Are you willing to pay more for certain things (like good chocolate, protein powder, etc.)?

College Vegan on a Budget: The Newbie

This is a new series I’m testing out and it’s all about shopping on a college girl budget, as a vegan who has healthy (and expensive) tastes. Enjoy!

I’ve never really grocery shopped for myself before. Yes, I’m a college junior and have been “on my own” (with my parents help) the past 2 years, but until now I never had the means to go grocery shopping. Sure, sometimes when I was home and had access to a car I’d pick up a couple splurges for myself at Whole Foods, but I never had to pay for staples and such. Now that I have a car and am living off campus with a full kitchen, grocery shopping is a necessity. I can’t always rely on my mom to get me what I need every two weeks, so I’m having to start grocery shopping for myself. Call me a nerd, but I’ve always had fun doing it! But now, it’s serious business–I have a budget I have to stick to. This week, it was $50 (plus $20 in cash that my mom gave me). Could I do it? Let’s see how my weekend shopping trips turned out!

So excited about the chiles, the coconut flour and the coconut Greek yogurts!

Sprouts

Can I just say that I love this place? Seriously, I can’t wait til the Sunflower Market back home turns into a Sprouts because it’s such a great alternative to WF. Now that I’m back at school, though, I have access to Sprouts which is great for my tastes and my budget.

I looked up their weekly deals and sales before I headed out so I knew what I should stock up on based on my not-so set-in-stone shopping list. And I tried to tell myself to stick to that list, but being the first time I’ve ever bought a lot of stuff on my own, I was like a kid in a candy store. I kept seeing all these things I wanted to try and I ended up getting a few things not on the list, but it didn’t turn out too expensive.

What I Got: fresh roasted Hatch chiles (made in store that morning!),  2 red mangoes , whole raw cashews in bulk, coconut flour in bulk (excited to try it), dried mango slices (nothing added!), 2 So Delicious coconut milk Greek yogurts (yay!) and a Luna Fiber bar. 

What It Cost Me: $15.43 (I used cash)

Verdict: I will try to shop here more often (even though it’s a little out of the way) because I got a lot of great stuff pretty cheaply. And they have a lot of products Whole Foods doesn’t stock, like the fiber bars, coconut flour and vegan Greek yogurts.

Oh peanut flour, how I’ve missed you!

Whole Foods

Ah yes, my favorite store! Unfortunately, it doesn’t always love me back. When my parents take me there, a typical stock-up trip can cost $60 or more. Since I was just planning on getting a few fill-in items, I figured I wouldn’t have to worry. Just to be safe, I kept my cell phone’s calculator handy so I could add up totals as I went along (and I’ll be doing this from now on).

Again, though, I went a little too crazy and bought several things not on my list. Good for my foodie curiosity, bad for my budget. But you live and learn.

What I Got: fresh black figs, raw agave nectar, maple almonds (got a little too many of these…), nooch (always necessary), kelp noodles, dark chocolate chunks (ran out and couldn’t live without ’em for a week!), frozen edamame (running low), frozen pineapple, PB2 (impulse buy…I was missing peanut flour, which I haven’t had in a couple months), vegan cookie, coconut milk caramel from checkout counter.

What It Cost Me: $39.32 (yikes!)

Verdict: I will definitely be sticking to the list in the future at WF! Too many impulse buys add up, especially the PB2 which was $6! I also need to be careful with the bulk stuff, since it can be expensive. I ended up with a bunch of almonds, and while I’ll definitely eat them, they weren’t cheap. Also, the figs were supposed to be $3.99 for a pound, but somehow ended up costing me almost $6  even though they weighed a little over half a pound (maybe they were priced wrong?). Definitely need to read labels more closely and avoid buying multiple things that cost $5 or more. The other items were really cheap, so if I had been more careful, I could have stayed under $30.

Obviously, I am such a beginner here when it comes to budget shopping. I wasn’t able to use any coupons, which could have saved me, and while I did try to avoid buying all the things I’ve been dying to have or try, I need to make more of an effort to do that. I will definitely use up all the items, but in the future I need to be more conscious of cost and if I really need it or if I can wait a couple weeks. However, I am excited to try all the new-to-me items!

Do you have experience budget shopping? What is your biggest grocery shopping splurge?