Thrifty vegan: How to cut the costs of ethical living

Author: Clea Grady

Read Time:   |  18th May 2018

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Your way of life doesn’t have to be expensive if you want to be ethical too, as Clea Grady explains…

thrifty vegan

One of the things said most often about ethical living is that it’s expensive. Mainstream media especially likes to peddle this myth and it’s something that prevents many people from trying to make any ethical changes at all.

But – like anything in life – if you have the ability, then any lifestyle choice can be expensive. It’s possible to spend a lot of money on pretty things from sustainable sources, eat at high-end, plant-based restaurants and purchase posh pre-prepared, healthy food. But that’s not my reality. I’ve worked in the non-profit/charity sector since 2014 and now run my own ethical business, so money is not something I can part with without consideration. I know from experience therefore that it’s possible to live fairly frugally without turning your back on your ethics. And perhaps it’s just as important to note that in doing so, I don’t feel like I go without either.

Nobody’s perfect

Before I get into the nitty gritty of how ethical living can be affordable, I want to clarify something… Just as being vegan is not about being 100% perfect, neither is living as ethically as you can. There is a lot in this world that is out of our direct control, so my focus is on the things I do have power over. It’s about making more ethical choices or choosing the most ethical path available to you. It does not mean that you float around on a cloud of purity, casting sidelong glances at anyone who hasn’t done exactly the same. I firmly believe that if we make something so absolute it becomes unattainable, then it will never happen at all. This article won’t solve all the world’s problems, sadly, but it will give you some tips for better living. If more of us make more ethical choices and demonstrate to those in positions of power that we’ll choose the more sustainable option wherever we can, then we will eventually reach a tipping point.

thrifty vegan

Change is brought about when more people do something, not when a few people do everything, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re not living very ethically right now. Instead, think about whether you can make a more ethical choice next time. Replacing items in your cupboards as they run out, for example (rather than scrapping everything and starting all over again), is a lot less daunting. And it’s definitely the cheaper option.

So where to start? Well, food is the most obvious and I have written an article on cooking vegan on a budget before (just use the search on the Vegan Food & Living website), so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.

Use a local veg box delivery service

One of my top tips would be using a local veg box delivery service, with extra emphasis on the local. Local grocers are more generous than the big name box companies. They get to know you and your ordering style, and will often chuck in some freebies. They’re better value for money than most supermarkets, with typically fresher produce and less plastic.

thrifty vegan

From an ethical shopping standpoint, you’re also boosting the local economy and supporting an independent retailer, so it really is an all-round win/win. If choosing to shop at supermarkets, you can also choose to support one that takes a more ethical stance. We like the Co-op and will walk the extra 10 minutes if nipping out to grab essentials or a bottle of wine. Their labelling is good for vegans and their own-brand products are typically cruelty-free and vegan friendly (think laundry liquid and toothpaste). They also offer a really good loyalty programme and you’re frequently rewarded with money off when you buy a lot of their own-brand items.

Follow Jack Monroe

Jack went vegan a few years ago and their Instagram and blog are filled to the brim with the most amazing recipes. What’s more, they’re cheap! Jack has built a reputation on creating meals that are affordable and breaks them down into a cost per head.

thrifty vegan

Most of the vegan recipes on the website are under 50p per person (extraordinary, right?) and are made up from ingredients that should be readily available to you. You really can’t afford to not have it in your life. Check out for more.

Make soups that are meals

I cannot tell you how many soups I make! They’re such nourishing, affordable and filling dinners. My soups are probably better described as stews, made hearty with tins of different beans, a good base of onion, garlic, carrot and celery and bulked out with grains like bulgur wheat. Great in the colder months, the classic comfort food and excellent for lunch the next day as well, my soups become more staple the closer I get to pay day. As long as I have a tin of tomatoes or some veggie stock, then I can make a soup.

thrifty vegan

Buy your toiletries from Superdrug

I will forever be indebted to the friend who casually mentioned that Superdrug was great for cruelty-free options, because it really has revolutionised my life. After going vegan I really struggled to find good shampoo and conditioner, moisturiser, deodorant, toothpaste and sun creams that were cruelty-free. I ended up spending a small fortune ordering various things online and getting them shipped halfway across the world, only to find out that I was allergic or struggled to afford them long-term.

thrifty vegan

Cue Superdrug! Almost all their own-brand products are vegan and cruelty-free, so you can get everything you need in one sweep. They often have 2-4-1 deals, offer a great loyalty scheme and their products are clearly labelled. Plus, I have always found their staff to be well-informed, so if you’re feeling a bit lost, just ask someone.

Swap meets with mates

This is possibly my favourite tip of them all, because with a couple of bottles of wine it can turn into a brilliant evening’s entertainment. We all own things we don’t use, wear, read, listen to, or want, so why have them just sitting around collecting dust? Hosting a swap meet declutters your home, scores you new stuff and makes a cheap night out all at the same time. I’d call that a win.

Consider making your own bread

I’ve not bought a pre-sliced supermarket bread in over a year and I don’t believe I ever will again. After the labelling laws changed, I was shocked to see how pretty much every standard loaf of bread contained palm oil. Unless certified from a sustainable source, then palm oil is about as far from ethical as you can get, so when it looked as though I couldn’t avoid it in bread I decided to start making my own. It also works out cheaper and you can get some great organic flours that are not crazily priced. I’ve included my fail-safe bread recipe at the end of this article – passed to me by a friend, I’m paying it forward to you.

Easy peasy bread (with special thanks to Esme)

thrifty vegan


• 285g (10oz) flour (I prefer a granary or one with seeds and grains mixed in)

• 1 tsp salt

• 1 heaped tsp fast-acting yeast

• 230ml (8fl oz) warm water

  1. In a large bowl, add the flour, salt and yeast and mix thoroughly.
  2. Make a well in the middle and add the water and stir. Add more water a tiny bit at a time if your mixture is too dry, or use excess flour when kneading if too wet.
  3. Knead for a good 10 minutes and place in a warmish spot, in a floured bowl and covered with a clean tea towel. (I put mine beside the hob when I’m cooking).
  4. Leave to prove for 2 hours. Punch out the air and shape into a loaf and leave to prove in a floured tin for another 45 minutes.
  5. Pop into a preheated oven for 30 minutes or a cool one for 35 minutes, at 200°C/Gas Mark 6.
  6. Remove from the oven and tap on the base – if it sounds hollow it’s ready, if not, then pop back in for another 5 minutes or until you get a hollow sound.

Delicious warm with Marmite or houmous and great for toast and sandwiches!

Charity shop!

If that old Primark keeps getting you down, then do the opposite and buy from a charity shop. Over the last nine months, every item of clothing I have purchased has been from a charity shop and it has been an utter revelation.

thrifty vegan

I know I’m not the first to discover the wonders of charity shopping (in fact, I’m positively shame-faced that it’s taken me so long to fully embrace it), but I am now an out-and-out convert. Why spend £40 on one item of clothing when you can spend £24 on eight? The dress I’m wearing in my author photo? It cost me £9. One woman’s trash really is another’s treasure!


Reusing what we’ve already got is a habit much lost from our generation. Recycling has come to mean washing out containers and chucking them in a box for collection every week, but we can do much, much more. Obviously this is easier if you’re crafty or artistic and not everything needs to be gorgeous or decorative either.

thrifty vegan

Simply ask yourself “Can this have a second life?” before you throw something out and you’ll be surprised at what a difference this can make. Flowers definitely look better in jam jars than posh vases if you ask me. And, if you do fancy a bit of DIY craftiness, then the internet is full of videos and ideas on how to turn packing crates into tables and old towels into dog toys, so get searching.

Written by

Clea Grady

Clea is a writer, marketer and activist who has been vegan since 2014, and vegetarian since she was 12. She is passionate about inspiring others to go vegan, and believes that good food, empathy and kindness are the best forms of activism.

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