Eating Vegan on $21.00 A Week: The Food Stamp Budget

In life there are many different social classes, interest groups and economic situations. But no matter what a person’s financial status, not a soul should be denied healthy, sustainable food based on income. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Even in a good economy, more families fall into a lower income tier than into a wealthy one. This means severe rationing of portions and supplies – most of the time at the expense of fruits and vegetables, with quick meals and chips and soda being cheaper options. It shouldn’t be a luxury to be able to eat healthily and ethically. Vegan Hope posits a challenge to turn this “status” quo around. Here are their guidelines:

1. For one week you agree to live on a $21.00 food budget (per person in your household). This is the Food Stamp Budget.
2. Do not use any equipment that costs more than $15.00, with the exception of the following: oven, microwave.
3. Spices that you currently have can be used, but you should subtract $3.00 from your total food budget per person.
4.I personally use no oil or spray oil (nor do I recommend anyone use it). However, that is not the purpose of this challenge, if you are someone who uses it I will be asking you to deduct $3.00 from your food budget.
5. Write about the dishes you make including ingredients and the cost per meal.
6. Include a shopping list.

I was pumped about this task for a few reasons.

A. I am faced with budgeting for food on a 20-something’s income
B. I am limited as far as where I can do my food shopping – my feet, public transportation or a bike has to be able to take me there. This is a problem many low-income families face as well. Limited transportation and limited resources make eating healthy (or gasp, vegan) even harder.
C. It is a chance to show just what kind of choices families have to make when trying to stretch $3.oo a day as far as they can.

So here’s how I ate. For one week. On $3.oo a day. Journal style.

I tweaked the spice allowance slightly by combining only the few extras I used into one $3.00 subtraction. My initial $3.00 deduction includes: oil/vinegar, mustard, peanut butter, and salt/pepper in very small rations. So I started the week with $18.00 to spare. ($21.00- $3.00 for spices/butter = $18.00)

I started the week by making a careful list of what I would eat using the items I already had in my house. My first breakfast was to ration a package of Vans Vegan/Gluten Free Waffles laying in my freezer. ($3.00 for 8 waffles) I allowed myself 1 waffle. (Total $0.38) *Check out the shopping list at the end of the post for full items and prices for each. It’s ok, you can check my math.

consisted of a peanut butter & banana sandwich (ahem, thank you Elvis), using a banana I had ($0.20), 2 tbsp. peanut butter (included in my $3.00 spice allotment) and two slices of bread ($0.30). (Total $0.50)

Dinner was leftovers! Nothing gets thrown away when you have to make every penny count. A leftover taco salad helped me save money. It is a simple recipe (and it’s one of my favorites). Using 1 red tomato, shredded lettuce, black beans, re-fried beans and tortilla chips, it’s a healthy and tasty meal on the cheap. And the cost? Well, let’s get ready for some slightly complicated math (come on, I majored in Journalism). I had half of the original meal leftover (from before the challenge). I ate half of that for dinner. So we’ll be dividing the prices in fourths. (1/4 red tomato $0.25 + shredded lettuce $0.15 + tortilla chips $0.50 + 1/4 can black beans $0.45 + 1/4 can re-fried beans $0.37 = $1.72)

Day 1 total: $0.38 + $0.50 + $1.72 = $2.60
$18.00- $2.60 = $15.40 left for Day 2

Repetition is the name of Day 2 as I have a tendency to run late for work.

Breakfast: 1 Vans Vegan/Gluten Free Waffle (Total $0.38)

Lunch: I made a salad and took it to work. It was simple and healthy and consisted of lettuce ($0.20), 1/4 tomato ($0.25), 1/2 cucumber ($0.50), oil/vinegar (included in the initial $3.00 spice allotment) and a FREE banana that my office sets out on Monday mornings, much to my approval. (Total: $0.95)

Dinner: Craving something resembling a carb after walking in 100-degree heat I made cold pasta salad. You’ll notice I use the term “salad” for anything I decide to throw together in a pot or bowl. The whole thing was, just my style, easy and cheap. Using a coupon for a $1.00 box of generic wheat pasta (1/4 box for $0.25) with oil/vinegar and salt/pepper (included in allotted $3.00 for spices) and 1/2 red tomato ($0.50) it was a nice refreshing dinner for a total of $0.75.

Day 2 total: $0.38 + $0.95 + $0.75 = $2.08
$15.40 – $2.08 = $13.32 left for Day 3

Another thing to point out is that I live within walking distance to a farmer’s market. That is how I can afford super cheap veggies. BUT many farmer’s market do not take the food stamps debit card that now replaces paper food stamps because they don’t have the equipment to run them. Without the leisure of cash, people relying on public transportation and food stamps may have even more limited resources for healthy food.

It’s the story of my life: I was running late and forgot to eat breakfast…which made lunch harder to wait for, but I didn’t want to spend any extra dough–However misfortune (a.k.a lack of planning) struck again and I realized I forgot my lunch. Dun dun dun, this isn’t starting off well. (Note: I’m emphasizing this lack of planning to say that people living on a very thin budget have extra stresses every morning to plan out how NOT to spend money. How many times have you been faced with that struggle?) Luckily, nuzzled in the back of the work freezer I found my lone Amy’s Black Bean Vegetable Burrito, which cost more than I would’ve wanted to spend had I brought home-cooked food — racking up $1.79. I also grazed the free snacks at work–which once again, I realize not everyone has the luxury of doing.

Once at home I decided to chow down on the last of the taco salad for fear of it going bad. For a total of $1.72. (See Day 1 for taco salad calculations).

Day 3 total = $3.51 ($1.72 + 1.79)
$13.32 – $3.51 = $9.81 left for Day 4 (To put it in perspective this is now $2.45 per day)

In the morning I survived on free coffee at work to get me through to lunch. I guess I’m not much of a breakfast person. Shun me if you must.

Lunch: I brought a homemade sandwich

[(2 slices of bread ($0.30), lettuce ($0.15) and onions ($0.10)] using a small amount of mustard (included in my $3.00 initial deduction) Lunch total = $0.55

Dinner: Brown Rice and Greens

  • 2 cups spinach ($0.50)
  • 1 cup brown rice ($0.32) with salt/pepper

I only ate half of the recipe and saved half for work the next day. ($0.82 divided by 2 = total of $0.41)

Day 4 total: $0.55 + $0.41 = $0.96
$9.81 – $0.96 = $8.85 left for Day 5

Breakfast: 1 slice of toast ($0.15)

Lunch: Brown Rice & Greens leftovers from last night ($0.41)

Dinner: Hodge-podge stir-fry

  • sauteed zucchini ($0.50)
  • onions ($0.10)
  • red bell pepper ($1.00)
  • 1/2 package frozen spinach ($0.50)
  • salt/pepper (included in original $3.00 subtraction)

Dinner came to a total of $2.10 divided by 2 = $1.05

Day 5 total: $0.15 + $0.41 + $1.05 = $1.61
$8.85 – $1.61 = $7.24 left for Day 6

Back to my old tricks for breakfast, I grabbed a vegan waffle on my way out of the house. Not quite “Lego my Eggo” for a measly $0.38.

Lunch: Finally getting the hang of eating half and saving half, I enjoyed my zucchini stir-fry from the night before, totaling $1.05.

Dinner: Lazy Rice and Beans (A variation of this recipe).

  • 1 can black beans ($1.75)
  • 1 tomato ($1.00)
  • 1 onion ($0.10)
  • salt/pepper (included in $3.00 deduction)
  • 1 stalk celery ($0.50)
  • 1 cup brown rice ($0.32)

It isn’t quite the creole cuisine you southerners have become accustomed to but if you use enough pepper, it’s ALMOST like Sriracha. (I’m just kidding Sriracha, you know I love you.) Using only half, this dinner dish cost $1.84 ($3.67 divided by 2)

Day 6 total: $0.38 + $1.05 + $1.84 = $3.27
$7.24 – $3.27 = $3.98 left for DAY 7

Breakfast involved, guess what? A WAFFLE. ($0.38) Luckily I love them.

Lunch: Leftover faux Red beans & Rice for $1.84.

DINNER of DAY 7: My favorite thing ever. 1 Taco Bell bean burrito. Not the healthiest. But an end of the week, Friday night treat. Sales tax aside, this little baby with no cheese and done up the Fresco way cost a lovely $0.89.

Day 7 total: $0.38 + $1.84 + $0.89 = $3.11
$3.98 – $3.11 = (drumroll?) $0.87 to spare at the end of Day 7. You know what this will buy me? A delicious COLT 45. (Well, with the help of a little spare change.)

A lesson to be learned. Plan ahead. Only buy what you need. And save up for a wonderful Friday treat.


My food items :
2 cans of black beans (estimated $1.75/can)
1 can re-fried beans ($1.48/can)
Tomatoes (A bunch of 4 is $4.00, so one is $1.00)
Head of lettuce (From farmer’s market for $0.75)
Package of pasta (3 packages for $3.00)
Package of vegan waffles ($3.00 for package of 8)
Tortilla chips ($2.00/bag)
Onions ($2.00/bag)
Potatoes ($2.00/ bag–$0.20 for one 8 oz potato)
Frozen spinach ($1.00/bag)
Brown rice, precooked ($0.16 for 1/2 cup)
Bread, whole grain ($1.79/loaf or 12 slices)
Banana ($0.20 per banana at the farmer’s market)
Zucchini ($1.00 for 1)
Cucumber ($1.00 for 1)
Celery (1 stalk about $0.50)
Red bell pepper ($1.00)

By | 2016-10-17T10:42:40+00:00 September 2nd, 2010|Consumer Perspective, Lifestyle|50 Comments

About the Author:

Graduate of MU Journalism program. Love mustaches, vegan-things, LOST and beer.