Every vegetarian knows how common it is to be grilled relentlessly about their dietary choices. Everyone wants to know how we get our protein, if we can eat eggs, and if we miss bacon. It gets extremely tiring explaining the various plant proteins we indulge in, why vegetarianism is different from veganism (come on guys—it’s really not that difficult), and that no, we don’t miss bacon or its insane amount of calories.

While it isn’t ideal to play 20 questions every time you mention being vegetarian, it’s also easy to have all of the answers… except when they ask about how we afford it. I’ll be the first to admit that being a vegetarian in college isn’t a piece of cake (which we can eat, I promise!). However, through eight years of practice, and lots of trial and error, I have come up with some essential tips and tricks for the vegetarian on a budget.

1. Don’t Deny the Free Food

This one is easy. If you see someone handing out free food, or get an email with a coupon for a free anything, take it. Nothing is better than not having to pay for food, and even small food samples can act as snacks between meals. Also, bonus: you’ll get a lot of free donuts on campus (for some reason yet to be discovered), which makes it easy to enjoy because you’re saving money.

2. Peanut Butter Is Your Best Friend

I might be biased to suggest making peanut butter a staple in your diet since I’m the kind of person to eat spoonfuls of it straight from the jar. Even so, peanut butter is an easy way to get some quick protein. Adding peanut butter to your morning toast, using it as a dip for apple slices, or just loving it on its own are all delicious ways to enjoy some cheap protein.

3. Stick to Your Veggies

marrow, pumpkin, yellow summer squash, summer squash, courgette, squash, vegetable, pasture
Lora Maghen

We are vegetarian after all, so we might as well eat a heck ton of vegetables. Try to use vegetables as the base of your meal, and then add protein, instead of the other way around. Cutting down the amount of tofu, tempeh, seitan, etc. you buy will lower your grocery bill significantly, and you can still get the amount of protein you need by using it as an add-on.

Try recipes like zucchini burrito boats, where the zucchini holds all of the beans, veggie crumbles, rice, cheese, and other fixings (because who can say no to an uber-healthy burrito?).

4. Make Pasta in Bulk

cheese, carbohydrate, tagliatelle, basil, fettuccine, sauce, macaroni, pasta, spaghetti
Kevin Tien Nguyen

You can save money and time by cooking large amounts of pasta at once, and then heating up small portions of it throughout the week. One box of spaghetti makes about four servings, so you can check off four dinners or lunches when you stick it in your shopping basket. Plus, you can add different sauces, veggies, and protein each time so that you don’t end up hating that spaghetti by the end of the week.

5. Remember to Enjoy Your Food

mocha, milk, espresso, cappuccino, coffee
Gabby Phi

It's unrealistic to expect anyone to forgo expensive lattés, bougie ice cream, and overpriced salads for all of eternity. The ultimate key to spending less money is to allow yourself to indulge in one expensive item every week. That way, you actually end up budgeting for one delicious drink or meal (depending on what you’re willing to spend). The alternative is often grabbing every unnecessary-but-tasty-looking item from the grocery store shelves each week, while telling yourself “I deserve this!”

#SpoonTip: Of course you deserve it all — but your wallet says no.

Even though we don’t have the luxury of picking up some cheap burger from McDonald’s like our omnivore counterparts, we can still ball on a veggie budget (and probably stay in better shape… we’re not missing anything over by those golden arches). Just remember to plan ahead, spend wisely, and of course, treat your wonderful self.