There are roughly 3 million millionaires in the U.S., and nearly everyone else has a plan to become the next one. But there are about 3% of Americans who may not even realize that they're already on the path to prosperity. What's giving their savings scenarios a leg up? They're vegetarians.
Thanks to a host of factors such as droughts, flooding, war, population growth, and rising economies in the developing world, food costs are at an all-time high, and estimates suggest that high price tags are here to stay.
In the past year, U.S. food prices have jumped 3.7%, while other parts of the world are swallowing double-digit increases due to slowing agricultural trade, which forces countries to fend for themselves.
But all food is not created equal. Consider the hamburger: To get a slab of beef between those buns requires significantly more energy than skipping the meat and sticking with veggies. There's a ton of science to back this up, but the simplest way to think about it is that your cow has turn a whole lot of plant matter into not nearly as much cow to get a burger to your plate, whereas vegetables have a straight shot from the farm to your stomach.
While this by itself might be enough of an incentive for green gastronomists, there's a different type of green menu benefit vegetarians get: the kind you buy things with.
Let Them Eat Carrot Cake
Let's compare the costs of a meat-eater's breakfast versus a vegetarian's morning grub: Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture food price information, three ounces of bacon will set you back about $1, while a comparable serving of oatmeal and strawberries costs approximately $0.20. So, for the cost of adding pork to your breakfast for a single day, you can enjoy a bowl of fruity fiber every weekday morning.
What does this mean longer-term? Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Consumer Price Index -- and factoring in estimates that predict rising meat prices and, to a lesser extent, costlier vegetables -- we can take a stab at calculating how much the average Joe or Jane could save from cutting meat from his or her diet entirely.
Here's how our calculations stacked up: Let's say vegetarians currently consume about $20 a day in food while omnivores eat up $25. If food prices continue to rise (albeit less so than this past year) -- with vegetables costing 3% more every year, and meat 5% more -- a vegetarian can expect to save around $2,000 on his or her 2013 food bill.
Here's where monetizing meatlessness gets especially delicious: If vegetarians invest their food savings and make a traditional 10% annual profit, they'll make $60,000 in 10 years and $1 million in 30 years:
|Year 1||Year 10||Year 20||Year 30|
|Total savings + 10% annual returns||$2,008||$60,910||$290,806||$1,027,182|
And even if the stock market's returns don't hit their historical benchmark, there's still plenty of money in spinach:
|Year 1||Year 10||Year 20||Year 30|
|Total savings + 5% annual returns||$1,916||$46,695||$179,098||$502,650|
|Total savings + 7% annual returns||$1,953||$51,877||$216,019||$658,594|
At the core, there are only two ways to increase your wealth: Make more money or spend less. And while all of us would love a bonus to bolster our bank accounts, sometimes cutting costs is the only savings mechanism where we can have 100% control.
You don't have to quit cold turkey and become vegetarian overnight. But if saving just $5 a day can get you started on a profitable path to a million bucks, you might want to think twice before ordering your next T-bone. Stick to the salads, and you'll be well on your way to becoming the next vegillionaire.
Motley Fool contributing writer Justin Loiseau doesn't eat meat, but he does have a bad habit of spending $5 a day on brownie mix. You can follow Justin on Twitter @TMFJLo.