I recently watched a YouTube video on frugal living. In the video, someone asked if gardening and canning were good money-saving options. The woman recommended that people have a garden only if they enjoyed maintaining one as a hobby, because it was one of the poorest strategies for saving money.
I was surprised, to say the least. Isn’t having a garden classic frugal advice? Isn’t that why gardens were so common during the Great Depression? Victory Gardens, anyone? This woman went on to say that if you factor in the cost of canning jars, lids, seeds, fertilizer, tiller, plus your time, you might as well buy a few cans of vegetables and save yourself a lot of hassle and hours and hours of work.
The more I think about her advice, the more I disagree. It’s like saying that it’s not worth cooking meals at home once you figure in the cost of pots, plates, and utensils. Sure, you could argue that gardening and canning doesn’t always save money. We’ve all watched the people who’ve bought a flat of strawberries, ingredients, and all the canning gear, only to make 6 jars of jam, at a cost of about $10 a jar. Those are the folks who complain that canning is expensive. If it’s done well, however, gardening and preserving your harvest WILL save money, and quite a bit, too!
Here are several ways to maximize your savings if you have a garden and want to put up the harvest:
- Grow the produce yourself instead of buying it, unless by chance you get a fabulous price or make a beneficial barter. Beyond growing produce, start seedlings instead of buying expensive starter plants. Seed packets hold fewer seeds and cost a little more every single year, so harvest and save your own seeds for the next season.
2. Grow the produce that saves you the most money, especially if space is an issue. Potatoes and carrots are relatively cheap in the store and don’t always yield the best return for the space. For me, I couldn’t afford to buy all the organic raspberries that we’re able to eat by growing our own. Kohlrabi, okra, and ground cherries are specialty items that I couldn’t even buy fresh locally if I wanted.
3. Use your produce in ways that maximize your savings. A can of store-bought generic whole tomatoes is pretty cheap. A can of tomatoes with added jalapenos increases the cost significantly. Tomato sauce with herbs added becomes spaghetti sauce, which is also more expensive. If I didn’t have the space to grow many tomatoes, I would focus on canning things like spaghetti sauce and salsa. As a bonus, every jar of spaghetti sauce represents a meal during the winter. It’s an efficient way to meal prep! A few cups of berries might makes one small jar of jam worth a couple of dollars, but those same berries infused in a jar of balsamic vinegar is a bargain compared to the ridiculously expensive specialty store product.
4. Canning jars and lids are an unavoidable cost. However, you can often find jars used so they are cheap and sometimes free. Reusable lids are more expensive, but if you use them regularly, you decrease their cost. On the occasional red-letter day, you can find lids at garage sales and thrift stores, too.
5. Produce doesn’t have to be canned! That eliminates even more expenses. You can eat straight out of your garden from spring through fall and not preserve anything. A single packet of lettuce seeds will provide you days, or more accurately, weeks of summer salads.
You can also freeze produce instead of canning. Freezer bags are super cheap, and like canning jars, the cost of a large freezer (if needed) will decrease with every year of consistent use.
And don’t overlook drying. Dehydrators are relatively cheap and easy to find in thrift stores and at garage sales. You may not even need a dehydrator for everything. The mint plant I got as a cutting from my neighbor years ago still provides me with more than enough mint tea for the winter. I just cut the stems, tie them, and hang them upside down until they dry and crumble.
These are a few ways that gardening saves me money–can you think of more?
I also think there are more benefits of a garden than simply saving money. But that’s a whole other post. 🙂