Does canning really save you money? People often ask me if living on a farm and learning to be as self-reliant as possible is more expensive than an ‘ordinary’ lifestyle. I admit some aspects can be, especially if you have equipment that needs repair from time to time. Things of that nature can become costly. But other aspects, such as gardening, aren’t. In order to prove it to myself, I did the math.
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Recently, I found four tomatoes for $1.68 in a grocery store. $1.68/4 = $.42.
The cost of a package of tomato seeds is roughly $2.75. In each package, you get approximately 20 seeds or more. That brings your cost per seed to $.14. (I order heirloom seeds from Mary’s Heirloom Seeds. Prices of seeds may vary depending on where you purchase them.)
2.75/20 = $.14
Let’s just say you plant all twenty seeds, and all of them grow and produce. With any producing tomato plant, you can be guaranteed (just about) with closer to 20 or more, but for our project, we are going to say that each one produced 15 tomatoes.
20 x 15 = 300
If you figure that each plant cost you $.14 to grow, and you ended up with 15 tomatoes, then each tomato cost you $.02. If you also figure in the cost of water and a small bag of store-bought fertilizer, you could add that in and determine that each tomato cost you roughly $.05 each. After the dust settles, and you add all your costs per tomato together: (My costs may be lower than others – we use well water and a combination of compost, manure tea and mulch for our gardens. But it probably won’t be more than around $.10, compared to my $.03. It is still less expensive than store-bought!)
$.05 x 300 = $15.00
Now, let’s go back to the grocery store. You want to purchase the same amount of tomatoes that you could have grown:
$.42 for 300 tomatoes = $126.00
$126.00 – 15.00 = $111.00 savings
Save a Few More Pennies
In some cases, you can get your seeds a little cheaper – the Dollar Store often offers their seeds for $1.00 per package, and sometimes 2 for $1.00. And I have yet to have one plant provide me with only 15 tomatoes – it is usually like 20 and more. Still, no matter how you slice that tomato, you have saved a considerable amount of money.
If you use compost instead of fertilizer, you’ve saved a bit more. If you have plenty of rain, or use a rain barrel, you save even more with less watering. In reality, you are saving probably every bit of that $111.00 and even more. One thing to keep in mind, though. When summer is here, often tomatoes are cheaper than $.42. You may not save quite as much, but you will still have tastier tomatoes.
The idea of having 300 tomatoes sitting in your kitchen might be a bit overwhelming. Two things to keep in mind: 1) They will not all ripen at the same time, and 2) If you learn to can, you can turn those beautiful, juicy red orbs into other tomato based creations like spaghetti sauce, salsa, and diced tomatoes. Last I checked, an 8 ounce bottle of salsa was around $4.00, so with the cost savings of canning your own, you can have plenty of salsa for a year at half (or less) the cost of a store-brand. If you grow your own jalapenos, bell peppers, onions, herbs and garlic, your savings are even greater.
As far as the cost of canning jars goes, brand new each jar will cost you around $.75 each, but if you shop at garage sales, you can get them for between $.10 and $.25 each. And if you ask around, most people will gladly give you the ones they have sitting in their cabinets, which means not only are they free, but they can be used again and again. You do have to purchase the flats and rings, but they usually end up costing around $.35 each for both ($4.00 per box), and if you have plenty of rings, a box of 12 flats only costs around $3.00. At $1.10 per jar, you are still saving a lot of money, and eating healthier at that. (Check out Kathi’s post here on How to Find and Buy Used Canning Jars).
Don’t get me started on bell peppers. At $.88 each (and sometimes more), I don’t even have to do the math to know I am saving money growing my own. And that includes the red, orange, yellow and purple ones that are almost twice the price of green ones in the stores, but the seeds are all the same price.
I don’t know about you, but after looking at the numbers, I am even more delighted that we grow our own vegetables. In our cellar right now, we still have about 12 jars of Creole Sauce, which is a cross between salsa and seasoned tomato sauce. We use that in just about everything – as a dip for chips, added to meatloaf and as a topping for an omelet, just to name a few. To buy a similar product in the grocery store I would spend approximately $50.00 for 12 jars. Homemade, I spent roughly $15.00. The $35.00 I saved can easily go towards other expenses.
One thing to remember with these figures: I already own a water bath canner, two pressure canners and the other utensils. I bought the water bath and one pressure canner years ago. The second pressure canner came from an estate sale. We had been pricing them, and they were well over $100.00. During a garage sale jaunt, I stumbled upon one in a pantry – new, in an unopened box. The price was $25, because no one running the sale knew what it was. Score! When you first start canning, consider your initial costs as an investment towards a healthier future. Yes, it can be costly, but take it one purchase at a time.
Start with a water bath canner. And shop garage sales, thrift stores and other less expensive means! If you do buy a used pressure canner, though, make absolutely certain it is in excellent condition and all the parts are there. Check the seal very carefully. If you have any questions or uncertainties, it may be better to pass it up. Pressure canners can be harmful, so know what you are getting into, and learn how to use it properly!!!
Start a Garden
If you don’t grow your own vegetables, now might be the time to start. You don’t have to plow up your entire yard – just tuck in a few tomato and pepper plants in a sunny flowerbed, or start a collection of fun pots to put on your patio. Try companion planting to increase your yield. Plant basil and oregano around those tomatoes, and you have a great start on making and canning your own spaghetti sauce. When you sit down at the table in the middle of December with a plate full of spaghetti, you will love it twice as much because you not only made it, but you also grew most of the ingredients and canned it yourself!
If you want to start canning, the best book to have is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I have yet to find a recipe that wasn’t delicious – and I have tried quite a few of them.
For a great tip on making a Canning Plan for Each Season, head over for a visit with Stephanie. I printed both of the recommended posts out to add to my Reference Notebook!