Does Canning Really Save You Money?

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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My Calculations

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.

The Jars 

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.

The Equipment 

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!

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

12 Comments

  1. Thanks for the analysis, Julie. I need to can more of my fruit!

    I freeze most of my peaches and applesauce and realize that it is probably not that efficient and costs quite a bit of money. Mind you we have the freezer already (for when we used to eat meat) so filling it up is actually considered to be more energy efficient.

    I did can pears one year and they were amazing! And we can quite a bit of jam each year (too much for us to actually eat but it comes in handy for a quick present for someone if we are invited for dinner!).

    1. Author

      You are welcome, Marc. We do freeze some things, but mostly keep our freezers for meats (beef, pork, venison, fish, etc.). Plus, on days we get so busy we end up meeting ourselves coming and going, it is a blessing to know I can just grab a jar of vegetable beef stew, or pork, and have dinner on the table in roughly 30 minutes. I also have to admit, canned pears are my favorite – both for flavor and versatility!

  2. Thank you for doing the math and breaking it all down for me! I have always canned the extra fro our garden ever since we were first married! I enjoyed the process and I loved having a full pantry. Never broke it down to the actually costs we were saving!

    1. Author

      You are welcome, Nancy! I did the math because we were working on our budget, and I needed to know how much I was saving vs going grocery shopping. The numbers surprised me. But now I won’t look back. I love my home grown, home canned food!!

  3. Hi Julie,
    Good article I love the way you broke down the prices and explained it in detail. Can’t argue with analogy. I use my Instant Pot to cook down things like pumpkin to freeze, Thanks for sharing all your valuable information!

    1. Author

      Thank you, Marla. I like to keep track of my spending and saving. I don’t have an Instant Pot, but it sounds like I need to check them out!

  4. Great post and breakdown, I have been tracking all my canning this month on what its costing me per jar and will be sharing it at the end of the month, eveyrhing is coming in under the store prices but a number of them are higher then I expected and some are lower.. its been a interesting thing to do.. I think its worth it to remind ourselves just how much our garden products are worth..

    1. Author

      I will be looking forward to your post. Yes, some things do cost more, but 99.9% of them are both lower than grocery store prices and better tasting. And knowing this makes me work that much harder in my garden. My goal is to grow most of what we eat!

  5. We bought our pressure canner and water bath canner 37 years ago. I can’t tell you how many hundred of jars and pounds of fruit and vegetables we have canned and saved money.

    1. Author

      We can as much as possible here as well, Candy. I love the fact that not only does it save money, but it just tastes better as well!

  6. Hi Julie,
    Great breakdown of prices! If getting started seems like too much cost, consider asking for some of the supplies as gifts. I know my Mom is always looking for presents for me…now that I have most of the home preservation supplies I need, she’s running out of ideas! lol…there is a grain mill….

    1. Author

      Excellent point, Lisa. I know when I started learning to make cheese and getting into beekeeping, I got quite a bit of my supplies as Christmas and Birthday gifts. It really does help. Oh! And if your Mom does get you that grain mill, tell her I am going to send her MY Christmas list!!!!! 🙂

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