This summer, I canned more than thirty pounds of tomatoes, along with preserving and drying plenty of other produce from my garden. I consider these projects to be something of a hobby — I could just as easily buy cans of tomatoes from the store (much more easily, actually). But I’m always trying to figure out whether these hobbies really save me any money in the long run. In fact, does any old fashioned skill still save you money?
The Cost of Acquiring Old Fashioned Skills
Just being able to can a few jars of jam or brew up a few bottles of beer requires an upfront investment these days. Where once a household that didn’t have hundreds of jars stashed away somewhere for canning season was unusual at best, it’s now rare to find a home with all the gear necessary to safely put up food. The same holds true of hobbies like knitting and brewing your own beer.
The start up cost of learning one of these skills involves getting the gear necessary. A few knitting needles might not cost very much, but when I started canning, I had to pick up a canning pot, plenty of jars and other accoutrements. You’ll likely find that, as you get better at a particular skill, you need other odds and ends, perhaps even considering buying the tools you already have with higher quality replacements.
You may also need some resources to learn the actual skill. I used to help my grandmother make jelly and I remembered a little bit of her instructions, but I invested in a couple of books to make sure that I knew what I was doing. Other options include taking classes or finding a friend to teach you. While most friends will help for free, you’ll likely have to pay for any other resources.
Before I canned my first jar of food, I probably spent more than one hundred dollars.
The Cost of Actually Having a Hobby
There is, of course, nothing wrong with having a hobby. But when understanding if a certain hobby saves us money, it’s important to be aware of what we’re really spending.
With a hobby that produces a product, such as home brewing, you have to have the starting ingredients. Maybe most of them come out of a garden or maybe you just pick them up from the store. Either way, the cost should be taken into account.
It’s also important to consider how much time you spend on a given project. What’s your hourly rate and how many hours did it take you to knit that scarf, or whatever else you’re doing? No matter how much fun you have doing it, the simple truth is that if you spent that time working, you’d be earning money, so thinking about how your savings stack up against your potential earnings is worth thinking about. It’s less of a crucial consideration as the actual costs of a given hobby, since most of us wouldn’t be working even if we weren’t practicing a certain skill.
If you haven’t been carefully tracking what you spend on your hobbies in terms of time and money, you aren’t alone. However, it can be tough to truly determine if you’re saving much money without a careful accounting. In my case, I also count up the hours I spend in my garden, making sure that I have all that produce to can. All things told, I spend quite a bit of time on the whole process, to the point that carefully tracking those details would take some work. I have general numbers, but because I consider both my gardening and my canning to be hobbies — things I do for my own enjoyment — I haven’t kept detailed records.
Your Actual Savings
When I include my time in calculating how much each jar of tomatoes that I preserves actually costs me, I’m paying close to double what I would pay at the store. I just don’t have the economy of scale to bring down the price that the different companies selling canned goods have. The cost does go down a little each year, as I don’t need to buy new jars every time I want to can something. If saving money is a priority for you as you’re taking up a new hobby, you can maximize those sorts of savings through careful tracking and tweaking of your approach — but I wouldn’t expect the amount you’re saving to have a lot of zeroes behind it.
You’ll find that the numbers often work out that way: our ancestors stopped canning their own food
and making their own clothes because they could buy the finished product cheaper and faster than doing it themselves. There are exceptions, of course, but taking up one of these old-fashioned skills should be considered far more of a hobby than a money saving opportunity.
There are other benefits beyond simply saving cash and those are worth considering when you’re practicing one of these skills. They may more than balance out the question of savings. When I can my own tomatoes, they taste much better than those sitting in cans at the supermarket. I also know exactly where my food comes from, so I’m not concerned about exposure to allergens or chemicals I don’t want in my dinner. One of my friends home brews regularly. His specialty is an amazing squash beer — something that you’d never find on the shelf. Another knits scarves that perfectly match her outfits, avoiding any need to hunt through the racks at the store.
Depending on your priorities, one of these hobbies may provide you with an end result that is more valuable to you than what you can get at the store, no matter the price considerations. While saving money is nice, getting something you simply can’t buy can be an even better deal. Take a careful look at the numbers and determine what your priorities are, assuming that you don’t get enough enjoyment out of your hobbies to keep doing them without financial incentive.