Does Canning Food Really Save You Money?

by Jamie Simmerman · 13 comments

With the rising cost of fresh produce, many consumers are looking for a cheaper way to eat healthy. But is growing your own food and canning really a frugal choice or is it a budget buster? Let’s take a look at a couple examples below (Prices current as of June 2012).

Organic Green Beans

Requirements to Can Your Own

  • Organic Green Bean Seeds= $5.90 for 1 packet
  • Fertilizer (Miracle Gro Quart Organic Choice All-Purpose Plant Food Concentrate) = $9.97
  • Canning Jars (12 count, 16 ounces)= $9.38
  • Replacement bands and lids= $4.29
  • Pressure Canner (Presto 01781 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker from Amazon) = $79.59 plus shipping

Initial Can Your Own Investment= $105.20 plus tax and shipping for 192 ounces ($0.55 per ounce)

Later Years’ Can Your Own Investment= $20.16 for 192 ounces  ($0.11 per ounce)

Price of Organic Green Beans from Store (local IGA price) $2.22 for 10 ounces ($0.23 per ounce)

Tomato Sauce

Can Your Own Requirements

  • Organic Tomato Plants (9 plants)= $21.91
  • Ball Flex Batch Italian Style Pasta Sauce Mix- 8 ounces (we like to grow our own herbs and peppers, but the mix is easier for new folks) = $5.98
  • Fertilizer (Miracle Gro Quart Organic Choice All-Purpose Plant Food Concentrate) = $9.97
  • Canning Jars (12 count, 16 ounces)= $9.38
  • Replacement Bands and Lids= $4.29
  • Pressure Canner (Presto 01781 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker from Amazon) = $79.59 plus shipping
  • Roma Food Press and Strainer (not essential but will cut prep time by ½ to ¾)= $55.59

Initial Can Your Own Investment= $182.42 for 192 ounces ($0.95 per ounce)

Later Years’ Can Your Own Investment= $42.15 for 192 ounces ($0.22 per ounce)

Price of Bertolli Organic Pasta Sauce from Store= $9.33 for 24 ounces ($0.39 per ounce)

As you can see, growing and canning your own veggies can be quite a bit expensive the first year, since you’ll have to purchase jars and canning equipment.  In subsequent years, however, it is possible to save quite a bit of money over buying organic foods from your grocery store, especially with inflation rocketing prices of fresh produce.

One of the major drawbacks of growing and canning your own foods is the time involved in tending a garden and prepping and canning the foods. For most of us, when we factor in the hourly cost of our time, canning simply is not a wise investment. However, if you enjoy gardening, and want to know exactly what is in your food, then the cost may be well worth it after all.

Some ways to cut back the time and expense of canning your foods is to get the kids involved in helping with the garden and prep work (cheap labor, they usually work for ice cream), and by freezing some foods instead of canning them. You can usually freeze vegetables whole by placing them in freezer jars or bags, thereby significantly cutting down on your caning time and costs.

You can also opt to purchase your veggies from a local grower instead of growing them yourself. Thus makes canning your own sauces and veggies much easier, since you cut out the time it would take to grow, tend, and pick your veggies. We’ve done this from time to time, especially when experimenting with new recipes so we “save” our prized home grown veggies for the recipes we know are family favorites.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Nancy says:

    OK, lets try this again.

    Seeds, around 50 cents online if you buy from TomatoBobs and watch for the free shipping. Also, I have saved seeds from my own produce and gotten free packets from home shows and garage sales. I have also replanted green onions by saving the roots in water. They have given me onions all Summer. I just trim the tops when I need them.

    Fertilizer – zero since we used manure from our farm animals. However, if you don’t have animals yourself, look for someone who does.

    All of my canning jars come from garage sales and average 50 cents each. My canning rings come from a restaurant that uses the jars as glasses and tosses the rings and tops. My tops come from Walmart using the off brand and run around $2 or less a dozen. I do not reuse them for canning, but do use them for signage in my garden.

    I do not use a pressure canner. I freeze those items that need to be pressure canned. I use a water based canner/stock pot from a garage sale that cost under $10. There is a cost for the propane.

    So my calculations are much lower than your estimate. Also, I know exactly what I am eating and to me that is the ultimate reward.

  • Marbella says:

    I want everything always fresh, no preservatives or the like in my food. You can find good and cheap market traders of fruits and vegetables year round. (I live in sunny Spain).

    • Jean says:

      That is true but in places where it is unfavorable weather for a lot of the year, some amount of canning/preserving becomes necessary.


  • Shane says:

    I think it all depends on the amount you produce and what you do with what you produce. You could sell some at local fairs and or markets. There are many variables to consider.

  • Jean says:

    Hmm yes, quite interesting. Didn’t think canning would come out to that much. It is true that once the initial investment in the equipment is done away with, it is worthwhile. But of course, the time factor is also an important one. It is tough with a working schedule.


  • Jules says:

    If you know what you’re doing, canning and preserving aren’t that expensive. We re-use jellly jars and sterilize them in the oven (we have considered buying a pressure cooker, but haven’t moved beyond the “considering” phase yet). Sugar with 4% pectin is only slightly more expensive than regular sugar. And if you’ve got blackberry bushes and elderberries growing in your area, that’s free fruit.

  • Linda says:

    I’m gonna have to disagree with you on this one, especially for jams, jellies and tomatoes it’s much cheaper to can than to buy. You can better control the ingredients to reduce salt, sugar and chemicals. A little more if you buy the produce in bulk, but less if you go directly to the source and pick your own. In the northwest there are blackberries, huckleberries and wild blueberries that can be had for the time to pick them. Also, if the canning thing is too challenging, try freezing. It’s much cheaper and there isn’t the worry about jars sealing and boiling water baths.

  • Persepone says:

    Actually, I also agree with Kate. I’m the first poster–and yes, I now live outside the city (but far from “country”) yet even when I lived in Manhattan with a less than good city kitchen, I still made jams, jellies, some pickles, and did some other forms of “putting up” food–especially as presents. I learned, by the way, from other city dwellers–not from country types.
    Note that I do not do this as a money-saver, but more as a sort of “hobby.”
    If you hate it, don’t do it–but it’s like being a good cook. It takes more energy to be a lousy cook than it does to be a good cook, so if you have to cook, why not be a good cook? And if you are a good cook, you will end up with free/cheap stuff that you can preserve if you know how. As for the balcony gardens, I never had a balcony–but you’d be amazed at what you can grow INDOORS. I never had pigeons or bugs INSIDE my apartment…

  • Kate says:

    I’d rather die. (Realizing this in time saved me from marrying a man who owned a ranch in Idaho, and led instead to a very happy life as a City Girl.)

    Again, it’s a matter of priorities. If you like slaving in a steaming kitchen, and if you don’t mind eating the same vegetables for every meal all winter long, by all means go for it. But if you live in a big city with Chinese grocers, you can buy wonderful fresh veg every day for less than it costs you to enslave yourself to the stove. Shop after work just as the shops are closing, and get special deals or sometimes free stuff (tell them it’s for your rabbit). And then go next door for day-old bread that you can turn into bread crumbs and use to extend your meat and/or lentil loafs, as well as toasting and turning into wonderful nearly-free side dishes with a few tasty additions.

    If you live in an apartment or condo, be sure to check your rules and regs about what you can have on your balcony, and remember that growing things attract bugs and pigeons, both of which are health hazards.

  • dc says:

    If you are a city dweller, apartment dweller, etc. doesn’t exclude one from canning and preserving of fruits and vegetables. There are many marvelous farmer’s markets where you can buy fresh fruits and veggies. Do get to know those farmers, those who share your interest in healthy foods . . . and then give them your business. The farmers’ markets in the States are a real boon to those who cannot plant their own garden. (Herbs on the balcony!!!) They are also relatively inexpensive in comparison to the supermarkets.
    Happy Canning!

  • Krystyna says:

    I usually agree with you on most of your topics, but I think you’re way off on this one. First, I don’t know where you by your seeds, but $5.90 is way over the top. Miracle Gro? Not on my food! “Just say no to Miracle Gro!” I compost every bit of fruit and veggie scraps from cooking and egg shells get crushed up and tossed in as well. I never need any soil amendments at all.

    When I garden, I get fresh air and exercise. I know there are no pesticides on my plants because I don’t use any. I know everything is organic and there are no potentially dangerous GMOs in my food. I also forage for wild and free food. You’d be shocked at how many people own fruit trees but don’t use the fruit. They are more than happy to have you pick up fruit so they don’t have to clean it up from their lawns – or pay a gardener to do it. Go to your local state parks and you’ll find tons of grapes and berries and nuts that you can pick for free.

    My husband and I were sick of paying high prices for watering our lawn and some shurbs out front so we pulled them all out and replaced them with gorgeous blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and gooseberry bushes. Half the lawn has been a very attractive food producing garden for the last few years. A flower patch is now an herb garden. I don’t mind watering at all!

    As for the cost of canning goods, yes, there is an initial investment for a boiling water bath canner and pressure canner but they will last a lifetime. You might also want to pick up a steamer-juicer for a year round supply of wholesome juice. You do not need to replace your bands, just the lids and the jars will also last forever. Go on Freecycle and you’ll find lots of people giving away jars galore. Check for nicks and cracks and you’ll find that 99% of them are perfect. You can also get them for next to nothing at garage sales. Pick up a dehydrator and you can dry fruits and veggies to add to trail mix, muffins and soups later in the year. All pesticide-free.

    I also can chicken and have made chili and beef stew. As the owner of a deep freeze, I can tell you that the prices of meat have sky rocketed over the last few years. Have you looked at the cost of produce lately? It is frightening.

    The sense of accomplishment and security I get from canning my own food is priceless. And there is nothing like picking perfectly ripened berries first thing in the morning for my family’s breakfast.

  • Donna says:

    Your food will be healthier than store bought as well. I was looking for jam without High Fructose Corn Syrup-almost impossible to find and if you do it is almost twice the cost. Making my own I got healthier jam and less expensive. I have been canning for at 35 years and use the same supplies over again.

  • Persepone says:

    This post assumes that you buy everything “new” to do canning. What you do need to buy new are the replacement bands and lids. Otherwise you can usually get this stuff free from relatives/friends/neighbors who no longer can or at tag sales. Take a used pressure canner to your local cooperative extension service and they will give it a safety check. Yes, you can buy new gaskets, etc. for old canners. Fruits (including tomatoes) do not need to be pressure canned for safety–you can safely use a waterbath canner for those. Ditto jams and jellies, etc.
    Another factor is that you probably do not have to grow or buy at least some of the stuff you can. Having the skills and equipment to can will tag you as a recipient for your friends’ surplus crops.
    Need information on how to can safely, efficiently, etc.? Talk to your local cooperative extension service–they will help for free. Some maintain sort of community kitchens where you can use their equipment–you bring your jars, lids, etc. but they have canners, etc. They also have skills and knowhow.

    Even if you don’t actually save any money, you will teach your children a bunch about where food comes from, how it is preserved, etc. and they will waste less food in the future if they know the work that goes into preserving it. Also, teaching children may get them interested in gardening, nutrition, cooking etc.

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