Does Canning Your Own Food Save You Money?

save money canning

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Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I love canning my own food! Now that I live in the middle of one of the US's largest cities, it's one of the few remnants of my country upbringing that I've kept with me.

Maybe it's the smell of boiling strawberries wafting through the house in the middle of summer, or the feeling of satisfaction I get when I see all of my filled jars lined up on my counter as they seal. Or maybe it's the nostalgic feeling of home when my mom and I used to can laundry baskets full of tomatoes from our garden when I was growing up.

To me, the whole process is sentimental. I don't do it for the money savings, although that part is nice too.


Why I Do Home Canning

I love knowing what is going into my food. Making sure that there are no preservatives, BPA or BPB, weird additives, or pesticides lurking in my sauces makes me feel at peace.

Quality and nostalgia aside, many people want to know if canning their own food is actually more cost-effective than buying it.

The answer? It’s a hard maybe.

If cost savings are what you are after, there is certainly a right way and the wrong way to go about canning.

Let's look at two very different examples.



Example A) Save Money Canning Your Own Food

This week I canned eight quarts, two pint-and-a-halfs, and one pint of homemade applesauce.

I sourced the apples for free from a wild apple tree growing in a green space near my house.

The jars and rings? I bought several hundred of them for about $70 a few years ago. This means that I paid about $0.35 a piece for them, and have received multiple uses out of them.

This isn't my first time canning with these particular jars and rings.

If you assume that jar and ring can be used at least 10 times before it inevitably breaks or gets lost (and many of them are used far, far more often than that!), you can amortize this cost to just 3.5 cents per jar and ring for this particular canning session.

The lids I bought new, because they aren't reusable. I purchased them for 1.99 per box with each box containing 12 lids. So about 17 cents per lid.

Let’s look at a quick breakdown of what my costs were to can my own applesauce this week.


Home Canning Costs This Week

Jar- 3.5 cents ea

Lid- 17 cents ea

Apples- Free

Lemons- 31 cents per jar

Cinnamon- 1 cent per jar

Stevia- 8 cents per jar

Canner, jar grabber, lid magnet (amortized)- 13.6 cents per jar

Electricity- 6.8 cents per jar

Total cost per jar of home canned applesauce: $0.81 per jar

Comparable store bought product- $7.99 per jar


It's important to make sure when you compare your product to a store-bought product, that you are comparing apples to apples (heh). For example, I used organic apples, canned them in a glass jar, and didn't use any fillers or preservatives.

So it wouldn't be accurate to compare my applesauce to the cost of a non-organic store-bought applesauce that comes in a plastic jar and is filled with high fructose corn syrup and preservatives. They simply aren't the same product!

Either way, it is clear that you can certainly save money canning your own food.


How Much Is Your Time Worth?


One thing to keep in mind, however, is that this calculation did not include my time. This batch took me about 3 hours from start to finish.

Canning is something I enjoy doing, and I don't use any of my work time to do it. Therefore, I pretty much consider it a hobby and do not factor in my time for the cost savings.

Let's say, for example, that you don't particularly enjoy canning and it's something you would only do for strictly cost savings. If your hourly wage is $20 per hour, then you can add $60 to your total. That means that each jar now costs you $6.26, instead of 81 cents.

If you live in a high cost of area living like me, you're still doing better than buying fancy applesauce for $7.99 per jar. But if groceries in your area are a bit cheaper, you may be breaking even or even spending a few pennies more to can it yourself.

Now let's talk about how home canning can be way more expensive than buying food from the grocery store if you aren't careful…



Example B- When Home Canning Isn’t So Cost Effective

In this example, our new canner is lacking supplies and a good source of free produce. She buys a new canning pot for $70 and plans to use it at least 45 times over the course of her life. This brings the per use cost to a $1.50 (same as me in example A)

She doesn't have jars or lids, rings, or canning tools, and she's in a rush. So she buys them brand new.

She also hasn't found any apple trees in her area, so she decides to buy organic apples from the local farmers market at 2.99 per pound.

Let's take a look at the new cost breakdown:


Home Canning Costs With Store-Bought Fruit

Jar- 11 cents ea (new jars amortized over 10 uses)

Lid- 17 cents ea

30lbs Apples- 89.70, or 8.15 per jar

Lemons- 31 cents per jar

Cinnamon- 1 cent per jar

Stevia- 8 cents per jar

Canner, jar grabber, lid magnet (amortized)- 17. 6 cents per jar

Electricity- 6.8 cents per jar

Total: $9.07 per jar


You can see that the big deciding factor between these examples is the cost of the food itself. If you're paying retail prices for your produce and meat, it's unlikely you will be able to beat the prices of food manufacturers that get bulk discounts.

However, when you are able to get food at very cheap or free prices, that's when ​you can easily save money canning.



How to Get Produce Super Cheap or Free

At first blush you might think that getting really low cost produce is next to impossible. But in reality, there are so many opportunities out there that most people miss! Here are just a few of them.


1. Grow Your Own Garden

The most obvious way to get free produce is to grow your own garden. Stick with fruits and vegetables that you know grow well in your area. There's no use trying to grow something that doesn't do super well in your garden zone, because it probably won't produce much anyway.

My second tip is to choose vegetable and fruit varieties that are high producers. This year I put in over a dozen tomato plants in my tiny front yard in the middle of Seattle.

Now that we've come to the end of the season, I can tell you that my Better Boy and Early Girl variety plants produced the bulk of what I harvested this year, while my Brandywine heirlooms fell flat entirely.

Sure, some of this comes down to operator error (I've never grown heirloom tomatoes before!), and part of it is that some varieties are simply more hardy and fruitful than others.



2. Forage For Fruit in Your Neighborhood

I live in the middle of Seattle, one of the biggest cities in the US. It would be easy to think that this place is a concrete jungle barren of fruit trees and free produce. Oh no.

This city is brimming with fruit trees that produce more fruit than even entire neighborhoods can take home. Everywhere I walk in the summer, fruit trees drape over the sidewalks, letting their fruit roll down the street.

Owners put piles of fruit on paper plates hoping their neighbors will take them home. Some do, but most of it goes to waste.

Just in the last couple of months alone I've discovered apple trees, fig trees, Asian pear, Bartlett pear, cherries, persimmons and plum trees dropping fruit in every direction.

Go outside of the city a bit, and you can find blackberries growing wild and a free blueberry farm that is open to the public.

The truth is that when we really look around, there is produce everywhere that is going to waste.


A Free Fruit Case Study

A few years ago, a friend of mine posted on Craigslist asking if anyone had ground fruit they wanted to have picked up. Within an hour, someone responded asking us to take all of the fallen apples and pears out of their backyard.

It was a perfect win-win situation, because they got their yard cleaned up for free, and we came away with baskets full of free fruit.

Note: City Fruit is a non-profit organization with a phone app that shows you a map of all of the fruit trees in your area. This is really helpful if you are looking for a specific variety of fruit or nuts, and it's one of the best resources to help you save money canning.



3. Buy Meat and Produce in Bulk

When it comes to meat and produce that isn't readily available to you in your local area, buying in bulk can save you a lot of money. Especially if you plan to can some of it!

One thing I love to do in the winter is can meat and vegetable soups so I always have healthy and easy meals at the ready.

This can be an expensive venture if you buy meat from your local supermarket. The best deals to be had are typically when you buy direct from one of your local farmers.

Purchasing a quarter of a cow in bulk all at once will usually give you a quality and price that is far better than anything you will get from the store. You can also buy pork chicken and lamb at equally great rates.



Conclusion


Home canning is one of those things that can be either extremely cost effective, or extremely expensive.


When you can find used jars and free produce, your costs drop to rock bottom prices for extremely high quality food. This is where a little preparation goes a long way if you want to save money canning.

Canning store bought produce, on the other hand, almost never pans out financially.




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