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Does Gardening Actually Save You Money on Food?

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Ripe red tomato growing on the vine.

It seems like a common assumption about growing your own food at home is that gardening will automatically save you money. While this can certainly be true in some cases, if you really want to save money on food by growing a garden, then it’s important to actually think about how much money you spend and how much money you save if you’re trying to figure out whether gardening will actually save you money or not.

If you’re growing a garden as a hobby, and if it’s something that you would want to do whether or not you save any money, than it might not matter to you as much if you’re actually saving money. Or, if you’re like me and you like to have a garden to grow unique heirloom varieties that you can’t find at a store or even at a farmer’s market, than it’s a little bit harder to put a value on what you grow since you can’t find the same foods anywhere else.

But if one of your main reasons for growing your garden is to try to save some money on food, then it’s important to figure out whether or not you are actually saving money with your garden. It’s really easy to think that you’re saving money or to just assume that you are because you’re growing your own food rather than buying it, but there can often be a lot of gardening expenses that are easy to forget about that can reduce the amount of actual profit from your garden. 

And if you spend a lot of money on gardening equipment, seeds, and amendments, etc. and get a very small harvest or even no harvest at all if you have animals or weather that destroys part of your garden, it’s even possible to lose money on your garden rather than saving money. 

It’s really hard to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether or not gardening saves you money because there are so many factors that could affect the amount of money you spend and save on your garden. So I’ve listed out several of those factors to think about when you’re trying to figure out if you are saving money with your garden.

Factors to Consider to See If You Are Saving Money with Your Garden:

1) Whether You Plant Seeds or Seedlings

If you plant all store bought seedlings in your garden, the cost can really add up. Depending on which seedlings you buy and where you buy them, the cost of each seedling plant is usually somewhere between $2-4. If you start your garden from seeds, though, you could spend the same $2-4 but get a whole packet with many seeds in it that would allow you to grow many more plants for the same price.

2) Whether You Save Seeds or Buy Seeds

If you are using seeds for your garden rather than buying seedlings, you can save even more money if you use seeds that you saved from the previous year’s garden rather than having to buy all new seeds each year. 

3) Whether It’s Your First Year Gardening or Not

Most of the time, your first year gardening is probably going to be the most expensive year because you have to buy all  of the tools and equipment you need for your garden such as a shovel, hoe, rake, spade, fencing, tomato cages and/or trellises, bean poles, etc. If you don’t already have these tools at home and you have to purchase them, the cost can add up for the first year, but then future years of gardening will be cheaper because you can re-use these tools year after year. 

4) Whether You Buy Compost or Make Your Own

If you end up buying compost or other fertilizer for your garden then that is an additional cost to take into account. If you keep your own compost pile, though, you can save some money on fertilizing your garden.

5) How Much Your Garden Produces

A big factor for whether or not you can actually save money from your garden is how productive your garden is. If you end up harvesting hardly anything from your garden, then there’s a good chance you probably won’t be saving very much money on food either. But if you have a really productive garden and you end up harvesting lots of fresh produce from it, then it’s likely that you’re saving some on the cost of food too. 

6) Whether You Grow Perennials or Not

If you grow any perennial vegetables, herbs, or fruits than those can definitely help you to save money since it’s a one-time cost to purchase them and you can continue harvesting from those plants year after year. 

How to Figure Out Whether You’re Saving Money on Your Garden or Not

The way to figure out if you’re actually saving any money on your garden or not is to figure out all of your costs for gardening that year and then keep track of how much produce you actually end up harvesting from your garden and add up the value of that produce. 

So to start with, you would want to add up how much money you spent on your garden that year which might include:

  • seeds
  • seedlings
  • compost
  • fertilizer
  • other soil amendments
  • fencing
  • trellises
  • tomato cages
  • bean poles
  • gardening tools
  • seed starting equipment or grow lights if you start seeds indoors

(Note: I didn’t include the money you would spend on watering your garden since I don’t even know how you would easily figure that out by looking at your water bill, but that would technically be a part of the cost too.)

Once you figured out the cost of everything you spent, the next step would be to keep track of how much produce you end up harvesting by counting how many tomatoes you harvest, how many heads of lettuce you have, how many squash you are able to grow, etc. And if you want to be even more exact, you could weigh your produce too. 

And then the next step would be to go to a local farm stand or farmer’s market and add up the prices for what you would have had to spend if you had bought the same amount of produce. (And if you’re growing your produce organically then it would be the most accurate to go to an organic farm to see the price for organically-grown produce.)

And the last step would be to figure out the cost difference between the money you spent on your garden and the value of all of the produce that you were able to harvest to see if your garden ended up saving you money on food or not. 

I’ve never fully done all of these steps for my own garden because gardening is something I enjoy doing as a hobby whether or not I save money from it and because a lot of the times I eat stuff straight from the garden and would find it inconvenient to really keep a count on exactly how much produce I harvest.

I can estimate, though, that some parts of my garden end up saving me money and others don’t. Last year, for example, I ended up losing money on the carrots and parsnips that I planted because a groundhog ate them all and I didn’t get to harvest any of them. I think I probably saved a decent amount of money on tomatoes, though, because I started some of them from seeds (and bought just a few) and because I was harvesting so many tomatoes I almost couldn’t keep up with them. The cost of organically-grown heirloom tomatoes isn’t usually cheap where I live, so I feel pretty confident that I saved money on them even though I didn’t weight out exactly how many pounds of tomatoes I ended up harvesting. 

Maybe this year I’ll do a better job of keeping track of these things because it would be fun to see how much money I was actually spending and saving on my garden!

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Close up picture of a ripe, red tomato growing on the vine in the garden.
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

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