Can you save money by preserving food at home?
Interest in learning home food preservation practices has increased throughout the United States.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people spent extra time at home growing their gardens, preparing new food items and trying new methods to preserve their foods.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) saw an increase of 620% in website access and 270% in requests for home food preservation validated recipes from March 2020 to 2022.
Interest in preserving food can be driven by several factors, ranging from the pursuit of a hobby or recreational activity to continuing a family tradition to saving money.
But does preserving food at home really save money? The short answer is it depends!
There are several variables involved, including the availability of raw materials such as produce and ingredients; equipment; resources and time.
Raw materials can be mainly divided into three categories: grown yourself, purchased or received as a donation. Each of these categories will affect the cost per pound of the main ingredient.
If you grow the produce yourself, you must consider the costs of plants, soil amendment, equipment, irrigation and your own time, among others.
When purchasing raw materials from the store, looking at bulk prices and in-season commodities is always valid.
Equipment to preserve food will vary depending on the food preservation method used.
If canning is the method of choice, consider the cost of the canner, jars, rings, flats, canning tools, maintenance cost over the years, electricity or gas for your stove and your own time, which can vary greatly depending on the knowledge and experience you have.
If freezing is the method of choice, it’s essential to understand the costs associated with freezing and maintaining food frozen.
For new home food preservers, the first-year investment with equipment and tools may be higher for canning and freezing, and a long-term commitment may be required to observe the return or savings in preserving food.
Resources such as guidelines and tested recipes are essential to preserving food safely.
Research-based free resources are available at the National Center for Home Food Preservation and from the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning: https://nchfp.uga.edu.
For additional resources, the NCHFP sells the book “So Easy to Preserve” at https://setp.uga.edu.
Time or person-hour value is highly variable.
Many food preservers consider food preservation as a form of therapy, healthy exercise, a family bonding activity and the joy of preserving and gifting and would not consider their time as a cost factor.
After adding all the factors and comparing the total cost of preserving food at home versus purchasing food at the store, you may find the costs outweigh or are similar to the savings.
It is possible to save money while preserving food at home, but you have higher chances of saving if a long-term commitment is established.