One of the best ways to save money on food is to produce and preserve your own. For pennies on the dollar, you can stock up your pantry. And every year it gets cheaper as your equipment and jars depreciate. Get a friend in on it with you and it can even be fun. :) Canning is really hard work, but the savings are astounding.
**As a disclaimer, this post is written with the assumption you have some basic canning knowledge. I'm not going to show you how to can tomatoes, I'm just going to show you the cost benefit analysis of canning your own versus buying from the store. Ready for some serious nerdy talk?
I'll do the math from my first year of canning. This is assuming you have very basic things like salt and a few spices on hand.
Canner with implements: $5 (found at garage sale) (retail: $35)
Jars: $3.50 ($0.25 each at thrift store) (retail: $10/doz)
Box of lids and rings: $5 (bought new on amazon)
Tomatoes: Free or minimal cost (harvested from garden) (from local producer: $13/25lbs)
The only thing you do need to buy new every time are lids. The rings you can reuse, but you have to use new lids every time to ensure an uncompromised seal. You can recycle the lids on jars for storing dry goods, but every time you pop a lid off a freshly canned jar, it's no good for canning again.
Yesterday I canned 25 lbs of tomatoes, the prep was about half an hour, the actual work took about 2 hours, the canning portion another 2 hours. Cleanup was about half an hour. Compared to how long it would have taken me to go to Costco and buy canned tomatoes, the time isn't that much. Plus I got to stay home with my kid while he was napping instead of wrangling him in the cart for an hour.
My work yielded 4 quarts and 12 pints, or 380 ounces. Add up all the expense ($13.50), divide by the ounces (380) and you get $0.035 per ounce. Approximately $0.52 per pint.
So, saying I go to Costco and buy flats of tomatoes, at $6 per 8 cans, I'll spend $18 to buy 3 flats, or 384 ounces. Divide the cost ($18) by the volume (384) and you get $0.046 per ounce, or $0.74 per pint. That's a 44% increase in cost. Add to that the gas to get to the store, the increased waste and unknown ingredients and processing.
Next year, you won't have to buy a canner, jars or rings, since you already own these things. All you have to buy is lids, a cost of about $3.
So, if I yield 380 ounces again, using the same jars, canner and implements, the cost is less than a penny per ounce! To be exact, it's $0.007 per ounce or $0.13 per pint.
Keep in mind these calculations are done assuming the only thing you made was some tomatoes. You can also make other tomato products (pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, etc.), canned fruit, jams, jellies and tons of other preserved foods. If you add a pressure canner into the mix, your options are really endless. And the cost keeps plummeting.
If you're interested (I hope you are!) I plan on doing posts both on how to preserve garden produce and how to grow it.