Does canning food at home really save you money? Home canning is a wonderful old-fashioned tradition. Many people remember their grandma or great-grandma canning and want to learn how to can, but they wonder, is it really worth it.
There's several things we have to consider, for one, you have to compare things realistically and item for item.
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Cost of Canning Equipment
First off, there is the cost of the jars, I just purchased a case of jars brand new for $8.99 a dozen from our local hardware store, which did include the bands and lids, but we'll only be reusing the bands and the jars. Divide that and it's $.75 a jar for the first year. I have some jars that are over 15 years old I'm still using, so that would bring them down to $.05 a jar.
Better yet, you can often get used canning jars from friends, family, neighbors, garage sales and thrift stores, bringing the cost of them to almost pennies if you reuse them. When purchasing used jars, make sure you run your finger over the rim of the jar to make sure there aren't any nicks or cracks, which inhibits them from sealing properly.
Next we have the cost of the lids. Regular lids are usually $1.99 a box where I live, making them roughly $.16 a piece, so that puts us at about $.20 cents a jar for the lid and jar cost. If you use Tattler lids, (How to Use Tattler Lids) the only safe reusable canning lid (regular mouth for a box of 12 is $9.00), brings the first use to $.75 a lid, but depending upon the number of years you reuse the bands, you can bring your cost to $.15 a jar in 5 years or just $.07 in 10 years.
Price Comparison of Home Canned Food to Store Bought
Now to compare the true cost of the jar filled with food you have to compare oranges to oranges, or in this case, green beans to green beans. The green beans I grow are an heirloom variety and totally organic. They're allowed to mature on the vine, hand picked, and processed and canned the day they're picked. This means no nutrient loss due to time off the jar and sitting before being processed. They're in a glass jar, not a metal jar that could leach questionable ingredients into the finished product.
Same thing with my home canned tomato products. Organic, vine ripened (hello, better flavor, you haven't lived until you taste tomatoes ripened on the vine like they're supposed to be and then turned into sauce), and processed on picking day, in a glass jar.
Many times I see price comparison done with the cheapest can someone can find, and that's not a true price comparison. Where I live, that jar of tomato sauce is upwards of $4 a jar in the glass.
Now if you plan on canning vegetables, you will need a pressure canner (see which is the best pressure canner) and that is an expense. I started out with an $80 pressure canner over 16 years ago, which is $5 a year and when you divide that by 300 jars a year, the cost is a penny per jar for the pressure canner.
My husband got me the All American Pressure Canner this past year, which allows me to can over twice as many jars at once (still one of the best Christmas presents ever!). Even with the higher price tag, over 16 years, and I plan on getting a lifetime out of it, it still equals out to $16 a year, going down every additional year you use it.
I'm not saying a pressure canner isn't an investment, but when you count up how much you'd spend out going out to eat over a year, that pressure canner is paid for and then some.
The cost of produce or ingredients for canning is definitely a factor. Here on our homestead we grow the majority of things we can at home, from enough tomatoes to make all of our tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, and salsa for the year, to green beans, blueberries and raspberries for jams and jellies, and blackberries for syrups.
The produce I still purchase to can up things at home are peaches (I can buy a box or approximately 2o pounds of peaches for $18), a few peppers for salsa, concentrated lemon juice and vinegar, strawberries, and asparagus. I purchase in season and when buying in bulk and from a local farmer, I pay much less than I would at the grocery store, especially in the middle of winter which is when we rely on our home canned goods.
If you're growing the produce at home and canning it, then the price is less than $.25 a jar, if you're purchasing the produce, it will vary, but usually it's still going to be less than $2.00 per jar of finished product. But don't discount the price savings by purchasing it in bulk and in season.
How much time does it take to can food at home
We'd be amiss if you we didn't talk about the time cost for canning food at home. It does take time, not gonna lie. However, I still can over 300 jars every year while working as a pharmacy tech outside the home, blogging, writing, and doing the podcast with a fully operating homestead. So it can be done, even if you work full time.
In August, I sometimes can a run of food in the morning before work and get up an hour earlier in order to do so.
The amount of time varies by food, processing time, and method. It's actually faster for me to raw pack and pressure can my vegetables than it is to make jams and jellies or sauces.
However, by canning, I'm taking the same amount of time to process and prep up to 19 jars of food in one sitting, if I”m running my full load of pint jars in the All American Canner. Come winter time all I have to do is open up the jar, heat, and eat (depending upon the contents). It's actually faster to can than it is to cook all of those items fresh at meal time. Canning is the ultimate batch cooking!
Does it Save Money to Can at Home
Yes, it absolutely does if you're properly comparing the same home canned goods to the store bought comparison. If you're comparing it to the cheapest canned food you can find and are only taking into consideration the price and not growing any of the food at home, then maybe not.
With home canning, you're also controlling the ingredients going into your food. I don't want high fructose corn syrup, GMO's, insane amounts of sugar, and other preservatives going into the food I eat and feed my family. In fact, my health demands it. After having a scare and battling with stomach issue, the only way I've been able to keep a handle on it is by cutting out these items in our food.
I believe you need to count the health costs as well when comparing.
Is it worth it to can food at home?
Yes, Mason jars raised high in both hands, yes.
Having shelves lined with food that isn't dependent upon on a grocery store and I know exactly what is in them is a feeling like no other. I can literally go grocery shopping from my own pantry during an emergency, bad weather, if the power goes out I don't have to worry about it going bad, or if and when money gets tight, I know I've got jars of food ready to eat.
Plus, on a busy night, no fast food or worrying about dinner, I can open a jar and have a homemade home-cooked meal on the table in 10 or 15 minutes.
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Thanks for the cost breakdown; I’ve wondered about that. Of course, there’s no comparison when it comes to quality. I keep asking Santa for an AllAmerican Canner but so far, no luck.
Keep asking Santa, it took a few years for him to deliver mine.
Oh my goodness this is THE most timely blog post! I was just standing in my kitchen at 1am (yes, as in just after midnight) the other day, peeling the last of my tomatoes. I was bleary eyed and so exhausted I wanted to cry. I kept asking myself why I am so weird – why be up all hours to home can our food, when I can just go to the store like normal people do? I decided once life calms down just a tad (hence the canning at 1am) I would look at the cost breakdown, because if I’m spending $10.00 to make one jar of tomato sauce, this for sure wouldn’t be worth it – and for me, would also be a little wacko. I made it through the week, actually got to sleep in a little bit today, and then checked the blog and here this is. I’m going to run my numbers but in the clear light of day with sleep under my belt, your breakdown sounds logical and probably close to my actual spending. Which makes me feel soooooo much better! Sorry for such a long comment, LOL. I just had to share God’s perfect timing for me in regards to your very encouraging, reaffirming canning post. Have a wonderful weekend!!
Oh girl, I feel you! I got the last pint of green beans out of the canner at 12:11 am last night. Nice job on the tomato sauce, it’s so much better tasting than the stores (and healthier).
Melissa you have inspired me to love Mason jars again! With the way the world is we do not know what store bought food really contains. The only way to know what is in our food is to can it yourself. Yes it does take time to do and it can be more expensive than store bought food; however you know what you put into the mason jar and if you follow proven recipes you will be safe. I just put up 9 pints of green beans. I have trouble growing them in the desert due to the gophers, squirrels, rabbits, etc who eat the tender new plants. Plants get sucked up from underneath the plant or pruned from the top of the new plant and even twine above the new plant doesn’t stop them. So I have bought the green beans which are grown in our state and I bought the beets also farmed in our area. I processed 30 lbs. of beets into 10 pts. small whole beets and 27 pts. of pickled beets. Made 7 quarts of grape juice from grapes grown on the fence between me and my neighbor. I made sweet pickle relish from pickling cucumbers that are grown locally. I frozen cherries from my friends orchard and we can grow strawberries and I froze them for later use. I want to can soups, stew, spaghetti sauce, ect. Things I have not done in the past. I am retired but I am also 80 years young. Yes it is really worth the work and effort to know what you are feeding your family in the days we are living in. Keep up the great work you are doing to inspire us to do better each day.
I’m honored to bring a little Mason jar love your way. I hope I”m as young as you when I’m that age. Truly, you’re a marvel!
I am listening to this pod cast as I have my second batch of salsa in a water bath. Thanks for the encouragement. My biggest point of exhaustion is the cutting up for salsa and the clean up. You are younger than me and have more energy. I use my watching the canner time to sneak in a bit of reading.
Salsa is one of the more involved recipes with canning isn’t it? But it’s such a nice addition to have in the pantry. I love the idea of more reading time, too!
Great post!! I’m monitoring my pressure canner right now as it processes some thawed venison from last season (I need to get the freezer cleaned out for this year’s harvest!) and rooster-and-noodle soup :). I know that USDA doesn’t recommend canning using pasta or rice, but, I’m trying just a handful (literally) in my quart jar, and using Tinkyada rice noodles (which claim to be able to handle quite a bit of overcooking!). Should work without making a slurry, and definitely nowhere near as dense as a chunk of meat or potato.
Even when I’ve bought meats to can (like ham after Easter when it’s on sale), I’m still getting a consistent quality and as I reuse jars (some of mine are over 30 years old and still in use!), the cost-per-jar is quite low. I like to can meat and beans in the winter as it helps heat up the house, which is another added benefit.
Thanks for the post!! Good, logical info. 🙂
TJ, how fun to have the venison. We got our first deer last year and are hoping for another this season.
Yes, the USDA doesn’t recommend canning rice or pasta. Especially the rice because it thickens up so much you can’t ensure the heat gets through evenly to ensure botulism spores are killed.
I agree on canning in the winter, and I do a lot of my syrups and jellies then as the berries freeze so well when it’s hot out. Love hearing your jars are lasting 30 years, that’s fantastic!
I have to say you are without a doubt amazing….I just get tired reading all you do in your posts. BUT!! I so agree with everything you say. My grandparents lived with us all my life and I like to call my Grandma a Master Homemaker because everything she did was perfect. In housekeeping, cooking and sewing as well. I used to watch her can and one day I asked if she ever had a bad can…because she water bathed, and she said just two. Don’t forget that the macrobiotic diet says you should never eat anything grown more than 30 miles away from you…(to fight cancer).
I love the idea of a macrobiotic diet and the 30 mile range, I do have to get my lemons and limes from elsewhere, but what a neat concept.
Your grandparents sound like they were wonderful people!
I say throw out the $$$$ factor, If home canning is important to you, then go for it. Dollars can not buy you the pleasure of an home canned product. And if your spouse or children join in the fun. No amount of dollars can buy you the memories that will be made.
I thank God for the memories i have as a child gardening and canning produce from our family garden.
You’re right, it’s not always about the money. I’m with you, I remember always being out in the garden and canning with my folks, too.
CHRISTIE L FAIRCHILD
“Worth it”, to me, is far more than a monetary phrase. When discussing food preservation, or really any other roots, or pioneer skill, it comes down to health and wellness (grow your own), self-sufficiency (DIY), and the knowledge of passing down to each generation – priceless! So, yes, it’s absolutely worth it. And then some…
I’ve never seen anybody say “look at all these cans of green beans I bought at the grocery store”. I pack my pantry with pride!! It tops the list in health, cost and taste.
Just the certainty that you have no pesticides or GMOs in your meals makes the effort worthwhile. And your survival skills will be sharp when hard times hit. The ability to stockpile is key.
Yes, that’s definitely key for me on the no pesticides or GMO’s and having a home grocery store for hard times is a plus.
I grew up growing our own food and preserving it via drying, canning and freezing. The only positive outlook I have not seen in your writtings is the family bonding. As a child, I wished I could be out playing with my friends instead of tending the garden and canning. As an adult, the time spent with my family over the canning table are my most precious memories.
Great point! My kids and husband all help, which I’m immensely grateful and hope my children feel the way you do when they’re grown.
Update: I only used a small handful of the brown rice (which held together, but doesn’t seem worth the effort when there’s so little actual rice in there) and of the brown rice pasta, which despite claims to be able to withstand overcooking, was slush.
Back to the tried & true!!
Glad to hear you’re back to tried and true. 🙂
I love to can – Yes, I strongly believe it’s worth it. I used my Mother’s pressure canner until I could save up enough for my own. I’ve saved a ton of money by putting up what I grow, am given and forage. I find it relaxing and very satisfying – esp when I hear the “ping, ping, ping” of the sealing jars. Thanks so much for your post and all the valuable info and insights!
I saw a used All American canner at a resale shop once for $80 and decided to let it go for a week to see if the $$ came down. BIG mistake! It was G.O.N.E., gone. As far a canning at home, my $99 Presto gets us by. Not only good quality, non-GMO, organic inside, but also NO BPA (or BPS, which is what they are transitioning to when they claim “BPA-free”) with which they so sneakily line the cans. For me, it’s a relaxing thing to do and knowing my family is eating well, is worth everything.
I love canning. Sometimes I don’t like it because I’m tired and staying up late. I had to purchase in bulk most of the vegetable and fruits I canned or froze. The frozen ones will be canned as time allows. I haven’t figured up the cost of canning and frankly I don’t care. I know my family has healthy food to eat. I’m not dependent on the grocery stores. We are making plans for a garden next year. That will reduce my costs tremendously. What I finally got started, the ducks ate the leaves. Live and learn.
I sold my pressure canner this year cause buying in bulk is two pricey. I buy from a farmers mkt and get fresh veggies. I do buy a case of tomatoes occasionally to put up… no pressure canner needed. I make my own jams… sugar free. I can’t swallow the supermarket brands. It’s like eating jello. LOVE doing that!
We get alot of pleasure working together canning also we raise our plants from seed and can about 300 jars per year just like you. Our grown kids know where to get food they just show up with empty milk crates and take what they need. We know what we put in the jar and feel as you it is better quality than store bought
Yes! I love you’re teaching these skills to your kids.
I just finished taking out 7 quarts of green beans from my trusty Presto canner….. that made 77 quarts so far this season. My husband and I love gardening and canning…. and Mason jars!!! In fact, we are getting ready to build a “pantry” in our basement to store all our home canned food. I have made 4 kinds of pickles, green beans, October beans, grape jelly, grape juice, peach jam so far. The tomatoes are just now coming in, so it will be salsa and canned tomatoes next. My 88 year old mom thinks I’m crazy for working so hard, but I find it rewarding to know that from that tiny seed that we planted, God has made it grow and flourish so that our food needs have been taken care of. Our family members look forward to receiving their Christmas box of home canned goods each year! I know what goes in each jar, and that is very important to all of us. Thanks, Melissa, for your information and inspiration!
Aren’t October beans the best?! My tomatoes aren’t quite ripe yet, hoping next week to get the salsa and sauces up. It’s a good feeling, even when it’s hard or tiring, right?
There’s one thing that you didn’t mention in your post, but I think is even more important than dollars and cents–the time I’ve spent with my kids, picking produce, celebrating a great deal on finding produce, locating a really good canning recipe to try, learning the process, looking forward to what has become a tradition, sharing the upcoming excitement, then actually spending time canning as a family.
I didn’t grow up learning to can (although my mother did it later in life after I’d already left the home). I have,however, learned to can and have shared it with my (adult) children. It has now become a tradition in my family to can foods that we’ll use all winter and into spring. We make jams and pickles and can tomatoes and applesauce. My daughters even started growing the own produce, include the one who lives in the city and has a tiny space packed with tomato plants, chard, and green beans and herbs of all types.
Not only has canning helped us examine exactly what we’re putting into our bodies, it’s been a way for us to develop a tradition that will hopefully last lifetimes.
Excellent point and another added benefit, probably the most precious as well.
Do you freeze dry your own meats etc? If so, is it difficult and do you need a special freezer for freeze drying?
I don’t freeze dry my own meats, a home freeze dryer is usually 2 to 3 thousand dollars, we either use our deep freezer for our meat or I can it.
You get a batch done in only an hour??? You are a MACHINE. I am the slowest canner ever. When I do tomatoes (which, granted, take forever mainly because of the prep.work in either peeling them or putting them through the mill), it literally takes me about a day and a half per bushel. Thankfully, I grow about a dozen varieties, so they don’t all come on at once, but there’s no way I could do tomatoes if I worked. ? Or, I would have to have a few tomato processing parties. (And though that sounds like SO MUCH FUN, I don’t know many other people who can.)
I so can’t wait until my daughters are older and can help more. Canning should definitely be a community event. ?
I usually only do one batch and I’m going on high speed, lol It definitely helps to have multiple people!
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I have been able to figure the “hard costs” as you have done above. What I have had difficulty figuring is the cost of the water for washing and processing and the cost of energy for my gas stove which I use to heat my pressure canner. I know these vary by region or even service provider but I have been at a loss for how to estimate these costs.
I figure I’m washing produce regardless if it comes from my garden or the store, so I don’t factor that in. My pressure canner requires about 2 quarts of water, which isn’t very much and even though I do the majority of my canning through summer and early fall (our stove is electric) my electricity bill is always at its lowest during these months. You might find this article interesting https://melissaknorris.com/is-home-canning-really-worth-it-does-it-save-money-to-can-at-home/
Also, I know it would take much longer to cook each jar of food from fresh than it does to operate a full load in my canner. Hope that helps some.
I can in part to provide foods that I can eat (lots of sensitivities), and for quick fix that is easy to prepare on days when I am very busy, or when I my energy levels have tanked. I’m dealing with something that has all the negative issues of fibromyalgia, so energy management is a big thing.
On days when I feel well, I am able to can up things that help me on days I feel wiped out or am in a lot of pain. Ironically, the fact that I have canned up some fast mean starters is one of the things that now gives me the energy to can up MORE foods to make my life easier – on days I’ve been busy canning, drying, or otherwise prepping home processed foods, I pull out a jar of bean soup, or some pre-seasoned meats, and am so thankful that I do not have to cook at the end of a hard day.
I can all year, according to what is on sale. Meats some times. Veggies some times. Fruits other times. In this age of international food availability, things come in all year, and I grab them when they are inexpensive, and preserve them for when they are priced high.
Doing so has cut my food budget by about 25%. Some things I ONLY buy when on sale now.
Making my own fast food has cut it by another 5-10%.
And those numbers INCLUDE the cost of jars, and ingredients I’d not be using otherwise (I use a lot more salt, herbs, and spices than otherwise… and vinegar, balsamic vinegar, liquid smoke, etc).
We raise some of our own animals, and canning meats allows me to empty our very small freezer, and make it ready for something else big to come in. We can get by with a little freezer instead of a big one. Another savings.
But I am afraid that my husband has developed a sort of twitch, that occurs any time I say, “I need more jars.”.
I got a good laugh at your comment about the twitch”. That’s as good as a jar.
10 Principles to Live By for Homesteading Newbies – Hope for Better Living
[…] If there’s one story that rings true when living on the land, its this: it takes time to see a return for your money! Purchasing a setup for chickens, hogs, dairy goats or a cow is costly. Expect it to take (at least) several years before the critters pay themselves off, before you break even on the cost of the new tractor or trailer. This also rings true of gardening and food preservation. Both cost something to set up! Homesteading is about long-term investments. And sometimes, like with canning equipment or building a root cellar, homesteading requires upfront cash. My favorite podcast is Pioneering Today by Melissa K Norris. In a recent fascinating episode, she covered the cost of canning, the return you make, the money it saves long term. Be sure to check it out: Is Home Canning Really Worth It? […]
I truly enjoy your site! My mother canned and so do I. Have my whole married life of 45 years. Don’t know how I did it when the kids were small. I know I budgeted my time a lot better. But my food tastes like food and I don’t have to worry about the vegetables being recalled. I know what’s in my jars. In the winter, it tastes so good. To use up things in the garden, I make my own vegetable soup mix and can it. I add the meat later when I use it if I want. Can’t get that in the stores! Have a great summer.
Melissa, love your wisdom and writings and follow you constantly. My only tip is to buy lids in bulk from Lehman’s in Ohio. I have a sleeve that will last me a lifetime. I feed an extended family of 11 and we have a large garden. I would not change my ways of preserving food for much. Love dehydrated tomatoes, zucchini and berries. Canning is a way of life (retired RN now so I have more time than ever before). Bought my All American with my last pay raise to celebrate my 45th year of nursing. Love it. Strawberry jam tomorrow! Keep the good times rolling!
Yes I agree you do save money in the long run I have two all American canners that have paid for themselves over the years I have been canning a long time and am passing my passion on to my daughter who is canning her heart out this summer. Thanks for everything you do in teaching.
Debbie, you’re so welcome and I love hearing about other’s canning passion and teaching the skill set to others!
Karen, do they have an online store?
Here is their website. I have gotten things there that I have not been able to find anywhere else. Nice place.
Love all of you info. Quick question: one of you episodes this spring had a website with a brand of canning lid you used. What is the website and do you know if you discount code is still applicable?
The discount code is expired but here’s my affiliate link https://melissaknorris.com/canninglids they say out of stock but if you order, they’ll ship out when they get more in (usually about 2 to 3 weeks)