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Growing Your Own Produce: Does It Really Save Money?
Posted By Tara Kuczykowski On April 21, 2010 @ 11:01 am In living on less | 15 Comments
Over the past few years, I've tried a variety of cost-cutting measures in order to save money. At first, these forays into frugality were a way to help me dig out of debt. After I actually managed to get out of debt, I opted to stay frugal because I saw that doing so would allow me to build wealth — something I never thought I'd be able to do.
But sometimes, it's not clear if our choices make sense over the long term.
For example, we pool money with friends every year to buy a side of beef. This gets us great quality meat, but there's no real cost savings. (It's sort of a break-even proposition.)
We've been growing a vegetable garden for nearly 20 years, but my wife and I had always wondered: Do we save money by growing our own food? And if so, how much?
Many prominent penny pinchers are proud to proclaim that gardening is a great way to save money. Michelle Obama is growing vegetables at the White House. The Burpee seed company boasts that $50 in seeds and fertilizer will yield $1250 in produce. Burpee CEO George Ball told the Wall Street Journal that $1 in seeds will produce $75 worth of beans.
But how much does a garden really save?
My wife and I set out to answer that question during 2008. For twelve months, we tracked the cost of seeds, fertilizer, water, and electricity. We carefully weighed every fruit and vegetable we harvested from our garden, comparing costs with local supermarkets and produce stands. We also logged the time we spent in the garden. At the end of the year, we tallied the results.
We'd spent 60 hours working on our crops and $318.43 on seeds and supplies. We harvested $606.97 worth of food, including:
Drawing on what we'd learned, we repeated the experiment in 2009. This time, we spent $351.37 (and 63.5 hours) while harvesting $809.74 worth of food. Can $50 worth of seeds and fertilizer really give you $1250 in food? Well, not in our yard. Still, we were able to double our investment in just a year. T's a better return than I get with my mutual funds — and it's tastier, too.
Growing your own food is a fun and rewarding way to save money. Food fresh from your yard is convenient and generally tastes better than anything you can find in the supermarket. If you're able to put in the time and effort, you'll be rewarded with a bounty of fruit, berries, and vegetables. Here are some quick tips for starting your own garden plot:
Your public library will have many great gardening books, some tailored to your location. Two excellent books for new gardeners are Square-Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and The Bountiful Container by McGee and Stuckey. You might also want to check out You Grow Girl, a blog about gardening. With a little bit of effort, your yard can be producing food that tastes great and saves you money!
Have you started working on your garden yet?
J.D. Roth writes about sensible personal finance at Get Rich Slowly. J.D.'s first book, Your Money: The Missing Manual, is now in stores and contains tons of tips for saving (and making) money. To learn more about gardening, check out the Get Rich Slowly articles about starting seeds indoors and how to start your own vegetable garden.
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