When most frugal people think about saving money on their food budget, the thought of growing their own vegetables, herbs, and fruits might cross their mind. But how much will a victory garden actually save on your food budget?
During World War II, many communities and backyards hosted “victory gardens,” to help provide families with food. Sure it was largely propaganda, but why aren’t we still doing these victory gardens today? It would make total sense, especially during bad times that people would be gardening their foods, but it just doesn’t seem to take. Isn’t gardening supposed to be “like printing money?”
This article is an opinion piece on the idea of saving money in your garden by subsidizing your grocery bill.
Less is More
When it comes to trying to actually save money via gardening, your input costs have to be extremely low. Gardens sadly do not have the capability of outputting that much money out per month to offset large expenses. If you buy a $2,500 greenhouse and $100 of tools, $50 of seed, $50 of hosing, $100 of potting soil, and $50 of water you’re breakeven is very unlikely. Of course there are some exceptions, but I’ve researched virtually all of them (Spin Farming, Hydroponics, Aquaponics, Permaculture, etc.), and trust me when I say they are fairly shaky concepts (large labor inputs, questionable math) for most people to actually execute.
Find Your Net Savings Potential
Think about it this way, it’s all an equation. How much do you think an average family could actually save per month if they gardened everything they could? Maybe $150 a month or $250-300 if in a year round climate? Of course that depends largely on their consumption rate, size of family, and so forth. Think about gardening like the following equation:
X(Net Profits) = Monthly Savings (food) – Monthly Cost (garden inputs) – Depreciation Costs (tools, equipment, etc.)
So for an example, let’s say you save $150 a month (yearly savings divided by months), spend $250 for a one time setup, spend $20 on supplies a month (have to figure this out by taking one seasons total cost divided by months). Let’s imagine the $250 one time cost will be good for 10 years or 120 months.
X(Net Profits) = [ Production ]– [Monthly Cost]– [Amortized Fixed Costs]
X(Net Profits) = $150 per month– $20 per month – Roughly $2 per month
Net Profits = $128 a month or $15,360 over 10 years
Be Realistic About What You can Actually Produce/Use Per Month
Above we used the example the example of $150 per month or $1,800 a year of food savings. Although this is completely do-able, it’s likely going to have to be fairly extreme to produce that much savings, especially if you are a 6-7 growing month season.
Think about it for a minute, how much do you even spend on produce right now per month?
The answer in my household is not enough. Not even close to enough. More importantly though, the costs of a lot of foods is actually quite low, although some might find that hard to believe.
For example, do you think you could produce a lemon for $.25-$.50 (yes, they are 4 for 1 at my local market usually)? Even if you had the climate, it’s unlikely this adventure to grow your own lemons makes any sense financially.
How about potatoes, they are easy to grow surely they are worth planting. Hard to justify your time though when your local store offers a special 5lb bag for just $.99!
Take a minute to consider how much effort goes into the production of food. The climate control, soil sampling, soil amending, pest control, harvesting, cleaning, packing, and shipping. I promise you, the economies of scale, technology, and logistic chains are mind blowing.
You need to focus on three factors when it comes to saving money via growing it yourself. How much you use, how much it’s worth, and how hard it is to grow. Some example of some financially hard hitting garden produce are herbs, berries, fruits, and nuts. This is mainly because their value is fairly high, and many have minimal inputs and costs to maintain. Also perennials tend to have a fairly high rate of return (but a low $ per square foot return) if properly managed.
For myself, I know that I would use herbs, tomatoes, berries, fruits, nuts, and maybe some garlic. Those are the ones that logically would be a good fit for myself, and luckily many of those are good candidates for canning and preserving long-term. I also love the idea of permaculture, especially after listening and meeting Mark Shepard (an author/leader in permaculture).
I will leave you with one warning though, even Mark Shepard is pessimistic (in his own book) about the financial sense of growing for gain. The sad truth is that food is actually fairly cheap because it is grow with such efficiency that for any average person to match those efficiencies, each gardener would have to re-invent the wheel for each crop. Grow what you will use and enjoy the intangible benefits of doing so.
Because the truth is, most people won’t save more than $100 a year when all the numbers are crunched. There are ways to save that $150 a month or $1,800 a year, but it takes real time and effort. I personally plan on exploring those ideas myself, but I expect a real chance that I will be disappointed.
If you really want to be the person who grows their own food, you’re going to have to really design/plan your garden well, control your costs (inputs), and adopt a lifestyle that is extremely heavy on plant base nutrition. A lifestyle that many Americans are unlikely to adopt (self included). This blog will further develop specific crops worth growing in future posts.