Starting a garden to pay off debt: Really!?!

Some personal finance advice is just plain ridiculous. I'm talking about the kind of advice that's great for filling up a webpage but that had neither saved nor made anyone money ever. Or maybe you could follow it and save money, if you wanted to hate your life.

I'm not entirely innocent, I admit. I'm sure I've espoused my share of well-meaning-yet-impractical advice in the last seven years. (Okay, stop searching the archives right now!) But I do try, people. I really do.

So today I wanted to talk about one of these questionable nuggets of advice that I frequently come across: Pay off debt faster by starting a garden.

I think this is a terrible idea. I've read it over and over on too many sites to count, and in my head I always think, “Really!?!” (And in my head, it sounds just like the “Saturday Night Live” segment with Seth Meyer and Amy Poehler, which I'm going to blatantly rip off in this post.)

So, starting a garden to pay off debt? Really!?!

And here's why I'm highly skeptical that it can work.

So starting a garden has zero start-up costs? Really?

Okay, so let's pretend you have a plot of land or at least room for some pots. This advice is saying that you can actually come out ahead by starting to grow your own food versus buying it from the grocery store. It also implies that you're a beginner at gardening, since a gardening pro who has the space to garden is probably already doing it.

So if you're new to gardening, you've got a lot to learn. I'm a novice gardener, and in addition to all the free information on the web, I've bought a few books specific to my region. For instance, when should you start tomato seeds when you live in Central Texas? Knowing stuff like that increases your odds of success. I'd estimate that I've spent about $40 on books so far. (And sure, you can borrow them from the library, but when the leaf-footed bugs were attacking my cherry tomato plant, I sure was glad to have my reference books nearby.)

Speaking of start-up costs, if you're a novice, you're probably going to have to spend some money on things like tools, pots, soil, soil amendments, mulch, and fertilizer — not to mention plants and seeds. There are some low-cost ways to take care some of these things, but I don't see how you can get around buying things like a shovel and some pots and the actual plants. That stuff adds up quickly.

And really, all new gardeners are successful right from the start?

If you're new to gardening, you're going to make mistakes, or at least not do everything the most optimal way. You can expect to learn a lot in the beginning about soil amendments and pruning and all the ways to maximize yield (and therefore savings on grocery bills). I've also been learning which varieties produce the most and which produce very little or require more care.

Newbies also will learn about garden pests in the first year. Pests like the squash vine borer, which will completely destroy your fairy tale pumpkin vine before the pumpkin you've been excitedly waiting for can mature (I've declared war). So if I'm looking at gardening solely by the numbers, I lost money on that one. I also had a raccoon jump into my keyhole garden (pictured above) and destroy my Bulgarian carrot pepper plant. Not to eat it, but just to be a little jerk, I guess.

If you're digging your way out of debt, is gardening really the best use of your time and resources?

Gardening is time-consuming. In addition to the reading and researching I've done, there have been many hours spent shopping in nurseries, creating garden beds, weeding, watering, pruning, etc.

I have no idea exactly how many hours I've spent on my garden; but as longtime readers will recall,& GRS had a garden project series in which J.D. and his then-wife Kris tracked their time, expenses and harvest for a year. From January to May, they spent about $300 and 20 hours of time, and hadn't harvested anything yet, since the seasons have a say-so in this gardening thing too.

But the weather warmed, things started growing, and they finished the year with $606.97 in harvest and $318.43 in expenses. That's about $288 in profit. So if we divide their profit by the 60 hours of work total, they worked for $4.80 per hour. That's not even close to minimum wage.

Also keep in mind that they were already gardeners who had learned (and bought) a thing or two before that year-long project began. Your results will vary — I know mine sure have! I haven't diligently tracked my time, expenses, and harvest, but I am certain I'm nowhere near $4.80 per hour.

So in summary, this “start a garden” tactic will probably require $300+ in start-up costs, hours of work, and any payoff is uncertain and unlikely. And that's a good way to pay off debt faster? Really!?!

Gardening is still awesome. Really.

I contend that most new gardeners will not see any savings with gardening. Which isn't to say that it's impossible — there are plenty of gardeners who grow the majority of their produce. I hope to get to that point too. But it takes time, experience, and resources to get there.

I garden not in hopes of some big reduction in my grocery bill, but simply because I like it. I like getting to know my half-acre of land. I like having a reason why I have to get outside every day. I like growing aubergines and making aubergine caviar, knowing it all came from right outside my door. As Kris wrote in her December 2009 garden update, “For me it's a relaxing hobby, a great way to spent my summer evenings and weekends connecting with my piece of the planet.”

So I encourage anyone to start gardening if they have the inclination. But not if they're trying to pay off debt and hoping to save money on groceries. I mean, really.

Readers, what do you think? And what other bits of personal finance advice do you take issue with? Let me know in the comments!

More about...Debt, Food, Frugality, Home & Garden

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AMW
AMW
5 years ago

For the most part I agree with everything you are saying.There is one place that gardening saves money every time…herbs. Even if you buy new pots of herbs every year, it saves you over buying a sprig here and a sprig there. I use thyme as ground cover in my flower beds as well, so it does double duty. The savings, of course, assumes that you are doing most of your cooking and that you use the herbs!

Mrs. PoP
Mrs. PoP
5 years ago
Reply to  AMW

Exactly what I was going to say! A small pot of basil costs as much as one of those fresh basil packs, and if you keep it on the windowsill and care for it can give you MUCH more value. A good place to start for those with a black thumb.

Jennifer
Jennifer
5 years ago
Reply to  Mrs. PoP

I was visiting my parents house on the other side of the country) and I went to Trader Joe’s to pick up some basil; the potted basil plant was actually cheaper than the plastic container of basil and contained much MORE basil. I bought my parents the plant. I hope they haven’t killed it yet. It was in a plastic pot already, and didn’t even need to be re-potted.

Jerome
Jerome
5 years ago

Well it obviously depends very where you live and whether you get your information from the internet or buy expensive books. Part of our garden is for edibles. Two apples trees and two pear treas give abundant crop without much work. Potatoes are very easy and cheap to grow. As are different berries. Cabages are quit a lot of work and when ready for harvest are available cheaply anyhow. Overall we spend about 1-2 hours per week on our vegetable garden in the season and save around 250 dollar or so while spending less than 20 dollar per year. My… Read more »

Saski
Saski
5 years ago

I have never understood advice along the lines of “Save all your singles/fives/quarters/whatever and put them towards paying off debt.” Or “save your change in a jar and put it towards your debt.” This implies that I’m doing something wasteful and non-financial with money that can be avoided by saving. For those of us who actually spend the money in our wallets, it’s a zero-sum thing. I give cashiers as exact change as possible in order to avoid collecting coins. When I run out of cash, I go to the ATM. If I were putting all my quarters in a… Read more »

Anne
Anne
5 years ago
Reply to  Saski

Yes, I never got that either. I just pay with my change, and then have to break up fewer dollars.

Are we supposed to be tricking our minds or something with that advice?

Jeff
Jeff
5 years ago
Reply to  Anne

Aside from reward points one of the main reasons that I put just about everything on plastic is because I hate accumulating coins. I don’t like them weighing down my pockets, making noise, and needing to be emptied all of the time. Ever since I-Pass I had no reason to carry any in my car so it just accumulated in a desk drawer until it eventually gets put into a Coinstar.

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
5 years ago

I second the growing of herbs. The deer, squirrels, and bunnies really liked our vegetable garden, but they ignore the herbs (so far). I have plans to make mint jelly for Christmas gifts this year. Maybe I’ll get cilantro next year.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
5 years ago
Reply to  Tina in NJ

The wabbits ate our basil.

We have one from Trader Joe’s in the window now.

And I’m hunting wabbit.

Val
Val
5 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Remember – you must be vewy, vewy quiet when hunting wabbits! 🙂

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
5 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Rabbit = good for dinner – another way to save money 🙂

That Other Jean
That Other Jean
5 years ago

Tularemia can make you seriously sick, though. Be careful skinning that rabbit.

Carole
Carole
5 years ago

I agree with the premise of the article. I would like to add that a lot of the needed articles can be found second hand at auctions or garage sales. Or let it be known you want to start gardening and people may give you various gardening apparatus that they are wanting to get rid of. The same is true of canning supplies.

Paula
Paula
5 years ago
Reply to  Carole

Go to freecycle.com and find your area by zip code. Request the items you need. End of season is great time to do this! p.s. mom bought me 6 tomato and 6 pepper plants. So far, I have 5 tomatoes on 5 out of 6 plants in pots on my porch(and they are definitely not ‘big boys’. The peppers have 2 large marble size peppers. It is mid-Sept in NY..) Total cost (as pots had dirt in them from previous owner) $6 plus tax. The basil (3 plants, $3) has been producing all summer and I’m hoping to continue that… Read more »

Kirsten
Kirsten
5 years ago

This is one of those things you should do if you really want to do it – but don’t fool yourself into thinking it helps you save money. Same is true for breastfeeding. I see people saying all the time it’s free and maybe for some really frugal people it is. But as a breastfeeding advocate, I can tell you I’ve paid for lactation consultant appointments, a BF pillow, nipple shields, breast pads, nursing clothes and bras, lanolin, and things like mothers milk tea. Plus there’s the extra calories.

stellamarina
stellamarina
5 years ago
Reply to  Kirsten

mmmm…I think the only thing worth paying for there is the tube of lanolin. and get a free book from the library for advice.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
5 years ago
Reply to  stellamarina

http://www.kellymom.com 🙂 Save the trip to the library.

Carol
Carol
5 years ago

Sometimes having a live human being to help get the baby situated is invaluable.

Midwest Jane
Midwest Jane
5 years ago
Reply to  Kirsten

I agree with Kirsten. Breastfeeding is not free. Stellamarina – are you telling me you don’t use a nursing bra?? People who think breastfeeding is free obviously never had problems or never worked outside the home. In the event of latch problems, a lactation consultant is very helpful, although you could find a LLL leader near you to possibly help instead of a consultant. If you develop a breast infection, you need medicine and/or probiotics to treat it. I’m currently nursing for the third time, and we have probably spent around $100 in the past four months. This includes a… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
5 years ago

To be a frugal gardener you can not be the fashionable gardener…..you have to think like tha old loner grandpa gardener down the road. :o) Free mulch and compost and not buy those bags of stuff. Get mine free from the tree trimmers for the town parks. Free pots…… useful containers going for free all over the place. Seeds and starters…free for asking other gardeners to harvest from their plants. Garden tools….my most used tool is an old carving knife….for weeding, digging etc. Find a few bigger tools like a spade or fork on craigslist or garage sales. Free information… Read more »

Beth
Beth
5 years ago

And then there are those who live in condos or apartments… Our neighbourhood has a community garden where you can rent plots, but it’s not enough to grow much food.

Where I live, if you’re in financial trouble, you would be better off downsizing your home than keeping enough land to feed your family. (Short growing season here!)

M
M
5 years ago

I dunno. My experience has been different. Over the years I’ve been part of a community garden and we share the labor. Add to that we’ve saved seeds (easy, really) and started a seed library at the public library. Take out a pack of free seeds using your library card and replace with saved seeds at the end of the season! If your garden is productive, you witness just how much food you can grow in a relatively small space. It makes one more conscious of its value. And indirectly, gardening could save individual health costs by eating better and… Read more »

MT
MT
5 years ago

Similar to what happens with a CSA, which pound for pound is typically more expensive than regular or even organic grocery stores, if you have grown and tended those veggies (or have a bushel to consume every week), you are more likely to meal-plan around eating them…should help reduce eating out.

And the intangibles – relaxation, fun of a new hobby, etc, can also help save in other areas – alcohol, more expensive hobbies.

But you are correct on the face of it, gardening is no more a money-saving activity than sewing your own clothes these days!

R
R
5 years ago

Two words: Farmer’s Market. Farmers know how to grow veggies successfully, and generally sell better quality produce at less than the cost of grocery store produce. I’d much rather spend 15 minutes and $30 at the farmer’s market buying more than enough produce for my small family instead of the time and money to try to grow my own veggies.

SAHMama
SAHMama
5 years ago
Reply to  R

The farmer’s markets in Columbus OH are a rip-off. $6 a pint strawberries. $5/# apples. $3/# tomatoes. Not in my budget 🙁

Fraggle Rock
Fraggle Rock
5 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

Not sure if it’s the same where you are, but the expense of a farmer’s market where I am depends on which market. The famous Boulder Farmers’ Market is on the expensive side. When we go, I take my kiddo and treat it like a day at the fair and bring cash to spend for fun. It’s not really about shopping frugally. When I just want food, I go directly to a couple of local farms that have markets. Way cheaper.

TurnedMyLifeAround
TurnedMyLifeAround
5 years ago

April, You must be running out of topics. Gardening won’t make you rich, but it certainly helps a little in saving some money. When I was a kid, we had a very large garden and part of our chores was to take care of the weeding & picking. We grew a variety of vegetables and had a large strawberry patch. Mom canned 20-30 quarts of vegetables each summer for use during the winter months. We always had fresh and frozen strawberries for topping the ice cream sundaes. In the fall, we harvested the potatoes and kept them in the basement… Read more »

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
5 years ago

So, what is your hourly wage rate given your established garden and experience (as opposed to just starting out)?

TurnedMyLifeAround
TurnedMyLifeAround
5 years ago

I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking, but if you want to compare gardening to working another job, then you are much better off with a second job. For the # of hours spent planting/watering/weeding/harvesting probably puts me at less than $2 or $3 an hour.

For me, this is a hobby and a chance to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine while working in the garden. It also allows me to enjoy the “fruits of my labor”. It also saves me some money in the process.

April
April
5 years ago

Don’t worry, I’ve got no shortage of topic ideas! My point was that people in debt with no gardening experience will likely not get out of debt faster by starting a garden. Someone like you, who obviously has a lot of experience, will of course do better. I’m pro-gardening, for the record. I just don’t think it’s a great advice to tell someone to take up gardening so they can pay off debt faster, since there’s a good chance that a new gardener won’t even break even. It’s a long game, and you have to want to do it for… Read more »

mary beth green
mary beth green
5 years ago
Reply to  April

I think growing a garden can be a legitimate way to reduce debt IF there are more than one or two people in the household. With a family of four or five, I think growing vegetables could be a way of saving at the grocery store. With one or two people in the household, a lot of the produce gets given away. My concern about gardening has always been the use of water (I live in an arid state and water is a precious commodity.) When I grew vegetables my water bills definitely went up significantly and I felt guilty… Read more »

Suzanne
Suzanne
5 years ago

If you live in a drought-prone area, the financial and moral cost of using water to grow a variety of vegetables is significant. Unless you’re feeding a large family, it’s not clear to me that you’ll save enough money to justify the use of such a precious commodity.

Gretchen
Gretchen
5 years ago

Hahah I couldn’t agree more! I have such a brown thumb that I’m pretty sure a garden would end up costing me more than it saved. If you are good at gardening and have an established garden it could definitely save you money though

Babs
Babs
5 years ago

That keyhole garden is cool! But from the article it looks like it’s part of a community movement. Like M above says if you are able to share labor/seeds/tools it can be a productive enterprise if you are so inclined.
I do find growing herbs & cherry tomatoes in pots to be a money saver. & tasty!

Aldo@MDN
5 years ago

If you’re still paying off debt, maybe spending time gardening is not the best use of your time… unless you do it because you enjoy it. With the amount of time spent gardening you could get a part time job and make more money to pay off debt.

With time, gardening will save you money and we should all do it because it also provides fresh produce, but it is not a thing you should do to save money to pay off debt.

Matt
Matt
5 years ago

Gardening is also good at teaching delayed gratification, which is necessary for getting out of debt. 🙂

Brian @ Debt Discipline
Brian @ Debt Discipline
5 years ago

If you have no experiencing gardening I’m not sure starting will save you money. The fresh produce would be a good benefit for you health.

Becky @ RunFunDone
Becky @ RunFunDone
5 years ago

We started a garden this year, and I can say that while we probably yielded enough veggies/fruit so that we at least broke even, we ended up NOT really breaking even when we factor in the amount of veggies/fruit that went to waste because we cannot eat them fast enough. We’d have to learn to can veggies/fruit to really maximize our garden. Learning to can hasn’t happened yet.

JS
JS
5 years ago

Seems a bit sketchy unless you can get this going on a grand scale and sell in large quantities to others. We did the gardening thing for the first time this year. We planted half a dozen each of tomato and pepper plants. Worth it? Yes, because the tomatoes are that good. Really, they are. You will gag at the prospect of buying one from the grocery store in the off-season. However, unless you really know what the heck you are doing (we don’t), you won’t have a constant veggie crop during the growing months. We started late in May,… Read more »

Alexa
Alexa
5 years ago

I don’t completely agree. I think it depends where you live. If you live in an apartment or condo then no, gardening is probably not going to work. If you live out in the country with a large yard, then why not? I have a garden and I hardly do any work to it at all. I haven’t fertilized it or bought any special soil or anything of the like. I simply planted my tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers and let mother nature take over. Now whenever I’m in the mood for any of these things I just walk out… Read more »

Cru
Cru
5 years ago

It’s an upfront investment, but as your skill improves it saves more money over time. Plus, it simply feels good and makes you get up and outside.

Rob
Rob
5 years ago

This is our third season growing food in two 2’x8′ raised beds and 8 15 gallons pots. We live in an urban area in the Northeast in a townhouse. Here’s what we harvested: Tomatoes (about 100) Bell Peppers (about 30) Cucumbers (about 12) Eggplant (3) Zuchini (4) Strawberries (about 4 quarts) lettuce (all we could eat) Basil Cilantro Here’s how we did it: -Built the beds from free scrap wood (happened to be cedar panels that were in our attic) along the sides of the driveway in the back. -My wife had the 15 gallon pots before we got married,… Read more »

Christine
Christine
5 years ago
Reply to  Rob

The freezing vs canning advice is so good. Canning has a lot of startup costs (jars, lids, canner, pressure cooker, etc) and also can make your kitchen really uncomfortable during the hottest time of the year, which is when everything seems to want to be canned in my part of the world. Freezing, though, is easier and cheaper if you have the room, and you have the benefit of never needing to sterilize jars or process/pressure cook them. Cooler kitchens! Fewer heat strokes! Home-grown tomatoes are probably where I get the greatest ROI outside of herbs. Once the Romas and… Read more »

Judi
Judi
5 years ago

I think there’s two things I didn’t see talked about (admittedly I didn’t read ALL the replies) here. One reason why folks focus on food budgets as a way to save money is that it’s one of the few areas where you can CHOOSE completely. The average American spends 30% or less of their net pay on food, elsewhere in the world that’s up to more than 40% (and it has been that in the U.S. in the past as well). That said, as you pick which meat, veggies, etc. you buy you choose how much money you spend on… Read more »

Kathleen
Kathleen
5 years ago

I have been doing this for close to twenty years now. My husband and I started out in an apartment on what was once a farm. That garden didn’t do so well, but it was our first lesson in gardening. We moved from there to a rental house on another old farm. My husband got a wheel hoe cultivator that you push, no gas needed, and he plowed out an area for our garden. It was a productive garden and the seeds were not that much money. Most of our tools came from yard sales and junk shops. It led… Read more »

WC
WC
5 years ago

$300 a year seems very high. My start-up costs were maybe $30 in seeds and a hand shovel and some sweat equity. I spend about $10 a year on new vegetable seeds, but save most seeds from my plants that did well. I’ve learned what grows well for me and grow the same veggies every year (tomatoes, green beans, carrots, sugar snap peas, garlic) and from there I have a little fun with it. My berries (strawberry, raspberry) come back every year, so there’s no money spent there (considering I got baby plants for free years ago). I have a… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
5 years ago

OT: One thing that does save me money is shopping at the more expensive grocery store. Unlike the lower end grocery store by my house, the higher end one will let you pre-order a list of items and have them packed and ready to pick up. This keeps me from going in and adding items not on my list.

Diane
Diane
5 years ago

I live in a semi-rural area and buy fresh produce from the back of the farmer’s truck at the local gas station. He offers discounts to people who can their own stewed tomatoes, etc. and buy a larger quantity. I’ve found it much cheaper to buy from the local farmers than to grow my own garden.

Margaret
Margaret
5 years ago

A terrific book for new gardeners who are interested in starting up a garden with minimal expense and maximum veggie return is _Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times_. The author’s style is a little overbearing, but he has a laser focus on the “low hanging fruit” (so to speak) for new gardeners. I have found it to be an invaluable resource over the years.

SM
SM
5 years ago

There is also the cost of watering (TX). I agree with freezing food. Dehydrating is another alternative to canning.

Linda Vergon
5 years ago

(This comment came from Ray, a reader of our daily newsletter.) Gardening would not be my first financial fitness recommendation. Should you view gardening from the big picture context I do see non financial benefits which could positively influence behavior and indirectly provide financial benefits. Viewing this activity from a single dimension and discipline is too simplistic. Several studies have found that health conscious people are more susceptible to improve their financial habits. Healthy food can lead to healthy lifestyle and healthy financial behavior. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. Some of my most creative and semi… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
5 years ago
Reply to  Linda Vergon

I agree, the benefits of gardening is multifactorial. Our house is on a very small lot (understatement) but we still have pots for peppers grape tomatoes and also herbs. I am also trying to plant plants that are native and have other benefits (friendly to bees, butterflies or birds). It is nice to have a reason to walk around in the morning before work, to see if something needs water or how it is coming along. It connects me with the time and seasons. I know that gardening can be frugal, as my Greek grandmother in addition to an herb… Read more »

Ruz
Ruz
5 years ago

One other factor not mentioned. If you are spending your time in the garden, then you are not going shopping, etc.

Plus, if you want to be frugal about it, then talk to current gardeners. They can often tell you were to get free compost, when/what to plant, etc. Plus many gardeners will have surplus so you can augment your own efforts.

Don’t go it alone until you know what you are doing! (Don’t buy books and do it all yourself with only the advice from a garden shop that is trying to sell you stuff!)

Barb
Barb
5 years ago

I think you’re missing the point here in a couple of areas. Gardening, as in many frugal endeavors is a long term frugal investment. Not every frugal choice affects life immediately. Are there costs? Certainly. Is there a learning curve? You bet. But you don’t need to buy books, there is that thing called the internet. Tools can be found used, or you can use what you find around the house. You can even share seeds. The cost of my garden were the plants, the wood to make the raised beds because of my knee injury, the soil and some… Read more »

Alexa
Alexa
5 years ago
Reply to  Barb

You summed that up perfectly, Barb.

There’s no need to calculate the cost per hour unless you Could or Would be working. Gardening can be done in the time you normally watch TV and it can be more relaxing. There’s no point in calculating the hourly rate for gardening.

Carole
Carole
5 years ago

I think that people who are industrious enough to garden are probably industrious in other ways as well. No, it won’t get you out of debt immediately, but over the years it will help. It’s a nice hobby that pays off. It also keeps you home and out of stores or entertainment places that devour your money.

Quinn
Quinn
5 years ago

I found gardening is only worth the time if you really enjoy it – make it your hobby – especially in places like Portland where the plants grow like crazy! Maintaining the garden was the hardest part of our experiment with a community plot – I’d rather go to the Farmer’s Market for fresh produce…

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

Where I live I have no space to garden (not even a window). When I did have a little space, I never was able to grow enough to satisfy my large appetite for vegetables. When you consume many servings a day, you can literally eat everything you grow in a few days and you’ll have noting left for a while, so you’ll have to spend more money anyway.

Betsy
Betsy
5 years ago

I do Gardening/Yard Work as my therapy. Mental and physical. I sit in an office all day looking at numbers on two screens. I go outside and I am part of the grand scheme of things but not the biggest part. Sun, rain, wind, soil all play a role in what happens, when they all come together that ripe cherry tomato warmed by the sun is the tastiest thing on earth. Plus the plants don’t talk back like my teenage girls do.

Edward
Edward
5 years ago

I guess it depends on things. It is a relatively fairly cheat hobby–one which sort of pays-back (as opposed to say golf). I think my dad has the ideal situation. He has two medium-sized pots on his front porch and MAN, do they grow a lot of tomatoes! More than him and mom could ever eat. One day his neighbour brought over some cucumbers. In return he brought her some tomatoes when they were ripe the next month. Soon after a woman joined in with garlic. The seniors in his neighbourhood have developed a nice little system over the past… Read more »

Gigi
Gigi
5 years ago

Returns in gardening are not linear they are exponential. With knowledge and a few years under your belt, you can be growing lots of fresh, organic produce far less expensively than buying it from Whole Foods. Also consider that it is a cheap form of entertainment vs cable TV, movie theater tickets and shopping and dining. Where I live, lots of folks do the shopping/dining thing as their form of recreation. Not only that, it is a great form of exercise and the health benefits from loading up on your homegrown fruit and veggies brimming with cancer-fighting phytochemicals will save… Read more »

Teinegurl
Teinegurl
5 years ago

Hi April! I live in apartment with no room for a garden but if i did i would probably like it. Not doing it for saving but something to do have fun with. I just wanted to say to the person who commented earlier that you must be running out of topics. What’s wrong with a different perspective? I enjoy the article whether or not it relates directly toward me. I also think the post of some of these posts is to get people talking and thinking in a different way from the “norm” of PF blogs and that is… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
5 years ago

I have 2 backyard raised beds that we built. I’m sure we’re still off-setting the cost of those beds with the veggies we’ve harvested in the past 2 years. However, this year I belong to a community garden at our synagogue. They synagogue provides the sunny location, the fence around the plot to keep most critters out, and the sprinkler system. They also provide the plants for 50% of my personal plot, which I then grow, harvest and deliver to a soup kitchen. If I were totally inexperienced, I could request to be paired with a more experienced gardener to… Read more »

SAHMama
SAHMama
5 years ago

I grow a tiny one in my city yard but it’s nearly worthless. Why? 1. We have clay soil. As in, the Columbus Clay Company boxes up the local soil and sells it for use in ceramics after they’ve taken out the rocks and worms. Really. 2. The clay soil doesn’t retain moisture right. 3. I’ve put in worm castings, manure, peat, coffee grounds, leaves, vermiculite- you name it. No help. 4. Crabgrass and thistles invade it. 5. The dang squirrels get into it so anything that grows in spite of the soil gets bitten into by the squirrels. 6.… Read more »

Paula
Paula
5 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

Sounds like you should be container gardening or in raised beds… kinda stubborn, aren’t you? 😉

marie
marie
5 years ago

My parents have always had a garden and I’m sure that it has saved them quite a bit of money. Their garden is probably 500 sq ft in the backyard. This is just a plowed square (the plow comes in the fall from the farm to plow the ground, but it doesn’t cost us since we live on a farm). No special soil and in Eastern Ontario, no need to water your garden. It gets enough from the rains. My mom grows things that they know we eat and that easy enough so its cost efficient. Tomatoes, onions, peppers, which… Read more »

James Salmons
James Salmons
5 years ago

As a long time gardener, also having operated a farmer’s market for a while, I found this whole thread quite interesting. It reminds me of the poem about the blind men who when to see the elephant; all of them had a different view and all of them were right from their own perspective. I have a sister who over the years was sometimes into growing her own food and sometimes not, back and forth. When she was doing it she always saved a lot of money. When she wasn’t it was a loser. Those who enjoy gardening and want… Read more »

aleshel
aleshel
5 years ago

I remember telling my best friend how my organic garden was killing me! Tiller rental by the hour, organic seeds, fertilizer and soil conditioner, irrigation drip hoses, rabbit fencing, daily watering, not to mention the time spent weeding and staking.

In the end I spent a good deal more putting IN to the garden what I took OUT, but it’s a labor of love for me. Plus I had a bounty of kale that tasted far better than anything I’ve ever purchased!

Taters
Taters
5 years ago

You’ve deliberately skewed data to prove your point.

Clearly not everyone is going to be in a situation to save money by growing their own vegetables, and you going out to spend money on things like books which you’ve already stated that you don’t need when you have the internet.

And the financial wizardly related to an hourly wage to do a hobby to supplement your groceries, geez.

Takes a special kind of person to stare at a vege garden and think what a waste of money and time it was.

Paula
Paula
5 years ago
Reply to  Taters

Skewed data? Financial wizardry? REALLY? I think you have missed the point she was making. And were mean about it. For no reason.

jim
jim
5 years ago

How do all you gardeners keep the squirrels and rabbits from eating your entire garden? I don’t want to have to deal with an unwieldy fence every time I go to weed or harvest. And no, we no longer have any dogs or cats and aren’t in a position to get any more.

James Salmons
James Salmons
5 years ago
Reply to  jim

First, squirrels shouldn’t be a problem, at least they have never bothered my gardens but if so just put out a flat feeder with a cheap corn based food to divert them. Rabbits strangely have never bothered my farm gardens although they did in town. You don’t need a big fence. Get that very thin, green, plastic covered wire fencing (2X4 openings) four feet wide and cut in half leaving barbs on each half where you cut. Put those barbs down and circle your garden using twist ties and inexpensive electric wire fence posts about 6-8 feet apart. Being only… Read more »

green_knight008
green_knight008
5 years ago
Reply to  jim

A box trap will quite easily remove these critters from the area of your garden. Both of these pests are highly attracted to apple slices, and if you’re of a mind to, both are also eaten in many parts of the US.

Judie
Judie
5 years ago

Here is another thought to add on an abstract level. Perhaps the hourly wage is not as important when one considers how much TV that some folks watch. If one could be working rather than gardening, then strict math would mean that “conventional” work to pay down debt makes more sense. But if you factor in exercise, healthier food/less travel, giving flowers/herbs as gifts, and decreased time watching TV, then thrifty types of gardening make much more sense financially and emotionally.

Troy M
Troy M
5 years ago

If you want to save money, eat healthy and support local food… my advice is join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

This year we paid $396 and are getting 20 weeks worth of very local (a mile from our house) organic fresh healthy foods, including 2 dozen local free range eggs per week. We’ve gotten local honey, and popcorn, and sorghum molasses, etc. in addition to the tons of kale, chard, cucumbers and tomatoes and peppers and apples, etc.

It makes sense on so many levels.

Linda Vergon
Linda Vergon
5 years ago

(This comment came from Gary, a reader of our daily newsletter.) Gardening is not a way to save money, unless you have a really large garden. If one really kept track of costs (including water from the tap), home grown veggies and fruits are always nearly more expensive than buying in the store. The advantages are: 1. Better tasting stuff than can be bought at the grocery store. 2. The joy of working in your garden 3. Bragging rights when talking to family or neighbors Don’t do it to save money – I’ve been doing it for years and I’m… Read more »

David S.
David S.
5 years ago

I would say the most important thing for someone that is thinking of gardening to get out of debt, is to look around at what is already growing that is edible. From berries and fruit trees, to the roots and weeds there are a ton of edible items in your garden that grow without tending. Take our Northwest bane, the blackberry. They cost about $5 for 10 oz at the store, but you can pick that many in 30 seconds in mid august. Young dandelions make an excellent salad green. The root makes an herbal tea. The Salal and Oregon… Read more »

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