Is it cost effective to can your own tomatoes?


home versus store 2

A cost analysis of home canned versus store bought tomatoes.

A question that a lot of people ask about home canned goods is: can you save money by canning your own food?  I think it's an important question to ask.  I can't say that I preserve my own food for the possible savings,  I do it because I think it tastes better, I know what's in it, and best of all, I truly enjoy doing it.

For many people it is only worth their time if they know they are saving money by doing it and I respect that.  So I decided it was time to try and answer that question.

I am starting with an analysis of canned tomato products because I use this more than any other pantry staple that I can make myself.  I can about 36 jars of diced and sauced tomatoes a year and I would like to do more.

I took price notes on two different types of canned tomatoes (diced and sauce) from two very different grocery stores: Winco, the leading bargain grocery store in my town (most things they sell are dirt cheap and close to the expiration dates) and Roth's, the leading family owned fancy grocery store (where everything is pretty top notch quality and prices reflect this).  And then I calculated the cost of my own home canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce.


Diced Tomatoes 28 oz can (Hunt's brand)- 9¢ per ounce
Diced Tomatoes 28 oz can (Muir Glen Organic brand)- 12¢ per ounce

Tomato Sauce 28 oz can (Hunt's brand)- 8¢ per ounce
Tomato Sauce 28 oz can (Muir Glen Organic brand)- 12¢ per ounce


Diced Tomatoes 28 oz can (S and W brand)- 7¢ per ounce

Tomato Sauce 28 oz can (Hunt's)- 6¢ per ounce

Home Canned:

Diced Tomatoes 1 quart (using U-pick tomatoes)- 5¢ per ounce
Diced Tomatoes 1 quart (using home grown)- 2¢ per ounce

Tomato Sauce 1 quart (using U-pick tomatoes)- 10¢ per ounce

Tomato Sauce 1 quart (using home grown)- 4¢ per ounce

(homegrown here is assuming you buy the vegetable starts, not grow them from seeds.  Keep reading!)

There were only two choices to include from Winco as they don't have the widest selection at any given time.  For the homegrown I took into account the price of plants and how much you can generally expect a plant to yield and how many pounds of tomatoes it takes to make diced tomatoes versus how many pounds it takes to make sauce.  For the sauce I chose to use the number of pounds it takes to make a pretty thick sauce rather than a thinner one to maximize the meaning of the numbers here.  I always make a thick sauce, the thicker you make it the more tomatoes it takes to fill a quart.

I didn't account for the price of canning equipment, jars, the power it takes to can, nor the amount of water it takes to grow your own and here's why:  with almost any worthy activity you must buy tools.  Tools are a one time cost.  If you really want to add the price in you must make a guess at how many years you think you will be using the tools.  I plan to keep on using my canning tools until I am a grizzled old lady like the ones I meet at the u-pick field who have been canning for over 50 years.

So my canning pot and equipment cost me $1 per year to use.  If you are a stickler, you can do the math and figure out how much it costs per jar (37 quarts per year X 30 years) (Seriously?  You're going to do the math?)

The cost of the jars if bought brand new and not on sale works out to be about $1 a piece.  So if you want to do the math on that- be my guest.  Figure that each jar is (if treated with reasonable care) likely to last you 30 years.  You will have breakage once in a while but it is rare if you are good at canning.  So, divide $1 by thirty years and you will have the cost you can add to the per ounce prices I've listed above.

Some sticklers insist on adding the cost of watering home grown vegetables to the cost of their food.  I don't do this because I think it's ridiculous and here's why: the majority of Americans who have homes (whether rented or owned rarely makes a difference) with yards in them are already watering lawns.  In my master gardening class we were given some astonishing figures on how much water in the US is used to keep lawns looking alive and "nice".  It's shocking.  Even if you don't have lawn you're already watering (and I bet you do) you're probably watering a bunch of shrubs and flowers- am I right?

It most certainly doesn't cost any more to water vegetables than it does to water your lawn.  In fact, if you are using drip irrigation or some other form of water efficient irrigation, you are probably going to save money on your water use.  This is why you should turn your lawn into your own grocery store (thanks, Kathy, that is a lovely way to look at my kitchen garden!).

The power it takes to can vegetables or to freeze them.  Yeah, this is another one that I discount.  If the average person watched less television, used less power lighting their homes, had energy efficient heating, threw away their hair dryers, and used fewer plug in items, the amount of extra power it takes to run a small auxillary freezer or to can your own food could be easily offset.  No need to add that in.  Make some effort and you will see the difference.

During canning season (and I've been canning now for 9 years) I have never seen a significant bump in my electricity or gas usage.  It increases a little bit but it is also generally increasing because the lights are being turned on earlier as fall digs in.

Oh, but the biggie that I have heard many people say which never ceases to annoy me is "But my time is when you account for the labor it takes me to make my own food, it isn't worth it."  Most of you have already heard my feelings on this issue, but for anyone who has not, let me just ask you if you compare all the time you spend raising your kids against what daycare providers earn and make your decision based on how much money your time is worth?  Because if you do, you have some pretty twisted priorities.  Most people give their children as much personal care as they are able to without once asking themselves if it might be worth just handing them over to the babysitter full time because it just isn't worth their time.

What makes an activity worth the time and effort you put into it is dependent on more factors than how much your time is professionally worth.  There is pride at stake, there is quality to consider, there is control that adds bonuses most people don't want to think about when it comes to food preparation (such as not allowing a certain percentage of insects to be cooked with your sauce), and there is enjoyment.

Feeding ourselves and our families is the most important thing we do.

I suggest that all of us work a little less for other people and a little more for ourselves.

Because it does save us money.  (See the numbers above).  And because it enriches more than just the food on our plate.

Let me finish by summarizing my analysis.  If you don't have a great deal of space (or time) but you want to preserve some of your own tomatoes you will get the most for your time, space, and dollar if you grow roma tomatoes and dice them and then freeze them.  (They should be blanched first).  Doing this is a lot less work than actually jarring them.  Efficient freezers don't take much energy to run and the quality of frozen tomatoes if cooked first is excellent.

If you can start your own seeds for the tomato plants you will reduce the cost of either diced or sauce by a huge percentage that I have yet to calculate.  (One envelope of tomato seeds costs anywhere between $1 to $3 and will have at least 25 seeds in it.  Germination rates should be at around 85% which means you should be able to get 21 plants out of one package.  Wait, I'm going to do the damn math for you...

If you had room for 21 roma tomato plants and can keep them well irrigated with drip you should expect an average of around 12 pounds of fruit per plant.  At that rate you will yield at least 252 pounds of fruit.  If you made all sauce from that you could get 38 jars of thick tomato sauce a year.  This would cost you 7¢ per jar.*

Did you read that?  Did you take that in yet?

I'm not even sure how to say a fraction of a penny but this makes home made sauce (from home grown plants started from seed) cost .21 of a cent per ounce.

So the next time you ask if it's worth growing your own and doing all that work?  Well, don't ask me or I will wither you with my math.

So, go pick out a spot in your lawn to grow some romas!

*I made my calculation based on the most expensive packets of seeds.

A similar article you might enjoy:
Is Making Your Own Clothes Economical?


For years, I toyed around with the idea for a post debunking the myth of the "$64 tomato". You've done it all here (and more so!).
Three cheers for canning your own!

Thank you for this, I am going to home can tomatoes for the first time this year, even if I have to buy the tomatoes from the farmer's seedling attempts have been dying and we have a 2 month growing season here, I have 2 tomato plants indoors that I hope to see fruit on soon! (started them in january from seed) I figured I was spending more to can them! this is great cost analysis! thanks

My goal is to can 50 quarts this year. If you compared costs to organic canned, store bought tomatoes - I am sure the cost comparison would be a significant savings.

I really appreciated your comment about working for ourselves and less for others - that time is truly not money. The more we rely on large businesses and people form sustainable communities the healthier (in mind and spirit) we all will be.
There is nothing like seeing a row of canned tomatoes on your kitchen counter and the wonderful feeling of knowing you can feed your family during the coming winter.
Thank you for sharing.
Warm wishes,

Yes! Thanks for the math and the straight talk. We're growing lots of tomatoes this year and I feel guilty for all the ones I let go last year. I've already started a "kitchen garden" and this is the year I will buy an ordinary canner and some basic equipment. I intend to can and freeze most of my own stuff and buy some berries from the farmers market for preserves and jams. Next year, maybe we'll start some berry plants, too.

I intend to make this a priority for the rest of my life that I'm able to do so (I'm 58) It helps treMENdously to have a husband who will help and support. He's all in. Lucky me!

I just visited your site and love it! Sounds like you're a girl after my own the projects.


Great job!
I am excited to try canning enough to get us through the winter for the first time this year!
Love your blog!

I'm really happy you like it! I'm pretty excited about some of the posts I've got coming up soon. It's such a good feeling canning enough to get through the winter. It's certainly work- but work I always enjoy and continue to enjoy every time I open up a jar of my own toms.

Thank you for visiting! I'm glad you like Stitch and Boots. I have lots of posts to get up and running- so stay tuned!

Liz- I'll bet you could have tackled this one with gusto- but I'm happy to save you the work! I will probably do some other cost analysis' because it's something people are always asking about and giving as their reason for not doing things. I hope to debunk a lot of cost myths in the home economics section.

Tonya- that's a great goal. I usually do around 37 and it is never enough. I use tomatoes a lot in my cooking and have promised myself not to buy them out of season. I like to slow roast some to freeze as well. Thank you for all your kind comments and well wishes! I hope you will check back with us often to see what's new.

I'm so happy you have a helpful husband who is supportive of your efforts- it can make such a difference. I see some ladies who are at least 80 who are still coming to my favorite local farm to pick cucumbers for pickling and tomatoes for canning and it makes me so happy. I want to be one of those ladies too!

I knew it!!

Also, those canning jars can be found cheap at garage sales and sometimes grandmother's basements!!

Hello Karmyn- yeah- I'm so happy to debunk all the people who say it isn't worth it their time. If you grow the tomatoes you can from seed then it's only 7 cents a quart. I mean- not the cheapest grocery store on earth can give you a better deal than that!

Really REALLY great. Thanks for sharing and doing the leg work on this.

I think you're completely right... it's the priority issue here. People have stopped doing things for themselves and sacrificed family time, taste, or finances for convenience.

By growing a garden and canning some, its given me such an appreciation for farmers, the land and ALL the work it takes to make food. Im greatful for grocery stores and the fact I dont have to milk a cow.

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Recent Comments

  • C. M.: By growing a garden and canning some, its given me read more
  • texasnorth: Really REALLY great. Thanks for sharing and doing the leg read more
  • stitchy1: Hello Karmyn- yeah- I'm so happy to debunk all the read more
  • Karmyn R: I knew it!! Also, those canning jars can be found read more
  • stitchy1: I'm so happy you have a helpful husband who is read more
  • stitchy1: Tonya- that's a great goal. I usually do around 37 read more
  • stitchy1: Liz- I'll bet you could have tackled this one with read more
  • stitchy1: Thank you for visiting! I'm glad you like Stitch and read more
  • stitchy1: I'm really happy you like it! I'm pretty excited about read more
  • apples for poppy anne: Great job! I am excited to try canning enough to read more