You hear it all the time from your friends that garden: “you will save soooooo much money growing your own food!” Part of my interest in backyard gardening was testing that idea. Can you actually get ahead growing your own food at home compared to the grocery store after factoring in your garden costs?
Calculating what goes into the garden is easy. Just save the numerous receipts from Home Depot, Amazon, and so forth and throw them into a spreadsheet. In fact, that’s what I did right here! However, calculating what you get out of your garden is a bit more difficult.
I figure the easiest way to calculate the return from my garden is the same way the grocery store does: price * weight. If I document the weights of each harvest and multiply that by the price I would have paid at the grocery store, I could calculate out a rough “profit” from my garden.
Obviously there is some margin for error, but it’s better than nothing! Next, let’s talk about the methodology for different food types.
Fruit and vegetables
Luckily, the USDA provides a ton of great data for averaging out fruit and vegetable prices in the United States. This is my main data source to quickly calculate the equivalent cost I would have spent at the grocery store.
For specialty items that carry a heftier price and aren’t on this list, spicy peppers being a prime example, I use the local grocery store pricing.
When I harvest vegetables from the backyard garden, I generally weigh out or calculate the quantity of each good. I then note the amounts on a whiteboard on my kitchen fridge.
This is a simple way to track the weekly data without having to go to the computer each time. At the end of the week, I enter that data into my spreadsheet and erase the board for the coming week!
Herbs are a lot more difficult to calculate. At most markets in California (where I live), herbs are usually sold in small bundles at inflated prices compared to growing a small yield in your yard or windowsill.
Green onion is a prime example. A small bundle of green onion runs around $1 at the local grocery store and might last you a few days before they are inedible. On the other hand, the bed of green onion I transplanted a few years ago still goes to seed and grows fresh year round. I can cut a stalk off anytime I want!
Moreover, it’s hard to calculate herb use on a day to day basis. I might grab some rosemary for one thing, some green onions for a small dish, etc. When you have a small crop of herbs in your backyard, there’s no rush to go through as much as possible!
Therefore, based on store pricing for herbs, I generally calculate a $2 a week savings. This includes rosemary, basil, mint, green onion, chives, cilantro, and parsley.
Non-included costs: transportation, organic vs inorganic, etc.
I could include additional savings in fuel making fewer market trips, however I think that starts to stretch the truth. I visit the grocery store once a week to buy items in bulk and wouldn’t realistically increase that frequency if I didn’t grow items in the backyard. Depending on your family’s grocery needs and travel distance, it might make sense to work these numbers into your calculations. For me, it doesn’t provide a significant impact to include.
Additionally, I don’t purchase organic foods at the grocery store. Even though most of my garden fits the definition of organic, I don’t use inflated organic prices to calculate my savings. It only seems fair to compare against what I would have purchased, not the more expensive item I wouldn’t buy.
The end result:
Thus, the calculations are straightforward:
Fruit and vegetables: weight or servings * USDA average price (if price can’t be found, then I use store pricing)
Herbs: conservatively estimated at $2 per week, or $8 per month.
These two numbers give me a pretty good idea of the savings that I received over purchasing direct from the local grocery.
Interested to see the results? Check out my garden cost page here!