Is Gardening Economical?


I am no expert gardener.

To be brutually honest, I killed the first eight tomato plants of this season. This is my first attempt at a garden and I am definitely a walking example of learning (woops!) by doing.

However, now that I own a small piece of earth (alright, the bank has the title, but I’ll get it from them soon enough…) I’ve become increasingly intrigued by this whole “gardening thing.”

We reserve Sundays in our household truly as days of rest — trying to make it a day separate and special from the other six hectic and unbelievably busy days. As of late, my Sunday schedule has looked something like this:

  1. Go to church.
  2. Read about gardening.
  3. Go to bed.

This Savings Tip is dedicated toward the economics of gardening. Is it economical at all? If you don’t kill your plants, and do a few other things right, I think it is. I’ll definitely report back at the end of the season (and thanks be to YNAB for allowing me to track each and every gardening expenditure).

With that said, I have a laundry list of things you should consider if you want to make your garden economical:

The Direct Costs

  1. You’re dealing with nature here, and since so much of nature is still free, you have an advantage. Don’t fall for the fancy marketing at your nearest Big Box Home Store. You can score free fertilizer if you ask around. Collect rain water. Forgo the power tools (you’ll burn more calories to boot).
  2. Time. I’m finding out that this is a big one for me. Since my learning curve is still so steep, the time I’m investing is significant. However, this is time I would be spending relaxing in some other way — it’s not time I’m taking off of work or anything like that.
  3. I’ve done quite a bit of driving around, fetching things I needed for the first year of planting (mainly to build the boxes) and that’s consumed some gas. Not a ton, but that’s still there and should be considered.

The Direct Benefits (Vegetables You Can Eat)

  1. You have to eat what you grow. If you don’t eat vegetables, then you shouldn’t plant vegetables. If you can only handle a few tomatoes per week, you should only plan to harvest a few tomatoes each week. Wasted produce will drive down your return on investment. (Yes, leave it to an accountant to take one of nature’s true miracles and brutally whittle away at it until it’s simply an equation giving you your return on investment. I apologize in advance.)
  2. You don’t have to go HUGE to get some economies of scale. That’s where this natural miracle really shines. One pot. One sunny spot. Some water (collected in a rain bucket because that water’s still free last time I checked — and better for your plants than the treated stuff). A tomato seed. Some soil. That plant will produce dollars and dollars worth of tomatoes for several months. Your total investment could easily be south of $3.

(An aside: I was ordering some soil at our IFA store the other day and committed an atrocity. I called it dirt. Speaking of dirty, you should’ve seen the look I received from the lady at the register.)

The Indirect Benefits

  1. I’m getting additional exercise beyond the extremely dull self-punishment I dole out to myself every morning in the form of pushups, pull-ups and running.
  2. It’s not a tomato-to-tomato comparison when you’re looking at saving money on produce. The closest comparison you’ll get is by comparing organic produce to what you’ll be growing in your own garden. Even comparing it to organic is a stretch. The taste of your own produce (both psychological and actual) will be so much better!
  3. There’s something intrinsically pleasing about growing your own food. I can’t whittle it down to a dollar figure. It’s impossible 🙂

Getting Started

There are some great resources in getting started. I plowed through Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew and highly recommend it. It’s an intense gardening method that lends itself toward being economical much quicker (more produce, less space, tools, and time required). This is not a “quick hit” savings tip, but it’s still there for you to consider!

I ate a radish from my garden yesterday — first bit of produce from the garden this year. Best radish I ever had. Also, for a very in-depth analysis of the economics of gardening, you’ll want to check out Revive Your Life.