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Do Vegetable Gardens Waste More Money Than They Save?

I was bopping along the Internet when I found myself in a discussion about frugal advice people hate. Basically, those tips to save money that don’t apply to you.

And the number one way to save money that actually wasted money was – plant a garden.

This was followed by people saying that vegetable gardens cost them more money than they saved because it cost them $40 to grow one tomato and that vegtable gardening is a waste of money.

On the one hand I tend to agree because growing a vegetable gardening to save money is playing the long game.

Are vegetable gardens a waste of money
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Very few people live in an area with a year round growing season. It is frustrating when asking for ideas on how to save money and the first thing they blurt is start a garden! when it is in the dead of winter. While growing your own food can save money, that will not help me this week or even the next when I need to eat today. But in several months down the road? Sure. As long as it is a huge garden.

And of course the $40 tomato folks who swear that growing a vegetable garden does not save money because they often build and grow a garden in the most expensive way possible such as:

- Building raised garden beds and filling them with bags of expensive soil instead of planting directly into the dirt. This is my garden. We put it in and expanded it over time because it is a fun hobby you get to eat. I have saved money on gardening essentials and I've also spent extra money on gardening essentials (since we also focus on pretty pots and such.)

- Building or buying self watering raised garden beds and filling them with bags of expensive soil – although self watering garden beds may save water, it will longer to recoup the cost of building the beds to make your vegetable garden break even.

- Container gardening (raises hand) - I have a patio container garden because I can't plant one in my yard. When I expand it I have to buy everything from dirt to the container before I can entertain the cost of the seed or plant itself. Although there are ways to lower your costs if you aren't picky about looks, like growing your vegetables in free 5 gallon buckets.

- Self watering container gardening (raises both hands) – Again this may save on water (or in my case, the plants live to bear fruit and veg because I forget plants need water to live.) A regular plant pot is cheaper than a self watering one but you can reduce the expense if you DIY it like I do. 

how to make a self watering garden planter

- Hydroponic gardening has the largest gardening startup cost but it may allow you to garden year round. You will also need to pay for electricity to run the grow lights and water pump (although my Aerogarden doesn't use any more electricity than a typical lamp with an LED light bulb) and plant food instead of being able to rely on DIY plant fertilizers that are less expensive to free. It will take a longer amount of time to eventually get to the point where vegetables grown in a hydroponic garden starts to break even over the other gardening types.

how to grow plants in water
My startup costs were very low because my husband and I got this Aeorgarden here as a Christmas present. It is nice to grow a little bit of fresh herbs or vegetables during the winter. Even though I use my own seeds, I'm not sure if it really saves us a bunch of money on groceries. I am sure it helps our mental health during the gloomy winter months though. (Disclosure: I am including affiliate links for your convenience.)

- Buying a bunch of expensive gardening equipment you may not use all of the time. I'm not sure what to say about this one because while my husband and I needed a rototiller to make our front yard plantable, we rented one instead of buying it. Other than that our next biggest gardening equipment expense was a sprinkler and a hose. 


do vegetable gardens save money
After years of dying plants (thanks to the person who planted sun loving plants in our shady front yard,) the perennial herbs I plant and prayed would live after they outgrew their container garden pots have spread as the living mulch that we hoped. I divided and moved a few plants around to hopefully have a flowerbed full of herbs we can eat on the cheap. The part of our garden definitely falls into the saving money camp. PS: I know we have to fix the brick border. It's on the To Do List. Honest!

You can save money on garden costs if you are lucky enough to have rich fertile soil you can plant directly into. Which is how my in laws garden. Otherwise you may need to add fertilizers or soil amendments. These can range from the more expensive like buying ready made fertilizers to long game cheaper fertilizers such as creating a compost pile (that will take up to a year or more to be ready to work into the garden soil) to possibly free if you are lucky enough to know someone who a pile of aged manure from keeping cows or horses. (Fresh manure will burn your plants. You have to let it “age” first.)

how to save money with a vegtable garden
We DIY'ed a compost bin and used it for several years until upgrading to this exact double tumbling compost bin and built it its own little patio with free reclaimed bricks. The trash can holds dry brown matter we add to the compost bin with every load of kitchen scraps.

- Pest, weed, and critter control may also add to your garden costs or be low to no cost. You may want to go the more expensive route with a fence if you have animals like deer, rabbits, or birds that like to help themselves to your garden or you may get away with using plant netting like this kind with is less expensive and also works for pests so you don’t need to buy bug killers.

Or you may decide to go the upfront it costs more upfront but is cheaper in the end by applying Milk Spore to kill grubs in the soil and beneficial nematodes to kill the rest of plant pests.


DIY self watering patio garden
This year in addition to the milky spore (you can learn about Milky Spore grub killer here) and nematodes (you can learn about Beneficial Nematodes garden pest killer here) I applied last year, I planted marigolds hoping they will help keep my plants from being a bug buffet. If they don't work, well, at least they are pretty.

Then we come to the either very high or low cost of the things you want to grow. You can save money on a vegetable garden by growing the type of food you already eat – pretty obvious that one. No use putting the time, energy, and money into something no one in your house likes to eat!

Many people say that you get the biggest bang for your buck if you grow your plants from seed instead of buying plants. You can also lower vegetable garden costs you grow your fruits, vegetables, and herbs from seeds or by rooting stems such as cabbage, lettuce, onions, etc.

Although it seems that the vegetable garden has to be very big to pay off in not having to go to the grocery store.

What do you think? Do vegetable garden waste money or save money? What is your experience?

If you are looking for more money saving vegetable garden ideas, check out the following options – and more! Below!

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