Does homesteading save money? We were asked if we could assess whether it’s more cost-effective to homestead in comparison to the consumer lifestyle with the equivalent to organic quality food for the average family of four.
When coming up with the cost comparison of these things, it’s important to take into consideration the entire cost of raising animals and gardening.
Figuring Out the Entire Cost
By simply adding up what backyard egg-laying chicks cost to buy and raise and adding in the cost of their feed you get an incomplete analysis of their actual cost. You must also take into consideration the cost of fencing, shelter, electricity (if applicable), your own time/labor, and any other hidden costs you may incur.
For larger animals, this may also include vet bills if/when they need medical attention.
For a garden, it’s not just the cost of the seeds, but the cost of the water, the tools to garden, fertilizer, soil amendments, mulch, etc.
The Cost of a First Year Garden
When we lived in Tennessee we built a brand new garden on land that had never been gardened before. We brought in a large number of soil amendments, compost, and mulch and spent a lot of money to establish healthy garden beds.
We grew all organic, heirloom vegetables and did our best to track what came out of the garden to compare, pound for pound, what you’d buy in the grocery store.
All in all, we had about $2000 invested in this garden (which made many of our neighbors think we were crazy), but at the end of the season, we had calculated we harvested between $7,000-$8,000 worth of produce.
We didn’t, however, factor in the cost of the land or our own labor. If you want a true comparison, all of this has to be factored into the cost of your food.
If we were to add in the price of the square footage of the garden, come up with an hourly wage for ourselves, and tracked our time spent in the garden, then add those numbers into the cost of the garden, that investment would likely be a lot closer to the $7,000-8,000 of produce we harvested.
Grocery Store Cost per Year
The USDA has a chart (though it’s slightly outdated and we would assume the dollar amounts would be more now) that gives rough estimates of how much it would cost to buy grocery store food for a year.
We crunched the numbers for our own family (ten children and two adults) and the estimated cost of organic food for our family is $45,000-$48,000 per year (pre-tax).
The Hidden Cost of Food
Whether the cost comparison and your time and energy are worth it for you to spend your time growing or raising your own food is then a personal choice.
For us, we want to know that our food is the healthiest we can possibly grow. We want to know the conditions of how our animals are raised, exactly what they’re fed, and how they’re treated if/when they get sick because their health is directly related to our own health.
We also know that by eating home-grown food (especially when it comes to meat), we have to factor in the savings in our medical bills. We are blessed to have a very healthy family who hasn’t needed much in the way of healthcare.
But in today’s day and age, we have become very comfortable with the low cost of food and are outraged when the prices are raised, but yet we don’t balk at paying upwards of $500-$1000 (or more) per month on health insurance, medical bills, dental procedures, and supplements.
You can learn another approach to healthcare homesteaders are using in Direct Primary Care – Going “Off-Grid” With Your Health, and for more considerations on rising food costs check out How to Save Money on Groceries, How to Beat Inflation at the Grocery Store and Preparing for Inflation and Food Shortages.
Benefits of Homesteading
Homegrown Produce vs. Organic Store Bought Produce
We like to compare what we’re growing in our garden to what we could buy locally. The comparison isn’t even close (unless you’re purchasing directly from a farmer or from a Farmer’s Market).
Gardening takes time and energy. We look at gardening as an added health benefit because being outside in the fresh air, soaking up the rays from the sun for healthy vitamin D production, and getting in some exercise at the same time is so beneficial not just for our physical health, but for our mental health.
We’re also growing the healthiest, most nutrient-dense food we can find. Even organic food from the grocery store is void of many nutrients. This is why so many people today need to take supplements due to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
What if we could grow food that was nutrient-dense enough that we were no longer deficient? Think of the savings that would add up to!
We love the book by Steve Solomon called The Intelligent Gardener which talks about the journey in regard to their teeth.
Because we like to include our entire family in the garden chores, this is a fantastic time where we’re building relationships and spending quality time as a family together.
But even by yourself, you can use your gardening time to give someone a call and catch up!
Learning & Passing Down Skills
At some point in time, either our children or our grandchildren are going to need the skills needed to grow and raise their own food. Learning them ourselves and passing them down is one of the best gifts we could give them.
Best Return on Investment
If you figure everything out, taking into consideration your time, energy, investment, etc., the cost ends up being fairly comparable, so it boils down to why you want to homestead.
If it’s just to save money, it may not be the best solution for you. But if you’re looking to have that homesteader mindset, you want to learn homesteading skills, learn to be self-sufficient, increase your health, among the other benefits listed above, then go for it!
Some people may be watching the gas prices increase, which we know in turn will mean our food prices will increase, and they want to be more resilient to the economic changes. If this is you, here are our top recommendations on where to start for the best return on investment:
- Garden – growing a garden is one of the easier things to learn and that will save you a lot of money in the long run. You don’t have to invest in high-quality soil right off the bat. You might not get the same production that first year, but you can slowly improve the soil and return over time.
- Chickens (egg laying and meat chickens) – these can be raised in a small amount of space and they have a great return on investment.
- Dairy Cow/Dairy Goat – this is only listed third because it takes having more space and knowhow, but the return on investement is the highest if you take the milk and turn it into homemade butter, cheese, drink raw milk, and possibly sell or trade some of the milk. (See how I make homemade dairy products practical in less than two hours each week.)
More Resources for the New Homesteader
- Apartment to 40 Acres – Our Homesteading Journey
- 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Homesteading
- 8 Things You Need to Know When Buying Homestead Property
- How to Buy a Homestead – What To Know Before You Buy
- 7 Things You Must Do On Your New Homestead
- How to Pivot When Things Go Wrong on the Homestead
- Best Homesteading Books for the Novice or the Pro
- Organizing Your Property’s Permaculture Zones
- Things to Consider BEFORE Going Off-Grid
- Direct Primary Care – Going “Off-Grid” With Your Health
- When Homesteading Feels Urgent
- Homesteader’s Christmas Gift Guide
- Tips for Butchering Meat