5 Pricey Groceries You Can Grow In Your Own Garden

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If you’re lucky enough to have space for a vegetable garden, not to mention the time and inclination to do the gardening, you’ll want to be sure to get the most out of your efforts. That’s because gardening isn’t necessarily the most cost effective way to get your veggies.

It turns out some vegetables are actually cheaper to buy at the grocery store, particularly when bought in season. So, if you want to grow your own vegetables to save money, you’ll need to be selective in what you grow. Here are five vegetables that are cost effective for growing in your own garden.

1. Bell Peppers

Green bell peppers can cost $1.50 or more each at the grocery store, and yellow, red or orange peppers can be even more expensive. Pepper starter plants at your local gardening center, however, typically average about $1 each. Given that bell peppers also are reasonably hardy and easy to grow, they can end up saving you plenty of money, even when you consider costs for water, fertilizer and any necessary pesticides.

2. Lettuce

Lettuce can be really expensive at the grocery store, particularly if you’re buying it pre-washed in a bag or plastic container. But if you grow your own lettuce from a package of seed, typically costing $2 or less, you’ll easily recoup the expense within just a few weeks of your plants maturing. Leaf lettuces are particularly good because you can harvest the amount you need while still allowing the plant to grow, meaning you can have lettuce from just a handful of plants throughout the growing season.

3. Squash

Summer squash, zucchini and winter squash are all hardy and easy to grow, and the plants tend to be very productive, meaning you’ll have an abundance of them in no time. The initial cost for starter plants is more than for peppers or lettuce — typically about $2 each — but well worth the investment.

4. Garlic

If you love garlic, this is a no-brainer. Depending on whether you’re buying conventional or organic garlic, prices range from $2 to $4 a pound. You can easily grow your own for a fraction of the cost. It’s also very easy to grow, but you’ll need to properly cure the bulbs so they will keep for a longer period of time.

5. Tomatoes

Tomatoes come in so many varieties that it can be hard to decide which kind to plant. And because of that variety, it’s also hard to accurately estimate just how much you may save by growing your own. But because tomato plants typically yield a large number of fruit, you’ll likely have plenty for eating now plus enough left over for canning or freezing.

As you plan your garden for next year (or perhaps even this fall) keep in mind that you’ll not only be saving money, you’ll be providing your family with some of the absolute freshest produce available. If saving money is a big consideration for you, also keep in mind that you can save money on interest rates on loans and credit cards by improving your credit score. If you don’t know what your credit score is, you can check your two free credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com.

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5 Ways to Save on Gardening

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Each spring, millions of Americans head out to their gardens and get to work growing food. In fact, the number of U.S. households engaged in gardening jumped from 36 million households in 2008 to 42 million in 2013 — a 17% increase, according to the National Gardening Association.

The trend is particularly hot among millennials, according to the association:

Young people, particularly millennials (ages 18-34), are the fastest growing population segment of food gardeners. In 2008 there were 8 million millennial food gardeners. That figure rose to 13 million in 2013, an increase of 63%. Millennials also nearly doubled their spending on food gardening, from $632 million in 2008 to $1.2 billion in 2013.

Such efforts result in a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that lasts throughout the summer and into fall.

But as every green thumb knows, gardening isn’t always cheap. Fortunately, there are ways to dig yourself out of a potentially expensive hole and still have a garden that is the envy of neighbors.

To create a flourishing-yet-frugal garden — whether it’s a longtime passion or you are new to the hobby — simply rake through these five steps.

1. Invest in Good Tools

If you are new to gardening — or you simply want to deepen your commitment to the hobby — the prospect of purchasing a slew of expensive tools can be daunting. Fortunately, there are ways to get those tools for pennies on the dollar.

Check out sites like Craigslist or Freecycle for bargains. People who are moving often are willing to sell their tools cheaply — or even give them away.

Other places to find cheap tools include thrift stores, garage sales and estate sales. You may even find the ultimate bargain by simply scanning the curbs in your neighborhood on trash day.

Finally, you can organize tool-sharing groups in your neighborhood.

Don’t let your passion for gardening outrun your common sense: If you need a tractor-mower, rototiller or backhoe, it may be more cost-efficient to rent.

2. Search for Cheap Seeds — & Don’t Overbuy

When you buy seeds, never get more than you need. Many dedicated gardeners have loads of leftover seed from previous seasons. It’s easy to fall prey to this mistake, especially when seeds are on sale.

If you do buy extra seeds, keep them in a cool, dry place so you can use them next year. Refrigerate them in an airtight jar or plastic container.

Some types of seed — including beet, cucumber, muskmelon and tomato — can be stored for at least five years. Others, including sweet corns and onions, may be good for just one or two years.

Also, as the growing year wanes, look for cheap, end-of-season seed. You can find it everywhere from eBay to your local supermarket.

3. Create Your Own Mulch & Compost

If you plan ahead, you can avoid purchasing mulch or compost from a gardening store.

Instead of bagging leaves in the fall, shred them for mulch. Follow the process recommended by HGTV.

Another idea is to ask road crews clearing trees and brush if they will dump their wood chips at your place. Crews may be willing to off-load their materials rather than having to haul them away at the end of a job.

It’s also easy to create your own compost. Eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, fruits and vegetables, grass clippings, shredded paper, and leaves are all prefect compost ingredients.

Some city and county governments also give away mulch or compost.

4. Use Recycled Items Around the House

Repurposing household items can help reduce your gardening expenses.

For example, an old Better Homes and Gardens article recommends using a simple cut-off gallon milk carton as a scooping tool or a starting bed for seedlings. And a discarded door can be used as a wall in the yard for climbing roses.

5. Collect & Store Rainwater

If you are not careful, the large water bills you rack up when irrigating your garden can wash away many of the savings you gain from growing your own produce.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution to this problem: Collect rainwater in barrels. If you find a good deal on a rainwater barrel at a store, go ahead and buy it. But any type of barrel or large bucket that you have lying around the house will do.

[Editor’s Note: Gardening can be a fun hobby. It also provides light exercise and sunshine, and it can have an impact on your grocery budget. Still, if you’re looking to pay off debt, reduce your overall expenses or put away some savings, a vegetable garden may well be part of your plan, but it’s unlikely to be the one ticket that turns a difficult financial situation around. To help you get on a better track, you can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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