1. Stock up on jars at the end of the season
Although canning is a hobby that many folks participate in throughout the year, the summer and fall months are considered the peak season for canning—the summer months due to the numerous varieties of fruits and berries that are in season and the fall because many people give canned goods as holiday gifts. During these months, you will see more canning products and displays, and stores typically carry extra stock of these items. You may see some of the summer stock marked down during the months of August and September, and the fall stock right around Christmas. These are the two times to start stalking those canning aisles for deals! In fact, last year I found tons of canning supplies at Lowe’s, including mason jars and lids and seals, on clearance for over 70 percent off just a few days after Christmas.
2. Split start-up costs with a friend
If you’ve been toying with the idea of starting to can, but are intimidated by the costs, consider starting the hobby with a friend! You can split the expenses, such as a starter kit and the first batch of produce, as well as the yummy goods you make. A Ball Home Canning Basics kit is priced at $39 at Walmart, which would mean you could start canning for $20 plus the cost of the produce. This way you can try canning without too much of an investment and decide if you want to continue. If you both decide you love it, you can continue to can together or split the cost of a second kit so you both have one. Not only will you save money, but you’ll get to spend a fun afternoon learning a new hobby with a friend!
3. Shop online
I’m nervous about purchasing fragile items online, but shopping for supplies such as mason jars, labels and books online can often yield large savings. Just recently, I was considering purchasing the famous book "The Joys of Jams, Jellies and Other Preservatives.” After running to my local Barnes & Noble, where it was priced at just under $14, I decided to check out a few places online and immediately found it for under $10 at CanningPantry. CanningPantry is now one of the first places that I go when looking for canning supplies because of the massive amount of products they have, which are often quite competitively priced. Another great site for canning supplies is Amazon, which has an entire category dedicated to canning and often has items on sale. Not long ago I spotted a FreshTECH Automatic Jam and Jelly maker that I’ve had my eye on listed at 24 percent off of the $99 retail price. I’ve also found some pretty sweet deals on jars, lids and labels on Amazon. Another perk of purchasing your canning supplies on Amazon is that the majority of them are eligible for free shipping with purchases of $25 or more—or free with a Prime membership!
4. Be willing to compromise
I’m a stickler for following recipes to a tee. Perhaps that’s because I don’t consider myself the greatest cook, so I’m always hesitant to experiment. However, when it comes to canning, just as with cooking, being flexible with ingredients can often save you big bucks. For example, if you’re canning pasta sauce and the recipe calls for heirloom tomatoes, try a less expensive tomato, such as Roma, instead. If you don’t have fresh basil, try whatever you have in the fridge! Chances are, you won’t taste a huge difference, but you’ll save yourself quite a bit. You may even find a pairing of ingredients that you love and wouldn’t have tried otherwise.
5. Shop secondhand
My grandmother used to tell me that mason jars last forever and she wasn’t kidding. She still has jars that are 5, 10, even 15 years old! Due to the fact that they are so durable and versatile, you may be surprised at just how many places you will find them. I’ve found mason jars for as low as 25 cents each at garage sales, flea markets, thrift stores and even antique malls. Considering that a case containing 12 jars typically costs between $10 and $20 (depending on the size and type), or $1–2 each, that is a huge savings! Most of the jars will be used, but mason jars can be used time and time again as long as they don’t have any cracks, nicks or chips in them. You may be hesitant to use secondhand jars, but as long as you sanitize them, there’s really no need to be. However, you will need to purchase new lids, which are generally created for one-time use.
6. Look for specials on older produce
I love when I find those items at the grocery stores marked with the "manager’s special" or "clearance" stickers. These items are usually within a day or two of expiring, and you can often find these deals on soft or bruised fruits and veggies, which work perfectly fine for canning. Last time I was at Kroger I managed to snag a pound of strawberries that looked less than fresh for 89 cents as well as a bag of overly ripe mangoes for $1! You may even want to talk to the produce manager at your supermarket to find out if there is a certain day or time these products get marked down or if there is a possibility of purchasing the produce that they throw out. You may be surprised to learn that supermarkets tend to throw away about 20 percent of all produce, and much of it is simply bruised or overripe.
7. Go without
If you’re just getting into the world of canning or are considering trying it, you may be overwhelmed by all of the recommended tools and supplies. However, many of these "necessities" are really not necessary at all. Many canning experts will tell you that a canning pot is a must-have, but if you are on a tight budget, a large stock pot, though not ideal, will work. Others will tell you that you need tools such as a funnel, a magnetic lid-lifter and a stirrer. With the exception of the canning pot, which can run anywhere from $25 to well over $100, most canning accessories aren’t high-priced items—but the costs can add up quickly when purchasing them all at once. Typically items such as funnels, stirrers and lid-lifters cost between $5 and $15 each. All of these tools will make canning much easier and less messy, but they are certainly not necessary to start your foray into canning. In fact, you may even be able to find substitutes around the house. To this day, I still have not purchased a stirrer, but instead found that using chopsticks to eradicate air bubbles in the jars works just fine!