One of the biggest complaints about canning is that the equipment is expensive. Many people resist canning their own fruits and vegetables because it is more costly than simply purchasing the food in the grocery store. Fortunately, with a little bit of creativity, you can get all of your canning goods for less.
The actual canner is probably one of the largest expenses you will encounter. While a water bath canner is less expensive than a pressure canner, both will cost you a pretty penny and make buying canned goods from your grocer seem more and more appealing.
To save on this purchase, you can check out websites that offer discounted products or used goods. Try eBay or Craigslist for the deepest discounts, or check out the used option on Amazon.com. While a used water bath canner is likely just as good as a new one, a used pressure canner is more of a gamble. Make sure you purchase a canner with a good seal and weights that are clean and functioning properly. One blocked valve on a pressure canner can spell trouble in the kitchen.
Another large expense are jars. While the jars are reusable, a set of just 12 will cost you roughly $8 at the store. To save money, you can always find jars at tag sales or at thrift stores. You may also be able to find used jars online, however the shipping costs may be high due to their weight.
If you purchase used jars, be sure to thoroughly inspect them before use. Look for cracks and chips that might interfere with the seal, leading to spoiled food. You'll also want to thoroughly wash your used jars in addition to sterilizing them. If you find a cracked, warped, or severely distressed looking jar, it's best not to use it.
If you're looking for a deal on brand new jars, try searching discount stores or looking for off-brand jars. Walmart carries their own Mainstays brand of jars, though they are roughly the same price as the national brand. Other stores carry lesser-known brands rather than the traditional Ball jars, Ball jelly jars or Mason jars. Taking advantage of an off brand is a gamble, but if you find a quality jar you can save a lot of money.
Lids are a necessary evil for canning. After one use they must be thrown away and while they aren't expensive to buy, they can certainly be annoying to have to constantly purchase. To avoid this, you can try using a reusable lid, or you can purchase lids at end-of-season clearance sales and stock up for the next season.
Many of the canning tools you buy can be used year after year. With the exception of lids, canning supplies are a one-time investment that will yield many years of use, making each season less expensive than the last. Buying high-quality products the first time around can save you a lot of money.
In the end, canning your own food will almost always be more expensive than purchasing goods at the grocery store. However, eating fresh foods that are free of chemical preservatives is a satisfying feeling, especially in the middle of the winter.