9 Money Saving Reasons to Buy a Food Dehydrator

By Alex Wayne on 14 September 2009 (Updated 30 September 2010) 25 comments

Looking for more money-saving ideas during these tough economic times? Dig that food dehydrator out of storage. This is a frugal living tip that almost everyone can act on. Just by reducing or eliminating food waste, you can save quite a bit of money.

Don't have a dehydrator? These days, you can buy a brand new one for less than the cost of a Playstation game. Or, visit the flea market or yard sales around the neighborhood. Still can't find one? Try Craigslist. Don't have any money for another kitchen appliance? Alton Brown will show you how to make one.

Waste Not, Want Not -- WW1 Poster

Here are nine ways a dehydrator can help you stretch your budget:

1. Cut down on wasted food.

Americans waste $30 billion worth of food every year. With an electric or solar dehydrator at home, you can preserve the excess and prevent it from going into the garbage. Before I started drying food regularly, I must've lost at least 10% of my fruits and vegetable to spoilage every month. Are you keeping track of how much food you don't get to use?

2. Buy groceries in bulk.

It's often cheaper to buy a lot of groceries at a time, but it's counterproductive if you can't use all the food. With a dehydrator, you don't have to worry about that because you can dehydrate leftovers and store it for several months.

3. Go vegetarian or vegan for a short time or forever.

One of the healthiest things you can do for yourself is reduce the amount of animal products in your diet. And, if you do that, you'll have a less expensive grocery bill too because meats are often the priciest item in the shopping cart. The health benefits and supermarket savings have an even greater effect if you're feeding a large family.

Green Cherry Tomatoes

4. Start an organic herb and/or vegetable garden in your backyard.

If you can grow some of your own food, you'll realize a big savings at the market. Besides lowering your bill, you'll actually be producing tastier and more nutritious herbs and vegetables because you can avoid the nasty, poisonous chemicals used in mass farming. Obviously, you don't need a dehdyrator to start a garden, but if you know your efforts won't go to waste, you'll be more likely to do it. Having dried herbs, fruits, or vegetables in stock encourages healthy cooking and eating.

5. Freshen up the house with homemade potpouri.

Another fantastic way to use up your excess harvest is to making potpourri. By combining fruits, flowers, and essential oils, you can add a pleasant fragrance to your home.

6. Stop buying candy.

Since getting my dehydrator, I've cut my candy budget down to almost zero. Instead of munching on unhealthy, sugary candies like Red Vines and jelly beans, I snack on fruit leathers and dried fruit. Removing the water concetrates the natural sugar in the homemade "candies" so they'll satisfy even your strongest cravings for sweets.

7. It's a jerky machine.

If you like to buy your jerky at the market, you know it's pretty expensive. It's just meat without the water. You can do that at home, and I think it's the main reason people buy food dehydrators. Of all the dehydrator recipes online, the most common are the jerky varieties. With a dehydrator at home, you can experiment. Instead of beef, how about trying venison, turkey, fish, or even tofu jerky?

8. You can make homemade treats and present them as gifts.

My favorite gifts during the holidays are usually the handmade/homemade food and crafts. I like to make bags of banana chips and berries to give away. You can make beef jerky or other goodies and save money by not having to buy things. Just about every dehydrator recipe is a frugal recipe. This is truly budget cooking. Create personalized gift baskets or bags of dried fruit or meat with your dehydrator and creativity.

9. Save money on medical expenses and overall spending.

It's easier to eat healthy if you have healthy food around. With a dehydrator, you can make snacks and main dishes without added fat and sugar. If you have a bag of wholesome apple chips, you're more likely to choose that over a bag of unhealthy potato chips. And, with a healthier body, you'll require fewer doctor visits and hospital trips. Get healthy, spend less.

So much of our budget goes toward the food we eat and don't eat. Having a food dehydrator in the kitchen will help you bring that expense down. Americans waste 40% of the food made for consumption. How much are you contributing to that figure? Considering you can get a decent dehydrator for less than $50, I'm certain it'll pay for itself in a matter of months, if not weeks. Add the heath benefits of eating well, and your food dehydrator can save your life.

This is a guest post from Alex Wayne, host of Dehydrator Book, where you can find reviews, recipes and tips to make the most of your dehydrator, like this reference for How to Dehydrate 35+ Different Foods.

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Guest's picture
AM

I should know. I spent 2 years on a nearly meatless diet for my health. The result: got sick, fat, and nearly went insane. I now eat a diet comprised mostly of meat and vegetables and am healthy, at a normal weight, and have made some headway on the sanity thing. (Although not as;)

From a biological point of view, we are strongly weighted towards a meat based diet. We have a short digestive system, grow only 2 sets of teeth, and are unable to synthesize some basic vitamins. In short, we have alot more in common with cats and dogs than cows or horses.

Any approach to vegetarianism and especially veganism should be designed with the idea that we are made to run fully or partially on animal proteins. I suspect most of the "health benefits" of vegetarianism are actually derived from the emphasis on whole foods in the average practioner's diet, rather some miracle based on vegetables.

And to bring this somewhat back on topic, we do have a dehydrator. However, the only reason we have it ironically is to make jerky because it's the only thing one the long list of things you can do that I can eat. Concentrating the sugars in fruit isn't a good idea in my case. For the record, the jerky that we produce tastes great and is far cheaper than the store stuff. ;)

Guest's picture

These are good pointers but am not sure of the vegetarian part. i am as carnivorous as they come and the candy(i have a set full of sweet teeth) and the veg garden(dont want to be thrown out of my apartment by the landlord). i have filed them all in to m memory for future reference. thanks

Guest's picture
Guest

come on guys... overall, the savings makes sense when it comes to this article and the food dehydrator. Candy, sugar snacks are so easy to buy now a days. If you always have a good steady supply of dried fruit, it will first off cut out the waste in rotted fruit and your kids and loved ones will benefit from eating healthier snacks. Mix it with nuts and you are good to go. Good article.

Guest's picture

You suggested getting a dehydrator off the Craigslist. However, all dehydrators are not equal. Do you have any recommendation for brands?

Guest's picture
Alex

I recommend the Excalibur brand. They're well-known, made in America, and you can buy direct (or on Amazon, etc.). They're considered the best by raw foodists.

Cheaper alternatives include the Nescos. If you have $50 to spend, you can get a new Nesco for less than that.

A note if you buy a used one: don't worry too much about finding instructions. After drying a few batches, you should have notes for how to customize recipes to suit your dehydrator and environment.

Guest's picture

Thanks Alex!

Guest's picture
Rosa

I like my American Harvest a lot, but the real key is that it should have a fan and not just a heat source - you want the damp air out of there, not condensing inside.

Another reason to have a dehydrator is that there is a lot of free and cheap fruit out there going bad - for years we got as many free apples as we could handle just by asking suburban acquaintances if we could clean off their trees - and it's pretty easy to dumpster dive out-of-area fruits like peaches, or get them for really cheap as they're just past ripe.

I only use my dehydrator for a few things - mostly apple rings, which I'm doing 24/7 this time of year - but I never buy fruit snacks or fruit leather, my kid eats apple & squash "chips" the way his cousins eat candy & potato chips, and I have never found out how many apples we will eat because we *always* run out before the next fall.

Guest's picture
Alex

Agreed. That's why the oven ins't as effective for dehydrating unless you leave the door slightly open.

I don't know if it's true, but I've heard supermarkets sell their overripe produce at a discount if you ask.

Guest's picture
Michele

It's not always cheapest to dry your own fruit at home. It's best to do the math, whether you're using an electric dehydrator or using a slow, slow oven, and compare the cost of energy + produce with the cost of dried fruit on deep discount from the supermarket.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette discussed this very issue. Most of the time, it's cheaper to buy canned, frozen, or dried fruit from the supermarket when it's on sale, than to D.I.Y. In my experience, if cost is the only concern, you save money over store-bought versions only if you get the produce for free.

(Of course, if you have other concerns, like avoiding high-fructose corn syrup, then you may not mind paying more for your own home-preserved food.)

Guest's picture
Alex

The point wasn't to buy produce specifically for drying and storing. I typically eat fruits and vegetables raw, and I buy them in bulk. The dehydrator is handy when I overestimate how much I'm going to use up during the week.

In a way then, the fruits and veggies were free, since they would've gone in the trash otherwise.

Andrea Karim's picture

I knew the vegetarian comment would get people foaming at the mouth - of COURSE you can be an unhealthy vegetarian. But vegetarians are, by and large, healthier than meat-eaters. And a good dehydrater is a wonderful way to decrease water. My only problem with them is that they tend to take up counter space, of which I have very little.

Guest's picture
Alex

No counter space? Here's someone in Seattle drying food in the car.

Guest's picture

I think another great reason to purchase a dehydrator is if you have fruit trees. I have a fig tree and every year I try to figure out what to do with them. In the end, the birds and squirrels end up eating most of them because I don't pick them in time. And I don't pick them in time, because I don't know what do to with all of them! If I purchased a dehydrator, less would go to the birds, and more would be consumed by my husband and me.

thanks for the post,
I'll have to look into the Excalibur and American Harvest brands.
-Little House

Myscha Theriault's picture

Wow! How did I miss this one? This post is right up my alley. Not that I have any extra time right now, but a neat money saving post, all the same. Thanks for the article.

 

Check out my various projects and services at Itinerant Tightwad. I also have a monthly education newsletter.

Guest's picture
Guest

When frozen veggies are on buy one-get one, we buy extra (more than our freezer can handle) and dehydrate the excess to use later in soups, casseroles and such. Saves storage space and properly packaged will last about a year. Same goes for fresh veggies. When celery or green peppers go on sale, we stock up and dehydrate. Saves on having to make a trip to the store to get that one ingredient we're missing as we usually have a dehydrated version around. The jerky is better than anything bought in a store and I'll take a couple pieces of dehydrated pineapple over candy any day. We've had our American Harvest for over 10 years and it's still going strong. If you're really serious about dehydrating, I'd suggest Mary Bell's book.

Guest's picture
Miss M

We just got one (asked for as a birthday gift) for making our own dog food. We've been buying this very nice, but very expensive, pre-mix (it has grains and dried veggies then you add the meat) for doing home cooked dog food. Most of the ingredients in kibble are poor quality and sadly often tainted. We can make our own version of the pre-mix for about 1/3 the cost now that we have the dehydrator. With 3 dogs those savings will quickly add up, plus we'll use it to make some human food as well ;) We made apple rings the other day and they were delish.

Guest's picture
Alex

Good tip on homemade dog food. In addition to the main course, you can also dry things like slices of sweet potato. They're a healthier substitute for rawhide chews, though they don't last nearly as long.

Of course, sweet potato chips taste good to humans too.

Guest's picture
Marla

Coincidentally, I just loaded my dehydrator with Mountain Apples. The neighbors gave us an entire box which we couldn't eat. If you are new to using a dehydrator, it's good to experiment. Pears are absolutely wonderful; we also love bananas and apple rings. I have a Nesco and it's fast and easy to clean. Dried fruit in stores is really expensive.

Guest's picture
neverland~

be a totally vegetarian is not good to health,while go for a while is recommended. i agree to make a vegetable garden in the backyard is a great idea to save money and keep us from pesticide pollution.[img]http://www.photosnag.com/img/4713/n09x0302vnsn/clear.gif[/img]

Guest's picture

Has anyone tried using a toaster oven to dehydrate food? (Set on the lowest temperature of 200 degrees F, of course.)

I haven't tried this, but I'm wondering if someone else has, as I also have limited kitchen/counter space.

Guest's picture
Guest

Why buy a dehydrator? I make sun dried tomatoes in my car on a really hot day!

Guest's picture
Guest

I have an Excalibur and I love it. Kale chips are the best. I save money by drying berries and frozen vegetables bought on sale. Drying saves freezer space too.

Guest's picture
Mikeh

Great post. I really believe in dehydrated food. Someday it will be a very important part of our society.

Guest's picture
CG

I have an Excalibur 3900 and I think it's the best machine ever. I save a lot of money dehydrating my own food and homegrown and homedried just tastes so much better.

Guest's picture
Sandra

For me the choice has always been between Nesco and Excalibur. I have got Nesco FD 75PR and Excalibur 3900 and like the Excalibur one better. I think Excalibur now has got models with glass doors that let you monitor the progress without stopping in between which is a cool thing.