Intro to Freezer Savings
After my recent article on bulk buying , a mini discussion developed about the additional use of freezers to increase cost savings in the family budget. Since it’s such a large sub-topic, I only touched on it briefly in Bulk Buying 101. Clearly though, from the discussion that followed, people are interested in knowing a bit more about the option and whether it is worth the initial investment. So as promised, here’s the breakdown.
- Take advantage of super sales on freezer friendly perishables. This goes back somewhat to the power shopping article I did a while back. When you notice especially good sales on perishables such as meats, cheeses, fish, frozen vegetables, juice concentrates, butter and cheeses, an at home freezer gives you the freedom to stock up. Gary Foreman has a great suggestion for keeping track of sales . . . a price book. For example, a popular sale item this time of year is frozen turkeys. When the price drops below 40 cents a pound (and it usually does), pick up a boatload of them along with a poultry fryer. Not only does that speed things up for Thanksgiving, but you’ll be set clear through next summer with a simple and affordable way to feed a pot luck salad crowd that won’t heat the house up. Meat departments are also usually quite happy to slice the frozen birds down the middle, reducing the amount of product you need to cook up in advance. Other ideas? Slicing center pork loins and whole salmon into “steaks” and packaging them in pairs or quads for individual meals.
- Expand your use of the ice cube tray savings strategy. I covered the overall strategy in a separate article a while back.While it is certainly powerful to use this strategy in an over the fridge apartment style freezer, having a larger appliance will really allow you to expand the technique for even greater savings. For example, I’ve been freezing lots of pumpkin puree in cubes to use for homemade pumpkin vinaigrette and pumpkin lattes. (Can you say YUM?) Another thing I’ve tried recently is making up a medium to large batch of pizza sauce (tomato puree and Italian seasoning) and freezing it in cubes. Since there are only two tablespoons per cube, you can use this to adjust the sauce use for anything from English muffin pizzas to a full blown pizza party. Those of you who dug Linsey Knerl’s rockin’ post on gourmet pizza will be able to really get a jump on prep work with this strategy for sure. And with all of her tasty topping suggestions, you’ll be living super large. Love making your own baby food? You can get a several months jump on the process with the extra freezer space.
- Assembly cooking. The idea of implementing this strategy at a brick and mortar store was a popular item of discussion after Sarah’s popular piece on grocery shopping strategies. The purchase of a larger freezer provides an opportunity to expand the use of such service centers, or to implement your own assembly cooking program at home for even greater savings. (I’m working on an entirely separate intro post to this concept. Look for it in the coming months.)
- High end restaurant knock offs and DIY convenience foods. This is basically assembly cooking with a little more attitude. In my opinion, it’s one of the most enjoyable ways to enjoy cooking with your freezer. There are loads of menu items out there from your favorite restaurants and grocery stores, many of them requiring a technique called flash freezing and the availability of at least one extra freezer shelf. (Again more on this in the upcoming article.) Some things you can make ahead? Chicken drummies, crab rangoons, mozzarella sticks, eggplant Parmesan, Planet Hollywood chicken crunch, and more. We occasionally do an at home appetizer night with movies, particularly when we are pinching pennies on the date budget and certainly now when it’s so bloody far to anything date related anyway.
- Holidays and hospitality on the fly. This was covered somewhat in the Once a Month Cooking for the Bar article as well as the potato ideas piece, but it also includes being ready with such things as homemade frozen cookie dough, pie crust, special event dessert items made ahead, holiday casseroles and more. This is great for unexpected guests who fly into town and want to get together. Having a ready supply of easily thawed or baked items for company ensures you can pull off an evening of relaxed conversation without having to spend money you don’t have to go out to a restaurant. For holidays, there always seems to be last minute craziness, so having some of the more labor intensive items prepared in advance is always a butt-saver.
- Containers to the rescue. This category is actually a double, because it involves simple strategies for portion control as well as a way to flexibly streamline the use of leftovers into your menus. Bulk bags of shredded cheese from the warehouse stores get blown through in a hurry if left open in the main fridge. Breaking the stash down into pint sized packages and pulling out for a specific dinner menu keeps things under control. It also gives you some major flexibility after you bake off some of those larger portions of sale meats mentioned above. If you don’t have time to do a major assembly cooking session the morning after a huge ham dinner, no worries. Just bag it up in either pint or quart sized containers, label and date it, and store it in the freezer. Then when you want to do a quick soup, casserole or pizza, you just need to grab and thaw the precooked and chopped protein item. For those of you that have been following this blog, you’ll remember the idea lists I did in the very beginning. There’s one for beef, one for tofu, a hints list for sale ham, and a selection of ideas for bargain chicken legs as well. Another area the container principle comes in handy for is lunches, particularly the school and work “pack in advance” variety. Several of the suggestions in the How to Brown Bag it in Style article are easily applied on a much larger scale with the purchase of a freezer.
Even with the above list and strategy suggestions, you may still be asking yourself if purchasing a freezer is actually worth it. Perhaps an R.O.I. analysis will help. In addition to the power shopping suggestions , I think Philip Brewer’s recent tax free investment piece on bulk buying also comes into play here. Let’s do a simple breakdown. While we paid around three hundred for the newer chest freezer here at the cottage that’s also more energy efficient, I think the old clunker I got at the Tucson Restore provides an even quicker ROI analysis. While the newer one that’s not in storage came with an energy guide attached with an estimated annual cost, the older upright did not. However, when we unplugged and cleaned it out for moving, I noticed an immediate twenty dollar a month drop in our electric bill. In fairness to our loyal upright energy monster, the only place we had to keep it in Arizona was in the non air conditioned garage, which may have had something to do with it. It only cost us fifty bucks to buy , had a great seal, and ran ice cold.
Even with the fairly high energy cost, the first month we had this freezer it cost us 70 bucks (fifty for purchase plus twenty in electricity). Every month after that, the cost of operation was roughly twenty USD. Also in the first month of having this freezer, one of the local grocery stores over purchased a boatload of chicken breast. Normally at least three dollars a pound, they had it marked down to fifty cents a pound in order to unload it before it spoiled. I promptly hopped in the Clampet-mobile I was driving at the time and hit the road . . . to return with over a hundred pounds of the stuff that I broke down into manageable portion sizes and froze. On an even hundred pounds, that’s a two hundred and fifty dollar savings. OK, it’s slightly less when you factor in gas, but clearly I got my money back in less than four weeks.
I realize this particular sale was outside of the norm. But there are others out there that can easily get you rolling in a hurry. And for sure, the average person can save more than the monthly energy costs and a month’s share of the up front cost of purchase every four weeks. It isn’t difficult. I promise. Some of the smaller chest freezers out there don’t take up any more room than a dishwasher, so even apartment and small space dwellers can participate if they want.
Now that we’ve covered the fact that you can recover your investment quickly and continue to enjoy accrued savings, let’s talk about other areas where a freezer might be worth it. A few that come to mind were already covered in depth in the bulk buying article, so I won’t rehash the details here. Suffice it say that household harmony, emergency savings extension and life hacking flexibility are things I consider worth it, particularly this far away from standard shopping options.
There you have it, my take on freezer savings. As usual, I welcome yours.