Save Enough on Meat to Buy a Chest Freezer
I've been thinking a lot this year about where my family's meat comes from and how to fit more natural and less cruelly raised meat into our $80-a-week grocery budget. I knew a bulk beef purchase could solve these problems, but I was reluctant about investing in a bulk freezer and spending hundreds of dollars on meat upfront.
Then by chance I was connected with a farmer who I absolutely loved, who genuinely cares for the cattle he raises and doesn't use hormones or prophylactic antibiotics, who grazes them and also gives them pesticide-free corn he grows himself. We took the plunge, bought the freezer and now we've got a year's worth of meat in our basement.
We paid $422 for half a side of beef and $350 for the chest freezer (on sale at Sears). It seemed like a lot to pay up front, but once I crunched the numbers, I realized that I saved enough on the meat to pay for the freezer!
Here's how the math worked for us:
The half side of beef was 158 pounds hanging weight. That translates to about 134 pounds of meat, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. So we paid about $3.15 a pound, and that includes delivery and the "cutting fee."
Before this, I was paying about $6 a pound for hormone-free, antibiotic-free ground beef. Yes, I would occasionally get some at a lower sale price at Super Target, but I preferred to buy directly from the farmer so I could make sure that cattle were being allowed to graze instead of living on a crowded feed lot. At my farmer's market that meant $6 a pound.
So assuming my entire "quarter cow" was ground beef, I'd have saved $2.85 a pound, or a total of $381. In reality, of course, my freezer now holds several T-bones and porterhouse steaks as well as roasts and plenty of sirloin in addition to ground beef.
But that $381 savings paid for my freezer. It doesn't pay for the electricity to run the Energy Star freezer, however. I'm not really sure what that will cost and won't know until I get my first power bill since turning it on. I'm hopeful, though, that the additional savings when you figure in the many cuts of meat I got will far outweigh the electricity costs.
Since I have an $80 a week limit on buying food for my family, I'm putting aside money each week until that $422 is accounted for. If I save $20 a week it will be "paid for" in 20 weeks. Since I have a large stockpile of nonperishable groceries in the house and of course don't have to buy meat at all, I'm hopeful that I can put aside more than $20 a week and pay the money back to my savings account within a couple of months.
Besides the cost savings, the big advantage of making a bulk meat purchase is not having to worry about what meat to buy week after week. The decision is made, and it's a decision I feel great about.
There are disadvantages to a bulk purchase like this as well, of course: The monthly electricity cost, the risk of losing the investment in a power outage or equipment breakdown, and the risk of the meat losing its quality before it all gets consumed. (The USDA advises that most cuts can be frozen "4 to 12 months" without losing quality, but ground beef only 3 months. So I guess we better eat up that ground beef first.) Then there's the fact that we had to buy over 100 pounds of meat (we split the side with my parents) which translates to more than two pounds a wee, more than we would have normally eaten.
But the advantages far outweigh those disadvantages for me. I think a lot of others would also benefit from doing this! In fact, I'm now looking into splitting a pig with my parents to feed that freezer even more.
If you, too, are ready to take the plunge and put a side of beef (or a half side) in your basement, here are some resources:
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