Cut your food costs with a stand-alone freezer

Kris and I recently bought another side of beef. Well, to be more accurate, we purchased one third of a cow. Every year, we go in with several other families to split an animal. This year, our portion of the purchase comprised:

  • 46 pounds of lean hamburger (in 24 packs)
  • 36-1/8 pounds of roasts (in 10 packs)
  • 31-1/4 pounds of steak (in 20 packs)

We also received 2-1/4 pounds of beef tongue that we're giving to the guys at the box factory. José and Jesus tell me that lengua is delicious, but I'm not willing to prepare it myself. (If they want to make something for me, I'll eat it.)

We received a total of 115-5/8 pounds of beef for $425, which is an average cost of $3.66 per pound. (In December 2006, we paid $300 for 83 pounds of beef, for an average of $3.61 per pound. In November 2007, we paid $277 for 81 pounds of beef, an average of $3.42 per pound.)

The problem is, Kris and I can't eat this much beef. We love it (sorry, vegetarians), and we think we're getting a great deal at this price, but we're not willing to prepare beef more than once a week. This year, we recruited help. We found two other families to split our share. They each gave us $100, and we gave them one-quarter of our load.

This still leaves us with a lot of meat. Fortunately, we have a 20-year-old upright freezer, which we picked up for free from one of Kris' co-workers. This freezer is a godsend. We use it to store our beef, and plenty of other food besides. But whenever I mention the freezer, I get comments asking me how cost-effective it really is. That's a great question. I finally found time to answer it.

Using my Kill-a-Watt electricity meter, I took four readings of the freezer's power consumption.

  • After 47 hours, the freezer had consumed 3.13 kilowatt-hours of electricity (for an average use of 67 watts).
  • After 70.5 hours, it had used 4.73 kWh (67 watts).
  • After 116 hours, it had used 8.07 kWh (70 watts).
  • After 154 hours, it had used 10.69 kWh (69 watts).

For ease of calculation, let's say that our freezer seems to be using an average of 70 watts, or about 1.68 kilowatt-hours per day. That's 613.2 kilowatt-hours per year. Because our electricity costs us 12 cents per kilowatt hour, that's a total cost of just over 20 cents per day. It costs us about $75 a year to run the upright freezer. A newer, more efficient model would no doubt cost even less to operate.

“How do you feel about that cost?” I asked Kris once we'd computed the numbers. “Do you think it's worth it?”

“Totally,” she said. “And here's why. Having the freezer gives us flexibility because it lets us stock up on things when prices are good, instead of just when we run out. If I see that butter is on sale, I can stock up.”

“That's not all,” she said. “Because of the freezer, we're able to buy a lot of things in bulk, which brings the cost per unit down. Like those Costco bags of shredded cheese that I use in soups, quesadillas, tacos and other stuff. I just divide it up into reasonable portions and stick it in the freezer.”

“Yeah,” I said. “And I guess I'm able to buy several boxes of my favorite Trader Joe's items which means we don't have to make extra trips, which would require more gas and more time shopping.”

“Right,” said Kris. “Finally, don't forget the most important reason for having a freezer. It lets me preserve a lot of food from our garden. We've been using frozen jam, berries, and pasta sauce all winter. I've already added a batch of strawberry jam and twelve cups of frozen berries from this month's berry crop.” I licked my lips at the thought of fresh strawberry jam as Kris continued: “I've never run the numbers, but I don't have to. I'm certain the freezer saves us more than a $6 per month.

For more info about the cost-effectiveness of a stand-alone freezer, check out:

  • Consumer Reports Home and Garden blog: As food prices rise, consider a stand-alone freezer
  • St. Petersburg Times: How to buy a stand-alone freezer

This is the first time I've really used the Kill-a-Watt to help evaluate my financial choices. For my next experiment, I'm going to measure how much electricity Kris' computer and monitor use. How much energy (and money) could we save by turning these off when they're not in use?

Edit: Holy cats. I cannot believe I typoed “freezer” as “feezer” in the title and left it live for eight hours. How mortifying. Please take away my license to blog!

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Wimsey
Wimsey
11 years ago

JD, there is no such thing as a kW/hr. A Watt is already defined as 1 Joule per second, so the time component is already “built in”.

Terrin
Terrin
11 years ago

I see a freezer being a cost benefit for many things for the reasons you state. For instance, berries that are only in season a few months of the year. That usually is when the berries are cheapest. Plus they are usually local then. However, with the possible exception of the steak, I am unconvinced that you are saving any or much money on your bulk beef purchase. First, as you point out the freezer costs money to operate. Second, roast and ground beef often costs less a pound then what your average is. For example, I just bought three… Read more »

bentley
bentley
11 years ago

I’m no good at estimating. What size freezer is that?

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@Wimsey (#1)
Thank you for the clarification. I’m always nervous when writing about electricity (and cars) because I don’t know much about it. I’ll fix the text in the main entry.

Update: I’ve fixed it (changed just to watts). Please let me know if things are still messed up. Of course, I’m about ready to leave for six hours, so any edits won’t get made until mid-day. I should have had somebody who knows this stuff proof my post! 🙂

deb
deb
11 years ago

Why haven’t I every used our Kill-o-watt on our freezer? Duh, we got it (a 14 cubic foot chest style) last fall. The thing hardly runs at all, it’s wonderful. Another way it saves money is that the fewer times you step foot in the store, the fewer impulse items you’ll buy. I’ve been putting up jam and berries too, both canned and frozen. Yum. I will be looking into preserving lots of green beans and more later this season, if everything goes right. Terrin, where do you shop? I never see grass fed beef at the grocer. Ok, I’ve… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@Bentley (#3)
I don’t know how many cubic feet that freezer holds, but it’s about the same size as our refrigerator. I know there’s some variation among fridges and freezers, but it’s on the order of “average upright” size. Does that make sense?

Ellen K.
Ellen K.
11 years ago

We have an upright stand-alone freezer, which we purchased when I was pregnant with twins so that we could stock up on homemade and prepared meals. It’s a Frigidaire 13.7 cubic-foot model with automatic defrost. It has been a wonderful purchase and convenience, allowing me to take advantage of sales. I believe that chest freezers are considered more energy efficient; personally I like the visibility and organization of an upright model. It’s certainly worth the $66/year estimated operating cost (per the federal tag, similar models range from $60 to $70/yr).

bentley
bentley
11 years ago

Thanks, J.D. That helps.

Eden
Eden
11 years ago

I’ve come close to buying a stand-alone freezer many times. Assuming I could find one even more energy efficient, it looks like it would easily pay for itself.

frugalscholar
frugalscholar
11 years ago

I’ve never had a freezer, not when we had two kids at home, and not now. I find I save far more money stocking up on canned items, which I can store for free.

Also, the freezer section of my fridge stores a lot. Thankfully, we are using up the last of our frozen garden ratatouille. We have been eating eggplant concoctions all winter, and even given some away. We just found some Thanksgiving leftovers in there!

Frozen food deteriorates also.

Trace Moriarty
Trace Moriarty
11 years ago

First comment! And I’m sorry it’s to point out a typo in the headline. Freezer is missing the first r.

Loved the article, and have passed along the link, however.

Trace

Steve
Steve
11 years ago

What if you have an extended power outage? There is some small risk that you could lose the value of the food stored in there.

You could mitigate by going to buy bags of ice if the power goes out for too long and throwing them in there.

Simpler Living
Simpler Living
11 years ago

Hi: You don’t have to post this, but I just wanted to point out that “freezer” is misspelled in your headline. Although it did make me laugh; I was wondering if a feezer was anything like the Lorax’s thneed.

My mother loves her extra freezer, by the way.

Cheers,
Naomi (simplicity blogger and copy editor)

Moneyblogga
Moneyblogga
11 years ago

I can see the benefit of buying a freezer and paying operating costs when it is being used to store sides of beef and abundant produce. However, I personally found the following to be true: 1. My family doesn’t eat red meat and haven’t for years. 2. The upright freezer we were gifted was old, grossly inefficient and a real money drain. Our electric bill shot up with that thing in the house. I left it behind when I sold the house because the expense of owning it was pointless. 3. We don’t work a vegetable garden (yet) but this… Read more »

Joe M
Joe M
11 years ago

JD, what happens if you lose power unexpectedly in a storm or the 20 year old freezer’s compressor goes bad and you don’t catch it right away?

Frugal Bachelor
Frugal Bachelor
11 years ago

You can cut food costs even further by eliminating consumption of food which requires refrigeration, a luxury which most of our brothers and sisters who we share the planet with do not have (and who also spend less on food than we do!). In the event that you slaughter an animal for food, you must eat it quickly – a feast for the whole town.

Tyler @ Frugally Green
Tyler @ Frugally Green
11 years ago

Those Kill-a-watt meters are pretty cool aren’t they? My roommate recently got one from work and I’m planning to figure out how much I can save by not using my dryer for the rest of the summer and just air drying.

Jim_W
Jim_W
11 years ago

Our Kenmore freezer doc’s came touting a benefit they called time banking. It was all about home-cooking Costco sized portions and freezing bags, or tupperware of practical sized portions to get the economies of scale of a big batch of whatever. So their message was that their freezer saves time and money, like you’d be crazy to not get one one. We have no regrets. Our teenagers turn their noses up to fridge left overs that have already been gnawed on, but don’t think the same about thawing some chili, caserole, or lasagna. I’m thinking our benefit is much better… Read more »

Joey
Joey
11 years ago

I’ve got a regular fridge+freezer, but I never store anything in the freezer portion.

My electric bill is always between $18 and $20/month, though it will probably be a couple of dollars higher this month, since I bought a box fan.

However, the slight increase will be offset several times over by my lack of AC use, which drives the gas bill up.

I also agree with Steve #10; I’d be wary of storing so much food that could go bad in hours with a power outage.

Andrew
Andrew
11 years ago

This post is particularly timely: We are expecting a quarter cow next week and are now faced with needing a freezer for it. We will certainly use the extra space since we have already frozen 4 gallons of strawberries from the garden with no end in sight. Also, thanks for the tip on freezing them individually before bagging them!

The pear tree is shaping up to bury us in fruit as well. I guess it’s time to learn to jam.

Jessie
Jessie
11 years ago

Just a note to those who have freezers but arn’t using them.

If you are going to have a freezer – be it fridge or stand alone – you ought to USE it. The fewer items in it, the harder it has to work. So if you have a freezer attached to your fridge, you should put even a few bags of ice in there. Having frozen things, in your freezer means it won’t have to work as hard and therefore won’t use as much energy.

seawallrunner
seawallrunner
11 years ago

You might want to check with your utility company for tips and guides to reduce energy usage. In British Columbia BC Hydro Tips and Guides provides a handy reference for easy behavioral tips to reduce electricity usage.

Look at Resources for more resources about purchasing or changing behavior.

For anyone thinking of buying a little freezer for the basement to leverage Costco/farmer sales, buy an Energy Smart appliance. Don’t hose your savings with an energy-inefficient product

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
11 years ago

There is no such thing as a killowatt/hour, but there *is* such a thing as a killowatt-hour (it’s not a division operation, it’s multiplication). Here’s the relevant wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watt-hour I must be the person with the lowest electricity bill in the US. My regular electricity usage is generally between $5 and $20 per month. I don’t try to make it any lower, even if I could cut it in half (I can’t, I don’t use that much electricity) I’d still only be saving about $5-10/month. You know what else allows you to save money besides a freezer? Having money… Read more »

Erica Douglass
Erica Douglass
11 years ago

Hi J.D., Regarding turning off your computers; this tip is for Windows machines: Instead of going through the hassle of shutting the computer down and therefore losing where you were, consider either S3 standby or Hibernate. Most PCs default to S1 standby, which is not very useful or power-saving. Change the standby mode in your BIOS to S3, then use it. Your computer will use less than 5 watts in this mode. Here’s an article explaining how to do this: http://www.shahine.com/omar/StandbyExplainedS1S3.aspx I do standby whenever I plan to be gone for more than an hour. If your computer is older… Read more »

Beth
Beth
11 years ago

Wow… This really puts things in perspective! The only thing holding me back from getting a freezer is my archaic lease which says I can only get a small chest freezer. The kicker is that I’d have to pay an additional $18 a month!

Our utilities are included in our rent — but I’m trying to imagine the freezer that warrants that kind of payment.

Linear Girl
Linear Girl
11 years ago

We also buy whole lambs and sides of beef and store it ourselves in a small stand-up freezer. Cost per pound varies between $3.50 and $8 per pound. Our electricity usage has not increased at all since we plugged in the freezer last year. I know I can get cheaper meat, but I’m buying to support my values. I know the ranchers/farmers, I know how they treat the animals, I know the land used for ranching here isn’t usurping any other food production, the money I spend stays in my community and the quality and taste of the meat is… Read more »

Charlie@PayLessForFood
11 years ago

Many people are saving money with these freezers by using them to store meals made ahead of time. When you get home late after a long hectic day and the family is hungry its tempting to serve expensive store bought frozen dinners or pick up the phone to order expensive take out. Instead you can save money by creating meals ahead of time and freezing them for use when you need a quick meal. Typically for any given meal you’d cook twice the portion needed. Serve one to the family and then freeze the second portion for later use when… Read more »

Lesley
Lesley
11 years ago

About spoilage: in the event of a power outage, if you wrap your freezer in blankets and DO NOT, under any circumstances, open it, the contents will remain frozen for a few days even in the summer heat, longer if it is winter and you do not heat the space containing the freezer. If you have a power outage longer than that, things will begin to thaw. I speak from experience, having been through a multi-day power outage some years back. I’ve had to go the last couple years with no freezer, sadly. We started a basement renovation back then… Read more »

Jason
Jason
11 years ago

We picked up a used upright freezer from a co-worker who didn’t need it anymore. It’s great. We’ve started doing a lot of prepare-ahead stuff and freezing it. Chicken with fajita marinade, and a lot of recipes from the “Fix, Freeze, Feast” cookbook, which is made up to take advantage of warehouse club size purchases. It’s definitely saved us a lot of money when we could buy stuff in bulk when the supermarket put it on sale for ridiculous prices. We’ve also looked into getting grass-fed beef, too, but haven’t done that yet. When it’s not full, we put used… Read more »

Confusador
Confusador
11 years ago

After I got out of school, a freezer was the first thing I knew I needed. Without it I have to rely on (relatively) expensive canned goods, with it I can make my own and freeze. I agree with Kris, I don’t have to question whether it’s cost effective. What I have wondered is how much savings I might have gotten if I’d spent more to get a new, more energy efficient model (especially complicated by the fact that I would have had to save longer). I think just having the freezer results in enough savings that the difference is… Read more »

Jim @ ChangeJarSavings.com
Jim @ ChangeJarSavings.com
11 years ago

JD. and others –

If you have a freezer make sure the temperature is set right. For that matter most people should check their refrigerator too. You can find the correct temperature ranges at my site http://changejarsavings.com/?p=48

If your freezer is set 10 degrees too cold could increase your electric bill by 25%.

Sarah
Sarah
11 years ago

I have a freezer in my laundry room and make big batches of home cooking and freeze in containers for quick needed meal days instead of eating out. Its also the time of year almost where Walla Walla Onions come in so I buy about 40 pounds at Costco and chop them up and freeze them as they are the BEST onions to use in cooking all year long! My refrigerator is ALL refrigerator and I love it as more room for milk and yogurts and things are up high. That was the smartest appliance we bought.

allen
allen
11 years ago

Articles like this really make me wish i could afford to live in a house, instead of my tiny condo, so i could have space for a freezer. As it is, given the size of my storage space(s), I can’t really buy much of anything at bulk. *shakes fist*

Also: in relation to “hibernation” for computers: In windows, at least, i have found that it is 100% useless. I have NEVER had a computer that has gone into hibernation that hasn’t had to been completely restarted in order for it to be of use.

hustler
hustler
11 years ago

This takes me back to my childhood. I grew up on a farm and every year my parents took a steer to the butcher and my grandparents took a hog. They split everything up so we all had plenty of beef and pork. I remember a freezer full of meat wrapped in that white butcher paper.

Paul @ FiscalGeek
Paul @ FiscalGeek
11 years ago

Last week I used a kill-a-watt around my house including our free stand alone freezer we got from our friends. The Gibson uses $14.72 of juice a month, ouch!. I included how you can do some calculations etc but watch out for those power saver modes. For instance our wireless printer burned 1 watt less on standby then full on. Sometimes you are way better off just unplugging or putting them on a surge strip and turning them off at night.

Kate
Kate
11 years ago

We used to use an old upright freezer, too. We got it for free and it was great to have, until I figured out that it was bumping up our electric bill by $20-$25/month. (We live in New Hampshire, and our electricity is some of the most expensive in the country.) We got rid of it last year and bought a small, almost new chest freezer off Craigslist, and I am so glad we spent the money. Think tons of pesto made from basil we grow in our yard! Think frozen raspberries picked in our own yard! And now it’s… Read more »

Tasha
Tasha
11 years ago

We got a chest freezer last year, an energy efficient model. We bought 1/2 side of grass fed beef, which we are still working on (just two of us), had 10 grass raised meat chickens (10 more coming) which are 3 meals each, and stored summer berries to last through the winter. It has definitely been worth it to get food from local sources, support well raised animals, and to have fruit regardless of the season. We also save multi portion meals in the freezer. We did lose power for 3 days in a big ice storm out here, but… Read more »

Dwight
Dwight
11 years ago

Any energy that you use eventually ends up as heat. That’s a good thing in a cooler climate. Wasted energy isn’t totally wasted because it contributes towards keeping you house warm.

The opposite is true in an air-conditioned house. Every watt you use costs 3-5 watts because your air conditioner works harder to cool the house after your refrigerator heats it.

TosaJen
TosaJen
11 years ago

We’ve had a standalone freezer since we got married, to store cheap meat, convenience frozen foods on sale, and bulk homemade foods like bread, chili, and soup. We hope to do a bit of produce freezing this summer as well, but we have to see how the gardening goes. We had a small chest freezer in the garage of our little California house, which we thought was worthwhile, but which we tended to lose/forget things in. We love our upright freezer. I think it’s bigger than our fridge, and we can see almost everything at a glance. Well worth the… Read more »

Money Dieter
Money Dieter
11 years ago

My family does the same thing. I am like you and don’t really want to eat beef more than once or twice a week plus I live in a small apartment and hardly have room for my regular groceries.

Karen
Karen
11 years ago

I bought an upright freezer when I had twins, thinking it would be a time and money -saver. It wasn’t, so I got rid of it. Main issues: 1) Power outages are common in my part of the country–what a mess! (And what a smell! Especially the rotten salmon fillet!) 2) You have to have a really large family for this to make sense. We already have a large freezer compartment on our fridge–and it has plenty of room for the small amount of ice cream and chicken and microwave dinners–the frozen things that we actually eat now and then.… Read more »

John
John
11 years ago

@Wimsey & JD

THe Kw/h unit of measure does exist and is used by your power company to calculate the amount of power you have used over a period of time.

Alan
Alan
11 years ago

No need to apologize to the vegetarians among us, but even if you disregard the benefits to your own health, animals and the environment, a well-planned plant-based diet is way cheaper than eating meat. Plant protein (unless you’re talking about expensive meat analogs) costs way less than $3 and change a pound…

chromacosmic
chromacosmic
11 years ago

I save money with my freezer, by not wasting food. That 3/4 can of tomato paste I opened for a recipe calling for 2 tablespoons, that big bunch of parsley that was a great deal, but I will likely never use up before it goes bad, or that pack of ground turkey I bought at the thrift hour at my market and then get an invite out to dinner, so now I’m not going to cook it that day, all into the freezer. I am in the market for a new fridge and found this government site originally linked from… Read more »

chromacosmic
chromacosmic
11 years ago

I save money with my freezer, by not wasting food. That 3/4 can of tomato paste I opened for a recipe calling for 2 tablespoons, that big bunch of parsley that was a great deal, but I will likely never use up before it goes bad, or that pack of ground turkey I bought at the thrift hour at my market and then get an invite out to dinner, so now I’m not going to cook it that day, all into the freezer. I am in the market for a new fridge and found this government site originally linked from… Read more »

Jankoa
Jankoa
11 years ago

A kilowatt hour DOES exist. The following information is taken from wikipedia: The kilowatt hour, also written kilowatt-hour (symbol kW·h, kW h or kWh) is a unit of energy equal to 3.6 megajoules. Energy delivered by electric utilities is usually expressed and charged for in kilowatt hours. Energy in kilowatt hours is the product of power in kilowatts and time in hours; it is not “kilowatts per hour”. The SI (International System of Units) unit of energy is the joule (J), equal to one watt second (one watt is equal to one joule per second); one kilowatt hour is exactly… Read more »

Wimsey
Wimsey
11 years ago

@John ESI Money (#42)
Please note the difference between kW*hr and kW/hr. The devil is in the details I guess. The former measures the amount of power consumed and the latter doesn’t make much sense in this context.
@JD Not that the meaning wasn’t clear from the beginning. My engineering background just makes me a little picky when it comes to these things. I doubt that the cow in the freezer will care as much as I do.

Peggy
Peggy
11 years ago

Back about three years ago we had a free upright freezer. It was amazing. We had no freezer burn (it wasn’t self-defrosting, the process that dries food out) and learned to properly wrap food in several layers. The best part was that I stored “bulk” purchases in the garage, which freed up my kitchen freezer for individually-sized frozen leftover servings. We threw out far less food in those days. Sadly, the freezer didn’t survive the cross-country move and we haven’t had funds to replace it since.

Alison Wiley
Alison Wiley
11 years ago

I’ve got to say that I’m with Kris on the value of freezing our homegrown fruits and vegetables for tasty, low-cost winter nutrition. But I’m not with you on meat consumption, especially not in the quantities you’re describing. Meat is expensive — to our bank accounts, our cholesterol levels, the climate, and the world’s dwindling water supplies (it takes more than 4,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef).

If you don’t have a large freezer and you want a cheap, tasty dinner for $1.56/person (and still have leftovers for lunches) give this a try: http://www.diamondcutlife.org/my-cheapest-tastiest-healthiest-dinner-menu/

Chamoiswillow
Chamoiswillow
11 years ago

JD, There are power strips that include an occupancy sensor. There are two always-powered outlets on the strip, for the CPU and a clock, for example, and all the other peripherals plug into the monitored outlets. When you leave your computer, the peripherals are shut down by the occupancy sensor sensing that you are gone, and they power back up on your return. They cost about $80 dollars. Perhaps one of these would work for you to save electricity with your computer automatically, with no thought or behavior changes required after inital set-up.

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