Can a deep freezer save you money on meals?

This is the first in a two-part series on how you can use a deep freezer to help with meal planning.

Eating nutritious food is essential for my health. If I eat more than two high-fat, low nutrition meals in a week it takes longer for me to heal after injury and my energy level plummets. For most of us, more than two high-fat, low nutrition meals in a week also adds unwanted pounds and can mess with our hearts and arteries. The easiest way I’ve found to keep on track with healthy eating is to have the majority of my meals at home where I can control the ingredients.

On Unclutterer, we’ve written in the past about how to make eating at home easier with meal planning techniques. The process allows you to plan for healthy meals, create a simple shopping list, and avoid the stressful “what’s for dinner” moment in front of the open refrigerator.

Since our meal planning article initially ran, I’ve received dozens of e-mails asking if my husband and I use a deep freezer in addition to the refrigerator/freezer we have in our kitchen. We currently don’t have one, but it is something we discuss a couple times a month. (What? You don’t have such sexy conversations with your partner/roommate/friends/spouse?) One of the questions we’ve been trying to answer is if the expense of the deep freezer plus the cost of the electrical energy to run it is less than the amount we spend buying in smaller portions and driving more frequently to our butcher and local market.

Then, a PR guy from Frigidaire sent me a press release, and instantly I could ask someone all of my weird deep freezer questions. (I am certain this guy thinks I am one of the strangest contacts he’s ever made.)

So, to start off our brief series on using deep freezers for meal planning, I want to address my initial question of cost. Is it financially prudent to own and use a deep freezer?

Sticker shock?

The commonly purchased model Frigidaire deep freezer is around $850. This model is an upright freezer — and upright freezers cost considerably more than chest freezers. If my husband and I were to buy one, we would go for a small chest freezer (under 10 cu. ft.), which has an MSRP of less than $250. (Amazon lists the freezer for $209.)

After going to the Energy Star website, I plugged in the numbers for a chest freezer under 16 cu. ft. manufactured after 2001 and discovered that it costs just under $50 a year to power the model my husband and I have been discussing. (I entered in the data as if I wanted to get rid of my current deep freezer.)

Looking at the average $850 upright unit I mentioned previously, it costs around $85 a year to power.

A small chest freezer may be a decent purchase for us. The first year, the price of the freezer is less than a dollar a day, and, in the years after the initial purchase, the price falls to less than 14 cents a day. Not yet considering food savings, the convenience gained is probably worth 14 cents a day.

The more common, upright, $850 freezer is a little more than $2.50 a day the first year, and 24 cents a day in subsequent years. I would have a much more difficult time justifying the expense of this larger freezer solely based on convenience. But, if I had kids and more mouths to feed, then its price tag would even be reasonable.

The cost of food

To get a good comparison of food prices in bulk versus smaller portions, I want to look at the price of beef. I know not everyone eats beef, but I had to pick something to compare and beef figures are easily obtained.

I purchase my beef from an organic butcher who gets the majority of his stock from regional farms. In his butcher shop, I can order half a cow twice a year (butchered and vacuum sealed into meal-size portions) or I can make weekly trips into his shop to buy cuts of beef as I need them. Half a cow roughly translates to about $3.50 per pound, and beef I buy on a weekly basis usually starts at $5 per pound (for roasts) and can be as much as $30 per pound for premium cuts. Without argument, it is cheaper to buy half a cow and freeze the bulk meat than it is to buy weekly.

Even if you don’t buy your meat from an organic butcher and pay grocery store prices, you’ll still spend more than $3.50 per pound for a cut of beef.

Final answer

Ultimately, the expense of a deep freezer plus the cost of the electrical energy to run it is less than the amount we’re currently wasting when we buy our food in smaller portions. My final answer is that it is financially prudent for us to purchase a deep freezer and buy in bulk.

72 Comments for “Can a deep freezer save you money on meals?”

  1. posted by Angel on

    Plan ahead. Buy smart. Drive less. Save gas.

  2. posted by midlife mommy on

    I’ve been thinking about getting a small chest freezer as well, though my husband would think it’s wasteful (not because of the costs to run it, but because he thinks that we have too many things that aren’t eaten fast enough anyway). My parents had a giant in their basement, and yes, they did buy a half a cow at a time.

  3. posted by OogieM on

    For us with a major winter season having a good stock of food in our house is critical. The concerns about loss of power are valid, but if you live in an area where that is common you should already have an alternate power supply for critical items, either generator and the fuel to run it or solar backups. For us in our area winter is when we are most likely to have power outages and winter if we don’t open the chest freezer much we can go for several days without power just fine. Uprights lose their cold each time you open the door, something to consider and why they are more expensive to run.

    As to eating fresh and local. Fresh isn’t possible in my area for about half the year except for meat, and I’d rather do local, which means either canning or freezing when stuff is in season. Canning takes a lot more energy compared to running a freezer for a year.

    Grocery shipping is a minimum of 10 miles away (20 round trip) , major shopping is 75 miles away.(150 mile round trip) It’s not going to happen to buy weekly for us ever.

    And besides, meat is better when you know where it was raised and ruminants should not be fed any grain. That means buying a grass finished animal when they are ready and that is usually once a year.

    We have an 18 cu ft chest freezer and we can fit half a cow, half a pig up to 2 deer and a years’ worth of chicken in it as well as a lot of veges. Freezer burn is not a problem if stuff is packaged properly and I know that a deep freeze kept at below zero will hold meat for over a year.

    For you vegetarians, in our area it is not sustainable to raise veges on our land. It is only suited to permanent grass pastures so we would not be good ecological stewards of our farm if we raise and eat only veges. Plus humans evolved as omnivores and I think it is wrong to feed any creature, including me, a diet that is not natural. Which is why my chickens are never vegetarian fed, they are true free ranged and eat all sorts of insects, worms as well as grains and legumes. My sheep never eat any meat products at all, and no grains either and I only buy pork from people who provide pasture as well as feed. Beef is all grass finished and of course the deer we hunt are also fed on browse and plants no meat by products.

    Part of decluttering is to reduce your total footprint for your lifestyle. That means not making unnecessary and excess trips in a car, buying locally raised products, eating what can be grown locally as much as possible. Having a big freezer is part of that for us.

  4. posted by Sue on

    Properly packaged, frozen IS fresh. I live in the MidWest, and the ideal situation of eating locally grown, seasonal and fresh produce is not possible 12 months out of the year. In December “fresh” strawberries have been picked green, shipped from a distance, and are hugely expensive. I can pick local berries in June, freeze them and enjoy them in December and value my money, nutrients, time and support local growers.

    Also, growing up in the Tornado and Blizzard Belt—I learned to be self-sufficent and stock a pantry and freezer (supported by a generator when necessary.)

  5. posted by Darren on

    Chest freezers are great, but don’t forget to include the cost of a freezer alarm or power-failure alarm. If the circuit from which the freezer draws power fails (and a dedicated circuit is a pretty good idea), you need some way to be notified so you can fix the problem and not lose a freezer full of food.

  6. posted by Melaniesd on

    We have a chest freezer and get tons of use from it.
    It allows me to buy bread, meat & frozen foods on sale. I often cook & bake in bulk so that I have items on hand as I need them. I also keep my flour in the freezer. It keeps it nice and fresh and I don’t have to worry about flour bugs; otherwise I would only be able to buy a small bag which is getting very expensive.

    After our province was hit with a hurricane 5 years ago, we invested in a small generator that will power a small refridgerator and the freezer to avoid spoilage should we have another long term power outage.

    Some people felt it was difficult to organize a freezer and to keep track of it’s contents. I use milk crates inside mine. They don’t stick to the freezer and it’s perfect for organizing. I keep one with meat, one with bread, one with frozen berries, one for baked goods etc. Just lift and view. Carbboard boes work well too. Just fold in the tops.

    **Thank you to those that posted the tips on using a dry erase board.

    OogieM – I’m going to try freezing my tomatoes whole – thanks!

    Sarah said: (line your casserole dish with tin foil while assembling, freeze, remove foil and food and rewrap without the dish. when you’re ready to cook it, pop it back in the same casserole dish and have at it!).
    Great tip! Thanks!

  7. posted by Ann on

    I’m sure it all depends on where you live. Here in FL, we dont keep our freezers full during hurricane season. Not even the freezer in the fridge. Our pantries are full! But not the freezer or fridge.

    We use the generator to run the Air Conditioning. Not the freezer. Not just cuz its HOT during H season. But you gotta keep the humidity out of your house. YUCK.

    Most everyone has an outdoor grill, so we can cook up the little bit of meat we have.

    Periodic power outages– Small price to pay for living in paradise.

  8. posted by Sue on

    I haven’t seen such polarity since the Great Pantyhose vs Bare Leg Debate! LOL!

    It might be interesting to see what factors play into views on Pro-freezer vs No-freezer.

    1. Do you live in an urban (apartment), suburban or rural area?
    2. How many people are in your household?
    3. What is the distance to your food store?
    4. Is there one person handling the food purchases, meal planning and preparation? Is that person also employed full time outside the home?

    Something is not clutter if you are utilizing it. If I were an apartment-dwelling single guy in an urban area, a freezer would likely be clutter.

    If you don’t have/need/want/use one, that does not negate the value to those of us who do.

  9. posted by OogieM on

    As firmly in the freezer owning camp I am currently very rural, 2 people, long distance to grocery stores, 1 person primarily responsible for meal preparation and planning but also raise most of our own food and need to preserve it from the growing/butchering season until we can eat it.

    FWIW though I’ve had a big chest freezer even when in a small 2 bedroom apartment in a major city. Once you get used to using one you never want to go back to buying stuff from unknown people. Even when I lived in the city I’d contract for most of my meat from farmers where I could be sure how it was raised. Buying vegetables from a farmers market in season and preserving some for later is also much better than buying unknown imported junk from halfway across the world.

  10. posted by Christina on

    I think a chest freezer is a great purchase! I save a lot of money by buying meat, frozen vegetables and bread when it is on sale and freezing it.

    A chest freezer is much more efficient than an upright, and if the power should go out, a full chest freezer will stay colder longer than an upright.

  11. posted by Karyn on

    And if you have a power outage that lasts for several days (as we in Ohio have just had–some are still without power a week later)? You either have to get a generator to run it to save all that food, or watch it defrost and go bad.

    We have neighbors who have those big freezers…and that’s exactly what happened to them. My elderly neighbor has THREE freezers full of food, and ran a generator day and night to keep the food good…and she still lost a lot when the gas ran out or she didn’t run it at night.

    Canned food is the best, most economical food to stash away. If you can your own food, it’s even better. Canned food can be eaten, in many cases, without heating–not so with frozen food.

    While frozen food seems a great investment while the power is running and up, think about “what if”. I’m glad my husband dislikes having a freezer stocked with sale items–we ate much better during the outage than most people, and lost a lot less money!

  12. posted by Staci Mikelle on

    I thought we were the only couple who discussed getting a freezer often. Thanks for the tips…and adding up the cost!

  13. posted by Colleen on

    In calculating the cost savings of purchasing a freezer, I think that part of the cost savings that should be considered is the probable reduction in eating out. I have a small, energy star, compact deep freezer for my family of 5. I try to double meals and freeze them. On a busy night, if I can find “something” easy in the freezer, I’ve saved money on last minute take-out or eating out.

    The small sized freeer is perfect for us so that we use things before the frost takes over!

  14. posted by ellis on

    okay… so i just got my freezer chest on freecycle. what do i do next?

  15. posted by Amanda on

    About 5 years ago, my husband (then boyfriend) and I bought an upright $850 freezer. It’s just the two of us, but handsdown, the best investment in our home we could have made. We buy split sides of beef from a local organic ranch and my husband freezes what he hunts (deer mostly). Recently, when our fridge in our kitchen broke the ice maker, we were able to move and store all the contents of the freezer no problem – still lots of space leftover. The change to our electricity bill was even less than what you projected. Our 10 year old fridge in the kitchen burns waaayyyyyyy more energy! Good luck on your new investment and thanks for a good article analyzing your decision making process!

  16. posted by Laura on

    * Since I have been attempting to eat probiotic, enzyme rich, local, organic and sustainable food, I have been using the freezer more and more.
    The Dairy that I buy my milk from is a 1/2 hour from the house, so I buy from 9 to 18 gallons of (raw, full fat, Jersey) milk every trip. I take off the cream as soon as I get home to make butter and ice cream, which leaves enough head room (in the gallon jugs) for expansion of the freezing milk. So, my freezer normally has milk, meat, vegetables, fruit, bread and cakes. Freezing desserts (potion size) has allowed us to lose weight, since we do not feel like we have to before it can go bad and allows us to have a variety, so that we do not pig out at any one time.
    * I love supporting natural foods for crops (and ranchers) which means natural fertilizer (from animals) – not that nasty petrochemical stuff. When you realize that a normal White Tail Deer “By 9-1/2; years, all cheek teeth are cupped and worn nearly to the gum line” and that a cow by 10 years may have no teeth left – that by harvesting you are supporting a breeding program that allows a healthy gene pool, healthy fertilizer for plants and a natural food for an omnivore that can not hibernate when the local foliage may be covered by ice or snow.
    * I loved canned items but canning does not have live probiotics and I believe that the enzymes are denatured.
    * A freezer saves gas, time in the store, impulse shopping and can help regulate portion size. It also reduces energy use of the stove and oven if you cook for the week or weeks ahead, by allowing you to cook on a day that the air conditioner is not working as hard and since you can cook several meals or breads at one time and then store in the freezer. (I love Sarah’s foil idea)
    * I have also used milk crates (like Melaniesd does) in the chest freezer and Avon type box tops to slide things in and out of the shelves in the upright freezer – to make sure that things are first in first out.
    ** A freezer unclutters my time and lowers my overall energy / gas usage, while allowing us to eat a diversified menu.

  17. posted by Chris on

    I’m single and a vegetarian and I LOVE my compact freezer, which I inherited from my father. If it ever went on the fritz, I’d run out and buy another one. On Sundays I cook huge pots of vegetarian soups and casseroles so I have indiviudal servings for week-day dinners and lunches. I even cook up big pots of Irish oatmeal and freeze individual servings (complete with dried fruit) to microwave for breakfast on busy mornings. Therefore my nutrition is much better and it saves me time by allowing me to cook big. Like others who have responded above, I buy fresh produce in season and freeze to “eat local” during the winter. I often freeze things (pesto, fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice) in ice cube trays so I can take out one or two cubes for individual servings. The freezer is down in my basement so it isn’t in the way. The only “clutter” I find associated with freezing is managing the plastic containers I use to freeze the food in. I tend to collect too many and have trouble figuring out how to store all my odd-sized plastic containers.

  18. posted by Thrifty Tip Of The Day - Can A Deep Freezer Save Money? | Ifè Oshun: Notes From A Thrifty WAHM on

    [...] I found this great article, which did most of the math for me, and another one which echoed my own lifestyle. And yes $230 for [...]

  19. posted by Christian K. on

    Reading an article about a guy who went off the grid & became totally self-sufficient, he talked about the merits of a chest freezer. He brought up a good point, and that’s the simple concept that hot air rises, and cool air drops. He stated that he believes chest freezers are more efficient because the cold air doesn’t come pouring out everytime you open it, like in an upright. He went on to convet a chest freezer into a fridge:

    http://mtbest.net/chest_fridge.html

  20. posted by Alan on

    When I was a kid, my grandmother had a farm and she would give us a cow for Christmas. Our freezer and the meat locker at the butcher’s were well-used, but not always appreciated by us. What’s for dinner Mom? Not steak! Again!

  21. posted by Beach on

    I would like to have a small freezer for my apartment, but I don’t know where I’d put it. But I think it would help me a lot in saving food for future use. Less waste.

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