When I teach couponing classes, I talk about how important it is to build up a stockpile of items you use regularly so you never need to pay full price for those items. Foods like tuna, pasta, and beans will keep for a very long time without spoiling. But what about foods you use regularly that do spoil such as meats, butter, cold cuts, and cheese? That’s where having a freezer is really important to building a “fresh foods” stockpile.
Using a freezer effectively also means wrapping the food effectively. One of the best accoutrements to a freezer is a Food Saver machine. These suck all the air out of whatever items you are freezing so they last longer. If you can’t afford one of these right now, you can always double wrap your food in zip top bags. (And you can reuse zip top bags as long as they don’t come in direct contact with food or you wash them out.) Just remember to squeeze as much air as possible out of the bags before placing food into the freezer. The more air frozen with your food, the more quickly items will get “freezer burnt” and go bad. I personally use a combination of both methods when I freeze food; it just depends on what I freeze.
Butter, for example, can just be frozen in zip top bags. It’s pretty well wrapped in its packaging to begin with and will last for months as is. By “double wrapping” it in a zip top bag, you ensure it will keep for MANY months in the freezer.
Deli meats and cheeses are another thing you can keep for a long time in the freezer when wrapped in zip top bags. When cold cuts and cheese go on sale, I buy them in bulk at the grocery store. I have the deli counter person wrap the meats into 1/2 pound packages and store several packages in zip top bags labeled by meat and cheese type. When we run out of deli meat or cheese, I just grab one of the frozen packages from a zip top bag and let it thaw in the refrigerator. By using this method, I save money on deli meats by buying them when on sale. I’m also not at the mercy of what happens to be on sale in a given week or, *gasp*, have to pay full price for what I want. In addition, freezing deli meats and cheeses alleviates the need to run to the grocery store every week for these items, also saving time and gas.
When freezing meat, I prefer to use my Food Saver machine. I like it because I can make the correct size bag for whatever I am freezing. Plus, it does get almost all of the air out of the food, which is much better than using the zip top bags.
As with most things, meat is cheaper when you buy it in bulk. Many grocery stores and butcher shops will sell meats at lower costs per pound when you buy it in larger packages. It only makes sense to buy the larger packages and freeze them in smaller, meal-sized packages to save money. For example, I recently purchased 40 pounds of natural, antibiotic free boneless breast of chicken at $1.49 lb. Since regular sale price on most chicken is $1.99 lb, this was a deal I couldn’t pass up. (It’s still available!)
Although using your freezer is a great way to save money, there can also be few pitfalls if you aren’t careful. First, you really should make a list of what is in the freezer and keep it taped to the door. When something is removed to be used, cross it off the list. This may seem a bit silly, but how many times have you found something in the back of your freezer you had no idea was there, the item in question now unidentifiable? This is especially true with chest freezers! You won’t save money with a freezer if you freeze food, forget about it, and then have to throw it out because it didn’t get used in time.
Second, just because you have a huge freezer doesn’t mean you have to fill it to bursting. Just like with any stockpile, moderation is the key. The people on the Extreme Couponing show would have us believe that more is better. (I really hate that show, but that’s for another article!) However, always be mindful of how much you are actually going to use. Again, throwing out food is not cost effective.
Third, it is a good idea to label your food with what it is and the date it was frozen. Food is not always identifiable after it is frozen so labeling saves you from taking out chicken for dinner and then having pork to cook. (Er . . . yeah, I learned that one from experience.) Putting the date on packages also ensures you use the oldest items first. Just like a non perishable stockpile, you always want to rotate your stock.
Although not everyone has the space or funds to have a stand alone freezer, the tips above can be used with your regular freezer as well. Just remember to think beyond your weekly grocery needs when you do your shopping and plan your meals around what is on sale and what you have in your stockpile.
Have a freezer tip? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave me a comment!