Thursday, April 5, 2012

Saving Centsably: Use your freezer to save money

March was National Frozen Food Month. If you shop the sales and used many coupons last month, chances are that you bought a good bit of frozen food. The truth is that Americans throw out a tremendous amount of food each year. Literally, the statistics say there are millions of pounds of food waste in the United States each year. While “extreme” couponing and shopping has been the trend for the past few years, the benefits of shopping in this way are lost if you have to throw out the food you worked so hard to purchase. (Even if it was at a discount.)

So what can you do to avoid throwing out the great deals you got at the grocery store last month? Preserve it properly. Without proper protection, much of the frozen food you purchased may be freezer-burned within a few months. This is one reason why I stock up on zipper storage bags and aluminum foil whenever there are sales. I feel that it defeats the purpose to run out and spend $4 on a box of storage bags every time I need to freeze $5-10 of meat. So even when shopping for ways to store the frozen food, you need to be thrifty and look for sales.

Experts recommend freezing food in bags (even if not vacuum sealed) that remove as much air as possible. When there is air in the freezer bag, it draws out the moisture in the food itself, leaving ice crystals and sometimes giving food a funny taste. In addition, wrapping the freezer bag with aluminum foil gives an added layer of protection. Be sure to label the foil or bag with a permanent marker so that you are able to distinguish a bag of frozen waffles from a loaf of bread.

Many people ask me what can be frozen and they are often surprised when I tell them there are so many food products they can freeze. The only things I discourage people from freezing are sour cream, block cheese and veggies such as cucumber, lettuce and cabbage. The versatile list of foods that can be frozen make stockpiling food easy. When I can purchase 4-packs of yogurt for 25 cents instead of $2.50, I will buy as many as I can at that price. Whatever does not get eaten before the expiration date will simply be frozen. Buying produce at a farmers market and freezing the produce for the winter is another way our family saves money. For information on the processes for freezing fresh food, simply search online for tips for preserving produce in the freezer.

One of my best deals to date was buying 30 half-gallons of lactose-free milk for my daughter. Instead of $3.89/half gallon, I paid only 50 cents each after sales and coupons. Therefore, my out-of-pocket cost was only $15, a savings of $101. But what do you do with 30 half-gallons of milk? At my house, we freeze them and pull bottles out as needed. This helps me avoid paying full price at the grocery store. Instead, I shop from home.

Organization is key to knowing what foods are in your freezer as well as how long they have been there. Just as in your pantry, when you stock your freezer, be sure to rotate your stock. Without doing so, you will one day find a 20-year-old steak at the bottom of the freezer. Our family is more extreme than many because we have so many people to feed. We have two chest freezers, and one holds meat and cookies and bread, primarily. The second freezer holds veggies, fruit, yogurt, milk and juice. This means I can easily direct my husband or my children to the freezer I would like them to remove something from.

Just like with the zipper bags and foil, I want you to save as much money as possible when purchasing the freezer for your family. I have a few tips for that, too. First, check with friends and family. Many people have freezers in their garage or basement but they are not used regularly. These people might sell theirs to you relatively inexpensively.

Second, use the Buy-Sell-Trade pages that are all over Facebook these days. Look in your area, and use the search tool to determine if there is a chest freezer for sale at a price you can pay. Third, if you would prefer a newer, unused freezer, look for local stores that sell “second” appliances. Even your local hardware store might have a “dented and scratched” area where kitchen appliances like upright freezers or chest freezers are available. Last, visit Craigslist or eBay. There might be someone in your area selling one and you could buy it from them.

Overall, freezer preservation of your food is a great way to avoid the enormous amount of food waste that occurs each year in the United States. Make a commitment to do more with the resources you have. The benefits of freezer usage should definitely make a difference in the savings you are able to capture at the grocery store, and will also allow your family to extend the life of the food you work so hard to purchase.
Rachael J. Mercer is a freelance writer and coupon workshop instructor living in McDonough. To learn more about Mercer or her workshops, e-mail her at

Posted: 10:54pm on Apr 3, 2012; Modified: 11:07pm on Apr 3, 2012


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