Waste is an evil word.
Anyone on The Road to financial independence should absolutely hate waste. Waste is your hard earned money getting thrown out with last week’s trash. I personally despise waste, and try to eliminate it wherever possible.
Unfortunately most kinds of waste don’t get the attention they really deserve. Food waste in particular needs a lot more attention than it gets.
In the United States, it’s estimated by the USDA that 30-40% of food is wasted at the retail or consumer level. That’s an incredible amount of waste for a line-item that consumes a significant portion of our annual budget.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the average annual food budget in the United States is $6,759 (roughly $563 per month). At a 30% waste level, that’s the monetary equivalent of $2,000 annually thrown in the trash, recycle bin, or compost heap.
Don’t think $2,000 is a big deal? Then head to your nearest ATM, withdraw $2,000 and chuck it into the nearest trash bin. I dare you.
Most of you would never throw $2,000 in the trash. We respect the money far more than we respect wasted food, but from a financial perspective it’s the same thing.
The Costco Problem
I have this love-hate thing going on with Costco. I love bulk food stores for the low prices, but I also hate ’em because of their contribution to our food waste. While we all love the delicious deals, buying significant quantities of food in bulk can lead to waste.
Nearly everyone with a Costco membership has done this before — we step inside the bulk-shopping mecca to fulfill our consumerist desires and buy delicious produce in bulk. Once home, that same produce gets eaten over the next couple weeks…but not all of it.
It’s often far too much for a average size family to consume quickly enough. After a couple weeks at 37F (normal refrigerator temps), most produce will start to develop some….unpleasantness.
Usually this food gets thrown out, and we head back to Costco to start the cycle of Purchase-Eat-Waste again.
Costco’s low prices also help justify that waste to ourselves — “I could waste a quarter of this broccoli before it would be worth it to buy at a regular grocery store!” That may be true, but waste should never make sense.
What if we didn’t have to waste that food? What if there was a simple solution that allowed us to waste very little, and still realize the savings by buying in bulk?
It happens to be one of my favorite wealth building tools: The chest freezer
The Chest Freezer Solution
I absolutely love chest freezers, but they don’t seem popular with the under 60 crowd these days.
You might remember last seeing one at Grandma’s house. She stored her leftover meatloaf and 3 gallon buckets of ice cream in there, along with all kinds of other frozen goodies.
Just like the slow-cooker, Grandma had this stuff figured out. She knew how to be frugal, and she was right about that chest freezer — They’re low cost, extremely efficient, and can save you a huge chunk of change.
How low cost?
A smaller, Energy Star rated models (like this one) starts at around $200 for a 5 cubic foot model. For the same model, average annual power consumption is 172kwh for the entire year.
We pay $0.11/kwh for electricity, which works out to $19 per year in energy use. That’s less than $2 per month.
In simple terms, a chest freezer has a fantastic ROI. The device can pay for itself in one year — even if you only eliminate a fraction of your food waste.
Why not only use the freezer in your refrigerator? Well, there’s a several reasons:
- Typical refrigerators have tiny freezers. A couple packages of food from your favorite bulk food store will fill it in an instant. More freezer space is necessary!!
(Yes, I know new refrigerators now have oversized freezers available. They also cost over 2 grand. I won’t be recommending that option!)
- Chest freezers are actually extremely energy efficient, frequently even more efficient than a regular refrigerator.
- Chest freezers are great for storing
bodies….errr….large chunks of meat (or odd sizes) that might not fit in the refrigerator freezer.
By now, you’re probably wondering why we would buy fresh produce at Costco only to stash it in the freezer? Doesn’t it seem kind of backward?
Well, we don’t freeze all of it. Only some of it. It’s all about smart portioning to eliminate waste.
After coming home from a Costco trip with a load of goodies, one of the first things the Tako family does is portion it.
Portioning means we separate the food we’re going to eat soon (in the next week) from the food we won’t eat soon. Anything we’ll eat in the next week gets put in the refrigerator. The remaining food is then portioned into “meal-size” portions for the chest freezer.
What’s a meal sized portion? Well, that’s going to depend entirely on how much your family eats. A typical package in our household is a 1 lb package. When it’s time to pull food from the freezer, it’s already portioned correctly for creating the next family meal.
Use of our chest freezer isn’t limited to Costco runs either — When seasonal food items go on sale, we “stock up” at low prices!
What About Flavor?
OK, so I figure I’d address this one before the naysayers get crazy in the comments.
In many cases, fresh food does taste better than frozen. I’m all for having fresh food when things are in season! Heck, our family just finished scarfing down 10lbs of local blueberries. They were absolutely delicious!
But what about in the winter when produce prices rise? We eat the summer’s bounty from the freezer rather than paying high prices for imported produce. The difference in flavor is negligible to my taste buds.
Taste is definitely subjective, and everyone should make their own food choices. But I can say this: I definitely like the taste of financial independence.
A chest freezer can help you get there.
Mr. Tako’s Chest Freezer
We’ve had our chest freezer for over a decade now, and paid less than $200 for it at the time.
I would never give up my chest freezer now. We’ve saved ourselves tons of money over the years, and it has more than paid for itself. For our family, buying in bulk is significantly easier and less wasteful because of our chest freezer.
That said, with two kids in the house I won’t say we’ve completely eliminated food waste. Those little buggers still manage to waste a bunch of food, but it’s a relatively small amount of food.
If I was to guesstimate our food waste level, it might be 5-10% of our monthly budget. Not perfect, but still a fair bit better than the 30-40% rates the USDA is estimating.
How much food do you waste?
[Image Credit: Flickr]