Ode To My Chest Freezer

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.


Food Waste

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 large packages probably contribute to U.S. food waste.

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.

Coat Closet
We keep our chest freezer in the coat closet.  There’s no room in the garage, and the closet is closer to the kitchen!

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.


Using It

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.

Zombie magnets
Why yes, those are zombie magnets on my chest freezer.  What?  You don’t keep zombie magnets on your chest freezer?  Heresy!

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.

Organized chest freezer
Our chest freezer is clearly the pinnacle of organization.

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]

24 thoughts on “Ode To My Chest Freezer

  • August 23, 2016 at 3:42 PM

    You have done a very good job of selling the benefits of a chest freezer. Right when I was about to whine about having no place to put it, you pointed out that yours is in the closet. Since I am out of excuses I will have to look into one! Thanks for the tip!

  • August 23, 2016 at 4:01 PM

    Ha! Another person with the love hate thing going on with Costco. Have you ever notice that there are people in Costco buying king crab legs, expensive booze, and pricey cheese by the CART right along with “us little people” who are buying flour, sugar, rice, and beans? It’s like two stores for two different shoppers, and I don’t even want an 80″ TV.

    The one thing possibly more dismaying is the ever shrinking product size in every other grocery store.

    That freezer of yours looks a tad small. (Which might be a good thing!) I never liked the idea of forgotten items in the bottom of a “dig from the top down model” with so much ice that it’s (former) identity has been lost. Oh! “There’s my Salmon from the fall of 2012!”

    • August 23, 2016 at 4:04 PM

      Yep, the smaller model helps keep the inventory under control!

      Back when we lived in an apartment, this was all we had room for!

  • August 23, 2016 at 5:34 PM

    Sounds like there are a few of us reading your post with that same love-hate problem with Costco! Between me, my wife, and my 6-year old daughter, we really don’t eat enough to justify a lot of bulk food. Usually, we have a hard time with buying a lot of the fresh food there for that exact reason you talk about – food waste. We’ve considered cancelling our membership and just shopping at Aldi, but haven’t quite decided for sure yet.

    However, I can’t believe that chest freezers can be that cheap to buy and run. Maybe that might be something we look into a little more before we call it quits with Costco. 🙂

    — Jim

  • August 23, 2016 at 6:22 PM

    Here in Japan we have about 5 supermarkets in walking/cycling distance so I tend to do the opposite: hit the supermarket on the way home from work and just buy what we need for the next 24 hours or so.

    It’s probably more expensive overall, but no waste and less crap in the fridge/kitchen.

    Also helps that it’s just my wife and I now 🙂

    • August 23, 2016 at 9:43 PM

      Yeah, Japan is a very different market and culture. Portion sizes are tiny, as well as refrigerators and homes. Nobody I know in Japan has room for bulk purchases. Of course, you’ll be paying a premium buying in those small amounts.

      For most everyone who lives in Japan, this won’t be an option. Food waste probably isn’t a big problem though. 🙂

  • August 23, 2016 at 9:03 PM

    I like chest freezer idea, my parents used to have one and it served us well with a big family. For the two of us now, we get by okay with a normal freezer/fridge. We just buy enough food to last us a week and I would say we have eliminated food waste by 95%. We now only buy food that we know we would eat within a week.

    We have Costco membership but we use it mainly to buy non-food items like toilet paper, cleaning kit etc. Their bulk food is just too much for two people even for a week. We usually go there once a month. I do enjoy free food samples at Costco.

  • August 24, 2016 at 4:27 AM

    Great article, 30-40% waste is ridiculous. And freezing is our favorite way to preserve food because it’s easy.
    We don’t need a ton of food for the two of us and can keep our stock in the fridge freezer (it’s a good sized one). It does require some management but we are able to freeze extra produce from the summer garden and still have room for bulk meat purchases.
    Our waste is probably close to zero. But we are cheating – our chickens devour any scraps we might leave behind.

  • August 24, 2016 at 4:29 AM

    Having 2 kids around definitely doesn’t help cutting down on food waste. We struggle with that too, but try to impress upon them not wasting food.

    I’ve been trying to get Mrs. SSC on board with a small chest freezer for some time now. i’ll ahve to send her this link for more reading. Maybe I should wait to comment then…

    Thanks for the info!

  • August 24, 2016 at 7:55 AM

    I think chest freezers are incredibly smart! We hardly ever throw anything out – and portioning is one of the big reasons. We buy big packs but split them up before we ever put them away. We’ve learned that making smaller quantities leads to fewer left-overs. We love left-overs but once or twice is enough – otherwise it goes to waste. We had a membership at BJ’s but even with two kids, I didn’t find it that helpful.

  • August 24, 2016 at 8:54 AM

    We got a pretty large chest freezer last year (larger than yours) and have been doing what you’ve wrote about. We’d buy different kinds of meat at Costco and portion them. We have also been freezing large quantities of berries so they can last us 6 months or longer (we use them for breakfast and smoothies). My wife has been talking about buying a whole cow and lamb from a farm and freeze all the meat in our freezer to last us a long time. We haven’t done that though.

    When we purchase the chest freezer, the customer rep at Home Depot was trying to convince us to get a standup freezer because you can organize things better. We ended up with a chest freezer because it was a lot cheaper. For organizing, we put an erasable notepad on the freezer and write down what’s inside. It’s working pretty well.

    • August 21, 2017 at 12:06 PM

      Old post, but my fav topic. I have chest freezer and it is crucial for me to have it organized or it will bother me to no end. So there are some vids on YouTube, basically put in 4-8 fabric grocery bags and group produce there as meat, fish, veggies etc, and then you can pull out one bag at a time and find what u need right away. No more two-year-old packs of meat and fingers frozen in search of something :))) changed my chest freezer life forever !!!

      • August 21, 2017 at 12:21 PM

        Oh, and also people are talking about using deep-freezer mostly for storing things that were bought in bulk. This is great, but there is another use for it: keeping the so popular crockpot freezer meals and make ahead meals. Those rock not only in prevention of the food waste, but also save enormous amount of time in preparation of food. And time= life= Taste of early retirement right now :)))

  • August 24, 2016 at 2:11 PM

    I actually have a love/love relationship with Costco – no hate involved! The problem is, I can’t walk out of there for less than $300. I will say that we are pretty good about food waste. With two hungry teenagers in the house, few things have a chance to spoil and the Costco sized packages are just about right.

    Once the kids are out, we’ll have to figure out if we keep our membership or not.

    But, I now have chest freezer envy. Is that a thing? We have an old refrigerator in the garage, but the freezer space in it is limited and the freezer space in our stand-up side-by-side kitchen model is minuscule. I need to take another look at our garage and see if we could fit in a chest freezer!

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

  • August 25, 2016 at 2:51 AM

    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.

    haha, that is too funny.

    We actually discussed getting a chest freezer, but decided against it. Firstly we would have to buy it, which costs money that I rather spend elsewhere. Secondly, it draws power, which we have to pay for. Next, food does seem to loose some of it texture or flavour when stuffed in the freezer too long, so we rather stick to relatively fresh food. We do have a small freezer, which seems to work just fine for now.

    But honestly, good for you to point out the massive amounts of wasted food. Really a discrace if you think about it.

  • August 25, 2016 at 6:31 AM

    Nice closet freezer! I hate Costco. It is way too busy there and I hated shopping there. It’s a zoo! I don’t like buying bulk quantity because we can’t eat it all. Our place is small and we have a small fridge. Costco just don’t work for us. Hate them…
    We don’t waste much food.

  • August 25, 2016 at 5:07 PM

    I prefer a stand up freezer while initially it might be more expensive by the time you pull everything out of a chest freezer to get the one thing you want on the bottom you spent the same amount of energy.
    Freezers are also great for cooking ahead and freezing meat for future meals.

  • August 25, 2016 at 6:45 PM

    Innovative idea to save a little money. In a knowledge economy, it’s important more than ever to be smart with decisions. Never thought a chest freezer would help in building net worth with less waste, etc.

    It’s shocking how much money is thrown away every year just on waste. I’ve recently been educated on what expiration dates really mean and why one shouldn’t throw away food just because it’s nearing its expiration date.

  • August 26, 2016 at 2:25 PM

    Man, you’re tempting me to get a chest freezer now! But, I don’t know how efficient I’d be with that space. Chances are after a few months, you’d open it up and just see an assortment of ice creams and frozen desserts! 😉

    Overall though, I don’t think we waste too much food in our household.

  • September 2, 2016 at 7:29 PM

    I buy fewer veggies because I live in a group-house and have limited space in my freezer & between two jobs and a relationship I don’t have time to consume them before they wilt. For now, I buy simpler things with fewer nutrients that are harder to waste.

  • January 10, 2017 at 11:46 AM

    Man, you are dead on with the value of owning a chest freezer. I did a complete overhaul last year of how my family shops for food, stores food, and eats. My goal was to optimize for cost and nutrition. What I discovered was that buying in bulk and storing meat and vegetables in a chest freezer saved me at least a couple thousand per year! It is tricky not having bulk purchases go to waste, and I also have a love-hate relationship with Costco. But once I figured out how much we consume per week/month then I could buy the right quantities accordingly.

    I actually own a chest freezer and upright freezer, and use the chest freezer for long term storage and the upright freezer for more immediate day-to-day access. This is because accessing those items at the bottom of the chest freezer is annoying!

    I think that making a conscious effort to store bulk purchases in a chest freezer, families could save a ton of money each year. The initial cost of the freezer and ongoing energy consumption costs are greatly outweighed by the monthly grocery bill savings, I’ve found. And yes, frozen food tastes just find thawed and reheated.

  • August 16, 2017 at 10:34 AM

    When you decide to buy a chest freezer, investigate sources of dry ice. If you’ve got freezer full of food and the power goes out, you–and everyone else–will be looking for dry ice to keep things cold until it returns.

    And maintain an ice tray with a quarter sitting atop one of the cells. Should the freezer malfunction, the ice will melt and the coin will settle to the bottom. When power returns, everything will freeze up again, and you’ll want to know whether there was an interruption that thawed your goods.

    You also want to keep a lot of “thermal mass” in the unit. I freeze a few gallons of water and keep them in there when the freezer is only partially full.

    Every breakfast I eat two to five servings of fruit. I buy strawberries, blueberries, red & black raspberries, and cranberries when they go on sale (or I get u-pick berries). (A years’ worth of each sort of fruit adds up and they fill over half my freezer.)


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