Updated on 01.27.12

Invest in a Deep Freezer (27/365)

Trent Hamm

One of the most critical appliances in our home when I was growing up was our chest deep freezer.

Invest in a Deep Freezer (27/365)

We kept it in the attached garage, just a few steps out of the garage door that opened onto the kitchen. That freezer would store bag after bag of frozen fish caught by my father, lots of venison and beef that my family would trade for (or, in the case of venison, occasionally hunt for as a food source), frozen vegetables, and countless other food items.

It was pretty much a daily routine to retrieve something out of the freezer in the morning to thaw for the evening’s dinner. Whether it was fish, vegetables, or meat, our meals were often acquired when they were cheap and thawed when we needed them.

My wife, Sarah, had a very similar experience growing up. Their deep freezer resided in their basement and contained the key ingredients of most of their meals.

In both cases, our families were not rich. They had to find creative ways to stretch a dollar. Given that food is a big part of any family’s budget, stockpiling food is definitely a strategy worth investigating. A deep freezer makes it easy to stockpile freezable food (in other words, most food) and keep it from going bad.

In other words, the presence of a large home freezer makes it possible to capitalize on discounts on perishable foods.

It was unsurprising, then, that one of our first purchases when we owned a home of our own was our deep freezer, which, like the freezer at my parents’ house, resides right out in our attached garaged, near the garage door. It’s always got some food in it, and at times it has quite a lot of food in it. It all depends on the opportunity – and when opportunity strikes, we’re able to hit it hard.

I’ll give you an example of this. Recently, a local grocery store had a sale on bags of flash-frozen vegetables. I don’t remember the exact price, but it was very low, something on the order of $0.79 per bag or something, limited to ten per customer. Given that a bag of flash-frozen vegetables is often a key side dish for our family’s dinner as well as our lunches the following day, that’s an attractive sale for us.

If our only freezing capacity was the freezer atop our refrigerator, we would have had to stop at four or five bags. Simple space issues would have kept us from capitalizing. Instead, Sarah went to the store and bought the maximun number of bags, then I went to that same store and bought the maximum number of bags.

Another example: a friend of ours offered to sell us a quarter of a cow, processed and packaged, at cost a few years ago. This meant that our cost per pound for the meat was about 40% or so of what we would have to pay for it in the store, but we would be receiving a lot of it. On the order of 150 pounds of meat.

Thankfully, we had our deep freezer, so we were able to make it all fit. We were able to knock 60% or so off of approximately 150 pounds of beef. Not only did we enjoy it ourselves, we also traded packages with friends, family, and neighbors.

I can go on and on with these examples: fresh food from our garden (or from the gardens of friends), quadruple batches of casserole, frozen breakfast burritos, frozen vegetable stock – it’s an endless list. In each case, we’re taking advantage of the economy of scale by producing a lot of something (reducing the cost per item) and then saving the rest for later.

The only drawback of this plan is the cost of a deep freezer. You can get one for $300-500 or so, and the annual energy cost varies, but is usually somewhere around $50 a year. To break even, you’re going to need to be saving about $60-70 a year on your food costs.

For our family, we can sometimes save that much in a month due to our deep freezer. Between the flash-frozen vegetables bought at a discount, the frozen casseroles prepared ahead of time, the breakfast burritos made at an incredibly cheap rate per burrito, the produce from our garden socked away for later, and countless other little things, the deep freezer saves us money almost every single day. It’s a key element of our family’s food frugality.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Julie says:

    It would have been nice to have seen the contents of your freezer. This picture looks boring – dark background and a closed freezer.

  2. valleycat1 says:

    The key is learning to actually use the items in the freezer routinely. We didn’t have a freezer when I was growing up, and I have a difficult enough time remembering to use the items in the fridge’s freezer section. But then again, we’re a household of 2, and we tend to shop more the European way (buying just enough for the next few days) rather than for months at a time. A lot of our freezer space is for dried foods my spouse prepares for hiking; with a portion of the space for the week’s meat, flour storage, etc.

  3. kc says:

    How does one catch a bag of frozen fish? Ice fishing?

  4. Johanna says:

    That is a very ominous-looking picture. I don’t think that’s a freezer I want to mess with.

  5. Andrew says:

    Anyone know how long the food stays frozen if the power goes out? If you live in an area where this happens regularly you could lose hundreds of $ worth of stuff unless you invest in a generator, which would be a prime example of one thing leading to another-

  6. lurker carl says:

    Trent ignored the routine tasks of defrosting, keeping the food organized and rotating the oldest items to the top/front. It is especially onerous with a chest freezer.

    The keeping power of any particular freezer during a power outage depends upon capacity, how full the freezer is, how much ice has infiltrated the insulation and the ambient temperature. Some hardly last 24 hours, others are good for days.

  7. lurker carl says:

    Trent ignored the routine tasks of defrosting, keeping the food organized and rotating the oldest items to the top/front. It is especially onerous with a chest freezer.

    The keeping power of any particular freezer during a power outage depends upon capacity, how full the freezer is, how much ice has infiltrated the insulation and the ambient temperature. Some hardly last 24 hours, others are good for days.

  8. lurker carl says:

    Sorry about the double post.

  9. Sandy says:

    What the heck is wrong with you people?? I can’t believe the negative comments and nit-picking about freezers….anyone in their right mind ( with a family at least ) should have a separate freezer, for the exact same reasons that Trent has outlined above. You’d be nuts not to…..

  10. em says:

    This post came the same day I was out price shopping for freezers. Didn’t get one still looking for a better deal

  11. Kerry D. says:

    We love our standing big freezer. Actually got it for free on Craigslist, from a home based caterer who was upgrading to a larger one!

    We stock up on bread products, grain cereals, as well as meat, when I find a great sale. Also at times cook large batches of basics, such as spaghetti/meat sauce, and freezer portions (zip lok bag 9 cents each.) Lovely savings and convenience.

  12. Kerry D. says:

    That is, we free portions of the spaghetti sauce or other pre-made dinners.

  13. Kerry D. says:

    we freeze portions.

    I’m just going to stop typing now. :)

  14. Johanna says:

    I don’t quite get what you’re saying, Kerry. Something about free potions? Sign me up!

  15. moom says:

    Yeah, we don’t have a garage of course, because to save money we live in an apartment. I think the smaller house is probably a more frugal move.

  16. Izabelle says:

    I have a strong preference for homemade food (including bread, baked goods, soups and pretty much anything else we eat). My husband and I avoid prepackaged/overprocessed food for health, economical and ethical reasons. With both of us working, the easiest way to eat natural and still have time to breathe is to spend a few hours on the weekend cooking a few batches of food and freezing it in single portions.

    On a busy weedkday morning, I just grab a container of soup and a (pre-cut) piece of bread from the freezer in the basement and head out.

    My colleagues always wonder how come I always heave these yummy lunches, and the cost rarely goes over $2 per lunch!

  17. Izabelle says:

    … and I can’t help but mention the gloomy picture. Ugh!

  18. Izabelle says:

    Since an internship is supposed to help one acquire professional skills, here is a bit of professional advice for Brittany Lynne from someone who’s been doing product photography for nearly a decade:

    1 – Take a bit of time to adjust the image in Camera Raw before processing the images in Photoshop (please tell me you do this). Even if you don’t shoot in RAW, you can still do some critical adjustments on a JPG. Just right-click (or command-click, if using a Mac) on the file in Bridge and choose the option “open in camera RAW”. For an excellent tutorial on RAW, I strongly recommend Kelbytraining-dot-com (no affiliation, but my team of experienced photographers and I found it very useful).

    2 – Once back in Photoshop, go through the image with the healing and spot-healing brushes to get rid of skid marks and scratches – the picture above would very much need it.

    3 – If the image is too grey, try the channel mixer – it does wonders for bringing a bit of life to a desaturated photo.

    4 – Kudos on getting a business-oriented mentor in Trent! Too many photographers and visual communications professionals fail to build a successful career by lack of business skills.

    Good luck!

  19. Gretchen says:

    As I noted the other day, frozen veggies go on sale all the time!

    I don’t think that the possiblity of losing it all to a power outage should be ignored, either.

  20. Mister E says:

    This is one I can get behind, in fact I just bought an upright model today.

    The pic is still pretty bad though.

  21. Lilly says:

    I definitely prefer an upright freezer over a chest freezer. I can’t imagine trying to find stuff in a chest freezer (maybe I’m just lazy).
    My hubby will eat lasagna just about every day, so I make 2 or 3 lasagnas at a time, portion them out, freeze (and label) them, and he has lunch for a few weeks. It is SO worth the cost of the freezer + electricity. I also go out of town a couple times a year to visit my family and leave him enough food frozen, so that he doesn’t have to spend money eating out.

  22. Vanessa says:

    @ Sandy

    Someone is nuts just because they don’t have a deep freezer?

    What the heck is wrong with YOU?

  23. Kai says:

    The photos have been pretty bad, in that each one just looks like a snapshot of the obvious that could have been taken with a cellphone.
    To me, a photographer should be able to do more than just capture what anyone clicking a shutter would get. These photos have not been that. I’m pretty sure that if Trent asked his 6-year-old to take a photo of the freezer, it would come out about the same.
    Many of them would be bettered by even just a little bit of touch-up in the computer, and all could benefit from some attention paid to the subject. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with showing a dishwasher with some scratches since it’s been around a while, but wiping off stains would seem obvious to me.

    As for the subject matter, I’m not sure there is too much to be done about that. This series might just be looking for the obvious photo to illustrate the post, rather than anything artsy-creative. So I won’t criticize the subjects.

    But while I think photography can be art, I haven’t seen a photo here that is anything more than a snapshot.

  24. Izabelle says:

    Having seen her online portfolio which is mostly portraits, I suspect this series is much outside Brittany Lynne’s comfort zone. While there is still much to be improved in her regular stuff (depth of field seems to be a recurring challenge in her case), photographing inanimate objects represents quite a challenge since there is nobody to engage with in the shot.

    That being said, I can excuse unoriginal shots from a newbie, but sloppiness is a very bad habit to have. With today’s technology, there is no excuse.

    We’re still less than 1/10 of the way in this series, so hopefully the quality of photography will improve with experience.

  25. valleycat1 says:

    #16 Isabelle – we both work and both prefer homemade foods from fresh products; I brown bag to work almost every day & my spouse eats lunch at home. We manage just fine without a dedicated freezer. Most of the time we lunch on leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.

  26. Izabelle says:

    #25 valleycat1 – We did too for many years. But since my husband and I have very different dietary needs (I’m vegetarian and he has a condition that requires meat and a reduced fiber intake), the freezer gave me my sanity back (and saved us a lot of money). To each their own!

  27. Kirk Bond says:

    I like the photo and think it is just right for the subject matter at hand. Keep the damage on the freezer intact. It is a utilitarian appliance and it is very appropriate.

  28. elyn says:

    I think the freezer in our refrigerator unit must be extra big or something, because we fit a LOT of stuff in there- Costco-sized giant bags of frozen fruit, jars and jars of toddler-sized meals, homemade sauces, beans, soups, homemade baby food, frozen organic veggies from last summer’s farmer’s market, meals we’ve portioned out, ice, giant boxes of junky Costco treats (jalapeno poppers, spanikopitas, baguettes…). There’s so much in there, I can’t imagine needing a whole other freezer. This is good, because we have no garage or space for one… Am I missing something here? We’re vegetarian, so I don’t need space for a donated cow or deer… Is having a freezer more handy in meat-eating households? Perhaps I am just nuts not to want an extra freezer…nuts, I tell you.

  29. elyn says:

    …I did notice that Trent says he has a top-freezer unit on his fridge. Ours is a bottom, pullout drawer kind which has far more room than our old top-freezer unit was. It is also way more energy efficient. I wonder if it is a better investment to upgrade to an energy-efficient fridge with a bigger freezer unit, than it is to run an old one plus buy and run an extra freezer unit?

  30. That Other Jean says:

    I do like the idea of a freezer, although I’d get an upright if I had the space and felt the need for one. There are only two of us, though, so the freezer compartment of our fridge generally holds enough to keep us well supplied. And I would have to be considerably better organized to use up the contents of a larger freezer before things got freezer burned and had to be tossed.

  31. Sandy says:

    @ Vanessa
    Yep….and absolutely nothing thanks :)

  32. Jules says:

    LOL, we were just having this discussion yesterday, and I mentioned putting the freezer in our basement storage unit. My boyfriend literally blew a fuse, as if this were the first time it’d occurred to him.

  33. Wes says:

    We have a freezer, but we only use it now to control the temperature of fermenting beer. Our plan is to use it more practically when we have kids, in anticipation that our food reserves will increase and our time available for brewing beer will decrease.

  34. AmyG says:

    #23 Kai – Good points. I’ve never taken a photography class but I do my best when I take pictures for our small rental cabin business. I consider angles, framing, lighting, removing distractions and staging the picture. Sometimes it takes me dozens of shots to get that one “money shot”. And yet here in this series, the photos are uninspired, poorly lit and sometimes downright gross. As a photographer, if you see something that needs fixing, you fix it as much as possible during the session. I do not see this, nor any attempt to digitally “help” the photos afterward. I am not saying this to bash Trent’s intern, but I hope she sees that while most of us have never been paid to take a photo, we’re finding that she needs to invest in her skills to become better at her craft. When you are an intern, you are usually guided and trained by those in the business in exchange for your time and promise as an upcoming talent. I think Britanny is being short-changed here. If I were her, I would never want anyone to know that these were my work. And Trent is not providing enough guidance–if that’s even in his repertoire–to help her grow and improve as a photographer of interior spaces. Just sayin’ it as I see it and not meant to be mean-spirited.

  35. Christina says:

    Finding a chest freezer on Freecycle was our find of the year last year. If you’re willing to take the time to keep looking, hopefully your patience will be rewarded. I feel like I’m already ahead of the game with saving money because we got our freezer for free.

  36. SLCCOM says:

    When we first got married and moved into our spacious New York City apartment, we immediately went shopping for a small chest freezer. We got ours in a wood grain finish and it was just part of the furniture. You could cover it with a nice cloth, if you want, but there are lots of things you can do. You can paint one, put Contact paper on it, or otherwise make it look nice. We saved a fortune.

    Of course, we had about 2.5 square feet of refrigerator space, and room for an ice tray in the “freezer,” which was directly under the cooking elements. Boil pasta, melt ice… We also bought a little refrigerator to sit by it.

    Our first big freezer, bought in 1988, was an industrial freezer. We just defrosted it yesterday. It has never given us a minute’s trouble, either. That would be our last big freezer, as well. If we need a new one, we might not get another of that quality, since we don’t have any heirs to leave it to. We would want it to go to a good home, after all.

    Which reminds me: inventory your freezer! Print it out, and put it on the door, and cross stuff off as you go.

  37. Kai says:

    I would have to assume that Trent intends to be a mentor to the business side of her intended photography business, and not the actual photography side. Considering Trent has no experience whatsoever with photography, I’d think she would look to him for the organisational and marketing skills, and to someone else for photographic help. But I would definitely suggest that she find a mentor, or a group to work on her actual skills as a photographer, because I too would be embarrassed to show many of these photos to anyone and admit ownership.

    Here’s a question for those who were adamant that this be a paid internship when it was first mentioned – do you still feel that way?
    I believe that you move from amateur to professional when your work is sufficiently valued by others that they are willing to pay for it. I certainly would not be willing to pay for photos of the quality displayed here. To work off of someone else’s excellent note, you don’t pay just for a ‘passion’ – you pay for a product.
    If I would never buy these photos, and if the skill and effort displayed in them does not suggest great promise for future work, why on earth would I offer a paid internship? I might be willing to trade some of my time for the displayed photos as a favour or general ‘pay it forward’-style helping others, but I can’t imagine offering money for this quality. You get paid when you have something worth paying for.

  38. Johanna says:

    “Here’s a question for those who were adamant that this be a paid internship when it was first mentioned – do you still feel that way?”

    I do still feel that way, Kai – thanks for asking.

    At this point, Brittany’s bad photographs are serving the same purpose as Trent’s bad written content: to draw people to the site, specifically to the comment threads. Trent makes money off that, so why shouldn’t Brittany?

  39. Tom says:

    Is $50 a year of energy cost correct for a freezer? I don’t remembe exactly, but we bought a 9 cu. ft freezer about a year ago and I’m pretty sure the energy star tag put it at about $35

  40. Misha says:

    Sandy wrote: “anyone in their right mind ( with a family at least ) should have a separate freezer, for the exact same reasons that Trent has outlined above. You’d be nuts not to…..”

    I’m seconding Vanessa’s comment – what is wrong with you? And do you appreciate the fact that your home has the space for an upright freezer?

  41. Golfing Girl says:

    I would love a deep freeze, but where in the hell would I fit it?? I’m not going to park our car in the driveway to make room for it! But since I am breastfeeding, our current side by side freezer is full of milk!

  42. dogatemyfinances says:

    Better hope you don’t start rolling blackouts like in California. After a hurricane knocked out our power, I realized how wasteful it was for me to horde all this food, and that was just a regular freezer!

    I get that it’s convenient and so forth for all the stuff you freeze, but I bet you have a lot more than you need, and one blackout could take out a month’s grocery.

  43. Kai says:

    “#38 Johanna @ 9:39 pm January 29th, 2012
    “Here’s a question for those who were adamant that this be a paid internship when it was first mentioned – do you still feel that way?”
    I do still feel that way, Kai – thanks for asking.
    At this point, Brittany’s bad photographs are serving the same purpose as Trent’s bad written content: to draw people to the site, specifically to the comment threads. Trent makes money off that, so why shouldn’t Brittany?”

    I was curious as to the thought process, and why anyone would think that cheap snapshots deserved to be paid. In this case, your logic makes sense to me, though I doubt the photos are bringing anyone who wasn’t already coming for the articles or the comments.

  44. EngineerMom says:

    As for how long food can last in a chest freezer, keep in mind they are a LOT different than the freezer in a regular fridge/freezer combo.

    1. A chest freezer usually keeps a much colder temperature. Freezers in fridges are usually kept pretty close to 32F, maybe 25F or so. Chest freezers usually maintain around 0F. So everything in the freezer would have to warm up to 32F before it starts to thaw, whereas a fridge freezer might already be pretty close.

    2. You can extend the “life” of a chest freezer in a potential blackout by keeping the bottom lined with jugs of water (ice). This increases the heat capacity of the overall space. In other words, it takes more energy to melt the ice that it would to warm the equivalent amount of air, so things in the freezer stay colder longer. This technique also helps improve the energy efficiency of the freezer, especially if you aren’t keeping it chock full all the time.

    3. Chest freezers don’t leak cold air out the bottom. They may be harder to get into and keep organized, but when you open the top, the cold air stays inside. When you open an upright fridge or freezer, the cold air on the bottom whooshes out and is replaced by warm air near the top.

    On the photography: Trent is not a photographer, so this internship is unlikely to be about improving her skills in photography, but about learning what it takes to run a business. And apparently it will also turn into how to take some pretty harsh criticism, based on the comments in here. I really liked how Izabelle approached the issue of less-than-stellar quality photographs with specific instructions and tips, but Kai? You’re just plain mean. If that’s how you give “constructive criticism” in real life, I pity the recipients.

    If you think the photographs are so terrible and the content so poorly written, why do you even bother to read?

  45. EngineerMom says:

    Oh, and as for freezer use, we mostly use ours for storing large batches of bread (I bake most of our bread), meat I can find on sale, pre-chopped veggies for quick meal prep, and on-sale produce like bell peppers and mushrooms that are usually pretty pricey but occasionally I find deeply discounted. I also make batches of freezer jam, which would quickly fill our fridge freezer, but keep very nicely in the chest freezer.

    At Christmas I use it for freezing cookies so I can just keep a few out and thawed and not eat a bunch all at once!

  46. Matt says:

    We have a second full fridge/freezer unit in our garage – it came with the house (and was presumably the in-house fridge prior to being in the garage). It still works fine, and generally doesn’t use a ton of energy since it’s cooler out there than in the house much of the year – and even when it’s hot out the garage tends to stay cooler.

    We wouldn’t be able to fit a quarter cow in there, but we’re able to do quite a bit between the two freezers (our regular fridge/freezer is a big side-by-side). We actually find the extra fridge space quite valuable too. We use it for things like fresh whole chicken/turkey (prior to cooking), extra gallons of milk, bulk fresh vegetables, or extra drinks if we’re about to have a bunch of people over.

  47. Johanna says:

    “Freezers in fridges are usually kept pretty close to 32F, maybe 25F or so.”

    I don’t think this is right. 25F is not cold enough to freeze much of anything except water. Ice cream, for example, would melt at that temperature.

    On the photographs, here is some constructive advice: If, as Izabelle suggested, the problem is with taking photos without people in them, then put some people in the photos. After all, all of these tips are things for people to do. I’m no artist, but for this post, you could have a picture of a person peering into a freezer filled with bags of frozen vegetables. For the “short cycle” post, you could have a person setting the dial on a dishwasher or clothes washer while looking at her watch. For the “appliance replacement fund” have a person gleefully counting those $20 bills while standing next to (or sitting on) an appliance. And so on.

  48. jim says:

    #39 Tom : “Is $50 a year of energy cost correct for a freezer?”

    Depends on the freezer and the size. A 9 cubic foot model may only use $30 but a 24 cubic foot model could use $60. And newer models may be a bit more efficient than a few year old versions.

  49. Izabelle says:

    @#44 EngineerMom

    Thanks! But I don’t think Kai was being particularly mean. I know how to give art direction because it’s how I make a living – it takes a lot of practice to criticze without crushing one’s creativity. But the criticism we (visual communications professionals) get from collaborators who are not from our field is often phrased like Kai’s. Knowing how to take it is part of the job.

  50. Kai says:

    I was not giving constructive criticism. I was giving simple criticism. which could certainly be interpreted as mean.
    The reason for that is that my posts were not addressed to Brittany, but to others here. I have made constructive suggestions written to brittany in other posts, but here I was simply referencing the photography in a discussion with others, and thus not attempting to give any suggestions, which would not have been germane to the discussion at hand.
    If a friend showed me a painting (and I knew anything about painting), I might give her some suggestions for how she could improve her use of colour or something. But if me and a friend saw a painting that someone else had done that was very poor quality, I might well discuss the poor quality of it without giving any suggestions on how the not-present artist should fix the problems.

    As with many, I come to this blog for amusement and for the comments. I have probably learned something useful from it at some point.

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