Friday, 13 March 2009

The Chest Freezer: A Good Frugal Tool for You?

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

I'm afraid this week has been busier than usual for me, so I'm resorting to a repost of a popular page from my own blog. Recycling is good, right? I hope this will help some of you consider the various issues around owning a chest freezer. There are a few follow on pages concerning chest freezers at Living the Frugal Life if you want to read more.

I love having a chest freezer. We've bought it less than two years ago and it's become an integral part of my food storage and meal planning system. In addition to my meager forays into canning vegetables, I've been socking away garden produce in my chest freezer for the last few months. So even while I've been following the $50 per Month Grocery Challenge, we've actually been adding to our food stores.

A while back, My Money Blog posted about our exact situation: having an extra chest freezer in the garage. I wanted to add to that discussion. If frugality is your prime concern, there are many things to think about before making the decision to buy a chest freezer. Some factors are obvious. If you're in an efficiency apartment or a very small home, space considerations probably rule out a chest freezer. But for most of us, the question comes down to costs vs. savings.

Over the next few days, I'm going to walk through the issues around owning a chest freezer. Naturally, if you're in the market for a freezer you'd want to consider several options:

Sizing your freezer. Think carefully about how big a freezer you want. If your family is large, and you cook from scratch most of the time, it makes sense to get a large freezer. If it's just you and one other person, choose a smaller model. The potential monthly savings goes down with the number of people you need to feed. So your costs must also go down if you want to come out ahead. Though it's tempting to buy large, having a large stock of stored food that doesn't get eaten up doesn't save you anything at all. A small family can store a large supply of meat and vegetables in a small freezer. My husband and I bought half a hog and half a lamb, and though it took us a long while to eat through all that meat, the meat itself took up a surprisingly small amount of space. As a rule of thumb, chances are good that you could get by with less freezer than you think.

Of course, if you fill your freezer with a lot of purchased ready-to-eat meals and frozen dinners, you're allocating a significant amount of dead space to packaging. So consider how densely stored your food is going to be. Volume per volume, pre-packaged food will give you fewer servings than unprocessed meats, fruits, and vegetables. If you make your own prepared foods to freeze (such as quiche, casseroles, etc.), you're unlikely to use up much extra space around them for packaging.

Energy efficiency. There are many stand alone freezers out there. Chest freezers are usually recommended over uprights because they are more efficient. This is due to a law of physics: cold air is heavier than warm air. Open an upright freezer and all the cold air falls out at your feet. Open a chest freezer, and the cold air more or less stays put where it is. If you're paying for your electricity, or if you only generate your own in small quantities, it'll probably pay for you to get a well insulated chest freezer, if you're going to buy any freezer at all. On top of that, it would be wise to choose a model that does better than the average in terms of electricity usage. The EnergyStar website has a good tool for evaluating all EnergyStar rated freezers. It would be a good place to begin looking for an individual model.

Shopping around for the best price. If you're reading this post, you have access to the internet, which gives you a wealth of opportunities to compare prices for durable consumer goods. Once you've narrowed down your choice of freezer models, shop around for the best price. Be sure to include any differences in sales tax and shipping or delivery costs. Then spend a little extra time speaking directly with any local vendors of this freezer who might not have an online presence. If you find a competitive price locally, be sure to ask if they could offer you a discount for paying cash. 'Cause you're not putting this on the credit card, right?

In order to make a smart decision about a potential purchase, we need to get down to brass tacks. In other words, we need to know what it will cost us. So the first task is to come up with an actual monthly cost of ownership.

Cost of buying the freezer itself. This is going to make a difference not only in the amount of money you have to lay out up front (because of course there's absolutely no question of putting this purchase on a credit card), but also in figuring out what it's going to cost you to have the freezer on a monthly basis. Of course, this isn't literally true. Once you've bought the freezer there wouldn't be any further cost if you left it in the garage unplugged. But for the purposes of evaluating the purchasing decision, we need to divide the purchase price by the life expectancy of the appliance. Ten years is the average life expectancy for a chest freezer. When you figure out the price, be sure to include any sales tax you would pay, as well as delivery charges if any. Then just divide the total cost by 120 (12 months x 10 years). This is your monthly cost of ownership.

Monthly electricity costs. Now you need to know how much you'll pay in electricity to keep the freezer cold. It so happens that the EnergyStar website also includes a nifty spreadsheet that will let you calculate the cost to run your freezer to a very high degree of accuracy. To use it though, you'll first need to know how much you pay the electricity company per kilowatt hour. If your bill looks like mine, figuring this out is very confusing. But somewhere on your bill there should be a total dollar amount for the month, as well as the kilowatt hours you actually used. Simply divide the dollars by the kilowatt hours, and you'll have the amount you're paying per kilowatt hour this month. It may vary slightly from month to month. If you want to track this figure to find your average cost per kilowatt hour for several month, go for it. But the calculation from any given month gives you something to work with. Plug that number into the spreadsheet, along with other details on the model of freezer you're considering. This will give you a figure for your monthly cost to keep the freezer running.

Now add the monthly cost of ownership to the monthly electricity cost to run it. This is your actual cost of keeping your chest freezer running. It's also the amount of money you need to save in food costs each month in order to just break even. Any savings over and above that amount will be money in your pocket.

Related posts on chest freezers:
How To Save, Or Not, With a Chest Freezer
So Now You've Got a Chest Freezer
The Candlewax of Frugality (defrosting and cleaning a chest freezer)
Make the Most of Old Man Winter (energy saving tip)


Elizabeth said...

We had to get a chest freezer about 2000 and it has done well. In spite of 2 moves and being dented in the process (don't ask me HOW...when the govt. job moves you, count on damages and loss!!) But the it has seemed to keep running ok anyway. I gave my upright to our son's family as they really needed one and it is easier for them to manage with, having shelves and all. But you are correct, I do think the chest uses less electricity. And when we have had some power outages, of several days here and there, we managed to save our food in it, just running our generator a little a few times a day. Being we live in a humid climate, I keep more things in it, than I would in a drier climate. I keep nuts, alternative flours, wheat and corn flour and generally put any ready made cereals, etc. in there for a couple days which helps to keep those flour moths from appearing. And of course, it is great for storing everything else one normally would. I suppose for the hard times ahead however, it would be wise to can some this summer.

livinginalocalzone said...

I have an full size upright freezer in my garage, and, while expensive as the original expense, it has saved me so much money in that I froze local produce throughout the fall and have that reserve now as the cool storage food comes to an end.

It was a tough decision between that and the chest freezer, but in the end I went with an energy efficient full upright mostly because of the organization it offered - in a chest style, it'd be hard for me to keep track and then get out the food without unpacking the whole thing. Haven't had the "air to the feet" thing either....

In terms of energy use, I've found it pretty minimal in terms of expenditure. Its slightly bigger than a regular refrigerator/freezer combo, but of course only freezer-works for the entire thing. And it has saved me a lot of money in the long term - I've not bought produce for almost 4-5 months! As a vegetarian, that means almost no food bills.

I know this is pretty much contra to a lot of this post about a chest freezer's advantages - which I do recognize (hence taking me about a month to actually buy a freezer and looking like a mad-woman through the decision process!) but I wanted to share that there are upright freezers, especially newer energy-efficient models, that can be something to consider.

Sue said...

I don't know that I've saved so much money owning a chest freezer, but I have saved a lot of TIME, and that is the most important reason for me. When I make a pot roast, I make three of them. I then freeze them in individual meals. Nothing is better than spending the day in the garden, then coming in for a big meal, with all of the work already done for me.
I also like organic, grass fed beef. Our local grocery runs a sale but twice a year. I'm there, snapping up as much as my cart will hold. Without my freezer, I'd be spending twice as much.

Karen said...

Here's a helpful related article:

freyaw said...

The main reason my household doesn't have a chest freezer is because I'm too short to safely remove items from anything but the top layer :D

We need a larger freezer, because I use the one on top of my fridge so much, but acquiring one which I can use safely is slightly lower on the to-do list than stuff that will happen this year.

jessieearthmomma said...

I love love love my chest freezer!

Mickle in NZ said...

I'd like to add - look after your chest freezer. Keep a check on it's seal especially. it will then look after you.

My Folks bought a big chest freezer back in 1972/3. It is still going thanks to their care. When they moved into their current home in 2002 they had all the seals on the freezer replaced.

It lives in the garage attached to their house and in the Summer they ensure there is plenty of ventilation during the day because it can get very hot in there.

And they keep their freezer well stocked. To ensure all is well in case of a power outage they have a couple of big cell batteries and a generator. All a just in case as much of their food is stored there. have only ever needed to run the generator in short "top up" bursts, just like Elizabeth has done.

Do I have a chest freezer - no because 1) no room in my wee home and 2) I'm too short to reach down to the bottom. The Folks didn't pass on their height. BTW there is a chest freezer on the market here that has the lower half also accessible through a drawer.

Happy food freezing from Mickle in New Zealand