Frugal Friday: Freezer Power
My freezer is one of the most important tools in my money saving toolkit. It helps me keep my grocery costs down while at the same time making my meal preparation easier. I use my freezer to:
- Stock up on extras. I buy extra on sale items so I can make the deals last longer. I also make double or even triple recipes of freezable meals and freeze them for quick dinner a few weeks later. My family affectionately calls these meals my “Freezer Stash”. The stash helps me save money by giving me a quick and easy alternative to eating out on nights when I’m pressed for time or just plain tired.
- Keep stock ingredients. Homemade stock isn’t only less expensive it tastes better and has lower salt content than most purchased stocks. It’s also crazy-easy to make, particularly when I use leftover bits of chicken and vegetables that I’ve been storing in my freezer. I have a zip-top bag in the freezer labeled “stock stuff” and I toss stock-worthy ingredients in it as I prepare meals. Once the bag is full I fire up the stove and make batch of stock. Stock freezes beautifully in 1 cup portions in zip-top bags that I lay flat to freeze.
- Do more with fresh herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs but am not quite to the place where I can grow my own (but I’m working on it). I do splurge on fresh herbs but to help them go further I chop them up and divide them into 1 tablespoon servings. I put the individual servings into the sections of an ice cube tray, cover them with water, and freeze them. Once the cubes are formed I pop them out and store them in a zip-top bag. When I need the herbs I can quickly and easily add a cube to a sauce or soup.
I do a few easy but important things to help my freezer help me:
- Label everything. Without labels the fridge might as well be a dumpster. There’s just no way to know if food is still good if you don’t know when you froze it in the first place. I keep a collection of permanent markers in my kitchen so I can quickly label anything before it goes into my freezer. I don’t both with special labels, I just write right on the package or zip top bag. Different colors of pen help me be sure I can read what I wrote. Brown Eyed Baker has some additional great advice on labeling and a handy guide to how long different ingredients can keep in the freezer. I’d recommend printing it and posting it on the freezer for easy reference.
- Keep a list so you know what you’ve got. The hardest thing about making the freezer a partner in saving is that it’s hard to know at a glance what you have to work with. A solution to this problem is to keep an inventory so you not only know what you have but when it expires so you don’t end up throwing food away and wasting money. I’m spreadsheet happy so I keep my inventory on my computer. Life as Mom has a great approach to her inventory list that makes it easy to mark off items as you use them. Our Incredibly Happy Family includes a freezer inventory in her collection of useful lists.
- Package food carefully. Labeling and tracking only go so far if food in the freezer isn’t properly package. I’m very particular about wrapping my food, to keep it freezer safe. I use a lot of thick zip-top bags in my freezer because they are reliable and easy to label. To keep costs down I wash and re-use my freezer bags. I also buy them in bulk at my local SAMs where they are significantly cheaper than even store brand bags.
- Spend 15 minutes each month on freezer maintenance. While I don’t clean my freezer from top to bottom every month, I do take a few minutes once a month to give a quickly tidy to fix any unruliness that results from everyday use. A few minutes once a month helps remind me what I have to work with and to avoid waste.
- Clean the whole freezer twice a year. In February and August I spend 60 to 90 minutes giving my freezer a thorough cleaning. I take everything out, wash and rinse every surface, and double-check my inventory. I’ve chosen these months because they tend to have the most down time and help me get my freezer in order after the hectic holiday season (February) and before school starts and the holidays kick in (August). Clean Mama and Mom Advice both offer some great advice on cleaning your freezer with minimal hassle.
Because the blogosphere is such a great resource and I’m always looking for new tips and tricks to help my freezer help me, I went digging for additional ideas and found these great ones:
- Once a Month Mom (an expert in freezers if there ever was one) recommends ditching boxes to save space. This is one I’m going to try immediately because boxes are routinely a challenge for me. In the same post she also recommends turning partial bags of vegetable into soup to use them up and free space.
- Mom Advice suggests organizing foods of similar types by date so you use the oldest first.
- Organizing Junkie uses small baskets from the dollar store to turn otherwise inefficient freezer storage space into something a little more useful.
How do you make your freezer your frugal helper?