My wife wants a chest freezer so we can store more food. The idea behind it seems sound – a freezer chests allow you to buy and store large amounts of food. This makes it easy to stock up on foods when they are on sale, and gives you the added convenience of not making as many trips to the store. These are good benefits, but there are also some downsides that many people might not consider. After giving it careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that a chest freezer isn’t a great option for us at this time.
Are Freezer Chests Cost Effective?
Most people who talk about the advantages of freezer chests cite two things: saving money on food, and convenience. The convenience factor I agree with 100%. It’s easy to store large quantities of food to come back to at a later time. That convenience is especially nice when you live an hour away from Costco, or there is a foot of snow outside and you don’t want to drive to the store.
I also agree with the cost savings – but only to a point. There are two cost factors most people don’t consider: 1) the cost of buying and running the freezer, and 2) the opportunity cost of the food.
The first is easy to measure – simply add the purchase price of the freezer to how much it costs to run it for a year. Freezers vary in price, and can range from free on Craigslist, to several hundred dollars for a newer model. Most newer chest freezers cost $10-15 per month to run, or around $120-$180 a year. This is if the freezer is located in a temperature controlled environment, such as your basement or a spare room. Freezers and refrigerators can cost a lot more to run if placed in a garage, due to the higher temperatures in the summertime (that’s a good reason to rethink having a beer fridge in your garage!). Older chest freezers can cost substantially more to run, so think twice before buying a second hand chest freezer.
The second, the opportunity cost of the food, isn’t as easy to measure. I won’t get into any silly arguments like, “you could invest the money instead of spending it on food.” Your investing budget and food budget should be separate. But I will make the argument that it’s too easy to lose track of what you have in your freezer and use that as an excuse to buy too much food.
We had a chest freezer when I was growing up, and there were often things at the bottom and back of the freezer that went uneaten for months. Unless you keep a good list of the contents (who does?), you will likely forget about the exact items you have in your freezer. It’s also not uncommon to throw food out when it has been in the freezer too long. Unless you store food in airtight freezer bags, it will eventually go bad, or will lose some of its flavor and nutrients.
I’ve also known many people who have lost hundreds of dollars worth of food when they lost power. Losing power is unpredictable. You don’t know when it will happen, and unless you have a backup generator, you run the risk of losing the contents of your freezer.
Let Your Needs and Habits Dictate Your Decision
When I was living in England, I knew a family of four that had a dorm size fridge as their family fridge. My wife lived in Japan and knew families who had similar sized fridges. The smaller fridges were normal by their standards, and were essential due to space limitations and cost factors. They were able to “get by” with a smaller fridge and freezer because they adapted their habits to shopping more frequently and buying fresh foods. So why is it that we can’t live with “just” a large fridge/freezer combination? Why do we need more storage space?
The fact is that many of us don’t. I don’t think my family does (two adults and two young children). Sure, the fridge and freezer get loaded sometimes, such as around the holidays when we buy our turkey (a turkey barely fits in our fridge and won’t fit in our freezer). There are other times it would come in handy, such as when we make our own baby food, or our own turkey or chicken stock. But the rest of the year, we don’t really have any problem fitting everything in our fridge and freezer. If we need more space, we should first look at using what we already have and plan our shopping and menu around that for the next couple weeks. It doesn’t make sense to store food indefinitely.
But, there are also people who need large freezers. If you grow your own food and can store large quantities of food at a low acquisition cost, and store it in a way that prevents spoiling, then yes, a chest freezer can save you money in the long run. A chest freezer can also help you save money if you like to prepare food in large batches, if you want to buy a side of beef, or if you are a frugal shopper and only buy food on sale.
Photo credit: jen dunlap