Buying meat is a huge portion of most families’ grocery budget and is often the most expensive part. Our family tries to stay in a grocery budget of about $108 per week for seven people. Within that budget, we purchase our meats, and we try to also purchase our toiletries, personal care and fresh and organic foods when we can.
Let’s us break down this part of our budget that we have shared in our $27k budget for 2014:
- 2014: $430 per month (about $107.50 per week). However, we usually only shop once or twice a month at the grocery store since our milk is delivered and produce from co-op and meat in the deep freezer. In addition, much of our excess $250 goes for bulk food buying for nearly all of our dry foods (cereals, grains, beans, etc.) and so just a little at the actual grocery store. Pretty much all we buy at the grocery store are eggs, cottage cheese, cheese, sour cream, a few of the sale items that week and a few markdowns.
- Natural fresh milk delivery $30 per month
- Fresh produce either through Bountiful Baskets or the Warehouse/Grocery stores for $100 per month (see 30 Ways To Save on Produce here).
- Meat Savings for our bulk grass-fed beef and natural chicken orders twice per year $50 per month (this is $600 per year. Our 1/4 cow usually costs around $400 and chicken is just over $150 – $200)
- Everything else is $250 per month or about $50 per week at the grocery store/ bulk foods store on needed odds/ends.
- 2013:$500 per month ($125 per week)
- 2012: $300 per month or $75 per week
- Lowest in our budget history: $150 a month or about $35 a week (not necessarily healthy or organic)
So what we wanted to share today is the meat savings tab and then what part of our $50 a week at the grocery story consists of, as a portion of it are other meats.
First Things First: Buy or have enough freezer space to stock upWe are stating this first because for the deepest money saving tricks, freezer space is really needed. If you don’t have freezer space, don’t fret – we are going to still share many tricks for those that need to buy meat on their weekly, bi-weekly or monthly shopping trips.
For a great deal on freezers, check your local classifieds and buying used (just take into consideration the cost of running an older, possibly less efficient freezer). If you want a new one, you could check around at local sale prices in your area at the time. We ended up buying two freezers (about two years apart, we needed a second one as our family grew) from Sam’s Club the 7.5 cubic size for $158 (our most recent purchase was nearly 4 years ago, so prices may have gone up). This was the best deal for a new freezer in our area at the time.
However, many years ago, we purchased our first freezer on a whim, when we had hardly any money and starting out our $100K of consumer debt payoff plan. That seems like the worst time to try and buy a new freezer, but in order for us to get to our grocery savings goals, it was needed.
I want to share the story behind our first purchase of a freezer:
A local grocery store was offering their semi-annual, bottom dollar meat sale where they had meat selections of all kinds at 50% off or more for a 3-day sale. We only had the top freezer above our fridge and I really wanted to stock-up for several months so I didn’t have to buy hardly any for many months.
I told Alex that I was pretty sure I could save the cost of the freezer in this one shopping trip! He agreed!
Well, we didn’t have hardly any money, we used a few tricks and instant money ways to gain cash fast to pull this meat savings trick off! We purchased a 7-cubic foot freezer for around $130 at the time (this was a while ago!) on a local sale. I then made my meat purchases and the money I saved was twice more than the cost of the freezer, and we had meat for many months and this freezer now for 11 years!
That’s how I got started with a freezer! If you can make this happen, it is a good step. If you can’t do it now, perhaps write and work towards this goal.
Now on with the tips!
Tips for Buying Meat Cheap
For stock-up (if you have the space or buy for the savings and split with other family and friends):
- Watch for great sales and stock-up – The best meat sales are the “Buy One Get One FREE sales.” This is the best sale time to stock-up – this is 50% off right off the top. Buy enough during these sales for those particular meats to last for 2-4 months.
- Stock up on the one amazing meat price for the week – grocery stores have meat on sale every week. Well on some of those weeks there will be one specific meat item that will have an amazing price! Stock-up on that particular meat product that week, buy enough to last for at least 2-4 months (of course if it is a meat product you and your family like – don’t stock up or buy anything that they wouldn’t eat).
- Buy a whole cow or pig – This is our #1 trick with how we save on our beef. Beef is the only animal we have purchased this way thus far. As a family of seven, we actually split a whole cow with three others for a 1/4 cow each. You can also purchase bulk ground beef through Zaycon Foods (details HERE).
- Use Zaycon Foods for Bulk Chicken – we have been buying our chicken this was for over 3-years. We have a whole article on buying chicken this way here.
- Buy meat from a club or warehouse – Honestly, we don’t do this a lot. We have a Sam’s Club and Costco membership (on those rare nearly FREE membership deals we post!) and we honestly haven’t found the fresh meats to beat our whole cow, or bulk chicken prices and quality. However, these are GREAT places to buy already frozen meats. Without a grocery store coupon or hot sale, this is generally going to be your lowest price on meats like: frozen chicken breast, frozen seafood, frozen chicken nuggets, hamburger patties, etc. But most of us use a lot of these for more convenience and so by combing these with the other methods, you can save, but focus on the others for the savings first.
- Join in a co-op – Zaycon Foods mentioned above is sorta like a co-op, which is what we use, but there are other similar groups. We do use a produce co-op to buy our organic produce, so we suggest looking at this option as it could be a great option just as it has been a budget-saver for our produce! Check out the site LocalHarvest.org to help find a local co-op in your area that might also offer meat.
- Make friends with your local butcher or local grocery store butcher – This is a good key tip – they will give you insider secrets on sales, deals, markdowns, the seasonal sale patterns for your area and they may also divide your “bulk packs of meat” for you FREE of charge (get the best of both worlds). Plus many local butchers may have fresher and better prices on meats than your local grocery stores. The local butchers in our area also offer coupons in our local mailers, mostly for buying bulk packs of meat. It is definitely worth pursuing.
For shopping for meats on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly basis (non-stock-up but immediate use between trips):
- Utilize a grocery savings app and price matching – We recommend grocery apps like Favado that will share the best prices all around town that week. Shop at the store with the greatest savings for the items you want to buy, or shop at a store that will allow you to price-match (like Walmart or another local store). We also have printable grocery lists that allow you to customize the sale items that you want that week, and it works well for grabbing those rock-bottom meat prices each week/shopping trip.
- Buy the major meat sale item that week. We mentioned this trick above with stock-up, which is what we do – stock-up on the major meat sale that week and then after a few weeks, you have a good variety. However, if you are shopping for the immediate, you can plan to make the bulk of your meals with that week’s meat sale. So if it is chicken breast week, plan to have several chicken breast meals that week. Instead of variety within each week, have variety within each month instead. 🙂
- Find the mark downs – This is a trick we do often! The meats I like are pricey! So, I watch for the markdowns on those meats and then plan my meals around those mark-downs. This is where the no-waste food menu planner is simply awesome! Do plan to incorporate these into your menu immediately, or freeze for future use.
- Buy bulk packages and repack – This is another key and easy way to save. The bulk packs of meat are often sold for less per pound. If you are willing to go home and repack, then you can shell in some easy savings.
- Watch for the occasional coupons – This actually does happen! You can find coupons on coupons.com, from the apps mentioned above and our grocery shopping list. There are actually dozens of places to get coupons. Check our Savings tab at the top and then click on coupons for many more!
- Buy the bargain meat – what we mean by this one is that you can by the bargain cuts of meat and save a ton of money. Here’s a list of the “bargain meats.”
- Chicken drumsticks – even organic ones if this is important. Organic drumsticks will be the same price or even cheaper than conventional chicken breast.
- Chicken Thighs
- Ground Turkey vs. Ground Beef
- Ground beef in general over any beef – the lower the percentage, the cheaper. Of course it has higher fat content, but you can resolve this at home buy rinsing after you cook it and save that money.
- Bone-in pork chops.
- Pork ribs (bone-in or boneless)
- Beef ribs (bone-in)
- Chuck Roast – this is a tougher meat and cut, but a slow cook on low (oven at 300 degrees for many hours or crockpot on low) and you will get this cheap cut of roast to fall apart and be juicy!
- Whole chicken – we can buy whole chickens for $5 and under and organic whole chickens on markdown for the same price – we can make 3 meals out of each chicken, plus use the bones to make broth!
- Flank Steak
- Pork Shoulder
- Turkey – we can make MANY meals out of one turkey! Even when it is not Thanksgiving, cook up a turkey, freeze in portions for recipes that call for turkey, or even chicken and have many meals at your hand!
Tips to Save on the Meat When cooking at home:
- Stretch your meat! – It is healthier and cheaper! You can’t necessarily do this with all types of meat, but especially with ground beef. If you are making a recipe (like Tacos) with ground beef, stretch 1-lb to 2 by add a can of black beans or rice. We do this with many recipes calling for ground beef – shepherd’s pie, sloppy joe pot pie, casseroles, homemade stovetop meals (which is far cheaper and healthier with the stretching trick and the SOS mix) and many, many more! Stretch your chicken breast by adding more rice, potatoes, or other ingredients to your chicken dishes. Health experts already say we eat too much meat, so save money and health by reducing the meat and increasing the healthy fillers!
- Add a good tummy filler and serve up less meat per person! – If you want to serve a piece of chicken breast, I know it wouldn’t get real far in our family, so I make sure to have brown rice, beans, potatoes, pasta or some other big tummy filler to take up the extra tummy space – but be a healthier alternative. With roast, cooking with diced potatoes, or a big pot of homemade mashed potatoes (also very cheap) fills up that tummy space. In all honesty, rice is our #1 tummy filler. We use our Rice Cooker about twice as much as our crockpot, which means several times per week. I try hard to make 1-2 lbs. of meat fill-up all 7 of us. Just like I mentioned previously, it is said that we already eat too much meat as a society, so save health and money by getting creative with healthy fill-ins!
- Make soup, stews and chilis a part of your regular menu – When it comes to putting meat in these dishes, not much is needed at all! I can make a BIG pot of a soup calling for chicken and use 1 single breast to cover 2+ meals. I often make a double batch of soup, stew or chili for a meal that night and then freeze for the future or for lunch the next day. Sometimes, I can make even more! This is also a GREAT plan for leftover meat!
- Make stir-fry’s a regular part of your menu – We love stir-fry and it is always on our menu at least once per week. It is the “end of the week” meal because we use our remaining veggies and leftover meats to create a wonderful stir-fry over rice! Also, similar to “stir-fry” is our kids’ favorite meal – Hawaiian Haystacks and this uses the equivalent of about 1/2 of a chicken breast to feed many!
- Make a salad buffet for a low-meat meal – Buy lettuce heads (we like the red and green leaf) and chop up salad yourself, then cut the cheap in-season veggies (carrots are cheap all year round!), olives, hard boiled eggs, a little bowl of cheese and a little bowl of shredded chicken, cut up breaded chicken (like from Costco freezer), beef strips or similar meats to make a homemade salad buffet! Homemade dressings add to the frugality! Check out our recipe gallery for homemade dressing ideas too!
- Make a meatless meal part of your menu – with this fourth menu suggestion, we have you covered for 4+ meals a week on very little meat! Meatless pasta, meatless stir-fry, meatless soups, meatless salad, meatless burritos, bean tacos, etc. There are many other sources of protein and many meatless meal ideas. Perhaps plan to fit one in each week and save quite a bit of money!
With these insider meat savings tips, you can ultimately save a ton of money on your grocery budget and reduce your over all grocery spending. Get this category of spending under control and help reach your financial goals sooner and have more money to work with for other spending needs!
We have been so thankful to have been shopping this way for years as we have saved so much money. We started these specific tips at the beginning of our journey to become consumer debt-free. We couldn’t stop buying meat/protein, and so it was essential to start with this!