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Want to win the pricing game on meat? Join the deep-freeze club

As a child, I often stood in awe of the large chest freezer my mom kept in our laundry room. It seemed enormous. What exactly did she have in there? I never quite understood her love for that freezer. Later, as a young 20-something getting ready to buy my first house, a chest freezer didn’t make the list of necessary appliances that I budgeted for.

Strangely, though, the first time I toured the little ranch house with a “For Sale” sign in the front yard, the one that would be my home for the next decade, I was surprised to see that the owners also had a large chest freezer. Incredibly, it was located in one of the bedrooms! What did all of these freezer-keepers know that I didn’t?

It took me a few years to figure it out, but I’ve since joined the deep-freeze club. I own a chest freezer and I love it. As I grew to be more skilled at couponing and stockpiling, I quickly realized that freezer space was key to stocking up and beating the pricing cycle on meats and frozen foods, items not easily stored in a pantry.

In a past column, a reader asked about saving on meats. While there aren’t many coupons for meats (although they do exist), you can win the pricing game on meats by being attentive to price-cycle lows, just as we do with all other grocery items. The trick is to learn to recognize the best prices in your area for the types of meats that you buy. When the price hits its low, buy as much as you can and store the meat stockpile in your freezer.

Where I live, my benchmark for meats is $1.99 a pound or less. When meat prices cycle at or below that level, whether it’s beef, poultry, pork or seafood it’s a buy in my book. At that point, I purchase as much as I can reasonably store in the freezer, taking into consideration what our household will consume. Prices on meats can range from extremely low to extremely high. Even without using coupons, buying meats when prices are low ensures that we never pay more than we have to.

Any time a store has a great sale on meats, I’m not afraid to stock up. Recently, one of my area stores had a great special on pork chops: 99 cents a pound. Pork chops usually sell for $2.49 a pound at this store, so this was definitely a buy, considering that they were less than half price. I bought 20 pounds of pork chops during my shopping trip that week. While that was a lot of meat to bring home at once, those pork chops went into my freezer. We’ll eat pork chops for months. And I will happily recall my bill at the checkout for the pork: $19.80.

In my couponing classes, people often ask how I plan meals at our house. It’s a common misconception that one should plan meals around items that are on sale during a particular week. I plan my meals around what I have in my pantry and in my freezer. All the food I have stored was purchased at the lowest possible prices. Grocery stores have sales every week on meats, but they’re not always the rock-bottom, low-price sales savvy couponers watch for. And I guarantee that with what’s already in my house, I can make just about any meal my family might suggest we have for dinner tonight.

At 5.2-cubic feet, my chest freezer is about the size of a washer or dryer. It offers plenty of space for me to stockpile meats, frozen vegetables, ice cream and other frozen foods I buy at low prices. Today’s freezers consume far less energy than their decades-old counterparts. My freezer’s documentation estimates it costs $34 annually to operate — that’s just $2.83 a month to keep lots of inexpensive groceries nice and cold.

Jill Cataldo is a coupon-workshop instructor, writer and mother. Her Web site is